Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973) was an American-born martial artist, philosopher, instructor, martial arts actor and the founder of the Jeet Kune Do combat form. He was widely regarded as the most influential martial artist of the twentieth century and a cultural icon. He was also the father of actor Brandon Lee and of actress Shannon Lee.
Lee was born in San Francisco, California, and raised in Hong Kong. His Hong Kong and Hollywood-produced films elevated the traditional Hong Kong martial arts film to a new level of popularity and acclaim, and sparked the first major surge of interest in Chinese martial arts in the West. The direction and tone of his films changed and influenced martial arts and martial arts films in Hong Kong and the rest of the world as well. Lee became an iconic figure particularly to the Chinese, as he portrayed Chinese national pride and Chinese nationalism in his movies. He primarily practiced Chinese martial arts (Kung Fu).
Lee Jun Fan was born in the hour of the dragon, between 6–8 a.m., in the Year of the Dragon according to the Chinese zodiac calendar, November 27, 1940, at the Chinese Hospital in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the United States. His father, Lee Hoi-Chuen (李海泉), was Chinese, and his Catholic mother, Grace (何愛瑜), was of Chinese and German ancestry. Lee and his parents returned to Hong Kong when he was three months old. He was a citizen of the United States by birth and did not hold any other citizenships.
He had two children with Linda, Brandon Lee (1965–1993) and Shannon Lee (1969-). Brandon, who also became an actor like his father, died in an accident during the filming of The Crow in 1993. Shannon Lee also became an actress and appeared in some low-budget films starting in the mid 1990s, but has since quit acting.
Lee initially had the birth name Li Yuen Kam (李炫金); Mandarin Pinyin: Lǐ Xuànjīn) given to him by his mother, as at the time, Lee's father was away on a Chinese opera tour. This name would later be abandoned because of a conflict with the name of Bruce's grandfather, causing him to be renamed Jun Fan upon his father's return. Also of note is that Lee was given a feminine name, Sai Fung (細鳳, literally "small phoenix"), which was used throughout his early childhood in keeping with a Chinese custom, traditionally thought to hide a child from evil spirits.
Lee's screen names were respectively Lee Siu Lung (in Cantonese), and Li Xiao Long (in Mandarin) (李小龍; Cantonese pengyam: Ley5 Siu² Long4; Mandarin Pinyin: Lǐ Xiǎolóng) which literally translates to "Lee the Little Dragon" in English. These names were first used by director 袁步雲 of the 1950 Cantonese movie 細路祥, in which Lee would perform. It is possible that the name "Lee Little Dragon" was based on his childhood name of "small dragon", as, in Chinese tradition, the dragon and phoenix come in pairs to represent the male and female genders respectively. The more likely explanation is that he came to be called "Little Dragon" because, according to the Chinese zodiac, he was born in the Year of the Dragon.
While in the United States from 1958–1964, Lee abandoned thoughts of a film career in favor of pursuing martial arts. However, after Lee's high-profile martial arts demonstration at the 1964 Long Beach Karate Tournament, he was seen by some of the nation's most proficient martial artists—as well as the hairdresser of Batman producer William Dozier. Dozier soon invited Lee for an audition, where Lee so impressed the producers with his lightning-fast moves that he earned the role of Kato alongside Van Williams in the TV series The Green Hornet. The show lasted just one season, from 1966 to 1967. Lee also played Kato in three crossover episodes of Batman. This was followed by guest appearances in a host of television series, including Ironside (1967) and Here Come the Brides (1969).
In 1969, Lee made a brief appearance in his first American film Marlowe where he played a henchman hired to intimidate private detective Philip Marlowe (played by James Garner) by smashing up his office with leaping kicks and flashing punches, only to later accidentally jump off a tall building while trying to kick Marlowe off. In 1971, Lee appeared in four episodes of the television series Longstreet as the martial arts instructor of the title character Mike Longstreet (played by James Franciscus). Bruce would later pitch a television series of his own tentatively titled The Warrior. Allegedly, Lee's concept was retooled and renamed Kung Fu, but if so, Warner Bros. gave Lee no credit. The role of the Shaolin monk in the Wild West, known to have been coveted by Bruce, was awarded to non-martial artist David Carradine, purportedly because of the studio's belief that a Chinese leading man would not be embraced by the American public.
Not happy with his supporting roles in the U.S., Lee returned to Hong Kong and was offered a film contract by legendary director Raymond Chow to star in films produced by his production company Golden Harvest. Lee played his first leading role in The Big Boss (1971) which proved an enormous box office success across Asia and catapulted him to stardom. He soon followed up his success with two more huge box office successes: Fist of Fury (1972) and Way of the Dragon (1972). For Way of the Dragon, he took complete control of the film's production as the writer, director, star, and choreographer of the fight scenes. In 1964, at a demonstration in Long Beach, California, Lee had met karate champion Chuck Norris. In Way of the Dragon Lee introduced Norris to moviegoers as his opponent in the final death fight at the Colosseum in Rome, today considered one of Lee's most legendary fight scenes.
In 1973, Lee played the lead role in Enter the Dragon, the first film to be produced jointly by Golden Harvest and Warner Bros. This film would skyrocket Lee to fame in the U.S. and Europe. However, only a few months after the film's completion and three weeks before its release, the supremely fit Lee mysteriously died. Enter the Dragon would go on to become one of the year's highest grossing films and cemented Lee as a martial arts legend. It was made for US$850,000 in 1973 (equivalent to $4 million adjusted for inflation as of 2007). To date, Enter the Dragon has grossed over $200 million worldwide. The movie sparked a brief fad in the martial-arts epitomized in songs like "Kung Fu Fighting" and TV shows like Kung Fu.
Robert Clouse, the director of Enter the Dragon, attempted to finish Lee's incomplete film Game of Death which Lee was also set to write and direct. Lee had shot over forty minutes of footage for Game of Death before shooting was stopped to allow him to work on Enter the Dragon. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a student of Lee, also appeared in the film, which culminates in Lee's character, Billy Lo (clad in the now-famous yellow track suit) taking on the 7'2" basketball player in a climactic fight scene. In a controversial move, Robert Clouse finished the film using a look-alike and archive footage of Lee from his other films and released it in 1978 with a new storyline and cast. However, the cobbled-together film contained only 15 minutes of actual footage of Lee while the rest had a Lee lookalike, Tai Chung Kim, and Yuen Biao as stunt doubles. The unused footage Lee had filmed was recovered 22 years later and included in the documentary Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey.
Bob Wall, USPK karate champion and co-star in Enter the Dragon, recalled a particularly serious encounter that transpired after a film extra kept taunting Lee. The extra yelled that Lee was "a movie star, not a martial artist," that he "wasn't much of a fighter." Lee answered his taunts by asking him to jump down from the wall he was sitting on. Bob Wall described Lee's opponent as "a gang-banger type of guy from Hong Kong," a "damned good martial artist," and observed that he was fast, strong, and bigger than Bruce.
Wall recalled the confrontation in detail:
After his victory, Lee gave his opponent lessons on how to improve his fighting skills. His opponent, now impressed, would later say to Lee, "You really are a master of the martial arts."
Another topic is that his moment of birth is often used as a modern cultural proof of the existence of the Four Pillars of Destiny concept, having been born in the year of the dragon and hour of the dragon along with other astrological alignment.
Lee trained in Wing Chun Gung Fu from age 13–18 under Hong Kong Wing Chun Sifu Yip Man. Lee was introduced to Yip Man in early 1954 by William Cheung, then a live-in student of Yip Man. Like most Chinese martial arts schools at that time, Sifu Yip Man's classes were often taught by the highest ranking students. One of the highest ranking students under Yip Man at the time was Wong Shun-Leung. Wong is thought to have had the largest influence on Bruce's training. Yip Man trained Lee privately after some students refused to train with Lee due to his ancestry.
Bruce was also trained in Western boxing and won the 1958 Boxing Championship match against 3-time champion Gary Elms by knockout in the 3rd round. Before arriving to the finals against Elms, Lee had knocked out 3 straight boxers in the first round. In addition, Bruce learned western fencing techniques from his brother Peter Lee, who was a champion fencer at the time. This multi-faceted exposure to different fighting arts would later play an influence in the creation of the eclectic martial art Jeet Kune Do.
Lee also improvised his own kicking method, involving the directness of Wing Chun and the power of Northern Shaolin kung fu. Lee's kicks were delivered very quickly to the target, without "chambering" the leg.
Jeet Kune Do originated in 1965. A match with Wong Jack Man influenced Lee's philosophy on fighting. Lee believed that the fight had lasted too long and that he had failed to live up to his potential using Wing Chun techniques. He took the view that traditional martial arts techniques were too rigid and formalistic to be practical in scenarios of chaotic street fighting. Lee decided to develop a system with an emphasis on "practicality, flexibility, speed, and efficiency". He started to use different methods of training such as weight training for strength, running for endurance, stretching for flexibility, and many others which he constantly adapted.
Lee emphasized what he called "the style of no style". This consisted of getting rid of a formalized approach which Lee claimed was indicative of traditional styles. Because Lee felt the system he now called Jun Fan Gung Fu was too restrictive, it was developed into a philosophy and martial art he would come to call (after the name was suggested by Dan Inosanto) Jeet Kune Do or the Way of the Intercepting Fist. It is a term he would later regret because Jeet Kune Do implied specific parameters that styles connote whereas the idea of his martial art was to exist outside of parameters and limitations.
Lee directly certified only 3 instructors. Taky Kimura, James Yimm Lee (no relation to Bruce Lee), and Dan Inosanto, are the only instructors certified personally by Lee. Inosanto holds the 3rd rank (Instructor) directly from Bruce Lee in Jeet Kune Do, Jun Fan Gung Fu, and Bruce Lee's Tao of Chinese Gung Fu. Taky Kimura holds a 5th rank in Jun Fan Gung Fu. James Yimm Lee (now deceased) held a 3rd rank in Jun Fan Gung Fu. Ted Wong holds 2nd rank in Jeet Kune Do certified directly by Dan Inosanto. James Yimm Lee and Taky Kimura hold ranks in Jun Fan Gung Fu, not Jeet Kune Do; Taky received his 5th rank in Jun Fan Gung Fu after the term Jeet Kune Do existed. Also Bruce gave Dan all three diplomas on the same day, suggesting perhaps that Bruce wanted Dan to be his protege. All other Jeet Kune Do instructors since Lee's death have been certified directly by Dan Inosanto.
James Yimm Lee, a close friend of Lee, died without certifying additional students. Taky Kimura, to date, has certified only one person in Jun Fan Gung Fu: his son and heir Andy Kimura. Dan Inosanto continued to teach and certify select students in Jeet Kune Do for over 30 years, making it possible for thousands of martial arts practitioners to trace their training lineage back to Bruce Lee. Prior to his death, Lee told his then only two living instructors Inosanto and Kimura (James Yimm Lee had died in 1972) to dismantle his schools. Both Taky Kimura and Dan Inosanto were allowed to teach small classes thereafter, under the guideline "keep the numbers low, but the quality high". Bruce also instructed several World Karate Champions including Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, and Mike Stone. Between all 3 of them, during their training with Bruce they won every Karate Championship in the United States.
At the invitation of Ed Parker, Lee appeared in the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships and performed repetitions of two-finger pushups (using the thumb and the index finger) with feet at approximately a shoulder-width apart. In the same Long Beach event he also performed the "One inch punch". The description of which is as follows: Lee stood upright, his right foot forward with knees bent slightly, in front of a standing, stationary partner. Lee's right arm was partly extended and his right fist approximately an inch away from the partner's chest. Without retracting his right arm, Lee then forcibly delivered the punch to his partner while largely maintaining his posture, sending the partner backwards and falling into a chair said to be placed behind the partner to prevent injury, though the force of gravity caused his partner to soon after fall onto the floor.
His volunteer was Bob Baker of Stockton, California. "I told Bruce not to do this type of demonstration again", he recalled. "When he punched me that last time, I had to stay home from work because the pain in my chest was unbearable.
|1955||William Cheung||Hong Kong||Exhibition|
|1957||Wong Shun-Leung||Hong Kong||Exhibition|
|1958||Pu Chang||Hong Kong||KO 2||Referee: Wong Shun-Leung|
|1958||Yang Huang||Hong Kong||KO 1||Amateur Boxing Tournament|
|1958||Lieh Lo||Hong Kong||KO 1||Amateur Boxing Tournament|
|1958||Shen Yuen||Hong Kong||KO 1||Amateur Boxing Tournament-Semi Finals|
|1958||Gary Elms||Hong Kong||KO 3||Amateur Boxing Tournament-Finals|
|1960||(unknown)||Seattle, Washington||KO 1||Lee scored a knockout with a backfist/Street Fight|
|1960||(unknown)||Seattle, Washington||KO 1||Street Fight|
|1962 (?)||Uechi||Seattle, Washington||KO 1||Referee: Jesse Glover|
|1964||Wong Jack Man||Oakland, California||Controversial||Result of this fight is disputed. Some sources claim the fight ended in a draw or a win for Lee.|
|1973||(Kung fu fighter)||Hong Kong||KO||The KO came 30 seconds into the fight.|
Lee was not a professional competitor, but he did set his sights upon the goal of being one of the fittest and strongest fighters of the world, and he went through life earnestly attempting to achieve this. Lee researched many arts in his life and used what he found was useful and rejected what he did not. He also made subtle changes where he could if what he found did not fit his specific requirements. He tended to favor techniques where he could best take advantage of his own attributes, be it his phenomenal speed, strength, elusiveness or power. As seen in his films, Lee shrieked and made high-pitched noises while moving to throw opponents psychically off-center. Lee did say he could have beaten anybody in the world in a real fight.
Dan Inosanto said, "there's no doubt in my mind that if Bruce Lee had gone into pro boxing, he could easily have ranked in the top three in the lightweight division or junior-welterweight division."
Lee had boxed in the 1958 Boxing Championships held between twelve Hong Kong schools, a tournament in which he beat the three-time champion from another school (an English boy).
Lee felt that many martial artists of his day did not spend enough time on physical conditioning. Bruce included all elements of total fitness—muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility. He tried traditional bodybuilding techniques to build bulky muscles or mass. However, Lee was careful to admonish that mental and spiritual preparation was fundamental to the success of physical training in martial arts skills. In his book The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, he wrote
The weight training program that Lee used during a stay in Hong Kong in 1965 at only 24 years old placed heavy emphasis on his arms. At that time he could perform bicep curls at a weight of 70 to 80lbs for three sets of eight repetitions, along with other forms of exercises, such as squats, push-ups, reverse curls, concentration curls, French presses, and both wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. The repetitions he performed were 6 to 12 reps (at the time). While this method of training targeted his fast and slow twitch muscles, it later resulted in weight gain or muscle mass, placing Bruce a little over 160 lbs. Lee was documented as having well over 2,500 books in his own personal library, and eventually concluded that "A stronger muscle, is a bigger muscle", a conclusion he later disputed. Bruce forever experimented with his training routines to maximize his physical abilities, and push the human body to its limits. He employed many different routines and exercises including skipping rope, which served his training and bodybuilding purposes effectively.
Lee believed that the abdominal muscles were one of the most important muscle groups for a martial artist, since virtually every movement requires some degree of abdominal work. Perhaps more importantly, the "abs" are like a shell, protecting the ribs and vital organs.
He trained from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., including stomach, flexibility, and running, and from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. he would weight train and cycle. A typical exercise for Lee would be to run a distance of two to six miles in 15 to 45 minutes, in which he would vary speed in 3–5 minute intervals. Lee would ride the equivalent of 10 miles in 45 minutes on a stationary bike.
Lee would sometimes exercise with the jump rope and put in 800 jumps after cycling. Lee would also do exercises to toughen the skin on his fists, including thrusting his hands into buckets of harsh rocks and gravel. He would do over 500 repetitions of this on a given day.
Linda recalls Bruce's waist fluctuated between 26 and 28 inches. "He also drank his own juice concoctions made from vegetables and fruits, apples, celery, carrots and so on, prepared in an electric blender". He consumed green vegetables, fruits, and fresh milk everyday. Bruce always preferred to eat Chinese or other Asian food because he loved the variety that it had. Bruce also became a heavy advocate of dietary supplements, including:
A doctor who knew Lee once claimed that he was "Muscled as a squirrel, and spirited as a horse" and fitter than anyone he had ever seen. Lee was known to have collected over 140 books in his lifetime on bodybuilding, weight training, physiology and kinesiology. In order to better train specific muscle groups, he also created several original designs of his own training equipment and had his friend George Lee build them to his specifications.
The following quotations reflect his fighting philosophy.
Writings attributed to Lee published posthumously by his estate in several volumes (including The Tao of Jeet Kune Do and the Bruce Lee Library Series of books), have been found to contain scores of incorrectly attributed material, including passages belonging to Alan Watts, Helen Keller, Dear Abby, Fritz Perls, Benjamin Franklin, Hugh Prather, Eric Hoffer, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and dozens of other writers. These writings were published from hand-written notes which Bruce Lee compiled throughout his life. While it is fair to point out that Bruce Lee did not authorize the publication of his notes after his death, one of the books, The Tao of Gung Fu, contains at least one essay Lee submitted to his Freshman English class at the University of Washington at Seattle as well as a draft of a chapter for a proposed book by the same name. Both contain plagiarized passages from the books The Way of Zen and This is It by Alan Watts, creatively arranged and presented as the first-person experiences of Lee. In the book, Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew, written by Lee's widow, Linda, Bruce Lee's former English teacher recounts accusing Lee of plagiarizing. "I accused him once of doing that and he sort of laughed," stated Margaret Walters. "He didn't admit it, but he didn't deny it, either.
|Lineage in Wing Chun / Jeet Kune Do|
|Sifu in Wing Chun||Yip Man (葉問)|
|Other instructors||Sihing Wong Shun-leung (黃惇樑) William Cheung|
|Notable Sparring partner||Toe Dai Hawkins Cheung Note: He was Lee's friend at the time.|
Bruce Lee (李小龍)
Creator of Jeet Kune Do
|Instructors certified by Lee to teach Jeet Kune Do || Dan Inosanto|
James Yimm Lee (Died 1972)
|Known students in Jun Fan|
Gung Fu/Jeet Kune Do
| Brandon Bruce Lee|
James Yimm Lee
|Famous students taught|
Jun Fan/Jeet Kune Do
| Chuck Norris|
Mike Stone Numerous others...
A foreshadowing of events to come occurred on May 10, 1973, when Lee collapsed in Golden Harvest studios while doing dubbing work for Enter the Dragon. Suffering from full-body seizures and cerebral edema, he was immediately rushed to Hong Kong Baptist Hospital where doctors were able to reduce the swelling through the administration of Mannitol and revive him. These same symptoms that occurred in his first collapse were later repeated on the day of his death.
On July 20, 1973, Lee was in Hong Kong, due to have dinner with former James Bond star George Lazenby, with whom he intended to make a film. According to Lee's wife Linda, Lee met producer Raymond Chow at 2 p.m. at home to discuss the making of the movie Game of Death. They worked until 4 p.m. and then drove together to the home of Lee's colleague Betty Ting, a Taiwanese actress. The three went over the script at Ting's home, and then Chow left to attend a dinner meeting.
A short time later, Lee complained of a headache, and Ting gave him an analgesic (painkiller), Equagesic, which contained both aspirin and a muscle relaxant. Around 7:30 p.m., he went to lie down for a nap. After Lee did not turn up for dinner, Chow came to the apartment but could not wake Lee up. A doctor was summoned, who spent ten minutes attempting to revive him before sending him by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. However, Lee was dead by the time he reached the hospital. There was no visible external injury; however, his brain had swollen considerably, from 1,400 to 1,575 grams (a 13% increase). Lee was 32 years old. The only two substances found during the autopsy were Equagesic and trace amounts of cannabis. On October 15, 2005, Chow stated in an interview that Lee died from a hypersensitivity to the muscle relaxant in Equagesic, which he described as a common ingredient in painkillers. When the doctors announced Lee's death officially, it was ruled a "death by misadventure."
Dr. Langford, who treated Lee for his first collapse, stated after his death that, "There's not a question in my mind that cannabis should have been named as the presumptive cause of death. He also believed that, "Equagesic was not at all involved in Bruce's first collapse. Professor R.D. Teare, who had overseen over 100,000 autopsies, was the top expert assigned to the Lee case. Dr. Teare declared that the presence of cannabis was mere coincidence, and added that it would be "irresponsible and irrational" to say that it might have triggered Lee's death. His conclusion was that the death was caused by an acute cerebral edema due to a reaction to compounds present in the prescription pain killing drug Equagesic. Dr. Peter Wu's preliminary opinion was that the cause of death could have been a reaction to cannabis and Equagesic. Dr. Wu would later back off from this position however:
The exact details of Lee's death are a subject of controversy.
His wife Linda returned to her home town of Seattle, and had him buried at lot 276 of Lakeview Cemetery. Pallbearers at his funeral on July 31, 1973, included Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Chuck Norris, George Lazenby, Dan Inosanto, Taky Kimura, Peter Chin, and his brother, Robert Lee.
The curse theory was extended to his son Brandon Lee, also an actor, who died, 20 years after his father, in a bizarre accident while filming The Crow at the age of 28. It was released after his death and gained cult status, as his father's last film had been, and did. (The Crow was completed with the use of computer-generated imagery and a stunt double in the few, but critical, scenes that remained to be filmed.) Brandon Lee was buried beside his father.
In April, 2007, Chinese state media announced that its national broadcaster had started filming a 40-part TV series on Lee titled The Legend of Bruce Lee to promote Chinese culture for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Lee will be portrayed by Chan Kwok Kuen in the series.
On August 22, 2007, Fruit Chan announced that he will make a film on Bruce Lee's early years, in Chinese, entitled Kowloon City, produced by John Woo's producer Terence Chang, and set in 1950s Hong Kong.
Stanley Kwan stated that he was talking with Lee's family to make a biographical film on Lee. Kwan says that his film will look at how Bruce Lee was affected by the absence of his father and how he brought up his own son, Brandon Lee.
On October 7, 2008, China state TV announced that it will air a 50-part biography of Bruce Lee titled 'The Legend of Bruce Lee'.