Remembering the Dragon: A tribute to martial arts legend Bruce Lee

Updated: Nov 28, 2016, 10:38 IST | Hemal Ashar |

If Bruce Lee were alive, he would have been 76 today. Mumbai's martial arts students and teachers hail the king and say his Lee-gacy lives on in the kiai (martial arts war cry) that resonates in training halls across the world

If the Little Dragon, as he was known, who stripped the martial arts of its shroud of secrecy and intrigue and whose doctor according to Lee lore (the folklore that surrounds Bruce Lee) told him that he had the body of an 18-year-old at 32, were alive today, he would be blowing out 76 candles on his birthday cake, one suspects with the same ease he blew away his opponents in the martial arts world.


There is plenty of Lee lore so much in fact, that sometimes, myth coalesces with reality making his life and his feats seem the stuff of faction (a mix of fact and fiction) but, like Sensei (a Sensei is a teacher in Japanese) Hosi Batlivala, karate teacher says, "So good was Bruce Lee that he sounds supernatural. But, it was all true, he was the real thing."

Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee readies to deliver his devastating stop side kick complete with fearsome kiai

Batlivala claims that it was Bruce Lee's movie, Enter the Dragon that, "ignited young minds and bodies. Suddenly, everybody wanted to become a Bruce Lee here, the movie was a catalyst for the martial arts boom in India."

Batlivala adds, "The Bruce Lee one sees in movies, some of those techniques and movements may be trick photography but certainly, even on celluloid one got the impression that this man was deadly. Lethal, quick and especially strong on basics he was technically perfect."

Honey trap

Bruce Lee devised a fighting style called Jeet Kune Do. Literally translated, it means the way of the intercepting fist. "Bruce Lee's way of fighting has not seen the same popularity as karate or even judo perhaps because youngsters today want certificates, grades, ranks and belts (belts of different colours denote the rank in martial arts) and Bruce Lee never believed in any of that," explains Batlivala.

Batlivala who travels to Japan sporadically, where karate found a homeland, says that international martial artistes still talk about the awesome Bruce Lee in traditional karate schools, "on the Japanese island of Okinawa," signs off Batlivala, who believes that Bruce may have been killed by an actress who acted as a honey trap poisoning him, because it was believed he had so many enemies.


Poison may have stilled the body that had earned Bruce Lee the epithet of the fittest man in the world but his spirit lives on from Okinawa in Japan to Andheri in Mumbai. Harish Kanchan, martial artiste says, "My generation was hugely influenced by Lee. When we were growing up and learning karate, Lee was at his peak," remembers Kanchan who is now a businessman.

The Andheri resident recounts, "I was particularly impressed with the way small-statured Lee could ward off opponents much bigger than him because of his phenomenal speed. When watching his movies, observe his roundhouse (to the side of the face) kick - it was a bolt of lightning. Then of course, was the shuffling side kick, both signature Bruce Lee moves, both to die for."


Martial arts teacher, Sensei Yagness Shetty and his students are giving Bruce Lee a unique 70-gun salute. Shetty and his young students will pay homage to Lee by making, "a 70-foot wood sculpture of Bruce Lee, which is going to be painted by students," says Shetty. The sculpture is to be put in the S M Shetty School hall at Hiranandani Powai. 

For Sensei Sandeep Salvi, international karate referee, "Lee influenced me as a practicing karateka I was inspired to continue training despite the toughness and rigours of karate training when I started (much before the Bruce Lee craze, of course). I used to always say if he can overcome such odds and adversity, physical and mental, in his life why can't I? Now, I tell my students the same, never give up.

I tell them, "You have really lost when you stop trying to succeed. All other setbacks are lessons in life. If you learn from them you have not lost." Salvi says, "Bruce Lee's philosophy, 'to have no limits as limits, to have no style as style'. was his strength." Aficionados will know that the seemingly esoteric statement means that Bruce Lee stressed that one should take what works in a street fight, borrow from all fighting forms and go for strikes that are practical not flashy.


Sensei Pervez B Mistry calls Bruce Lee a, "natural genius" and adds, "I am fascinated by Bruce Lee and a huge fan." He was before his time in some ways, says Mistry who adds that, "Lee was a thinker, he was a very deep person.
I still refer to his books and I remember having met Linda Lee (Bruce Lee's widow) with Ed Parker (martial artiste) in the US, in 2005." For Sensei Rajesh Thakkar, "There was an explosion of numbers in karate class after Enter the Dragon released in India. I remember people coming in from Nasik, Surat to train in karate in the city."


As fast as he shot to fame, Lee,was gone. It was Exit the Dragon in 1973, at 32 and the reason of his death continues to be debated to this day.

In one of those numerous books on Lee, a closing paragraph says: 'In the red light district of Wanchai, a Hong Kong suburb, is a gigantic poster of Lee and written in Chinese characters is the simple message: 'The Spirit of Lee Lives On...' Wanchai's moving message rings true even today, from a poster in Hong Kong to a sculpture at the Hiranandani Gardens, Powai, one can feel Lee's soul in the sweat and blood that drops to the floor in thousands of martial arts training halls across the world.

A life, a death
Bruce Lee was born on November 27, 1940 in San Francisco, California, USA. He died on July 20, 1973 in Hong Kong.
Birth Name: Lee Jun Fan
Height: 5' 7 " (1.71 m)

Bruce Lee married Linda Lee in the 1960s. He had two children - son, Brandon Lee and daughter, Shannon Lee. Brandon was killed in a freak accident on the sets of The Crow (1994). Linda Lee and Shannon Lee live in the USA.

Conspiracy theories
A number of theories that arose after his death continue to swirl, even though the medical reason given was cerebral edema.

Some of these theories are: Bruce Lee was killed by poisoning by old masters and monks who were unhappy at what he did to the martial arts.

He died due to overtraining, an exhausted body could not cope any longer.
His enemies poisoned him.
He died of too much sex.

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