It’s been over 43 years since the world lost what many consider to be the most influential martial artist of all time. Bruce Lee was “credited with helping to change the way Asians were presented in American films” because Asians were often cast to play mostly insignificant, comical roles in Hollywood films back in that era. He truly was a pioneer of his time.
Bruce is mostly known as a martial artist and an actor and is remembered for his starring roles in five major films: The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), Enter the Dragon (1973), and The Game of Death (1978). All five are classic films that had a major impact on the industry back in the 1970s and continue to be glorified to this day.
Unfortunately, Bruce was involved in only 5 films as his career was cut short by his untimely death at the young age of 32 years old. It was a shocking and devastating loss that many still cannot comprehend. His influence and impact not only on the film industry but also on society as a whole will transcend time. Movies like Kill Bill, video games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, and many modern day fighters in various combat sports exemplify how so many have tried to emulate the great Bruce Lee.
Bruce was not just a martial artist and an actor; he was also a filmmaker, a philosopher, an artist, a teacher, and a role model to the thousands who knew him personally and to the millions who followed him and his work. His persona, charisma, and personality were larger than life. There are very few that ever combine the ability and diversity that Bruce possessed. He was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. A true legend.
So let’s have a look at some of the most shocking facts about Bruce Lee that even his most dedicated followers probably don’t know about him. We’ll also try to include some details for those who are wondering why he’s so popular and those who would like to know more about the man and the legend.
15. Bruce And Drugs
Don’t worry. Bruce never had an actual drug problem. He may have taken some painkillers over the years for his various injuries, especially the devastating back injury that almost cost him his career, but there’s a big difference between treating pain with pills and being addicted to drugs. Thankfully, there is no record of him having any issues with substance abuse.
However, while Bruce never smoked or drank alcohol, it is known that he used Nepalese hash — a strong form of cannabis, according to some articles and biographies about him. Bruce admitted that he used cannabis, which he chewed for over 10 years. Nothing wrong with that. If anything, it probably helped him with his philosophy and theology.
14. Bruce Lee’s Body
When we think about Bruce Lee, we all remember him being totally ripped, which he was. Every time we saw him, especially during his movies, you could see his chiseled frame, his abs, and all that muscle, without an ounce of fat to be seen. He basically appeared to be as close to perfection as possible. But looks can be deceiving.
First of all, Bruce Lee’s left leg was an inch shorter than his right — hard to tell considering how fast his kicks were. But Bruce actually had some work done to his body when he had the sweat glands removed from his armpits. They were surgically removed in 1972 “for aesthetic reasons.” Bruce hated having sweaty pits.
13. Bruce Lee Had Terrible Eyesight
This might be the reason why Bruce mostly relied on touch rather than sight. Since Bruce had such poor eyesight, he was one of the first to ever try using contact lenses. However, since contact lenses were so uncomfortable back in those days, he went back to using his old “Coke bottle” glasses, which looked more like magnifying glasses than regular glasses.
Because of his poor eyesight, Bruce failed a basic military physical in 1963 held by the US Army Draft Board. He managed to avoid being shipped off to Vietnam and taking part in the war because of his eyes.
12. Bruce Lee, The Philosopher
Apart from his martial arts and acting, Bruce Lee spent hours and hours reading and writing about philosophy and theology. Lee had studied philosophy when he was a student at the University of Washington. In fact, his buddy, Steve McQueen, said he would “fly Bruce to sets so that they could discuss philosophy.” Everyone respected Bruce’s opinion and loved picking his brain about his thoughts on various topics.
Bruce created Jeet Kune Do from Wing Chun and other martial arts, but it wasn’t just an art; it was a philosophy that helped put his practice into words. The book “The Warrior Within” was about Bruce Lee’s philosophies “to better understand the world around you and achieve a rewarding life.” It’s a fantastic read and highly recommended.
11. Bruce Lee, The Artist
Bruce Lee also spent hours every day writing poetry and doing sketch art. His poetry was included in another of his famous books “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.” According to his friends, “He loved the art of poetry and wrote it regularly.”
Bruce also loved to draw and was quite good at sketch art. Most of his drawings were of various fight scenes and martial artists. There are a lot of impressive photos of his work online.
10. Bruce Versus The Chinese Mob
Legend has it that Bruce came to America to escape the Chinese Mob. Apparently, while he was living in Hong Kong, he beat up a guy who had ties to the Chinese Mob, so he was sent back to the US for his own safety. As a teenager, Bruce actually led a gang called ‘The Tigers of Junction Street,” so it’s no surprise that he made some enemies during that time.
Bruce got into a lot of fights as a young lad on the mean streets of Hong Kong, and his last street fight was said to be “on the roof of a 16-storey Nathan Road block that still stands.” Bruce wondered what would happen if he didn’t have a gang and how he would be able to defend himself without them. This led to his commitment to train at an even higher level.
9. Bruce Lee Was An Atheist
Bruce grew up in a bi-religious setting. His mother was Catholic and would go to church on Sundays, while his father was Buddhist. Although Bruce was sent to Catholic school at one point during his upbringing, his parents never really forced their religion upon him.
As an adult, Bruce claimed that he was an atheist. When he was asked in an interview about what religion he followed, he simply replied, “None whatsoever.” When he was asked if he believed in God, he said, “To be perfectly frank, I really do not.”
Bruce believed in the individual’s ability to find oneself through spirituality and self-discovery. He felt that “man, the living creature, the creating individual, is always more important than any established style or system.” To him, organized religion was a step in the wrong direction as it formed people’s beliefs and ultimately divided them.
8. Bruce Lee Was Part German
That’s right. We’re huge Bruce Lee fans, and even we didn’t know that. It turns out that Bruce’s grandfather was 100% German. Because of the mixed blood, Bruce was considered “non-pure” like many other Chinese who had mixed backgrounds. This was actually detrimental to Bruce’s quest to train in martial arts as his “status prevented his acceptance into many Kung Fu schools back in the 50’s and slimmed his choices.”
It actually turned out to be a blessing and helped change Bruce’s path and his transition into what he eventually became. Luckily for Bruce and those of us who look up to him, he managed to find his mentor, Ip Man, and learn the ways of Wing Chun, which he would later transform into his very own Jeet Kune Do style.
7. Bruce Lee Was A Great Dancer
This really isn’t too much of a surprise considering the coordination, balance, and flexibility it takes to be a top martial artist. The movements may be different, but in the end, they have more similarities than differences.
Bruce managed to win the Crown Colony Cha-Cha competition in 1958. While still only in high school, he would take time off from his busy schedule, which usually revolved around his martial arts training, to practice his dancing skills. He eventually went on to win Hong Kong’s premier Cha-Cha competition.
It’s too bad they didn’t have shows like “Dancing With The Stars” back in those days. One can only imagine how Bruce Lee would’ve fared going up against the likes of John Travolta and other stars from that era. Knowing Bruce, he probably would’ve won that, too.
6. Things Bruce Couldn’t Do
While it may not be too shocking that Bruce was a great dancer, it’s a bit of a surprise that he couldn’t swim, ride a bike, or drive a car. Apparently, Bruce was afraid of the water and never learned how to swim after his sister held his head under the water when he was only 12 years old. It was a bad experience that had a lasting effect. Swimming would’ve been perfect for his training.
After having a couple of bad falls, Bruce gave up on trying to learn how to ride a bike — a real shame, as cycling also would’ve been great for his training, but he probably would’ve spent less time on things that he eventually mastered.
According to many of his close friends, Bruce was a terrible driver. He would often ask his friends to drive for him. Also, if you needed something done around the house, Bruce wasn’t the guy to ask. Being a handyman was not one of Bruce’s strengths.
5. Born To Be An Actor
Bruce was introduced to the film industry by his father who was a famous Cantonese opera star. He appeared in many films as a child. His very first film was a Cantonese-US production called “Golden Gate Girl” shot while he was in San Francisco when he was only three months old. He played a baby girl!
When he was still a child, he told his mother that he would be a famous movie star. By the age of six, he was in a Hong Kong film called “The Birth of Mankind,” where he was a street kid getting into fights. He ended up making 20 films by the time he was 18 years old. By the time he was an adult, he was very comfortable behind the camera, and it showed.
4. Bruce Lee, The Dragon
Bruce Lee’s real name was Lee Jun-Fan, but his family called him Mo Si Tung or “Never Sits Still.” And we can see why, although his sister Agnes nicknamed him the Little Dragon, which seemed to stick and become a theme throughout his life and movie-making career.
His family also developed a nickname for him, calling him “Little Phoenix,” probably because he was so active. The name Bruce was given to him by a nurse when he was born, and the English-sounding name managed to stick with him forever.
“Lee was born in the zodiac hour of the dragon in the year of the dragon.” To be more precise Bruce was born in the year of the Dragon, on the day of the dragon and in the hour of the dragon, so it’s only fitting that he was commonly nicknamed “Little Dragon”. That’s a lot of dragons.
3. Bruce’s Blinding Speed
Bruce Lee’s hands were so fast that his fight scenes were played at slower speeds so it wouldn’t be a complete blur. Those are some fast hands! And it’s no surprise considering that he practiced 5000 punches a day. You read that correctly, 5000. This not only helped his speed and quickness but also helped develop knockout power, even from his jabs.
He would practice punching cans, the old ones with the thicker aluminum, and he would often cut himself. Bruce also used to “demonstrate his speed by placing a coin in someone’s hand. He would then snatch the coin and replace it with another before the person could clench their fist and stop him.”
2. Bruce’s Death
Lee’s death is still shrouded in mystery even to this day. Many have suggested that he was poisoned or that there was some paranormal intervention. There are many theories about what actually happened and why a man so healthy could suddenly pass away in the blink of an eye. To this day, the events surrounding his death are still debated by family, friends, and his millions of fans and followers.
Some even suggest that it was a Chinese triad hit. There were enemies from past run-ins, and there was even jealousy and anger about Bruce teaching an Asian art to non-Asians and Westerners — something that was frowned upon in the Chinese community. Bruce was even warned on several occasions about this. We’ll probably never know what actually caused his death.
1. Bruce Lee Versus Muhammad Ali
While many Bruce Lee fans know about his fight with Jackie Chan in “Enter The Dragon,” where he grabs Jackie by the hair and snaps his neck, or when Bruce took out friends and training partners like Chuck Norris and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, they usually don’t know about his near fight with Muhammad Ali.
Okay, so the fights with Jackie, Chuck, and Kareem were only scenes from his movies, and thus, not real. However, Bruce actually hoped to someday fight the boxing legend. Bruce thought of Muhammad Ali as a “superior fighter” and studied his style and technique for hours, including an analysis of his footwork and movements for an eventual showdown, which, unfortunately, never happened. He had great respect for Ali, especially for his stance against the Vietnam war and his outspoken personality. Two unforgettable legends.