Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco, California in 1940. His father - a popular entertainer - was in the U.S. to appear in a play. Bruce grew up in Hong Kong, however. By most accounts he was a good kid, if rambunctious; playful, but also hot-tempered and competitive. In his teens, he demonstrated ability as a dancer, winning a Hong Kong-wide chacha competition.
Bruce's introduction to the martial arts came from his father, who practiced T'ai Chi Chuan (pp. 200-201). Bruce preferred the more direct art of Wing Chun (pp. 203-204), and started training with Yip Man - an instructor from a long line of instructors. A talented and enthusiastic martial-arts student, Bruce also boxed for his high school. His temper got him into a lot of less-decorous fights with other teens around town, however. He often fought in full-contact challenge matches held on rooftops or in alleyways, against both armed and unarmed foes. It was a run-in with the police for fighting that convinced his family to send him to the U.S. to finish school. He arrived in America in 1959. In 1964, while at college in Seattle, Washington, he married Linda Emery, one of his kung fu students.
Soon after, Bruce began to teach martial arts full-time, opening what would become a chain of three schools. He had to turn away would-be students despite his high rates! He trained those of either sex and of any racial background. This caused quite a stir in the local Chinese community. A group of instructors offered Lee a formal challenge: cease teaching non-Chinese or face a duel. Bruce chose the duel and won handily, chasing his opponent around the room until he could force him to submit. Lee's students eventually included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (seen in Game of Death), Lee Marvin, James Coburn, and Dan Inosanto.
After his duel, Bruce was unhappy. He had won but felt that his style had been too inefficient to let him win as quickly as he should have. This led him to develop a more streamlined method of fighting, which became known as Jeet Kune Do (pp. 164-165): "the way of the intercepting fist." Bruce drew on all of his martial-arts knowledge - boxing, fencing, and especially Wing Chun - to develop his art. He eventually closed his schools because he felt that they were leading to a rigid style instead of the adaptive process he sought to create.
Lee was a fanatical martial artist and an enthusiastic weightlifter, and jogged or ran daily. He also read books on martial arts, weight training, running, and anatomy. Never satisfied with his progress, he pushed himself and constantly sought out ways to work more efficiently. He paid a price for this enthusiasm: while doing a set of heavy back exercises without a proper warm up, he injured his sacral nerve. This sent him to the hospital and threatened to end his training permanently. undaunted, Bruce spent his time in the hospital filling notebook after notebook with thoughts on the martial arts. In 1975, these notes would see posthumous publication as The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
Hollywood discovered Bruce Lee in 1966, while he was demonstrating his art at a Karate tournament. He was cast as "Kato" on the television show The Green Hornet. This wasn't Lee's first acting experience. From age six until his late teens, Bruce had acted in Hong Kong films. Lee found it hard to make an impact in Hollywood, though - the film business there was resistant to the idea of a Chinese star. He eventually moved to Hong Kong to make movies with Golden Harvest Productions.
In Hong Kong, Lee was a tremendous success. His first movie, The Big Boss (called Fists of Fury in the U.S.), smashed all Hong Kong box-office records. Each of his two subsequent films, Fists of Fury (known as The Chinese Connection in America) and Way of the Dragon (titled Return of the Dragon in the U.S.), outdid the previous one. He did the fight scenes for a film to be called The Game of Death before a bigger project came along - Enter the Dragon.
Near the peak of his fame, just after Enter the Dragon was filmed, Bruce Lee died suddenly. Suffering from a severe headache while visiting a friend, he took medication, laid down for a nap, and died in his sleep. Rumors were rife that his death was caused by poison, a drug overdose, or rival martial artists using secret "hand of death" techniques. The truth is more prosaic: the headache remedy he took triggered a cerebral edema, killing him. He had previously had a scare and a hospital visit for a similar drug reaction, but neither Bruce nor the friend who gave him the medication realized that it contained ingredients to which Lee was allergic.
After Lee's death, his popularity hit an all-time high. Enter the Dragon launched the action-movie genre, and interest exploded in Chinese martial arts and Asian martial arts in general. Hong Kong and Hollywood alike sought "the next Bruce Lee" but found no one who could match his onscreen charisma, fantastic fitness, and sheer skill. To this day, Lee memorabilia, books, and movies continue to sell. His legacy of influence over the martial arts in America is immeasurable.
Bruce's son, Brandon, was on his way to modest movie stardom of his own when he suffered an untimely death on the set of The Crow. Brandon was shot dead by a gun that was supposed to be firing blanks. While indisputably an accident, his death rekindled conspiracy theories about Secret Masters or angry Chinese martial artists out to destroy Bruce Lee and his legacy.
Bruce is survived by his wife, Linda, and their daughter, Shannon.
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