"With nothing but his hands, feet and a lot of attitude, he turned the little guy into a tough guy." -- Time
In 1959 a short, skinny, bespectacled 18-year-old kid from Hong Kong traveled to America and declared himself to be John Wayne, James Dean, Charles Atlas and the guy who kicked your butt in junior high. In an America where the Chinese were still stereotyped as meek house servants and railroad workers, Bruce Lee was all steely sinew, threatening stare and cocky, pointed finger--a Clark Kent who didn't need to change outfits. He was the redeemer, not only for the Chinese but for all the geeks and dorks and pimpled teenage masses that washed up at the theaters to see his action movies. He was David, with spin-kicks and flying leaps more captivating than any slingshot.
As an exceptional martial artist, Lee's ability to synthesize various national martial techniques sparked a new trend in unarmed combat martial arts films. His talent shifted the focus from martial arts director to martial arts actor.
Since 1973, the year Bruce Lee died and his famous motion picture Enter the Dragon was released, movies have been the single most influential factor behind the growing popularity of martial arts. Lee’s cinematic success spawned a global industry of the martial arts, and schools opened and flourished worldwide. During the 1970s more students took up the study of martial arts than at any time before or since. To those involved in martial arts, the years from 1972 to 1975—the height of Lee’s popularity—are often cited as the Bruce Lee era.