Little Dragon

Remembering Bruce Lee, Kung Fu legend and movie star

Republished on July 20, 2023
a previous version of this graphic
was published on July 20, 2018

Martial arts superstar Bruce Lee helped usher in a golden age of Hong Kong cinema and pave the way for future Asian movie action heroes. Lee took centuries-old martial arts systems and reinvented them with his own improvements, creating what is known as jeet kune do. He wanted its practitioners to continually adapt their fighting style – an idea summed up in his ‘be water’ philosophy. Lee was born in San Francisco on November 27, 1940, but made his name in Hong Kong, which provided the backdrop to Kung Fu classics such as Game of Death and Enter the Dragon. Lee died under mysterious circumstances in Hong Kong in 1973 aged 32, but his legend lives on.

Lee recognised that strength and conditioning training was crucial to becoming the ultimate fighter. He employed training methods from boxing, such as skipping and road running, to improve his endurance. He used lighter weights and higher repetitions to maintain a lean and ripped look, instead of getting big like a bodybuilder.

‘The way of the Intercepting Fist’

Lee forever changed martial arts with his hybrid jeet kune do, which translates as “the way of the intercepting fist”. Practitioners incorporate their own fighting styles with traditional techniques, a sort of “style with no style”.

Lee took inspiration from wing chun’s theory of the centreline. In a fight, you must protect it by creating momentum; if your centreline is exploited, you will lose

Principal combinations and influences Lee incorporated into jeet kune do

Lee took note of its powerful self-defence system, which put emphasis on arm and hand techniques that involved twisting the upper torso

  • Choy Li Fut
  • Tai Chi

On-guard positions were inspired by fencing

  • Western wrestling

Stances were inspired by boxing

  • Western boxing

Used his strength to throw opponents

  • Western wrestling
  • Judo
  • Indian wrestling

Believed there should be a balance between defence and offence

  • Wing Chun

Could kick his opponent multiple times in less than 2 seconds

  • Wing Chun
  • Self-training programmes

He practised Filipino stick fighting

  • Eskrima

Believed philosophy helped the mental training needed for seeking harmony in a fight

  • Music and dance
  • Confucianism
  • Taoism
  • Zen Buddhism
  • Spinoza
  • Krishmamurti

The one-inch punch

  • Wing Chun
  • Self-training programmes

The frog leap

  • Choy Li Fut
  • Tai Chi
  • Music and Dance

The high jump kick

  • Taekwondo
  • Music and Dance

Cool Bruce

Always fashionable on-stage and off, Bruce embraced the style of his time

Bruce Lee on screen

Year of birth

Born Lee Jun-fan on November 27 at the hour of the dragon and the year of the dragon in San Francisco

Baby Bruce

Bruce Lee's first film role as the baby girl in “Golden Gate Girl”

Teenage Bruce

At the age of 13, Lee studies under Ip Man, a wing chun grandmaster

18 year-old

Wins the Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship in Hong Kong

Beginning of adulthood

Leaves Hong Kong for San Francisco to majored in philosophy at the university, he supported himself by teaching kung fu

24 year-old

Bruce married his wife, Linda and had two children, Brandon (born 1965) and Shannon (born 1969)

26 year-old

Starts appearing in TV series in US

27 year-old

Opens Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Los Angeles

32 year-old

Dies on July 20 in Hong Kong

  • 1940
  • 1941
  • 1953
  • 1958
  • 1959
  • 1964
  • 1966
  • 1967
  • 1973

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