Personality of Bruce Lee
1. A few words about Bruce Lee
“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”
Bruce Lee, a leading martial arts actor and instructor, was the first Chinese to star in a Hollywood movie. Having invented “jeet kune do”, a martial art that combines elements from many different types, he is fairly considered as “the godfather of Mixed Martial Arts”. Due to his mixed Asian and American origin and because his life was shared between the two places, he acts as a symbol of the bridging between East and West.
He was an extraordinarily handsome man. His body, though small, was incredibly fit and shapely. He radiated such elegance and charm that he looked more like a model than a martial artist. He had an attractive and bright face. What stood out the most was his piercing black eyes that reflected the tension within him. He often wore glasses and was always fashionably and finely dressed.
Lee on stage
As for his acting skills, he was a brilliant actor, but only when the roles he played suited his character. He was capable of becoming a martial arts instructor and student and at the same time an immigrant fighting against the evil and avenging for his loved ones. He kept the audience on the edge of their seat, as he filled the stage with his presence. His films were dominated by fight scenes and violence. His moves were characterised by an unprecedented speed, synchronisation and theatricality, as well as his enormous strength, since one punch from him was enough to launch his opponents to the other side of the room.
The main subjects of his films
Lee always wanted to have the first say in the script-writing of the films he starred in. His films were inspired by his own life: his love for martial arts, his sense of pride in his Asian origin, his experiences as a US immigrant, his perpetual struggle against all forms of authority, the bullying he faced when he was younger, where he had to protect himself on his own and, above all, his fiery and aggressive personality.
His films, though not many, had a crucial impact on the history of cinema. They aim at the dynamic and aggressive sides of the viewer; those sides that thirst for action, revenge and mastery. Through his roles, he gave prominence to Oriental culture in a special way, thus contributing to changing how the Chinese were portrayed in American films, turning them from insignificant secondary characters into heroes. Male viewers admired him and wanted to be like him, while women fell in love with him. At the same time, he was trying to convey philosophical messages through his films, as he aimed at not only entertaining people but also educating them.
2. Bruce Lee’s personality
“Self- actualization is the important thing. And my personal message to people is that I hope they will go toward self- actualization rather than self- image actualization. I hope that they will search within themselves for honest self-expression.”
A typical “Entertainer”
By carefully observing Lee’s life and actions, we could argue that, based on Briggs Myers’ classification of the various personality types, he best fits the “Entertainer” personality, as he seemed to love being in the spotlight, demonstrating his skills and entertaining people.
Since as early as childhood, Bruce had started playing in films and seemed to enjoy it. Growing up, his dream was to become famous and, in fact, Hollywood’s greatest star. Not only was he a brilliant actor but also an extraordinary performer, while he was performing his fight moves on stage. Viewers were so fascinated by Lee that they could not get their eyes off him. Although many people disagreed with his statements, everyone was impressed when they saw what he was capable of doing.
His extroverted and impulsive character
With his own people he was quite extroverted and enjoyed talking about his thoughts and interests. He wanted to be the centre of attention and, when he failed, felt uncomfortable. Even though he sometimes gave the impression of a self-centred person, he actually cared deeply for those he loved. He strove to offer a good life to his family and was awfully upset to see his wife work when he could not. It seemed that it was important for him to see others happy and hence he tried to make them laugh at his jokes and lighten up the mood even in the hardest situations. Even as an adult, he maintained his puerility and enthusiasm, which made him adorable.
Due to his adventurous character, he enjoyed exploring new paths in martial arts as well as dancing. He used to experiment with new moves on his own and with his students and share any new knowledge with them. He had the gift of inspiring those who followed him and transferring his passion for anything he would engage in. He was a man who lived in the present moment, while his greatest flaw was that his mind was so focused on immediate pleasure that he sometimes acted impulsively, ignoring his responsibilities. For example, he used to make big purchases, often counting on money he had not yet earned, rendering his family financially distressed at times.
His sensitive side
He had a sensitive soul and was very concerned about what others thought of him and his accomplishments. Every sign of rejection hurt him deeply and made him become too self-critical. He wanted his films to be appreciated not only by the public but also by his loved ones, and when he failed, he worked harder and harder to make his next work as perfect as possible. All of these characteristics are usually manifested in people belonging to the Entertainer’s personality type.
His relationship with martial arts
Lee, already since childhood, had been so hyperactive that his family used to call him “never sits still”. That hyperactivity was not limited to his body; he also had an overactive mind that was constantly devouring knowledge and stimuli and generating ideas. It seemed that engaging in martial arts was a way for him to channel his energy into something enjoyable. While he was fighting, his overactive mind was focused on something very specific and his body was releasing the tension he experienced. After all, martial arts are recommended by experts for the treatment of hyperactivity, as they improve concentration and reduce impulsiveness. This is because martial arts students focus on physical activity, follow instructions, and train within a disciplined context.
In addition, from a young age, one could observe aggression in Lee’s character, as he used to get involved in quarrels and form gangs with his peers. Therefore, it could be that, through martial arts, he found the opportunity to express his aggressive tendencies in a creative and socially acceptable way.
3. The birth of the little dragon
“It is like a finger pointing a way to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
Bruce Lee’s father, Li Hoi Chuen, came from a poor peasant family of Foshan, in Southern China, and to his good fortune, he grew up to become an opera singer. In one of his private shows at a magnificent house in Hong Kong, he met Lee’s mother, Grace Ho. She belonged to one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest business families and was of a mixed English, Dutch, Jewish and Chinese descent. She had received European education and was a Catholic in religion. Going against her family’s principles, she was bold enough to begin a love affair with the actress of inferior birth and marry him, which had as a consequence her financial exclusion from the family. Thus, she began having the role of a wife and mother and that of a very traditional, quiet, smiley, and caring woman.
Bruce Lee was born on 27 November 1940, during his parents’ one-year trip to San Francisco. According to the Chinese horoscope, his year and time of birth corresponded to the zodiac sign of the dragon. Therefore, having a double dragon determining his fate, it was evident to the Chinese community that the boy was destined for something great. His surname “Lee” came from the English version of his father’s surname “Li”. His American name was “Bruce Lee”, as he was born in America. His Chinese name, given by his mother, was “Li Jun Fan“, which means “Shake Up and Excite San Francisco”. His first contact with the camera was during that trip, where, while still a new-born, he played in a short scene from a film shot by a friend of his father’s, acting the role of a baby girl.
His Hong Kong adventure
Upon their return to Hong Kong, the Li family welcomed their new member with enthusiasm. It was their fourth child and second son. However, little Bruce did not show the same enthusiasm for his new environment. By that time, World War II had ravaged China and the Japanese army had occupied Hong Kong. The baby suffered in the wet and dirty war zone he had been transferred to and, as a result, he became seriously ill and lost weight. His mother, fearing he would die, dedicated herself to taking care of him to a point where she eventually spoiled him, as he himself pointed out years later. The adventure he went through at the beginning of his life created problems in his development as a child, since it was only at the age of four that he learned to walk keeping his balance.
4. Lee’s childhood
“Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.”
The family’s high standard of living
During World War II, due to the fact that Japanese soldiers showed a particular love for opera and opera singers, Li Hoi Chuen and his family belonged to the privileged class. Li Hoi was able to provide them with sufficient food and, thanks to the income from his profession and the dramatic decline of the population during the war, he bought five flats, in the biggest of which he moved in with his family. Upon Japanese troops’ withdrawal and reclaim of the area by the British, the area’s population increased fivefold, and Hoi Chuen received high earnings from renting out his real estate property. The Li family, therefore, maintained a high standard of living, with luxuries that most people of the time did not have, such as a television, a car, servants and pets.
Stimuli developing the child’s intelligence
Lee, from a young age, was hyperactive, scampering and playing relentlessly, while, when it came to studying, he was rather lazy unlike his studious older brother. His moment of relaxation was only when he was given comics and novels to read, particularly about martial arts and magic, to which he could devote endless hours. He used to read so much that, by the age of six, he had become short-sighted. However, that hobby helped the child develop a vivid imagination as he liked pretending to be a hero.
Therefore, it seems that, despite the adversities of the time, Lee grew up in a secure financial environment, where most of his needs were met, without being deprived of anything, which is an important factor in a child’s healthy physical and mental development. In addition, his environment seemed to have provided him with a variety of stimuli, such as animals and books, and, as it is generally known, an environment rich in stimuli helps children unfold their abilities and develop their intelligence.
Lee’s first steps in cinema
Hoi Chuen had now started playing funny roles in films as well. It was due to his father’s new career that six-year-old Bruce made his debut in cinema, when one of his father’s directors offered him the role of a little pickpocket in the film “The Birth of Mankind”, which he was happy to accept. In his second film, “Wealth is Like a Dream”, the fact that his father co-starred in the film overshadowed the talent of the young boy, to whom newspapers had given the nickname “Little Li Hoi Chuen”. Lee thus began to see his father competitively and tried to outshine him, which he actually did in 1950, in his next film, “My Son A-Chang”, also known as “The Kid“, which made him famous. His father was very hesitant to allow him to play in the film, as he was concerned about his son’s excessive involvement in cinema at such a young age, but was eventually convinced when the director offered a role to him as well in order to be able to supervise his child. That film, where Lee played the role of an orphan involved in a criminal gang, constituted a milestone in his career, as through it he managed to prove on-screen his talent in fighting and his characteristic fight moves, such as shaking his shoulders back, before attacking the opponent. With his new nickname being “Little Dragon Li”, he started to identify himself in his personal life with the revolutionary roles he played.
Lee as a school student
At the age of six, Lee’s mother enrolled him in a boys-only parish school. From the beginning he seemed to be short on the other boys, as his small physique and balance problems prevented him from learning to ride a bike. Moreover, the school’s teachers, in their effort to make him overcome his fear of water, once forced him to stay underwater in a swimming pool, increasing his fear even more. His glasses and his earring gave his classmates a reason to mock him. That teasing made him lose his temper and fight with all the guys that teased him, regardless of their age or physical strength, reaching a point where no one dared to bother him anymore.
He hated school and found it difficult to concentrate in class. He did not study at all, and what devastated him even more was the appreciation that his father showed to his brother, Peter, who was an excellent student and a quiet child. Bruce, on the other hand, was anything but quiet. He had formed a gang with his peers, mainly engaging in quarrels with other children and pranks. His mother was tolerant of his mischiefs, but his father, distant and strict as he was, used to punish him by hitting him with a bamboo stick.
His learning disorder
According to the above, Lee seems to have suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), since he found it difficult concentrating and keeping his attention in class or doing his homework. In the eyes of others he may have seemed lazy, but, in fact, children with ADHD are unable to engage in anything they find boring. He was always in a state of restlessness and moved incessantly, only to be quiet when he had something very attractive in his hands, such as comics in vibrant colours.
Lee’s relationship with his father
Despite his strictness, in his early childhood, Lee had a rather good relationship with his father, who cared for him and wanted to spend quality time together; they went fishing together, he took him to the theatre, and was trying to teach him Tai Chi, in an attempt to help him control his hyperactivity. However, at that point, Hoi Chuen started becoming addicted to opium, which was common in the actors’ circles of the time, and, as a consequence, it eventually became the only thing he cared about, living isolated in the world of his addiction. Lee himself as an adult complained that his father was emotionally absent the time he needed him the most. There were grave consequences on the family’s financial situation as well, as opium was very expensive, and it also had an impact on his father’s job. Indeed, some characteristics of Lee’s behaviour, like his aggressiveness and his difficulty in trusting people of authority, are often attributed to children whose parent is addicted to a substance.
Lee in the Catholic school
At the age of 10, Lee started attending a school run by Catholic Monks. The subjects were taught in English, which Lee learned to speak fluently and which adequately prepared him for meeting Hollywood requirements later on. However, he still failed as a student, especially in Maths. He became a gang leader again and would often engage in quarrels. However, he did not like abusing weak children but rather protecting his gang members and defending them like a hero, and in return they helped him with lessons. Altogether, they sometimes attacked British boys from a neighbouring school. He also used to bring some weapons with him, such as pocket knives and knuckle dusters.
From the age of 11 to 13, his parents did not allow him to play in another film so that he could concentrate on his school career. However, when they realized their efforts were in vain, they let him return to his acting career. Over the following three years he played in 10 drama films, where he mainly had secondary roles. The influences he received from the company he worked with at the time instilled him with the desire to create films with patriotic messages regarding Chinese cultural heritage.
Lee’s aggressiveness as a child
After five years in Catholic school, Lee was expelled, embarrassing his parents. According to his classmates, there had been a serious incident in which he chased his Physical Education teacher with a knife when the latter hit him on the leg with a bunch of greens. In fact, Lee wanted to reproduce a scene from a film he had participated in, where he had attacked with a knife an adult that had hit him. That was the final straw with respect to his poor conduct.
It leaves one wondering as to what made Lee manifest that aggressive behaviour. It seems that, from a young age, he had a rebellious character which may have been exacerbated by his father’s withdrawal due to his opium addiction.
Consequences of his father’s emotional absence
It is generally believed that, when the father is absent, either physically or emotionally, he gives the child the indirect message that he/she is not worthy of his attention and love, which can be traumatic for a child’s self-esteem. Especially in the case of a boy, when the father is absent, the male model is missing, and, as a result, the child is forced to discover his own male identity without any guidance whatsoever. This absence runs the risk of the little boy beginning to imitate stereotypes of male behaviour that he can find in sources outside the family. Little Bruce, in particular, seemed to have found his role models in the heroes of the comics he read and the roles he himself impersonated in his films and which imitated their behaviour. In some cases, such as that of Lee’s, the boy, in his struggle to discover his identity, can be led to delinquency and violence.
It has also been observed that boys can usually be more expressive in their actions than in words. It is therefore likely that Lee, through his disruptive and disobedient behaviour, was trying to express his distress or anger over his father’s emotional absence.
5. Lee’s first contact with Kung Fu
“Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.”
Lee starts learning a new martial art
When he was 15, Lee’s mother enrolled him in a new school, St. Francis Xavier, which, in terms of discipline, was stricter than his previous one. However, that fact did not prevent him from continuing his engagement in quarrels, during which he became incredibly upset the few times he was defeated. Thus he decided to pursue martial arts in order to improve his fighting skills. There was another well-known troublemaker in the area, William Cheung, much more experienced than Lee, whom the latter decided to follow to learn his techniques and outdo him in performance. That boy used moves from a special type of Kung Fu, Wing Chun.
Therefore, Lee started taking lessons with Cheung’s instructor. In the beginning, the young man’s arrogance made a bad impression on the instructor. However, later on, he again took on the role of the humble and obedient student, in order to be able to outdo his instructor one day. He pursued his goal with so much zeal that he was constantly devising various lies to drive his classmates away from training sessions and practice with the teacher all by himself. They, for their part, did not like him at all because he was famous, came from a wealthy family, unlike all the others, and behaved as if he deserved special treatment. What is more, they demanded his removal from the class because of his mixed Eurasian origin, claiming that Kung Fu should only be taught to pure-blooded Chinese. However, they failed in that effort. The teacher advised his students to practise the movements they learned in real-time, on the street. Lee followed his advice, and, as a result, he became a police target.
Lee’s successful battle
Students from various schools used to fight with each other on secret roof terraces, far from the eyes of the police. Lee, when he felt ready, challenged a boxer with four years of experience from another school. On the day of the battle, he arrived accompanied by his instructor and seemed to be quite sure of himself. After losing in the first round, he wanted to retreat, but after his instructor’s prompting, he continued and eventually triumphed, breaking his opponent’s teeth and causing him to faint from the blows. The teacher knew well how competitive Lee was and how much he hated to lose. As a result, his self-confidence was boosted and he threw himself into training with even greater passion. He practised his moves everyday and meditated on them in the end.
6. From adolescence to adulthood
“When I have listened to my mistakes, I have grown.”
His relationship with girls
In his teens Lee was adept not only at martial arts but also with girls. He used to have many partners at the same time, but their relationships remained platonic. In his effort to hide his embarrassment in front of them, he liked to show off his muscles, asking them to try to find fat on him by pinching him with their nails, which was impossible, as his body was hard as stone. He went out with them to nightclubs with his hair covered in grease, just like Elvis Presley, and they would dance in the same rhythm. His girlfriends had fun with him, but at times they were frightened, as he did not hesitate to get involved in fights, even when accompanying them. He enjoyed spending time in busy places, whereas, in quiet places, he often remained silent. In fact, once, in an effort to impress one of his girlfriends, he even started dance lessons.
Lee’s dancing skills
Dancing turned into one of his favourite pastimes. He had a special love for cha-cha, and even started attending a dance school to learn dancing. He liked enriching his repertoire with bizarre dance moves, some of which he devised himself, inspired by kung fu. At some point he participated in a cha-cha competition with dancers from all over Hong Kong. He took his younger brother, Robert, as his partner, because, if he appeared on stage with any of his girlfriends, the others would be jealous. The two of them danced so impressively that they won the competition. His dance skills later helped him in his films, as his fight moves were characterised by rhythm and balance, producing a beautiful and spectacular effect on screen.
During those years, he played in the comedy “Sweet Time Together” in 1956 and in the drama “Thunderstorm” in 1957. Those roles are not considered to be the most successful of his career, since especially in the latter, where he impersonated a rich gentleman, he completely abandoned the style that suited him and hence received negative reviews. That frustrated him, but he also realised that it was better for him to embody roles that fit his personality. That was exactly what he did in his following film, “Darling Girl”, that same year, where he reflected his love for cha-cha in a dance scene with the protagonist, who was also one of his girlfriends.
His father’s addiction still affecting him
As expected from a person at his age, he was exasperated by his father’s bossiness. Hoi Chuen’s addiction to opium seemed to widen the gap between them. Lee once referred to a particular incident from his teens, where an elderly man who practised Tai Chi asked spectators to kick him in the belly in order to demonstrate his stamina. Lee approached him and kicked him with all his might, making him scream out in pain while he was laughing. Perhaps in the face of that man, whom he wanted to hurt so desperately, he could see his father. In 1959, after the ban of opium use in Hong Kong, Hoi Chuen decided to rehabilitate. Although he had to go through a painful process, he succeeded in the end.
Lee’s decision to leave Hong Kong
That same year, Lee was still a school student, as he had to repeat a school year twice. The police then visited his school, informed the headmaster that the young man was constantly involved in trouble, and warned his mother that if that situation continued, they would arrest him. His parents’ efforts to persuade him to stop practising martial arts were in vain. Martial arts were his only resort, since he was a poor student and the films in which he played were not enough to provide him a living. However, having been born in San Francisco, he had a U.S. citizenship, which allowed him to make a fresh start in the U.S. and study at a college there. Therefore, the decision was taken jointly by his parents and himself. Although he liked the idea, he was hurt because he felt that his parents were sending him into exile. Along with his studies, he thought of giving Wing Chun lessons to make a living on his own, as he was too proud to accept money from his father, who had upset him with his “exile”. The decision to migrate seemed to have shaken him up, as in the months that followed he behaved in a more mature and calm way. The strangest of all was that he had taken the decision to concentrate on his studies all by himself. He had changed so much that his parents were worried that something was going wrong.
Shortly before his departure, he starred in one of his top films, “The Orphan”. In April 1959, in tears, he bid his family farewell at the port, setting off on a new beginning.
7. Lee’s first years in San Francisco
“A martial artist is a human being first. Just as nationalities have nothing to do with one’s humanity, so they have nothing to do with martial arts.”
In May, Lee arrived in San Francisco, where he stayed at some friends of his parents’, who owned a Chinese restaurant. He thought he would receive special treatment, but, to the contrary, they made him work hard in the restaurant and gave him a tiny bedroom that was nothing like the comforts he had been accustomed to. Although the years he spent with them, they did not get along with each other that toughened him up and helped him put his life in order. After all, that was his father’s goal when he sent his undisciplined son to America. He thus began to take school more seriously and maintain decent grades. He made extra money giving cha-cha lessons during which he filled the room with his radiating charm. He made his lesson fun using his sense of humour and his ability to entertain people.
Lee starts teaching kung fu
At the same time, he was attending extracurricular classes of other types of kung fu, different from Wing Chun that he had practised up to that point. He wanted to gather the best elements of all types and incorporate them into his technique in order to become the best martial artist in the world. He gradually started building his student circle. His first student was Jesse, a young African-American from his school, whom no one deigned to teach kung fu, due to his non-Chinese origin. Lee, however, took the risk, even though he knew he could be criticised for that. Jesse’s enthusiasm for his teacher’s abilities urged more people from his school to join the classes. With a view to attracting more people, Lee gave some shows, appearing on stage with his glasses and suit on, looking like a typical studious teenager. As soon as he started showing off his moves, though, he left the audience speechless. During his first show, he asked the most muscular of his spectators to hit him. With great artistry, he avoided his blows, tying up his arms in a knot each time in the end. Within a year, he had set up his own studio where he gave his lessons.
His students were of various nationalities. He would practise his moves on his students and discover new ones along with them. He did not like to be called a “teacher”, but by his first name, and did not ask for any payment, as he saw them more as his friends. There was a love relationship between them and they used to spend time together before and after the lessons. They would go to the cinema or restaurants together, where Lee ate and talked a great deal. He felt comfortable with his friends and talked about martial arts, dancing and Hong Kong, which he terribly missed. He would also talk about his dream, which was to become rich and famous.
Fashion, cars and guns
During his first years in America, although he was fluent in English, he had problems with his accent and used to omit some syllables when he spoke enthusiastically, and when mocked for that, he used to get very upset. He wanted to get dressed in the latest fashion, so he stopped wearing some of his old clothes, and bought low-heeled shoes to look taller. His friends taught him how to use guns and he really loved one that they gave him as a present. They also tried to teach him how to drive, but he didn’t do so well, as he was nervous and inattentive on the road. Every drive with him seemed more like a game of death. However, a spoilt young man like Lee could not but drive his own car, a black Ford 1957 that he had bought with his savings.
8. Lee’s student years
“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.”
Lee at University
In March 1961, Lee was admitted to the University of Washington to study drama, making his family proud of him. He was mainly enrolled in courses he was particularly drawn to, such as physical education and drawing. He also attended some philosophy and psychology courses that opened up new horizons in his spiritual pursuits. During the course of his life, he collected more than 2,500 books, many of which were about philosophy and psychology. He particularly liked authors such as Rene Descartes, David Hume, Carl Jung, and Carl Rogers. Despite his thirst for knowledge, his grades were not great as he studied only when necessary, just to pass the courses. As his older brother’s girlfriend used to say: “If you wanted to shut his mouth, the best way was to ask him about his studies.”
Bruce’s first relationship
The first years in the U.S., Lee had dated lots of girls though without entering a relationship, until he met Amy Sanbo, a beautiful Japanese ballerina, during his first year of studies. He won her heart when she hurt her leg while dancing and Bruce offered to help her go up and down the stairs of the University every day, carrying her and all her stuff on his shoulders. He did the same in the block of flats she lived, until her leg recovered completely. They had a fiery relationship that lasted two years. There was a mutual irresistible attraction between them. What fascinated her most in her partner was the pride he showed in his Asian descent. Their frequent fights were due to their different views on gender roles, as Bruce was too traditional for a feminist like Amy. He insisted on her narrating constantly where and with whom she was, which enraged her. He loved her madly and had asked her to marry him many times, but she was not ready for that step. Lee fell apart when she left him and for a long time all he did was talk to his friends about her and paint pictures of her.
Time for reconciliation
In the summer of 1963, Lee went on a three-month trip to Hong Kong for the first time since he left. He had brought presents for his whole family, who were waiting for him at the airport. He gave his father an expensive coat and returned the money he had given him when he left four years ago. Hoi Chuen hugged his son tightly and they both broke down in tears. He apologized for the way he had behaved, and Bruce acknowledged the fact that he would not have changed his life otherwise. The two of them, after years of bitterness, finally reconciled.
Bruce and Linda
Linda Emery looked nothing like Lee’s previous fancy girls. She was a quiet and simple girl, what one would call the girl next door. She was of a mixed English – Swedish origin, with short brown hair, lovely blue eyes and low self-confidence. They studied at the same university and Linda had already been enchanted by the impressive young man when she attended some of his kung fu classes. She used to join the rest of the class when they went out altogether after the lessons, where Lee made her laugh to tears. One day, during training, he approached and tickled her until he made her fall down laughing. That was when he first asked her out on a date. Soon, the two of them came very close and spent endless hours together in his dark bedroom. They enjoyed watching soap operas together and then going out for dinner at his favourite Chinese restaurant. For about a year, the girl was anxious about her mother discovering her secret relationship, since she would reject her daughter’s partner due to his Asian origin.
Lee’s collaboration with James
In the meantime, Lee was planning to leave Seattle to expand his students’ circle and start making a living from martial arts, when, to his good fortune, he was visited by an associate of James Lee’s, a famous kung fu instructor. He owned his own school and had written many books, all of which Bruce had read, and proposed a collaboration to him. Bruce accepted with enthusiasm and after a few days he visited James in Oakland. Although the famous instructor was quite old, they shared a common vision: create a new martial arts movement that would apply traditional martial arts to the needs of street fighting. Therefore, in the spring of 1963, they both agreed that Bruce should move to Oakland and the two of them would open a school with the same main instructor. James was so impressed by the young genius that he decided to abandon his old techniques and become his student.
Lee’s becoming a father
What Lee had not anticipated was that Linda would become pregnant. He seemed quite happy with the news, but he still did not feel ready to bear the costs of a whole family. It took him two months to make sure that he wanted to stay with Linda and have her by his side in his new beginning. Their next problem was that the girl’s family knew nothing about their relationship. Therefore, on a beautiful Saturday morning, Lee straight-forwardly announced to them that he wanted to marry her, and that he was Chinese. Her family members did not like those statements at all, and they began to threaten to cut off every contact with poor Linda. However, she was determined to defend her love at all costs. Eventually, her mother finally relented. Bruce and Linda got married in August 1964. Only her mother and grandmother accepted to attend the wedding. Following his parents’ example, Lee chose to have a calm and tender girl by his side that clashed with her family for his sake, just like his mother had done before. The two of them were so different and yet so well-matched. “We are two halves that make a whole,” he used to say to his friends.
9. Lee changes course of life
“Not being tense but ready; not thinking yet but dreaming; not being set but flexible- it is being wholly and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.”
With a view to promoting his new school in Oakland, Lee participated in the Long Beach Karate Championships. During his show, in his effort to demonstrate how useful his own method was, criticised the other martial arts’ techniques, performing some of their moves and explaining why they were not efficient. While many people were convinced, there was a big part of the audience that felt offended. From a young age, Bruce tended to arouse intense emotions to others, who would either become his loyal followers or his enemies. In another show at a theatre, closing his show he invited the Chinatown people to “investigate” his techniques at his school. The audience misconstrued his words, thinking that he had challenged the entire Chinese community to a battle. The rumour was spread quickly and one of the most experienced martial artists arrived at his door to fight with him. Although Bruce won the battle in the end, the smear around his name, along with the fact that his students were not as many as expected, made him doubt whether he wanted to continue teaching martial arts or not.
Lee’s beginning in Hollywood
Amongst a period of frustration, Lee received a proposal from the director Dozier to play in his new TV series
. The director was seeking an Asian man fluent in English that would fit roles of action, when a karate student that had admired Lee in Long Beach recommended him. In the meantime, Linda had given birth to a beautiful boy, Brandon, making Bruce proud to be the first of his family to become a father. He was so fascinated by his new career prospective, that a few days after the birth of his child he left for his screen test in Hollywood. Anyhow, Lee was not one of those fathers that are constantly involved in the care of their children. He cared more about succeeding professionally and financially to be able to provide for his wife and son. Shortly after the audition, he signed a contract for the highest amount of money he had ever earned in his life. Those were also the days he found out about his father’s death. Chronic use of opium had left him with heart and lung problems. Once more, he left to attend the funeral, although he could not stop thinking of poor Linda and her health.
His first role in Hollywood was in the series “The Green Hornet”, where he played the role of Kato, a valuable partner of a masked crime fighter. Thanks to the numerous fight scenes, he found the opportunity to show off his spectacular Kung fu moves. Since the beginning of filming, he had started earning 400 dollars a month, an amount that Bruce and Linda had never imagined, even in their wildest dreams. Being excited about his new income, he bought a brand-new Chevy Nova and moved with his family to a spacious flat.
Lee during filming
During filming, while waiting for his turn to act, instead of waiting patiently like all the other actors did, he was trying to show off his skills with various acts. Amongst his favourite ones was kicking coins in the air and doing push-ups with two fingers. In fight scenes, he had made all stuntmen hate him, as they did not know how to protect themselves from his lightning blows, on every part of their body. He needed to calm down immediately, as, on the one hand, had knocked everyone out, and on the other, his moves were so fast, that the camera failed to capture them, producing nothing but a blurry image. When he saw himself on the screen, he became so upset, that he remained locked in his dressing room for hours. With the assistance of the series’ protagonist, he practised and managed to produce the expected result. Lee was a perfectionist with anything he engaged with, but, at the same time, he did not hesitate to admit to his mistakes and work hard to rectify them.
At that time, there was a love affair between Lee and a beautiful blonde, Thordis Brandt, who played in a few episodes of the series. She was charmed by him as soon as she met him. “He had a magnetism that was indescribable”, Thordis used to say. They dated for a few months but when she found out that Lee had a wife and child she broke up with him. Linda never found out about his infidelity.
Lee, through Kato’s role, was much loved by the audience, especially children and martial arts lovers, who had never seen an experienced martial artist on screen before. However, unfortunately, the series did not continue for a second season.
10. Lee’s return to teaching
“Learning is definitely not mere imitation, nor is the ability to accumulate and regurgitate fixed knowledge. Learning is a constant process of discovery- a process without end. “
Lee’s jeet kune do
Not having received any new proposals for another role, Lee started focusing on martial arts teaching again. This time, though, his school had the form of a small private club that only those with references could access. There was no sign on the door and students had to use a secret knock to enter. He provided personalised training, with each student receiving a different training programme. He named that new innovative method, which was a combination of boxing, kung fu and fencing elements, “jeet kune do”, which means “stop fist way”, that is, overpower your opponent before he even attacks you. Lee could relate to that approach, as he had the amazing ability to “read” the person in front of him.
His fitness lifestyle
He was one the first to stress the importance of good fitness for one to be able to fight effectively, which was not given at the time. He used to run four to five miles daily, not only to keep fit, but also to unwind, alone with his thoughts. He completed his fitness plan by lifting weights a few hours a week. In every activity throughout the day, he would find a chance to work out; even while putting on his trousers, he did balance exercises. He strained his delicate body with all this exercise and, to help it recover to its normal condition, he used an electric muscle stimulator. When his friends would see him wear all those electrode belts, they thought he was crazy. He was trying to boost his body system by following a careful diet getting ideas from health magazines and trying various food supplements. He particularly liked ginseng and honey and consumed protein-based smoothies on a regular basis. In general, he would consume anything he believed would increase his performance, even beef blood. All this lifestyle helped him acquire a muscular body, with no fat, that looked like marble.
Lee becomes a celebrities’ instructor
With his new private school progressing, Lee started focusing on another kind of audience, Hollywood celebrities. His hairdresser, Sebring, assisted him in his new endeavour, by sending him clients, as he was Hollywood stars’ favourite hairdresser at the time. He thus developed an enviable client list, among whom, Roman Polanski, Blake Edwards, Stirling Silliphant and Steve McQueen, with the latter becoming a close friend of his. He managed to earn a high income working only a few hours a day, as he charged high amounts for his services, not because he wanted to, but because he knew that the specific clients would appreciate his services only if he charged high prices for them. With more money in his hands, and having found out that Linda was again pregnant, he took the decision to acquire a quality house for his family and himself. In September 1968, taking out a loan, he bought a detached house overlooking the ocean, in Bel Air, outside Los Angeles. On top of that, he bought a red 911 Porsche by selling one of his father’s flats in Hong Kong. According to his wife, the reason he made that purchase was because he was jealous of McQueen who drove the exact same car.
Lee’s social life
As for his social life, he was not a great fan of Hollywood parties with all the self-centred stars that always wanted to be the centre of attention. During those gatherings, he would either sit alone in a corner, shy and reserved, or he would become the centre of attention himself showing off his moves or talking about philosophy. Another reason he did not have fun at those parties was that he did not drink alcohol. Once, a friend’s wife offered him a sweet liqueur, and a few minutes after drinking it, his face turned red, he started sweating and felt nauseous, and vomited in the end. He may have had alcohol intolerance, known as alcohol flush reaction, which is quite common among Asian people. However, he really enjoyed smoking marijuana, a habit that McQueen had introduced to him. He loved that feeling of perceiving everything more intensely and, besides that, it helped him relax and socialise. It may have also been a sort of self-healing for him, as it seemed to be curbing his innate hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
11. Lee’s struggle for the big screen
“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless- like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.”
Small roles for Lee
In the period that followed, Lee played nothing but small short roles in series. Most of his income derived from studios that hired him to teach martial arts to actors for the needs of their films and create fight choreographies. His debut in a Hollywood film was made thanks to his student and director, Stirling Silliphant, in the film “Marlowe”, where he played the role of a villain who destroys the protagonist’s office. Bruce felt very nervous in front of the camera and had difficulty with dialogues, but he did really well in destroying everything.
During filming, he had another adventure with one of the cast’s actresses, Sharon Farrell. They met each other at the MGM parking lot, where he approached her and impressed her with his shiny smile, as she was seeking a way out of her boring marriage. He invited her to go shopping together and they ended up in her old flat dancing cha-cha. They had a nice time together for a while, until Sharon realised that he was in a happy marriage and had no intention to divorce whatsoever. One night she broke out in tears and they both agreed to stop seeing each other. Bruce tried to re-approach her, but she had already started dating McQueen, in a desperate effort to get over him. Bruce really took that rejection to heart, thinking that the girl had chosen his friend over him because he was a greater star than him.
At a time when Lee was struggling to play in a film that would give prominence to his skills in choreographic fight, he had the misfortune to get injured while doing his morning exercise, which forced him to stay in bed for months. At first, he felt a strong back pain that was deteriorating day by day and he was eventually diagnosed with a permanent sacral nerve injury. According to doctors, he had to stay in bed for three months and abstain from exercise for another three. To crown it all, he was banned from practising kung fu for the rest of his life. In a split second, Bruce saw all his dreams fall apart in front of his eyes. His entire career, as well as his income, depended on martial arts. The financial openings he had proceeded to in the previous years had not allowed him to save any money at all, and, amongst all this, a new member had been added to his family.
Under those circumstances, Linda took action and started working, for the first time in their marriage, as a telephone operator. Lee, known for his patriarchal views, was completely opposed to that decision of hers. He was very ashamed of the fact that his wife had to work, so he kept it a secret from everyone. Linda, realising his agony, told him at some point that he might find it easier to pursue his goals if he did not have to bear the responsibility of his family. However, he assured her that, whatever happened, the most important thing in his life remained her and their children.
Lee, through hard work and faith in himself, managed to regain his skills, taking his doctors by surprise. All that was left was a permanent back pain, though he did not let it stand in the way of his bright future.
Lee in Longstreet
Silliphant, witnessing Lee’s desperation for not having found his way to Hollywood, mainly because of the production companies’ unwillingness to sponsor an Asian actor, tried to help him with an ingenious plan; make the great instructor impersonate himself. He dedicated to him a few episodes of the series “Longstreet”, where Lee played the role of the Asian Jeet Kune Do instructor, who taught the protagonist the martial art. Silliphant wrote the script inspired by real elements of Lee’s teaching. Those episodes were very successful, due to the fact that Lee felt free to express himself through them. “I am a personality and each role I play shares a bit of that personality”, Lee said. He had difficulty with scenes where he had to play secondary roles, but had the ability to captivate the audience when the film was tailored to him. That was what made him a real star. In addition, “Longstreet” made popular one of his most typical quotes, “Be water, my friend”, which referred to the ability to empty one’s mind and adapt to any situation, depending on its needs.
12. Back to Hong Kong
“You have to create your own luck. You have to be aware of the opportunities around you and take advantage of them.”
Lee’s milestone film
Following the success of “Longstreet”, Lee made an agreement with a film production company in Hong Kong, to star in two films as the main protagonist. His intention was simply to boost his empty bank account, without having predicted that those two films were going to launch his career. In the first film, “The Big Boss” (1971), he played the role of a young troublemaker who migrated to Thailand and started working in an ice factory. He seemed to be a simple man, however, when he discovered that some of his colleagues had been murdered, he avenged for their death and in the final battle, fought with the Big Boss, the factory’s owner. One could easily observe the common traits between the film character and Bruce.
Filming took place in Thailand, where he had to go through several ordeals. The filth and stench of the area, along with the awful food had nothing to do with his Bel Air lifestyle. By the end of the filming, he had lost a lot of weight, but, luckily, he had taken his vitamins with him to maintain his good health. On top of that, he had to deal with the other actors’ jealousy, who believed that he was there to steal their glory and resented his overwhelmingly higher earnings compared to theirs. He was also in a constant dispute with the film’s directors, as he did not accept taking instructions from them on how to fight, as well as with the stuntman for the role of Big Boss, who preferred their moves to be more theatrical, while Lee insisted on a more realistic style. In addition, both because of his love for animals and his fear, he seemed hesitant to fight in the final scene of the film with Big Boss’s dog. The film crew mocked him for the fact that brave Bruce Lee was afraid of a little dog. Despite the problems, he kept his lively spirit and tried to make everyone laugh with his jokes.
Proposals from Hollywood
Before starting working on the second film, he went back to Hollywood for a while, since Silliphant had urgently called him to play in some more episodes of “Longstreet”, as Lee was highly acclaimed by the audience and newspaper reviews for that role. A barrage of letters would arrive to the company after each episode, into which viewers expressed their love for Bruce.
During his stay in America, he was offered a role for another film, “Kung Fu”. In his first meeting with the producer, wanting to impress him, he entered his office with a kick in the door and started twisting a nunchaku, his characteristic weapon with the chain and two handles, in his hands. In spite of his violent entry, the producer enjoyed his time with him and was captivated by his strong personality and radiating energy. However, Lee did not get the role in the end, mainly because of his Chinese accent that would probably annoy the public.
Big Boss’s unforeseen success
In October 1971, Lee along with Linda and his producer, Raymond Chow, went to a cinema theatre in Hong Kong, to watch the premiere of Big Boss. During the film, they were carefully observing viewers’ reactions. The Hong Kong audience was particularly emotional, capable of tearing the theatre apart if they were not satisfied by the film. At the end of the film, they remained speechless for a while, as if they were in shock, but then burst into applause and cheers. “Big Boss” proved to be a blockbuster and only in the first three weeks of its release had reached 3.2 million HK$ in profits. The unexpected profits from the film and the cancellation of some proposals that Bruce had received from American companies caused the Lee family to sell their house in Bel Air and their luxurious car and move together to Hong Kong.
What made that film so successful? It was true that filming had taken only a few days, so it was not a matter of careful work. The answer lay in Lee’s spectacular fight moves that were appreciated by the Hong Kong audience, with experience in martial arts, and in his own ability to transfer his fierceness and talent to the big screen. “The camera loved Bruce”, as Paul Heller, producer of “Enter the Dragon”, used to say. Above all, though, it was the sense of identity and national pride he instilled with his heroic Oriental style to the people of Hong Kong the time they needed it the most, as it was a region that belonged to China but was under British administration.
Fist of Fury
Soon he started filming his new film, “Fist of Fury”. There were disputes between the director and demanding Lee, who found the script too amateurish and refused to collaborate, until he had something more detailed in his hands. After having approved of the second script, where he had a central role in the fight scenes, he set to work. In that film he played the role of the student of a kung fu instructor and national hero of China. He fought against a group of Japanese, when they dared to offend his instructor’s honour.
The other actors were impressed by the fact that the kicks and punches in the action scenes were real and that Lee’s toughness was ruthless, as he did not hesitate to even bite his opponents. During breaks, he preferred to hang out with the young stuntmen rather than his bosses and hated receiving special treatment such as having finer meals than those of the others. The group of stuntmen reminded him of his teenage gangs; he protected them and they, for their part, remained loyal to him. He covered their medical costs, when they were injured during violent scenes, and asked the producer to raise their pay. He used to be kind to those inferior to him, but rude to his bosses, demonstrating his inability to obey any form of authority.
That film made 4.3 million HK$ within a month, surpassing the previous one, and was released in Philippines, Singapore and other Asian countries, making a huge success. The role of the fearless Chinese who is not afraid of confronting the vicious Japanese thrilled the audience and constituted a powerful role model for them.
A new life for Lee
Having earned sufficient money from his two films, Lee started making unreasonable expenses again. Along with Raymond Chow, he founded a film production company, Concord Productions, which was technically a branch of Chow’s company. In that company he had his own office for the first time in his life. As he did not want to take orders from anyone, through that company, he tried to control his work himself, as much as he could. He took great care of his image, so he went on a shopping spree to acquire fashionable clothes, as real stars do. He adopted a western look, wearing floral shirts, bell-bottom jeans and leather jackets. What launched his style was a pair of Elvis sunglasses. Being quite upset for having parted from his beloved Porsche, he bought a new Mercedes 305SL. What is more, hurt as he was by having sold his house in Bel Air, he took out another loan and bought a new immense two-storey house with eleven rooms in Kowloon Tong. The interior was decorated with numerous Chinese works of art and his collection of martial arts weapons. Moreover, like a typical star, he sent his children to private schools. He felt very happy with his new life, as he enjoyed buying anything he wanted with his money.
Way of the Dragon
Lee’s next film, “Way of the Dragon”, by his own volition, was filmed in Rome, making a difference, as it was the first ever Chinese film to be filmed in a western country. He called some friends and students from the U.S. to play some of the roles, among whom Chuck Norris, who impersonated one of his enemies. In fact, Lee had been helping Norris develop his martial arts skills for years, yet the latter, being a karate champion, never admitted that Lee had been his instructor. He acted as if they were just two friends training together and teaching moves to one another. When, on a TV show they were both invited, the presenter asked them if they had a teacher-student relationship with each other, Lee, respecting his friend’s pride, denied that rumour. Norris, in his turn, replied: “The fact is we are too bad to be his students, and he is too good to be our teacher”. Undoubtedly, they highly appreciated one another. Besides that, their collaboration in “Way of the Dragon” produced one of the most legendary fight scenes in world cinema.
That film was even more profitable that the previous ones, however, Lee, as an ever-perfectionist, was not satisfied with the result. Especially when his brother, Peter, did not make so many positive comments while watching the film, he was deeply hurt. He was so ashamed of the film’s amateurism, that, upon learning that Chow had allowed its release in the U.S., he became outraged. Believing that there was plenty of room for improvement of his directing skills, he aimed for his next film to be immaculate, to finally let him have a place in Hollywood.
The negative aspect of being famous
Being one of Hong Kong’s greatest celebrities, it did not take long for the negative consequences of a star’s life to appear. What he hated the most was that he had lost his privacy. Every time he went out, crowds would gather around him. When he went shopping, the shops had to close for a while to help him escape from his fans who chased him for an autograph even there. Only at home and at his office could he feel at peace.
As his reputation as an invincible fighter was expanding, Lee soon started to feel he was in danger, since people were lurking to challenge him to a battle on every corner. He was thus forced to hire bodyguards for his public appearances. The incident that terrified him the most was the day that a complete stranger jumped into his house’s garden, where his children were playing unprotected, shouting that he wanted to fight with him. Lee gave him one of the most powerful kicks of his life. As a result, he started being suspicious of anyone approaching him and carried a gun with him in case of emergency.
Many of the media publications that were against him tainted his reputation and enraged him. Paparazzi would follow him everywhere, and one day, in his effort to get away from some paparazzi that had surrounded him, he threw down one of their cameras by accident. Rumours immediately started swirling around his violent behaviour towards photographers. Another issue that media was concerned with was his racial purity. Although he was known as a supporter of Chinese pride and grew up in Hong Kong, he had spent many years in the U.S. and had an interracial marriage, which was not approved by Chinese society.
13. Lee collaborates with Hollywood
“We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. Yet it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities but its own talents as well. “
Enter the Dragon
The incredible success of “Way of the Dragon” had attracted Hollywood’s attention and soon the first proposal came. The producer Fred Weintraub aspired to an international co-production of Warner Bros. with Chow’s company for a kung fu film that would be directed not only at the American audience but also at Lee’s main audience in East Asian countries.
They agreed on collaboration, with Michael Allin as the scriptwriter. Bruce and Allin did not get along with each other from the beginning. As soon as Lee read the script, he asked for some changes in a scene where he was talking over his dead sister’s grave. What he wanted to be removed from that scene was an elderly woman who was wandering around sweeping, as he believed she would attract viewers’ attention, while he wanted to be the scene’s central character. Instead of making the demanding star’s favour, Allin tried to convince him that the scene should remain as it was. Lee pretended to agree, but later made it clear to Weintraub that they should either hire another scriptwriter or he would have to leave. Weintraub, in his turn, pretended to have accepted his request, but, in fact, instead of dismissing him, all he did was let Allin continue working in secret.
Overwhelmed by stress
Bruce was very anxious about the film, since he doubted the martial arts skills of the actors that would impersonate his opponents and constantly demanded changes in the script that would make him stand out as the protagonist. He saw that film as a golden opportunity to demonstrate his talent and become famous in Hollywood. He aimed for the perfect result and hence refused to take part in filming if his requirements were not met. According to Linda, that period he was suffering from mood swings. There were times that he felt confident of himself and others that he was completely disappointed. After twelve days, he and his producer managed to find common solutions. However, he was so overwhelmed by stress, that, while filming the first scene, he had a nervous tic on his face, which took him days to get over.
Along the way, Lee discovered the charade with the scriptwriter and his reaction was frightening. In a fury, he ripped into Weintraub, swearing and using awfully obscene language. He barely resisted the impulse to hit him. Feeling betrayed, he resigned from the contract. After plenty of coaxing, though, the company persuaded him to come back, to finish their work. Besides, he had managed to make himself the central hero of the film, which was entitled “Enter the Dragon”, for his sake. Lee would be the dragon – avenger for his sister’s murder.
Bruce and Betty
Betty Ting Pei, a charming Thai actress, and Lee met each other before the beginning of “Way of the Dragon”, when he and Chow offered her one of the female roles in the film. Even though they did not collaborate in the end, she became Bruce’s mistress ever since. In the beginning, things between them were casual, but later on, she “happened” to find a house in the same area as him. Everyone in their circle knew about their relationship and used to call her “Dragon Lady”. Although, in the beginning, the dragon had promised her a role in his new film, he eventually decided to offer the role to another actress instead. Betty got angry with him and they had a heated argument during which Lee told her to break up. The girl was so hurt, that on the same day she attempted to commit suicide taking sleeping pills, but, fortunately, she was taken to hospital in time and survived. Her mother, enraged, rushed to the studio where Bruce worked, blaming him for her daughter’s suicide attempt, but his colleagues attributed the incident to her being rejected for the role. However, Lee, deep inside, knew that the girl in love almost killed herself because she could not be with him.
14. Lee starts falling apart
“Every emotion expresses itself in the muscular system. Anxiety is tremendous excitement held, bottled up.”
Stress and excessive workload
For Lee, the sole fact that he was the first Asian man to have a protagonist role in a Hollywood film was not enough. He wanted to become the greatest cinema star of all time. He set higher and higher goals for himself and worked feverishly to achieve them. His following step was to continue “Enter the Dragon” with two more films, as a trilogy. Linda’s efforts to convince him to relax were in vain. Excessive workload and stress had worn him down. His friends kept telling him that he looked exhausted and pale and had lost weight. In order to feel better, he enjoyed going to quiet restaurants with the few friends he trusted and, despite his alcohol intolerance, had become a great fan of sake, a traditional Japanese drink he often had.
Another issue that particularly concerned him was the future of his family in case he died. In order to protect them, he made a life insurance with an American company paying excessive amounts of money. It seemed as if he had predicted what was going to happen, as that life insurance would soon prove quite useful.
Lee’s health incident
In May 1973, while rehearsing a scene of his new film in a searingly hot studio, he suddenly felt unwell and went to the bathroom. He had a headache so he chewed some cannabis he had on him, a trick he had learned from his friend McQueen. When he got out of the bathroom, he was all sweaty and so weak that he fainted. He vomited and had spasms and difficulty breathing. His panicked colleagues took him to hospital, where he was diagnosed with a brain oedema and was prescribed medicine. They were planning to proceed to a surgery, but after some hours, the crisis stopped and Bruce starting feeling much better. He regained consciousness, but had still difficulty speaking until the next day.
His extensive medical examinations showed that he was in great health and it was probably an epileptic seizure, for which cannabis was to blame. However, strangely enough, no one from Bruce’s family had ever had a seizure before. According to modern medical data, it was highly likely that Lee had suffered a heatstroke, a common phenomenon and cause of death for people who exercise hard during summer time. Brain oedema often occurs to people who have suffered a heatstroke in the recent past and, besides that, his condition must have deteriorated from the exhaustion that his body had previously gone through. In addition, some months before, he had surgically removed his sweat glands from his arms, for aesthetic reasons, and therefore his body could not be naturally relieved from the heat through sweat.
Lee is losing control
In July of the same year, Lee and Lo Wei, director of one of his first two great films, had a big fight. He constantly vilified Lee on newspapers, having started some years before claiming that he was the one who taught him how to act in films and that he owed his success to him. One afternoon, the director made the mistake to visit Lee’s production company. Bruce, dizzy as he was by the cannabis he had just smoked, went to find him and began swearing and cursing him. He barely hit him, but the film crew intervened and separated them. Subsequently, Wei’s wife insulted Bruce to which he responded by pulling out a knife hidden on him and asking his former partner: “Do you believe I could kill you with this knife?” Wei, horrified, called the police, but Lee, had hidden the knife by the time the police arrived, yet it was obvious he was out of control.
15. Bruce Lee’s end
“You know how I like to think of myself? As a human being. Because, under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family. It just so happens people are different.”
The fatal day
On 20 July 1973, Lee had to meet at his studio with an actor, to offer him a role in his new film. They would go out for dinner along with Chow to close the deal. Lee, however, preferred to go to Betty Ting Pei’s place instead, whom he had started seeing again and agreed to meet the others later at the studio. In the meantime, he had chewed a small piece of cannabis. He spent some hours with the girl in her flat and in the afternoon, Chow went there to join them.
It was one of the hottest days of the summer with incredible humidity and Bruce was feeling unwell. However, with Chow being in the flat, he started showing off some of the scenes of the film they were filming. At some point, he got tired from the moves and felt dizzy. He also had a headache, so he lay in Betty’s bed and took one of her Equagesic pills, a painkiller he had taken before. Chow left to let him rest and they arranged to meet each other in the evening.
Dead Lee is taken to the hospital
After a few hours, Betty tried to wake him up, first whispering and then shaking him, but failed. In a furious state, she called Chow, who immediately rushed for help. It was too late, though. His star was already dead.
They called an ambulance that transferred Lee to the hospital. Meanwhile, Chow called Linda and told her to go and find her husband in the hospital, without clarifying what had just happened. When she arrived, she found the doctors injecting him and trying to resuscitate him using electroshock, in vain. That was when she realised that Bruce no longer had pulse.
Lee’s two funerals
His funeral in Hong Kong took place on 25 July 1973. His fans had already started swarming Kowloon Funeral Parlour the night before, waiting to bid farewell to their hero. His wife had chosen to dress him in blue Chinese attire that he was wearing in “Fist of Fury”, which was comfortable and which he loved and wore even at home. After the end of the ceremony, the crowd refused to leave, as many of them would never have the chance to be next to him again.
Lee’s entire life was divided between East and West, and so was his funeral. Linda did a second funeral in Seattle, with a few chosen people, out of the spotlight, and decided to bury him there. On his grave there is an open book with the yin and yang symbol on one page and the phrase “Your inspiration Continues to Guide Us Towards Our Personal Liberation” on the other.
How did Lee die?
When word was spread about his death, media rumours of how Lee died began to rage. Chow, Linda and Betty had a meeting to agree on which version they should give to journalists, to protect the deceased from their aspersions. Under no circumstances should the fact that he died in his mistress’s bed be publicised. Besides, Linda knew nothing about their secret love affair. They decided to give them information that was impossible to conceal and deny what journalists could not prove. Therefore, they revealed the facts as they were, though claiming that there had never been any love interest between Bruce and Betty and they were just colleagues. In addition, they claimed that Lee died in the hospital and not at the girl’s flat to avoid problems with the law.
The autopsy revealed that the cause of death was a brain oedema, which had caused a breathing problem and then his heart stopped beating. However, they could not be certain of what had caused the oedema; poisoning from a substance could be a possible cause, given that traces of cannabis and Equasegic pills were found in his stomach.
Ambiguity gives rise to rumours and social unrest
That very ambiguity as to the exact factor that had caused the brain oedema gave rise to a series of arbitrary interpretations by media. Rumours went out of control again, as some newspapers were spreading the rumour that Lee, apart from cannabis, had also taken LSD, cocaine, heroin and 707, a type of Viagra of the time. Although his obsession with healthy lifestyle was widely known, they had made him look like a fallen drug-addict. Some of the rumours were that he was he was beaten to death by gangsters, that his servant had poisoned him, that Japanese Ninja had killed him or that he was still alive.
Lee’s fans were expressing their anger. In the weeks that followed, fake bombs were found in various parts of Hong Kong, carrying messages that were demanding revenge for the death of their hero and blaming Betty. The situation had been on the brink of a popular uprising, until the government decided to proceed to an investigation of the case.
Investigating Lee’s death
When the Hong Kong government started investigating Lee’s death, they were intending to find an interpretation that could be accepted by the public, to defuse tensions and avoid social unrest. Moreover, the insurance company where Lee had made his life insurance was trying to prove that cannabis was the cause of his death, to avoid paying compensation to Linda.
His brother, Peter, stated in his testimony that he knew nothing about Bruce’s cannabis use. Linda admitted that she was aware of it, but by no means was he using cannabis during the period he signed the contract with the insurance company. As for whether that substance was to blame for his death, there was a great deal of division amongst experts. Then the renowned Professor Donald Teare arrived from London and excluded the possibility of an allergy or poisoning from cannabis and argued that Lee was more likely to have been allergic to the Equagesic pill he had taken, and in particular from the aspirin it contains, even though that was a rare phenomenon. Lee’s fans were deeply disappointed with his inglorious death as they could not believe that their idol had died of an aspirin. However, the fact that they were at least given an explanation calmed them down.
The truth is that even today, no one can be absolutely sure of what had caused Lee’s death. Most probably, he suffered a heatstroke, which caused him a brain oedema, like some months before. The day he died it was unbearably hot and he had a feeling of faintness and a headache, which are typical symptoms of a heatstroke. Furthermore, doctors that examined him that night had not noticed any inflammation in the tongue or throat, typical symptoms of an allergy to aspirin. Besides, Lee had taken aspirins many times before, without any side effects. Medical knowledge of the time regarding heatstroke was limited and perhaps this is why that version was never seriously examined.
Lee died doing what he loved
Perhaps what was more important was not the cause of Lee’s death, but rather the fact that in his last moments he did what he loved the most: he was showing off martial arts moves to two people that admired him. With his talent and zeal, in the 32 years of his life, he had achieved more than what others would not achieve in a century. He had prophetically stated to a journalist in 1972: “Even though I, Bruce Lee, may die some day without fulfilling all of my ambitions, I feel no sorrow. I did what I wanted to do. What I’ve done, I’ve done with sincerity and to the best of my ability. You can’t expect much more from life”.
16. Lee’s posthumous glory
“The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.”
Lee’s international fame
In August 1973, a month after Lee’s death, “Enter the Dragon” was released in America. It was highly acclaimed by the reviews of the time, which considered it a powerful and well-made film, though unprecedentedly violent, that stimulated the deepest and darkest sides of the viewer’s soul. The profits from the film were immeasurable. Lee, who had died shortly before becoming internationally famous, kindled his fans’ imagination who unfortunately never had the chance to meet him in person. A whole market was set up around Lee and his ideology, including clothes, jewellery, posters and even marionettes of himself. For his fans he was the real king of kung fu. Young people imitated his look and hairstyle. Thanks to him, martial arts came to the fore for good and, in the U.S., new schools and students kept springing up on every corner.
The Hong Kong people, on the other hand, felt devastated and betrayed by the unexpected death of their defender. Despite his brief life, Lee managed to change the rest of the world’s view of Chinese people. He broke the classic submissive and weak stereotype of Chinese men and promoted a powerful, manly, physically superior and attractive image, instilling them with self-confidence. With the tremendous international acclaim of his films, he shifted public interest towards Chinese action films and made people appreciate the talent of Asian actors. In his own special way, he connected people with the Asian culture. Even though he was dead, his work and influence went down in history.
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Below you can find the whole collection of Bruce Lee’s mottos and quotes in text form.
If you want to see the greatest collection of Bruce Lee’s Mottos and Quotes in pictures click here.
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Bruce Lee rare and unique Mottos:
- To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.
- The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.
- The possession of anything begins in the mind.
- Take things as they are. Punch when you have to punch. Kick when you have to kick.
- The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.
- Take no thought of who is right or wrong or who is better than. Be not for or against.
- Obey the principles without being bound by them.
- To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.
- Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.
- If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.
- A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.
- A quick temper will make a fool of you soon enough.
- As you think, so shall you become.
- A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.
- Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
- Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.
- Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.
- It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.
- To me, the extraordinary aspect of martial arts lies in its simplicity. The easy way is also the right way, and martial arts is nothing at all special; the closer to the true way of martial arts, the less wastage of expression there is.
- If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.
- Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.
- I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
- Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.
- Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.
- I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.
- Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless- like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.
- Using no way as a way; having no limitation as limitation.
- The original founder of a style started out with hypothesis. But now it has become the gospel truth, and people who go into that become the product of it. It doesn’t matter how you are, who you are, how you are structured, how you are built or how you are made…it doesn’t seem to matter. You just go in there and be that product. And that, to me, is not right.
- All types of knowledge ultimately mean self-knowledge.
- To me, ultimately, martial art means honestly expressing yourself. Now it is very difficult to do. It is easy for me to put on a show and be cocky and then feel pretty cool. Or I can do all kinds of phony things. Or I can show you some really fancy movement. But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself- that, my friend, is very hard to do.
- If I tell you I’m good, probably you will say that I’m boasting. But if I tell you I’m not good, you’ll know I’m lying.
- Be pliable. When a man is living, he is soft and pliable; when he is dead, he becomes rigid. Pliability is life; rigidity is death, whether one speaks of man’s body, mind or his spirit.
- Remember, success is a journey, not a destination. Have faith in your ability. You will do just fine.
- You know how I like to think of myself? As a human being. Because, under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family. It just so happens people are different.
- Recognizing that the power of will is the supreme court over all other departments of my mind, I will exercise daily when I need the urge to act for any purpose; and I will form habits designed to bring the power of my will into action at least once daily.
- You have to create your own luck. You have to be aware of the opportunities around you and take advantage of them.
- Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality. To me, defeat in anything is merely temporary, and its punishment is but an urge for me to exert greater effort to achieve my goal. Defeat simply tells me that something is wrong in my doing; it is a path leading to success and truth.
- Once I slow down because I think I have reached my peak, then my skills will go nowhere but down.
- Learning is definitely not mere imitation, nor is the ability to accumulate and regurgitate fixed knowledge. Learning is a constant process of discovery- a process without end.
- Recognizing that my emotions often err in their over-enthusiasm, and my faculty of reason often is without the warmth of feeling that is necessary to enable me to combine justice with mercy in my judgments, I will encourage my conscience to guide me as to what is right and wrong, but I will never set aside the verdicts it renders, no matter what may be the cost of carrying them out.
- I don’t know what is the meaning of death, but I am not afraid to die- and I go on, nonstop, going forward. Even though I, Bruce Lee, may die some day without fulfilling all of my ambitions, I will have no regrets. I did what I wanted to do, and what I’ve done, I’ve done with sincerity and to the best of my ability. You can’t expect much more from life.
- Art is really the expression of the self.
- In building a statue, a sculptor doesn’t keep adding clay to his subject. Actually, he keeps chiseling away at the nonessentials until the truth of his creation is revealed without obstruction.
- You must accept the fact that there is no help but self-help. I cannot tell you how to gain freedom since freedom exists within you.
- Reorganizing the influence of my subconscious mind over my power of will, I shall take care to submit to it a clear and definite picture of my major purpose in life and all minor purposes leading to my major purpose, and I shall keep this picture constantly before my subconscious mind by repeating it daily.
- A martial artist is a human being first. Just as nationalities have nothing to do with one’s humanity, so they have nothing to do with martial arts.
- If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water; still, be like a mirror; respond like an echo.
- The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right movement.
- Recognizing the value of an alert mind and an alert memory, I will encourage mine to become alert by taking care to impress it clearly with all thoughts I wish to recall and by associating those thoughts with related subjects which I may call to mind frequently.
- We shall find the truth when we examine the problem. The problem is never apart from the answer. The problem is the answer- understanding the problem dissolves the problem.
- Not being tense but ready; not thinking yet but dreaming; not being set but flexible- it is being wholly and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.
- It is compassion rather than principle of justice that can guard us against being unjust to our fellow men.
- We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. Yet it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities but its own talents as well.
- Self- actualization is the important thing. And my personal message to people is that I hope they will go toward self- actualization rather than self- image actualization. I hope that they will search within themselves for honest self-expression.
- It is like a finger pointing a way to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.
- Independent inquiry is needed in your search for truth, not dependence on anyone else’s view or a mere book.
- The meaning of life is that it is to be lived.
- Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a state of constant learning.
- Remember, my friend, to enjoy your planning as well as your accomplishment, for life is too short for negative energy.
- Recognizing the need for sound plans and ideas for the attainment of my desires, I will develop my imagination by calling upon it daily for help in the formation of my plans.
- My friend, think of the past in terms of those memories of events and accomplishments which were pleasant, rewarding and satisfying. The present? Well, think of it in terms of challenges and opportunities, and the rewards available for the application of your talents and energies. As for the future, that is a time and place where every worthy ambition you posses is within your grasp.
- The past is no more; the future is not yet. Nothing exists except the here and now. Our grand business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.
- If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.
- Truth comes when your mind and heart are purged of all sense of striving and you are no longer trying to become somebody; it there when the mind is very quiet, listening timelessly to everything.
- Success means doing something sincerely and wholeheartedly.
- Recognizing that my positive and negative emotions may be dangerous if they are not controlled and guided to desirable ends, I will submit all my desires, aims and purposes to my faculty of reason, and I will be guided by it in giving expression to these.
- Don’t think- feel!
- Every emotion expresses itself in the muscular system. Anxiety is tremendous excitement held, bottled up.
- If every man would help his neighbor, no man would be without help.
- Be a practical dreamer backed by action.
- It is not a shame to be knocked down by other people. The important thing is to ask when you’re being knocked down, “Why am I being knocked down?”. If a person can reflect in this way, then there is hope for the person.
- To change with change is the changeless state.
- What I honestly value more than anything else is quality: doing one’s best in the manner of the responsibility and craftsmanship of a Number One.
- What you habitually think largely determines what you will ultimately become.
- Realizing that my emotions are both positive and negative, I will form daily habits to encourage the development of the positive emotions and aid me in converting the negative emotions into some form of useful action.
- Keep your mind on the things you want and off those you don’t.
- You will never get any more out of life than you expect. Every man today is the result of his thoughts of yesterday.
- Probably people will say I’m too conscious of success. Well, I am not. Success comes to those who become success- conscious. If you don’t aim at an object, how the heck on earth do you think you can get it?
- Research your own experience; absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is essentially your own.
- When I have listened to my mistakes, I have grown.
- The mind is like a fertile garden- it will grow anything you wish to plant- beautiful flowers or weeds. And so it is with successful, healthy thoughts or negative ones that will, like weeds, strangle and crowd the others. Do not allow negative thoughts to enter your mind for they are weeds that strangle confidence.
- We do not live for; we simply live.
- We are always in the process of becoming and nothing is fixed. Have no rigid system in you and you’ll be flexible to change with the ever- changing. Open yourself and flow at once with the total flowing now.
- Anger blinds.
- Life is wide, limitless- there is no border, no frontier.
- So, action! Action! Never wasting energy on worries and negative thoughts. I mean who has the most insecure job as I have? What do I live on? My faith in my ability that I’ll make it. Sure, my back screwed me up good for a year, but with every adversity comes a blessing because a shock acts as a reminder to oneself that we must not get stale in routine. Look at a rainstorm; after its departure everything grows!
- Be proficient in your field as well as in harmony among fellow men.
- What is stillness? Stillness in movement.
- One will never get any more than he thinks he can get. You have what it takes. Look back and see your progress- damn the torpedo, full speed ahead!
Bruce Lee filmography
Films as a Child Actor
|1941||Golden Gate Girl|
|1946||The Birth of Mankind|
|1948||Wealth is Like a Dream|
|1949||Xi Shi in a Dream|
|1950||My Son A-Chang (The Kid)|
|1951||The Beginning of Mankind|
|1953||The Guiding Light|
|1953||A Mother’s Tears|
|1953||Sins of the Fathers|
|1953||In the Face of Demolition|
|1955||Love, Part One & Two|
|1955||An Orphan’s Tragedy|
|1955||The Faithful Wife|
|1955||Debt Between Mother and Son|
|1956||Sweet Time Together|
|1956||Too Late for Divorce|
|1966-1967||The Green Hornet|
|Oct. 26, 1967||Ironside|
|Jan. 9, 1969||Blondie|
|April 9, 1969||Here Come the Brides|
|Sept. 16, 1971||Longstreet|
|Oct. 21, 1971||Longstreet|
|Nov. 11, 1971||Longstreet|
|Nov. 18, 1971||Longstreet|
Films as an Adult Actor
|1971||The Big Boss|
|1972||Fist of Fury|
|1972||Way of the Dragon|
|1973||Enter the Dragon|