Thursday, October 20, 2005

BRUCE LEE - Words of the Dragon (Interviews, 1958-1973)
Edited by John Little
Tuttle Publishing

OK, I admit it. Bruce Lee is one of my idols. When I was growing up, practically the whole neighbourhood, boys my age, wanted to be a little bit like Bruce. We want to be muscular, cocky and be able to beat anybody who even dared to look in our direction. Of course, all of us fell short of our life's ambition but that didn't stop us from idolising the man who died suddenly at the age of 32. What a man. Here's his story.

SINCE Bruce Lee Siu Loong died on July 20, 1973, there had been an endless stream of books on the founder of Jeet Kune Do. So this book is among the many that explore and expound on the man behind the art of fighting.
Bruce died suddenly at the age of 32 and thus achieved legendary status.
When a martial arts master who was also an actor who had achieved worldwide, meteoric fame passes away under mysterious circumstances, everybody wants to know why.
Hence, the legend that was and still is Bruce continues to live on. This compilation, of articles and interviews from 25 media sources, opens a tiny window into what made the man tick.
It gives a good insight into a boy who was born in San Francisco and at the age of three months was taken back to Hong Kong where he spent the next 18 years.
From an early age, Bruce was thrust into the film world. His father Lee Hoi Chuen was an actor in the Chinese opera. That explains his irregular forays overseas plying his trade.
Bruce's mum is Eurasian (part German). By the time Bruce's child actor career was over in Hong Kong, he had already acted in more than 20 Chinese movies.
Bruce's affinity for martial arts began at an early age because he was always getting into scraps with other neighbourhood children. At first, he was constantly on the receiving end. In short, he was beaten up.
Quickly, he learnt that to survive, he must acquire some knowledge of self-defence. That was when he came across Yip Man, the master of the art of Wing Chun.
Bruce's precocious nature enabled him to pick up martial skills quickier than many of his peers. Naturally, he became cocky and even pugnacious. His opponents quickly found that out in several painful encounters.
By the age of 18, his parents thought it was time to ship Bruce overseas where his future prospects might be brighter, away from undesirable elements, in a land of opportunities.
Thus, young Bruce went West but not before winning the title of Cha Cha champion of Hong Kong. His cha cha talent probably contributed in some small way to his later deadlier moves in the dojo (training centres) of the United States.
Bruce enrolled in the University of Washington, majoring in philosophy. But he dropped out later on to pursue a career which he preferred - martial arts.
His students quickly multiplied and before long, he had established a firm footing in America's growing martial arts arena. Among Bruce's students who later became lifelong friends were Dan Inosanto, Taky Kimura and James Yimm Lee.
Some of his Hollywood students were Steve McQueen, James Coburn and basketball star, Kareem Abdul Jabar. His colleagues in the martial arts who also sparred and learnt from him were Chuck Norris, Robert Wall and Jhoon Rhee. These men were champions in their own fighting arts.
Words of the Dragon is basically Bruce Lee trivia. Things you have always wanted to know about a man who could take a man down with a swift kick to the shin, knee or groin, whichever is nearer. And as James Coburn once said: "Pound for pound, Bruce Lee is the strongest man in the world."
For Bruce Lee fans, this book edited by John Little, no doubt a Bruce Lee fan himself, is a joy to read.
Many of my contemporaries grew up with Bruce Lee when the martial arts master was at his peak. Some of us mistakenly punched sandbags and kicked tree trunks with the hope of achieving some measure of martial arts prowess.
Many calluses and aching limbs later, most if not all of us, returned to saner and less painful pursuits. However, some of Bruce's words continue to ring in our ears.
"Be soft yet not yielding, Be firm yet not hard". I still have those words written somewhere in my journals because I love those words so much.
The other quote which refuses to leave my memory is "Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."
Since then, I have never looked at a cup of water the same way again. Thanks for the words from the Dragon, John Little. Thanks for the memories, Bruce. Rest in peace.

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