John Little: Filmmaker & Author – The Bruce Lee, Ayn Rand & Mike Mentzer Connection

John Little is an author and award-winning filmmaker considered by many to be one of the world’s foremost authorities on Bruce Lee, his training methods and philosophies. John, who directed, wrote and produced the notable documentaries Bruce Lee: In His Own Words & Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey for Warner Bros, and authored the book The Warrior Within, The Philosophies of Bruce Lee, is the only person ever to be authorized by the legendary martial artist’s estate to review the entirety of Lee’s personal notes, sketches and reading annotations.

John’s love of philosophy also led him to direct and produce the documentaries Ayn Rand, In Her Own Words, and The Making of The Fountainhead for Warner Bros, a documentary based on Rands’s breakout novel of an iconoclastic architect whose designs are so innovative they offend the architectural orthodoxy and city planners, the “second-handers” who seek to snuff out Roarke’s ultra modernistic vision and force him to comply with tradition.

John is also highly regarded in the world of fitness and bodybuilding, having penned numerous articles for the Joe Weider publications Muscle & Fitness and FLEX magazine. and has written some of the most well-respected books on the subject of high-intensity training including Body by Science, Power Factor Training, and more recently The Time Savers Workout. However, some of John’s most notable endeavors in the world of bodybuilding stem from time spent working with (and as a close friend of) Mike Mentzer, the legendary Golden Era pro bodybuilder from the late 70s and 80s who was the only Mr. Olympia competitor to ever achieve a perfect score of 300 in winning the heavyweight class at the 1979 Mr. Olympia. John authored the book, The Wisdom of Mike Mentzer and co-authored the book High-Intensity Training, The Mike Mentzer Way with Mentzer himself.

In this episode of The Alpha Human Podcast, we delve into the life and times of three seemingly disparate icons, Bruce Lee, the martial arts legend, Ayn Rand, the highly controversial philosopher and author of Atlas Shrugged, and Mike Mentzer the champion pro bodybuilder who popularized the concept of high-intensity training and Nautilus exercise equipment, the Avant-Garde machines that changed the face of weight training in the 1970s.

Although Bruce Lee, Ayn Rand, and Mike Mentzer appeared, on the surface at least, to share nothing in common other than being leaders of a movement in their respective realms, at a similar period in history, and although the – their stories, style, and philosophy all seemed to find a nexus in an ethos that valued truth, reality and reason as it’s the highest set of virtues.

Bruce Lee in emigrating to America thumbed his nose at the martial arts authorities of the time and taught Chinese fighting systems to non-Chinese, namely Kung Fu. Lee also rejected the non-contact fighting tournaments as practiced in established sport at the time in favor of full-contact training and fighting contests. He would ultimately question the very nature of martial arts itself as being so restrictive as to keep it’s practitioners from seeking the truth of their craft, viewing “no way as way,” and “no limitation as limitation,” and that truth must not be compromised by rules or tradition, but rather, one should “use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.” Lee’s study of philosophy including the writings of Alan Watson and Jiddu Krishnamurti who believed “that It is only when you are completely self-reliant, wholly independent of any savior, master, is there serenity, wisdom, reality,” would ultimately inform his invention of Jeet Kun Do, The Way of The intercepting Fist, a martial arts style that encouraged adherents to “absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.”

Mike Mentzer burst onto the bodybuilding scene as the heir apparent to Arnold Schwarzenneger. Mentzer an amateur bodybuilder who had just won the Mr. Universe title with an unprecedented perfect score was a good looking, well-spoken, and highly intelligent bodybuilder who Joe Weider, the chief of a sprawling bodybuilding empire whose magazines, and its stars, had become part of the pop culture zeitgeist in the 1970s, was grooming to be the new face of bodybuilding. Schwarzenneger, who Weider had brought to America a decade earlier had fulfilled the physique impresario’s vision, catapulting the sport into the mainstream with his magnetic personality, and his breakout film Pumping Iron, had abandoned the bodybuilding scene that made him famous in the mid-’70s in his pursuit of Hollywood stardom after winning his 6th Olympia title. Along the way, Schwazennegr, who Weider had made the most famous name in bodybuilding through his magazines with endless features about the champion he dubbed “The Austrian Oak” using the “Weider Principles” to build his 20-inch biceps along with promoting the Weider line of supplements and protein powders that fuelled them, had a falling out, and the two went their separate ways. The vacuum created by Shwarzenneger’s departure from the Weider stable of athletes was meant to be filled by Mentzer, whose articles in the Weider magazines were gaining in popularity due not only to their profound nature but to Mentzer’s iconoclastic style and promotion of a new, innovative way of training. As opposed to paying lip service to the “Master Blaster,” as Weider was known, and the bodybuilding methods he promoted, the cycling of numerous sets and reps for individual bodyparts, as many as 20-50 sets, popularized by the likes of Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbo, and Robby Robinson, Weider “pupils” who worked out twice a day for 2 hours per session 6 days a week, Mentzer advocated the high-intensity bodybuilding maxims of Arthur Jones, the inventor of the radical Nautilus exercise machines, and a style of resistance training counter to everything that Weider and the fitness industry he created, was built upon. Instead of the need to perform an endless regime of sets and high repetitions to build muscle with barbells and dumbells, Mentzer favored Jones’ cam based machines and brief intense training sessions. Mentzer drew on objective, rational and scientific principles that suggested infrequent but intense training produced superior results to the voluminous approach favored by Weiders’ stable of bodybuilders, evolving Jones’ theories to their logical conclusion, which meant in some cases one brutal, all-out set, or one excruciatingly slow rep, was enough to completely fatigue the muscle, so much so that one should recuperate for up to 7 days to allow the muscle to heal, and grow bigger and stronger. Mentzer’s improvements upon Jones’ theories became known as Heavy Duty training and Mentzer became wildly popular, drawing hundreds of thousands of new readers to Weider’s magazines. Mentzer’s devotion to a rational approach to bodybuilding became even more impassioned upon his discovery of objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. As Mentzer studied more of Rand’s epistemology, his writing advocated a new sense of self-worth and individualism, and bodybuilding as more than just the pursuit of a “pump,” but rather the heroic physical ideal appropriate to man. Mentzer’s devotion to the morality of reason, further put him at odds with the interests of Weider, as he could no longer bring himself to promote Weider’s supplements which his study of biology led him to believe were worthless and did nothing to build the body into that which Weider’s magazines promised, something that Mentzer was convinced necessitated rare genetics and anabolic steroids. A few years later, with Weider growing tired of Mentzer’s rebellious ideas, and with the bodybuilder being on the cusp of taking the 1980 Olympia title, (the crown jewel of the Weider owned IFBB), after achieving a perfect score of 300 in winning the heavyweight class of the 1979 Olympia, a victory which would validate Mentzer as face of modern bodybuilding and Arthur Jones as the sport’s new authority.

What ensued was a serendipitous meeting of both need and opportunity, a mix of unstoppable forces that may have conspired to rob Mentzer of his rightful place in Olympia history. John Little describes what he believes led to the controversial events that unfolded at the 1980 Olympia in Sydney, Australia. According to Little, there was much speculation that Arnold Schwarzenneger, who had been picked to star in the motion picture Conan The Barbarian, needed to placate the concerns of producer Dino Deluarentis who was allegedly anxious about Schwarzenneger ability to carry the film, as his recent supporting performances were all box office duds (Stay Hungry, Scavenger Hunt, The Villian). Schwarzenneger saw an opportunity to spark an avalanche of publicity by reclaiming his Olympia title, with his popularity reignited as the king of bodybuilding he would have the ultimate platform to promote his star vehicle and inspire confidence in Deluarentis and the production company that had invested millions in making Conan a huge summer blockbuster. For Joe Weider, dimming the fiery rise of Mentzer and his radical training principles, while handing Schwarzenneger a victory and his 7th Olympia title after a 5-year layoff in the runup to the release of Conan would also be a media bonanza too lucrative too pass up, magazine sales and advertising revenue would be bigger than ever. What really took place at the 80 Olympia, a contest that saw what was by all accounts a vastly inferior Schwarzenneger, who to everyone’s surprise entered the contest unannounced on the very day of the show, take first place, while Mentzer was reduced to a paltry 5th place is the subject of John Little’s forthcoming documentary.

Mentzer’s iconoclastic style, unassailable devotion to reason and uncompromising idealism were stoked by Ayn Rand, another intellectual rebel, as Rand’s views were seen as an affront to the philosophical orthodoxy, the prevailing social scientists, and politicians of the time who more and more were adopting the theories of Karl Marx and seeking to centrally plan all facets of their societies. With socialism creeping across the Atlantic, collectivist ideology was fast becoming popular in an America still reeling from the 1929 stock market crash, and economic collapse that followed, while halfway across the world this political theory had metastasized into full-blown communist dictatorships in Russia and China. Into this tidal wave of Marxist sympathy came Ayn Rand, a Russian emigre whose family’s business was nationalized by the Bolsheviks in the new Soviet Union. In America, Rand found a home in what she saw as the ideal society for man, a country enshrined in a constitution which guaranteed the rights of the individual over the collective. As her character Howard Roark the hero in her first claims in The Fountainhead, her first major literary success “I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.”Rand railed against the self-sacrifice and immolation of the individual, an ideology that demanded one’s servitude to an amorphous collective and made criminal one’s right to independence and freedom from the demands placed on them by the state. Ayn Rand was vilified by the intellectuals of her time as a selfish ideologue who cared not for her fellow man but only the interests of the industrial titans and robber barons they claimed her philosophy gave license to. Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, glorified independence and objective truth, not subjective desires, whims, and opinions, in Rand’s philosophy objective reality, absolute reason, individualism were held as the only values suitable to man, and capitalism the only system compatible with man’s nature.

Rand’s fame catapulted after the release the Hollywood film version of her book The Fountainhead and her ideas began to take shape, by the time she released her next novel Atla Shrugged, in the mid-1950s she was a philosophical phenomenon and she had attracted acolytes and students from around the world, people that hungered for the unabashed freedom and individual rights she advocated. The hero in Atlas Shrugged, JohnGalt, laid Rand’s philosophy bare in a 60-page long speech, where he addresses a broken America where society’s producers, innovators, and thinkers have gone on strike against a dystopian United States wracked by the failings of socialist policies, and a populace left looking for answers from the nation’s brightest minds, who have left to form a new micro-state, a laissez-faire capitalist system devoid of any law or restrictions on innovation, trade, and business. In speaking to the American public, Galt echoes much of what would become the tenants of Objectivism, namely the idea that man must adopt a rational code of morality, values based on reason, purpose, self-esteem, and a set of virtues consisting of rationality, productiveness, pride.

“The concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” – Ayn Rand

Useful Links:

John Little: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Little_(writer)
Bruce Lee, a Warrior’s Journey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfHyZjiuW1E
Ayn Rand Institute: https://aynrand.org/
Mike Mentzer: https://www.mikementzer.com/

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