It is difficult to estimate which of Bruce Lee's contribution has been greater, martial arts or the opening of Hollywood to Asian artists. His greatest contribution is much more far reaching. When he arrived and showed the world what he could do, it was an indication of Asian renaissance of sorts. It meant sticking it up to the West, in their home territory. He bearded the lion in its own den.
Bruce Lee was born on November 27, 1940 in San Francisco. The uniqueness of the man begins at his birth because he happens to be one of those rare people who were born in the year of the Dragon and the hour of the Dragon. Prior to his birth, his mother had a miscarriage and his parents did not want to take any chance with Bruce. In order to ward off evil spirits they named him Little Phoenix which was a traditional girl's nickname in China. They went to the extent of enrolling him into a girl's school.
In 1959, Bruce Lee went to Seattle to complete his high school education. He received his diploma from Edison Technical School. He was obsessed with martial arts as a child; he learned it from some of the best practitioners in the world. He would read all the literature that was available. While he was staying in Seattle, Bruce was working part-time at a restaurant. He lived in the attic of the restaurant at night in exchange for his services as a waiter.
Bruce Lee realized that continuing as a waiter by night and student by day would severely limit his martial arts ambitions. He began teaching Kung Fu after he quit his restaurant job. At the age of twenty-two, he wrote a book called Chinese Gung-Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense. This was a first in America and was regarded as a very mature piece of work. Wing Chun was the only martial art Lee formally studied, under the guidance of Yip Man.
Before he could finish his Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy, he married his classmate, Linda Emery in 1964. Shortly afterwards, they moved to California. In 1965, Bruce's son, Brandon, was born. Two years later his daughter Shannon was born.
Bruce Lee modified Wing Chun by mixing it with boxing, and fencing. He called it Jun Fan Gung Fu. He changed its name to Jeet Kune Do. Jeet Kune Do was a further refinement of his style which incorporated elements from many styles to create a more streamlined and practical martial art. It was also an embodiment of ones spiritual and physical growth. Jeet Kune Do has characteristics that are similar to water; it is formless and can mold itself to any standard or shape.
Lee's street tough background and acting experiences as a child helped him become an icon around the globe. His movies, such as 'The Big Boss' and 'Fist of Fury', were a rage all across America. Lee's popularity increased, he began giving demonstrations of his two-finger pushups and his famous 'one inch punch' in parties. Bruce Lee's lean frame gave rise to rumors that he used a machine called a muscle stimulator that made the muscles work against each other.
Bruce Lee died at the age of 33, and there are innumerable controversies that surround his death. A certain school of thought says that Lee was killed by a martial arts practitioner's 'dim mak', i.e., touch of death, because he revealed some ancient martial arts secrets. Some people believe that he was murdered by Hong Kong drug gangs because he did not pay them protection money.
In reality, Bruce Lee died because of cerebral edema or swelling of the brain. He died when he passed out while he was meeting Betty Lie to discuss the movie Game of Death. She summoned her personal physician who failed to revive him. He was rushed to the hospital where he was declared dead on arrival.
Bruce's physician had detected traces of hashish in his body in the past. Bruce Lee had the habit of chewing hashish to quell the nervousness that would build inside, because of his fans' rising expectations. It is a situation that is common to Asian men who chew hashish.
The funeral was held on July 25th, 1973. More than 25,000 fans were part of his funeral procession. Bruce was dressed in the Chinese outfit he wore in Enter the Dragon. He died days before the movie was released. The producers delayed the release of the movie by four days. Enter the Dragon was the hit of the year, the biggest hit of Bruce Lee's career.
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."