According to the Chinese calendar,
1940 was the Year of the Dragon. A Cantonese film actor named Lee
Hoi Chun was performing in San Francisco accompanied by his pregnant
wife Grace. By November, Grace had gone into labour and was taken to
hospital, but her husband continued on to New York to perform there.
On the 27th of November, 1940, at the Jackson Street hospital, Grace
gave birth to a baby boy. He was named Lee Jun Fan, which meant "To
Return Again". The child would return to his place of birth someday.
The doctor attending the arrival gave the child the English name
Bruce... And the legend was born !!
At the age of 6, Bruce started to appear in numerous Chinese films.
His first film was called "A beginning of a boy." As he made more
films it was decided that he should star in a film with his father.
The film was called "My Son Ah Cheun". Bruce had a bigger role than
his father. In each film he played a problem child, always stealing
and fighting. He made at least 20 of these Cantonese films including
"Black Boy Jungle" and "Boys on the Street".
When Bruce was 14, he got beaten up in a street fight. So, after
discussing the matter with his mother he decided to learn martial
arts and develop his physique and self defense abilities.
Most people think that Bruce was born muscular. It was actually
totally the opposite; he was always rather frail as a child and
never ate well even when he returned to the U.S in 1958. Only
through constant training and proper eating did he build himself up
into the super-human physical specimen that he was to become. Bruce
was never to lose a single fight ever again!!
Although his father had him wielding a sword at 6, his first REAL
teacher was the
Wing Chun master,
Sifu Yip Man. Bruce became obsessed with the whole concept of
Wing Chun and soon
became very good. One of the
Wing Chun training
methods was the wooden dummy - A training device which builds both
speed and focus. Another one of his teachers was Siu Hon Sung, a
kung fu expert. Bruce had been learning Cha Cha dancing and offered
to trade his knowledge of it for some of his kung fu lessons. It
would normally take 3 weeks to learn 30 kung fu moves, but Bruce
mastered them in only 3 nights. Siu Hon Sung never did learn any Cha
In 1958 Bruce became the Hong Kong Cha Cha champion. He then made 2
more Cantonese films, "The Orphan" and "Thunderstorm". Thunderstorm
is the only film where he didn't have a single fight, although there
are certain confrontations.
Bruce, fighting Dan Inosanto in
"Game of Death".
As time passed, Bruce would fight in
the streets trying to see just how good he was. Eventually the
police warned his mother Grace, that if it didn`t stop, Bruce would
be Arrested. So in April 1958, his father gave him $100 US and sent
him to San Francisco (his place of birth) with the hope that Bruce
would change and become more responsible.
He boarded a boat and left. He made a little more money on the way
there giving Cha Cha lessons to his fellow passengers.
In San Francisco Bruce lived with his fathers friend, Ruby Chow, who
owned a restaurant. Bruce worked in the restaurant while living in
After he finished High School, he was still constantly
training and developing his skill in the martial arts. For Bruce it
wasn't enough to be just a good martial artist, he had to be the
Bruce grew tired of the restaurant and headed for Seattle to study
Philosophy at the University of Washington.
In 1959, he met a fellow Asian called Taki Kimura. He was twice
Bruce's age and had suffered many years of racial abuse. Bruce
persuaded him to take pride in his Asian identity and taught him
martial arts. Another student was Roy Hollingsworth. Eventually they
suggested that he open a school to make money.
In Hong Kong, kung fu was a secret Chinese weapon and was never
taught to any non-Chinese person, but Bruce welcomed ANYONE who was
interested in learning what he had to teach. In his opinion the
Chinese people were not the only worthy persons to learn this great
art, and so he broke the racial barriers that had been forged over
In 1961 while teaching some fellow university students Bruce met a
young girl called Linda Emery. They soon fell in love and got
married... Later, their son Brandon was born, followed a couple of
years later by Shannon.
In 1963, Bruce wrote a book called "Chinese Kung Fu". It was
incredibly detailed with precise drawings.
In 1964, at a Karate tournament hosted by Ed Parker, Bruce
demonstrated his abilities to a large audience... At Long Beach,
with Taki Kimura as his assistant, he showed off his 2 finger press
ups and his legendary one inch punch.
A noted television producer who was really impressed by Bruce's
intensity and focus approached him and a screen test was arranged.
This lead to his playing the role of Kato in the Green Hornet series
which was filmed in 1965.
While filming this series, Bruce left Taki Kimura in charge of his
kung fu school. Although the Green Hornet never really took off, it
lasted for 30 half hour episodes. Bruce, surprisingly, as Kato
became more popular than the main star, especially in Hong Kong.
In the documentary "Bruce Lee: The Martial Arts Master" Van
Williams who was the main star of the Green Hornet recalls how Bruce
used to run around the set practicing his kicks. "He would jump up
and tap you on the ear with his foot, but this stopped when one of
the extras turned around and got his jaw dislocated". During filming
Bruce liked to work in close to improve the fight scenes, but he
also injured quite a few stuntmen by doing this. The producers found
it pretty hard to find stuntmen in the end. Bruce had to slow his
movements down because on film, he was practically a blur and you
couldn't see what he was doing properly!!
After the Green Hornet, Bruce opened up another kung fu school
called "Lee Jun Fan, Gung fu institute". This is where he learned to
use the nunchaku`s from fellow student Danny Inosanto. Here he
taught actors like James Coburn, Steve McQueen and Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar. He had now become so popular that he could charge up to $300
US an hour for instruction.
This was also the place where he created his own technique of
Jeet Kune Do,
which means (The Way of the Intercepting Fist). He thought it would
be better to intercept and attack, rather than blocking and then
Bruce believed intercepting an attack would be a lot faster than
blocking and then attacking as the latter was comprised of two
In 1967, Bruce starred in "A Man Called Ironside", as a martial arts
instructor, Bruce always did his own stunts as well. He then filmed
12 episodes of "Longstreet", a short series where he teaches a guy
his new Jeet Kune
Do technique. This was a great idea that would let Bruce show
the world his new technique.
He became more and more interested in making a Hollywood movie and
wanted to make more money than Steve McQueen per film... This Bruce
eventually did achieve!!
In 1970, Bruce realized after the advice of one of his students
(James Coburn), that his immediate film career was to be in Hong
When appearing on a TV show, he broke 4 out of 5 one inch thick
boards, and one dangling piece as well (Breaking a dangling one inch
piece of wood is an amazing feat).
This was seen by TV producer Raymond Chow who had just opened up
Golden Harvest studios. He offered Bruce a two picture deal and they
flew off to Thailand to film "The Big Boss". During filming, one of
the Thais thought that the fight co-ordinator was faster than Bruce,
5 minutes later... he changed his mind!!!
Another thing that surprised the cast was Bruce opening a bottle of
drink with one thumb (The kind that normally needs a can opener).
The movie became a smash hit, breaking all known box office records.
He then flew to Shanghai and filmed "Fist of Fury". Raymond Chow
told Bruce that he would play a bigger part in producing it than in
his last film. This once again broke all the box office records,
including the ones from "The Big Boss".
By now Bruce had become a national hero and started up his own
company called "Concord Productions" and decided that he would
write, direct and star in his next film. He went to Europe location
hunting, finally deciding on Rome. He brought in 3 top martial
artists, Bob Wall, Whong In Sik and Chuck Norris, who he would fight
at the end of the film. The result was another sellout; police had
to arrive to halt the traffic jams and big crowds.
All 3 of these films had Bruce arriving in a strange town, not
knowing his potential enemies. In "The Big Boss", he was in Thailand
working at an ice factory with his cousins. In "Fist of Fury", he
had come to Shanghai to attend his teacher's funeral, finding his
school abused and insulted by the local Japanese school. In "Way of
the Dragon" he comes to Rome to help out at a friend's restaurant,
which is being hassled by a protection racket. Also the enemies were
never Chinese, always foreigners like the Thais, Japanese, Europeans
and Americans. Even when there was the odd bad Chinese guy, it's
clearly pointed out that they're just misguided pawns of a foreign
Bruce would often be challenged by the extras, but he was never
actually defeated, apart from the time when he was 14. Bruce didn't
drink, so the characters he played didn't drink either. He always
showed himself like he was in real life. "The Way of the Dragon" is
the best example of Bruce in real life. In the only bedroom scene he
ever filmed in "The Big Boss", a prostitute gets him drunk and takes
him back to her place, only to watch him then fall asleep. He would
also show off his ability to play all kinds of different characters.
In "Fist of Fury" he dresses up as an old newspaper guy as well as a
telephone repair man.
Bruce, James Coburn and Stirling Silliphant had been trying to put
together a project to be called "Silent Flute". 20th Century Fox
agreed to do it, but on a tiny budget and providing that it could be
shot in India. They spent weeks location hunting there and finally
decided it was a waste of time. In Nepal Bruce saw a Bigota (Tall
Tower). This gave him the idea for "Game of Death". Bruce only
filmed 1/3 of this film before being interrupted to film the
eventual Hollywood smash hit "Enter the Dragon".
"Game of Death" was completed in 1978 after Bruce`s death. The story
line is changed and Bruce only appears for 10 minutes at the end.
This is footage from the Tower version, which he had intended. The
first 95% of the film is NOT the missing scenes!!
"Enter the Dragon" was the 1st time a U.S and Hong Kong film company
had come together to make a film. This was the film that brought
Bruce world wide fame and made him the world`s first Asian
superstar. The big fight scene at the end took 7 days to film, it
was during this that an extra challenged Bruce in real life. He
wanted to experience Bruce`s
Jeet Kune Do. Bruce drew a circle on the floor and told him that
he had 3 punches to knock him out of it. The extra couldn`t do it, so Bruce told
him, "OK my turn". He pointed to his shoulder blade and said "I`m
going to hit you right here, are you ready?" The guy said "What do
you mean, am I ready?" Before he could say anything, his teeth
started falling out of his mouth. Bruce was just SO fast. Another
extra challenged him. They sparred for a bit, then the guy got
kicked in the head...and that was enough.
The mirror scene took hours to set up, getting the mirrors in the
perfect place, so they didn't reflect any cameras. People would argue
over whose job it was to do stuff; this is where Bruce came in...
The Chinese would die for him. Eventually the film was completed.
During the time of filming "Game of Death", Bruce had been working
with some new character ideas. They would have wielded weapons, like
swords and long knives. On the documentary "The Legend" you can see
photos of at least 4 of these characters. One of them is a blind
swordsman, his version of a character called Zatawichi. (A popular
Japanese film at that time). Unforunately we`ll never see Bruce in
these roles, but it is interesting to think about the kind of sword
films Bruce could have produced.
On the 10th May 1973, the trouble for Bruce Lee had begun. While
dubbing the sound effects for "Enter the Dragon", he passed out for
a whole half an hour. He went to the hospital, and was prescribed
the drug Manatol. It was used to reduce an apparent brain swelling.
On July 20th 1973, Bruce had arranged to meet Raymond Chow along
with actress Betty Ting Pei who would star in "Game of Death". He
stopped off at Betty`s house and told her that he had a headache. She gave him an Aquagesic (a painkiller that she
regularly used ). Bruce laid down in her bed and went to sleep. During his
sleep, the brain swelling returned and triggered an allergy to the
painkiller called a cerebral edema.
Later Betty tried to wake him but couldn't. Panicking, she called
Raymond Chow, who came over and called the doctor. Bruce was rushed
to the Queen Elizabeth hospital, barely alive. The
ambulance crew was fighting to resuscitate him, but Bruce was
pronounced "dead on arrival".
As the news spread across the world, people talked about nothing else,
refusing to believe it. Bruce had two funerals, one in Hong Kong and
one in the U.S. Over 27,000 people attended his funeral, few could
hide their grief. People were just breaking down and crying when
they saw him in the open coffin. A banner was placed amongst the many
tributes reading "A star sinks in a Sea of Art".
When the press found out that Bruce had died at Betty`s house, they
were quick to speculate that Bruce had died while they were having
sex. To this day vicious rumours are still spread across the world.
At the airport, Linda broke her silence and told Hong Kong to drop
it and that she blamed nobody, and that Bruce had died of natural
His funeral in Seattle was attended by all his friends, family and
former students. James Coburn and Steve McQueen acted as
pallbearers. Should you wish to watch the funeral, you can find it
on the documentary (Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend). Finally on July 31st, 1973, Bruce was laid to rest in Seattle at the Lake
His and Brandon's graves are regularly visited by people from all
over the world. There are ALWAYS fresh flowers on their graves each
day. Some day, I too will place mine there and pay my respect to my favourite person in the whole world.
Soon after the funeral, as the
wild rumours continued, the autopsy results were that Bruce had
died of a cerebral adema in reaction to the painkiller that he
had taken... The result was death by misadventure.
For years Betty Ting Pei had kept quiet, ignoring the insults
thrown at her until in 1983 when she first broke her silence on a
TV show and told the world that she would never have done anything
to hurt Bruce as he was a very good friend. But the rumours are STILL
going on. Some I've heard are that a Chinese mafia gang arranged
his death, who supposedly had control over all of the Chinese
actors. Another says that he'd been killed by Shaolin monks for teaching the
secrets to the outsiders.
Another rumour is the curse. Bruce supposedly was haunted by
personal demons. He had premonitions that he would die at half his
father's age of 64 (which he did at 32). Also a protector of evil
blew off his roof to warn away evil spirits. The same thing
happened to the previous
occupants of his house and disaster had
befallen them. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's basketball number was 33,
Bruce would have been 33 that year in November... The rumours
just go on. Personaly I believe in the cerebral edema; the
swelling was brought on by great stress over work, Bruce
practically wore himself out to a disappointingly early grave.
In 1978, the producers of "Enter the Dragon" decided to finish "Game
of Death" as a tribute to him. In my opinion, they'd have been better
to show us the entire 30 minutes of the REAL version. The first 95% is
not the MISSING scenes but a crappy changed storyline.
To this day many Bruce Lee Imitators have tried to be just like him,
but have all just faded. Maybe a star like
Jackie Chan can rise to
the limits, but even Jackie Chan doesn`t claim to be the new Bruce
Lee. There will never be a NEW Bruce Lee.
This is Bruce Lee...... The Legend !!!
About the author: Robert Ciapparelli is a JKD
Unlimited practitioner and studies under Sifu Morne Swanepoel in
Johannesburg, South Africa. He is dedicated to the pursuit of complete
martial freedom, as well as to enhancing his unlimited potential within the
realms of combat and beyond. He can be contacted via his websitehttp://wulijkd.50megs.com/