Bruce Lee Bruce Lee in Seattle — Part 1


By Assunta Ng

Shannon Lee (Photo by Assunta Ng)

Did you know there are more Bruce Lee magazine covers than Marilyn Monroe?

Just google him and you’ll find that Lee has graced hundreds and hundreds of magazine covers, not only in martial arts, but also in mainstream media like Rolling Stone, Time and People. Lee’s magazine cover count easily exceeds the thousands when considering multilingual martial arts and entertainment media in Asia.

And if you count the number of toys with the image of Lee and other memorabilia, you will find out that Lee’s collection is worth a lot of money. His fans span the globe, and not just in America and Asia, according to Seattle-based Bruce Lee historian and collector Perry Lee (no relation to Lee).

Bruce Lee (center, back row) with some Seattle judo students, including Cheryl Chow (second from left, middle row), Wendee Ong (third from left, middle row), Brien Chow (front row, middle) Mark Chow (front row, far right) and Don Wong (front row, far left). (Photo by Wendee Ong)

What separated him from other American action heroes is that he is an Asian American. Even 49 years (more than a generation) after his death, his popularity has skyrocketed.

“He (Lee) is still relevant today,” said Perry, who had met Lee in 1964. Perry was only 14 years old and he witnessed Lee’s victory against a great boxing champion not Asian.

“No one can match his talent. He revolutionized the martial arts.

Lee had invented a style of kung fu, Jeet Kune Do (JKD), which is different from other forms of kung fu. It is also federally recognized as Asian American only, while other styles of martial arts originated in Asia. An innovator, he had integrated the martial arts philosophy of East and West and developed his own modern brand.

In front of the Wing Luke Museum. Left to right: Derek Chinn, Betty Lau, Gary Locke, Shannon Lee, Wendee Ong, guest, Park Eng, Perry Lee and Mark Chow. (Photo by Jerry Lee)

And it was during his years in Seattle, from 1959 to 1964, where he had founded kung fu schools in Chinatown as well as at the University District, teaching judo and martial arts, hence the inspiration of the JDK materialized. There are millions of JKD students and schools around the world.

To understand how he learned to apply philosophy to kung fu, the new Bruce Lee exhibition at the Wing Luke Asian Museum would highlight his thirst for knowledge from the 2,800 books he had collected during his 32 years of life. The actual 230 books in his collection were artfully presented through a cut-out image of Lee raising his fist and kicking high.

Shannon Lee and Joel Barraquiel Tan (Photo by Jerry Lee)

“This is [an] exciting and a beautiful continuation in a journey of self-discovery,” said Wing Executive Director Joël Barraquiel Tan.

“It shows how young Bruce Lee was shaped by this neighborhood and the community. A lot of his teachings and learnings came from here (Seattle). The ability to be in a safe nurturing community allowed him to experiment and allowed him to be unique from who he was. This is how he became the icon of Bruce Lee.

Shannon Lee, his daughter, was in town earlier to launch the new exhibit.

Visiting old bookstores was one of Lee’s hobbies. A small part of his books, about 230 books, was part of the exhibition.

“He signed every single one of them,” Shannon said. “He studied, underlined and annotated his books. He wrote notes on the margin. He was an active reader. He wanted to educate himself and apply what he had learned from books.

Among the piles of books he accumulated were philosophy, films, eastern and western martial arts, and different types of exercise, including boxing, weight training, yoga, and even how to play football. Why football? I guess Lee studied football because it is a combat sport where the violent aspect and perseverance are a major component. He might be able to apply some of his strategies.

Water was an important part of his philosophy. Through his training with his master Ip Man, Lee practiced hitting the water. He discovered that water was “the very essence of kung fu”. The theme of the exhibit was “Be the Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee”. The exhibition illustrated its evolution at different stages of development. This will give you insight into Lee’s mind through the element of water.

The exhibit has a meditative flair, unlike any other Bruce Lee exhibits that exist in San Francisco and Hong Kong.

“People can experience a different side of my dad than ever before,” Shannon said. “Emerge from his side of him, touch his knowledge, his philosophy and his books. How he cultivated his mind, body and philosophy and synthesized them into his life.

Lee’s books, a few pastilles, were written in Chinese, English, and even other languages ​​like French. He couldn’t read these languages, but he studied pictures from combat books. Shannon said they were all well read as Lee underlined quotes and wrote notes in the book.

He also added his own writing, self-cultivation steps, and you could see the process and how he gained knowledge throughout his life.

Bruce Lee in Seattle

Bruce Lee merchandise is one of the top-selling items at the Wing. (Photo by Assunta Ng)

If you read about Bruce Lee, you will find that he has taught several Hollywood celebrities, from Steven McQueen to Chuck Norris.

But locally his students were equally impressive, including former Governor Gary Locke, former Judge Park Eng and Judge Mark Chow.

Born in San Francisco, Lee and his family returned to Hong Kong in 1941. In 1959, Lee returned to the United States at the age of 19.

According to the Bruce Lee Tour organized by the Wing Museum, he opened a martial arts school on South King Street, and another on South Weller Street.

Lee’s parents were Cantonese opera and film stars who toured different parts of the world. They were performing in San Francisco in 1940 when Lee was born. He returned to the United States to retain his American citizenship after turning 18. They left their son with good friends, the late Ruby and Ping Chow, who owned the Ruby Chow restaurant. There, Lee worked as a busboy and waiter. He also lived in the attic of the restaurant.

Brien Chow, Ruby’s son, was one of Lee’s judo students when he was 11 years old. Chow, now 71, said he had never seen Lee yelling at his students. Chow remembered Lee showing him tricks.

“He could move his fingers through a Batman mask so quickly you couldn’t see him doing it. That’s how good he was. So when he hit you, you couldn’t tell where or how either.

Chow also said he trained so hard, punching the gravel, that he developed calluses.

“The most memorable moment with Bruce was when I got to flip Bruce over my shoulder and see Bruce fly high in the air!” said former student Wendee Ong. “I had that ‘ah ha moment’ with much more confidence in my skills. However, deep in my heart, I knew that Bruce was deliberately flying high and mighty to give me a boost of confidence and a sense of accomplishment. !

Few Seattleites know he was an avid dancer. Lee was “a practical prankster,” Ong said. Lee taught a group of girls from the Seattle Chinese Girls Drill Team to dance the cha-cha at a birthday party at the Ruby Chow restaurant.

“He would kick his nimble leg in the air and spin around 360 degrees in two seconds flat…while quickly returning to position to move his hips back and forth to the rhythm of cha cha cha! Bruce was amazing to watch,” Ong said. In 1958, Lee won the Hong Kong Schools Boxing Tournament, as well as the Hong Kong Cha-Cha Championship, according to Wikipedia.

Bruce Lee merchandise is one of the top-selling items at the Wing. (Photo by Assunta Ng)

Most masters know how to practice martial arts, but not ballroom dancing. They require conflicting skills: kung fu requires powerful punches and kicks with machismo, while cha cha is smooth and elegant with sexy moves. To achieve both reflects Lee’s talent and mastery of yang and yin.

Lee will always be remembered for his impish smile and laugh whenever he was around, Ong said.

“Bruce was good at so many things,” said Vi Mar, 92, whom Lee called his aunt in Seattle. “He is a poet, an intellect. He liked to create verses. He learned and taught others to protect themselves. He defended the treatment of Chinese Americans being treated as second-class citizens.

Throughout Lee’s Hollywood career, he was given lesser roles or was not cast because of his accent and fear of not being popular. After going to Hong Kong, Lee proved everyone wrong. His films have been box office hits.

“Be the Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee”
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday

The Wing’s interactive exhibit will be a permanent exhibit. You can also join Bruce Lee Tours, which is also part of Wing’s program.

Assunta can be contacted at [email protected]


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