Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My Take on Bruce Lee


By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2016, All Rights Reserved


Note To Readers:  This is an opinion piece about my feelings about Bruce Lee and how they were formed.  If you don't agree with them that is fine.  If you decide to comment please remember that is an opinion, I admit that all stories are biased and have to be taken with a grain of salt, and I state that I might not know the truth because I wasn't there.  However, these are the things that form my opinion and I have as much right to mine as everyone else does.



There is no doubt the impact that Bruce Lee had on the martial arts world and cinema in general.  Even though he died in 1973 he still appears on magazine covers and people are still making movies and videos about him and his teachings.  There is no doubt that the practice of martial arts would not be so widespread and popular today if it wasn’t for him.  For that, we all owe Bruce Lee a debt of thanks.

That being said, I never cared for Bruce Lee.  Even though being a lifelong martial artist I’m not only expected to revere him but also get a partial erection at the mention of his name I have never been a Bruce Lee fan, in fact I’m more of a Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris guy.

One of my first martial arts instructors was a family friend who was quite skilled in both the Dragon and Cobra systems of Kung Fu.  He had learned them while he stationed overseas during his military service.  When I would meet him on the weekends hee would show all kinds of wonderful things and then he’d tell my about this great master named Bruce Lee.  I was quite young and had never heard of this guy but from the stories my instructor told me I thought this Bruce Lee guy must have been the greatest master ever to live.  I became hooked and wanted to learn everything I could about this great man named Bruce Lee.

One day after a workout he handed me a VHS tape and told me it was a copy of the greatest martial arts movie ever made…and it starred none other than Bruce Lee himself.  I was so excited that as soon as I got home I put it in right away…and then my heart sank.

You see, I was a young kid in the early 80’s and I wanted to learn everything I possibly could about the martial arts.  I would always tune into the ABC Saturday Afternoon Matinee because often they would play martial arts movies.  A lot of them were downright stupid but they were the only exposure I had to martial arts for a long time so no matter how dumb they were I watched them eagerly.  There was one movie they showed more often than other martial art movies and I couldn’t remember the name but it starred a skinny Chinese man with horrible acting skills.  The movie made me cringe especially since the guy was so over the top screaming that I knew that my dad, who hated martial arts, would walk into the room and have to make some hillbilly comment.

This skinny Chinese guy in this Saturday Matinee wasn’t a very good actor and every time he screamed I cringed because I thought he made martial artists look stupid, he had that very uncomfortable shot where he kills Bob Wall’s character by jumping on him and makes a bunch of faces that to me looked like he needed to use the toilet, and to be honest I didn’t think the fight scenes were very good.  I had seen a lot of martial arts movies with big elaborate fight scenes but to me it looked like he just threw a bunch of fancy kicks and I wasn’t impressed at all.  When that movie came on I’d watch it but I wouldn’t be excited about it.

To my dismay when I put that VHS tape in and hit play, readying myself to see the greatest martial arts movie ever made, and then that came on my heart sank.  This was it?  This guy was Bruce Lee?  Out of respect to my teacher I learned more about Bruce Lee and he even let me borrow a stack of old karate magazines filled with articles about Lee.  I tried to get excited but I just couldn’t.

The more I learned about him the less impressive he seemed.  He was well known for his power, speed, and overall prowess and that was impressive but then I also read that he trained for over 5 hours a day every day.  If anyone trains that much they will of course get very good after a couple years and if they put 10-15 years of that kind of training it they have no other choice but to become awesome.  This is one of the main reasons why the old Chinese masters were capable of incredible things; training was a main focus of their daily life and after 30 plus years of training over 5 hours a day there was no way they could be anything other than incredibly skilled.

People wrote about Lee’s focus and drive but to me he seemed like a guy with obsessive compulsive disorder.   Instead of being impressed by his focus and ability I felt sort of sad for him because to me it appeared to be kind of a compulsion.  I read that even at parties he would sit by himself and didn’t really open up unless someone wanted to talk about martial arts.  He did have other talents but if the only thing you can talk to other people about is martial arts then that just doesn’t seem healthy.

Bruce Lee grew up a rich kid in Hong Kong with a father who was a famous actor and his mother was from the Ho-Tung Bosman Clan which was one of the wealthiest families in Hong Kong. They have been likened to the Kennedys or the Rockefellers. Lee was rich and spoiled and got the acting bug early, in fact thanks to his father he appeared in 20 different movies during his youth.  By all accounts he was a little punk, a gang member (the gang was called “Tigers of Junction Street”) who ran around and got in fights all the time, often with off-duty English soldiers and sailors and on rooftops.  Rooftop fights were frequent in Hong Kong and very popular among the youth.   Some of the rooftop fights were to settle arguments and other times they were arranged for money.  By all accounts Lee we active in both the fighting and administration of these fights.

When he wasn’t acting he was running the streets causing trouble and it got so bad his father used his influence and money to get him into the most prestigious martial arts school in Hong Kong owned by the famous Grandmaster of Wing Chun Kung Fu, Ip Man.  

Bruce Lee as a child

4 month old Bruce Lee's immigration documents prior to him leaving San Franciso where he was born

Bruce Lee learned Wing Chun from Ip Man for two years, starting at age 16 in 1957 until he left Hong Kong in 1959.  Even though Lee had only two years of training in Wing Chun and didn’t learn the complete system he did get something other students didn’t; his fellow students said that he showed such interest that he regularly trained in private with Ip Man which was unheard of.  Even in Ip Man’s school the regular training was done by senior students and it was said that the number of students who learned directly from Ip Man, even occasionally, can be counted on one hand.  Regardless of whether it was Lee’s enthusiasm for the art, his father’s money, or the fact that very few other students wanted to work with Lee due to his mixed ancestry (Lee was 1/4 English according to a statement given by his mother to US Immigration ) as to why Lee was singled out and often taught directly by Grandmaster Ip Man and his most senior student, it was a great honor.

Bruce Lee posing with Grandmaster Ip Man


 Bruce practicing Wing Chun on the wooden man

It is obvious that Bruce Lee knew martial arts but how much he really knew is up for debate.  He trained in Taijiquan under his father but it is unclear how much he actually learned from him.  Lee only received instruction in Wing Chun from ages 16 to 18 so even though he learned from a famous grandmaster he still only had 2 years of training in what was supposed to be his primary style.  Lee openly admitted he didn’t learn the entire Wing Chun system and there is a story that after Lee got famous he went back to Ip Man and offered him a large amount of money to learn the final forms he’d missed but not only did Ip Man refuse,  he threw Lee through a wall.  How much of that is true?  Who knows but we do know that 2 years is hardly enough time to learn that much.

Lee did study western boxing in school and even won a championship in 1958.  His brother, Peter Lee, studied western fencing and he also practiced with him.  So to his credit we can say that in addition to some Taijiquan and two years of Wing Chun Lee was also an accomplished amateur boxing champion and knew some western fencing.  Plus, Lee fought regularly growing up so he did quite a bit of actual fighting experience.

People then say that when he came to America he learned Judo from Gene LaBell and Tang Soo Do from Chuck Norris and they rattle on 20-30 names of recognized experts he trained with and try to convince you that he learned their style.  This is partially true at best.  It is a fact that Lee trained with Chuck Norris, for example, and that Norris helped him with his kicking technique but some people claim that because of this you can say that Lee knew Tang Soo Do and this just isn’t true.  While Lee did train at different times with Norris, LaBell, Ed Parker, and other recognized names he learned a few things from each of them but he did not actually enroll in their schools and spend years going up through the ranks to actually learn their styles.


If you think about it, the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do (the name Lee gave his method of martial arts), which is to learn from everyone and only “absorb what is useful,” it makes sense because Lee didn’t have the opportunity to learn a complete and entire style.  Giving everything I’ve ever read Lee probably had somewhere around an intermediate level knowledge of actual martial arts and his skill came from training feverishly in what he did know.

All this "absorb what is useful and discard what is not" and "style is a prison" stuff to me sounds like b.s. from a guy who didn't even know one style himself.  If you don't know a complete style then really how can you accurately judge the usefulness of knowing and following a style?

Lee came to the US in 1958 at the age of 18 and started teaching in 1959 in backyards and parks and then opened his first school in 1963.  He opened his second school a year later in 1964 with is senior student being head instructor.  He famously fought Wong Jack Man in 1965 (more on this later) and afterward decides he needs to alter his style because it was too slow and ineffective and then later the same year he has his son Brandon.  The next year, 1966, Lee starts filming “The Green Hornet.”

Young Bruce Lee with wife Linda and young son Brandon

Lee teaching young Brandon how to punch

 Interesting note about “The Green Hornet,” Lee did not get the role because he was skilled in martial arts.  The truth is the director thought Lee might be crazy because he started kicking things, swinging nunchakus around, and asking him to feel his muscles during the audition.  Lee got the role because he was the only Chinese actor they found that could correctly say the leading actors name correctly (Britt Reid).

Shortly after this Lee becomes famous and charges up to $250 an hour for private lessons (with inflation that would be like charging over $1,800 an hour today) to celebrities like Steve McQueen, James Coburn, James Garner, Lee Marvin, Roman Polanski, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. 

In 1967 Lee opens his third school and “The Green Hornet” series ends.  Then in 1969 his daughter Shannon is born.  In 1970 he injures his back while lifting weights and begins keeping a training journal of his methods that after his death would be published as a book called the “Tao of Jeet Kune Do.”

Lee's Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in LA with some famous faces

In 1971 Lee moves to Hong Kong, signs a contract with Raymond Chow, and begins filming his first big movie “The Big Boss.” In 1972 Lee films scenes for “The Game of Death,” the “Chinese Connection,” and “Return of the Dragon.” In 1973 he begins filming “Enter the Dragon” and that year on July 20th he dies.

That is a brief overview of Lee’s life.  The point of going over that is to show that while he might have been a great fighter he didn’t have time to become a true master of the martial arts.  Lee’s time was spent either teaching, running his schools, parenting, cheating on his wife, or working in the TV and movie industry and he didn’t have the time to go to a legitimate master while in the US and learn from him for 10 plus years to learn the higher aspects of the arts.  Sure, he could punch and kick really well but that doesn’t mean he had a master’s grasp on the arts.

The people that knew him say that while fighting Lee really only used a couple techniques and they were all from Wing Chun.  Lee used a “straight blast” (charging forward with rapid vertical punches in your centerline) and classic Wing Chun finger attacks to the eyes and throat.  All these are highly effective during a real violent altercation but don’t show a huge depth of knowledge.  This doesn’t take anything away from Lee (I have a small handful of techniques that I consider my “go to” techniques as well) it is just that it doesn’t add evidence of advanced learnings.

 Lee teaching showing a Wing Chun technique that goes for the eyes

Bruce Lee’s general attitude and behavior were another reason why I never really cared for him.  By all accounts Lee was a cocky egomaniac who loved to cheat on his wife. His first serious girlfriend (who turned him down when he purposed), Amy Sanbo, stated that he cheated on her and she wished Linda (the woman he did marry) luck because she knew he would do the same to her too.  Amy Sanbo went on record calling Lee a “macho pig” on more than one occasion.  Lee did cheat on Linda repeatedly and when he died he was in his mistress’s apartment.

 Lee's mistress in Hong Kong

A good reason why I don’t care for Bruce Lee can be found in the story of his fight with Wong Jack Man in 1965.  Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man (wrongfully portrayed in an upcoming movie called “Birth of the Dragon” as a Shaolin Monk) fought privately with only a handful of witnesses but the accounts by witnesses are very different.

Lee’s camp tells two different versions (which is instantly suspicious), one by Lee on camera during an interview, and the other by Linda who was one of the witnesses.  The basic version is that the Chinese martial arts community was mad at Lee for teaching non-Chinese and challenged him to a fight to settle the matter.  Wong Jack Man, a respected master who taught Taijiquan, Xingyiquan and Northern Shaolin Boxing, was selected to fight Lee and the fight was very one sided.

The version I hear the most is that the fight lasted 2-3 minutes at most and ended up with Lee chasing Wong around and punching him in the back of the head.  Lee’s camp said that right at the beginning of the fight as Lee began to attack Wong jumped back, went on the defensive, and then turned and started to run away. 

They even say his students tried to jump in and stop the fight.  The version Lee told during a taped interview added on that he threw Wong to the ground, got on top of him, held his fist menacingly in his face and made him state that he gave up.  Linda’s version goes further and said that instead of threatening him with his fist Lee pummeled him “into demoralization” and made him say twice that he gave up before he stopped hitting him.

I don’t believe these versions at all, after all either Lee beat him bloody or he didn’t, why the two different versions?   Wong and some of the other witnesses tell a different version that makes more sense but also has some anecdotal evidence to back it up.  Plus Wong was an established and respected master in the community while Lee was still a young upstart trying to build his legend.  There is a monitory interest for Lee and those trying to make money off of his image to tell things a certain way.

Wong’s story is that the fight had nothing to do Lee teaching non-Chinese and the Chinese martial arts community never openly challenged him like Lee claims.  Instead, he says that Lee (remember he was in his 20’s and still immature) was a cocky little shit who ran around talking shit about the Chinese martial arts community and saying that no one could beat him.  Lee openly challenged almost everyone he could find and he quickly gained the anger of the martial arts community. Even people in the Chinese martial arts community that tried to befriend him found it very difficult due to his ego and his constant disrespect of established masters.  In the Chinese culture respect for one’s elders is very important and by all accounts Lee showed very little.

One story is that he challenged a well-known master named T.Y. Wong, or "Professor Wong" as he was known (his full name was Wong Tim Yuen).  Lee had a very successful go of it in Seattle at the time with a very successful school, great reputation, and he has just defeated another popular kung fu expert to further grow his status, however in the summer of 1964 he moved to Oakland, California to further his collaboration with the likeminded James Lee (a former student of T.Y. Wong) and take advantage of San Francisco.  At the time the US had to main centers for marital arts, Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay Area, all the top masters and best fighters (Chinese and non-Chinese) were coming out of these two areas.

 San Francisco's Chinatown around 1950

The heart of the martial arts community in the Bay Area at the time was Chinatown and the martial arts community, and Chinatown as a whole, was regulated by T.Y. Wong and Lau Bun.  T.Y. Wong was a master in Shaolin Kung Fu, who ran the Kin Mon Kung Fu School, and Lau Bun was a master in Choy Li Fut, who ran the Hun Sing Kung Fu School, and they were enforces for the Hop Sing Tong (Chinese Mafia).  It was their job to collect debts, settle disputes, curb drunken behavior at nightclubs, train Tong soldiers, and regulate the community as a whole to minimize police involvement. 



 Master T.Y. Long preforming techniques from Shaolin animal styles

 Fellow master and Tong enforcer Lau Bun with senior students at his school

Both T.Y. Wong and Lau Bun were incredibly skilled and tough as nails, which is why they were recruited by the Tong, and being part of the martial arts community in the Bay Area at the time meant dealing with one or both of these two.  These men took their job seriously and didn’t allow the martial arts community in Chinatown to devolve like it had in Hong Kong where youths were brawling every day and organized fights on rooftops were common.

Lee had a run in with Lau Bun in Chinatown when he first arrived in the US.  Reportedly 18 year old Lee walked into Bun’s Hun Sing School and was acting cocky so Lau Bun threw him out.  This caused a rift between Lee and the martial arts community at the time and shortly after Lee left for Seattle.  When Lee got back to the area in 1964 he found the martial arts community there, and Lau Bun, remembered exactly who he was only now he was a better fighter and a lot more cocky.

The story goes that Lee walks into the Kin Mon School and openly challenged Master T.Y. Wong to a fight but since Wong was a friend of Lee’s father, and being a long time Tong enforcer he had nothing to prove, he didn’t think it was appropriate for them to fight so he declined.  Lee didn’t take “no” for an answer and asked several times.  Finally when Lee got the message and turned to leave Lee suddenly turned back and tried to sucker punch Master T.Y. Wong.  Master Wong slapped Lee across the face, told him to leave, and then walked away.  The students present to this disrespectful act spread the story through the Chinese martial arts community and many people became very angry with Lee about his cocky and disrespectful behavior.

Check out this video to see pictures of T.Y. Wong and a demonstration from one of his students

 Check out this video to learn more about the famous Grandmaster Lau Bun

 When news of this altercation spread throughout the community many local kung fu practitioners wanted to attack Lee out of revenge on behalf of T.Y Wong but he spread the word that Lee was merely “a dissident with bad manners” and this act of charity, most likely out of his friendship with Lee’s father, probably saved Lee’s life.

On an interesting side story that shows how the Chinese martial arts community operates, James Lee, the likeminded Kung Fu practitioner who Lee had left Seattle to collaborate with and authored his book “Chinese Gung Fu: the Philosophical Art of Self-Defense with, was a former student of T.Y. Wong who left on very bad terms.  One unlikely story is that the contentious split was caused over a disagreement about $10.  The version James Lee tells later in his book “Wing Chun Kung Fu” is that one day James Lee was practicing a form in the studio when he noticed T.Y. Wong’s son practicing the same form but it seemed a little different.  He watched the youth practice and he realized the kid was practicing the same form he was but a different version.  The version the kid was doing was much more refined and meaningful and then he realized that Master Wong was teaching others a watered down version of the art and keeping the real version for his own family (a common practice among Chinese masters) and T.Y. Wong’s refusal to teach him the “real” version is why he left and what fueled him to become like Bruce and seek a more meaningful version elsewhere.

James Lee who is credited with introducing Bruce Lee to bodybuilding

About the event James Lee writes in his book, “I realized later that the whole repertoire was just a time-killing tactic to collect a monthly fee. In disgust, I quit practicing this particular sil lum [Shaolin] style.”  The feud between James Lee and T.Y Wong was legendary throughout the martial arts community and was probably one reason Bruce chose to challenge Master Wong.

The book Bruce Lee and James Lee published together, Chinese Gung Fu: the Philosophical Art of Self-Defense,” even had a section on the various styles of Chinese martial arts that seemed like it was a purposeful insult to the entire art of classical Kung Fu.  They showed sections with “slower” styles versus “more effective systems” (Bruce’s system) and in it James Lee, who played the part of the “slower system,” even wore his old uniform from the Kin Mon school.  This was an obvious slap in the face to the Chinese martial arts community and further fueled their contention with him.


Lee would give demonstrations and put out an open challenge saying that no one could defeat him.  In a place with some of the best martial artists in the world this really angered the entire marital arts community, both Chinese and non-Chinese.  Wong Jack Man challenged Lee not because he was teaching non-Chinese but because he was becoming an embarrassment for the Chinese martial arts community and making them look bad in front of the rest of the martial arts world. 

It is said that during demonstrations Bruce wouldn’t just criticize classical martial arts but he would engage it what was described as “heavy handed lectures” describing traditional martial arts as “dry land swimming” and a “classical mess.”  His famous presentation at the Ed Parker Long Beach Tournament is said to have been especially harsh when he got up in front of on an international audience full of well-known masters and their students and started to ridicule their arts, even down to the usefulness of the horse stance, and one witness named Barney Scollan said of Lee’s demonstration, “He just got up there and started trashing people.”

Merely weeks after that demonstration, with the martial arts community still upset over the disrespectful comments made by a man still in his youth who had not even mastered one entire system himself, Lee gave another public comment at the popular Sun Sing Theater in San Fransicso about Lau Bun and T.Y. Wong saying, right in their own backyard, that “these old tigers have no teeth.”  Such a comment about two very well respected masters who, do to their long standing role as Tong enforcers, probably had more fighting experience than he did  was not taken lightly and it became obvious to the entire community that something had to be done about Lee.  It was this public insult that was most likely the final straw that caused Wong Jack Man to take up Lee’s open challenge.

Their fight was scheduled and then rescheduled a few times because Wong Jack Man wanted a civilized fight with rules but Lee wanted it no-holds-barred.  When Lee wouldn’t budge Wong agreed but had no idea what he was getting himself into.  In the accounts from Lee’s camp they state that in the first few moments of the fight Wong jumped back, was put on the defensive, and basically ran away.  Wong himself said that did happen.

Wong Jack Man

The purpose of the fight was for Wong to teach this young upstart a lesson, not to actually kill each other, but he said that when Lee squared off he looked like Lee wanted to seriously injure him.  Master Wong was a very high profile master and defeating him would have been a definite statement to the martial arts world and Lee wanted to beat him so bad that he wanted to treat the contest like a death match.  Even though it was no-holds-barred Wong naturally assumed the contest would be something where afterwards they’d shake hands and go their separate ways, he had no idea what Lee had in mind.

Just as they were squaring off Lee said to Wong, “You’ve been killed by your friend.”  This referred to a close friend of Wong’s that had helped to set up the fight.  This statement greatly troubled Wong who expected a heated but friendly contest.  This statement was the first clue he got that let him know that Lee was out for blood.

The two met surrounded by their witnesses and bowed and just as they were coming in for their customary handshake Lee launched at Wong’s eyes.  Lee’s first move was to suddenly launch a spear hand attack at his eyes, a permanently disfiguring and potentially lethal strike, and Wong was taken by surprise and barely avoided the blow.  During the actual death matches in China the eyes, throat, groin, and knees were primary targets and Wong naturally assumed these targets would be off limits but as Lee charged forwards with a series of attacks directed at his eyes and throat he had no doubt that Lee was actually trying to kill him
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Wong said that he did jump back because Lee’s use of lethal strikes and tenacity took him by surprise and he did go on the defensive and then try to get out of there once he realized that Lee wanted to turn it into a death match.  He states that Lee chased him punching him in the back of the head and then he realized that Lee wasn’t going to quit so he started fighting back.  However, since Wong had no intention of killing Lee, Wong had decided before the match that he wouldn’t use his kicks; Wong was very well known for having very powerful kicks and he felt that using them would be irresponsible so he told his witness beforehand that he wouldn’t use them and he didn’t.

Wong stated that he held back when fighting Lee and didn’t use any lethal techniques while Lee did the opposite continually trying to attack his eyes, throat, and groin. Perhaps if Wong had not held back then maybe he would have beaten Lee.  He did say that a couple of times during the fight he wondered if he was going to be forced to kill Lee in order to survive.

Wong also said his students did try to stop the fight when they saw Lee unleash a flurry of potentially lethal strikes during a non-death match but they were waved off.

Wong states the match lasted for 20 minutes or so (most likely happening in bursts and then backing off to catch their breath) and basically ended in a tie when Lee was too winded to continue.  Lee does state that he was upset with his physical condition and how quickly he got tired during this fight and that was when he decided to kick his physical fitness training into high gear.  After the fight Lee asked that the results of the fight be kept private and Wong agreed.  Shortly after Lee started talking about the fight, just not using Wong’s name, and since everyone in the Chinese martial arts community knew the fight took place they just assumed he was talking about Wong.  With the privacy agreement violated by Lee himself, Wong and his witnesses then came forth with their version but by then Lee’s version was the one people already knew.

Wong’s version of the fight was published in Chinese paper and he included the challenge that if Lee had an issue with his account they could fight again but Lee never commented on the article, Wong’s version, or the second challenge.  With Lee’s ego it would seem to me that if Wong was lying Lee would have made a big public deal about it and not kept silent about it and then left the area.

There are many reasons why I believe Wong’s version of the fight.  First, Lee’s camp said that Lee beat the snot out of Wong and Linda said he struck him in the face several times.  However, eyewitness saw Wong the very next day and the only sign of a fight he had on him was a cut above his eye he sustained from Lee’s first eye jab.  Wong even worked a full shift (he had a day job as a waiter) and was seen by many people.  If Wong had been beaten up he wouldn’t have been able to work a full shift the very next day let alone only have a small mark on him
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David Chin, a witness and respected martial artist, said the fight “went both ways.”  Chin had nothing to gain by slanting his version in either direction so if it was such an easy victory why would Chin state that it was basically a draw?

Also, why would this be that catalyst for Lee to revamp his entire system if he won so easily?  I can see changing a couple of things here and there but to totally revamp your system and go as far as to say that your system “doesn’t work” sounds like he didn’t win at all.

Another issue is who is more credible; would you take the word of an established master who has spent his life perfecting his art and living by the Wu De (martial code) or would you believe a 20 something punk and former gang member who is fighting for publicity and notoriety so he can build his legend and profit from his schools?  Personally I would believe Wong Jack Man long before I’d believe Bruce Lee or those profiting from his image.

If Lee had won would he have closed down his school in the area and then totally changed his style because he thought it was ineffective?  To me those aren’t the actions of a guy who had easily won a match.

All this goes to show Lee’s overall behavior and character and why I just never liked him.  It should be remembered that Lee died at age 32.  If Lee had lived a ripe old life then maybe he would have lived long enough to mature and treat others with respect (including his wife) and he might have become a great master but to me he comes off as a cocky little shit that had OCD like tendencies when it comes to martial arts.  

A lot of people like Bruce Lee because they saw his movies growing up and they were the first of their kind that they saw.  Lee's fans will always have a love born out of nostalgia for his movies but I never had that.  I grew up having seen several Jackie Chan movies and by the time I saw a Bruce Lee movie to me it just wasn’t as good.  Bruce Lee was not a very good actor (something even a lot of his fans admit) and I saw nothing special about any of his fight scenes.  From what I saw his fight scenes consisted of screaming (which I couldn’t stand), basic hand techniques, and high kicks.  As far as I’m concerned you could have taken Lee out of any one of his movies and put in Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, or Jet Li and achieved results just as good, if not better, then you got with Lee’s fight scenes (plus none of that annoying yelling).  

I even went and re-watched some of his big fight scenes on YouTube before writing this just to make sure I still felt that way and I do.  Jet Lee’s “Fist of Legend,” a remake of Lee’s “Chinese Connection,” is vastly superior in both acting as well as the fight scenes.  This leads me to firmly believe nostalgia is one of the big reasons people love him, and that is fine, people can love Lee all day long and I have no problem with that; it is just a love that I don’t share.

While I have no issues with anyone that is a fan of Lee, I find most people that are fans can be put into one of three categories.  The first category is people who actually knew Lee and respected his charisma and talent.  By all account Lee was a brilliant fighter and I won’t even try to take that away from him (he's just not a martial arts master) and people that knew him really did love and respect him.  Since I did not actually know him or anyone that did I would humbly defer to them.  Granted, from what I’ve read, for every person that knew and liked him there were probably an equal number that didn’t due to his arrogant behavior or maybe even jealousy.

The second category is people who have a nostalgic love for his movies because they either saw those in their childhood or at another important time in their life.  The love for his movies runs deep but I also find that most people in this category don’t know that much about him.

The third category is people, often martial artists or, if not practitioners themselves, martial arts enthusiasts, who were told by their instructors or the media that he was “the best” and so they believe but don’t really know a lot about Lee themselves.  I find that this main category, and the one above, gets most of their information about his life from “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” and are unaware that very little of what occurred in that movie actually happened.

While there are people out there who have an encyclopedic knowledge of his life I find most of his fans know very little about him.  This of course doesn’t take anything away from him it is just that I find it disconcerting that most people that I see walking around wearing Bruce Lee tshirts know nearly nothing about the man on their shirt.  I even got in a conversation years back with a guy that told me Lee was “very humble” and he would not have done anything like the disrespectful act of getting into a fight in the street.  It is funny because this couldn’t be more wrong as he fought all the time on the street in Hong Kong as a kid, challenged everyone left and right in America, and even accepted challenges from people on the set of “Enter The Dragon.”
 
I also almost hate to include this but there are several stories of Lee being a recreational drug user.  In fact, when Lee was autopsied he had traces of marijuana in his system.  The reason why I almost didn’t include this is because today the stigma of marijuana is largely gone but back in the 1970’s there was a huge stigma about it in the US, and while the stigma was nowhere near a prevalent in Hong Kong it still existed.  To be fair to Lee, the doctor who performed his autopsy concluded that Lee was most likely chewing the marijuana leaves and not smoking it.  He was suffering from headaches a lot during his later years (probably from all the blows to the heads from fights much like NFL players get) and this was probably how  he treated himself for the pain, and it could even have been prescribed by a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine for all we know.

Lee’s family doctor, Dr. “Don” Langford and neurosurgeon Dr. Peter Wu both saw him when he was hospitalized just two months before his death when he passed out on the set of  “Enter The Dragon.”  Both believed that his use of marijuana lead directly to his death as he may have had an allergic reaction to it or it may have reacted to the painkiller he took just before his death and that reaction may have killed him.  Lee’s preferred method on consuming marijuana was to either chew it or ingest it in cookies or brownies and it would seem that his method of consuming it is more potent (As someone who has not smoked marijuana since their teenage years I honestly don’t know, rather I’m simply inferring based on the doctor's conclusions).

Lee may have also been abusing steroids.  There is only one person making the claim that Lee used steroids and his is a man named Tom Bleeker.  Bleeker was both a private student of Lee, married his wife Linda after his death, and coauthored “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” with Linda.  Bleeker is considered one of the foremost experts on Lee’s life and claims that he did years of research going through court records and interviewing everyone he could find with ties to Lee for his book “Unsettled Matters: The Life and Death of Bruce Lee.”  In his book he writes: "The issue of Lee's steroid use is complex, but the main thing that I wanted to get across was that steroids damaged Bruce physically and emotionally. Like so many other athletes who have used them Bruce paid a heavy price. I know that there will be those who will scream and yell that never in a million years would Bruce use steroids."   He concludes that Lee’s supposed use of steroids led directly to his death.

It should be noted that with all the people that knew Lee this guy is the only one making steroid accusations and by the time he published his book he was divorced from Linda so he could have been a bitter ex-husband.  Plus, having some good “dirt” is one of the best ways to sell a book.  He claimed the reason Lee wore a yellow tracksuit in “Game of Death” is because he stopped using steroids for a time and lost a lot of his muscle.  This doesn’t see to hold water though because here is a picture of Lee on set of that movie doing what appears to be pushups on his thumbs and one of him onset shirtless and he appears as muscular as ever.

A last interesting fact about Lee that I'll give was that in 1963 Lee was almost drafted by the Army but he was deemed unfit for service because he had one undescended testicle and one of his legs was an inch longer than the other.

The last thing I’ll say is that I, of course, don’t know the real truth about Bruce Lee.  He was dead before I was even born so all I have are the accounts of people that did know him.  Every account is biased and has to be taken with a grain of salt; however, enough stories about Lee are similar enough for me to come to this conclusion about him.  Maybe I’m wrong; perhaps he never tried to sucker punch Master T.Y. Wong in his own school, I honestly don’t know.  I just find Wong Jack Man’s and David Chin’s accounts of Bruce Lee more believable than anyone else’s.  



Note:  After publishing this article one thing I would like to amend is my statement about Lee only being able to talk about martial arts and having a singular interest being not healthy.  Looking back at that comment I have remember that Lee was a school owner; as any professional martial artist who runs their own school can tell you it is a lot of work and if you want to make it a success you often end up nearly living at your school, getting their early in the morning and staying until 10 or 11pm.  After a while many instructors find that their dojo has become their life; their job is at their dojo, their friends are all at their dojo, their social life revolves around their dojo and the arts, and their free time is almost nonexistent, at least for the first couple of years while they’re building their student base
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Since a martial arts school is in fact a small business and the owner is often the only employee it requires your full attention and most instructors wind up fairly one dimensional at least for a while.  It happened to me and it happens to most instructors.  I’m not saying it is “right” and I’m not saying it is healthy (it is not) but it is just the way it goes so I honestly can’t claim that is a fault in Lee. 

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