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Bruce Lee - Profile of a Martial Artist

Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley

Name:Bruce Lee (Chinese name Lee Jun Fan)
Credits:Creator of Jeet Kune Do
Actor in many movies and TV shows
Author, Script Writer, Director, Choreographer
Master – Wing Chun Gung Fu
Winner of many competitions




No Martial Arts discussion would ever be complete without speaking about Bruce Lee. He is a symbol held in high regard as to what a modern Martial Artist should embody. His life is as dynamic and explosive as his Martial Arts.

Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1940, the year of the dragon, during the hour of the dragon. In Chinese astrology, this is a good omen for someone who will come to change the world. He is the fourth out of five children to Lee Hoi Chuen and Grace Ho, who were in the United States at that time on a tour with the Chinese Opera. He was known to his family as “Sai Fon”, a Chinese superstition which believed using a female nickname would trick evil spirits into thinking he was a girl and thus avoid taking him. He was given the name Bruce by a nurse in the San Francisco hospital but did not begin to use it until he entered secondary school.

The family returned to Hong Kong after Lee’s birth, where Bruce grew up. During this period of time, China was a land in turmoil. The Japanese occupied much of China during World War II and then after the war Hong Kong reverted to British control.

The long journey back across the ocean may have been too hard on the three-month old, as Bruce was a weak child. Thus, at the age of 13, Bruce began to study Martial Arts under the instructions of Master Yip Man of Wing Chun Gung Fu. In addition to Martial Arts, Bruce was an accomplished dancer and actor before he made his fame in the United States. In fact, Bruce first appeared in one of his father’s movies as a baby in Lee Hoi Chuen’s arms. By the time Bruce reached the age of 18, he had already appeared in 20 films. However, acting was not his original course in life.

While Bruce Lee pursued dancing, Martial Arts, and acting with hard work and discipline, his academic studies were not as strong. In hopes to change this, his parents sent him back to the United States to finish his studies. In fact, he did finish his high school and pursued a degree in philosophy from University of Washington, where he would meet his future wife, Linda. Coming from a British-training background, his writing was strong and many of his papers reflected the Eastern and Martial Arts influence in his thinking.

He opened a school and began teaching as a means to support himself, eventually it became his career. He first taught gung fu in a time when the only style existing in American vocabulary was Judo. And he allowed non-Chinese into his school, something frowned upon by many traditionalist at the time. Defending this decision led him to a confrontation with another master that changed Bruce’s view of Wing Chun and traditional Martial Arts. Although Bruce won the fight, he was disappointed in his performance and it is said this is where he started to form the ideas of Jeet Kune Do.

In 1964, Bruce demonstrated his techniques at the First International Karate Tournament in Long Beach, California held by Ed Parker. By fate, this demonstration brought Bruce back into the acting world. He had many supporting actor roles in various movies and TV shows. During this time, he continued to refine his Martial Arts skills and build on his schools.

However, Hollywood did not believe the American audience was ready for an Asian lead actor. On a trip back to Hong Kong, Bruce discovered he had a growing fan base in that country. Using his notoriety in Hong Kong, he signed a contract to work on movies there in hopes it would clear a path back to Hollywood. Bruce not only starred, but also wrote, directed, and choreographed many of his movies.

Hollywood finally responded. Bruce orchestrated a joint production with Warner Bros on the movie “Enter the Dragon”. Unfortunately, Bruce would never get to see his hard work on the silver screen as he died July 20, 1973 after complaining about a headache. The movie released after his death and was a box office hit, opening the door for many others to follow.

Bruce Lee left behind a legacy that changed Martial Arts. He had exposed the world to different styles of Martial Arts and the acceptance of a variety of students. He supplemented his Martial Arts training with regiments in fitness, bodybuilding, and nutrition, all of which are echoed in many of today’s Martial Arts training programs. His writings, philosophies and books are applicable to many walks of life, not just Martial Arts and not just Jeet Kune Do. He was compassionate, helping those less fortunate as he could.

Perhaps the easiest way to sum it up is he defined Martial Arts for the twentieth century and beyond.

References: Bruce Lee Foundation
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Content copyright © 2013 by Caroline Chen-Whatley. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Caroline Chen-Whatley. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.

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