How Many World Records Did Bruce Lee Really Have?

Bruce Lee has almost as many tall tales to his name as Chuck Norris, and his mythical status makes it tough to separate truth from fiction. Lee once sidekicked a 250-pound man 20 feet into a pool. Lee could punch harder than Muhammad Ali. Lee could perform 100 straight push-ups using only his thumb. Clearly not the kinda guy you want to arm wrestle. There's no doubt that Lee was an impressive martial artist and showman, but you'd forgiven for skepticism regarding some of the more dubious claims. 

The real Lee was so powerful within his 130-pound frame that many of these feats are almost believable. Helpfully, some of the most popular apocryphal tales about him have been verified by Matthew Polly, Lee's biographer and the author of Bruce Lee: A Life. According to the book, all the rumors about Lee's fanatical fitness regimen were actually true. Lee gobbled vitamins and supplements by the fistful. He trained relentlessly and downed smoothies of ground up hamburger meat. At the end of the day, he sat down to smoke a joint of marijuana. Later in life, he moved on to hashish.

Bruce Lee myths debunked

Polly confirms all these rumors and more in his comprehensive biography. The pages are filled with interesting minutiae like the fact that Lee is part Jewish, or that he grew up affluent with his own personal driver and live-in maids. But there is one tall tale that Polly takes specific exception with. 

If you know anything about Lee, you probably know that he died under unusual circumstances at the age of 32. This was just a year before the release of Enter the Dragon, the film that put him on the map in the United States. The official cause of death listed was cerebral edema, a swelling of the brain. At the time, the edema was attributed to a bad reaction to a pain killer he was taking. As you can imagine, conspiracy theories and rumors of foul play began to swirl and were never really put to rest. Polly doesn't buy any of it. He suggests a far more pedestrian cause of death for Lee: heat stroke.

Seven world records

With all this misinformation flying around, it can be hard to get a bead on Lee's actual accomplishments. His life is an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a really cool ninja costume. Of all the feats attributed to Lee, which ones actually stand up to scrutiny? How many actual world records does he hold?

According to the authority of note in these matters, the Guinness Book of World Records, Lee holds seven unbroken titles.

  1. He's the only man to break a 45-kg sandbag with a sidekick
  2. He produced 1600 pounds of force with nunchakus
  3. He could land nine punches in one second
  4. He could kick six times in one second
  5. He could perform 1500 push-ups in a row, 400 with one hand, 200 on two fingers, and 100 on his thumb!
  6. He achieved a punching power of 350 pounds, which is actually the same as Muhammad Ali. Even more impressive when you consider Ali weighed twice as much as Lee.
  7. He could kick a 135-pound sandbag 5 feet into the air.

So those are the actual, recorded physical feats of Bruce Lee according to Guinness. As for the circumstances surrounding his death, Polly makes a compelling case for Occam's razor, but questions will always linger.