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Bruce: Undefeated 35 Years Later

International Examiner, News feature, Diem Ly Posted: Jul 27, 2008


He was convinced of his place in the world, yet broke down barriers and forced his way into history. He was arrogant but tirelessly improved on his skills. Bruce Lee may have been a complex figure, but his massive iconic status has not dimmed nor has it wavered in its significance to Asian Americans today. For some, Bruce Lee is a deeply important character to learn from. For others, hes the hero they most identified with and one of the coolest Asian Americans ever. No matter what your reverence of him, Bruce Lee is etched in history and lives on as a measure of what each of us are capable of achieving.

Few believe in Bruce Lees legendary status more than a Seattle man who shares the martial artists surname: Perry Lee (no relation to Bruce Lee). Perry boasts one of the largest collections of Bruce Lee memorabilia in the world. And soon, hell share it in an unprecedented Seattle event. The Bruce Lee Foundation, founded by Bruce Lees widow, Linda Lee and his daughter Shannon Lee, is sponsoring an event commemorating the 35th anniversary of Bruce Lees landmark film Enter the Dragon (1973) and honor his passing the same year. The Foundation along with Perry, are working together to organize the July 18-20 event. Organizers are planning Bruce Lee film screenings, exhibitions, and martial arts demonstrations by Lees former students. Perry says the Foundation will announce the launch and location of an official Bruce Lee Museum, expected to be in Seattle. The Foundation is also collaborating on an international scale with China, which idolizes the martial artist, to build the first Bruce Lee amusement park in China and preserve the icons final home in Hong Kong into a museum and memorial to the star.

The events aim is to preserve Lees legacy and inspire others through his short, but remarkable life.
Bruce Lee was one of those rare individuals, says Perry Lee in an interview with the IE. A combination of intellect, foresight, incredible physical attributes, and artist ability. People like that come every 10,000 years. He was a real innovator.

Many know the Bruce Lee saga. For those who dont, and there arent many of you, heres your Bruce Lee 101.
Bruce Lee was born Jun Fan on Nov. 27, 1940, in San Francisco, CA. The man history would later call The Dragon, was born in the year and hour of the dragon, an auspicious sign for the baby boy. A few months later the family returned to Hong Kong.

The soon-to-be martial art star began kung fu lessons at age 13. Its widely known Bruce Lee spent his teen years in a gang, fighting Hong Kong street thugs. By the age of 18, his parents decided to send the troublemaker to America to stay with a Seattle family friend, Ruby Chow. Chow would later become a well-known and controversial Asian American figure. In the meantime, she owned a restaurant in Seattles Chinatown and hired Bruce as a busboy. He stayed in a small living space above the restaurant and started his new life with $100 in his pocket.

Bruce practiced his philosophy of martial art style anywhere he could clear a space. He practiced at HoHo Restaurant, in the basement of the Four Seas Restaurant, and opened a king fu studio on University Way in the UW district. At the studio, Lee taught anyone willing to learn, even non-Asiansa sour point for many community members at the time.
Lee later married one of his students, Linda Emery, and moved to Oakland, California, where a larger martial arts community thrived. He opened another studio and founded his marital art form Jeet June Do. It was in California Lee sought to make his dreams come true and become the first Asian superstar. Hed solidify his goal in a 1969 affirmation statement promising himself he will be the first highest paid Oriental super star in the United States, Lee wrote. I will achieve world fame I will live the way I please and achieve inner harmony and happiness.

But before stardom, someone would have to discover him.

In a 1964 demonstration in Long Beach, California, Lee captured the attention of a Hollywood insider who raved about Lees performance to television producer William Dozier who was seeking an Asian actor for a new series, Number One Son. Executives dropped the series, but casting directors approached Lee to fill the role of the sidekick Kato for a new television series, The Green Hornet. Kato stole the show and Lee was a hit. American audiences were blown away by the never-before seen fighting style. Viewers in Hong Kong loved the show and Lee began his rise on two continents. But, Bruce Lee wanted a say in his work and suggested ideas for new shows to studio executives. One idea revolved around a Shaolin priest who resolved issues without a gun. Executives liked the concept, but eventually gave the leading role to Caucasian actor David Carradine.

Outraged but focused, Lee pushed on. The success of The Green Hornet opened the door to his now legendary film roles in Fists of Fury (1971), The Chinese Connection (1972), Return of the Dragon (1972), Enter the Dragon (1973), and a film released post-mortem, Game of Death (1978).

Bruce Lee fulfilled the destiny he prophesized years earlier and entered into the realm of superstardom. He died on July 20, 1973 under circumstances still under controversy.
When asked what set Bruce Lee apart from other successful Asian Americans throughout history, Perry says Lees X-factor was his image and drive. He says, with all due respect, 1960s Seattle politician Wing Luke (and namesake for the Seattle Asian museum) never look so cool changing the face of the Asian American identity.

Bruce knew how to style. He was that image of cool when no one knew Asians could be, says Perry. Our image of Asians at the time was Hop Sing (the Chinese cook on the television show Bonanza). Bruce hated that. He said he didnt want to wear a pigtail.

Lees other undeniable and unquenchable trait was his drive.
He was fanatical about being the best, says Perry. [Others] might have the skills, but not the hunger He was driven by an incredible intensity to succeed.

Even as a teen on the streets of Seattles Chinatown/ID, Bruce Lee knew he was a leader, an innovator, and a pioneer. But, often, that confidence grated on some peoples nerves who preferred humility and deference of character.

He didnt have a lot of money, but he was arrogant, describes Perry. He was 18 or 19 when he was telling the older people they were doing things wrong [in martial arts]. You just didnt do that, you know.

Lee was known as a practical joker, a flirt, a flashy dresser, and a Cha Cha dancing champion. But the martial artist never wavered in his intense desire for greatness.

He had an incredible ability to focus, says Perry. He never wasted a minute. While he was talking to you, hed be stretching his legs against a wall and curling his arms with a barbell. Perry said in one instance, on a flight with James Coburn, a film industry colleague and fellow marital arts trainer, Lee whipped out a small bean bag and proceeded to chop it repeatedlyeven while talking to Coburn.

Perry says Lee wrote down goals and kept meticulous records of his training. Even while recovering from an injury that partially paralyzed his back and doctors said he may never practice martial arts again, Lee still worked out, recorded his reps, and made more goals.

As both an American-born Chinese and one who grew up in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee was in a unique position for success in the film industry.

Bruce Lee was able to bridge the East and Western culture, says Perry. He understood what [American] people wanted.
Few people know the uniquely Asian icon carried Caucasian blood.
Through his grandmothers marriage to a German man, Bruce is a quarter Caucasian.

But, it was not only his connection or savvy of American audiences that earned Bruce Lee success. Its said, behind every great man, is a great

Linda was a part of that success, says Perry. She was Caucasian, but she had some Asian characteristics. She stood by him. A Chinese wife wouldnt have put up with him. They wouldve expected him to go out and get a real job and quit this crazy business to become a movie star.

Out of what seems like a fearless existence, did Bruce Lee fear anything? Yes, himself, Perry says. He remembers Lees fear of facing an opponent like himselfbut better.

Bruce was always worried that a bigger or faster version of himself would fight him. You know, he. wasnt that tall or big. In another conversation with Perry, he says, Bruce knew he wasnt Superman. Bruce Lee used to say that if he was walking down a dark alley and someone jumped him, Youd get to me. The difference with Bruce Leewhat he did worked. He backed up his words with action and success. And if success didnt come as he expected, hed work harder and force it to come to him.

But, why would a character so inspiring and resilient, not elicit others to emerge as great or greater today in terms of martial arts or Asian American superstardom?

The conditions were ripe for Bruce, says Perry. For there to be another Bruce Lee, you have to be hungry. He had an intense drive to succeed. Nowadays, people are packing [carrying guns]. Back then, you fought as gentlemen with your fists.

Perry believes theres a decline in Bruce Lees popularity among youth today. He suggests this is due to many factors. More Asian role models exist today than they did in the 60s and 70s, Perry explains. Also, mounting materialism among API youth focus attention on material success rather than inspiration. And, he says, the honor to learn the art of fighting has diminished as people take up guns and fight from a distance. He says the appreciation for what Bruce Lee achieved as a martial artist and Asian American has lost some of its poignancy.

If you like baseballyou got Ichiro, says Perry. If you like basketballyou got Yao Ming. Nowadays, its not to be like Bruce, but to be financially secure. But what Perry fears most is losing Bruce Lees legacy, his message, and his teachings.

He was more than a martial artist. He was an innovator. So now people are forgetting what he had to do to blaze a trail, says Perry.

The founder of Jeet Kune Do, the actor of films breaking the racial barrier, and the personality that drove the man to greatness, was first and foremost a man. And that may be why we find him so fascinating. We see ourselves in his drive to make something out of nothing and in a remarkable characterwhat were capable of achieving. Bruce Lee would have been 68 years old this year.

To hell with circumstancesI make opportunities. The Dragon.

The Bruce Lee Foundation 35th Anniversary Celebration at the Seattle Museum of Art is from July 18-20, 2008. The event includes an exclusive Friday preview night, a tour of the Bruce Lee exhibit with Linda and Shannon Lee, martial arts seminars and demonstrations, and discussion with JKD instructors. A public screening for Enter the Dragon will be Saturday night for $10/per person. On Sunday, a cemetery memorial will be held ($20) while organizers will serve a celebration luncheon at the New Hong Kong Restaurant ($50). An inclusive package for all events is $285.00 To register for the event, please contact the Bruce Lee Foundation at info@bruceleefoundation.org.


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