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Picture Credit:

Bruce Lee

Birth Date: November 27, 1940
Birth Place: San Francisco, California, USA

Date of Death: July 20, 1973 / Age: 32
Location of Death: Hong Kong
Cause of Death: cerebral edema

Biography: Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973) is widely considered to be the greatest and most influential martial arts figure of the 20th century. His films, especially his last performance in Enter the Dragon, elevated traditional Hong Kong martial arts film to a new level, paving the way for future artists such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Steven Seagal,and Chuck Norris.

His family included his wife (and former student), Linda Emery, with whom he had a daughter, Shannon, and a son, Brandon. Brandon would eventually follow in his father's footsteps, becoming a martial artist and actor, until his own untimely death.

Birth name

Lee Jun-fan (李振藩; Hanyu Pinyin: Lǐ Zhènfán; literally means invigorate San Francisco based on the Chinese name of his birthplace 三藩市) was born in his father's absence (he went on a Chinese opera tour.) While it was his mother that gave him his birth name (李炫金), it would be the nurses at the hospital who bestowed upon him the English name Bruce. His Chinese name was changed within a few months to Lee Jun-fan when his father returned, due to a conflict with his grandfather's name. In Chinese culture, it is taboo to give a child a name that is the same as an ancestor's.

Bruce's brother before him was stillborn, and the Chinese believed baby boys were often stolen by demons. Thus, in an attempt to disguise Bruce's identity, he was given a girl's name throughout his early childhood, Sai Feng (細鳳 a typical girl's name), which meant Little Phoenix. It was given in response to his brother's death, with the hopes of preventing a similar fate for Bruce.

Screen name

Li Xiaolong or Lee Siu Lung (李小龍; Gwohngdongwa pengyam: Ley5 Siw2 Long4; Pinyin: Lǐ Xiǎolóng; lit. Little-dragon Lee was first named by director 袁步雲 in the 1950 Cantonese movie 細路祥). It would be this name that the world would come to identify with Bruce Lee - Dragon.


Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco, California to a Chinese father, Lee Hoi-Chuen (李海泉), and Chinese-German mother Grace Lee(何金棠). Because of his father's fame as a Chinese opera actor Lee had the opportunity to appear in several Chinese movies as a child. He also studied the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu. And at a young age he quickly picked up the dialects/ languages of English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese.

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

After leaving University, Lee went on to star as Kato in the television series The Green Hornet. On his return to Hong Kong, he starred in the movies, earning $30,000 for his first two feature films, cementing his fame.

His martial arts style Bruce's first formal, organized bout was as a teenager at his Catholic school in Hong Kong. He was set to fight a young British boy, who was the 2 time reigning boxing champion at that time. Bruce knocked the boy out with repeated strikes, using the Wing Chun jik chung chuy. While pictures of this time period have been included in some of the photo books on Bruce Lee, the pictures portrayed in these books (with Bruce up against the ropes) are not of Bruce Lee. While the photos were taken during this same tournament, the alleged photos of Bruce were of a fellow student and peer during a separate match. The photos of Bruce Lee were lost by the school.

While Lee dabbled in many martial arts, Lee began his formal training at the age of 13 in Wing Chun Gung Fu under Hong Kong master, Yip Man. Already a scrappy fighter at the age of 13, Bruce took up the arts out of fear of gang retaliation. Like most martial arts schools at that time, Yip Man's classes were often taught by the highest ranking student. The highest ranked pupil under Yip Man was Wong Shun Leung. Among his peers were Hawkins Cheung and William Cheung (no relation to each other).

However, it would not be until his arrival in the United States that he would come to see the limitations of classic Wing Chun. Lee began the process of creating his own style, which he taught at his school - which he later named the Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute. At the time, his style Tao of Chinese Gung Fu was mostly Wing Chun Gung Fu blended with techniques from northern and southern gung fu styles. After studying and becoming dissatisfied with existing classical schools of martial arts, he later modified this style, which was mostly Wing Chun, with Western Boxing and Western Fencing and named it Jun Fan Gung Fu. However, over time this style began to expand, incorporating elements from Muay Thai, Indo-Malay Silat, Panantukan, Sikaran, Bando, Catch Wrestling, Judo, Jujitsu, Aikido, and several other arts. It would only be much later that he would come to describe his style as Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist) or JKD, a term he eventually came to regret. Prior to his death, Bruce told his then only two living instructors, Dan Inosanto and Taky Kimura (James Yimm Lee had passed away in 1972), to dismantle his schools. He no longer wished to call his art Jeet Kune Do or have his students associate what they were learning as Bruce Lee's style. His last wish was that Inosanto never use the name JKD or Jeet Kune Do again. Though there are many who claim to teach JKD around the globe, Inosanto still refers to the Bruce Lee curriculum taught at his academy as Jun Fan.

Today, there is often some discrepancy between Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu (a.k.a. "original JKD") and JKD Concepts, which explores other styles not previously incorporated into Jeet Kune Do by Lee. Depending on the instructor a person trains under, the name of "the style of JKD" is usually specific to a time period in Lee's process although many of the techniques are often the same. Perhaps a reason why Lee himself later regretted even giving a name to his philosophy/fighting style (Jeet Kune Do) thereby making it just another "martial art style." Lee saw loyalty to a particular martial arts style as being dogmatic, analogous to the practice of organized religion or ethnocentrism. This and Lee's other revolutionary ideas about martial arts and his teaching of non-Asian students gave Lee many enemies in the martial arts community of the 1960s/70s (culminating in many challenges by other martial artists Lee poignantly answered). Yet, much of the dispute about JKD instruction is not so much the names, but the credibility of the instructors teaching these JKD fighting systems.

To re-emphasize: there were only three certified instructors: Dan Inosanto — receiving the highest certification in Lee's art (notable exception is Taky Kimura, senior most instructor in Jun Fan Gung Fu) — is widely regarded as the senior most JKD instructor under Bruce Lee. All other instructors (again except Taky Kimura and the late James Yimm Lee [no relation to Bruce Lee]) are certified under Inosanto, even Bruce's other original students. Kimura, to date, has certified only one person in Jun Fan Gung Fu — his son and heir, Andy Kimura. James Yimm Lee, a very close and personal friend of Bruce, never certified anyone before his untimely passing. Inosanto often serves not only as the leading instructor and historian of Jeet Kune Do Concepts; he also teaches and practices other styles such as Kali, Silat, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jujitsu, some of which were already incorporated into the Jun Fan system. (Note: Many people are unaware that Lee had a Silat instructor in Missouri whom he kept in touch with).

What Bruce was seeking was the principles or concepts inherent in all effective martial systems. Thus, while his schools taught a specific curriculum of techniques and drills, Bruce's personal focus was not on specific techniques but on the concepts which made the techniques possible and functional in combat. Today, JKD has come to be defined as Bruce Lee's personal philosophy of how martial arts should be effectively practiced (and according to others also as a self-help philosophy). But according to Bruce Lee himself, JKD should not and does not exist.

Lee frequently gave demonstrations of his two-finger pushups and his famous "one inch punch", a mastered technique in which he could deliver a devastating blow yet have his fist travel a mere one inch (2.54 cm) in distance before striking an opponent. He was an all-rounder, being well educated both academically and in the field of martial arts. His studies of Wing Chun Gung Fu sparked his enthusiasm and understanding of martial arts. In fact, Wing Chun was the only martial art Lee formally studied, under the guidance of Yip Man. Throughout his life Lee studied many styles of martial arts through an extensive literature research and contacts with other martial artists. Many contemporary martial arts instructors, in an effort to promote themselves or their schools, make dubious claims about learning from or teaching Bruce Lee. One well known karate instructor even claims that he taught Bruce Lee his high kicks, while simultaneously denigrating Lee as only an movie-martial artist, but then claiming to have studied and mastered his style. It was because of these false claims that Bruce put forth rigid standards to earn certification in what he taught.

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


Bruce Lee's untimely death shook Hong Kong and Martial Arts fans all over the world. The end of his life was considered to be under the strangest of circumstances, and still draws sensationalism and controversy, with a number of theories surrounding his tragic death. Rumours concerning the cause of his death range from Lee being killed by triad gangsters because he refused to pay them protection money, to his being killed by an angry martial artist's dim mak (death touch) strike for having angered the martial arts community by revealing ancient secrets to foreigners, to drug use. Many people also claimed that it was the work of Oni (Japanese for Demons or evil spirits), while others believed he was cursed. The theory of the "Curse of Bruce Lee" carried over to the equally tragic death of his son, Brandon Lee, who was shot and killed during the filming of The Crow in 1993. Yet, even though none of the mysteries surrounding his death were answered, his death was officially registered as one caused by cerebral edema.

The "Little Dragon", as he was known by his legions of fans, went on to become more famous than he had been in life.

On July 20, 1973, Lee was 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 pm at home to discuss the making of the movie Game of Death. They worked until 4 pm, and then drove together to the home of Betty Ting Pei (丁珮), Taiwanese actress who was to also 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 tablet of analgesic. At around 7:30 pm, he lay down for a nap. After Lee didn't turn up for the dinner, Chow came to the apartment but could not wake up Lee. A doctor was summoned, who spent 10 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. The ensuing autopsy found traces of cannabis. There was no visible external injury; however, his brain had swollen considerably, from 1,400 to 1,575 grams. Lee was 32 years old.

A similar incident had occurred a few months before. On May 10, during the final dubbing of Enter the Dragon, Lee suffered a sudden attack of seizures and a cerebral edema which was not fatal. The neurosurgeon who saved his life in May, Dr. Peter Wu, said that he removed a considerable amount of hashish from Lee's stomach. Bruce, whose entrained paranoia grew with his international fame, had been chewing hashish to calm himself. Dr. Wu, who is supposedly renowned for his cerebral edema research in Asian males, says that various neurological problems associated with hashish had been recorded in Nepalese men. He thinks Bruce was very vulnerable to the effects of drugs due to his extremely low body fat. Dr. Donald Langford, Lee's physician in Hong Kong, said that Bruce's body had less than one percent body fat, that "it was obscene how little body fat he had." Bruce Lee weighed only around 128 pounds at the time of his death.

Lee's death by Cerebral edema was officially recorded as being the result of an abnormal reaction to painkillers he took for severe back pain (and possibly in combination with the analgesic for a headache), not cannabis. Lee incurred this back problem when he was younger, after pinching a nerve in his lower back while doing good morning exercises using heavy weights without properly warming up -- a condition that left him temporarily in a wheelchair. Fortunately, contrary to his doctor's prognosis that he would never kick again, Lee regained his athletic prowess, better than ever. Yet, it left with him a lifelong severe pain in his back.

Dr. Donald Langford says, "This man was muscled like a squirrel, spirited as a horse. I've never seen anybody as physically fit as Bruce. Analgesic is prescribed in the million-dose range every day in Asia. Nobody dies from one tablet of Equagesic. No analgesic killed Bruce. In my opinion, the cause of Bruce Lee's death is obvious. Every time I saw him after May 10, he was further and further into his own hype. I don't think that Bruce thought that there was anybody in the world who knew what was good for him except Bruce Lee. That's what killed him. The same series of events that took place in May caused Bruce Lee's death in July." Allegedly, Langford also makes the erroneous claims that, "Bruce was particularly sensitive to the alkaloids in cannabis. He died from hypersensitivity to chemicals in cannabis or a cannabis by-product. Bruce's was a self-inflicted, though innocent, fatal illness." Dr. Wu agrees: "I think that Bruce was fully convinced that he was invincible, that he was immortal. This is what brought him down."

Davis Miller, a Bruce Lee biographer writes, "Maybe the most resonant Bruce Lee myth is that he was murdered by his own ambition, by his arrogance in believing that he could create himself, an arrogance that, as he aged, he surely would have outgrown..."

He is interred in Seattle's Lake View Cemetery.

Although he made only a handful of films and television appearances in his adulthood, Bruce Lee has become an iconic figure in life, and in movies, as a personification of a small man who became the epitome of what some see as mental and physical perfection. He developed a trick for showing off his speed: a person held a coin and closed his hand, and as he closed it, Lee would take it and could even swap the coin for another. His fame also sparked the first major surge of interest in Chinese martial arts in the West. The direction and tone of Bruce Lee's movies have forever changed and influenced action and martial arts films.

Biography Credit:

> TV Credits

Starring/Leading Roles

The Green Hornet (1966) ... Kato (1966-1967)

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