The Other One: Who is the Man Who Fought Bruce Lee in his Most Famous Fight?

Katherine White
One with Heart Program Coordinator

The fight between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man is a legend in the modern martial arts narrative. As with all legends, the tale exceeds the boundaries of reality and compels us with a larger than life drama.

Bruce Lee is one of the most well-known and influential martial artists of all time. He was an exceptionally accomplished and aggressive fighter who embraced popular culture and helped change the way Asians were presented in American films. He was a very public figure: charismatic, comfortable in the lime light, a master of self-promotion with a talent for the dramatic. But who is the other fighter? Who is Wong Jack Man and how did he become part of a legend that would make him forever known as the man who fought Bruce Lee in one of the most infamous showdowns in martial arts history?

Wong Jack Man, now 72 years old, is by all accounts a highly skilled master of Northern Shaolin Kung Fu; confident in his abilities but also a man of great humility, integrity, and self-control. He is known to have the highest ethical standards for himself and his students. Unlike Lee, he is a very private person; quiet and mild mannered. At the time of the fight, Mr. Wong was 23 years old with a growing reputation as a formidable fighter among the traditional martial arts community in San Francisco’s China Town. It is said he agreed to fight Lee in response to a public challenge that Lee allegedly made, saying that he was better than any martial artist in San Francisco. Mr. Wong saw this as a serious but friendly match to compare fighting styles and defend the honor of the larger martial arts community.

There are at least two sides to every fight. There are so many versions of this fight that the facts may never be clear. There are wildly differing stories as to why the fight happened, how long it lasted, how many people were there, and who won.

What is clear is that this fight impacted the lives of these two fighters in very different ways. Bruce Lee changed his fighting style, developed his Jeet Kune Do method, and went on to be a super star. Wong Jack Man went back to work and continued to teach T’ai chi ch’uan, Xingyiquan and Northern Shaolin for another 40 years. 

We have heard much about how this infamous fight transformed Bruce Lee. Now you can read the story of the other fighter.  Showdown in Oakland: The Story behind the Wong Jack Man - Bruce Lee Fight is told from the perspective of Rick Wing, Wong Jack Man’s long time student.  It is a story of two very different men who came together for a moment in time and changed martial arts history.[i]

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ENDNOTE

[i] Wing, Rick L. Showdown in Oakland: The Story Behind the Wong Jack Man – Bruce Lee Fight. San Francisco. 2013. Available on Kindle: Showdown in Oakland: The Story Behind the Wong Jack Man - Bruce Lee Fight