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February 18, 2008

Slice 'em


I watched a mixed martial arts event this weekend featuring street fighting legend Kimbo Slice. It was a featured live event on cable and drew a huge live audience in Miami.  This form of combat has eclipsed boxing at the box office and in the hearts of fight fans, and when I watch these events I fondly remember the time I spent with the late Bruce Lee, who participated in these types of fights on rooftops in Hong Kong as a young man.

I feel that this style of combat is based on a concept that Bruce was instrumental in developing. The traditional fight contest would have people from one discipline only fighting each other according to the rules of that discipline. That created, for example, a situation where judo contestants would fight each other strictly according to judo rules. Bruce envisioned a contest where any style was allowed to go against any other style, with no restrictions as to how techniques were used. Bruce used tactics from any and all of the martial arts disciplines without regard to their origin. He considered people who would use only the techniques taught by their particular discipline as tradition-bound. Innovation and experimentation were frowned upon and thus severely limited an individual's ability to use what worked for him.

The Gracie jiu-jitsu clan from Brazil also started to train outside of the boundaries of traditional jiu-jitsu, and in doing so offended the tradition-bound superiors in the jiu-jitsu world. The Gracies and Bruce couldn't have cared less. The new approach made for effective self-defense, and anyone using the new concept became an unpredictable and formidable opponent, like Bruce or the Gracies. This new concept has led to new "mixed martial arts" contests that have captured the fight fans' attention big- time. It has also led to a realistic reappraisal of the effectiveness of the various styles. 

Students from all styles now train with the realistic idea of what does and does not work when it hits the fan. I know Bruce would be happy to see the evolution of martial arts training that he pioneered become the standard throughout the discipline.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.


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Brilliant! This is exactly why I've come to love this blog over past week or so. Kareem is such a well-rounded individual - he can touch on any subject. While I'm aware of connections between Kareem & Bruce Lee, this was just unexpected. And I agree whole-heartedly with sentiments expressed here!


Game of Death!!! The footprint on Bruce's yellow jumpsuit will be in the halls of martial arts greatness forever! Much love, Cap!!

Robert Sommers

I studied a traditional kung fu style (Hug Gar) for many years and am somewhat repulsed by the mixed martial arts tournaments. The total brute force methodology is not artistic, nor is it nuanced. When you are sparring or fighting with a great opponent in martial arts and things are going well, it is a truly great feeling. We step out of the way of the bull. These guys just take punishment. MMA is like modern dance compared to ballet - shallow and not rooted. Before you step away from a 3000 year old tradition and create a modern hybrid, make damn sure that you have absorbed the former.

Ramiro C

Good job on pointing out the contribution that Bruce Lee made on the mixed martial arts phenomenon. I'm sure Kareem remembers that the "style" Bruce Lee created, Jeet Kune Do, is made up of various forms of martial arts.


Bruce Lee's goal was to create an efficient and effective martial art, and to test techniques scientifically, under close to real fighting conditions. Mixed martial arts is doing that.

If a more traditional style can do well under real world conditions than somebody will show it in the ring. As a JKD practitioner I don't see the MMA fighters using a lot of JKD's more sophisticated techniques either.

However, i think the real lesson from the MMA people is that conditioning and toughness are priority one in a fighter. Elegant technique is nice, but it doesn't matter if you can't take a punch.


Thanks Kareem. I too am glad to get insights into your particular take on the world, which over the years has appeared a bit zen to many of us who have followed your work and career. A couple of questions: How did your martial arts effect your approach to basketball and sports? How did your lifelong engagement with civil rights and with African-American history effect your approach to basketball? I'm interested to know how/whether your depth commitment - admired by many of us - to these things goes down with the sports community.

A Lee


What was it like to train and work with Bruce Lee? Any one moment that stands out in your mind that exemplified Bruce and what he was trying to accomplish?


Alan Hudson

You have exeeded all our expectations your site is EXTRAORDINARYas MR han said LOL,GOOD STUFF ,BEST WISHES FROM scotland

Alan Hudson



Dear Kareem,
Thank you for your insights into Bruce Lee. As a historian on Bruce Lee and his art, I would very much be interested in interviewing you about your training under Lee. Please give me a shout at: thejkdbrotherhood@gmail.com and your earliest convenience. Thank you.

Paul Bax

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Captain Kareem

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by many fans and sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center, famous for his indefensible skyhook, dominated the NBA for 20 years, first with the Milwaukee Bucks then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that he was the star of the UCLA Bruins teams that won three consecutive NCAA championships. Kareem was the NBA's MVP six times, a 19-time all-star and set the NBA all-time records in nine categories. He is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, a record that may never be broken.

Since retiring as a player in 1989, Kareem has balanced his love of basketball with his love of history. In 2002 he led a USBL team, the Oklahoma Storm, to a championship. Since 2005, he has been the special assistant coach for the Lakers, working with Andrew Bynum.

In 2008 he was chosen The Greatest Player in College Basketball History.

Kareem also remains intellectually active, authoring six bestselling history books intended to popularize the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history. His books include "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement"; "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes"; "A Season on the Reservation," which chronicles his time teaching basketball and history on an Apache Indian reservation in White River, Ariz.; and the current New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance."

His audio adaptation, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Audio & Musical Journey through the Harlem Renaissance," is a four-volume compilation read by Bob Costas, Avery Brooks, Jesse L. Martin, and Stanley Crouch, and features private and fascinating conversations with dozens of icons, including Coach John Wooden, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Billy Crystal. He has also been written to L.A. Times, under the Sports section.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been appearing on various radio stations and TV shows, as well as the most relevant websites talking about his life and his new audio book, On the Shoulders of Giants.

All images are property of www.iconomy.com unless otherwise stated. All info copyrighted and owned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not replicated without permission.

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