Welcome to the Bruce Lee Club UK newsletter.
Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973) is widely considered to be the greatest martial arts film actor of the 20th century. His films, especially the last performance in Enter the Dragon, elevated the by-then traditional Hong Kong martial arts film to a new level, and artists like Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris have been able to work from this platform. He was married to Linda Emery, with whom he had a son, Brandon, and daughter, Shannon. His son, Brandon Lee, was a martial artist and an actor.
Born in San Francisco, California to a Chinese father Lee Hoi-Chuen and a German-Chinese mother Grace Lee, Bruce Lee was raised in Hong Kong, where his parents lived. His parents were film actors, hence he had the opportunity to appear in several Chinese movies as a child. He also studied the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu.
In 1959, Bruce Lee went to Seattle to complete his high school education. He received his diploma from Edison Technical School and went on to enroll in the University of Washington as a philosophy major. It was at the UW that he would meet his wife Linda Emery.
After leaving University, Bruce Lee went on to star as Kato in the television series The Green Hornet. On his return to Hong Kong, he starred in the movies that would cement his fame.
After studying and becoming dissatisfied with existing classical schools of martial arts, Bruce Lee began the process of creating his own style: Jun Fan Gung Fu, a modification of Wing Chun blended with Western Boxing, and Fencing. His schools were called Jun Fan Gung Fu Institutes. Later, in order to apply a more descriptive name, he renamed it Jeet Kune Do. JKD was a further refinement of his style which incorporated elements from many styles to create a more streamlined and practical martial art, as well as a comprehensive system of fitness training. JKD is also defined as his personal philosophy of how martial arts should be effectively practiced (and according to others also as a self-help philosophy).
Bruce Lee frequently gave demonstrations of his two-finger pushups and his famous "one inch punch". He was a very well rounded man, being well educated both academically (he was a philosophy major at the University of Washington) and in the field of martial arts. His studies of Wing Chun Gung Fu sparked his enthusiasm and understanding of martial arts. In fact, Wing Chun was the only martial art Lee formally studied, under the guidance of Yip Man. Throughout his life Lee studied many styles of martial arts through an extensive literature research and contacts with other martial artists. Many contemporary martial arts instructors, in an effort to promote themselves or their schools, make dubious claims about learning from or teaching Bruce Lee. This was a major reason why he put rigid standards forth to earn certification in his arts.
It is rumored that Bruce Lee used an electric current as an aid to strength training, because of the leanness the muscles gained in working against themselves. However, this muscle stimulator was only one of many pieces of equipment and exercise routines Lee used to achieve his on-screen physical appearance. His obsession with physical fitness is seen in his personal notes and diary. Lee tracked the evolution of his training in his diary, which has been recollected and published in The Bruce Lee Library by John Little a "martial arts historian" from Bruce Lee's Estate.
On July 20, 1973, Bruce Lee was 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, Bruce met producer Raymond Chow at 2 pm at home to discuss the making of the movie Game of Death. They worked until 4 pm, and then drove together to the home of Betty Ting Pei, Taiwanese actress who was to also have a leading role in the film. The three went over the script at her home, and then Chow left to attend a dinner meeting.
A short time later, Bruce Lee complained of a headache and Tingpei gave him a tablet of Equagesic. At around 7.30 pm, he lay down for a nap. After Lee didn't turn up for the dinner, Chow came to the apartment but could not wake up Lee. A doctor was summoned, who spent 10 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. The ensuing autopsy found traces of cannabis in his stomach. There was no visible external injury, however his brain had swollen considerably, from 1,400 to 1,575 grams. Lee was 32 years old.
A similar incident had occurred a few months before. On May 10, during the final dubbing of Enter the Dragon, he suffered a sudden attack of seizures and a cerebral edema which was not fatal. The neurosurgeon who saved his life in May, Dr. Peter Wu, said that he removed a considerable amount of hashish from Lee's stomach. Bruce, whose entrained paranoia grew with his international fame, had been chewing hashish to calm himself. Dr. Wu, who is renowned for his cerebral edema research in Asian males, said that various neurological problems associated with hashish had been recorded in Nepalese men. Bruce was very vulnerable to the effects of drugs due to his extremely low body fat. Dr. Donald Langford, Lee's physician in Hong Kong, said that Bruce's body was less than one percent body fat, that "it was obscene how little body fat he had."
Dr. Langford says that, "This man was muscled like a squirrel, spirited as a horse. I've never seen anybody as physically fit as Bruce. Equagesic is prescribed in the million-dose range every day in Asia.
Despite the opinions of those closest to Bruce Lee, his death is still the source of much sensationalism and controversy. Rumors concerning the cause of his death range from Lee being killed by Hong Kong triads (gangsters) because he refused to pay them protection money; to his being killed by an angry martial artist's dim mak (death touch) strike for having angered the martial arts community by revealing ancient secrets to foreigners; to drug use. However the official cause of death, cerebral edema, was recorded as being the result of an allergic reaction to the analgesic he took combined with medicine he took for back pain, that he sustained after pinching a nerve in his lower back while doing dead lift exercises without properly warming up. A condition that left him in a wheelchair. Fortunately, contrary to his doctor's prognosis that he would never kick again, Lee regained his athletic prowess -- better than ever. Yet, it left with him a lifelong pain in his back.
Bruce Lee is interred in Seattle's Lake View Cemetery.
Although he made only a handful of films and television appearances in his adulthood, Bruce Lee has become an iconic figure in life, and in movies, as a personification of a small man who became the epitome of what some see as mental and physical perfection. His fame also sparked the first major surge of interest in Chinese martial arts in the West. The direction and tone of Bruce Lee's movies have forever changed and influenced action and martial arts films.
Awards and honors:
The film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is a highly fictionalized biography of his life/legend.
In 1958, Lee was the Cha Cha Champion of Hong Kong. He worked part time as a Cha Cha instructor for a short time when he returned to San Francisco in April 1959.
The Shaman King character Lee Bailong (Lee Pai-Long) is a reference to Bruce Lee.
The Street Fighter character Fei-Long is essentially an exaggerated clone of Lee, as is the Tekken character Law, whose moves include the One Inch Punch made famous by Lee.
A character from Naruto named Rock Lee bears some similarity to Bruce Lee. In the anime and manga, the character is a master of a purely martial-arts fighting style.