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 . . .
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