Bruce Lee changed the perception of Chinese culture in the western world and helped to popularise martial arts. Lee was a superstar with fans all over the world who were fascinated by his agility and power. He successfully bridged the gap between western and eastern culture, one of the few people ever to do so.
Lee said himself that he did not believe in fighting “styles”. He had a personal philosophy called “Jeet Kune Do” (or “The way of the intercepting fist”) which was his process of learning martial art. It involved constant research and experimentation.
Born in the Chinatown area of San Francisco in 1940, his career in the movies started young and by the age of 18 he had appeared in 20 films. He was taken away from the silver screen for a number of years though as he wanted to pursue a career teaching martial arts. He did this until 1966 when he was given the role of Kato in “The Green Hornet” television series. After the series finished, Lee found himself starring in supporting roles in films and training some of the most well-known actors of the day, such as Steve McQueen and James Coburn.
Bruce Lee moved to Hong Kong in 1971 hoping to land bigger acting parts rather than just supporting roles. He landed the leading role in “The Big Boss” which was a huge box office success. He then starred in “Fist of Fury” in 1972, which became an even bigger hit, smashing his earlier film’s records. His third film, “Way of the Dragon” really showcased Lee’s enormous talents as he was the writer, director, choreographer and star of the movie. He was attempting to educate the martial arts world and the world in general through cinema and learnt everything he could about movie-making to achieve this.
These three films sparked a craze in eastern philosophy and Kung-Fu as it was known, launching China and martial arts into the global spotlight. As a result, his fourth film “Enter the Dragon” became the first martial arts film produced by a major Hollywood studio. His final film “Game of Death” was never finished.
In May 1973, Lee collapsed due to a cerebral edema, which is an accumulation of excess fluid on the brain. Doctors reduced the swelling but less than six weeks later after complaining of a headache, he took a painkiller and went to lie down in a house in Hong Kong. He died on the 20th July that year leaving the world in shock. He was only 32 years old. There are conspiracy theories surrounding his death that still circulate today, from illegal drug use to involvement with the triads.
When “Enter the Dragon” was released after his death, Bruce Lee was immortalised with almost every child wanting to become a martial artist. Lee was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. He was also voted the Greatest Movie Fighter Ever which shows why his lasting appeal continues to this day.
Lee once said “we learn through the things we love”. For him, that love was martial arts and he researched, studied and developed his passion, constantly. He believed that you advance yourself both physically and mentally through something you love and this is one of the reasons why he is seen as an inspiration to many, even to this day.