I was introduced to martial arts films when I was young and we had a local time slot call "Kung fu Theater". Growing up in the 70's and early 80's Kung fu in America was this NEW AMAZING thing and it was this man, Bruce Lee, that helped us in the west open our eyes to it. He had become a phenomenon by my time with hundreds of imitators and many satirical skits were being performed on shows like Saturday Night Live and SCTV (Second City Television).
While researching for this article I even went as far as to look into G.I. Joe action figures. Why would I do that? You may ask. Well, in 1974, a year after Bruce Lee's death, Hasbro came out with The Adventure series with patented "Kung Fu Grip". While Google failed me, I did find this blog where the author speculates that the company was possibly trying to tap into the martial arts sensation sweeping the nation.
Bruce trained many of Hollywood's big action stars of the time such as James Coburn, Chuck Norris, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Garner, and Steve McQueen. He was introduced to nunchaku by Daniel Arca "Dan" Inosanto, a well known Filipino-American Martial arts instructor that was also into acting.
Now that I have introduced you to the Legend, let's get to know him a little more.
Stage name: "Bruce" Jun Fan Lee
Real Name: Lee Siu Loong (細鳳)
Other Names: Lee Yuen Cham (李源鑫 ), Lee Yuen Kam (李元鑒)
Native name: 李振藩
Nicknames: Little Dragon (sister), Little Phoenix (parents), King Gorilla, Mo Si Tung or Never Sits Still (Family), Upstart (Yip Man)
Born: November 27, 1940 -Chinatown, San Francisco, California U.S.A
Died: July 20, 1973, in Kowloon Tong, British Hong KongHeight: 5' 7¼" (1.71 m)
Chinese zodiac: Hour of the Dragon in the year of the Dragon
Western Zodiac: Sagittarius
Education: University of Washington
M/A Styles Wing Chun, Jeet Kun Do
Spoken languages: Cantonese and American English
Baby Lee Siu Loong (細鳳) with his parents
Bruce was the fourth child born to Lee Hoi Chuen (an opera singer for the Cantonese Hong Kong Opera) and his wife Grace Ho (a daughter of one of the wealthiest families in Hong Kong the Ho Tung). Grace Ho was the niece of Sir Robert Hotung. Bruce had two older sisters, Phoebe and Agnes, an older brother, Peter, and a younger brother, Robert. Bruce’s parents gave him the name “Jun Fan”. The name "Bruce" came from a nurse at the hospital and he did not use it himself until he was in secondary school.
When he was 3 months old, he moved with his family back to Hong Kong where he became a child actor, studied dancing and, at the age 13, began learning Wing Chung (A style of Kung Fu) under Yip (Ip) Man. Here is a video with his mom about why he started doing martial arts in the first place. Depending on the source, Bruce Lee still holds 9 (video ) or 7 World records.
When he turned 18, he returned to America to ensure his dual citizenship and finally settled in Seattle where he supported himself by teaching Kung Fu. He met his future wife, Linda Emery, teaching these classes. After marrying Linda in 1964, he left his first school in the hands of Taky Kimura and moved to Oakland where he opened a second school.
In 1964, Bruce was challenged by some gung fu men from San Francisco who objected to his teaching of non-Chinese students. Bruce accepted the challenge and the men arrived at the kwoon in Oakland on the appointed day for the face off. The terms were that if Bruce were defeated, he would stop teaching the non Chinese. It was a short fight with his opponent giving up when Bruce had him pinned to the floor. Even though he had won, he was winded and discouraged about his inability to put the man away in under three minutes. This marked a turning point for Bruce in his exploration of his martial art and the enhancement of his physical fitness. Thus began the evolution of Jeet Kune Do. - Source BruceLee.com
Videos of his speed can be seen on this site (just make sure to enable flash if you use chrome).
He was known for his physical fitness and it changed from just strength training to a strict regiment that included muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility. During one of his daily routines, he lifted a barbel without warming up and injured his back. Doctors swore he would never do martial arts again, but he proved them wrong.
In Tao of Jeet Kune Do, he wrote:
Training is one of the most neglected phases of athletics. Too much time is given to the development of skill and too little to the development of the individual for participation. JKD, ultimately is not a matter of petty techniques but of highly developed spirituality and physique.
Besides physical and mental training, Bruce also wrote poetry, usually handwritten, then turned in to be edited and published. Linda Lee Caldwell stated about her husband's poems: "Lee's poems are, by American standards, rather dark -- reflecting the deeper, less exposed recesses of the human psyche".
In 1973, Bruce took a pain pill and laid down to rest and never woke back up. The coroner's report stated he had a hypersensitive reaction to an ingredient in the pain medication that caused a swelling of the fluid on the brain, resulting in a coma and death.
The movies and acting
Lee Jun Fan had been acting since he was a baby and had been in 20 movies before he left Hong Kong at age 18. He acted under the names Siu Hoi Chuen Lee, Siu Lung Lee, Lee Jun Fan, and Lee Siu Lung.
Bruce had given up on acting when he left China but fate intervened when he got a call from William Dozier to come for an audition. Mr. Dozier had seen the film of his performance at the First International Karate Tournament put on by Ed Parker (widely regarded as the father of American Kenpo ). After that Bruce was on several Tv shows that included The Green Hornet, Batman, and The Milton Berle Show as Kato.
From 1967 -1971, he took tv roles here and there but could not find anything like what he was looking for until he returned to Hong Kong where he was offered the roles in 2 movies. These were The Big Boss and Fist of Fury and both became box office successes.
Bruce then created a company with Raymond Chow called Concord productions. Then Bruce wrote, directed and produced Way of the Dragon. Now Hollywood was taking notice and in 1972, he began filming Game of Death which was put on hold when Warner Bros wanted to do the first Hong Kong-American Co-production. The project was Enter the Dragon.
His movies were few in number but HUGE on impact and the American public embraced it. For those that are old enough to remember David Carradine in Kung Fu.
In her memoirs, Bruce Lee's widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, asserts that Lee created the concept for the series, which was then stolen by Warner Bros. There is circumstantial evidence for this in a December 8, 1971, television interview that Bruce Lee gave on The Pierre Berton Show. In the interview, Lee stated that he had developed a concept for a television series called The Warrior, meant to star himself, about a martial artist in the American Old West (the same concept as Kung Fu, which aired the following year), but that he was having trouble pitching it to Warner Brothers and Paramount.
In the interview, Pierre Berton commented, "There's a pretty good chance that you'll get a TV series in the States called 'The Warrior', in it, where you use what, the Martial Arts in Western setting?"
Lee responded, "That was the original idea, ...both of them [Warner and Paramount], I think, they want me to be in a modernized type of a thing, and they think that the Western type of thing is out. Whereas I want to do the Western. Because, you see, how else can you justify all of the punching and kicking and violence, except in the period of the West?"
Later in the interview, Berton asked Lee about "the problems that you face as a Chinese hero in an American series. Have people come up in the industry and said 'well, we don't know how the audience are going to take a non-American'?"
Lee replied, "Well, such question has been raised, in fact, it is being discussed. That is why The Warrior is probably not going to be on." Lee adds, "They think that business-wise it is a risk. I don't blame them. If the situation were reversed, and an American star were to come to Hong Kong, and I was the man with the money, I would have my own concerns as to whether the acceptance would be there."
Whether or not Kung Fu was based on a concept by Lee, he was undoubtedly considered for the starring role, according to Herbie Pilato in his 1993 book 'The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western' (pages 32–33), and David Carradine himself in a 1989 interview mentions that Bruce Lee was passed over for the role. -- Wikipedia
Bruce Lee wrote three books: Chinese Kung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self Defense (Bruce Lee's first book) – 1963, Tao of Jeet Kune Do (Published posthumously) – 1973 and Bruce Lee's Fighting Method (Published posthumously) – 1978.
Lee was named among TIME Magazine's 100 Most Important People of the Century as one of the greatest heroes & icons, as an example of personal improvement through, in part, physical fitness, and among the most influential martial artists of the twentieth century.
Still, to this day, he is considered by different documentaries, magazines (such as Black Belt Magazine), media (such as the UFC channel Spike (TV channel)) and websites about martial arts as the greatest martial artist of the 20th century, or of all time.
- In 1958, he won the Crown Colony Hong Kong Cha Cha Championship.
- In 1979, with the master of ceremonies Joe Green, the Mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, officially proclaimed June 8 as Bruce Lee Day.
- In 1993, Lee received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- In 1999, he was the first martial artist that was introduced to the "Martial Arts Hall of Fame".
- In 2001, LMF, a Cantonese hip-hop group in Hong Kong, released a popular song called "1127" as a tribute to Lee.
- In 2004, UFC president Dana White credited Lee as the "father of mixed martial arts".
- On 26 November 2005, the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina honoured Lee with a statue on the Spanish Square, as a symbol of solidarity. After many years of war and religious splits, Lee's figure was to commend his work: to successfully bridge culture gaps in the world. (One day before the unveiling of the statue in Hong Kong, below).
- In 2005, Lee was remembered in Hong Kong with a bronze statue to mark his sixty-fifth birthday. The bronze statue unveiled on 27 November 2005, honoured Lee as Chinese film's bright star of the century.
- 2006, the ground breaks for a Bruce Lee theme park in Shunde, China. Tripadvisor link.
- On 10 April 2007, China's national broadcaster announced it has started filming a 50-part series on Lee. Xinhua News Agency said China Central Television started shooting "The Legend of Bruce Lee" over the weekend in Shunde in Guangdong province in southern China. Shunde is the ancestral home of Lee, who was born in San Francisco. It said the 50 million yuan (US$6.4 million; €4.8 million) production will also be filmed in Hong Kong and the United States, where Lee studied and launched his acting career. Danny Chan Kwok Kwan, who plays Lee, said he has mixed feelings about playing the role of the icon, Xinhua reported. "I'm nervous and also excited, but I will do my best.", Chan was quoted as saying. Chan, best known for appearing in the action comedy "Kung Fu Hustle", says Lee has been his role model since he was a child and that he has practiced Kung Fu for many years.
- On 31 March 2007, Lee was named as one of History's 100 Most Influential people, according to a Japanese national survey that was televised on NTV.
- In 2008, plans for a Hong Kong museum dedicated to Lee were also in discussion. Lee's two-story Hong Kong home was to be sold in July for as much as $13 million to benefit victims of the Sichuan earthquake, but its philanthropist owner, responding to pleas from Lee's fans, decided instead to donate the property to the city so that, hopefully, it could be turned into a museum some day.
- On January 6, 2009, it was announced that Lee's Hong Kong home (41 Cumberland Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong) would be preserved and transformed into a tourist site by Yu Pang Lin. Yu died in 2015 and this plan did not materialize. In 2018, Yu's grandson, Pang Chi Ping, said: "We will convert the mansion into a centre for Chinese studies next year, which provides courses like Mandarin and Chinese music for children."
- In April 2013, he was posthumously awarded the prestigious Founders Award at The Asian Awards.
- From 20 July 2013 - 20 July 2020, The Hong Kong Heritage Museum has an exhibit on his life and art.
- June 15, 2013. Another statue of Lee was unveiled in Los Angeles, in the Chinatown neighbourhood. It stands at 7 ft (210 cm) tall and was made in Guangzhou, China.
- In April 2014, Lee was named as a featured character in the video game EA Sports UFC and is playable in multiple weight classes.
- Lee may have Jewish ancestry.
(List modified from Wikipedia)
Some of Bruce Lee's Quotes
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”
"A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at."
"Mistakes are always forgivable if one has the courage to admit them."
I am sure this article does not do justice to the legend that is Bruce Lee, but I hope it at least makes you want to watch his movies and appreciate the man that made them.