The following essay is a revised, expanded, footnoted, and illustrated combination of two articles I wrote on Bruce Lee for Dawn. The first was a commemorative article on Enter the Dragon; the second was a bibliographic article on material related to Bruce Lee.
It is difficult to think of a person whose mannerisms, hair style, clothing, facial expressions, and even name have been copied to such a large extent as Bruce Lee (1940-1973). Arguably the most recognisable face of the past century, Lee is known primarily for his onscreen martial arts prowess. But Lee was much more than an entertainer; throughout his adult life and acting career he tried to impart something of the philosophies of the East, whether in his appearances on the American television show Longstreet (1971-1972), or in his last completed film Enter the Dragon (1973). It is the latter which introduced Lee to Western audiences on a wide scale, cemented his place in cultural history, and changed action films forever.
Although Lee was born in the United States, he grew up in Hong Kong, and appeared in numerous films there as a youth. It was in Hong Kong that he began to study Wing Chun Gung Fu under the auspices of the master Yip Man, despite his fellow students demanding that he should not be taught because he was not pure Chinese (Lee had some European ancestry).1 Returning to the US in his late teens, he spent several years educating himself, developing Jeet Kune Do (his personal eclectic approach to combat), and teaching martial arts to Hollywood stars. He also sought to land significant parts in American film and television, but struggled to find meaningful roles in an industry that perpetuated stereotypical images of Chinese. In the early 1970s, Lee decided to try acting in Hong Kong. The result was a trio of films which caused him to acquire immediate and massive renown in Asia: The Big Boss (1971), Fists of Fury (1972), and Way of the Dragon (1972), the last having been written and directed by Lee himself.2
It was on the strength of this new-found fame that Hollywood took a more serious interest in Lee, and which led to Enter the Dragon, the plot of which is rather simple. Lee, a member of the Shaolin Monastery, is solicited by a British intelligence agent to take part in a martial arts tournament held by the drug smuggler Han, where he is supposed to observe and report any illicit activity upon which governments may act to shut down Han’s operations. Of course, Lee takes things much further, and by the end of the film has used fists and feet to defeat Han and dozens of his bodyguards along the way.
It is not important to recount the plot of Enter the Dragon in detail, because it is largely irrelevant, and not as significant as the scenes featuring Lee’s explosive physicality. The film lends itself open to criticism on this point, but there is little difference between this action-serving plot and the similarly contrived narratives of innumerable musicals or westerns, in which the songs or climactic gunfights are the only memorable features. However, unlike most westerns or musicals, Enter the Dragon is infused with philosophical ideas. For while Lee did not direct the film, he was heavily involved in various aspects of production: the fight scenes were choreographed by him, he made script changes to include more philosophical content,3 helped select certain cast members,4 and even chose the film’s title.5 Lee’s involvement means that Enter the Dragon is not easily dismissed as a mere action flick in the way that some of the James Bond films can be (screenwriter Michael Allin, who knew little of Gung Fu, wrote the original script as a homage to Bond films).6 Granted, Enter the Dragon does not evince the sort of craftsmanship that is traditionally associated with great cinema. But what is not in doubt is that the philosophy of Lee and his own inspirations are visible throughout the film, elevating it above the genre. 7 “Compared to a good kung fu film,” said the great German filmmaker Werner Herzog, “someone like Jean-Luc Godard is intellectual counterfeit money.”8 It is unclear if Herzog had a specific film in mind, but one could do much worse than Enter the Dragon. The opening dialogue between Lee and a Shaolin monk reflects ancient Zen Buddhist doctrine.9 A scene in which Lee deflects a confrontation with an arrogant fighter is based on a 16th century samurai tale,10 signalling Lee’s disapproval of pointless violence.11 Lee was aware of his potential to “aestheticise violence”,12 as he put it, but he believed that cinema could be an educative force,13 and that art was a path to enlightenment and liberty.14
But the martial demonstrations of Lee are philosophical in a way that a purely Western film could never be. Because Gung Fu and many other martial arts of the Far East incorporate philosophical principles in both theory and practice, they are philosophy made manifest. “Gung fu,” wrote Lee, “can be said to be the Chinese attempt to discover the mysteries of nature. […] Its philosophy is based on the integral parts of the philosophies of Taoism, Ch’an (Zen), and the I’Ching (Book of Changes) – the ideal of giving with adversity, to bend slightly and spring back stronger than before, and to adapt oneself harmoniously to the opponent’s movements without striving or resisting.”15 Thus, like the martial arts themselves, Lee’s films often exhibit both verbal and physical expositions of philosophical ideas; to witness his martial exploits is to perceive a visual rendition of ancient philosophical concepts. This would have been taken to new heights in Game of Death, which was to have been Lee’s second directorial effort, but he died before the project could be completed.
The unification of pen and sword has a long tradition in Far Eastern cultures, and it is not unusual to find historical figures linking thought and action. The 15/16th century Chinese thinker Wang Yang-Ming, for example, was both a military general and a philosopher. The 16th/17th century samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi (who influenced Lee)16 advocated that one train oneself in both the literary and martial arts.17 One can find analogous ideas in the lives and opinions of ancient Western thinkers, but Lee was well aware that modern Western philosophy was dominated by abstract thought. He had studied the subject (along with psychology) at university and was a voracious reader; his library contained more than 2500 volumes,18 some of them quite rare.19 Indeed, so interested in books was he that at one time he considered becoming a secondhand bookseller.20
Lee’s perspectives on filmmaking resembled his position on the martial arts. In both acting and in the martial arts he strove for a combination of instinct and control: “natural unnaturalness or unnatural naturalness”, as he described it.21 In the martial arts he utilised whatever he thought would enhance unarmed combat: fencing techniques, the footwork of boxer Muhammad Ali,22 the exercises of the Pakistani wrestler Gama,23 and so on. In films he was inspired by numerous sources, from American comedian Jerry Lewis24 to Japanese actor Shintaro Katsu25 (of Zatoichi fame). In the martial arts he devoured books on the subject, did not hesitate to criticise what went before, and pushed boundaries. In film he read books on cinematography and filmmaking,26 was critical of the cinema of both Hollywood and Hong Kong, and aspired to make films of higher quality than what had been produced in the past. His first endeavour at direction was Way of the Dragon, an unusual production in that it was the first Hong Kong film to be shot in the West.27 Lee also commissioned a film score, an uncommon procedure at the time.28 And he was also the first Hong Kong director to view rushes in colour.29 Lee eschewed cinematic tricks which attempted to mask the fact that the actors were not experienced martial artists, and his martial feats are usually bereft of the magical or fantastical. He thus brought a new level of realism to the martial arts film.30 Of course, there is a difference between the more flamboyant and theatrical displays of Lee onscreen and his techniques off camera,31 but not so much that one cannot learn from watching him. As Matthew Polly perceptively notes in his useful biography Bruce Lee – A Life, the duel between Lee and Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon is not a random assemblage of flailing fisticuffs, but a Jeet Kune Do tutorial.32 Something similar could be said about a melee in Enter the Dragon, where Lee moves effortlessly from barehanded combat to fighting with staff, sticks, and eventually the nunchaku, demonstrating the ultimate fighter’s ability to battle with whatever weapons are at hand. Lee’s fluidity and skill is visibly genuine, so much so that rather than speed up his moves to suggest quickness, director Robert Clouse had to speed up the camera to 32 frames per second (from the usual 24) in order to capture his movements.33
Lee was not the first person to infuse philosophy into a martial arts film – King Hu’s meditative A Touch of Zen had been released in 1970-1971. Nor was Lee the first fighter who wished to strip combat of its inefficiencies – the 16th century Chinese general Qi Jiguang, for instance, also condemned flowery posturing that was useless in actual battle.34 But neither before nor since has there appeared such a charismatic figure who straddled continents and disciplines in the manner of Lee, and it was because of this, coupled with his indomitable convictions and unrelenting desire to succeed, that he was able to reach millions around the world. At ease in both East and West despite experiencing racism in both Hong Kong and the US, studious of ancient Chinese wisdom and modern American self-help books alike, Lee’s syncretic attitudes to life mirrored his approach to both martial art and cinematic art. His interviews and private letters are suffused with philosophy. He aspired to perfection, and was not satisfied with mediocrity. He looked to himself for inspiration, rather than others: “The sacred journey is taken alone. – Each man must seek out realization himself. No master can give it to him.”35 And Lee had little interest in commercialism or identity politics. He married a white American girl, took as his students Americans of different ethnicities, and transcended styles and races. He considered himself, above all, a human being.36 In Way of the Dragon one can find a Chinese character saying that he doesn’t want to learn foreign fighting styles, but Lee chides him, saying that it doesn’t matter where knowledge comes from so long as it is helpful.
Since Bruce Lee’s demise a number of Chinese actors have come to the fore. Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, both of whom had small roles in Enter the Dragon, have achieved considerable popularity in the West, as have others such as Chow Yun-Fat, Donnie Yen and Jet Li. All of these are talented individuals who have appeared in some fine films, but one wonders if any of them would have achieved such success if Lee had not destroyed the derogatory stereotypes of orientals that pervaded Western cinema. And despite their skill, what one film critic said of Lee in the 1980s is still applicable today: “[…] Lee was and remains to this day, the only intellectual martial artist of the Hong Kong cinema”.37 Or any cinema, one might add. Unfortunately, the philosophical aspects of Lee’s cinema are infrequently acknowledged; one suspects that most critics are simply unable to recognise what they are seeing on the screen. Variety‘s review of Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster (2013), for example, declares that the film boasts “[…] a merging of physicality and philosophy not attained in Chinese cinema since King Hu’s masterpieces […]”,38 ignoring Lee and other philosophical martial arts films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000).
Lee once opined that he could not possibly become an idol for the white man,39 but in this he was quite wrong. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the release of Enter the Dragon, or witness how his stature would go beyond cinema and race. In 1995, the city of Mostar, which had witnessed intense ethnic warfare during the Bosnian War, erected a statue of Lee to symbolise the overcoming of ethnic divisions. “We will always be Muslims, Serbs or Croats,” said one of the originators of the idea, “but one thing we all have in common is Bruce Lee.”40 Boxers such as Sugar Ray Leonard have studied him. 41 Film directors such as John Woo have been influenced by him.42 Bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger have admired him.43 Countless people have taken up the martial arts after being inspired by him; mixed martial artists often speak of Lee as the godfather of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. His likeness has appeared in video games and comic books – Marvel legend Stan Lee referred to him as a superhero without a costume.44 Recent anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong have even adopted Lee’s advice to “be water” as a tactic when planning their protests.45 This wide-ranging influence is akin to that of religious figures. Not for nothing did the musician RZA say that for him Lee was a minor prophet,46 which is somewhat ironic, given that Lee was himself an atheist.47 It is therefore not a simple matter to categorise Lee as a martial artist, an actor, a film director, or a teacher. In the 2nd century AD, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote that “the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s own life”.48 Thus, it would not be inappropriate to describe Bruce Lee as an Artist of Life.49
It is often regarded as a tragedy that Bruce Lee, one of the most promising and inspiring figures of the 20th century, died at the age of 32 before he had yet to fully express himself. But equally tragic is that in the half-century since his death, the treatment of his life and work is at best amateurish, and at worse misleading.
The Los Angeles Times obituary for Lee erroneously referred to him as the star of Five Fingers of Death (Jeong Chang-hwa, 1972).50 Noted film critic Roger Ebert’s review of Marlowe (Paul Bogart, 1969) described Lee’s character as a “karate expert”.51 Dozens of more examples of inaccurate reporting can be found in the book Words of the Dragon (see below), which collects interviews with Lee from 1958-1973.
Lee wrote only one book in his lifetime, a slim work titled Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self Defence. Dissatisfied with this volume, Lee planned to write a more encompassing tome that reflected his changing views of the martial arts, but died before he could do so.52 Some of his notes were released in 1975 as Tao of Jeet Kune Do (see below),53 and friends and students of Lee have also published books about Lee’s life and art, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the Bruce Lee Estate made a serious effort to publish Lee’s own voluminous sketches and notes. The result was The Bruce Lee Library, of which Words of the Dragon is one volume. Editor John Little was authorised to review the entirety of Lee’s writings, and compiled them into several volumes. In addition to providing Lee’s thoughts on acting, martial arts, and philosophy, they also include his correspondence, poetry, and training and dietary regimens. Unfortunately, the books are uneven in scholarliness, with some volumes providing explanatory notes and references while others are lacking any textual apparatus. Lee was a voracious reader and often jotted down quotations from other books for his personal use; some of these have been incorporated into the texts without attribution or explanation. As such, a comprehensive annotation of Lee’s sources is still sorely required.
Naturally, The Bruce Lee Library does not really address some of the more controversial or disputed aspects of Lee’s life. But for anyone interested in Lee’s ideas and development it is a good place to start, though one would do well to first read Wing-Tsit Chan’s magisterial A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. This massive translation and analysis of thousands of years of Chinese philosophy was studied by Lee, and would provide excellent background knowledge with which to evaluate how this unique thinker incorporated ancient philosophies into both thought and action.
This is not to say that all the material on Lee is completely useless. All of them have their uses, and all of them possess information not found in the others. The biographies by Thomas and Polly (see below), especially, get more right than wrong, and are certainly worth reading. But given the flawed methodologies of these biographers, one must approach them with caution. None of the books can be taken at face value, and none can be relied upon alone. When confronted with the presence of hearsay or the absence of reliable evidence, the authors seem unable to suspend judgement or issue tentative conclusions. But this in itself is a lesson: for by surveying multiple sources one comes to understand not only that Bruce Lee was a complex man, but that the reactions to him are no less complex.
A. Books about Bruce Lee:
1. Alex Ben Block, The Legend of Bruce Lee (Dell Publishing, 1975 [7th printing; originally published in 1974]). Pp.171. Illustrated; bibliography.
This was perhaps the first biography of Lee,54 published less than a year after Lee’s death. The author obviously knew little about martial arts, since the book is full of inapplicable Japanese terms such as “sensei” and “dojo” (pp.13, 35, 38, 48, etc.). Worst of all, it oxymoronically refers to Jeet Kune Do as “Chinese karate” (p.14). And while Block does not revere his subject, he drifts too far in the opposite direction by declaring that Lee felt the need to “make himself the centre of a cult” (pp.29, 41). Since his book is a journalistic account, and written at a time when information about Lee was relatively scanty, the paucity of references is understandable. Less understandable is why the author chose to air ludicrous theories about Lee’s demise, ranging from vengeful Shaolin monks to Ninja assassins (pp.130-140) – fantasies which were still being circulated decades later. Block himself gave a revealing admission of his methodology: “I wrote that book in a matter of weeks, when nobody really knew what was happening. I just threw out everything I could that might offer some explanation”.55 Even more telling is Block’s inadvertently comic confession that on the day Lee died, two of Block’s kittens died, and that “by that point I felt my karma irrevocably interwoven with Lee’s […]” (p.162).
2. Bruce Thomas, Bruce Lee – Fighting Spirit (Sidgwick & Jackson, 2002 [updated edition; first published in 1994]). Pp.xix+394. ISBN: 0283073578. Illustrated; bibliography; index.
Thomas is not a scholar; his biography has a bibliography and index, but no notes, thus making it difficult to verify any of his assertions. An example of his sloppiness appears on page 157, where he cites a couple of newspapers which are absent from the bibliography. Perhaps readers are supposed to take assurances from the back-cover blurbs by those bastions of biographical integrity, the men’s magazines Loaded and FHM.
Thomas is better than Block, however, of whom he is critical, taking him to task for his preposterous theories about Lee’s death (pp.242-243). But Thomas himself is not averse to making incredible claims, such as stating that Lee was skilled in the martial art of Dim Mak, expertise in which apparently allows even a casual touch to impart delayed untraceable death (p.243).56 Thomas also says that because Lee gave of himself so often to others, it resulted in his “giving away his own life force” (p.xvi). Lee “was able to channel the archetypal energies that exist beyond the energy bound up in our own personality structure”, and access to this supernatural energy may have burned him out (p.253). When one discovers that the author cannot even quote from Lee’s films correctly,57 one begins to doubt the author’s reliability.
Despite avoidable errors and pseudo-science, the book does impart some information which is not found in the other works surveyed here. And Thomas does well to draw attention to some of Lee’s unique acting: “At times his face registers an extraordinary blend of emotions: the shock at taking a life, the ecstasy of revenge, regret that it has to be this way, the strange gaze that enters his eyes as he kills an opponent” (pp.150-151).
This edition is an expanded version of the original, featuring several new chapters comprising around 30 pages of new material.
3. John Little, The Warrior Within – The Philosophies of Bruce Lee (Chartwell Books, 2016 [originally published in 1996]). Pp.xvi + 200. ISBN: 9780785834441. Illustrated; notes; index.
John Little is the editor of numerous volumes in “The Bruce Lee Library”, and his amateurish approach to editing Lee’s writings is also visible in this book, which purports to be an explication of Lee’s ideas. But most of his commentary is unnecessary, for Lee’s writings are not particularly difficult to understand. Little uses the Stephen Mitchell rendering of the Tao Te Ching; is he unaware that Mitchell has no Chinese, and that his “translation” is cobbled together from other scholars? Like Thomas, Little quotes from an interview Lee did with the Hong Kong Standard, and like Thomas his citation is vague and doesn’t appear in the references section. Similarly, Little tends to embrace pseudo-scientific concepts when he tries to vaguely link quantum theory with chi energy on page ix; there is even a chapter titled “Jeet Kune Do – The Quantum Perspective”, in which Little describes quantum physics as relayed by “Deepak Chopra, M.D.”, rather than a respected authority on the subject. Little dedicates a chapter to explicating the philosophy behind Lee’s films, but unfortunately does not delve into much detail. Little also venerates Lee, almost beyond reason. On page 6 he states that Lee was a philosopher, which is a reasonable contention, but he then goes on to state that because of Lee’s success he can be described as a sage. There is no clear agreement on what constitutes a sage, but Little surely goes too far. For all of Lee’s insights, intelligence, impact, and inspiration, there is a great amount of evidence suggesting that Lee possessed arrogance, was impatient, had a bad temper, and was a show-off – traits not usually associated with sageliness.
Little’s book is not useless, though. Like the other books reviewed here, it has revealing anecdotes and commentary. The chapter on Brandon Lee (Bruce’s son) is informative, as is the appendix containing a transcription of a talk by Alan Watts (whose writings influenced Lee).
4. Davis Miller, The Tao of Bruce Lee (Vintage, 2000). Pp.xiv+177. ISBN: 009977951x. Illustrated.
This short book is one of the worst books on the subject, since it has little to say about Lee, and even less to say about the Tao. Around half of the book consists of the author providing unnecessarily intimate details about his own somewhat pathetic adolescence. And for some reason, the few illustrations in this book are of martial artist Joe Lewis; there are no images of Lee except for that on the covers. Unsurprisingly, the book is bereft of notes, a bibliography, an index, or cohesion. As with the other books mentioned in this section, this work does contain some revealing nuggets about Lee, but much of it is unverifiable.
5. Steve Kerridge, Bruce Lee- The Authorized Visual History (Carlton Books, 2018). Pp.192. ISBN: 9781781776117. Illustrated.
This book has little text, but is rich with hundreds of colour and black-and white photographs, many of them rare. The photographs range across Lee’s entire life, and are derived from private archives, films, and television appearances.
6. Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018). Pp.640. ISBN: 9781471175701. Illustrated; notes; bibliography; index.
This is the most detailed and (ostensibly) the most scholarly of the books surveyed here, with more than 600 pages that incorporate notes, a bibliography, and an index. But the mere presence of numerous references can be deceptive, since not all “facts” are sourced. For example, Polly relates how Lee went bowling with Jackie Chan, only to leave early because he didn’t want to be upstaged by the stuntman (p.346). Polly also postulates that Lee was determined to outshine his father’s career in some sort of Oedipal battle (p.32), and at subsequent points in the text suggests that Lee’s actions were sometimes motivated by dislike for his father (p.70). No references are provided for any of these statements. The author seems also to have been unreasonably selective about which of his interviewees were credible. He doesn’t seem to doubt the statements of two women to having had affairs with Lee, even though these revelations came decades after the alleged events and are unsupported by reliable corroboration. But when he asked Lee’s widow if her husband had been pleased when she revealed to him that she was pregnant, Polly disbelieved her even when told that Lee was happy, despite there being no substantial reason to be sceptical (p.530).
But worse than questionable interpretation is outright fabrication. On the very first page of the biography proper, Polly describes a scene in 1914 when Lee’s father was standing outside a restaurant calling out the specials of the day (p.11). This chanting is in quotation marks, but no reference is provided, and one would have to see an interview with Polly to learn that the author invented the dialogue because he did not know exactly what was on the menu.58 Now, this might be a comparatively minor invention, but such fictionalisation without due notice in what presents itself as serious biography is reprehensible. Polly cannot even report his own life accurately: in an afterword he declares that he dropped out from Princeton University (p.496), while the “About the Author” section at the end of the book says that he is a Princeton graduate.
Yet despite these flaws, Polly’s biography is the most comprehensive of the books surveyed here, and the author does well to provide extensive contextualising information regarding Chinese history and culture. He also provides a novel theory regarding Lee’s death, speculating (with reason, but with little evidence) that Lee may have died from heatstroke.
B. Material by Bruce Lee:
7. Bruce Lee and M. Uyehara, Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method, Volume 1: Self-Defense Techniques (Ohara Publications, 2002 [44th printing; originally published in 1976]). Pp.125. ISBN: 0897500504. Illustrated.
This and the following three volumes were developed in 1966, but for some reason or another were not published in Lee’s lifetime. Lee’s friend and student Mito Uyehara is listed as the co-author for these books, but other students of Lee such as Ted Wong and Dan Inosanto also contributed to the production of these volumes, all of which have many previously unpublished black and white photographs of Lee demonstrating various techniques.
8. Bruce Lee and M. Uyehara, Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method, Volume 2: Basic Training (Ohara Publications, 1997 [41st printing; first published in 1977]). Pp.125. ISBN: 0897500512. Illustrated.
9. Bruce Lee and M. Uyehara, Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method, Volume 3: Skill in Techniques (Ohara Publications, 2000 [36th printing; first published in 1977]). Pp.128. ISBN: 0897500520. Illustrated.
10. Bruce Lee and M. Uyehara, Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method, Volume 4: Advanced Techniques (Ohara Publications, 1997 [31st printing; first published in 1977]). Pp.126. ISBN: 0897500539. Illustrated.
11. Bruce Lee, Gilbert L. Johnson (ed.), Tao of Jeet Kune Do (Ohara Publications, 1994 [38th printing; first published in 1975]). Pp.208. ISBN: 0897500482. Illustrated.
This book consists mostly of material that Lee wrote when confined to bed for a back injury in 1970, and was the primary source for Lee’s philosophy of the martial arts until the release of the Bruce Lee Library volumes.
12. Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living (Tuttle Publishing, 2000). Pp.xxvii+228. ISBN: 0804832218.
This is a collection of aphorisms, derived from conversations, correspondence, interviews, and notes that Lee jotted down in various place. Unfortunately, no references or context are provided, making it impossible to determine when and why these notes were taken.
13. Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 1: Words of the Dragon – Interviews, 1958-1973 (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1997). Pp.175. ISBN: 0804831335. Illustrated; notes; index.
As mentioned above, this book collects a number of interviews that Lee gave to the press, most of which are riddled with appalling errors and stereotypical statements.
Weldon Johnson’s piece for the Seattle Times (pp.24-26), for example, can’t even name its subject correctly, never mind do so without racism, the article being titled “Mike Lee Hope for Rotsa Ruck”. Dozens of other mistakes can be found in this volume, from Lee’s education to the nationality of his wife, though here the editor has done well to correct most of them in the endnotes.
14. Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 2: The Tao of Gung Fu – A Study in the Way of Chinese Martial Art (Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1997). Pp.200. ISBN: 0804831106. Illustrated.
This volume reproduces the rough draft of a book that Lee planned to publish following his first book Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self Defence.
15. Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 3: Jeet Kune Do – Bruce Lee’s Commentaries on the Martial Way (Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1997). Pp.399. ISBN: 0804831327. Illustrated; index.
This book is a compilation of Lee’s writings on Jeet Kune Do and the martial arts, written when he was confined to bed with a back injury. Some of this work was published as Tao of Jeet Kune Do, but much was not published, and is presented here for the first time. The book is liberally populated with illustrations and Lee’s own sketches.
16. Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 4: The Art of Expressing the Human Body (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1998). Pp.256. ISBN: 0804831297. Illustrated; bibliography; index.
This volume is a collection of Lee’s notes on his training and dietary regimens, supplemented with information gathered from numerous interviews with people who knew Lee. As with other volumes in this series, the book is useful, but unscholarly. For example, the “Notes on Sources” section (pp.250-252) clubs together in a single list books about Lee, books containing passages annotated by Lee, and books consulted by Little. A list of books annotated by Lee would be interesting to see, but this becomes impossible when the titles are shuffled together with other works which Lee may not have read.
17. Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 5: Letters of the Dragon – An Anthology of Bruce Lee’s Correspondence with Family, Friends, and Fans, 1958-1973 (Tuttle Publishing, 2016 [Second edition; first published in 1998]). Pp.190. ISBN: 9780804847094. Illustrated; notes; index.
Only Lee’s correspondence is provided here, not the correspondence to which he is sometimes replying, thus causing the occasional confusion. Most of the letters are personal in nature, so there is little insight into Lee’s cinematic work. But the letters do convey Lee’s optimism, will, and constant philosophising.
18. Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 6: Bruce Lee: Artist of Life (Tuttle Publishing, 2001 [first published in 1999]). Pp.xvi+269. ISBN: 0804832633. Illustrated; notes; index.
This book presents notes, essays, letters, and poetry by Lee on a variety of subjects: philosophy, psychology, martial arts, acting, etc. Around two dozen pages of material have been printed in other volumes in the series, but most of the content is unique to this volume.
An example of the lack of scholarship in this series can be found in this volume. On page 205, Lee narrates a tale in which three Japanese swordsmen trying to goad a man into a duel are frightened away when the man effortlessly catches four flies with his chopsticks, symbolising his skill and mastery. Now, this story bears a striking resemblance to a legend about the Japanese samurai swordsman Miyamoto Musashi; those unfamiliar with Musashi might think that Lee himself concocted the tale when in fact he derived it from another source. Unfortunately, Little provides no context or notes indicating that the story did not originate with Lee.59
Another flaw in this book is the poor quality of the images, some of which are pixellated; in some cases reproductions of letters are so badly pixellated that the text is unreadable.
C. Other Books:
19. Joe Hyams, Zen in the Martial Arts (Bantam Books, 1982 [first published in 1979]). Pp.vii+134. ISBN: 0553225103. Illustrated.
Hyams studied under Lee, and in this book recounts his experiences.
20. Max Caulfield, Bruce Lee Lives? (Dell Publishing, 1976). Pp.170.
An exploitative novel which purports to disclose information about the death of Bruce Lee, but only reveals the depths to which profiteering can sink.
21. Robert Clouse, The Making of Enter the Dragon (Unique Publications, 1987). Pp.204. ISBN: 0865680981. Illustrated.
This is director Robert Clouse’s account of the genesis and development of Enter the Dragon. While the book relates many anecdotes about Lee, it does not discuss the film’s themes in any depth. Some of its assertions are also debateable. For example, Clouse maintains that, following an accident on set, Lee wanted to kill co-star Bob Wall. Author Bruce Thomas is sceptical of this allegation, and quotes Wall himself as saying that Clouse’s account is “bullshit”.60
22. Verina Glaessner, Kung Fu – Cinema of Vengeance (Lorrimer Publishing, 1974). Pp.134. ISBN: 0856470457. Illustrated; index.
This brief introduction to Gung Fu films is helpful in orientating one to the genre, but is not a sophisticated survey, and the chapter on Lee leaves much to be desired. Enter the Dragon is described as “a fantasy along James Bond lines that in reality was nothing more than a dark throw-back to the American oriental-paranoia of twenty or even fifty years earlier” (p.88). Citing unnamed co-stars, Lee is described as a “violent man” (p.93). Lee, it is said, regretted making Enter the Dragon (pp.93-96), even though the evidence suggests otherwise.61 The book also has several errors: Lee is twice described as being five feet four inches in height (pp.24, 90), and Game of Death co-star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is described as a “Harlem Globetrotter and Karate Champion” (p.90).
The book is well illustrated in black-and-white, but also includes colour reproductions of several film posters.
23. A Study of Hong Kong Cinema in the Seventies (The Urban Council, 1984). Pp.184. ISBN: 9627040134. Illustrated.
This program was released to coincide with the 8th Hong Kong International Film Festival. It features numerous articles on Hong Kong cinema in both English and Chinese, and is useful in that the reader might come across discussions of many films and directors that were previously unknown. But the references to Lee leave much to be desired.
There are three articles about Lee: one in Chinese (which I am not qualified to judge) and two in English; the latter are Cheng Yu’s “Anatomy of a Legend” (pp.23-25), and Tony Rayns’ “Bruce Lee and Other Stories” (pp.26-29). Neither of them are very penetrating, and are replete with errors and trite statements. Yu, for example, claims that Lee’s films denigrate Japanese and other non-Chinese martial arts (p.24). Such a case could be made for Fists of Fury, but the author has seemingly not seen Way of the Dragon, in which Lee defends the learning of any fighting style, so long as it is useful. Yu then goes on to mention the rumour that Lee’s “excessive sex life contributed to his early demise” (p.25). Rayns does little better, describing a scene in Way of the Dragon in which Lee is exercising as “all but onanistic” and possessed of homo-erotic elements (p.29). Other contributors to this program have similar sexual obsessions. Law Kar writes that, for Lee’s fans, what is important is the actor’s “image and sexual prowess” (p.65), going on to discuss a film poster in which a character is holding a “phallus-like pepper grinder” (p.66). The Programme Notes section of the book has this to say about Way of the Dragon: “The sequence most fondly remembered by Lee’s fans, though, is the one in which the narcissistic idol exercises in front of the mirror, proudly displaying his well-developed muscles” (p.146).62
24. Dan Inosanto, A Guide to Martial Arts Training with Equipment (Know Now Publishing Company, 1980). Pp.160. ISBN: 0938676024. Illustrated.
Inosanto was a colleague, student, and friend of Lee, and has been providing JKD instruction for decades.
25. J. Yimm Lee, Wing Chun Kung-Fu (Ohara Publications, 1977 [9th printing; originally published in 1972]. Pp.223. Illustrated; glossary.
This book is a compilation of notes by James Yimm Lee, who was a student of Wing Chun under Bruce Lee; the latter is listed as the book’s “technical editor”.
26. Martial Arts Legends Magazine Presents Bruce Lee (Special Collector’s Edition No.2) (CFW Enterprises, Inc., 1994). Pp.160. Illustrated.
Given that this thick magazine has interviews with the likes of Lalo Schifrin (composer of the score for Enter the Dragon), Robert Clouse (the film’s director), and Yeung Sze (an actor in the film), along with articles and anecdotes provided by people who knew Lee personally, one would think that this magazine would be quite enlightening regarding Lee’s life and work. Unfortunately, it perpetuates a lot of nonsense about Lee and the martial arts.
Sherri Collins’ article on Clouse “A Legend In His Own Time” opens with the ridiculous statement that the film director is “almost as famous as the star himself” (p.32).
Dave Cater’s interview with Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee begins in embarrassingly nauseating fashion, describing the younger Lee as “the most carefully protected treasure in martial arts. A warm shadow in the distance. A familiar name in passing. A rare orchid among common house plants to be admired from afar” (p.48).
Cater’s interview with Robert Lee (Bruce’s brother) is rather fantastical. Robert declares that his forthcoming book will discuss the alleged murder of his brother, assuming that Robert is not murdered first. Robert also suggests that the spirits of his father, Bruce, and Brandon (Bruce’s son) are “trying to make this thing happen” (p.69). Since Robert is still alive and no book was ever released, one can only assume that the spirits of Robert’s father, brother, and nephew changed their minds and didn’t want the book published after all.
Cater’s interview with Lee’s widow Linda Lee Cadwell is also problematic. Cadwell seemingly approves of the biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (Rob Cohen, 1993), which is one of the most inaccurate biographical films in the history of cinema. One of the justifications Cadwell provides for this radical alteration of reality is that, “if you made a documentary about the life of anybody, it’s going to put us to sleep” (p.93). There are many documentaries about Lee, and most of them are far more entertaining (and accurate) than Dragon.
An article by James W. Demile (a student of Lee’s) has this to say about one of the “ten levels of power”: “Emotion – (Also known as the dark side). A primary power that we in wing chun do believe is the source of chi and an energy source that everyone possesses. Hate, anger, fear and the roots of insanity are subconscious elements of our being and are directly linked to the unlimited power of the universe and can be controlled and channeled into expressions of unbelievable power” (p.99). This sort of pseudo-scientific conceptualisation and vague terminology is unhelpful, but what is one to expect from a magazine which contains advertisements for wall charts which will enable the purchaser to “move objects with Chi Power without touching them” (p.3)?
The worst offender is Patricia Naxera and David L. Wilson’s article “An Astrological Profile Inside the Life of Brandon Lee” (pp.130-135), a 6-page collection of irrational twaddle which not only suggests that foul play was involved in Brandon’s death (p.134; Cater implies something similar on p.70), but that gangsters “utilizing a specialist in geomancy” could have been responsible for Bruce’s death.
Not everything in this magazine is poor; there are many hard-to-find photographs of Lee, an informative interview with Lee’s friend and student Dan Inosanto (pp.116-123), and a (still useful, if dated) collector’s guide to Bruce Lee memorabilia (pp.136-146).
27. Bruce Lee: His Privacy and Anecdotes (Bruce Lee Jeet-kune-do Club, 1976). Pp.70. Published in Hong Kong.
This and the next four publications are part of a series published in Hong Kong in 1976 by the Bruce Lee Jeet-kune-do Club. The magazines vary in quality, on the one hand containing interesting photographs and unique material not found elsewhere, while on the other hand pervaded by errors and poor English. This particular issue contains a description of an alleged private bout between Lee and a former Thai-boxing champion, an interview with Way of the Dragon co-star Chuck Norris, the musical score and lyrics for the theme music for Way of the Dragon, reminiscences about Lee by staff at the Hong Kong film studio Golden Harvest, a recounting of Lee’s performances for a television charity event in Hong Kong, an article by Japanese actor and martial artist Yasuaki Kurata on his meeting with Lee, an article by Golden Harvest film producer Raymond Chow, an interview with Lee’s co-star Nora Miao, an article by Lee’s co-star Maria Yi, and two pieces providing extracts of comments about Lee by Japanese fans and critics. Much of this has not been reprinted or even referenced in the other books surveyed here. Just how accurate some of these recollections are is difficult to determine. What is certain is that the article which analyses Lee’s palm is chiromantic claptrap.
28. Bruce Lee: Studies on Jeet-Kune-Do (Bruce Lee Jeet-kune-do Club, 1976). Pp.70. Published in Hong Kong.
This issue contains a (anonymous) report on a panel discussion about Gung Fu involving Lee and other martial artists, an essay by Lee titled “Me and Jeet-Kune-Do”, pieces discussing the symbols and insignia Lee used for his film production company and JKD ranks, and an examination of Lee’s roar/shout/kiai.
On page 6 it is claimed that Lee was 27 years old in 1965; in actuality he turned 25 that year.
29. Bruce Lee’s Nunchaku in Action (Bruce Lee Jeet-kune-do Club, 1976). Pp.70. Published in Hong Kong.
This magazine is almost exclusively dedicated to the nunchaku and its use by Lee, though there is also an article on Lee’s friend and student Dan Inosanto. Page 47 mistakenly claims that Lee used two nunchaku in Enter the Dragon.
30. Bruce Lee: The Secret of Jeet-Kune-Do and Kung Fu (Bruce Lee Keet-kune-do Club, 1976). Pp.70. Published in Hong Kong.
This magazine contains two articles analysing Lee’s 1965 screen test for the American studio 20th Century Fox (in which he demonstrated martial arts), a reproduction of Bruce Lee covers from various magazines from different countries, a short piece of superstitious quackery stating that Lee had a short life-line, an article on Lee by Japanese actor Sonny Chiba, and a number of other assorted pieces on Lee and his techniques.
On pages 41 and 44 we read that Lee acquired and read 3000 books on Zen and Taoism, a somewhat incredible figure given that the total number of all books in his library was approximately 2500 volumes.
31. Bruce Lee: His Unknowns in Martial Arts Learning (Bruce Lee Jeet-kune-do Club, 1977). Pp.74. Published in Hong Kong.
This magazine contains an article on the various martial arts that Lee studied, an article on Lee by one of his martial teachers Siu Hon-san, reproductions and translations of two letters that Lee wrote to Siu Hon-san,63 a reproduction of Bruce Lee covers from various Japanese magazines, an article on Lee by his former sister-in-law Lam Yin-ni, and other assorted pieces.
- According to biographer Bruce Thomas, Lee had German ancestry; see Bruce Thomas, Bruce Lee – Fighting Spirit (Sidgwick & Jackson, 2002), p.29. Biographer Matthew Polly, however, claims that Lee had a Dutch-Jewish great-grandfather; see Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018), p.13.
- In addition to writing, directing, and starring in Way of the Dragon, Lee also involved himself in various other aspects of the film’s production, from set decoration and sound dubbing to contributing to the film’s soundtrack; see Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 1: Words of the Dragon – Interviews, 1958-1973 (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1997), p.12.
- Robert Clouse, The Making of Enter the Dragon (Unique Publications, 1987), p.59; “Linda Lee Cadwell interview”, Enter the Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1973) Blu-ray; Warner Home Video, 2007.
- Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018), p.409.
- Ibid., p.408.
- Ibid., p.405.
- Lee also had a hand in altering the script for The Big Boss; see Jack Moore, “Bruce Lee – The $3 million Box-Office Draw”, Sunday Post-Herald (Hong Kong), 21 November, 1971, in Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 1: Words of the Dragon – Interviews, 1958-1973 (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1997). p.114.
- Robbie Collin, “Why I get a kick out of fung fu”, The Telegraph, 22 November, 2014: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/11245443/Why-I-get-a-kick-out-of-kung-fu.html.
- This scene was written by Lee; some of the dialogue was omitted from the theatrical release but later restored to home video editions; see Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018), pp.419-420, 586.
- Kaiten Nukariya, The Religion of the Samurai (Luzac & Co., 1913), pp.47-48.
- The Pierre Berton Show (Mike Rothery, 1971). This illuminating interview can be seen in its entirety here: https://archive.org/details/BruceLeeTheLostInterviewthePierreBertonShow1971.
- Alex Ben Block, The Legend of Bruce Lee (Dell Publishing, 1975), p.91.
- Ibid. See also “First Amongst Equals: An Interview with Sifu Dan Inosanto”, Fist of Fury (Lo Wei, 1972) DVD; Hong Kong Legends, 2006.
- Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living (Tuttle Publishing, 2000), p.135.
- Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 6: Bruce Lee: Artist of Life (Tuttle Publishing, 2001), p.46.
- Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018), p.202.
- Kenji Tokitsu, Sherab Chödzin Kohn (tr.), Miyamoto Musashi – His Life and Writings (Shambhala, 2004), p.139.
- Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018), p.202; Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 2: The Tao of Gung Fu – A Study in the Way of Chinese Martial Art (Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1997), p.199. The Tao of Jeet Kune Do has the smaller figure of 2000 books; see Bruce Lee, Gilbert L. Johnson (ed.), Tao of Jeet Kune Do (Ohara Publications, 1994), p.4. Given the fact that Lee had limited financial resources for most of his life, and that his library consisted of significant works, this is an impressive number of books, especially for someone of 32 years of age.
- According to Thomas, Lee would pay as much as $400 for a rare book; see Bruce Thomas, Bruce Lee – Fighting Spirit (Sidgwick & Jackson, 2002), p.107.
- Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018), p.202.
- The Pierre Berton Show (Mike Rothery, 1971).
- Robert Clouse, The Making of Enter the Dragon (Unique Publications, 1987), p.148.
- Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 4: The Art of Expressing the Human Body (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1998), p.58.
- Commentary track (by Bey Logan), Fist of Fury (Lo Wei, 1972) DVD; Hong Kong Legends, 2006.
- According to Jun Katsumura, who acted in Fists of Fury, Lee admired Katsu and wished to work with him; see “Master of Bushido: An Interview with Jun Katsumura”, Fist of Fury (Lo Wei, 1972) DVD; Hong Kong Legends, 2006. In a letter from 1966, Lee recommended to his correspondent a samurai film about a blind swordsman, undoubtedly a reference to one of Katsu’s Zatoichi films; see Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 5: Letters of the Dragon – An Anthology of Bruce Lee’s Correspondence with Family, Friends, and Fans, 1958-1973 (Tuttle Publishing, 2016), p.75.
- Will Johnston, “Way of the Dragon – A Retrospective”, Way of the Dragon (Bruce Lee, 1972) DVD; Hong Kong Legends 2003. See also Pang Cheng Lian, “Inside Bruce Lee”, New Nation (Singapore), 14/15/16 August, 1972, in Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 1: Words of the Dragon – Interviews, 1958-1973 (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1997), p.132.
- Will Johnston, “Way of the Dragon – A Retrospective”, Way of the Dragon (Bruce Lee, 1972) DVD; Hong Kong Legends 2003.
- Raymond Chow, who produced Lee’s Hong Kong films, stated: “In our early action films, we used actors who knew little about fighting. We had to use various camera tricks. But the audience can tell the difference. It knows a real fighter when it sees one. That’s why Bruce Lee has been such a hit”. See New York Times, 16 June, 1971, as quoted in Hsiung-Ping Chiao, “Bruce Lee: His Influence on the Evolution of the Kung Fu Genre”, The Journal of Popular Film and Television, Spring, 1981, p.33. It is worthwhile to compare Lee’s approach with another popular Hong Kong martial arts film released in the same year as Fists of Fury and Way of the Dragon: King Boxer aka Five Fingers of Death (Jeong Chang-hwa, 1972). Typical of films of the era, King Boxer features incredible leaps, improbable punches, and impossible feats: in one scene the protagonist’s hand glows orange. Granted, such scenes could be interpreted as symbolic in more thoughtful films such as A Touch of Zen (King Hu, 1970-1971) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000), but more often than not the effect is more comical than profound.
- “First Amongst Equals: An Interview with Sifu Dan Inosanto”, Fist of Fury (Lo Wei, 1972) DVD; Hong Kong Legends, 2006.
- Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018), p.375.
- Robert Clouse, The Making of Enter the Dragon (Unique Publications, 1987), p.136. A similar procedure was followed on The Green Hornet television show, in which Lee played a major role: according to Lee, he had to slow down his movements for the cameras; see Richard K. Shull, “Holy Hero, Batman! Don’t Let the Gung-Fu Get You”, [Unknown newspaper, 1966], in Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 1: Words of the Dragon – Interviews, 1958-1973 (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1997), p.58.
- Meir Shahar, The Shaolin Monastery – History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts (University of Hawai’i Press, 2008), p.130.
- Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living (Tuttle Publishing, 2000), p.178. Lee also wrote: “No matter what, you must let your Inner Light guide you out of the darkness” (Bruce Lee, John Little [ed.], The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 6: Bruce Lee: Artist of Life [Tuttle Publishing, 2001], p.233.) This sentiment is strikingly similar to that expressed by another well-read philosophically artistic atheist: Stanley Kubrick, who once said: “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light” (Stephanie Schwam [ed.], The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey [The Modern Library, 2000], pp.298-300.
- Bruce Lee In His Own Words (John Little, 1998), in Enter the Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1973) Blu-ray; Warner Home Video, 2007.
- A Study of Hong Kong Cinema in the Seventies (The Urban Council, 1984), p.19. This statement occurs in an English-language photo caption accompanying a Chinese-language article, the author and title of which I am unable to identify.
- Maggie Lee, “Film Review: The Grandmaster”, Variety, 8 January, 2013: https://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/the-grandmaster-1117948960/.
- Bruce Lee, “Me and Jeet-Kune Do”, Bruce Lee: Studies on Jeet-Kune-Do (Bruce Lee Jeet-kune-do Club, 1976), p.27.
- “Bosnia unveils Bruce Lee bronze”, BBC News, 26 November, 2006: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4474316.stm.
- “No Way as Way”, Enter the Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1973) Blu-ray; Warner Home Video, 2007. See also How Bruce Lee Changed the World (Steve Webb, 2009); Sugar Ray Leonard interview, Playboy Magazine, June 1982, as quoted in Bruce Thomas, Bruce Lee – Fighting Spirit (Sidgwick & Jackson, 2002), p.307.
- How Bruce Lee Changed the World (Steve Webb, 2009).
- Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 4: The Art of Expressing the Human Body (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1998), p.18.
- How Bruce Lee Changed the World (Steve Webb, 2009).
- Erin Hale, “‘Be water’: Hong Kong protesters adopt Bruce Lee tactic to evade police crackdown”, 7 August, 2019: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/hong-kong-protest-latest-bruce-lee-riot-police-water-a9045311.html
- How Bruce Lee Changed the World (Steve Webb, 2009).
- John Little, The Warrior Within – The Philosophies of Bruce Lee (Chartwell Books, 2016), p.136.
- Epicetus, Christopher Gill (editor), Elizabeth Carter (translator), Robin Hard (translator), The Discourses (Everyman/J. M. Dent, 1995), p.38.
- As Lee once said: “Basically, I have always been a martial artist by choice, and an actor by profession. But, above all, I am hoping to actualize myself to be an artist of life along the way” (John Little, The Warrior Within – The Philosophies of Bruce Lee [Chartwell Books, 2016], p.131).
- Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018), p.4.
- Ibid., p.256.
- Ibid., p.134.
- Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018), pp.487, 580.
- Bruce Thomas, Bruce Lee – Fighting Spirit (Sidgwick & Jackson, 2002), p.243.
- According to Polly, when Lee arrived in the United States in 1960, he believed in the powers of chi and Dim Mak, but soon altered his views; see Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018), p.520. As late as 1964 one can surmise that Lee still believed in such powers; in The Tao of Gung Fu, which Lee was working on in that year, one can find him relating fantastical feats of famous past masters of Gung Fu (p.158). Only a few years later, however, Lee seems to have become sceptical of much of the incredible possibilities sometimes ascribed to the martial arts. In an interview in 1967 Lee opined: “There’s so much myth and baloney. Like a 90-year old man able to manhandle a 300-pounder with his little finger. Ridiculous”; see Don Duncan, “Gung Fu in Bridge Club?”, The Seattle Times, 1967, in Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 1: Words of the Dragon – Interviews, 1958-1973 (Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1997), p.86. He also said: “[…] I really don’t have any interest in this ‘supernatural’ gung fu. […] Moreover, I think that those who trust in this ‘spirit-possessed’ power have a vested interest in doing so. Why else would they trust in something so unscientific? […] I also do not believe that a man’s flesh is impervious to swords and knives”; see Bruce Lee, John Little (ed.), The Bruce Lee Library, Volume 2: The Tao of Gung Fu – A Study in the Way of Chinese Martial Art (Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1997), p.177. Certainly, there is very little in Lee’s writings on combat that veers away from the practical or the scientific. Yet, Lee was seemingly not averse to exploring some of the more unorthodox aspects of combat. According to his friend and student Dan Inosanto, Lee “kept a lot of things to himself” and engaged in esoteric practices such as chi development and meditation that he would not train his students in; see Erle Montaigue, “Dan Inosanto on: Life After Bruce Lee”, in Martial Arts Legends Magazine Presents Bruce Lee (Special Collector’s Edition No.2) (CFW Enterprises, Inc., 1994), p.120. Lee also seems to have been a believer in astrology; see Mito Uyehara, Bruce Lee: The Incomparable Fighter (Ohara Publications, 1988), p.91, as cited in Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee – A Life (Simon & Schuster, 2018), p.566.
- Bruce Thomas, Bruce Lee – Fighting Spirit (Sidgwick & Jackson, 2002), p.189. The famous scene in Enter the Dragon where Lee describes his style of martial arts as “the art of fighting without fighting” is rendered by Thomas as “winning without fighting”. A page earlier, Thomas maintains that Han, the villain of Enter the Dragon, has a metal scanner on his island to detect guns. This is not mentioned in the film, nor in any of the materials I have surveyed.
- The interview can be heard here: http://shootthisnow.libsyn.com/size/5/?search=polly.
- Little does, however, mention this tale and its link to Musashi in his book The Warrior Within (p.5), where he also relates that Lee recounted the fable for a national television audience in Hong Kong, and inserted the story into his introduction to a screenplay. Unfortunately, Little fails to provide any references. A depiction of this legendary scene can be seen in the Japanese film Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (Hiroshi Inagaki, 1956), the third part in a trilogy of films revolving around the life of Musashi.
- Bruce Thomas, Bruce Lee – Fighting Spirit (Sidgwick & Jackson, 2002), pp.201-202.
- According to director Robert Clouse, Lee expressed approval of a workprint he viewed several weeks before his death. See Robert Clouse, The Making of Enter the Dragon (Unique Publications, 1987), p.197.
- Similar gibberish can be found in an otherwise useful article by Hsiung-Ping Chiao, who suggests that Lee’s fights resemble sexual behaviour, and that Lee’s postures and movements “imply sexual provocation”, whatever that means. See Hsiung-Ping Chiao, “Bruce Lee: His Influence on the Evolution of the Kung Fu Genre”, The Journal of Popular Film and Television, Spring, 1981, p.40.
- The magazine includes a letter to Siu Hon-san from the Singapore National Pugilistic Federation, which Siu Hon-san had referred to in correspondence to Lee and which forms the subject of one of Lee’s replies reproduced here. The magazine has provided images of the original Chinese letters in addition to their English translations. The English translation of Lee’s two letters are reproduced in the book Letters of the Dragon – An Anthology of Bruce Lee’s Correspondence with Family, Friends, and Fans, 1958-1973 (see above), but the book does not include the originals, nor the letter from the SNPF.