Thursday, May 10, 2012

Legends: Bruce Lee

One of the most amazing martial artists that ever lived. The original “action star”, Bruce Lee brought to America (and the world) his style of martial arts and created the biggest craze ever seen. Millions around the globe study the Bruce Lee philosophy.

He even gets a mention in my book, "Of The Light".

Bruce Lee (born Lee Jun-fan; November 27th 1940 and died July 20th 1973) was a Chinese American Hong Kong actor, martial arts instructor, philosopher, film director, film producer, screenwriter, and founder of the Jeet Kune Do martial arts movement. He is widely considered by many commentators, critics, media and other martial artists to be the most influential martial artist of the 20th century, and one of the biggest pop culture icons that ever lived. He is often credited with changing the way Asians were presented in American films.


Lee was born in San Francisco to parents of Hong Kong heritage, but was raised in Hong Kong until his late teens. Lee returned to the United States at the age of 18 to claim his U.S. citizenship and receive his higher education. It was during this time that he began teaching martial arts, which soon led to film and television roles.

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 a major surge of interest in Chinese martial arts in the West in the 1970s. 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. He is noted for his roles in five feature-length films: Lo Wei's “The Big Boss” (1971) and “Fist Of Fury” (1972); “Way Of The Dragon” (1972), directed and written by Lee; Warner brother's “Enter The Dragon” (1973) and “The Game Of Death” (1978), both directed by Robert Clouse.


Lee became an iconic figure known throughout the world, particularly among the Chinese, as he portrayed Chinese nationalism in his films. He initially trained in Wing Chun, but he later rejected well-defined martial art styles, favoring instead the use of techniques from various sources, in the spirit of his personal martial arts philosophy, which he dubbed Jeet Kune Do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist).


Bruce Lee was born on 27 November 1940 at the Chinese Hospital in Chinatown, San Francisco. According to the Chinese zodiac, Lee was born in both the hour and the year of the Dragon which in this cultural tradition is considered a strong and fortuitous omen. His father, Lee Hoi-chuen, was fully Chinese, and his mother, Grace Ho (何愛瑜), was half Chinese and half Caucasian. Grace was the daughter of Ho Kom-tong and the niece of Sir Robert Ho-tung, both notable Hong Kong businessmen and philanthropists. Lee was the fourth child of five children: Agnes, Phoebe, Peter, and Robert. Lee and his parents returned to Hong Kong when he was three months old.

After attending Tak Sun School (德信學校) (a couple of blocks from his home at 218 Nathan Road, Kowloon), Lee entered the primary school division of La Salle College in 1950 or 1952 (at the age of 12). In around 1956, due to poor academic performance (or possibly poor conduct as well), he was transferred to St. Francis Xavier’s College (high school) where he would be mentored by Brother Edward, a teacher and coach of the school boxing team.

In the spring of 1959, Lee got into yet another street fight and the police were called. From all the way to his late teens, Lee's street fights became more frequent and included beating up the son of a feared triad family. Eventually, Lee's father decided for him to leave Hong Kong to pursue a safer and healthier avenue in the United States. His parents confirmed the police's fear that this time Lee's opponent had an organized crime background, and there was the possibility that a contract was out on his life.


The police detective came and he says "Excuse me Mr. Lee, your son is really fighting bad in school. If he gets into just one more fight I might have to put him in jail". - Robert Lee.

In April 1959, Lee's parents decided to send him to the United States to stay with his older sister, Agnes Lee (李秋鳳), who was already living with family friends in San Francisco.

At the age of 18, Lee returned to the United States with $100 in his pocket and the titles of 1957 High School Boxing Champion and 1958 Crown Colony Cha Cha Champion of Hong Kong. After living in San Francisco for several months, he moved to Seattle in 1959, to continue his high school education, where he also worked for Ruby Chow as a live-in waiter at her restaurant.

Chow's husband was a co-worker and friend of Lee's father. Lee's elder brother Peter Lee (李忠琛) would also join him in Seattle for a short stay before moving on to Minnesota to attend college. In December 1960, Lee completed his high school education and received his diploma from Edison Technical School (now Seattle Central Community College, located on Capitol Hill, Seattle).


In March 1961, Lee enrolled at the University Of Washington, majoring in drama according to the university's alumni association information, not in philosophy as claimed by Lee himself and many others. Lee also studied philosophy, psychology, and various other subjects. It was at the University of Washington that he met his future wife Linda Emery, a fellow student studying to become a teacher, whom he married in August 1964.

Bruce Lee had two children with Linda Emery, Brandon Lee and Shannon Lee.

Lee began teaching martial arts in the United States in 1959. He called what he taught Jun Fan Gung Fu (literally Bruce Lee's Kung Fu). It was basically his approach to Wing Chun. Lee taught friends he met in Seattle, starting with Judo practitioner Jesse Glover, who later became his first assistant instructor. Lee opened his first martial arts school, named the Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, in Seattle.

Lee dropped out of college in the spring of 1964 and moved to Oakland to live with James Yimm Lee. (嚴鏡海). James Lee was twenty years senior to Bruce Lee and a well known Chinese martial artist in the area. Together, they founded the second Jun Fan martial art studio in Oakland. James Lee was also responsible for introducing Bruce Lee to Ed Parker, royalty of the U.S. martial arts world and organizer of the Long Beach International Karate Championships at which Bruce Lee was later "discovered" by Hollywood.


Jeet Kune Do originated in 1967. After filming one season of “The Green Hornet“, Lee found himself out of work and opened The Jun Fan Institute of Gung Fu. A controversial match with Wong Jack Man influenced Lee's philosophy about martial arts. Lee concluded that the fight had lasted too long and that he had failed to live up to his potential using his 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, including fencing and basic boxing techniques.

Lee emphasized what he called "the style of no style". This consisted of getting rid of the formalized approach which Lee claimed was indicative of traditional styles. Lee felt the system he now called Jun Fan Gung Fu was even too restrictive, and eventually evolved into a philosophy and martial art he would come to call 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 defeated three-time champion British boxer Gary Elms by way of knockout in the third round in the 1958 Hong Kong Inter-School amateur Boxing Championships by using Wing Chun traps and high/low-level straight punches.

The following year, Lee became a member of the "Tigers of Junction Street," and was involved in numerous gang-related street fights. "In one of his last encounters, while removing his jacket the fellow he was squaring off against sucker punched him and blackened his eye. Bruce flew into a rage and went after him, knocking him out, breaking his opponent's arm. The police were called as a result". The incident took place on a Hong Kong rooftop at 10 pm on Wednesday, 29 April 1959.


In 1962, Lee was challenged by a man who had been holding a grudge against Lee while the two were practicing at a YMCA in Seattle. The man was described by Jesse Glover as a karate man who also had a black-belt in judo, though Glover, who was a brown belt in judo at the time, claimed to be better than the man in judo. After weeks or months of provocation by the man, Lee agreed to fight the man for three two-minute rounds, with the winner being the one who knocked the opponent down or out in two out of three rounds. The match took place at YMCA's handball court, with Glover as the referee and Ed Hart as the time keeper. Lee wore street clothes and used a Wing Chun stance while his opponent wore a gi and used a karate stance. According to Glover, Lee used his right forearm to deflect an initial kick from the man and simultaneously landed a left punch to the face. Lee deflected more punches using the forearm, controlling the center line and landed more punches to the man's face until he was against the wall. The man attempted to grab Lee's arms, which Lee responded by a double fist punch to the face and chest, followed by a kick to the nose, which produced a nosebleed and a knockout, at which time Glover stopped the fight. Taki Kamura said the fight lasted 10 seconds. Ed Hart stated "the fight lasted exactly 11 seconds – I know because I was the time keeper – and Bruce had hit the guy something like 15 times and kicked him once. I thought he'd killed him".

In Oakland, California in 1964 at Chinatown, Lee had a controversial private match with Wong Jack Man, a direct student of Ma Kin Fung known for his mastery of Xingyiquan, Northern Shaolin, and T’ai chi ch’uan. According to Lee, the Chinese community issued an ultimatum to him to stop teaching non-Chinese. When he refused to comply, he was challenged to a combat match with Wong. The arrangement was that if Lee lost, he would have to shut down his school; while if he won, then Lee would be free to teach Caucasians or anyone else. Wong denied this, stating that he requested to fight Lee after Lee issued an open challenge during one of Lee's demonstrations at a Chinatown theatre, and that Wong himself did not discriminate against Caucasians or other non-Chinese. Lee commented, "That paper had all the names of the sifu from Chinatown, but they don't scare me".

Lee's father, Lee Hoi-chuen, was a famous Cantonese opera star. Because of this, Lee was introduced into films at a very young age and appeared in several films as a child. Lee had his first role as a baby who was carried onto the stage in the film “Golden Gate Girl“. By the time he was 18, he had appeared in twenty films.

While in the United States from 1959 to 1964, Lee abandoned thoughts of a film career in favor of pursuing martial arts. However, a martial arts exhibition on Long Beach in 1964 eventually led to the invitation by William Dozier for an audition for a part in the pilot for "Number One Son". The show never aired, but Lee was invited for 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 three television series: Ironside (1967), Here Come the Brides (1969), and Blondie (1969).

At the time, two of Lee's martial arts students were Hollywood script writer Stirling Silliphant and actor James Coburn. In 1969 the three worked on a script for a film called “The Silent Flute”, and went together on a location hunt to India. The project was not realized at the time; but the 1978 film “Circle Of Iron“, starring David Carradine, was based on the same plot. In 2010, producer Paul Maslansky was reported to plan and receive funding for a film based on the original script for “The Silent Flute”. In 1969, Lee made a brief appearance in the Silliphant-penned 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. The same year he also choreographed fight scenes for “The Wrecking Crew” starring Dean Martin, Sharon Tate, and featuring Chuck Norris in his first role. In 1970, he was responsible for fight choreography for “A Walk in the Spring rain” starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn, again written by Silliphant. In 1971, Lee appeared in four episodes of the television series Longstreet, written by Silliphant. Lee played the martial arts instructor of the title character Mike Longstreet (played by James Franciscus), and important aspects of his martial arts philosophy were written into the script.


According to statements made by Lee, and also by Lind Lee Cadwell, after Lee's death, in 1971 Lee pitched a television series of his own tentatively titled “The Warrior” discussions which were also confirmed by Warner Bros. In a 9 December 1971 television interview on The Pierre Berton Show, Lee stated that both Paramount and Warner Brothers wanted him "to be in a modernized type of a thing, and that they think the Western idea is out, whereas I want to do the Western". According to Cadwell, however, Lee's concept was retooled and renamed “Kung Fu“, but Warner Bros. gave Lee no credit. Warner Brothers states that they had for some time been developing an identical concept, created by two writers and producers, Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander. According to these sources, the reason Lee was not cast was in part because of his ethnicity, but more so because he had a thick accent. The role of the Shaolin monk in the Wild West, was eventually awarded to then-non-martial-artist David Carradine. In The Pierre Berton Show interview, Lee stated he understood Warner Brothers' attitudes towards casting in the series: "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".

Producer Fred Weintraub had advised Lee to return to Hong Kong and make a feature film which he could showcase to executives in Hollywood. Not happy with his supporting roles in the United States, Lee returned to Hong Kong. Unaware that The Green Hornet had been played to success in Hong Kong and was unofficially referred to as "The Kato Show", he was surprised to be recognized on the street as the star of the show. After negotiating with both Shaw Brothers Studio and Golden Harvest, Lee signed a film contract to star in two films produced by Golden Harvest. Lee played his first leading role in The Big Boss (1971) which proved to be an enormous box office success across Asia and catapulted him to stardom. He soon followed up with Fist Of Fury (1972) which broke the box office records set previously by The big Boss. Having finished his initial two-year contract, Lee negotiated a new deal with Golden Harvest. Lee later formed his own company, Concord Productions Inc. (協和電影公司), with Chow. For his third film, Way Of The Dragon (1972), he was given 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 movie-goers as his opponent in the final death fight at the Coliseum in Rome, today considered one of Lee's most legendary fight scenes and one of the most memorable fight scenes in martial arts films history. The role was originally offered to American Karate champion Joe Lewis.


In late 1972, Lee began work on his fourth Golden Harvest Film, Game Of Death. He began filming some scenes including his fight sequence with 7'2" American Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a former student. Production was stopped when Warner Brothers offered Lee the opportunity to star in Enter The Dragon, the first film to be produced jointly by Golden Harvest and Warner Bros. Filming commenced in Hong Kong in February 1973. One month into the filming, another production company, Starseas Motion Pictures, promoted Bruce Lee as a leading actor in Fist Of Unicorn although he had merely agreed to choreograph the fight sequences in the film as a favor to his long-time friend Unicorn Chan. Lee planned to sue the production company, but retained his friendship with Chan. However, only a few months after the completion of Enter The Dragon, and six days before its 26 July 1973 release, Lee died. Enter The Dragon would go on to become one of the year's highest grossing films and cement 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 film sparked a brief fad in martial arts, epitomized in songs such as "Kung Fu Fighting” and TV shows like “Kung Fu”.

Lee is best known as a martial artist, but he also studied drama and philosophy while a student at the University Of Washington. He was well-read and had an extensive library. His own books on martial arts and fighting philosophy are known for their philosophical assertions, both inside and outside of martial arts circles. His eclectic philosophy often mirrored his fighting beliefs, though he was quick to claim that his martial arts were solely a metaphor for such teachings. He believed that any knowledge ultimately led to self-knowledge, and said that his chosen method of self-expression was martial arts. His influences include Taoism, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and Buddhism. On the other hand, Lee's philosophy was very much in opposition to the conservative world view advocated by Confucianism. John Little states that Lee was an atheist. When asked in 1972 about his religious affiliation, he replied, "none whatsoever". Also in 1972, he was asked if he believed in God, and he responded, "To be perfectly frank, I really do not".
The following quotations reflect his fighting philosophy.



"Be formless... shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You pour water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put water into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or creep or drip or crash! Be water, my friend..."

"All types of knowledge, ultimately leads to self knowledge"

"Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it"

"Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there"

"Quick temper will make a fool of you soon enough"

"I always learn something, and that is: to always be yourself. And to express yourself, to have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate him"

"It's not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential"



On May 10th 1973, Lee collapsed in Golden Harvest studios while doing dubbing work for the movie Enter The Dragon. Suffering from seizures and headaches, he was immediately rushed to Hong Kong Baptist Hospital where doctors diagnosed cerebral edema. They were able to reduce the swelling through the administration of mannitol. These same symptoms that occurred in his first collapse were later repeated on the day of his death.


Source: Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Lee

This work is released under CC 3.0 BY-SA - http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

1 comment:

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