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Bruce Lee

See also Bruce Lee, aka Peter Dinsdale, infamous British serial arsonist and killer

Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940July 20, 1973) is widely considered to be the greatest martial arts film actor of the 20th century. His films, especially the last one Enter the Dragon, elevated the by-then traditional Hong Kong martial arts film to a new level, and artists like Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris have been able to work from this platform. His son, Brandon Lee, was also a martial artist and an actor. He also had a daughter named Shannon (李香凝).

Birth name: Lee Jun-fan (李振藩; Gwohngdongwa pengyam: Ley5 Jan3 Fahn4; Pinyin: Lǐ Zhn fn; literally means invigorate San Francisco based on the Chinese name of his birthplace 三藩市) Bruce was born in his father's absence (he went on a Chinese opera tour.) His mother named him (李炫金) for the meaning of brighten San Francisco based on the Chinese alias of his birthplace 舊金山. The nurses at the hospital gave him an English name Bruce. His Chinese name was changed within a few months when his father returned due to a conflict with his grandfather's name. In Chinese culture, it is a taboo to name the same as an ancester. Bruce's brother before him was stillborn at birth. Chinese believe baby boys are often stolen by the demons. Boys are sometimes called a girls name to fool the demons. In his childhood, Bruce was called Sai Fung (細鳳 a typical girl's name) by his family members in response to his brother's death.
Screen name: Li Xiaolong (李小龍; Gwohngdongwa pengyam: Ley5 Siw2 Long4; Pinyin: Lǐ Xiǎo Lng; lit. Little dragon was first named by director 袁步雲 in the 1950 Cantonese movie 細路祥)

Born in San Francisco, California to a Chinese father (李海泉) and a German-Chinese mother (何金棠), Lee was raised in Hong Kong, where his parents were born. His parents were film actors, hence he had the opportunity to appear in several Chinese movies as a child. He also studied the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu.

In 1959, Lee went to Seattle to complete his high school education. He received his diploma from Edison Technical School and went on to enroll in the University of Washington as a philosophy major. It was at the UW that he would meet his wife Linda Emery.

After leaving University, Lee went on to star as Kato in the television series The Green Hornet. On his return to Hong Kong, he starred in the movies that would cement his fame.

After studying and becoming dissatisfied with existing schools of martial arts, Lee created three of his own: Tao of Gung Fu , a modification of Wing Chun blended with other Kung Fu styles; Jun Fan, a further refinement of his Kung Fu style -- which incorporated elements from martial arts outside of Kung Fu intending to create a more streamlined and practical martial art, as well as a comprehensive system of fitness training; and Jeet Kune Do which was more his personal philosophy of how martial arts should be effectively practiced (and according to others also as a self-help philosophy).

There is often some discrepancy between Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu (a.k.a. "original JKD") and JKD Concepts, which explore other styles not previously incorporated into Jeet Kune Do by Lee. People trained under the tutelage of Dan Inosanto believe such terminology misnomers. Perhaps a reason why Lee himself later regretted naming his philosophy, Jeet Kune Do, making it just another "martial art style." Lee saw loyalty to a particular martial arts style as being dogmatic, analogous to the practice of organized religion or ethnocentrism. This and Lee's other revolutionary ideas about martial arts and his teaching of non-Asian students gave Lee many enemies in the martial arts community of the 1960s/70s (culminating in many challenges by other martial artists Lee poignantly answered). Yet, much of the dispute about JKD instruction is not so much the names, but the credibility of the instructors teaching these 'JKD' fighting systems.

Dan Inosanto -- receiving the highest certification in Lee's latter arts (notable exception is Taky Kimura , senior most instructor in Jun Fan Gung Fu) -- is widely regarded as the senior most JKD instructor under Bruce Lee. All other instructors (again except Taky Kimura and the late James Lee [no relation to Bruce Lee]) are certified under Inosanto, even Bruce's other original students. Kimura to date, has not certified anyone as Jun Fan/JKD instructors. James Lee, a very close and personal friend of Bruce, never certified anyone either before his untimely passing. Inosanto often serves not only as the leading instructor and historian of Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu/Jeet Kune Do Concepts ; he also teaches and practices other styles such as Kali, Silat, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jujitsu.

Lee frequently gave demonstrations of his two-finger pushups and his famous "one inch punch. He was a very well rounded man, being well educated both academically (he was a philosophy major at the University of Washington) and in the field of martial arts. His studies of Wing Chun Gung Fu sparked his enthusiasm and understanding of martial arts. In fact, Wing Chun was the only martial art Lee formally studied, under the guidance of Yip Man. Later, after he left Yip Man's school, he studied other styles of Kung Fu, Wrestling, Jujitsu, and many other martial arts through an extensive literature research and contacts with other martial artists. Many contemporary martial arts instructors, in effort to promote themselves or their schools, make dubious claims about learning from or teaching Bruce Lee. This was a major reason why he, and later Inosanto, put rigid standards forth to earn certification in his arts. As a hybrid-style of mixed martial arts, Jun Fan/Jeet Kune Do Concepts boasts of containing some elements from 27 different styles of martial arts.

It is rumored that Lee used an electric current as an aid to strength training, because of the leanness the muscles gained in working against themselves. However, this muscle stimulator was only one of many pieces of equipment and exercise routines Lee used to achieve his on-screen physical appearance. His obsession with physical fitness is seen in his personal notes and diary. Lee tracked the evolution of his training in his diary, which has been recollected and published in The Bruce Lee Library by John Little a "martial arts historian" from Bruce Lee's Estate.

On July 20, 1973, Lee was due to have lunch with former James Bond star George Lazenby, with whom he intended to make a film. However, Lee never turned up for the lunch, and when Lazenby and Lee's agent went to his hotel room, they found him dead. However, the exact details of Lees' death are the source of much sensationalism and controversy even today. Lee reportedly died after meeting a Hong Kong actress (丁珮), and asking her for medicine after complaining about a severe headache. Although there have been several rumours concerning the cause of his death, the official cause of death, cerebral edema, was recorded as being the result of an allergic reaction to an analgesic he took combined with a possible unusual allergic reaction to cannabis. He was interred in Seattle's Lake View Cemetery.

Although he made only a handful of films and television appearances in his adulthood, Bruce Lee has become an iconic figure in life, and in movies, as a personification of a small man who became the epitome of what some see as mental and physical perfection. His fame also sparked the first major surge of interest in Chinese martial arts in the West. The direction and tone of Bruce Lee's movies have forever changed and influenced action and martial arts fims.

The film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is a highly fictionalized biography of his life/legend.

In 1958, Lee was the Cha Cha Champion of Hong Kong. He worked part time as a Cha Cha instructor for a short time when he returned to San Francisco in April 1959.

In 2004, Bosnians will honour Bruce Lee with a statue on the Spanish Square , as a symbol of solidarity. It was chosen by the residents over the Pope and Gandhi. Its unveiling is said to be in November; where people hope Linda will come.

The Shaman King character Lee Bailong (Lee Pai-Long) is a reference to Bruce Lee.



"Unfortunately, now in boxing people are only allowed to punch. In Judo, people are only allowed to throw. I do not despise these kinds of martial arts. What I mean is, we now find rigid forms which create differences among clans, and the world of martial art is shattered as a result."

"I think the high state of martial art, in application, must have no absolute form. And, to tackle pattern A with pattern B may not be absolutely correct."

"Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend..."

"True observation begins when one is devoid of set patterns."

"The other weakness is, when clans are formed, the people of a clan will hold their kind of martial art as the only truth, and do not dare to reform or improve it. Thus they are confined in their own tiny little world. Their students become machines which imitate martial art forms."

"Some people are tall, some are short. Some are stout, some are slim. There are various different kinds of people. If all of them learn the same martial art form, then who does it fit?"

"Ultimately, martial art means honestly expressing yourself. It is easy for me to put on a show, and be cocky so I can show you some really fancy movement. But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly enough; that my friend is very hard to do."


Lineage in Wing Chun
sifu Yip Man (葉問)
other teachers sihing Wong Shun-leung (黃惇樑)
learned Phillipino rod fighting skill from Dan Inosanto
learned karate high kicking skill from Chuck Norris
Bruce Lee (李小龍)
known students in Wing Chun probably none
known students in Jeet Kune Do Taky Kimura
Dan Inosanto
numerous others ...


N.B. : The U.S. English titles for the first two films were (mistakenly?) swapped by the U.S. distributor. The title "The Chinese Connection" (a play on the then-recently-released "The French Connection") was originally intended for "The Big Boss" due to the drugs theme of the story.

released # Chinese & English title
of original release
U.S. title Note
1971 1 《唐山大兄》 The Big Boss Fists of Fury Fought against a drug lord in Thailand
1972 2 《精武門》 Fist of Fury The Chinese Connection Fought against Japanese tyrants in China
1972 3 《猛龍過江》 Way of the Dragon Return of the Dragon Fought crime in Rome, Italy
1973 4 《龍爭虎鬥》 Enter the Dragon same Fought a drug lord in Hong Kong
1979 5 《死亡遊戲》 Game of Death same Pieced together with few fight scenes filmed before his death

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Last updated: 11-06-2004 20:34:15