In a lifetime comprising a mere 32 years, Bruce Lee revolutionized the world of martial arts through his profound teachings and philosophy, and created a legacy through his work in motion pictures, that has evolved into a Legend. Thought by many to be the ‘Greatest martial artist of the 20th Century’, Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco on November 27th 1940, between 6:00am and 8:00am, at the Jackson Street Hospital, under the birth name of ‘Lee Jun Fan’. Courtesy of his thespian father, young Bruce made his stage debut at the tender age of three months, playing the role of a female baby. His father Lee Hoi Chuen, a prestigious member of ‘The Cantonese Opera Company’, would carry his young son on stage each night, during his performance of "Golden Gate Girl".
In 1941, when Bruce was only 1 year old, he returned with his parents to the family home in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The modest second-storey apartment, at 218 Nathan Road, would be Bruce’s home for most of his formative years.
By age six, Bruce had already begun to develop the charisma and confidence that would later make him a star, and he appeared in his first major childhood movie, "The Beginning of a Boy" in 1946. Later in the same year, Bruce performed in "The Birth of Mankind" and "My Son, Ah Cheun" and went on to make over 20 movies, before commencing his studies at "La Salle College" in 1952.
1953 was a pivotal year in the life of Bruce Lee. After losing a street fight with a local gang, Bruce began to train in the art of Wing Chun under famed Sifu, Yip Man. His natural speed and timing, and acute mental focus, guaranteed that Bruce would excel in this complex and exacting art. In fact his precocious talent developed so quickly, that despite numerous other encounters with street gangs, Bruce would never again lose a fight. As well as indulging his passion for the martial arts, Bruce also began taking Cha Cha lessions in 1954, at age fourteen. The dance was popular amongst local teenagers at the time, and Bruce not only went on to win the ‘Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship’ in 1958, but also broke the hearts of many local girls. As well as his achievements on the dance-floor, ‘58 is also notable as the year when Bruce defeated reigning three year champion, Gary Elms, in the Hong Kong Boxing Championships, putting to practical use the combat theory he had devised with Sifu Yip Man. Like many Hong Kong teenagers of the time, Bruce became caught up in the ‘turf wars’ which surrounded the illicit activities of the local street-gangs. Participating in numerous street-fighting incidents, Bruce soon came to the attention of the police. Terrified that their son would forever become embroiled in a life of crime, Bruce’s mother and father, decided that he should visit San Francisco, the place of his birth, to claim his American Citizenship and finish his education.
With only fifteen dollars from his father and one hundred dollars from his mother, Bruce arrives in the United States in 1959, and stays, by prior arrangement, with an old friend of his father. By carrying out odd jobs around the Chinese Communities in the San Francisco Bay area, Bruce earns just enough money to secure his independence within a few months, and relocates to Seattle (Washington) to begin work as a waiter in Ruby Chow’s famous Chinatown restaurant. Mindful of the promise he made to his parents, Bruce enrols at the ‘Edison Technical School’ and through diligent study and application earns his high school diploma, while supplementing his income from the restaurant by teaching martial arts to local residents in backyards and city parks.
By the time Bruce had reached the age of 21 in 1961, his skill in the martial arts was astounding, both in terms of physical application and his understanding of the philosophical evolution, which shaped their development as both a combat medium and art-form. In March of the same year, Bruce matriculates at the University of Washington, to study philosophy. Very soon, knowledge of his incredible skill spreads to the other students, and Bruce once again fulfills the role of both teacher and mentor to many of his classmates. After a romance lasting several months with local girl Amy Sanbo, Bruce, aged 23, decides to propose in the summer of ‘63, but is unfortunately turned down. Dejected he returns to Hong Kong with friend Doug Palmer to visit his family and to benefit from a few months of rest and relaxation before re-commencing his studies. The remainder of ’63 was to prove to be a significant time in the life of Bruce Lee. Not only did he open his first ‘Jun Fan Gung-Fu’ institute, where he would fly in the face of tradition by teaching his direct, effective and street-realistic principles of self-defence to any person of any race, but he also embarked on a relationship with a certain Linda Emery. Bruce’s first date with Linda was on October 25th at the ‘Space Needle’ restaurant in Seattle, and the two quickly fell in love and would eventually marry. Encouraged by Linda, Bruce moved his Jun Fan Gung Fu institute to 4750 University Way near the university campus, and benefited greatly from a major influx of students who became interested in his teachings, and principles of self-defense.
In 1964, aged 24, Bruce meets Jhoon Rhee, the man considered by many to be the ‘Father of Tae-kwondo-do in America’. The two men would go on to develop a life-long friendship, based on their respect for each other’s abilities, and Rhee subsequently invites Bruce to appear at tournaments in Washington and other locations throughout the United States to demonstrate his breath-taking skills.
Due to his success with the school in Washington and his growing profile within the United States as a renowned master of the martial arts, Bruce opens a second Jun Fan Gung-Fu school in Oakland, and his good friend and student Taky Kimura takes over the responsibility as head instructor.
On August 2nd 1964, Bruce performs at the International Karate championships in Long Beach, California, at the invitation of Kenpo legend, Ed Parker. Bruce mesmerizes the audience with his feats of super-human ability, including the performance of a series of "two-finger" push-ups, and the incredible "One Inch Punch". -"The One-Inch Punch" is a technique which Bruce developed with student James Demille, which effectively allowed him to position his fist one inch away from the torso of an opponent, and with a short, focused strike, propel him backwards several feet through the air, seemingly without effort.
Present at the groundbreaking demonstration was Jay Sebring, hair-stylist for the popular "Batman" TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Sebring was so impressed with Bruce’s physical prowess and magnetic charisma, that he immediately put him in touch with "Batman" producer William Dozier, who invites Bruce to L.A. to take part in a screen-test for his forthcoming TV series "The Green Hornet".
After a passionate, whirlwind romance lasting less than a year, Bruce proposes to Linda and the couple marry on August 17th 1964 and move to Oakland, California.
Encouraged by his new wife, Bruce continues to teach ‘all-comers’ at his new school in Oakland, and angers the elders of the local Chinatown community, who deeply resent his insistence in teaching the secrets of Chinese martial arts to Caucasian students. Consequently, the elders nominate Wong Jack Man, a local Gung Fu expert, to challenge Bruce to a contest. –For both fighters the stakes are high. If Bruce looses he will be duty-bound to either close his school or stop teaching Kung Fu to Westerners, if Wong looses he will be similarly bound to stop teaching indefinitely.
When the time for the fight comes around, Wong, intimated by Bruce’s fearsome reputation, tries to delay the match and then to impose restrictions on the techniques which can be used. Bruce is furious and insists that the fight be a ‘no-holds-barred’ contest. When the match finally takes place Bruce defeats his opponent quickly and easily using his refined Wing Chun technique. Despite his ease of victory, Bruce is still concerned that he took too long to defeat his opponent, and begins to re-evaluate his style. Through this re-development process the early concepts of "Jeet Kune Do", also known as "The Way of the Intercepting Fist" begin to form. -JKD will eventually develop into the most efficient unarmed combat system ever devised by one man, and will utilize the most efficient fighting techniques from such diverse arts as Wing Chun, Thai Boxing, Judo, Japanese Karate, and Western Boxing.
Bruce’s key principle for his new system is a ‘style without style’, a ideology and physical training regime which conditions the mind and body to respond instinctively to any given attack, without reliance on set patterns or movements.
During early ’65, William Dozier successfully raises finance for the "Hornet" project and Bruce is signed to a one-year option as Kato in the resultant TV series. He is paid a US$1800.00 retainer, a small fortune at the time, and fulfills his lifetime ambition to appear on TV at the tender age of 24.
On February 1st, 1965, Linda gives birth to their first child, Brandon Bruce Lee. Bruce is delighted at the prospect of fatherhood, and develops a close bond with his young son, which lasts throughout his lifetime. Tragically only seven days later, Bruce receives news from Hong Kong that his father has passed away.
Grief-stricken, Bruce flies alone to Hong Kong to attend his father’s funeral, before using his advance from producer Dozier to fly himself, Linda and Brandon back to Hong Kong, to settle the affairs of his father’s estate.
After spending time with his grieving mother, Bruce returns to the United States in September of ’65, and resides in Seattle, before relocating with his family to an exclusive apartment on Wiltshire and Gayley in Westwood, Los Angeles.
During early 1966 Bruce finally begins work as Kato in the "Green Hornet" TV series, earning US$400 per show over 26 episodes, with a 2-part guest slot added into the Batman show. While living in Los Angeles Bruce, with the help of Dan Inosanto, opened his third Jun Fan Gung Fu school at 628 College St, Los Angeles, where the final formulation of Bruce Lee's philosophy of the martial art "Jeet Kune Do" blossomed.
The last episode of "The Green Hornet" airs on July 14th 1967, before being cancelled by the network. The ratings had dropped considerably since the first episode, and all accounts, Bruce was more popular with viewers in his supporting role, than leading man Van Williams.
Disappointed by this temporary setback, Bruce continues to build a portfolio of televsion work with appearances in "Ironside", alongside Raymond Burr, "Here Come The Brides", "Blondie", "The Milton Berle Show" and "Longstreet", opposite James Franciscus where he appears as Li Tsung in four episodes. -In one episode of Longstreet, entitled "The Way of the Intercepting Fist", Bruce is given the opportunity, by screenwriter, friend and student Stirling Siliphant, to explain on film for the first time, the fundamental philosophical principles behind his amazing fighting art.
Bruce Lee's first Hollywood movie role was as ‘Winslow Wong’ opposite James Garner in the 1968 film "Marlowe". Despite extensive location scouting in India, a planned co-project with Hollywood students Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Stirling Sillipant entitled "The Silent Flute" is abandoned due to the lack of a coherent script. Bruce also suffers further disappointment when he is rejected by producer Fred Weintraub, for the lead role in Kung Fu Western – "The Warrior", a concept later developed into the "Kung Fu" TV series starring David Carradine.
Understandably, Bruce was at an all time low at this time, but on April 19th 1969, his second child Shannon Lee was born in Santa Monica. Linda Lee would say that Bruce felt that "an angel had come to stay at our house".
Bitterly disappointed with Hollywood, Bruce visits Hong Kong with his son Brandon in 1970, and is enthusiastically greeted by the local media community as the star of the "Green Hornet". After a stunning appearance on a local TV show, where Bruce performs a demo of his art, breaking four consecutively placed boards and one hanging in the air, he is courted by local film and TV producers. After rejecting an offer from Run Run Shaw at the legendary Shaw Brothers Studios to sign a 7 year contract on a salary of US$2,000 per film, Bruce accepts a part from fledgling producer Raymond Chow to star in his new project "The Big Boss", due to start production in Thailand.
This first Hong Kong produced Bruce Lee film was a massive hit and out-grossed the "Sound Of Music", taking more than US$3.5 million in it’s first three weeks of release. Bruce becomes a star literally overnight, captivating audiences with his magnetic charisma, brutal physicality and a level of martial artistry, which was light-years ahead of any other screen-star working in the business at the time.
After the amazing success of ‘Boss’, Bruce is given a larger salary, a bigger budget and more directorial control for his next project "Fist of Fury", which went into production in 1971. In what many enthusiasts consider to be ‘the ultimate martial arts movie’, Bruce plays the fictional character of Chen Jun, a student of legendary real-life martial artist Fok Yun Gap. In an emotive, roller-coaster story-line of friendship, betrayal, revenge and deadly confrontation, Lee is a true force of nature as he battles against Japanese Imperialist forces determined to subjugate his people and close down his school. In each of the incredible fight scenes, Lee’s execution of technique is exemplary, whether fighting unarmed or with the weapon that would become synonymous with his image: the deadly Nunchaku.
As a painful side-note, Bruce’s techniques were so powerful that student Bob Baker received a serious chest injury during the filming of his climatic encounter with Bruce, despite wearing a protective shield under his shirt.
"Fist" literally took Asia by storm and Bruce became a mega-star in Hong Kong, unable to walk the streets of Kowloon, for fear of being mobbed by hoards of adoring fans. For his next production "Way of the Dragon", which also heralded his directorial debut, Bruce forms his own Production Company CONCORD with co-partner Raymond Chow.
Predictably "Way Of The Dragon" smashes the box-office record previously set by "Fist of Fury", and public demand for the movie is so high that the police have to re-route traffic away from theatres during screenings.
To give "Way" a truly international feel, Bruce shoots on location in Rome, using the Italian capital’s stunning landmarks, to frame the action. In addition, rather than using the Hong Kong fighters so familiar to local audiences, Bruce enlists the services of friend and karate legend Chuck Norris, to appear as his nemesis in the deadly climatic confrontation set in Rome’s ancient Coliseum. This incredible one-on-one encounter stands even to this day, as one of the most skilful and realistic fight scenes ever committed to celluloid, and is a lasting tribute to the outstanding abilities of both men.
"Way of the Dragon" also allowed Bruce to take the application of his trade-mark weapon the Nunchaku ever further, than in "Fist of Fury". In an amazing scene at the back of the restaurant, Lee dispatches his attackers using not one but two sets simultaneously.
Using a concept first conceived during location-scouting for "The Silent Flute" in India, Bruce begins work on "The Game Of Death" in August 1972. The premise of the movie, is of three fighters fighting their way up a multi-floored pagonda. To pass from one floor to the next, each fighter must defeat a master of a particular style. During the progression of the battle, two of the fighters, played by James Tien and Chieh Yuan, would be defeated and killed due to their rigid adherence to one particular style of combat and their inability to adapt to the differing challenges presented on each floor. The ultimate warrior, played by Lee, a fluid fighter unrestricted by an adherence to any one particular style, would on the other hand, successfully defeat each subsequent master, before gaining enlightenment after victory on "The Floor of the Unknown".
Tragically after filming a number of electric scenes with escrima expert and senior Jeet Kune Do instructor Dan Inosanto, Hapkido master Chi Hon Joi, and 7"6 Basketball sensation Abdul Kareem Jabbar, Bruce was never to complete the project due to his untimely death.
The fifteen minutes or so of footage which has survived, prove that "Game of Death" could have been Lee’s finest work. An explosive nunchaku battle with Danny Inosanto and the remarkable ‘David and Goliath’ confrontation between Bruce and Jabbar are years ahead of their time.
While working on "The Game Of Death", Bruce is offered a Hollywood contract with Warner Brothers to make "Enter The Dragon". Bruce signs and makes the most successful martial arts movie of all time. The choreography on display is inspired. The cavern fight scene in particular where Lee takes on scores of attackers single-handedly with bare fists and feet, a bo staff, double sticks and his trusty nunchaku is an ensemble sequence which still ranks as one of the most accomplished ever filmed, even 27 years after the movie’s original release.
Bruce’s lightening hand strikes against chief protagonist Bob Wall were reportedly so fast during principal photography that the camera speed had to be adjusted before they could be successfully caught on film.
Shortly before the release of "Enter the Dragon", the film that would finally make Bruce a star in the eyes of the Western World, he tragically succumbs to a brain aneurysm on Friday 20th July 1973, before he can reap the rewards. His death allegedly is the result of a reaction to Meprobabate contained in a tablet for headaches called "Equagesic".
Bruce dies in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong. He receives a national funeral in Hong Kong viewed by tens of thousands of mourners. Before Linda and the children plus close relatives and friends including Steve McQueen and James Coburn had Bruce is also given a private burial at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle on July 31st 1973, he is aged 32.
Five years after Bruce’s death, Golden Harvest Chief Executive Raymond Chow finally releases "Game of Death". -Using "Enter the Dragon" director Robert Clouse, a number of stand-ins and the formidable expertise of Hong Kong actor, director and fight choreographer Sammo Hung, Chow creates a framework in which to showcase the final unseen work of Bruce Lee. Upon its release in 1978, fans marvel at the intricate fight choreography and physical expertise on display in each of the three remarkable fight scenes.
Today Bruce Lee is still a world icon and an inspiration to all seeking the answers to life's problems, and the search for ultimate knowledge that is self-knowledge.