Bruce Lee: An Introduction

An introduction to Bruce Lee's life, 1940 - 1973.

1940 - Bruce Lee is born., 1940-11-27, From the collection of: Bruce Lee Foundation
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Lee Jun-Fan was born in the hour & year of the dragon, an omen for his spectacular life to come, on November 27th, 1940. His English name, Bruce, was suggested to his parents by an attending nurse.

Bruce Lee's birthplace - The Chinese Hospital in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Bruce's First Appearance in Film (1941) by UnknownBruce Lee Foundation

1941 - First Appears in Film.

Bruce appears in the first of over 20 films as a child actor in Hong Kong. His first appearance is as a 3 month old in the film "Golden Gate Girl". Pictured here with his father, Lee Hoi-Chuen.

Bruce with his Parents (Circa 1957)Bruce Lee Foundation

Bruce's Parents.

A teenage Bruce with his Father, (left) Lee Hoi-chuen and Mother (right), Grace Ho. Lee Hoi-chuen was a leading member of the Cantonese opera and film communities at the time of Bruce's birth. Grace came from one of the wealthiest and most powerful clans in Hong Kong and was of half-Chinese and half-Caucasian descent. 

Bruce Lee and Master Yip Man (Circa. 1954 - 58)Bruce Lee Foundation

1954 - Begins studying Wing Chun Gung Fu.

At 13 years old, Bruce followed his desire to learn martial arts and began studying Wing Chun Gung Fu under master Yip Man in Hong Kong. Bruce studied with Yip Man from 1954 - 1959. 

1958 - Becomes a Cha Cha champion. (1958)Bruce Lee Foundation

1958 - Becomes Cha Cha champion. 

Bruce becomes the Crown Colony Cha-Cha champion of Hong Kong. The grace, balance and entertaining nature of Bruce's dancing skills, coupled with his martial arts power and fluidity, made for a mesmerizing combination in his future films. He taught Cha Cha for a brief period upon arriving in the USA. 

Cha Cha Dance Steps in Bruce's Notebook (1958)Bruce Lee Foundation

Bruce's handwritten Cha Cha "Fancy" steps.

Note the references to family members on the right page, who he practiced his moves with.

"Mother" and "Father", brothers "Robert" and "Peter" and sister "Agnis". Bruce's other sister, Phoebe, is not listed.

Bruce arriving in San Francisco (Circa. April 1959) by UnknownBruce Lee Foundation

1959 - Departs Hong Kong for the USA.

With $100 in his pocket, a then 18 year old Bruce departed from Hong Kong for the United States, arriving in San Francisco, California (pictured here) before settling in Seattle, Washington. On the journey, Bruce could be found teaching some of the more affluent passengers, how to dance. 

Bruce Lee during his time in Seattle (Circa. 1961 / 62) by UnknownBruce Lee Foundation

Whilst in Seattle, Bruce received his high school diploma from Edison Technical School (now Seattle Central College). He went on to study philosophy at the University of Washington.

Letter to Pearl Draft pg.1 (1962) by Bruce LeeBruce Lee Foundation

At 22, Bruce penned a letter to friend "Pearl". He goes into detail about his goals & the creative energy he felt within himself. Click & drag on the letter to read this 4 page draft letter excerpt.

Letter to Pearl Draft pg.2 (1962) by Bruce LeeBruce Lee Foundation

"I feel I have this great creative and spiritual force within me..."

Letter to Pearl Draft pg.3 (1962) by Bruce LeeBruce Lee Foundation

Letter to Pearl Draft pg.4 (1962) by Bruce LeeBruce Lee Foundation

1963 - Opens first Jun Fan Gung Fu School (1963)Bruce Lee Foundation

1963 - Opens 1st "Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute".

Bruce opens his first martial arts school, the "Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute" in Seattle, in 1963. The first location of this school was in a Seattle carport. It then moved to a basement in Chinatown, then to the University district. Taky Kimura (pictured here sparring with Bruce in the Chinatown basement location) still runs the Seattle JFGFI to this day.

Bruce Lee & Taky Kimura teaching at JFGFI Seattle (Circa 1963)Bruce Lee Foundation

Frame 2 - Bruce and Taky demonstrating in front of the class. Notice Bruce's blurred right leg.

Frame 3 - Before Taky has time to blink, Bruce's right leg has now stopped dead. This is an early example of just how fast Bruce was.

Bruce Lee with his Oakland JFGFI Students. (Circa 1964 / 65) by UnknownBruce Lee Foundation

1964 - Opens Second JFGFI in Oakland, CA.

Bruce opens the second "Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute", in Oakland, CA, in 1964. The Oakland school was originally located on Broadway Ave, but later relocated to a garage on Monticello Ave, at the home of another martial arts pioneer in the US, James Yimm Lee (pictured front row, 3rd from L-R). To train at this location, you had to be first invited. 

The second location of Bruce's school in Oakland, CA and former family home of James Lee. 3039 Monticello Ave.

1964 / 1967 - The One Inch Punch (Circa 1967)Bruce Lee Foundation

1964 - Bruce debuts his now famous one-inch punch, during an exhibition at the International Karate Championships in Long Beach, CA and is discovered by Hollywood. He returned in 1967 (pictured).

1964 / 1967 - The One Inch Punch (Circa 1967)Bruce Lee Foundation

1964 / 1967 - The One Inch Punch (Circa 1967)Bruce Lee Foundation

1964 - Bruce and Linda Marry (circa 1963)Bruce Lee Foundation

1964 - Bruce & Linda Marry.

Bruce and girlfriend, Linda Emery, are married in Seattle on August 17th, 1964. At the time, both Bruce and Linda knew that their parents would not approve of their interracial marriage. 

1965 - Brandon Lee is born (1965-12-01)Bruce Lee Foundation

Linda Lee Cadwell on Bruce and Brandon

Bruce and Linda's son, Brandon Bruce Lee, is born on February 1st, 1965. Brandon went on to carve out a promising film career of his own, until his passing in 1993.

1966 - Begins shooting "The Green Hornet" (1966)Bruce Lee Foundation

1966 - The Kato Show.

Begins shooting “The Green Hornet” TV series and quickly draws a following as sidekick, Kato. Little did Bruce know that Kato's popularity was growing to iconic status in Hong Kong. He would soon find out.

1967 - Opens third Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute (1967)Bruce Lee Foundation

1967 - Opens third school in Los Angeles.

Bruce opens the third "Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute" in the Los Angeles Chinatown area. Around this time, the name of Bruce's own art of  "Jeet Kune Do", appears in writing for the first time.

The "Stages of Cultivation" plaques. Bruce had these plaques made specifically to demonstrate his three stages of total self cultivation. Partiality, Fluidity and Emptiness.

1969 - Shannon Emery Lee is born (1969-04-19)Bruce Lee Foundation

1969 - Shannon Lee is born.

On April 19th, 1969, Bruce and Linda welcome their second child, Shannon Emery Lee, to the world. Shannon is a successful, writer, producer, actor musician and CEO. She currently resides in her birth city of Los Angeles. 

1969 Daytimer Entry - "Shannon E Lee" (1969-04-19) by Bruce LeeBruce Lee Foundation

Bruce used his daytimers to keep track of his appointments, workouts, poetry and many other activities. In this particular entry, he welcomes his daughter Shannon Emery Lee to the world.

Walk On! Business Card and Holder (Circa 1969) by Bruce LeeBruce Lee Foundation

Shannon Lee tells the "Walk On!" story.

In 1969, Bruce suffered an injury to his back & was told he would never practice martial arts again. Bruce believed he could construct his own recovery & the "Walk On!" phrase was born. Code: BruceExhibit

Bruce Lee in "The Big Boss" (1971) by Golden HarvestBruce Lee Foundation

1971 - "The Big Boss" breaks records. 

In '71, Bruce stars in “The Big Boss”. The film breaks all box office records in Hong Kong, making Bruce Lee a household name in Asia. Bruce also guest stars in the TV show “Longstreet” in 1971. 

Bruce Lee in "Fist of Fury" (1972) by Golden HarvestBruce Lee Foundation

1972 - "Fist of Fury"

Following the success of "The Big Boss", Bruce stars in the Golden Harvest production of “Fist of Fury". 

1972 - "Fists Of Fury" (1972)Bruce Lee Foundation

1972 - "Fist of Fury".

Note the first few paragraphs of this media screening notice for the film, capturing Bruce Lee's star on the rise, and the unparalleled excitement around him.

1972 in "Way Of The Dragon" (1972) by Golden Harvest and Bruce LeeBruce Lee Foundation

1972 - "Way of The Dragon".

Bruce Lee writes, directs, produces, choreographs and stars in “The Way of the Dragon”. Both “Way” and “Fist of Fury” surpass the previous in box office results in Hong Kong, catapulting Bruce Lee to superstardom.

Bruce Lee in "Game of Death" (Circa. 1972) by Bruce Lee and Golden HarvestBruce Lee Foundation

1972 - Filming Begins on "Game of Death".

Bruce Lee posing in his, now famous, tracksuit, during filming of "Game of Death". Bruce's vision for the film, as producer, director and actor, was never completed due to his passing in July, 1973. 

1972 - "Game of Death" scene notes (Circa 1972) by Bruce LeeBruce Lee Foundation

An example of Bruce's screen notes & vision for "Game of Death". Filming was interrupted so Bruce could film & star in the Hollywood co-production of “Enter The Dragon”. Double click to zoom in.

1973 in "Enter The Dragon" (1973) by Warner Bros.Bruce Lee Foundation

1973 - "Enter The Dragon".

Bruce Lee appears as the first ever Asian-American actor in a Hollywood lead role. Bruce is elevated to iconic status, crushing racial stereotypes and showing the world that the Chinese could be a he-man; tough, with inflexible morals, and determination to make the world a better place.

1973 - "Enter The Dragon" by Warner Bros. and 1973Bruce Lee Foundation

Bruce fought hard to have his philosophy included in the final script of "Enter The Dragon". Initially, his requests were ignored, however in the end, he was successful. These example scenes are known as "Lao's Time". Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Bruce Lee: 1940 - 1973Bruce Lee Foundation

1973 - Bruce Lee passes away. 

Bruce Lee passes away in Hong Kong on July 20th, before the release of "Enter the Dragon" and is laid to rest in Seattle, Washington. He died from a cerebral edema caused by a hyper sensitive reaction to the painkiller, Equagesic, that he had taken for a headache. Bruce was 32. 

The Gravesite of Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee (1973-07-31) by Linda LeeBruce Lee Foundation

1973 - Laid to rest in Seattle. 

Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon Lee, are buried side-by-side at the Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle, USA. 

Credits: Story

(C) 2017 Bruce Lee Enterprise, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Created by the Bruce Lee Foundation. Thank you to all our donors and supporters. Without you, this exhibit would not be possible.


BRUCE LEE® and the Bruce Lee signature are registered trademarks of Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC.  The Bruce Lee name, image, likeness and all related indicia are intellectual property of Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Footage and some imagery courtesy of Bruce Lee Enterprises, Warner Bros., American Broadcasting Company, Spike TV, Union Film Enterprise, Fortune Star Media, Hong Kong Film Archive.

Audio provided by the "Bruce Lee Podcast". For complete episodes visit

Reference Material: "Bruce Lee: Evolution of a Martial Artist" by Tommy Gong.

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Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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