Bruce Jun Fan Lee was born in the hour of
the Dragon, between 6 and 8 a.m., in the year of the Dragon on November 27,
1940 at the Jackson Street Hospital in San Franciscos Chinatown.
Today, a plaque in the hospital's entry commemorates the place of his birth.
Bruce™s birth, in the hour and the year of the Dragon, is a powerful symbol in
It would be a strong omen of the powerful life that was to be lived by Bruce Lee
and the explosive impact his life would have on countless others.
Bruce was the fourth child born to Lee Hoi Chuen and his wife Grace Ho. He had
two older sisters, Phoebe and Agnes, an older brother, Peter, and a younger
brother, Robert. Lee Hoi Chuen was, by profession, a comedian in the Chinese
opera and an actor in Cantonese films.
At the time Bruce was born, Mr. and Mrs. Lee were on tour with the opera
company in the United States. Thus, it was fortuitous for Bruce's future that his
birth took place in America, as he would return 18 years later to claim his
birthright of American citizenship.
Bruce's parents gave him the name Jun Fan. Since it is Chinese custom to put
the surname first, Bruce's full name is written Lee Jun Fan. The true meaning of
Jun Fan deserves an explanation as it, too, would foretell the journey of the
newly born Lee son. Literally, JUN means to arouse to the active state or make
It was a common middle name used by Hong Kong Chinese boys in
those days, understandably because China and the Chinese people were very
vulnerable at that time, and everyone, including Bruce™s parents, wanted the
"sleeping lion of the East" to wake up. The FAN syllable refers to the Chinese
name for San Francisco, but its true meaning is "fence of a garden" or
"bordering subordinate countries of a big country."
During the period of the Ching Dynasty (1644-1911), many Chinese immigrated
to Hawaii and San Francisco as laborers, and the implication became that the
United States was FAN of the Great Ching Empire.
Thus the true meaning of Bruce's name--JUN FAN--was "to arouse and make
FAN (the United States) prosperous." The gut feeling of many Chinese at that
time, who felt suppressed by and inferior to foreign powers, was that they
wished to outshine the more superior countries and regain the Golden Age of
China. Bruce's parents wanted Bruce to have his name shine and shake the
foreign countries, which he certainly succeeded in doing.
The English name, BRUCE, was given to the baby boy by a nurse in the Jackson
Street Hospital although he was never to use this name until he entered
secondary school and began his study of the English language. The story goes
that on the first day of English class, the students were asked to write down
their English names, and Bruce, not knowing his name, copied the name of the
student next to him.
His family almost never used the name Bruce, especially in his growing up years
when his nickname in the family was "SAI FON," which literally means Little
Peacock. This is a girl's nickname, but in being applied to Bruce, it had a serious
purpose. The first-born child of Mr. and Mrs. Lee had been a boy who did not
survive infancy. Their belief was that if the gods did not favor the birth of a
male child, the babe might be taken away. Thus, the name, Little Peacock, was
used as a ruse to fool the gods into thinking that Bruce was a girl. It was a term
of great affection within the family circle.
At the age of three months, Lee Hoi Chuen, his wife Grace and baby Bruce
returned to Hong Kong where Bruce would be raised until the age of 18.
Probably because of the long ocean voyage and the change in climates, Bruce
was not a strong child in his very early years, a condition that would change
when he took up the study of gung fu at the age of 13. (Bruce always spelled his
Chinese martial art as GUNG FU, which is the Cantonese pronunciation of the
more commonly spelled Kung Fu, a Mandarin pronunciation.) Bruce's most
prominent memory of his early years was the occupation of Hong Kong by the
Japanese during the World War II years (1941-1945).
The residence of the Lee family was a flat at 218 Nathan Road in Kowloon
directly across the street from the military encampment of the Japanese. Bruce's
mother often told the story of young Bruce, less than 5 years old, leaning
precariously off the balcony of their home raising his fist to the Japanese Zeros
Another nickname the family often applied to Bruce was "Mo Si Ting" which
means "never sits still" and aptly described his personality.
The Japanese occupation was Bruce's first prescient memory, but Hong Kong had
been a British Crown Colony since the late 1800's. The English returned to
power at the end of the war. It is not hard to see why young Bruce would have
rebellious feelings toward foreign usurpation of his homeland. In his teenage
years Bruce was exposed to the common practice of unfriendly taunting by
English school boys who appeared to feel superior to the Chinese. It is not
surprising that Bruce and his friends retaliated by returning the taunts and
sometimes getting into fights with the English boys. This atmosphere laid the
background for Bruce to begin his study of martial arts.
At the age of 13, Bruce was introduced to Master Yip Man, a teacher of the Wing
Chun style of gung fu. For five years Bruce studied diligently and became very
proficient. He greatly revered Yip Man as a master teacher and wise man and
frequently visited with him in later years. When he first took up gung fu, he
used his new skills to pummel his adversaries, but it did not take long for Bruce
to learn that the real value of martial arts training is that the skills of physical
combat instill confidence to the point that one does not feel the constant need
to defend one's honor through fighting.
In high school, Bruce, now no longer a weak child, was beginning to hone his
body through hard training.
One of his accomplishments was winning an interschool Boxing Championship
against an English student in which the Marquis of Queensbury rules were
followed and no kicking was allowed. Given the graceful movements, which
would later be spectacularly displayed in his films, it is no surprise that Bruce
was also a terrific dancer, and in 1958 he won the Hong Kong Cha Cha
He studied dancing as assiduously as he did gung fu, keeping a notebook in
which he had noted 108 different cha cha steps. It is easy to see that Bruce
possessed the traits of self-discipline and hard work which would later hold him
in good stead, even though at this stage he was not among the best academic
students in the class.
In addition to his studies, gung fu and dancing, Bruce had another side interest
during his school years. He was a child actor under the tutelage of his father
who must have known from an early age that Bruce had a streak of
Bruce's very first role was as a babe in arms as he was carried onto the stage. By
the time he was 18, he had appeared in 20 films. In those days movie making
was not particularly glamorous or remunerative in Hong Kong, but Bruce loved
His mother often told stories of how Bruce was impossible to wake up to go to
school, but just a tap on the shoulder at midnight would rouse him from his bed
to go to the film studio. Movies were most often made at night in Hong Kong in
order to minimize the sounds of the city. (See Filmography) At the age of 18,
Bruce was looking for new vistas in his life, as were his parents who were
discouraged that Bruce had not made more progress academically. It was
common practice for high school graduates to go overseas to attend colleges,
but that required excellent grades.
Bruce™ brother and sister had come to the United States on student visas for
their higher education. Although Bruce had not formally graduated from high
school, and was more interested in gung fu, dancing and acting, his family
decided that it was time for him to return to the land of his birth and find his
In April of 1959, with $100 in his pocket, Bruce boarded a steamship in the
American Presidents Line and began his voyage to San Francisco. His passage
was in the lower decks of the ship, but it did™ take long for Bruce to be invited
up to the first class accommodations to teach the passengers the cha cha.
Landing in San Francisco, Bruce was armed with the knowledge that his dancing
abilities might provide him a living, so his first job was as a dance instructor.
One of his first students was Bob Lee, brother of James Y. Lee, who would
become Bruce™s great friend, colleague in the martial arts, and eventually
partner and Assistant Instructor of the Oakland Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute.
Bruce did not stay long in San Francisco, but traveled to Seattle where a family
friend, Ruby Chow, had a restaurant and had promised Bruce a job and living
quarters above the restaurant. By now Bruce had left his acting and dancing
passions behind and was intent on furthering his education.
He enrolled at Edison Technical School where he fulfilled the requirements for
the equivalent of high school graduation and then enrolled at the University of
Washington. Typical of his personality traits, he attacked learning colloquial
English as he had his martial arts training. Not content to speak like a
foreigner, he applied himself to learning idiosyncrasies of speech.
His library contained numerous books, underlined and dog-eared on common
English idiomatic phrases.
Although he never quite lost the hint of an English accent when speaking, his
ability to turn a phrase or â€œbe cool was amazing for one who did not speak a
word of the language until the age of 12. Bruce™ written English skills
exceeded his spoken language abilities at first because he had been well
tutored in the King™ proper English prose in Hong Kong. When his wife-to-be
met him at the University of Washington, he easily edited her English papers for
correct grammar and syntax.
At the university, Bruce majored in philosophy. His passion for gung fu inspired
a desire to delve into the philosophical underpinnings of the arts. Many of his
written essays during those years would relate philosophical principles to
certain martial arts techniques.
For instance, he wrote often about the principles of yin and yang and how they
could translate into hard and soft physical movements. In this way he was
completing his education as a true martial artist in the time-honored Chinese
sense of one whose knowledge encompasses the physical, mental and spiritual
aspects of the arts.
In the three years that Bruce studied at the university, he supported himself by
teaching gung fu, having by this time given up working in the restaurant,
stuffing newspapers or various other odd jobs. He and a few of his new friends
would meet in parking lots, garages or any open space and play around with
gung fu techniques.
In the late 50™ and early 60™, gung fu was an unknown term; in fact, the only
physical art that might be listed in the yellow pages was Judo.
Even the name karate was not a familiar term. The small group of friends was
intrigued by this art called gung fu. One of the first students in this group was
Jesse Glover who continues to teach some of Bruce™ early techniques to this
day. It was during this period that Bruce and Taky Kimura became friends.
Not only would Taky become Bruce™ gung fu student and the first Assistant
Instructor he ever had, but the friendship forged between the two men was a
source of love and strength for both of them. Taky Kimura has continued to be
Bruce™ staunch supporter, devoting endless hours to preserving his art and
philosophy throughout the 30 years since Bruce™ passing.
The small circle of friends that Bruce had made encouraged him to open a real
school of gung fu and charge a nominal sum for teaching in order to support
himself while attending school.
Renting a small basement room with a half door entry from 8th Street in
Seattle™ Chinatown, Bruce decided to call his school the Jun Fan Gung Fu
Institute. In 1963, having established a dedicated group of students and having
given numerous demonstrations at the university, Bruce thought he might
attract more students by opening a larger school at 4750 University Way where
he also lived in a small room in the back of the kwoon.
One of his students in 1963 was a freshman at the University of Washington,
Linda Emery. Linda knew who Bruce was from his guest lectures in Chinese
philosophy at Garfield High School, and in the summer after graduating, at the
urging of her Chinese girlfriend, SueAnn Kay, Linda started taking gung fu
lessons. It was™ long before the instructor became more interesting than the
lessons. Bruce and Linda were married in 1964. By this time, Bruce had decided
to make a career out of teaching gung fu. His plan involved opening a number
of schools around the country and training assistant instructors to teach in his
Leaving his Seattle school in the hands of Taky Kimura, Bruce and Linda moved
to Oakland where Bruce opened his second school with JamesLee.
The two men had formed a friendship over the years with each traveling
frequently between Seattle and Oakland. James was a gung fu man from way
back, but when he saw Bruce™ stuff he was so impressed that he wanted to join
with him in starting a school. Thus the second branch of the Jun Fan Gung Fu
Institute was founded.
Having now been in the United States for five years, Bruce had left behind any
thought of acting as a career, and devoted himself completely to his choice of
martial arts as a profession.
Up to this time Bruceâ€™s gung fuÂ consisted mostly of wing chun
techniques and theory he had learned from Yip Man. Gradually though, because
of his burgeoning interest in the philosophy of martial arts and his desire for
self improvement, he was expanding his repertoire.
A particular incident accelerated his process of self-exploration. In 1964 Bruce
was challenged by some gung fu men from San Francisco who objected to his
teaching of non-Chinese students. Bruce accepted the challenge and the men
arrived at the kwoon in Oakland on the appointed day for the face off. The
terms were that if Bruce were defeated he would stop teaching the non
It was a short fight with the gung fu man from The City giving up when Bruce
had him pinned to the floor after about three minutes.
The significance of this fight was that Bruce was extremely disappointed in his
own performance. Even though he had won, he was winded and discouraged
about his inability to put the man away in under three minutes.
This marked a turning point for Bruce in his exploration of his martial art and
the enhancement of his physical fitness.
Thus began the evolution of Jeet Kune Do.
Just as Bruce was cementing his plans to expand his martial arts schools, fate
stepped in to move his life in another direction.
In the preceding years Bruce had made the acquaintance of Ed Parker, widely
regarded as the father of American Kenpo. In August of 1964, Ed invited Bruce
to Long Beach, CA to give a demonstration at his First International Karate
Tournament. Bruce™ exhibition was spectacular.
He used Taky as his partner and demonstrated his blindfolded chi sao
At one point he used a member of the audience to show the power of his one-
inch punch. Such was Bruce™ charisma that he spoke conversationally, injecting
humor into his
comments while at the same time emphatically demonstrating his power,
precision and speed.
A member of the audience was Jay Sebring, a well-known hair stylist to the
stars. As fate would have it, the following week, Jay was styling the hair of
William Dozier, an established producer.
Mr. Dozier mentioned to Jay that he was looking for an actor to play the part of
Charlie Chan™ son in a series to be entitled, Number OneSon.
Jay told the producer about having seen this spectacular young Chinese man
giving a gung fu demonstration just a few nights before.
Mr. Dozier obtained a copy of the film that was taken at Ed Parker™ tournament.
The next week he called Bruce at home in Oakland and invited him to come to
Los Angeles for a screen test.
Bruce™ screen test was impressive, but in the meantime plans for Number One
Son had been scuttled.
Mr. Dozier was now immersed in the production of the Batman TV series, but
still he wanted to hang onto Bruce.
The plan was that if Batman was successful for more than one season, then
Dozier wanted to capitalize on the popularity of another comic book character,
The Green Hornet with Bruce playing the part of Kato.
To keep Bruce from signing with someone else, Mr. Dozier paid him an $1,800
option for one year.
About this time things were changing in Bruce™ personal life as well. His own
number one son, Brandon Bruce Lee, was born February 1, 1965.
One week later Bruce™ father, Lee Hoi Chuen, died in Hong Kong. Bruce was
pleased that his father had known about the birth of the first grandchild in the
Given these events and the arrival of the lump sum option money, Bruce
decided it was time to make a trip to Hong Kong to visit his mother and
introduce the family to both Linda and Brandon. They stayed in the family flat on
Nathan Road for four months.
While there Bruce was able to play gung fu with Master Yip Man and the
students of the wing chun
Upon leaving Hong Kong, Bruce and his family traveled to Seattle where they
stayed with Lindaâ€™s family for another four months. During this time Bruce
spent a great deal of time with Taky and the students at the Seattle school.
After Seattle, the family moved back to James Lee™ house in Oakland for several
months before making the move to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, he got better
acquainted with Dan Inosanto whom he had known through Ed Parker.
It was not long before Bruce opened his third gung fu school with Dan as his
assistant instructor During this entire year of traveling and working closely with
his best gung fu colleagues, Bruce was going through a period of intense self-
exploration. Bruce was always a goal setter.
However, he was never obstinate about his goals and if the wind changed, he
could steer his life on a different course.
He was in a period of transition at this time, deciding whether to make acting
his career or continue on the path of opening nationwide schools of gung fu.
His decision was to focus on acting and see if he could turn it into a productive
career. He often said his passion was pursuit of the martial arts, but his career
choice was filmmaking.
The chief reason that Bruce turned his attention to acting was that he had lost
interest in spreading his way of martial arts in a wide scale manner. He had
begun to see that if his schools became more numerous, he would lose control
of the quality of the teaching. Bruce loved to teach gung fu, and he loved his
Countless hours were spent in his backyard or in the kwoon, one on one with
They were like members of the family.
His love for his martial arts was not something he wanted to turn into a
In 1966, production started on The Green Hornet.
The filming lasted for six months, the series for one season, and that was the
end of it.
Bruce™ take home pay was $313 a week, which seemed like a lot of money at
the time. When they first started filming, the cameras were not able to record
the fight scenes clearly because of Bruce™ speed.
They asked him to slow down to capture the action. Bruceâ€™s gung fu moves
thrilled audiences, and the series became a sought-after collector item in later
years. Bruce maintained a friendship with Van Williams who played the part of
The years between 1967 and 1971 were lean years for the Lee family. Bruce
worked hard at furthering his acting career and did get some roles in a few TV
series and films. (See Filmography) To support the family, Bruce taught private
lessons in Jeet Kune Do, often to people in the entertainment industry.
Some of his clients included Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Stirling Silliphant,
Sy Weintraub, Ted Ashley, Joe Hyams, James Garner and others.
A great blessing was the arrival of a daughter, Shannon Emery Lee, on April 19,
1969. She brought great joy into the Lee household and soon had her daddy
around her little finger.
During this time Bruce continued the process he had started in Oakland in 1964,
the evolution of his way of martial arts, which he called Jeet Kune Do,
The Way of The Intercepting Fist. He read and wrote extensively his thoughts
about physical combat, the psychology of fighting, the philosophical roots of
martial arts, and about motivation, self-actualization and liberation of the
individual. Thanks to this period in his life, which was at times frustrating, we
know more about the mind of Bruce Lee through his writings.
Bruce was devoted to physical culture and trained devotedly. In addition to
actual sparring with his students, he believed in strenuous aerobic workouts
and weight training. His abdominal and forearm workouts were particularly
There was rarely a time when Bruce was doing nothingâ€”in fact, he was often
seen reading a book, doing forearm curls and watching a boxing film at the
He also paid strict attention to his food consumption and took vitamins and
Chinese herbs at times. It was actually his zealousness that led to an injury that
was to become a chronic source of pain for the rest of his life.
On a day in 1970, without warming up,something he always did, Bruce picked up
a 125-pound barbell and did a good morning exercise.
That consists of resting the barbell on one™ shoulders and bending straight
over at the waist. After much pain and many tests, it was determined that he
had sustained an injury to the fourth sacral nerve.
He was ordered to complete bed rest and told that undoubtedly he would never
do gung fu again.
For the next six months, Bruce stayed in bed. It was an extremely frustrating,
depressing and painful time, and a time to redefine goals.
It was also during this time that he did a great deal of the writing that has been
After several months, Bruce instituted his own recovery program and began
walking, gingerly at first, and gradually built up his strength. He was
determined that he would do his beloved gung fu again.
As can be seen by his later films, he did recover full use of his body, but he
constantly had to take measures like icing, massage and rest to take care of his
Bruce was always imagining story ideas. One of the projects he had been
working on was the idea of a television series set in the Old West, featuring an
Eastern monk who roamed the countryside solving problems.
He pitched the idea at Warner Bros. and it was enthusiastically received.
The producers talked at great length to Bruce about the proposed series always
with the intent that Bruce would play the role of the Eastern wise man. In the
end, the role was not offered to Bruce; instead it went to David Carradine.
The series was Kung Fu. The studio claimed that a Chinese man was not a
bankable star at that time. Hugely disappointed, Bruce sought other ways to
break down the studio doors.
Along with two of his students, Stirling Silliphant, the famed writer, and actor,
James Coburn, Bruce collaborated on a script for which he wrote the original
story line. The three of them met weekly to refine the script. It was to be called
The Silent Flute.
Again, Warner Bros. was interested and sent the three to India to look for
Unfortunately the right locations could not be found, the studio backed off, and
the project was put on the back burner.
Thwarted again in his effort to make a go of his acting career, Bruce devised a
new approach to his goal.
In 1970, when Bruce was getting his strength back from his back injury, he took
a trip to Hong Kong with son Brandon, age five. He was surprised when he was
greeted as Kato, the local boy who had been on American TV.
He was asked to appear on TV talk shows. He was not aware that Hong Kong film
producers were viewing him with interest. In 1971, about the time that The
Silent Flu failed to materialize, Hong Kong producer Raymond Chow contacted
Bruce to interest him in doing two films for Golden Harvest.
Bruce decided to do it, reasoning that if he could™ enter the front door of the
American studios, he would go to Hong Kong, establish himself there and come
back in through the side door.
In the summer of 1971, Bruce left Los Angeles to fly to Hong Kong, then on to
Thailand for the making of The Big Boss,later called â€œFists of Fury.
Between Hong Kong and Thailand, producer Run Run Shaw attempted to
intercede and woo Bruce away from Golden Harvest. But Bruce had signed a deal
so he stayed with Raymond Chow.
Bruce™ family did not accompany him on this trip because the village where the
film was made was not suitable for small children.
It was also felt that if this film was not a hit, Bruce might be back in L.A. sooner
Although the working conditions were difficult, and the production quality
substandard to what Bruce was accustomed, The Big Boss was a huge success.
The premier took place at midnight, as was Hong Kong custom. Chinese
audiences are infamous for expressing their emotions during films both
positive and negative.
The entire cast and production team were very nervous, no one more so than
Bruce. At the end of the showing, the entire audience was silent for a moment,
then erupted in cheers and hailed their new hero who was viewing from the
back of the theater.
In September of 1971, with filming set to commence on the second of the
contractual films, Bruce moved his family over to Hong Kong and prepared to
sell their Los Angeles home. Fist of Fury, also called Chinese Connection was an
even bigger success than the first film breaking all-time box office records.
Now that Bruce
had completed his contract with Golden Harvest, and had become a bankable
commodity, he could begin to have more input into the quality of his films. For
the third film, he formed a partnership with Raymond Chow, called bruce lee
Concord Productions. Not only did Bruce write The Way of the Dragon, also
called Return of the Dragon, but he directed and produced it as well. Once
again, the film broke records and now, Hollywood was listening.
In the fall of 1972, Bruce began filming â€œThe Game of Death, a story he once
again envisioned. The filming was interrupted by the culmination of a deal with
Warner Bros. to make the first ever Hong Kong-American coproduction. The deal
was facilitated mainly by Bruce™ personal relationship with Warner Bros.
president, Ted Ashley and by Bruce™ successes in Hong Kong. It was an exciting
moment and a turning point in Hong Kong™ film industry.
The Game of Death was put on hold to make way for the filming of â€œEnter the
Filming â€œEnter the Dragonâ€ was not an easy undertaking. The American cast
and crew and their Chinese counterparts experienced language problems and
production difficulties. It was a stressful time for Bruce too as he wanted the
film to be especially good and well accepted by Western audiences.
â€œEnter the Dragonâ€ was due to premier at Hollywoodâ€™s Chinese theater
in August of 1973. Unfortunately, Bruce would not live to see the opening of his
film, nor would he experience the accumulated success of more than thirty
years of all his filmsâ€™ popularity.
On July 20, 1973, Bruce had a minor headache. He was offered a prescription
painkiller called Equagesic.
After taking the pill, he went to lie down and lapsed into a coma. He was unable
to be revived. Extensive forensic pathology was done to determine the cause of
his death, which was not immediately apparent. A nine-day coroner™ inquest
was held with testimony given by renowned pathologists flown in from around
The determination was that Bruce had a hypersensitive reaction to an ingredient
in the pain medication that caused a swelling of the fluid on the brain, resulting
in a coma and death.
The world lost a brilliant star and an evolved human being that day. His spirit
remains an inspiration to untold numbers of people around the world.
Grandmaster Of Jeet Kune Do
Grandmaster Dan Inosanto
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International Master Founder
Sifu / Guro J.Moya
President & Instructor
Sifu / Guro Simo Yohanna Alonso