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Birth of a Legend

 

"Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do." (Bruce Lee)

 

bruce lee family

Peter, Agnes, Phoebe & Bruce. Front Grace & Robert.

Bruce Lee was born at around 7am on November 27th, 1940. His mother, Grace, christened her new born son, Lee Jun Fan (aka Return Again) or also known as Lee Yuen Kam (aka Protector of San Francisco). At this time, Bruce's father, Lee Hoi-Chuen, was touring thousands of miles to the east in New York with the Cantonese Opera. Dr. Mary Glover, gave him the name Bruce at the maternity ward of San Francisco's Chinese Hospital. When Bruce was three months old, the family returned back to Hong Kong at 218 Nathan Road, Kowloon. Bruce had two brothers (Peter and Robert) and two sisters (Agnes and Phoebe).

 

Bruce's big break came at the age of six when he was picked to play a leading child role in a Cantonese tearjerker, "The Birth of Mankind." But when the movie flopped, Bruce was giving a second chance in the movie, "Kid Cheung." The movie was a sell out, and at the tender age of eight, he became known as Lee Siu Loong aka "Little Dragon Lee" in Hong Kong. Bruce went on to star in more than twenty pictures in Hong Kong and shortly after he had completed filming for his most successful Hong Kong movie, "The Orphan" (aka "Orphan Ah Sam") he returned back to the place of his birth. His Mother Grace recalled Bruce's enthusiasm for films, "He liked it very much. At two o'clock in the morning, I'd call out "Bruce, the car is here" and he'd leap up and put his shoes on and go off very cheerfully. There was no trouble at all getting him up when it came to making a film. When i had to get him up for school in the mornings, however, it was different."

 

bruce with his mother and father

Bruce with his parents

At school Bruce was always having fights and getting a reputation as being tough. Inevitably he graduated from school yard squabbles to Hong Kong street gangs. His younger brother, Robert commented, "You didn't have to ask Bruce twice to fight." But when Bruce wondered what would happen if he didn't have his gang behind him if he got into a fight. Bruce decided to learn how to protect himself and began to learn Kung Fu (Bruce used the Chinese translation of Gung Fu).

 

Bruce Lee was thirteen years old when he first started to study Wing Chun, a southern style of Chinese Gung Fu that was invented by a Shaolin nun, Yim Wing Chun, 'The Daughter of Beautiful Springtime.' Wing Chun was designed, not to fight force with force but to redirect, to flow with the force and to take advantage of the opponents openings. Wong Shun Leung, who was an assistant instructor of Grandmaster Ip Man trained and practiced with Bruce Lee very closely and offered his insight in to Bruce's ability in Wing Chun Kung Fu.

 

Wong Shun Leung "After about half a year's training, the time for an inter-school boxing match came. It was held in King George's 5th School. He asked for my opinion in joining this match. My opinion was to get combat experience was more important than any other thing. With the help of my limited knowledge in Western Boxing, I practiced with him. I attached his weak points and guided him to make full use of his strong points. Several months of training passed. He finally represented his school in the match. In the first match, he first displayed the form of Wing Chun Gung Fu so it did not look like the Western Boxing form. Many foreign students, male and female, jeered at him, but when he gradually took control of the situation, the attitude of the spectators changed. His opponent had been the champion of the match for several years. But Bruce knocked him down in the first round. Bruce began to emerge. His interest in practicing martial arts also grew deeper."

 

Wong Shun Leung also comments on one of Bruce Lee's rooftop contests. These were common in Hong Kong and not very dangerous. Bruce Lee explained, "Like to old tradition, one school would challenge another and a designated place and time would be set. On the day of reckoning, both schools would have their instructors and students to cheer their fighter. Impromptu rules would be established, but these rules would be so minimal that the fight would be just about 'all out.' Nobody really got hurt because the arts weren't that effective. Those guys would have torn shirts and bloody noses, but I never saw anybody really get hurt badly enough to be sent to hospital."

 

Wong Shun Leung remembers Bruce's encounter, "Bruce's stance was a Wing Chun style. His left hand was in the front while his right one was in the back. His stance slightly inclined to the left on the other side. Chung's left hand showed a sword finger and his right fist was held near his waist. Chung circled around Bruce waiting for a chance to attack. Not a sound was heard. Eventually Chung took action. With a roar, he turned his fist against Bruce's lower jaw. Bruce drew back a little, then used his left palm to push away the punch. However, he did not make use of the opportunity to fight back. Both retreated and waited for the second chance. Bruce was hurt. He was perplexed inside and wanted to withdraw from the match. After a while, Chung used his right fist to attack Bruce's left eye. Seeing this, Bruce took one step backward, then tried to hit Chung's chest with his right fist, but his step was a little slower. His left eye was hit. His face was covered with blood. Chung was hurt too, but his clothes covered the place. Since Bruce had been hit, he wanted to fight back. He immediately stepped forward and attacked with continuous punches. Because he was two steps from Chung, Chung had enough time to step back calmly. Chung also punched back. Both were hit however because Bruce was not calm enough, his punches did not hit decisively. Moreover, his careless attack left open many chances for his opponent to attack, so his nose and cheek were hit. As they were struggling, the timekeeper exclaimed that time was up. The first round was over.

 

bruce with grandmaster ip man

Bruce with Grandmaster Ip Man

I went up hurriedly to see Bruce. He asked me at once, "Leung! Is my eye swollen?" "Yes," I said. "It's bruised. Your nose is also bleeding, but it's O.K." "My performance today is bad. If I am hurt too badly, my father will notice it. I think we better take it as a draw and end the match. I replied, "Bruce, if you do not continue in the second round, it means that you surrender. How can it be regarded as a draw? Moreover, you are capable to fight on. Your opponent is wheezing now. If you withdraw, how will you answer your fellow-learners? You will regret it. As a matter of fact, whether you win or not isn't important, but you must try your best. If you fight on, you will win." His competitive character drove him to go on. Bruce finally won the match. When Bruce heard "you will win", he was refreshed. He asked solemnly for the second time, "I will win? Leung, are you sure ? " "Yes," I replied, " why should I deceive you? When you feel confused, don't care whether your fighting method is correct or not for you are now in a fight, not a performance. When you are half a step from him, you must step up and punch only his face. Do not care whether you have been hit. Try to get close and attack. And be calm." Bruce nodded his head to show that he understood my idea.

 

The timekeeper signaled that the time for rest was over. We started the second round. This time Bruce attacked first. Chung was ready to fight. His left hand bent a little and was stretched forward. His fingers were turned into a claw. Chung's right fist was placed beside his left elbow. He stood in low stance. In this round, Bruce was calm. He stretched out his left hand too, and his right hand was also placed beside the left elbow. His power was concentrated on his back leg. He waited for a chance to attack. After a moment he suddenly pretended to attack. Chung immediately jumped back. Yet Bruce did not move. He still stood in the same position and smiled. He repeated this action for two to three times. Chung began to loose his defense. At last, Bruce was about half a step from Chung. Bruce made a false attack again. Chung took half a step back, and at the same time sent out a right punch. Making use of that chance, Bruce swiftly attacked. His left punch hit heavily on Chung's lower jaw. Bruce then took another step forward. He sent out a right punch, which hit Chung's mouth. Blood gushed from Chung's mouth. Chung's false teeth were also knocked out. The two were too close so Chung's punch did not function well. Being seriously hurt, Chung fell back. He could not stand properly. Seeing this opportunity, Bruce did not give up. Like a wild beast, Bruce continued to send out heavy punches on Chung's face. Finally, Chung fell beside the water tank on the roof. Chung's friends at once ran forward to stop the match. Some of them complained that I should have stopped the match at an earlier time, but Bruce was very happy. He raised his hands up in the air and was very delighted."

 

In 1958 as Bruce's eighteenth birthday was soon approaching, Grace sat down with her son to talk about him returning to San Francisco to claim his American citizenship. Therefore, on April 29th, 1959 Bruce Lee boarded a boat with a single US$100 bill and sailed back to the land of his birth.

 

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