Master Wong Shun Leung called him “The Machine” and said that “if Barry hit any man hard, he would not get up”.
Australian Barry Lee discovered Wing Chun in his early twenties just before Bruce Lee‘s Enter the Dragon dropped a bomb on the martial arts world. Barry Lee took the dramatic step of selling all his possessions and moving to Hong Kong, where he became one of the first Westerners to master Wing Chun, studying with Wong Shun Leung.
As described in the article “They Called Him ‘The Machine‘” by Neville Burns, he trained “twelve to fifteen hours a day, seven days a week” for 18 months.
He “wouldn’t rest, wouldn’t give up, wouldn’t stop” and “wore out one training partner after another.” This hardcore dedication resulted in a legendary set of fighting skills.
Barry Lee is one of the most enigmatic figures I’ve found studying Wing Chun and its practitioners. Ten years ago, you couldn’t find much on anyone, but in these days of millions of Youtube videos and chat forumns and webpages, there is more information than you can absorb.
Yet on Barry Lee, there is only one seconds long glimpse of video (which looks like it was filmed off a TV), a few articles, and one interview (which was actually a Wong Shun Leung interview!).
But I have heard about him for years. He has a great deal of respect from other Wing Chun masters. The most common comment you hear is about how hard he could hit. Wong Shun Leung frequently said he was the best fighter he ever trained and Lee was offered Wong Shun Leung’s school after the master’s death. He even married Wendy Lee, Wong Shun Leung’s sister.
I always thought he was Asian, becasue of his last name, but he was of European descent. There is a lot of evidence that he had a tough time in Hong Kong fighting challenge matches with Chinese fighters angry that Wong Shun Leung was teaching a non-Chinese kung fu. Apparently he lost a few but as his training paid off, he eventually became extremely dangerous to challenge.
Barry Lee trained the old school way, with many long hours of stance training and thousands of repettions of the movements and hundreds of hours of Chi Sao. This is what it takes to be great at anything. Hardcore dedication, determination, and hard work.
These articles are fairly brief and well worth reading: