Bruce Lee

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Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon
Born November 27, 1940
San Francisco, California
Died July 20, 1973
Hong Kong, China
Height 5'7 1/2" (1.72 m.)
Official site
Notable roles Lee in Enter the Dragon
Spouse(s) Linda Lee Cadwell

Bruce Jun Fan Lee (Chinese: 李振藩 Cantonese: Lee Jun Fan Pinyin: Lǐ Zhènfān); November 27, 1940 - July 20, 1973) was an American-born Chinese martial artist, instructor, actor, father of the combat philosophy known as Jeet Kune Do and originator of the martial art called Jun Fan Gung Fu. Bruce Lee is widely regarded as one of the most influential and famous martial artists of all time. He is also widely known as the greatest icon of martial arts cinema and a key figure of modern popular culture .

Lee's films elevated the traditional Hong Kong martial arts film to a new level and sparked a greater interest in Chinese martial arts in the West. Lee also became iconic to Chinese, as he portrayed Chinese national pride and Chinese nationalism in his movies. His pioneering efforts paved the way for future martial artists and martial arts actors such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chuck Norris, bringing martial arts films and actors to the mainstream .

Bruce Lee's evaluation of traditional martial arts doctrines is nowadays seen as one of the first steps into the modern style of mixed martial arts. Dana White, President of UFC, has referred to Lee as the "father of mixed martial arts".

Early life

Bruce Lee was an American Born Chinese (ABC) born at the Chinese Hospital in San Francisco, California in 1940 to his Chinese father Lee Hoi-Chuen and Chinese- German mother Grace Lee. Lee's parents were on a one-year U.S. tour with the Cantonese Opera Company.


Bruce's Cantonese given name, 振藩 (Jun Fan Cantonese: Janfàan Pinyin: Zhènfán), literally means "invigorate San Francisco." At birth, he was given the English name "Bruce" by Dr. Mary Glover. Mrs. Lee had not initially planned on an American name but deemed it appropriate and concurred with Dr. Glover. Interestingly the name "Bruce" was never used within his family until he enrolled in La Salle College, a Hong Kong high school, at 12 years of age, and then again at another Catholic boys' school, St Francis Xavier's College.

In addition, Lee initially had a birth name 李炫金 ( Cantonese: Léi Yùngām Pinyin: Lǐ Xuànjīn) given by his mother, as at the time Lee's father was away on a Chinese opera tour. After several months, when Lee's father returned, the name was abandoned because of a conflict with the name of Lee's grandfather. Lee was then renamed Jun Fan. Finally, Lee was also given a feminine name, 李細鳳 ( Cantonese: Léi Saifung Pinyin: Lǐ Xìfèng), literally "small phoenix". It was used throughout his early childhood in keeping with a Chinese custom traditionally thought to hide the child from evil spirits.

Bruce Lee's screen name was 李小龍 ( Cantonese: Léi Síulùng Pinyin: Lǐ Xiǎolóng) which literally means "Lee Little Dragon". He was commonly known by this name in Asia. These were first used by the directors of the early Cantonese movies in which Lee performed. It is possible that the name "little dragon" was chosen based on his childhood name "small phoenix". In Chinese tradition, the Chinese dragon and phoenix come in pairs to represent the male and female genders. However, it is more likely that he was called Little Dragon because he was born in the Year of the Dragon in the Hour of the Dragon, according to the Chinese zodiac.

Education and family

At age 14, Bruce Lee entered La Salle College in Hong Kong, a high school, under the wing of Brother Henry. Then, he attended St Francis Xavier's College from 1957-1959.

In 1959, Bruce got into a fight with a feared Triad gang member's son. His father became concerned about his safety and Bruce was sent to the United States to live with an old friend of his father's. All he had was $100 and the title of 1958 Crown Colony Cha Cha Champion of Hong Kong. After living in San Francisco, he moved to Seattle to work for Ruby Chow, another friend of his father's. In 1959, Lee completed his high school education in Seattle and received his diploma from Edison Technical School. He enrolled at the University of Washington as a Philosophy Academic major. There he met his future wife Linda Emery.

Bruce and Linda married in 1964 and had two children together, Brandon Lee (born 1965) and Shannon Lee (born 1969). Brandon, an actor like his father, died on a movie set while filming The Crow on March 31, 1993.

Acting career

Lee's father was a famous opera star. Through his father he was introduced into films at a very young age.

In 1964 at a demonstration in Long Beach, California, Lee met Karate champion Chuck Norris. In 1972, Lee introduced Norris to the big screen, as an opponent in Return of the Dragon (aka Way of the Dragon).

Lee went on to star as Kato in the TV series The Green Hornet, which ran from 1966 to 1967. Lee often used film cameras to teach and demonstrate his martial arts fighting techniques and theories.

He also appeared in the film Marlowe in 1969 and a few episodes of the TV series Longstreet in 1971.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a student of Bruce Lee, starred in Game of Death, Lee's last film. In the film, Lee, wearing the now famous yellow track suit, took on the 7 foot 2 giant basketball player in a climatic fight scene. Unfortunately, Lee died before the film was finished. However, the film was finished using a Bruce Lee look-alike in 1978.


Lee starred in a number of films that were released in the U.S., three of which ( Enter the Dragon, Way of the Dragon, and Game of Death) premiered after his death.

Released Chinese and English title of original release U.S. title Note
1941 Golden Gate Girl Plays an infant
1946 The Birth of Mankind
1948 Fu gui fu yun, aka Wealth is Like a Dream
1949 Meng li xi shi, aka Sai See in the Dream Plays "Yam Lee"
1950 Xi lu xiang, aka The Kid My Son, Ah Chung Plays "Lee Siu Lung"
1951 Ren zhi cue aka Infancy Plays "Ngau".
1953 Qian wan ren jia
1953 Fu zhi guo aka Blame it on Father Father's Fault
1953 Ku hai ming deng aka The Guiding Light
1953 Ci mu lei aka A Mother's Tears
1953 Wei lou chun xiao aka In the Face of Demolition
1955 Gu xing xue lei
1955 Gu er xing
1955 Ai aka Love
1955 Ai xia ji aka Love Part 2
1955 Er nu zhai aka We Owe It to Our Children
1956 Zhia dian na fu
1957 Lei yu aka The Thunderstorm
1960 Ren hai gu hong aka The Orphan Plays "Ah San".
1971 The Big Boss Fists of Fury Plays "Cheng Chao-an". Fights against a drug lord in Thailand.
1972 Fist of Fury The Chinese Connection Plays "Chen Zhen" 陳真. Fights against Japanese tyrants to avenge his master in Shanghai.
1972 Way of the Dragon Return of the Dragon Plays "Tang Long". Fights crime in Rome, Italy. Released after 'Enter the Dragon' in the U.S.; hence the title.
1973 Enter the Dragon same Plays Shaolin martial arts master "Mr. Lee". Sent as a spy into a tournament, hosted by a rogue-monk-turned-drug-lord.
1979 Game of Death same Plays "Billy Lo". Lee acts only in the last third of the movie, due to it being pieced together after his death.

Note: The title The Chinese Connection (a play on the then-recently-released The French Connection) was originally intended for The Big Boss due to the drugs theme of the story.

Yuen Lo, known later as Jackie Chan, was a member of the Seven Little Fortunes. He also was a stunt double for the villain Mr. Suzuki in Lee's Fist of Fury. In the film Enter the Dragon, Chan was one of the henchmen disposed of in the underground lair.

Yuen Wah, also a member of the Seven Little Fortunes, and later to become a well known actor in his own right (notably starring in 2005's Kung Fu Hustle), was Lee's stunt double in Lee's last few films.

Bruce Lee's first formal, organized bout came as a teenager at his high school in Hong Kong. He was to fight a young British boxer, a reigning two-time boxing champion. Bruce knocked his opponent out with repeated strikes, using the Wing Chun technique jik chung chuy.

Jun Fan Gung Fu

Lee began the process of creating his own martial arts system after his arrival in the United States in 1959. Lee called his martial arts Jun Fan Gung Fu (literally Bruce's Gung Fu), which consisted mostly of Wing Chun, with elements of Western Boxing and fencing. Lee taught friends he met in Seattle, starting with Judo practitioner Jesse Glover as his first student and who later became his first assistant instructor. Before moving to California Lee opened his first martial arts school, named the Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, in Seattle.

At the invitation of Ed Parker, Lee appeared in the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships and performed repetitions of two-finger pushups (using the thumb and the index finger) with feet approximately shoulder-width apart. At the same Long Beach event he also performed the " One inch punch". The description of which is as follows: Lee stood upright, his right foot forward with knees bent slightly, in front of a standing, stationary partner. Lee's right arm was partly extended and his right fist approximately an inch away from the partner's chest. Without retracting his right arm, Lee then forcibly delivered the punch to his partner while largely maintaining his posture, sending the partner backwards and falling into a chair placed behind the partner (to prevent injury), though the force of the impact caused his partner to soon after fall onto the floor.

In 1964, Lee was challenged by Wong Jack Man, a practitioner of Northern Shaolin. Lee claimed that, after arriving in San Francisco, his theories about martial arts and his teaching of "secret" Chinese martial arts to non-Asian students gave him enemies in the martial arts community. In contrast, Wong stated that he requested a bout with Lee as a result of Lee's open challenge during a demonstration at a Chinatown theatre; Lee had claimed to be able to defeat any martial artist in San Francisco, according to Wong. The two fought in December, 1964, at a kung fu school in Oakland, California. Lee and Wong provided significantly different accounts of the private bout, which was not filmed. Afterwards, Lee stated in an interview, without naming Wong as the loser, that he had defeated an unnamed challenger. In response, Wong wrote his description of the fight as well as an invitation to Lee for a public match, which was printed on the front page of Chinese Pacific Weekly, a Chinese-language newspaper in San Francisco. Lee did not fight Wong again.

Jeet Kune Do

The match with Wong influenced Lee's philosophy on fighting. Lee believed that the fight had lasted too long and that he had failed to live up to his potential. He took the view that traditional martial arts techniques were too rigid and formalistic to be practical in scenarios of chaotic street fighting. Lee decided to develop a system with an emphasis on "practicality, flexibility, speed, and efficiency". He started to use different methods of training such as weight training for strength, running for endurance, stretching for flexibility, and many others which he constantly adapted.

The Jeet Kune Do Emblem. The Chinese characters around the Taijitu symbol indicate: "Using no way as way" & "Having no limitation as limitation" The arrows represent the endless movement and change of the universe.
The Jeet Kune Do Emblem. The Chinese characters around the Taijitu symbol indicate: "Using no way as way" & "Having no limitation as limitation" The arrows represent the endless movement and change of the universe.

Lee emphasized what he called "the style of no style". This consisted of utilizing a non-formalized approach which Lee claimed was not indicative of traditional styles. Because Lee felt the system he called Jun Fan Gung Fu was too restrictive, it was transformed to what he would come to describe as Jeet Kune Do or the Way of the Intercepting Fist, a term he would later regret because Jeet Kune Do implied specific parameters that styles connotate whereas the whole point of the system was to exist outside of parameters and limitations. Some confuse the Jeet Kune Do system with the personal version that Bruce Lee practised. Jeet Kune Do can be seen as both a process and a product, the latter deriving from the former.

Bruce Lee certified three instructors: Taky Kimura, James Yimm Lee (no relation to Bruce Lee) and Dan Inosanto. James Yimm Lee, a close friend of Bruce Lee, died without certifying additional students. Taky Kimura, to date, has certified one person in Jun Fan Gung Fu: his son and heir Andy Kimura. Not all other instructors are certified, although Dan Inosanto has certified some (e.g. Dwight Woods and others). Prior to his death, Lee told his then only two living instructors Inosanto and Kimura (James Yimm Lee had died in 1972.) to dismantle his schools. Both Taky Kimura and Dan Inosanto were allowed to teach small classes thereafter without using the name Jeet Kune Do.

As a result of a lawsuit between the estate of Bruce Lee (also known as Concord Moon) and the Inosanto Academy, the name "Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do" was legally trademarked, and the rights were given solely to the Lee estate. "The name is made up of two parts: 'Jun Fan' (Bruce's given Chinese name) and 'Jeet Kune Do' (the Way of the Intercepting Fist). The development of Bruce Lee's art from 1961 until the end of his life was one smooth and indivisible path. In the beginning, he referred to his teachings simply as Jun Fan Gung Fu.

Some martial arts instructors, in an effort to promote themselves or their martial arts schools, make dubious claims about learning from or teaching Bruce Lee. Yet, only three were certified by Lee.

Physical fitness and nutrition

Bruce Lee felt that many martial artists of his day did not spend enough time on physical conditioning. He at first resorted to traditional bodybuilding techniques to build mass, then upon further education realised that a different sort of training was needed to increase his speed and power.

The weight training program that Lee used during a stay in Hong Kong in 1965 indicated biceps curls of 36kg (79 lbs) and eight repetitions for endurance. This translates to an estimated one repetition maximum of 50kg, (110 lbs) placing Lee in approximately the 100th percentile for the 55 to 64 kilogram weight class (121-141 Lbs).

Lee believed that the abdominal muscles were one of the most important muscle groups for a martial artist, since virtually every movement requires some degree of abdominal work. Perhaps more importantly, the "abs" are like a shell, protecting the ribs and vital organs. Bruce Lee's washboard abs did not come from mere abdominal training; he was also a proponent of cardiovascular conditioning and would regularly run, jump rope, and ride a stationary bicycle. A typical exercise for Lee would be running two to six miles in fifteen to forty-five minutes.

Another element in Bruce Lee's quest for abdominal definition was nutrition. According to Linda Lee, soon after he moved to the United States, Bruce started to take nutrition seriously and developed an interest in health foods and high-protein drinks. He ate lean meat sparingly and consumed large amounts of fruits and vegetables.

Bruce Lee's feats

  • Bruce Lee's striking speed from 60cm (24 inches) away was five hundredths of a second. (Glover)
  • Bruce did one-hand push ups using only 2 fingers.
  • Bruce was able to break a 70 kg (154 lbs) bag with a sidekick. (Coburn)
  • Bruce's famous "One Inch Punch" was able to knock back and off balance a 200lb man into a chair, using only 1 inch of striking distance. The target stands with their feet squared and is unable to turn to a sideways stance because of the chair being in the way, thus being knocked off balance.
  • Bruce's last movie Enter the Dragon was made for US$850,000 in 1973 ($3.74 million in 2005 currency. BLS). To date, Enter the Dragon has grossed over $100,000,000. (
  • Bruce was able to hold a 57 kg (125 lb) barbell at arms length in front of him (with elbows locked) for several seconds. (Little)


These are some quotes from Bruce Lee's students and people who trained with him, about his feats of strength:

  • Leo Fong
    • "Yes, I was on the receiving end of his side kick. It was like getting hit with a truck."
  • Mito Uhera
    • "Bruce always felt that if your stomach wasn't developed, then you had no business doing any hard sparring."


Although Bruce Lee is best known as a martial artist and actor, Lee majored in philosophy at the University of Washington. Lee's books on martial arts and fighting philosophies are well-known both for their philosophical assertions both inside and outside of martial arts circles. His philosophy often mirrored his fighting beliefs, though he was quick to claim that his martial arts were solely a metaphor for such teachings. His influences include Taoism, Buddhism, and the writings of Krishnamurti.

The following are some of Bruce Lee's quotes that reflect his fighting philosophy.

  • "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 into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, and it can crash. Be water, my friend..."
  • "The more relaxed the muscles are, the more energy can flow through the body. Using muscular tensions to try to 'do' the punch or attempting to use brute force to knock someone over will only work to opposite effect."
  • "Mere technical knowledge is only the beginning of Kung Fu. To master it, one must enter into the spirit of it."
  • "There are lots of guys around the world that are lazy. They have fat guts. They talk about chi power and things they can do, but don't believe it."
  • "I'm not a master. I'm a student-master, meaning that I have the knowledge of a master and the expertise of a master, but I'm still learning. So I'm a student-master. I don't believe in the word 'master.' I consider the master as such when they close the casket."
  • "Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there."
  • "Jeet Kune Do: it's just a name; don't fuss over it. There's no such thing as a style if you understand the roots of combat."
  • "Unfortunately, now in boxing people are only allowed to punch. In Judo, people are only allowed to throw. I do not despise these kinds of martial arts. What I mean is, we now find rigid forms which create differences among clans, and the world of martial art is shattered as a result."
  • "I think the high state of martial art, in application, must have no absolute form. And, to tackle pattern A with pattern B may not be absolutely correct."
  • "True observation begins when one is devoid of set patterns."
  • "The other weakness is, when clans are formed, the people of a clan will hold their kind of martial art as the only truth and do not dare to reform or improve it. Thus they are confined in their own tiny little world. Their students become machines which imitate martial art forms."
  • "Some people are tall; some are short. Some are stout; some are slim. There are various different kinds of people. If all of them learn the same martial art form, then who does it fit?"
  • "Ultimately, martial art means honestly expressing yourself. It is easy for me to put on a show and be cocky so I can show you some really fancy movement. But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly enough; that my friend is very hard to do."
  • "Use no way as way; use no limitation as limitation."
  • "The Most powerful fighter, is an ordinary man with laser precision focus."
  • "One great cause of failure is lack of concentration."
  • "If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done."

See Wikiquotes for more quotes by Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee and popular culture

There exists many references to Bruce Lee in popular culture, which are covered in a separate article.

Awards and honours

Bruce Lee statue in Hong Kong
Bruce Lee statue in Hong Kong
  • With his ancestral roots coming from Gwan'on in Seundak, Guangdong province of China (广东顺德均安, Guangdong Shunde Jun'An), a street in the village is named after him where his ancestral home is situated. The home is open for public access.
  • Bruce Lee was named TIME Magazine 's 100 Most Important People of the Century and as one of the greatest heroes & icons and among the influential martial artists of the 20th century.
  • The 1993 film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is a fictionalized biographical film about Bruce Lee.
  • On July 21, 2003, to his 30th year of death, "Things Asian" published an article: Lee´s Legend remains strong 30 years after his death and in the process establish his place in martial arts as "the greatest martial artist of all time"
  • In 2004, UFC president Dana White credited Bruce Lee as the "father of mixed martial arts".
  • In September 2004, a a BBC story stated that the Bosnian city of Mostar was to honour Lee with a statue on the Spanish Square, as a symbol of solidarity. After many years of war and religious splits, Lee's figure is to commend his work: to successfully bridge culture gaps in the world. The statue, placed in the city park, was unveiled on November 26, 2005 (One day before the unveiling of the statue in Hong Kong, below).
  • In 2005, Lee was remembered in Hong Kong with a bronze statue to mark his sixty-fifth birthday. The bronze statue, unveiled on November 27, 2005, honored Lee as Chinese film's bright star of the century.
  • Lee has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category Motion Picture, at 6933 Hollywood Blvd
  • On November 27, 2006, it was announced that Bruce Lee will get his own theme park that will be located in his Chinese ancestral home of Shunde. It will contain a statue, memorial hall, martial arts academy, and conference centre. Actress Betty Ting Pei donated a set of nunchaku that Lee once used.

Martial arts lineage

Lineage in Wing Chun / Jeet Kune Do
Sifu in Wing Chun Yip Man (葉問)
Other instructors Sihing Wong Shun Leung (黃淳樑) Sihing William Cheung (張卓興)
Notable Sparring partner Toe Dai Hawkins Cheung Note: He was Bruce Lee's friend at the time.
Bruce Lee (李小龍)
Creator of Jeet Kune Do
Known students in Jun Fan
Gung Fu/Jeet Kune Do
Jesse Glover
Steve Golden
Dan Inosanto
Taky Kimura
Jerry Poteet
Ted Wong
James Yimm Lee
Numerous others...
Famous students taught
Jun Fan/Jeet Kune Do
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
James Coburn
Joe Lewis
Roman Polanski
Lee Marvin
Steve McQueen
Chuck Norris
Stirling Silliphant
Numerous others...

Death by "misadventure"

Bruce Lee's death was officially attributed to cerebral edema.

On July 20, 1973, Lee was in Hong Kong, due to have dinner with former James Bond star George Lazenby, with whom he intended to make a film. According to Lee's wife Linda, Bruce met producer Raymond Chow at 2 P.M. at home to discuss the making of the movie Game of Death. They worked until 4 P.M. and then drove together to the home of Betty Ting Pei, a Taiwanese actress (claimed by some to be Lee's mistress) who was to have a leading role in the film. The three went over the script at her home, and then Chow left to attend a dinner meeting.

A short time later, Lee complained of a headache, and Ting Pei gave him a prescription analgesic known as Equagesic.

At around 7:30 P.M., he laid down for a nap. After Lee didn't turn up for the dinner, Chow came to the apartment but could not wake Lee up. A doctor was summoned, who spent ten minutes attempting to revive him before sending him by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. However, Lee was dead by the time he reached the hospital. There was no visible external injury; however, his brain had swollen considerably, from 1,400 to 1,575 grams (13%). Lee was 32 years old. The medical staff examining him concluded that the immediate cause of death was Cerebral Edema. Dr. R. R. Lycette of Queen Elizabeth Hospital determined that the swelling in the brain, and Lee's untimely death, was the result of an adverse reaction to one of the compounds in the prescription equagesic tablet. On October 15, 2005, Chow stated in an interview that Lee was allergic to Equagesic. When the physicians announced Bruce Lee's death officially, it was pronounced "death by misadventure". However, the exact details of Lee's death were controversial from the moment it was announced. Bruce Lee's iconic status and unusual death at a young age led to several conspiracy theories about Lee's death, such as a murder involving Triads seeking protection money, vengeful rival martial artists, or other enemies like Chinese and American directors and producers — but none of these is supported by any evidence. His sudden death has since passed into the realm of legend, with one legend claiming that Lee faked his death, and will return when he has perfected his martial arts.


Bruce Lee is interred in Lake View Cemetery, Seattle, Washington, USA.

Plot: Lot 276, east side of the circular driveway in the centre of the cemetery.

GPS coordinates: 47.6333, -122.3158

Books authored

  • Bruce Lee's Fighting Method 1-4
  • Chinese Gung-Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self Defense
  • The Tao of Jeet Kune Do

Books about Bruce Lee and/or JKD

  • Bruce Lee Between Wing Chun and JKD - written by Jesse Glover
  • Bruce Lee: Dynamic Becoming - a book about Bruce Lee's philosophy
  • Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit - a biography by Bruce Thomas
  • The Tao of Bruce Lee - written by Davis Miller mostly about Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee documentaries

  • Bruce Lee: The Curse of the Dragon - Includes interviews with Bruce Lee students, and cast and crew members.
  • Bruce Lee: The Immortal Dragon - Documentary from the Biography Channel
  • Bruce Lee: The Man, the Myth - Biographical film.
  • Jeet Kune Do - Documentary by Wah Chan. More about JKD but contains much Bruce Lee footage.
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