Lee's father, Lee Hoi-chuen was Chinese and his mother was half Chinese, half American. They were on tour in the United States performing "The Drunken Princess" in San Fransisco when Bruce was born.
The English name "Bruce" was given by the attending physician at the Chinese Hospital where he was born.
Lee's mother, Grace Ho, was from one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Hong Kong, the Ho-tungs. Because of her superstitious nature, she originally named her son Sai-fan, a feminine name meaning "small phoenix."
Bruce Lee & His Parents
Gang violence was a big contributor to Bruce Lee's troubles as a child, and after being involved in several street fights, Lee's parents decided he needed martial arts training.
In 1964, at the age of 13, Lee started training in Wing Chun under legendary teacher, Ip Man.
Wing Chun is a Chinese martial art form that uses both striking and grappling while specializing in close-range combat. It is often referred to as the "Snake-Crane" style.
The earliest mentions of Wing Chun date back to the period of Red Boat Opera. The word means "eternal springtime."
No one knows who Wing Chun's creator was exactly, but the common legend is that it was created by a woman, Yim Wing-Chun, in order to ward off a local warlord's marriage proposal.
According to the story told by Ip Man, Yim Wing-Chun told the warlord that she would consider his marriage proposal if he beat her in a martial arts match.
In preparation for the fight, Wing Chun asked a Buddhist nun to teach her how to box. The nun, Ng Mui taught Wing Chun a style of combat inspired by Mui's observations of a confrontation between a snake and a crane.
This snake and crane style enabled Wing Chun to defeat the warlord.
Yim Wing Chun later married Leung Bac-Chou and taught him the style of fighting, which was later named after her.
Ip Man & Bruce Lee
The intensity of Bruce Lee's Wing Chun training increased in his teens, as did the number of fights he got into.
In the spring of 1959, Lee beat up the son of an organized crime boss, and it was rumored that a contract had been put out on Lee's life. It was then that Bruce's parents sent him to America to live with his sister, Agnes Lee who was already in San Fransisco living with family friends.
At 18 years old, Bruce arrived in San Fransisco in March of 1959 with $100 in his pocket. He didn't stay long. Within a few months he moved to Seattle where he finished high school and worked as a waiter in Ruby Chow's restaurant.
Ruby Chow & Bruce Lee
Regardless of his major, he didn't finish the degree. He dropped out in 1964, but it was while he was in school that he began teaching martial arts.
He called what he taught Jun Fan Gung Fu, which literally means Bruce Lee's Kung Fu. Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute was Bruce Lee's approach to Wing Chun.
Bruce, Linda, Brandon, & Sharon
After dropping out of college in 1964, Bruce and Linda moved to Oakland where he continued to teach martial arts.
Lee made an appearance at the Long Beach International Karate Championships in 1964 where he performed a serious of impressive tasks, including his famous "one-inch punch." As a result of the demonstrations, Lee was invited to test for a pilot for Number One Son. The show never aired, but it led to his role as Kato on the TV series The Green Hornet.
One-Inch Punch Demonstration
Van Williams & Bruce Lee (Green Hornet & Kato)
Shaolin played by David Carradine
While in America, Lee still continued to have fights from time to time. After The Green Hornet ended, he was involved in a controversial, private match against Wong Jack Man.
According to Lee, the fight was scheduled because the Chinese community wanted Lee to stop teaching martial arts to non-Chinese. The fight took three minutes with Lee being the decided victor.
According to Wong Jack Man, the fight took 20-25 minutes, and it was not over teaching Caucasians or any other. It was because Lee had issued an open challenge during one of his demonstrations at a Chinatown theater.
Whatever the real story, Lee believed the match took too long and as a result Jeet Kune Do was born.
Unlike traditional martial arts forms, JKD has no fixed movements or patterns.
Lee often asked students to be "like water" by using fluid, formless movements delivered without hesitation.
JKD is the concept of interception and attacking while defending to conserve energy. It's about direct lines, simple strikes, and efficient use of your energy. The key to JKD is speed, fluidity, and focus, but with JKD there are no rules.
JKD was more than a fighting style for Bruce Lee, it was his personal philosophy, one that he believed in and practiced, despite his growing concerns that the form was losing its effect and becoming traditionally "fixed" the more people studied it.
Lee's book, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, was published in 1973.
Unhappy with his supporting roles in Hollywood, Lee returned to Hong Kong. Little did he know but The Green Hornet had developed a following in Hong Kong and was unofficially called "The Kato Show."
His popularity allowed him the opportunity to produce movies hand over fist with Shaw Brother Studios and Golden Harvest. He starred in Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), and Game of Death (1972).
Game of Death
Enter the Dragon
Lee died on July 20, 1973, just six days before the release of Enter the Dragon, the film that would bring him international fame. He was 32 years-old.
He is buried in Seattle, Washington next to his son, Brandon who died in 1993 after a freak accident while filming The Crow.
Lakeview Cemetery, Seattle Washington
On July 20, after a day of meetings and production efforts, Lee complained of a headache and a friend gave him a painkiller, which had both a muscle relaxant and aspirin. Lee took the medicine and took a nap before dinner. He never woke up.
He was rushed to Queen Elizabeth Hospital but was pronounced dead before arriving.
There was no sign of physical injury, but the autopsy report stated that his brain had swollen considerably. The only substance found in his body was Equagesic, the common painkiller he had been given earlier in the evening for his headache.
Donald Teare, a scientist brought in by Scotland Yard, ruled Lee's death as "death by misadventure" caused by an acute cerebral edema due to a reaction to compounds present in Equagesic.
Don Langford, Lee's personal physician in Hong Kong, had treated Lee during his first collapse. Controversy swirled when he brought up the fact that Equagesic was not involved in Bruce's first collapse.
The preliminary opinion of Peter Wu, the neurosurgeon who saved Lee's life during his first seizure, was that the cause of death should have been attributed to either a reaction to cannabis or Equagesic.
Lee's death fed many theories, including murder involving the triads and a supposed curse on him and his family. In 1985, Black Belt magazine speculated that Bruce Lee's death may have been caused by a delayed reaction to a Dim Mak strike, or death touch, he received several weeks prior to his collapse.
No matter the cause, Bruce Lee's death was a tragic loss for the martial arts community, Hollywood, and the world in general.
Poet, Philosopher, Nutritionist
Lee wrote several philosophy papers on fighting, and many of his poems have been published. His beliefs and practices in nutrition were also an art form in their own right.
Rumored to blend a concoction of ingredients including raw meat and eggs, with the shell, Lee practically invented the health shake.
He was also a firm believer in portion control and frequent eating times and focused on a diet that helped him sustain energy longer and repair his muscles faster after workouts.
Minus the raw meat and eggshells, Lee's nutritional practices are still used by many martial artists and athletes today.
Two-Finger Push Up Demonstration
Bruce Lee was not just a martial arts bad ass with a rock-hard body and fists of fury. He was an artist, an actor, a teacher, a philosopher, a poet, a revolutionary nutritionist, a husband and father, and above all else, a hard worker. He wasn't a religious man, but he practiced what he preached. He didn't waste time or energy. Instead he was like the essence of water - fluid, formless, a forever changing force to be reckoned with.
That, and he could do two finger push-ups and kill you with that one-inch punch. Let's face it. The man's just flat-out cool.