Home > Famous People Stories > Bruce Lee. The legacy of a dragon.

Bruce Lee. The legacy of a dragon.

“Most people know Bruce Lee as one of the greatest martial artists ever, but his story extends much deeper than just martial arts and movies. Bruce Lee believed in success and overcame tremendous adversity to become one of the most recognized names around the world. A successful actor, entrepreneur, author, director, and martial artist, Bruce achieved his success all before his untimely death at the age of 32. His legacy is immortalized in everything from the films that he made to the video game characters that bear his resemblance and his famous Jeet Kun Do moves.

This is the story of Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee was born on November 27, 1940 (The year and the hour of the Dragon) in San Francisco, California, to a Chinese father and a Chinese/German mother. His actual Chinese name was Lee Jun Fan, but a hospital nurse encouraged his mother Grace to also give him an American name, so it was decided that Bruce would be his name in the United States. Shortly after his birth, the family moved back to Hong Kong where Bruce remained until the age of nineteen.

A Trouble-Maker Teen

At the age of thirteen, after having gotten beat up by a local Hong Kong street gang, Bruce began to seriously train in Kung-Fu through a school taught by Sifu Yip Man, a master of the Wing Chun system of Kung-Fu. That was the last fight that Bruce ever lost in Hong Kong.
Bruce was a cocky and hot-tempered teen, however, and rarely backed down to a challenge. At the age of eighteen, Bruce’s street fighting habits were already bringing the Lee family much unwanted attention from the police. At the age of nineteen, Bruce beat another boy in a street fight. That boy happened to be the son of a well-feared Triad Lieutenant (Triad is the Chinese Mafia). At that point, Bruce’s parents, fearing action from both the police and the Triad, decided to send Bruce to San Francisco to live with relatives. They felt that his life was limited in Hong Kong and it was only a matter of time before Bruce would enter a life of crime there himself. Hitting the (American) Pavement Running

After a three-week voyage, Bruce Lee entered San Francisco at the age of nineteen with only $115 in his pocket. Bruce stayed with an old friend of his fathers for several months and then set out on his own and eventually settled in Seattle, Washington. He worked at several odd jobs in the local Chinese communities until he settled on a job working for a restaurant owner, Ruby Chow. There Bruce worked as a waiter and busboy while taking courses at Edison Technical School. The same year that Bruce hopped off the boat from Hong Kong, he earned his high school diploma.

The Student Becomes the Teacher

Bruce was an exceptional student of Sifu Yip Man, but he was never officially declared a master. Yet, the passion and the beauty of the martial arts that Bruce possessed compelled him to share it with a society who knew very little about the Eastern ways. Bruce would hold Kung-Fu classes in backyards and at the city parks where he taught his fellow students.

The Love Story That Broke Social-Norms

In 1961, Bruce was accepted into the University of Washington as a Philosophy Major. As a way to meet people and make a few extra dollars, he taught Kung-Fu to the students at the University. One of his students was Linda Emery who also attended the University of Washington as a pre-medical student. Bruce took an immediate liking to Linda. Linda was of Swedish and English descent and at the time it was a social taboo to have an Asian man with a Caucasian girl. Despite social taboos, on October of 1963, Bruce took Linda out for their first date and the two became very close from that day forward. Three years later, in 1964, Bruce proposed to Linda. The two got married later that year.

Bruce Lee’s Fight for the Right to Teach Everyone

As a martial arts teacher, Bruce never cared about race. His philosophy was to teach all those who had the desire to learn. But in the 1960s, race was a touchy subject across America and prejudice existed, not only against minorities, but also within the Chinese community. Many in the California Chinese community felt that Bruce was violating their code not to share their secrets with those who were non-Chinese. At the time, Bruce had two Kung-Fu Institutes in Seattle and Oakland, where he taught anyone who walked in his doors.
In 1965, at the age of 24, Bruce was challenged by Jack Man Wong, a leading kung-fu practitioner in the Chinatown District of Oakland. The terms: If Jack won, then Bruce would agree to either close his Kung-Fu Institutes or stop teaching Caucasians. If Bruce won, then Jack would stop teaching altogether. The fight lasted only about a minute with Bruce reigning victorious, but afterwards, Bruce was bothered at why it took him so long to beat Jack Man Wong and reevaluated his style of Kung-Fu to incorporate more aspects of other martial arts such as Karate, Muay Thai, and Judo.

In 1966, Bruce got his big break as an actor came when he was chosen to play the part of Kato, alongside actor Van Williams, in the television series, The Green Hornet. With the success of the television show, Batman, ABC was eager to try out this pilot that was based on the popular comic book. During the screen tests, the producers were initially worried that Bruce’s “oriental” looks would turn off viewers, but partly because he would be wearing a mask the entire time and even more so because of his superhuman martial arts abilities, the producers decided to star Bruce in the supporting role. Unbeknownst to everyone at ABC, Bruce’s martial arts ability was so phenomenal on screen that his character became more favored with audience viewers than the Green Hornet himself. When the television show was syndicated in Hong Kong, it was relabeled from The Green Hornet to The Kato Show.

Handling Racial Prejudice in Hollywood

In 1969, the television show, The Green Hornet, aired its final episode and Bruce was trying to find another television role. Warner Brother’s approached Bruce for his input on a new pilot that they were working on called Kung-Fu. Bruce worked very hard on the project, giving the screen writers and directors his input, but then Warner Brothers announced that they had selected Caucasian actor, David Carradine, for the role instead of Bruce Lee. It’s been speculated that Bruce was never considered for the main role because viewers might not be ready for Bruce’s “Oriental” looks.

The Injury That Almost Ended His Career

On August 13, 1970, Bruce was weight lifting when he heard a loud popping sound from his back accompanied with tremendous pain. He tried to remedy his back pain with heat and massage treatments, but the pain worsened and he had no choice but to go to seek medical help. The medical doctors told Bruce that he would never kick again and for the next six months, Bruce was confined to a bed. During that time, Bruce began to delve into the concepts and philosophy of Jeet Kun Do and complied volumes of handwritten notes on the subject. After his death, his wife Linda had these notes published as a best-selling book, The Tao of Jeet Kun Do. After six months, Bruce was able to move around again and he went back to doing heavy exercises to regain the strength and the muscle that he had lost while he was bed ridden. In another six months, Bruce brought himself back to his prime shape, although he did suffer from back pain for the rest of his life.

Bruce Lee’s Vision Letter

Angry after having been burnt by Warner Brothers and frustrated at the lack of opportunities in Hollywood for an Asian American actor, Bruce sat down one night and wrote a letter to himself.
“By 1980, I will be the best known oriental movie star in the United States and will have secured $10 million dollars… And in return, I will give the very best acting I could possibly give every single time I am in front of the camera and I will live in peace and harmony.”
In 1973, months after Bruce’s untimely death, the blockbuster movie Enter the Dragon was released in both the United States and China, elevating Bruce to the level of an international star. According to Jack Canfield, that very letter that Bruce wrote to himself is hanging up on one of the walls at Planet Hollywood in New York City.

Bruce Lee Lands His Success

Not long after Bruce wrote his promise to himself, he took an opportunity presented to him by a Hong Kong film studio with starring roles in The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, and The Way of the Dragon. These films elevated Bruce to an icon status in Hong Kong. Then in 1973, Bruce got the break that he had been waiting for when a joint American/Hong Kong production was set to shoot titled, Enter the Dragon, which was the movie that would catapult Bruce into Hollywood stardom. Unfortunately, Bruce suffered his untimely death only days before Enter the Dragon hit the big screen, but it elevated Bruce into American stardom that he had been working hard to achieve.
What drove Bruce to do so much at such an early age? What was his mindset? Bruce never was one to remain idle. He never considered himself a master, but rather a student-master, who was always eager to learn more about his craft. Here are some lessons we can learn from Bruce Lee:

You must train consistently if you want to become better

There’s a reason why Bruce was the greatest martial artist of his time and it wasn’t because he was lazy. Bruce trained his body everyday and it would upset him if he missed a workout. If you too desire to become the best in your area of passion, then you will have to commit yourself towards training everyday to enhance your performance.

You must learn and grow

Bruce had a voracious appetite for books. His personal library contained some 2,500 books from all different fields. Besides martial arts books, Bruce read quite a few personal development books from authors such as Napoleon Hill, W. Clement Stone and Dale Carnegie. He never saw himself as a master of anything. He told people that he had skill in the martial arts, but he was still learning, and that was true with his own personal development as well. He continued to expand his knowledge and to grow himself personally.
The biggest enemy that you’ll ever fight is yourself

Bruce had to overcome some major obstacles in his path on his rise towards personal success. He had to overcome poverty, racial prejudice, prejudice within the Chinese community, financial woes, injuries, and lost opportunities. Any one of these obstacles could have easily erased Bruce Lee from popular culture, but it was his die-hard commitment not to let himself give up that made him what he is today.

An absolute focus and determination to succeed

Bruce started his adult life here with only $115 and a big dream. Only ten years later, Bruce was training Hollywood notables like Steve McQueen, James Colburn, and Kareem Abul-Jabbar. Bruce attributed his quick rise to success through his focus and his obsessive determination to get what he wanted.

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