Bruce Lee (Lee Jun Fan,27 November 1940 – 20 July 1973) was a Chinese American and Hong Kong actor, martial artist, philosopher, film director, screenwriter, practitioner of Wing Chun and founder of the Jeet Kune Do concept. He is considered by many as the most influential martial artist of the 20th century, and a cultural icon, He was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Lee was born in San Francisco, California, and raised in Hong Kong until his late teens. 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 the second major surge of interest in Chinese martial arts in the West. 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 Bruce Lee; Warner Brothers' Enter the Dragon (1973), directed by Robert Clouse, and The Game of Death (1978).
Lee became an iconic figure known throughout the world and remains very popular among Asian people and in particular among the Chinese, as he portrayed Chinese nationalism and upheld the Chinese national pride at a crucial time in history and also of Asians through his movies which reached every part of the known world. While Lee initially trained in Wing Chun, he later rejected well-defined martial art styles, favoring instead to utilize useful techniques from various sources in the spirit of his personal martial arts philosophy he dubbed Jeet Kune Do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist).
Bruce Lee was born on 27 November 1940 at the Chinese Hospital in San Francisco's Chinatown.His father, Lee Hoi-Chuen, was Chinese, and his Catholic mother, Grace Ho, was three quarters Chinese and a quarter German. Lee and his parents returned to Hong Kong when he was three months old. He was the fourth child of five children: Agnus, Phoebe, Peter, and Robert.
Bruce Lee's Cantonese given name was Lee Jun Fan At birth, the English name "Bruce" was thought to be given by the hospital attending physician, Dr. Mary Glover.
Bruce Lee also had three other Chinese names: Li Yuan-Xin a family/clan name, Li Yuan Jian as a student name while attending La Salle College, and of course his Chinese stage name Li Xiao Long (Xiao Long - meaning small dragon). The Jun Fan name was originally written in Chinese as , however this Jun was identical to part of his grandfather's name, which was considered taboo in Chinese tradition. Therefore, Bruce Lee's name was changed.
Lee Hoi Chuen was one of the leading Cantonese opera and film actors at the time, and he was embarking on a year-long Cantonese opera tour with his family on the eve of the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong during the Second World War. Lee had been touring the United States for many years performing at numerous Chinese communities.
Although a number of his peers decided to stay in the US, Lee decided to go back to Hong Kong after his wife gave birth to their fourth child. Within months, Hong Kong was invaded and the Lees lived the ensuing 3 years and 8 months under Japanese occupation. The Lee family survived the war and had actually done reasonably well. After the war ended, Lee Hoi Chuen would resume his acting career and become an even bigger star during Hong Kong's rebuilding years.
Bruce Lee's mother Grace belonged to one of wealthiest and most powerful clans in Hong Kong, the Ho Tungs. She was the niece of Sir Robert Ho Tung, patriarch of the clan. As such, the young Bruce Lee grew up in an affluent and privileged environment.
Politics of the times
In 1966 Mao Zedong, the creator of mainland China's unique brand of Communism, launched the Cultural Revolution. His aim was to rid China of all remnants of traditional thought so that it could radically modernize into a fully functioning Communist State. Persecution of Chinese traditions hit the field of Chinese martial arts and no one was safe. Even the venerated Shaolin Temple was subject to revolutionary purges and the abbots were made to parade in public with paint slashed on their robes. Books and ancient martial arts manuscripts were looted from the monastery and burnt.
To avoid persecution by the Communist government, many Chinese martial arts masters fled overseas, while the remainder went into hiding or suffered harsh reprisals. Kung Fu continued to flourish in its overseas setting and many famous masters set up Kung Fu schools in British ruled Hong-Kong and R.O.C. controlled Taiwan. A lesser number moved to the United States, Australia, and Europe. Chinese cultural traditions became stronger in these expatriate Chinese communities than back home in mainland China.
Despite the advantage of his family's status during his youth, and because of the mass number of people fleeing communist China to Hong Kong, the Hong Kong neighborhood he grew up in became over-crowded, dangerous, and full of gang rivalries.
"Post war Hong Kong was a tough place to grow up. Gangs ruled the city streets and Lee was often forced to fight them. But Bruce liked a challenge and faced his adversaries head on. To his parents dismay Bruce's street fighting continued and the violent nature of his confrontations was escalating."
After being involved in several street fights, his parents decided that Bruce Lee needed to be trained in the martial arts. Lee's first introduction to martial arts was through his father, Lee Hoi Cheun. He learned the fundamentals of Wu style Tai Chi Chuan from his father.
It was during this time that the largest influence on Bruce Lee's martial development was his study of the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun. Bruce Lee began training in Wing Chun at age 13 under the famous Wing Chunmaster Yip Man in the summer of 1954. Lee's sifu, Wing Chun master Yip Man, was also a colleague and friend of Hong Kong's Tai Chi Chuan teacher Wu Ta-ch'i. Yip's regular classes generally consisted of the forms practice, chi sao (trapping hands) drills, wooden dummy techniques, and free-sparring. There was no set pattern to the classes. And he tried to keep them from fighting in the street gangs of Hong Kong, though he did encourage organized competition.
After a year into his Wing Chun training, some of Yip Man's other students refused to train with Lee due to his ancestry (his mother was of a quarter German ancestry) as the Chinese generally were against teaching their martial arts techniques to non-Asians. Lee's sparring partner, Toe Dai Hawkins Cheung states, "Probably fewer than six people in the whole wing chun clan were personally taught, or even partly taught, by Yip Man." However Bruce showed a keen interest in the art, and continue to train privately with William Cheung and Wong Shun Leung in 1955.
Leaving Hong Kong
After attending Tak Sun School (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 Catholic monk (originally from Germany spending his entire adult life in China and then Hong Kong), 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. Reaching all the way to his late teens Lee's street fights frequented more and included beating up the son of a feared triad family. Finally Lee's father decided for him to leave Hong Kong to pursue a safer and healthier avenue in the U.S. His parents confirmed the police's fear that this time Bruce Lee's opponent had organized crime background, and there was the possibility that a contract was out for 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 they decided to send him to the United States to meet up with his older sister Agnes Lee who was already living with family friends in San Francisco.
New Life in America
At the age of 18, Lee returned to the U.S. 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 the fall of 1959, to continue his high school education and worked for Ruby Chow as a live-in waiter at her restaurant.
Ruby's husband was a co-worker and friend of his father. His older brother Peter Lee would also join Bruce Lee 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, he enrolled at the University of Washington majoring in drama according to UW's alumni association information, not in philosophy as claimed by Lee himself and many others. He most likely also studied philosophy, psychology, and various other subjects.It was at the University of Washington that he met his future wife Linda Emery, whom he would marry in August 1964.
Bruce Lee had two children with Linda, Brandon Lee (1965–1993) and Shannon Lee (1969–). Brandon became an actor, who died in an accident during the filming of The Crow in 1993. Shannon Lee also became an actress and appeared in some low-budget films starting in the mid 1990s, but has since quit acting.
Jun Fan Gung Fu
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.
Bruce Lee dropped out of college in the spring of 1964 and moved to Oakland to live with James Yim Lee , no relation to Bruce Lee). James was twenty years senior to Bruce and a well known Chinese martial artist in the Bay area. Together they co-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 US martial art world and organizer of the (Long Beach) International Karate Championships at which Bruce Lee was later "discovered" by Hollywood.
Jeet Kune Do
Jeet Kune Do originated in 1965. A controversial match with Wong Jack Man heavily influenced Lee's philosophy about marital arts. After about three minutes of combat (some say 20 - 25 min), Wong Jack Man conceded. 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.
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
Guest at 1964 and 1967 Long Beach International Karate Championships
At the invitation of Ed Parker, Lee appeared in the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships and performed repetitions of two-finger pushups (using the thumb and the index finger) with feet at approximately a shoulder-width apart. In the same Long Beach event he also performed the "One inch punch", the description of which is as follows: Lee stood upright, his right foot forward with knees bent slightly, in front of a standing, stationary partner. Lee's right arm was partly extended and his right fist approximately an inch away from the partner's chest. Without retracting his right arm, Lee then forcibly delivered the punch to his partner while largely maintaining his posture, sending the partner backwards and falling into a chair said to be placed behind the partner to prevent injury, though his partner's momentum soon caused him to fall to the floor.
His volunteer was Bob Baker of Stockton, California. "I told Bruce not to do this type of demonstration again", he recalled. "When he punched me that last time, I had to stay home from work because the pain in my chest was unbearable."
It was at the 1964 championships where Lee first met taekwondo master Jhoon Rhee. The two developed a friendship — a relationship from which they both benefited as martial artists. Jhoon Rhee taught Lee the side kick in detail, and Lee taught Rhee the "non-telegraphic" punch.
Lee also appeared at the 1967 Long Beach International Karate Championships and performed various demonstrations, including the famous "unstoppable punch" against USKA world karate champion Vic Moore. Lee told Moore that he was going to throw a straight punch to the face, and all he had to do was to try and block it. Lee took several steps back and asked if Moore was ready, when Moore nodded in affirmation, Lee glided towards him until he was within striking range. He then threw a straight punch directly at Moore's face, and stopped before impact. In eight attempts, Moore failed to block any of the punches.