In Memory of Bruce Lee: What Many of Us Haven't Learned From His Death
Black Belt's entertainment blogger has a personal story to tell about Bruce Lee, and it has the potential to benefit all martial artists.
On July 20, 1973, Bruce Lee passed away at age 32. After so many years, there’s very little anyone who didn’t know him on an intimate level can add to any conversation about his legacy. Yet on a personal level, everyone has a story to share about the “Little Dragon.” Mine is the subject of this blog. I actually have two Bruce Lee stories to share. One you may know, and the other you probably don't. The 75th anniversary of Bruce Lee's birth is celebrated in the August/September 2015 issue of Black Belt. When I was 16, I was forced to down 30 pills a day and required to report to the hospital every three months. My doctor said I'd be dead in five years due to cystic fibrosis, a progressive, incurable disease. Death by malnutrition, suffocation, dehydration and lung infection was what I had to look forward to. Two weeks later, I watched Bruce Lee kick butt in Fists of Fury (aka The Big Boss). It was 1973, and all of a sudden I was no longer depressed and waiting to die. All I could think about was learning what Lee was doing. As I immersed myself in the martial arts, I found that their real purpose is not to convey ways of fighting but to spread the art of healing. And I needed to heal myself. I discovered one chance for survival: an ancient Chinese healing skill that was seldom taught to outsiders.
Download a free guide titled “Jim Kelly: Martial Artist and Co-Star of the Bruce Lee Movie Enter the Dragon — A Vintage Interview” today. Just click here.With that in mind, I moved to Taiwan in 1979 in search of a cryptic cure that most doctors claimed didn't exist. At the airport, I was arrested and wrongly charged with smuggling illegal weapons and trafficking drugs. I was even threatened with the death penalty. It was definitely a bad time to be an American in Taiwan. After straightening things out, I became a stuntman in kung fu soap operas and eventually won the trust of the man who would teach me his interpretation of chi kung (also spelled qi gong). Five months later, I was off all the meds and no longer needed therapy — as has been the case for the past 35 years. Later, my teacher introduced me to chi healing, and my wife and I have been practicing it for more than 28 years now. We've done everything from working with Olympic athletes to helping veterans returning from war. Some of you may know this Bruce Lee story — I’ve written about it in the past. Here’s one you don't know. The newest Bruce Lee/jeet kune do book comes from researcher Tommy Gong. Click here to order. One day while serving as an apprentice to a Hong Kong fight director who was working on CBS's Martial Law TV series (Sammo Hung and Arsenio Hall), I arrived on set only to discover that my mentor was experiencing a severe headache. When the TV crew members offered him their heavy-duty painkillers, he looked at me and said, "That's how Bruce Lee died, blindly taking a prescription drug that wasn't his." True enough. Lee did die from an allergic reaction to the prescription drug Equagesic. Because the fight director was familiar with my background, he asked if I knew how to get rid of a splitting headache. I did my thing, and a minute later, his headache had disappeared. It recently hit me: Why didn't Bruce Lee know how to do this? In olde martial arts schools, a sifu was often a healer who would pass his knowledge down to his students, Huang Fei-hung being a famous example. Yip Man (also spelled Ip Man), the man who taught Bruce Lee wing chun kung fu, wasn't a healer. Based on the literature, we know that Lee didn't buy into the esoteric aspects of kung fu or chi kung. Maybe that was because he just never met the right sifu. Lee accepted Western medicine, which is not a bad thing, but I wonder if his lack of interest in traditional Chinese medicine was related to his rejection of traditional martial arts. Lee was enthusiastic about using herbs, juices and teas as a means to create energy for training and optimize overall health, but when he found himself suffering a headache on that fateful day, he turned to Western medicine. This brings us to modern-day martial artists. We respect and admire Bruce Lee for his jeet kune do, his physical abilities, his dedication to self-development and his deep-seated philosophical beliefs. Yet how many of us know how to heal our opponent if we, God forbid, happen to injure him or her in the dojo or on the street? If you’re a teacher, are you prepared to take care of your students as they inevitably experience the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual ups and downs that are inherent in martial arts training? Are you teaching them how to heal in addition to how to hurt?
Curious about the Little Dragon’s exercise program? Check out “The Fighting Man’s Exercise: Bruce Lee’s Training Regimen.”The first take-away here on the anniversary of Bruce Lee’s death probably doesn’t need to be reiterated, but I will do so nevertheless: No one should ever take another person’s prescription medication. The second is if we understand how our health and emotional choices are tied in to our chi, we’re more likely to invest some time in learning a few simple healing skills that could avert a tragedy like the one that took Lee’s life in 1973. My own take-away is this: I will always be grateful that I'm alive because of Bruce Lee — hell, I walked 3,000 miles to pay my respects at his gravesite in Seattle! — and I will continue to spread the word regarding his work. I hope that on this occasion when the martial arts world reflects on Lee's life, we can look behind the Oz curtain and see the potential of the art of healing. After all, Bruce Lee is the martial artist who taught us to have no limitation as limitation. (“Bruce Lee” is a registered trademark of Bruce Lee Enterprises LLC. The Bruce Lee name, image and likeness are intellectual property of Bruce Lee Enterprises LLC.)Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.