Bruce Lee is widely regarded as a pioneer of martial arts cinema, but his daughter believes he should also be credited for the rise of another cultural phenomenon — mixed martial arts (MMA). In a recent interview with the BBC, Shannon Lee said her father was primarily responsible for popularizing MMA, a sport embodied most visibly by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) here in the US.

MMA’s ancestry remains rather murky — due largely to its incorporation of diverse fighting styles from across the globe — though most credit Brazil’s Gracie family with pioneering the modern form of the sport. The Gracie clan includes several prominent combat fighters, and is best known for founding Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The younger Lee acknowledges that today’s form of MMA likely has its origins in several different philosophies, though she insists that her father was the one who brought it to audience:

“Certainly, there are very few wholly original ideas in the world, there are usually people coming to the same conclusions or carrying out experiments, whether publicly or privately. One thing I will say about my father is that he was very much out in the forefront talking about his beliefs about being a complete fighter and attaching a philosophy to that and teaching it. While there may have been people prior to him who thought about mixing one or two forms, it was really my father who took it to a public level.”

Shannon Lee currently serves as president of the Bruce Lee Foundation, and has produced a forthcoming documentary on her father, called I Am Bruce Lee. The documentary features interviews with a host of fans and celebrities, including actor Ed O’Neill and Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. The film will see a limited release on July 20th — exactly 40 years after Bruce Lee’s death — before being released on DVD and Blu-ray July 23rd.

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