Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Real Story of Bruce Lee as Told by His Siblings


This month is a historic one for Asian MMA as the industry's movers and shakers convened at the ONE Asia MMA Summit 2013 early this month, by far the largest MMA summit in Asia to date. The event was a special one as it was graced by Robert and Phoebe Lee, who delivered keynote speeches on their beloved brother, Bruce Lee. Locker Room met with the legend's siblings to hear intimate stories of the life and legend of Bruce Lee...

On His Life as a Young Boy

Bruce was my mother’s favourite son. When he was very naughty, my father would take us to the tea house for dinner after his opera show. And at the tea house, he would never sit still because he would run around all the time. When he's eating, his feet would be kicking up and down and he would be knocking the table. My father didn’t receive much education and his children’s education would be better than him. And my mother’s education was better than my father. For my father, if you studied hard, he can buy you anything.

He taught me Wing Chun. He connects my arm with just one arm and I get bruises. I told my mom and she told him "don't bully your sister." There’s also one time we went to get ice cream where we got one scoop each. And he dropped his ice cream on the floor, he wanted to grab it! My cousin managed to get a quick snap and still keeps the picture till today. It was very funny. In the middle of the night, he would sometimes sleepwalk and my mom would say don’t wake him up. He also has a very good heart. We had a lot of fun when we were young and I still miss him every day.

On His Family Life

My father would raise his brother’s family as well. His brother passed away when he was young and my aunt was a widow. She’s got five kids and on our side of the family we’ve got another five kids. Plus my father would raise his two sisters. Anyway, inclusive of everybody it would be 17-18 people having lunch and dinner at home every day. Plus, my father had nine dogs of which eight were male and one female.

On Martial Arts

Bruce’s system of fighting is called Jeet Kune Do, a name which he casually used as he told me that it could have been ABC or 123, because he didn’t want the name to be mistakenly identified as a style of martial arts. He wanted to show that there is no set way in fighting and there is no limit in using combinations of different techniques from the existing fighting styles and even creating new ones.

He believed that martial arts should not be bound to only one or a few styles of fighting. And that one should learn one's own abilities and to utilise their skills to the utmost. That means exercising hard work, persistence and dedication. He claimed that since the world is constantly changing and evolving, one should also advance with the evolution of hand-to-hand combat.

On Muhammad Ali

I remember Bruce used to take Muhammad Ali’s fights on a black and white Sony video tape recorder, a very ancient machine. We bought for him on his request when we went back to Los Angeles back in 1969. He would watch the tapes over and over again to study his techniques and footwork. He was very impressed with Muhammad Ali’s footwork by the way. I remember Bruce telling me that if he ever had a chance to fight Ali, it will not be under boxing rules as he will not stand very much of a chance if he gets hit by a punch in the face because of the size and the difference in him and the power and so forth.

Now, the reason why I distinctly remember this is because I met Ali at the opening of the Ceasars Palace Casino’s Hong Kong office in the late 70s. And he asked me if it was true that Bruce wanted to have a match with him in the ring but under a different set of rules. I still wonder to this day, how he heard that. I don’t know who told him that.

On His Training Methodology

Well, he never said, “You should punch like this” or “Position your feet like that” like a lot of classical masters per say. He like to do things naturally to let the students relate to the opponents. He would never say do this, do that, don’t do this. He will train his physique and reactions. In other words, he would give them tools because a punch does not necessarily have to be like this, in a certain way. You have to be comfortable with yourself because you know your limitations, advantages and disadvantages and work with them. Learn to express yourself in the utmost.
On Dancing and Fighting

I remember Bruce used to own a miniature grave replica made by one of the students which have the engraving, “Hear lies a once fluid man overcome by the classical mess”. It signifies that Bruce did not believe that one should be bound by fixed forms and styles of fighting. He pointed out that martial arts is a combination of many different forms and styles of fighting like karate, kungfu, wrestling, boxing, etc.

Once you learn how to relate to his opponent and be able to move with him like a long improvised dance, except with broken rhythm so that no move is anticipated not even to oneself. Bruce used to do the cha-cha. It was through his love of dancing that he learnt how to utilize and break rhythm in martial arts.



On His Sixth Sense

Now, with his own skill and his previous martial arts should be depict his next move and should be able to feel and adapt to his own opponent naturally like breathing. I know it’s easier said than done, but I actually have seen Bruce doing this session with his students to guess what his opponent’s next move would be before he actually made the move. It was such an amazing sight as I’ve never seen anyone or person who could actually do this. I’ve seen how Bruce trained his students to sharpen the senses.

On the Humble Awareness of His Own Limitations

I first moved over there in 1969 to Los Angeles and one day I was playing with my guitar. He then walked by and he asked, “Is that thing (the guitar) hard to work with?”, I then asked him if he would want to try and he say “Okay”. He sits down and I put the guitar on his lap, his hands on the front board and place the fingers on the strings. A very simple C-chord, using just three fingers. So I gave him the guitar pick and told him not to strum it but to go one string at a time, make sure it’s in the right position.

He went “doink, doink, clock, clock, doing..” so I said, maybe your fingers are blocking some of the strings so I re-position his fingers, and then he went, “doink, doink, doink” and then he was smiling and then he went “clock”. So he put down the kick and gently gave the guitar back to me and said, that’s it. He walked away. That’s Bruce, he knows his limitations. Just like the song ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rogers that goes “…know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em..”.

On Making a Difference

There was one occasion when I was in Hong Kong and I was riding a taxi cab. The driver was driving around and I didn’t realise he knew me. He looked at me and said, “Aren’t you Robert Lee? Bruce’s brother?” and I said “Yeah.” At that point he was really excited and said “You know, without Bruce Lee I would never be who I am, what I am today”, I said, “What do you mean? Are you into martial arts?” and he said no. 

He told me he was a ruffian when he was young and was never interested in school and had no direction in life. But after watching Bruce Lee in the movies and watching some of the documentaries, it made him think what the reality of life is. He then slowly changed course and took on responsibilities.

On the Philosophy of Life

Life is simple. Life evolves, life changes. Be simple my friend, he would say. And I think most people have heard this, be like water. When you put water into a pot, it becomes a pot. You put water into a cup, it becomes a cup. Water can be soft or it could be hard, so flow with it.


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