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Bruce Lee: The Life and Legend of a Leader

by guest on July 29, 2013
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The hero of many martial arts movies, the name of Bruce Lee is one that is recognized worldwide. Famed for his distinctive martial arts skills, not many people are that knowledgeable about his origins. His real name was Lee Jun-fan, and this is his history.

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The Childhood of Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee

The legend of Bruce Lee began when he was born in Chinatown, San Francisco, on November 27, 1940. His father was Lee Hoi-chuen, a Chinese, while his mother, Grace Ho, was half Chinese, half Caucasian and the relative of well known businessmen.

The family had immigrated to America, but returned to Hong Kong several months after the birth of Bruce Lee. He was raised primarily in Kowloon and was second to the youngest child of five children, all raised in a very prestigious background, thanks to their mother’s family connections.

Living in Hong Kong during the early childhood of Bruce Lee was at times quite harsh. The Lee family was there during the invasion and occupation of the Japanese. Even after the Japanese left, the area where the Lees lived eventually became hostile and dangerous. Lee was involved in several of the common street fights, and because of this, his parents found it necessary to have him learn martial arts.

The Start of His Love for Martial Arts

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee started his training in martial arts when he was just thirteen years old, after losing a fight against certain gang members. He was first taught the basics of Wu-style t’ai chi ch’uan from his father. Later, under the instruction of Yip Man, he studied the art of Wing Chun.

A man with his own legend, Yip Man’s classes generally had little consistency and a lot of practice, never being the same routine twice. At the same time, the students were discouraged in fighting in the streets and were pushed more into putting their energy in competing in tournaments.

Bruce Lee was one of the few people to ever have trained with Yip Man in private sessions. Despite the still unknown hero being enthusiastic in the art of Wing Chun, most of the students were against sparring with him, as they had the traditional Chinese view of keeping martial arts to pure Chinese only. They were against Lee’s slightly mixed heritage from his mother, but it did not stop him. His dedication is what helped him become a martial arts hero.

Bruce Lee Returns to America

Bruce Lee

Despite the training in Wing Chun and his parents’ wishes, Bruce Lee became more and more involved with street fights. Once, police were even called in. It all accumulated to the point where Lee ended up beating the son of a triad family.

With both his family and the police worried over the triad’s reaction, Lee’s father decided to send Bruce Lee to live in San Francisco. This young legend arrived in America when he was eighteen years old.

He eventually completed high school, while working as a waiter in a friend’s restaurant, and enrolled himself at the University of Washington in 1961. He chose drama as his major, no doubt influenced by his father’s occupation as an opera and film actor.

He met Linda Emery at the university, and they were married in 1964. They had two children, a boy named Brandon Lee, and a girl, Shannon Lee.

His Movie Career and His Return to Martial Arts

Bruce Lee

The love this young hero had for martial arts never dissipated, and he eventually began teaching Jun Fan Gung Fu in America, starting in 1959. It was his own style of martial arts, based on what he had learned from Wing Chun. He started off by teaching the friends he had made while in Seattle, and opened his first school for it in the same place.

He became friends with another Chinese martial artist, James Lee, and they both founded the next Jun Fan studio. It was James Lee who introduced Bruce Lee to Ed Parker, a karate championship organizer, and the place where Bruce Lee would eventually be roped into Hollywood films.

Bruce Lee became involved in filming, and it was during the filming of “The Green Hornet” that he started developing the theory behind his trademark martial arts Jeet Kune Do. His basis for it was to have a martial art that was not as formal as the traditional ones and was more practical for typical street fighting, all without losing the essence that makes it a martial art. Already his legend as a martial arts hero was established.

The End of the Legend

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee collapsed on May 10, 1973 while working on the movie “Enter the Dragon”. After diagnosis, he was found to have cerebral edema, although the doctors were able to treat it then.

On July 20 of the same year, Lee took some medicine to relieve a headache and went for a nap. His failure to appear later on prompted the producer that he had been meeting with, Raymond Chow, to look for him.

Bruce Lee failed to wake up despite the attempts, and was sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He was announced dead upon arrival. It was later found that the cerebral edema had returned, causing his brain to swell. He had died at the tender age of thirty two years old.

His wife, Linda, took his body to Seattle and buried him in Lakeview Cemetery on July 31, 1973. Some of his pallbearers included his students, such as Chuck Norris and Taky Kimura.

Already known as both a hero and a legend for martial artists around the world, Bruce Lee and his legacy have been passed down for generations. His teachings and philosophies still carry on through millions of people even today.

Interesting Facts about Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee

  • Bruce Lee had a given name, Sai Fon, which was actually a girl’s name, meaning “little phoenix”.
  • Despite his legend as a hero, he was a bad student and was even kicked out of school once.
  • Bruce Lee only ever lost one fight – when he was thirteen years old.
  • This hero of legend was so fast that, when filming his moves, they had to use a higher fps and slow down the film so that he could be seen.
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