Bruce Lee's One-Inch Punch

Bruce Lee was one of the most revolutionary martial artists, athletes, and entertainers of all-time. The 30 for 30 documentary “Be Water” took a closer look at the life of the iconic figure, and ahead of its premiere, ESPN asked King Penguin to take a deeper dive into the science behind Lee’s legendary One-Inch Punch.

This move shows off his lightning-fast speed, pound-for-pound strength, and incredible body control, all in one action. And it happens in less than a quarter of a second.

Given the speed of the punch, the most obvious thing we had to do for the viewers was to slow it all down. Our 3D-rendered model was crucial, especially since the footage of Lee in action is limited. The model allowed us to point out the small details that made this move possible, like Lee’s stance and body control. Zooming in and slowing the moment down was the most effective way to simulate how energy transferred through Lee’s body during the punch, and to make sure the audience could understand it.

2D graphics also helped us map out these high-end scientific concepts. We used red pulses to track the force from the ground through his fist, which was an effective way to help the audience visualize the energy transfer throughout the move. Like the Fury vs. Wilder previews, we chose a bold red as our primary color in order to evoke feelings of strength and power throughout the video. We kept the techy, HUD-style in order to match the scientific style of the piece, and to help keep the audience engaged.

With a move as quick and hard to understand as the One-Inch Punch, we also realized that context was incredibly important. We chose examples from baseball, football, and modern-day UFC to help viewers wrap their minds around Lee’s incredible speed and power. We keyed in on the Newton’s Cradle as a familiar real-world example of the transfer of energy. Mapping Lee’s move onto an object that most people have seen in a science classroom or on a coworker’s desk helped make the concept easily comprehensible.

It is impossible to totally demonstrate Bruce Lee’s greatness in one video, but breaking down the science behind his incredible One-Inch Punch displays just how awe-inspiring the martial artist was.