Bruce Lee was born on the 27th November 1940
(the Chinese year of the Dragon) in the city of San Fancisco sometime
between the hours of 6AM and 8AM. Bruce was the third child of his parents
Lee Hou-Cheun and his mother Gracie Lee. The city of his birth was somewhat
accidental due to the fact that his father Lee Hoi Chuen was a minor star
of the Cantonese Opera Company, who were touring the area at that time.
At birth, he was given the name Lee Jun Fan (which means "Return
Again") by his parents. According to legend, his parents chose the
name because they had a strange feeling that some day their son would
return to the USA. Several realiable sources suggest that Bruce Lee's
father was extremely supersticious. In particular he feared that that
there was a curse that had followed male members of the family for several
generations. So, for a while, Lee was renamed (yet again!), this time
as Sai Fon- a girl's name which means Little Pheonix. By giving his newborn
some a girl's name, then the alleged demons would be unable to find baby
Lee... or so the theory goes!
Shortly before leaving the Jackson Street hospital, a nurse suggested
that it might be a good idea to give the child an English Christian name
to avoid any complications with his American birth certificate. The nurse
suggested the name Bruce Lee, and the newborn's parents agreed.
Within only a few months, the Lee family were back in Hong Kong, living
in a small, overpopulated two room flat on 218 Nathan Road, Kowloon. Overpopulation
however, was probably the least of their problems, as the early years
of Bruce's life were overshadowed by the Japanese occupation of 1942-1945.
It has been claimed that one of Bruce's earliest childhood memories was
standing on the roof of his flat, shaking his fist at low flying Japanese
The eventual ending of the Second World War brought with it the slow task
of rebuilding. Fortunately for Bruce's father, one of the first industries
to recover was the entertainment industry. Before too long Lee's father
was back on the road earning a living as a working actor. Often, young
Bruce Lee would accompany his father to film shoots and eventually, through
his father's connections, he was given a role in a film- The Beginning
of a Boy. He was only 6 years old. Shortly afterwards, in the same year,
he also appeared in "The Birth of Madkind" and "My Son
Ah Cheun". At the age of 8 years old, Bruce appeared another film
entitled "Fu Gui Yun" meaning "Wealth is like a Dream".
In this film Bruce got a new nickname of Siu Lung (meaning "Little
Dragon"). This nickname would go on to remain with Lee through the
rest of his life.
By the time he was 18, he had appeared in over 20 films- the most famous
of which being The Orphan, a 1958 Hong Kong classic in which he played
the role of a juvenile delinquent.
Even by his own admission, Bruce Lee was exactly the same
kind of character offscreen, as the sort of gang-thug he had played in
The Orphan. Years later, in 1967 he told Black Belt magazine, "I
was a punk and went looking for fights". At school, Bruce was very
much a disappointment too. His mother once, semi-jokingly, stated that
"by the age of 10 that was as far as he could count!" After
Chinese primary school, Bruce entered La Salle collegue- an English speaking
Catholic instituion which could neither hold Lee's interest his presence
at class! He was eventually expelled for disruptivite behaviour, and his
parents responded by immediately enrolling him in another Hong Kong catholic
college by the name of St Francis Xavier. There was no improvement.
So, like many other Hong Kong Chinese kids, Bruce Lee spent much of his
early years on the streets as a self confessed trouble-maker. Years later
he explained, "Kids in Hong Kong have nothing to look forward to.
The whites have all the best jobs and the rest of us had to work for them.
That's why most of the kids become punks... Kids in slums can never get
out". During this period of his life, Bruce often found himself involved
in street fights. Sometimes he would arm himself with a toilet chain,
though more often than not he would just use his fists and feet.
One day Bruce ran home from school and complained to his
parents that he was being bullied. He then asked his parents if they would
allow him to take Kung Fu lessons as a means of learning to defend himself
from the bullies. His father was already a practioner of Tai Chi, but
Bruce found this to be too slow for his liking and he was also only interested
in learning how to defend himself. Eventually, and somewhat reluctantly,
his parents agreed pay for Kung Fu lessons from Sifu Yip Man- a grand
master of the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu.
For several years Bruce Lee attended Yip Man's school of
Wing Chun, rapidly growing in proficiency year by year. Bruce Lee was
slight of build, and the fluid, economical style of Wing Chun seemed to
suit him well. Within only a few years Yip Man had not only succeded in
training Bruce Lee in the physical aspects of the martial arts, but he
also changed Bruce Lee's mental focus and Lee was now becoming increasingly
interested in the philosophical aspects of Kung Fu.
Martial arts and street fighting, however, were not Bruce Lee's only pass
times as a teenager. When Bruce Lee was 14 years old he enrolled for dancing
lessons and later went on to become the Cha Cha Champion of Hong Kong!
This unlikely departure from Lee's violent world was perhaps as strong
an indication as any, that deep down Lee truely yearned for a life that
would be somehow involved in realm of artistic expression and entertainment.
With every passing year Lee's focus on the martial arts grew more intense.
Lee, however, never forgot his street fighting days and remained extremely
mindful of the fact that in a real self defence situation there would
be no graceful bows, nor any respect for ancient rules. By around the
age of 18 Bruce Lee started to gradually form his own ideas about what
made an effective style. He was convinced that the key to being succesful
in a modern self defence situation was to eliminate the element of surprize
by remaining completely adaptable.
Lee's time under Yip Man came to a sad and abrupt ending when in early
1959 a challenge was issued to the students of Yip Man's school by the
pupils of a rival Kung Fu school. The two groups met on the rooftop of
an apartment block for what was meant to be a good-willed, non contact
contest. However, the event quickly turned into an ugly and violent affair.
During a sparring match, a boy from the rival establishment (the Choi
Li Fut School) gave Bruce a black eye. Bruce responded to this by delivering
a series of devastating straight punches and high kicks in a fit of uncontrolled
rage. Although the boy escaped with only a lost tooth, his parents complained
to the police and Bruce Lee soon found himself under arrest. Shortly afterwards,
Lee's parents agreed that the only wise thing left to do would be to send
Bruce away from Hong Kong out of harm's way. And so, Bruce Lee was sent
back to San Franciso, the city of his birth. As his Chinese name predicted,
he did indeed return again.