7 things you didn't know about Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee was fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, and included a scene in Fists of Fury where he destroys a park sign that says “No dogs or Chinese allowed.” The depiction of the sign has some historical validity.
Shanghai’s Huangpu Park is the oldest in the city, but from 1890 and 1928 it was close to Chinese people. Photographs taken at the time show a sign with 10 regulations:
1: The Gardens are reserved for the Foreign Community ...
4: Dogs and bicycles are not admitted.
However, while Bruce's father, Lee Hoi-chuen, was Han Chinese, according to Bruce's wife Linda, his mother, Grace Ho, was of half Chinese and half German descent, and Catholic. That is why Bruce Lee attended Catholic secondary school in Hong Kong, and was baptized as a baby. A nurse at Jackson Street Hospital in San Francisco's Chinatown, suggested the name Bruce, but it was not used for many, many years.
The Fraulein with baby Bruce:
When word got out that the only half Chinese Bruce Lee was learning Wing Chun, pressure was put on his teacher Yip Man to stop trainign him. That was just one of a number of times that racism failed to stop Bruce Lee.
BRUCE LEE CARRIED A GUN
His third student in America, Skip Ellsworth, along with LeRoy Garcia, taught Bruce how to shoot pistols, revolvers, rifles, and shotguns. And how to drive.
“I loaned Bruce one of my own guns, a very small ‘antique’ Colt .25 Caliber semi-automatic pistol with black handle-grips,” said Ellsworth. “He carried that piece for at least a couple of years."
Lee’s friend and student Jesse Glover confirms that he was a crack shot. Lee related his belief in handguns during a 1968 interview on on the Pierre Berton Show in 1971.
“Nowadays you don't go around on the street kicking people, punching people,” said Lee. “Because if you do (makes gun shape with hand), well that's it — I don't care how good you are.”
This scene from Enter the Dragon reflects his attitude towards firearms.
Lee purchasing two antique rifles in Rome, where he was filming "Way/Return of the Dragon":
BRUCE LEE GAVE CHUCK NORRIS HIS START, AMONG OTHERS
Bruce got Chuck Norris his first job in the movies. However, it was NOT for the iconic Coliseum scene in Way of the Dragon! Bruce was the stunt coordinator for 1968’s ‘Wrecking Crew’ starring Dean Martin. You can see Chuck in this clip, emoting same as he did.
Chuck Norris was not the only figure Lee worked with who would go on to become stars in their own right, including Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, and Sammo Hung.
In fact, Chan relates that an incident during the filming of Enter of the Dragon was his favorite story of all time.
NAMED ONE OF 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE OF 20TH CENTURY
In 1999, Bruce Lee was named by Time Magazine as one 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, right next to Vladimir Lenin.
Not a good century for the Chinese. After dominating much of the past two millenniums in science and philosophy, they've spent the past 100 years being invaded, split apart and patronizingly lectured by the West. And, let's face it, this communism thing isn't working out either.
But in 1959 a short, skinny, bespectacled 18-year-old kid from Hong Kong traveled to America and declared himself to be John Wayne, James Dean, Charles Atlas and the guy who kicked your butt in junior high. In an America where the Chinese were still stereotyped as meek house servants and railroad workers, Bruce Lee was all steely sinew, threatening stare and cocky, pointed finger--a Clark Kent who didn't need to change outfits. He was the redeemer, not only for the Chinese but for all the geeks and dorks and pimpled teenage masses that washed up at the theaters to see his action movies. He was David, with spin-kicks and flying leaps more captivating than any slingshot.
He is the patron saint of the cult of the body: the almost mystical belief that we have the power to overcome adversity if only we submit to the right combinations of exercise, diet, meditation and weight training; that by force of will, we can sculpt ourselves into demigods.
BRUCE LEE WAS BORN WITH A FEMALE NAME
Bruce Lee was born on the Chinese Year of the Dragon, on the Day of the Dragon, in the hour of the Dragon, was known as the little dragon, and achieved success albeit posthumously for Enter the Dragon. But he was born with a stigma that doesn’t befit an action hero.
At birth, he was given a girl’s name.
His mother Grace gave him the female name Li Jun Fan, in order to ward off the evil spirits, that targeted prized male children. To further trick the evil spirits, she pierced one of his ears.
In another stigma not befitting an action hero, he was also born with an undescended testicle.
BECAME A MARTIAL ARTIST DESPITE HIS LIMITATIONS
Bruce Lee is widely considered to have been the epitome of physical perfection, driving a generation of males to want want to look like him. But he was far from a perfect physical specimen
“I’m going to tell you something very few people know,” he said to Joe Hyams, as related in Knowing Is Not Enough (Fall 2000). “I became a martial artist in spite of my limitations.”
“You probably are not aware of it, but my left leg is almost one inch shorter than the right. That fact dictated the best stance for me – my right foot leading. Then I found because the right leg was longer, I had an advantage with certain types of kicks, since the uneven stomp gave me greater impetus.”
“And I wear contact lenses. Since childhood I have been near-sighted, which meant that when I wasn’t wearing glasses, I had difficulty seeing an opponent when he wasn’t up close. I originally started Wing-Chun because it is an ideal technique for close-in fighting. I accepted my limitations for what they were and capitalized on them. And that’s what you must learn to do. You say you are unable to kick over your head without a long warm-up, but the real question is, is it really necessary to kick that high? The fact is that, until recently, martial artists rarely kicked above knee height. Head-high kicks are mostly for show. So perfect your kicks at waist level and they will be so formidable you’ll never need to kick higher.”
“Instead of trying to do everything well, do those things perfectly of which you are capable. Although most expert martial artists have spent years mastering hundreds of techniques and movements, in a bout, or kumite, a champion may actually use only four or five techniques over and over again. These are the techniques which he has perfected and which he knows he can depend on.”
In fact Bruce failed a basic military physical in 1963 held by the US Army Draft Board, due to his poor eyesight. Lee often wore his old glasses to remind himself of when he was poor and struggling.
Here he is wearing the glasses in Fist of Fury.
BRUCE LEE WAS AFRAID TO SWIM
One of Bruce Lee’s iconic adages explains the need for realism in martial arts training.
“If you want to learn to swim, jump into the water,” he said. “On dry land, no frame of mind is ever going to help you.”
So Bruce practiced hard sparring, highly unconventional at the time, when martial artists believed their strikes were too deadly to try full force.
However, Bruce’s younger brother Robert and sister Phoebe revealed that Bruce actually hated the water, and couldn’t swim.
BRUCE LEE'S FIRST MARTIAL ART WAS TAI CHI
Bruce Lee is one of the most influential martial artists of all time. His films and teaching put a particular emphasis on striking violently. However, his first martial art was the meditative Tai Chi.
He learned it from his father.
Many years later, Lee appeared on a television show, and was challenged by a Tai Chi master to push him out of a theoretically immovable stance.
Lee flattened the master with a blow.
"I don't push," he said. "I punch."