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Film

The Indian wrestling champion who inspired Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was a versatile martial arts who was always eager to expand his knowledge about the world as well as his own discipline. A true icon of the last century, Lee managed to achieve the highly difficult task of bridging the cultural differences between the East and the West by making martial arts film projects that were unanimously celebrated by fans all around the world.

For Lee, martial arts was philosophical praxis and he often fixated on the importance of such a conceptualisation of violent self-defence. These ideas have had a huge impact on the thinking of many scholars as well as political leaders who have insisted that education in self-defence is always a crucial step towards the liberation of marginalised groups within the hegemonies of modern society.

Many cultural commentators even claimed that Lee was the primary force who ensured that Asians were represented more positively in American cinema. Behind Lee’s incredible on-screen charisma was his highly intelligent thought processes, fuelled by his voracious appetite for all kinds of books belonging to different domains.

Although Lee had dropped out of college, he had been interested in studying philosophy and psychology. His personal library was very impressive and contained more than 2500 books on multiple subjects, ranging from the philosophical inquires of David Hume and Carl Jung to the literary masterpieces of William Shakespeare.

Lee was influenced by fighters from different fields, including legendary boxers such as Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis as well as martial arts expert Koichi Tohei. Bruce Lee also borrowed inspiration from one pioneering Indian wrestler who is now remembered as one of the finest fighters in the history of the country.

That wrestler was Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt who was known in the wrestling ring as ‘The Great Gama’. Born in a village in the Punjab Province during the British colonial rule of India, Gama’s family had a reputation in the wrestling world because of previous generations of fighters. Trained from an early age, he started turning heads due to his wrestling abilities when he was just 10 years old.

Gama embarked on an illustrious career that would span 52 years and he remained undefeated for that extremely long period of time. He even managed to win a version of the World Heavyweight Championship and it was reported that he had participated in over 5000 matches where he emerged victorious.

Lee wasn’t just moved by the story of Gama but he also incorporated elements of Gama’s extensive training routine into his own. While reading about the great wrestler, Lee decided that he wanted to build up his strength just like Gama had and did multiple repetitions of fundamental exercises such as “the squat” and “the cat stretch”.

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