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BRUCE LEE - A Legend's Biography



More topics:

Was Bruce Lee a fake master?

Yip Man

Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee’s most famous quotes

Wing Tsun

Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris


by Robert Ciapparelli

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 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 the attic.
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 BEST.

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 time!!

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 attacking.
Bruce believed intercepting an attack would be a lot faster than blocking and then attacking as the latter was comprised of two separate movements.

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 Kong.
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 boss.

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 causes.
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 View Cemetary.
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 off 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 website http://wulijkd.50megs.com/

More topics:

Was Bruce Lee a fake master?

Yip Man

Jeet Kune Do


Bruce Lee’s most famous quotes

Wing Tsun

Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris


© 2009 WWW.FIGHTINGMASTER.COM All rights reserved.