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Bruce Lee

July 20, 2021

Bruce Lee, one of the most iconic movie star of all times. He created a cult following, around the world, inspired many to take up martial arts, created a whole new genre of cinema.

In the 70s right after Enter the Dragon had released, a common sight in India, was gyms having Bruce Lee’s picture. In fact I think he was the first international star to have a massive fan following in India, later on it was Jackie Chan, Arnie and Slyvester Stallone. The impact of Bruce Lee, goes beyond just cinema, he popularized martial arts in India, matter of fact all over the world. Till then it was more restricted to Asian nations, post Enter the Dragon, every kid, youngster around the world wanted to learn martial arts. While Japan had it’s own Shaolin, Ninja, Samurai movies, they usually were at a higher level, very often intricate and philosophical. His movies on the other hand had more simpler plots, were more oriented towards the masses.

For a long time, Bruce Lee was synonymous with martial arts. In a way he was the inspiration for a whole new generation of Hong Kong martial art stars like Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li. He was the one who made martial arts a global brand across the world. One more reason for his popularity is the way he changed the Asians were represented in Hollywood. For a long time, it was common to have white actors donning yellowish paint, make up to depict Asians. He bought respectability to Asian actors there.

Also most of Bruce Lee’s movies had this Chinese nationalism theme, majority of his movies were based around Chinese immigrants or native Chinese being exploited by foreigners, and that struck a chord with most Chinese, for that matter with most of the Asian community. He was trained in Wing Chun, a traditional Chinese kungfu style of combat, he combined elements of his own philosophical thoughts, improved upon it to create a new style Jeet Kune Do, a mix and match of various martial art forms.

While Bruce Lee is known for his martial skills, not many really know that he had an excellent knowledge of philosophy, and also wrote poetry. He actually wrote books on martial arts, with his own philosophical references, and he had a huge library with books on philosophy. He was an avid follower of Jiddu Krishnamurthy one of his main influences apart from Taoism and Buddhism. Matter of fact for some one with Chinese roots, his philosophy was fundamentally opposite to Confucianism.

He was born on Nov 27, 1940 in San Francisco’s Chinatown, , the 4th of 5 children, his father Lee Hoi-Chuen was a Chinese stage actor, while his mother Grace was of mixed Eurasian ancestr, his parents returned to Hong Kong soon after his birth. As per Chinese Zodiac, Bruce Lee was believed to be born in the Year of the Dragon, his Chinese name was Lee Jun Fan, his English name was given by the doctor in the hospital where he was born. Later as a student he used the name Lee Yuen-Kam.

He grew up in a well to do environment, his father was a leading star of the Cantonese opera, while his mother belonged to one of Hong Kong’s richest families, his great grand uncle Sir Robert HoTung, was an influential businessman, known as Grand Old Man of Hong Kong. However around the same time, the city was hit by an influx of refugees most of them fleeing the Communist regime in China, and soon the tiny island became overcrowded, and dangerous too.

And soon it became overcrowded, dirty, which predictably led to the rise of gangs, street gangs and of course in a way the notorious triads that wud be a part of the city. Though Bruce Lee belonged to a more affluent family, he was often caught up in the street fights in his neighborhood, and that is when his parents felt he had to be trained in martial arts to defend himself. And this is one of the major themes in his movies too.

Though he started with the standard Wu-style taichi, he was predominantly influenced by Wing Chun, a southern Chinese kung fu wush style of close combat, and he began to train it when he was just 16 years. Training under Yip Man, Bruce Lee quickly learned the basiscs of Wing Chun,. In turn Yip kept organizing competitions for his students to keep them away from Hong Kong’s notorious street gangs.

Also fellow students were against training with Bruce Lee, due to his mixed race ancestry, he was not considered pure Asian, and the distrust of non Asians was pretty high those days. However he trained privately with IpMan and mastered Wing Chun soon. He soon got into college, and gained fame as a boxing champ. However he got into street fights often, and once beat up the son of a dreaded triad boss, which made his parents worried.

The Hong Kong triads were, matter of fact,still are, one of the most notorious crime syndicates in the world, one of the most ruthless too. And beating up a member of a triad family meant certain death. So his parents sent him back to the US again. He moved to Seattle in 1959, where he worked at a restaurant to finance his education. And he later joined the University of Washington, where he studied dramatic arts, philosophy, and also met his future wife Linda Emery, whom he married after a long courtship.

He began to teach his own version of Kung Fu, what he called Jan Fan Gung Fu in Seattle, also opened his first martial arts school there. He would later open another martial arts school in Oakland, and took part in the Long Beach karate championships. It was at the Long Beach Championships that Bruce Lee, demonstrated his by now iconic unstopabble punch. He came up with his own martial arts style Jeet Kune Do in 1967, basically a mix and match of various martial arts, with philosophcal touches.

Bruce Lee felt that the traditional martial arts style, was too rigid, and did not really suit in street fights, which essentially had no rules. He wanted a martial arts style that was practical, fast, flexible and efficient. And that led to Jeet Kune Do. Again he was the first martial arts star to emphasize on physical fitness, muscular strength, flexibility, endurance. He also used vitamins, high protein drinks, combining the typical Western fitness regime, with more Eastern elements of spiritualism. He avoided baked goods, preferred Asian cuisine of vegetables, rice, fish and milk. His book Tao of Jeet Kune Do describes this well.

He initially made minor appearances mostly as an Asian henchman, or sidekick in Hollywood crime flicks, he also choreographed action scenes for some other movies and appeared in the TV series Longstreet. His first major hit was The Big Boss in 1971, that made him a star, where he plays an ice factory Chinese immigrant in Thailand, who rebels against the exploitation of his manager. The movie also developed his by now iconic style.

His next movie Fist of Fury in 1972, was an even bigger hit. Once again he plays the hero standing up for the Chinese against their Japanese occupiers, and the movie struck a chord with the audience. Not to mention some awesome action scenes.

His other 2 movies Way of the Dragon, and and Game of Death were successful too. Basically Bruce Lee’s movies had him as the lone one man hero, who stands up for the rights of his fellow Chinese against foreign exploiters. And that is what made them so popular.

It was Enter the Dragon that would make Bruce Lee a global star, his first Hollywood movie, a true cult classic. To date remains among my favorites, one of the best action movies ever shot. It was the iconic movie that influenced many a martial art movie later on. The movie is a cult classic to date, especially the final fight in the Hall of Mirrors, one movie that I love watching again and again. Incidentally Jackie Chan had a small role in this as one of the henchmen.

Incidentally Ram Gopal Verma cites Bruce Lee’s Return of the Dragon as his main influence for Shiva. Was directed by Lee himself. Similiar kinda story, hero enters an area where a local gangster terrifies the people, and he begins to take on them.

had earlier suffered from a cerebral edema during shooting of Enter the Dragon. However he had a more fatal seizure on July 20, 1973 right after a dinner. He was burried at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle by his wife. There is a lot of speculation on Bruce Lee’s death at just 32, pointing to the involvement of the triads or a conspiracy. However what is true is that he was a truly iconic figure, made martial arts a global brand, and an inspiration to many. A true legend.

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