Bruce Lee Early Years – On The Way to Greatness
Bruce Lee, an icon of the modern era and a philosophical guru for many, was a revered martial artist, filmmaker, and actor as well. He is most popularly known for making movies such as Enter the Dragon and Fists of Fury. However, his contribution towards the world of martial arts and spiritualism is unparalleled as he was the inventor of the technique Jeet Kune Do.
But before Lee went on to become the world’s most famous martial artist and a Hollywood icon, he had a humble beginning and an illustrious childhood. Bruce Lee was born on November 27, 1940, in the city of San Francisco, California. He worked as a child actor in Hong Kong and later returned to the United States to pursue his passion of teaching martial arts.
His charisma landed him in the TV series the Green Hornet, and he soon became a major box office draw in movies like Fists of Fury and The Chinese Connection. As exciting and illustrious his acting and the martial art career might have been his childhood and teenage years were also filled with interesting events and occurrences nonetheless.
The birth of a Legend
Iconic martial arts expert, actor, and director, Bruce Lee was born as Lee Jun Fan in San Francisco, California, in the hour and year of the Dragon. His parents were Lee Hoi Chuen (father) and Grace Ho (mother) who moved to the US in the year 1939 with three children. Their fourth boy child was born when Hoi Chuen was away from his wife and touring San Francisco.
According to some sources, the name “Bruce” was given by a nurse from the hospital of his birth. But his family never used the name during Lee’s preschool years. You’d be amazed to learn that Lee appeared in his first film when he was just three months old, where he played as a stand-in for another baby of American origin in Golden Gate Girl (1941).
In the early 1940s, the Lee family shifted back to Hong Kong, which was then occupied by the Japanese. From a very early age in life, people saw Lee’s talent for appearing natural in front of the camera. Bruce Lee appeared in almost 20 films as a child actor, beginning from the year 1941. Bruce Lee, as adorable as he was, also took an interest in dance and poetry.
Even though Bruce Lee became quite famous as a child actor and his face was widely recognized, life was not easy as a teenager. He was often mocked and made fun of by British students due to this Chinese background.
Lee struggled alot with maintaining his personal identity as one section of people expected him to act like a street-smart gang leader portrayed in films while others saw his screen image as a hoax. The events that would give him a legendary status in later years sparked far earlier that shaped and sculpted Bruce Lee for who he is.
The elementary years – one incident that changed all
Most of what we know about Bruce Lee’s school life and elementary years come from different sources, carrying contradictory narration of events. However, going by the narrative offered by William Cheung, Lee’s close friend, people got to know about how the star once taught a bully a lesson that he would never forget. This incident from Lee’s school years defines his character.
William Cheung remembers that Lee used to get into a lot of trouble in elementary school, and this one time he ran into a feud with an overgrown kid who liked to intimidate others and take away their lunch money. Even though this bully had his fair share of lunch money, he eventually got around to threatening Lee, demanding money in exchange for protection.
However, as notorious as Lee was in school, he decided to take the big guy on and teach him a lesson. He first asked the bully to follow him to the bathroom so that he could give him the money without anyone noticing. The bully gladly obliged, but as soon as they reach the bathroom, young Bruce Lee pulled out a pocket knife and held the bully up against the wall.
Lee then advised the overgrown kid to take off all his clothes, leaving him nude and locked up, inside of the school bathroom. Unable to call anyone for help due to sheer embarrassment of being nude, the bully kid fell asleep and that led to his parents’ beginning a frantic search as he was deemed missing.
The police searched the entire neighbourhood, but the boy was nowhere to be found. It was only when he started screaming frantically for help that the police and his parents were able to rescue him from the closed bathroom. “Bruce got into a lot of trouble because of this incident,” says Cheung.
The influence of Wing Chun
Lee began his training in Wing Chun and just the age of 16 under the charismatic teacher, Yip Man, in 1957. He decided to turn his devotion towards studying the art of Wing Chun after losing to several gang members in a fight. The regular classes consisted of different sorts of fighting techniques, including sticking hand drills, free sparring, wooden dummy techniques, etc.
After an entire year into training, most of the Yip Man’s other students, refused to practice with Lee having learned of his mixed ancestry. The Chinese were generally against teaching the techniques of martial arts to non-Asians. But after seeing Lee’s keen interest in learning Wing Chun, Yip Man decided to give him private lessons.
Return to America
In April 1959, Lee returned to the US at the age of 18 to live with his sister, Agnes Lee, who was living in San Francisco with a family friend. The decision to send Bruce Lee back to America was taken by his parents after they noticed him getting into altercations with gangs of Hong Kong. It is in America that Lee got a chance to make a fresh start and realize his true potential.