Be Like Water: The Inspiring Legend of Bruce Lee


To hell with circumstances. I create opportunities. — Bruce Lee


You may not recognize the names Hélio Gracie, Masahiko Kimura, or Gene LeBell, but virtually everyone knows of Bruce Lee—and for good reason. Lee was one of the most skilled and dedicated martial artists of all time, and although many martial artists throughout history have sought to build their crafts on a philosophic base, Lee was one of very few to do so in a generally rational manner. To this day, thousands of people—even those who have little interest in practicing martial arts—visit his grave each year, hoping to be “imprinted with some of his wisdom,” as Lee’s student Dan Inosanto put it.1

Born in San Francisco on November 27, 1940, Lee spent only the first few months of his life there before his parents moved back to their home city of Hong Kong. At the time, Hong Kong was a chaotic place, to put it mildly. It was populated by British expats and by many different Asian ethnic groups, and racial tension between these groups was high. The triads, an organized crime syndicate, were active in the area and already had infiltrated the police force. These factors made the streets of Hong Kong dangerous places where fights, shootings, and theft were common.

“I was a punk and went looking for fights,” Lee told Black Belt magazine in 1967. “We used chains, and pens with knives hidden inside.” He topped out at 5’8″ and roughly 130 pounds in his teen years—not exactly an intimidating figure. Yet he consistently emerged victorious in street fights, many of which were predicated on racial conflict. Among other street ruffians, he developed a reputation for being a “dirty” fighter; he didn’t hesitate to blind his opponents with dirt, employ groin strikes, or use other tactics widely considered to be unfair or cowardly. His footwork and striking also were incredibly aggressive; whereas most street fighters would circle one another cautiously and wait for obvious openings, Lee would charge forward relentlessly, seemingly without regard for his own safety.2

Lee’s fights became so frequent and serious that he nearly was expelled from school. In 1953, he was arrested when members of his gang stole from a local store. Although Lee was innocent of that crime, being detained by police scared him and helped him begin to realize that his poor choices eventually would land him in serious trouble.3 . . .

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Although many martial artists throughout history have sought to build their crafts on a philosophic base, Bruce Lee was one of very few to do so in a generally rational manner. Click To Tweet

Endnotes

1. John Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey, Warner Home Video, October 22, 2000.

2. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

3. “Bruce Lee’s Journey from Street Tough to Cinema Legend,” Newsweek, December 12, 2017, https://www.newsweek.com/street-fighter-bruce-lees-tough-childhood-lead-fame-743061.

4. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

5. Newsweek, “Bruce Lee’s Journey from Street Tough to Cinema Legend.”

6. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey; “Bruce Lee Biography: Heart of the Dragon,” Biographics, February 28, 2018, https://biographics.org/bruce-lee-biography-heart-dragon/.

7. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

8. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

9. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey. A competitor in a noncontact competition is expected to come very close to landing a hit on his opponent without actually doing so; his precision and control are judged heavily.

10. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

11. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

12. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

13. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

14. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey; Biographics, “Bruce Lee Biography: Heart of the Dragon.”

15. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

16. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

17. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey; Biographics, “Bruce Lee Biography: Heart of the Dragon.”

18. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

19. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey; Bruce Thomas, Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit (Berkeley, CA: Frog Ltd., 1994), 44.

20. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

21. Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon, Warner Bros., August 19, 1973.

22. Lee, Enter the Dragon; Adam Augustyn, “Bruce Lee,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, February 26, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Bruce-Lee.

23. Little, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

24. Tristan Shaw, “1973: When Kung Fu Ruled the American Box Office,” SupChina, July 12, 2019, https://supchina.com/2019/07/12/1973-when-kung-fu-ruled-the-american-box-office/.

25. “Biography of Bruce Lee,” BruceLee.com, May 14, 2018, https://brucelee.com/bruce-lee.

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