Today would have marked the 80th birthday of legendary martial artist, actor, thinker, and innovator, Bruce Lee.
Lee was born in San Francisco on November 27, 1940, before moving back to Hong Kong with his mother and his father Lee Hoi Chuen, a famous opera star. After racking up early acting credentials alongside his father, a rough and tumble life in the streets of Kowloon saw Lee turn to martial arts. He frequently got into street fights, and spent time deepening his study of boxing and wing chun until his father decided to send him to the United States to pursue a safer life.
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There, Lee would go on to make his biggest impact. In Seattle, he began teaching what he called Jun Fan Gung Fu (literally, “Bruce Lee Kung Fu”), and immersing himself in the city’s martial arts community, extending and developing his style alongside judo practitioners and kempo karate athletes while balancing classes at the University of Washington.
By then, it was clear that Lee had caught on to something. The no-nonsense martial arts system that later became Jeet Kune Do still resonates today, through Hollywood blockbusters and modern mixed martial arts competitions.
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But Lee’s greatest contributions were to be found beyond the physical world. Greater than his role in the global development of martial arts, was the spiritual presence expressed through his work.
Lee defied stereotypes of the emasculated Asian male, and carved out his own role in Hollywood by simply ripping apart the yellow tape around him. Working up from an assisting role as Kato in The Green Hornet to the lead role in Enter the Dragon — a film that he came up with himself out of frustration with small-minded Hollywood casting — Lee stepped confidently past obstacles to become one of the greatest on-screen heroes of all time. In 1999, TIME included Lee in its list of the 100 most important people of the 20th century.
Today, we remember Bruce, and all of his enduring contributions.
Cover photo by Pop & Zebra on Unsplash
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