WHY YOU SHOULD LOVE AND RESPECT BRUCE LEE

WHY YOU SHOULD LOVE AND RESPECT BRUCE LEE

Bruce Lee passed away in 1973. At just 32, it was cerebral edema caused by a reaction to the painkiller Equagesic that caused his tragic death. Yet more than 40 years after his passing, his legacy lives on in a very real way.


You don’t have to look far for the remnants of his massive fame. His films are still hugely popular. His teachings are still respected, practiced and adapted by martial artists the world over. Posters of him still dot the walls of countless dojos, second-run movie theatres, and man caves. He’s a playable character in the UFC’s newest video game. Sure, we’re closing in on half a century without the revered martial artist, but he’s still everywhere.


So, what was it about Bruce Lee that gives him such staying power? Not surprisingly, there are many factors that contribute to the astounding shelf life of his fame—an array of accolades and accomplishments so substantial that it’s hard to know where to begin. So, let’s just start at the beginning.
Lee was born in San Francisco, though he spent most of his childhood in Kowloon, China. That, ladies in gentleman, is where he got his start in acting, and studied kung fu— the two building blocks of his iconic career. At 18, he returned to the United States to study philosophy at the University of Washington. This may not seem like an important detail of his legendary life, but his higher-education was the foundation for the profound poetry and philosophies he would develop later in life. “Be like water, my friend.” Ring any bells?


During his studies, Lee made ends meet by teaching kung fu. This modest endeavour evolved into his ownership of several schools across the US, where he passionately exposed Americans to his beloved martial art and Chinese culture. In China’s more elitist circles of kung fu instruction, however, this ruffled some feathers. It was demanded by a group of masters that Lee stop instructing non-Asians in the traditional, Chinese art. But as an extremely progressive thinker, Lee was unwilling to make this concession. Instead, he opted to challenge the most accomplished of his naysayers to a fight. This was back in the 60s, so I’m sure that discourse was different, but today, that’s what we refer to as “bad ass.” And in retrospect, it probably goes without saying, but Lee won the fight, protecting his right to impart his art to whomever he chose. The affair revealed Lee’s upstanding moral code, and the ferocity with which he would defend it. What’s not to admire about a man of principle?
But Lee’s celebrity sprung from more than just his principles. He realized his superstardom on the silver screen. So how exactly did Lee make the jump from kung fu instructor to movie star?

By dazzling onlookers at the Long Beach International Karate Championships with his two-finger push-ups and one-inch punch (an amazing, short-range punch that looks like it belongs in the Dragon Ball Z universe). Yes, it was breathtaking feats like this—displays of strength that will never be forgotten— that led to Hollywood’s discovery of Lee.
Fast forward two years, to 1966. After a successful screen test, Lee made his breakout performance as Kato on the television show, The Green Hornet. You’re probably familiar with the recent big-screen remake of the show, which starred Seth Rogen as the Hornet and Jay Chou as Kato. I can assure you, Lee’s iteration was infinitely superior. It was in this role; after all, that the US became familiar with his torpedo-like side-kicks. It was also on the set of the show that producers famously asked Lee to “slow down” because his movements were too fast for the camera.
The series only survived for one season, but it acted the springboard for Lee’s light speed ascent into show business. What followed for the Chinese-American were such iconic roles as Chen Zhen in Fists of Fury, Lee in Enter the Dragon, and Tang Lung in Way of the Dragon (the film that produced his colossal on-screen clash with fellow icon, Chuck Norris).


In a matter of years, Bruce Lee established himself as one of the hottest commodities in showbiz, and all the while, continued to preach his profound philosophies and a unique take on kung fu. As his celebrity grew, there were no Lohan-esque meltdowns. As his wealth grew, there came no Mayweather-esque arrogance. His humility and integrity remained rock-solid. Even more importantly, Lee used his fame to repair the portrayal of the Chinese people in American film, which had long been grounded in racism and stereotype.


Yet Lee’s accomplishments extend far beyond the silver screen. Perhaps his most noteworthy accomplishment is the creation of Jeet Kune Do, or “The Way of the Intercepting Fist.” JKD, in simplest terms, was a precursor to modern mixed martial arts; an adaptation of traditional kung fu that incorporated elements of boxing and grappling to produce what Lee believed was the most complete fighting system possible. His introduction and instruction of JKD revolutionized the martial arts landscape of the day, and its implications still echo in modern MMA today. To call him a forward thinker is a gross understatement.
Indeed, Lee’s contributions to the world came at a rapid rate, and surely would have continued had he not passed away so young.


The moral of this whirlwind tour of his tragically brief life? He was a man of tremendous talent and intelligence whose accomplishments demand the respect of film fans, martial artists and philosophy students alike. He was an actor. He was a fighter. He was a teacher. But his brilliance was in the way he transcended so many fields and contributed so much to the world in such a short time. Each day that passes pulls us further from his legendary life, but his legacy will never die. As he said himself, after all, "the key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering." There’s no doubt that Bruce Lee did just that.