Bruce Lee & Seattle

Bruce Lee while filming “Fists of Fury”

Bruce Lee had, and still has, significant ties to Seattle. (Some of you may already know this.) He finished his high school education here,

Bruce Lee with son Brandon, circa 1966

waited tables at a restaurant in the International District, lived near and attended the University of Washington as a philosophy student, went on their first date at the Space Needle then married a local woman, and started his first martial arts studio at 22 years old. And he’s buried here, on Capitol Hill. It’s estimated that 10,000 people visit his grave every year, over 40 years after he passed away, showing the extent of his influence. A statue stands in Hong Kong harbor in tribute to him as well.

The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience is currently running Part 3 of a three-year exhibit on this legendary & international martial artist and actor, entitled, “Do You Know Bruce?” The recent installment, “Day in the Life of Bruce Lee” examines his day-to-day rituals and habits, which reflected his belief in balancing body, mind, and spirit. But the experience extends beyond the walls of the museum, with the option of a walking tour of the places Bruce hung out at while living in Seattle and sharing a communal meal. Also, the ability to track and improve one’s own “day in my life” with a digital form posted on the Wing Luke website is available.

Current exhibit, Wing Luke Museum

So why does Bruce Lee matter? Let me count the ways:  1) Prior to his making martial arts movies, roles for those with Asian descent were usually like cardboard cutouts rather than real people, in both appearance and words. He refused to take roles that were stereotypical, and created a whole new perception of what was possible.

Lee as Kato in the Green Hornet TV series

2) He raised the bar on the quality of martial arts films, and didn’t depend on hidden wires for special effects (common at the time), doing all of his own stunt work.  3) He was a global success, with a huge following initially in Hong Kong, China, which then spread to the U.S. and other countries. Two well-known people in martial arts, Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan, both started their careers in his movies. 4) The man was a natural in front of a camera, due to knowing how to create the most effective camera angles from his experience making 20 films in Hong Kong before the age of 18, actual street fighting experience, plus a significant dose of charisma and humor. 5) Some of his fitness and nutrition practices were ahead of the curve, and are now accepted as mainstream belief. 6) Although many of his films were rated “R”, he didn’t believe in violence for violence’s sake. He took a philosophical viewpoint, begun most likely with his studies at U-Dub, and said any violence in his movies had a reason, and wasn’t random. 7) He was all-inclusive: he taught everyone the martial arts in Seattle, California, and worldwide, regardless of their ethnic background. At that time, kung fu and other forms were not taught to non-Chinese, according to his daughter Shannon. He experienced bias growing up in Hong Kong when it was determined he was one-quarter German/Caucasian, and perhaps this affected his future attitude toward teaching. As his widow Linda Lee Cadwell mentions in “I Am Bruce Lee”, one of the documentaries about him: “Bruce Lee was a man who did not judge a person by what race they were.” And Bruce himself responded to a question on the Pierre Berton show in 1971 (called “The Lost Interview”) about how he viewed himself: “You know how I think of myself? As a human being. Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family. It just so happens that people are different.”

The current Bruce Lee exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum (719 South King St.) tentatively runs through mid-September 2017.

Bruce Lee statue in Hong Kong harbor.  Photo by IQRemis / flickr

The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.”
– Bruce Lee