History and Lineage of Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973) was born Lee Jun Fan in San Francisco, California. His father was a Chinese Opera performer and they were on tour when Lee was born. The family returned to Hong Kong when Lee was 3 months old, which is where he grew up and was schooled until moving to the USA at the age of 18.

Bruce Lee was first introduced to martial arts through his father, who practiced Tai Chi. Lee’s foundation in martial arts though, is credited to Yip Man, with whom Lee learned Wing Chun Gung Fu from age 13–18 in Hong Kong. During that time, Lee also won the titles of 1958 Boxing Champion and the Crown Colony Cha Cha Champion of Hong Kong. However, by 18, Lee was also prone to getting into trouble with the police, so his father sent him to the United States to live with an old family friend.

Lee arrived back in San Francisco, but soon made his way to Seattle, where he worked in the restaurant of Ruby Chow, a family friend. He graduated from Edison Technical High School and enrolled in the University of Seattle philosophy program. It was Seattle that he began teaching martial arts, opening the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute (Gung Fu being the Cantonese pronunciation of ‘Kung Fu’) where he taught his foundation art of Wing Chun. Through his teachings, Lee met his future wife in Seattle, Linda Emery, and also Taky Kimura, who was to become his best friend and one of only three people certified by Lee to teach his art. Kimura, who owned a grocery store in Seattle, would run the Seattle school while Bruce opened a second martial arts kwoon in the San Francisco bay area in 1964 in Oakland, California with his friend James Lee (no relation).

It was in Oakland where the infamous fight occurred with Wong Jack Man. Man apparently represented other kung fu schools in the Bay area and approached Lee at his school with a petition demanding that Lee stop teaching Caucasians. Lee took it as a challenge and a no rules/no holds barred fight ensued which resulted in Lee defeating Man in 3 minutes. The fight had a profound affect on Lee as he realized afterwards that 3 minutes was far too long (the fight should been seconds), he was winded (i.e., conditioning not up to par), and his hands hurt, apparently from punching Man in the ass when he was trying to get away while down on all fours at one point. Lee re-evaluated and critically analyzed his wing chun as a result, and thus began the early stages of what was to become the groundwork for Lee’s expression of Jeet Kune Do and experimenting with various martial arts systems and styles.

During 1964, Lee was invited to give a demonstration at the Long Beach Karate Tournament in Los Angeles. It was here that Lee was “discovered” and invited to audition for (and later won) the role of Kato in the Green Hornet TV series. Although the show only lasted a single season, it would launch Lee’s career to superstardom. At the Long Beach tournament, Lee also met Dan Inosanto, who became the 3rd Instructor certified by Lee and would run Lee’s school in Los Angeles whenever Lee was in Hong Kong.

After the Green Hornet ended in 1967, Lee returned to Hong Kong to visit family, and found that he was a celebrity, as the TV show was being aired there in syndication and everyone loved his Kato character for his kung fu. It was thus in Hong Kong that Bruce Lee started making the movies that would make him the most celebrated martial artist in the world, first with the Big Boss (released in North America as Fists of Fury), followed by Fists of Fury (released in North America as The Chinese Connection; apparently there was confusion in the names of the movie titles as they were released so closely together). Lee began production on Way of the Dragon (released in North America as Return of the Dragon), when he was signed to Warner Brothers to star in Enter the Dragon, the first American-backed, big budget martial arts movie to come out of Hollywood. Post-production, Lee returned to finishing Way of the Dragon, the final fight scene of which takes place in the Roman Coliseum against a young Chuck Norris (newly retired from his reign as seven-time world karate champion). That fight scene is still hailed as the greatest martial arts choreography ever filmed, with no special effects, stunt doubles, or CGI. Lee then began work on Game Death, the second movie in which he wrote, produced, directed, choreographed and starred. Most of the final fight sequences were shot, including climatic fight scenes with his friends and students, Dan Inosanto (who had taught Lee how to use the nunchukas they battle with in the movie) and NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. However, the movie was never completed by Lee as he died during filming. Eventually the movie was completed (very badly) and released years after his death, using a lookalike and slipping in clips from previous movies. It was a pathetic homage to his legacy and an attempt to cash in on Lee’s popularity. Only the final fight scenes feature Lee, which still make the movie worthwhile for its martial arts.

Enter the Dragon however, was to smash box office records when it was released only 3 weeks after Lee’s death in 1973. Return of the Dragon was to follow in North America (although it had already been released in Europe and Asia as Way of the Dragon before Lee’s death), sealing Lee’s fate as a martial arts icon and legend. Not including Game of Death, Lee had only completed 4 movies. Hong Kong tried to cash in on Lee’s popularity by making movies with lookalikes and names billed as Bruce Li, Bruce Lei, Dragon Lee, etc. but all were cheap chop-socky rip-offs. Even Hollywood’s 1993 bio-pic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, was a poor tribute and full of misleading information, despite being choreographed by a former Lee student. However, several good documentaries have been made about Bruce Lee, including two A&E biographies and Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey, which features unseen fight footage from Game of Death recovered 22 years after Lee’s death which was believed to have been previously lost.

Bruce Lee had many students, including several celebrities, and several of his original students teach today. While all are proficient martial artists and contribute to the martial arts and Lee’s legacy, only three people were certified by Lee himself to carry on his teachings: Taky Kimura, Dan Inosanto, and James Lee (who died in 1972). Kimura, now in his early 80s, has only certified his son Andy, and both still live and teach a small group outside of Seattle. Dan Inosanto is 75 years old, and continues teaching out of the Inosanto Academy in Marina del Rey (Los Angeles), conducting seminars throughout the world every weekend. Apart from the Instructors who train & teach at his Academy, Inosanto has over 300 instructors (of various rankings) under him worldwide through the Inosanto International Martial Arts Instructors Association (there are only four in BC, three of which are in Vancouver). Thus all Jeet Kune Do/Jun Fan Gung Fu instructors can trace their lineage back to Lee, Inosanto or Kimura, either directly or have received their certifications under instructors trained by Inosanto. As with Bruce Lee’s wishes, Inosanto, who received three certifications under Lee in Jun Fan Gung Fu, Jeet Kune Do, and Lee’s Tao of Chinese Gung Fu, keeps the system dynamic, and using Lee’s concepts and philosophies, has incorporated escrima/kali, silat, Brazilian jui-jitsu, Muay Thai, Savate (from France), capoeira, kettle bells, and several other arts and training methods into his curriculum. Kimura, who met and trained with Lee before he coined the term “Jeet Kune Do”, represents Lee’s approaches to combat prior to his modification of traditional wing chun, although Lee awarded Kimura with his highest ranking in Jun fan Gung Fu after he developed his concepts in JKD. Only Inosanto holds a JKD Instructor ranking directly under Bruce Lee. Both Inosanto and Kimura hold the other in high regard and consider each other to be their mentor. Kimura teaches basic combative Gung Fu applications of Lee’s approach; Inosanto blends in other arts taught him by other masters. When teaching JKD, he is capable of breaking down each art not only by its origin, but also demonstrates variations on a technique from different arts, and also variations on how Bruce Lee modified techniques based on the year he taught it! Based on his instructor rankings in other arts, the fluidity at which he moves despite his age, and his incredible knowledge of the cultural and historical origins of even the most obscure martial arts, Inosanto is arguably the world’s greatest living authority on martial arts.

To address the most common question asked about Bruce Lee, he died of cerebral edema in a rare case where a hypersensitive allergic reaction to a prescription aspirin induced a coma. Bruce Lee had laid down to nap after taking the aspirin and could not be revived. Since it occurred in the apartment of a well-known Hong Kong actress, the local media reported it as “death by misadventure” and a scandal broke (despite the fact that Golden Harvest Studios producer/director Raymond Chow was also present as they were reviewing a movie script when Bruce Lee laid down to rest). Bruce Lee was survived by his wife Linda, and two children, Brandon (who died in a freak accident on the movie set The Crow in 1993) and Shannon. Both Bruce Lee, and son Brandon, are laid to rest at Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle, Washington.

There are several websites about Bruce Lee. One of the more accurate ones however, is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Lee

While doing your search, be sure to look up information on Dan Inosanto and Taky Kimura. You can also find several video clips on Bruce Lee on YouTube (including video footage of many proficient JKD practitioners certified under Guro Inosanto).

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