FMA was utilized by one of the most iconic martial artists to ever live

Bruce Lee and Filipino Martial Arts

Bruce Lee is regarded as one of, if not the, greatest martial artist to ever live. His art revolutionized cinema forever, changing the way the Western world perceived martial arts. Over the course of his life, Bruce’s fame came not only from his films but also with the creation of his own art. Jeet Kun Do, the way of the intercepting fist, drew influences from every art Bruce studied, which includes Filipino Martial Arts (FMA).

What many may not know is that Bruce was an avid practitioner of Filipino Martial Arts, especially Escrima. Danny Inosanto (A Filipino-American), one of Bruce’s closest friends and finest students, was the one who first introduced the art to him. Inosanto stated how Bruce at first “…took a pretty dim view of it,” but later said, “what he liked and didn’t like about Escrima.” Insoanto suggested, “…what changed his mind was the emphasis on the empty hands and seeing through the movies that it had a lot of functional value.” From the repertoire of Bruce Lee masterpieces, there are two films that stand out the most in terms of Bruce’s expression with Filipino Martial Arts; “Enter the Dragon” and “Game of Death.”

In Enter the Dragon, Insoanto explained the message Bruce wanted to convey to the public was to “know all combative ranges; be able to pick up anything and be able to use it.” This is best illustrated in the fight scene with the guards in which Bruce uses their own weapons against them. Bruce is demonstrating Escrima, using doble baston (double sticks) to subdue the guards. This concept is in direct relation to FMA because of the notion of being able to adapt to the environment and utilize it to one’s own advantage.

In Game of Death, Bruce fights Inosanto himself using the nunchaku. It is rumored that Inosanto taught Bruce how to use the nunchaku, through the Filipino equivalent called tabok toyok, however there is no evidence to support this claim. Inosanto explained “Bruce’s original concept for Game of Death was to educate the film public by making people aware that there are many different types of martial arts and that each martial art has a value in a certain environment.” Because many Filipino Martial Arts are weapons based systems, it could be assumed that Inosanto was chosen to properly represent the art. The movie also touches on the aspect of adaptation as the film progresses; Bruce must eventually fight Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is over seven feet tall.

From these two movies and the concepts drawn from them, you can see how Filipino Martial Arts helped promote the success of Bruce Lee. Despite the fact many are unaware that Filipino Martial Arts even exist, it is an art that was utilized by one of the most iconic martial artists to ever live. More than thirty years after his death, his legacy lives on today - intertwined with FMA and will be certain to continue for generations to come.


Written By: AJ Ruiz of Eskabo Daan

Reference: Perry Gil. S Mallari – Bruce Lee and Escrima