It seems apt to write about Bruce Lee today – he died 38 years ago on 20th July 1973. Cause of death has been quoted as cerebral edema, a swelling of the brain possibly caused by an allergic reaction to a pain killer. As with many young people when they die it seemed incredible at the time. Bruce was 32, not the bloated figure Elvis became, or the drink fuelled deaths of Bon Scott, Mama Cass or John Bonham. Bruce Lee was the fittest man alive at the time, chiseled and at the height of his powers. His death caused a shock in 1973 and some people still find it hard to believe to this day.
I was 10 years old when he died. I can remember my mum and dad went to see ‘Enter the Dragon’, It was an X film and I was too young to see it. ‘Tiswas’ and the ‘World of Sport’ would show clips, but I wasn’t to see it until 1981, and an edited version at that. It’s hard to believe that nunchaku’s used to be banned from films at one time. When I began training in Karate in June 1981 Bruce Lee was still a big name, 8 years after his passing. I had a friend, Rob Hamilton, who loved Bruce and the films. We used to watch video copies of ‘Enter the Dragon’ during the winter of 1981/1982, gangs of us turning up at people’s houses with Dougie Jeffreys VHS Ferguson Videostar after Karate training. All of us wanting to emulate Bruce.
Another friend, who I shared a house with, Phil Vissian, had the early Dan Inosanto books which I devoured avidly, trying to gain an insight into what made Bruce so good. I never imagined that I would ever learn Bruce’s art of Jeet Kune Do (the way of the intercepting fist) or that I’d become friends with his senior students. In 1987 I had my first glimpse of JKD at a Larry Hartsell seminar. Quite simply my life changed forever that weekend. My 6 years of training seemed almost irrelevant compared to what I’d learnt and what I’d later learn from UK instructors Terry Barnett, Ralph Jones and Bob Breen.
Meeting Dan Inosanto for the first time was like meeting Dave Grohl would be today. I was blown away again, I had breakfast and lunch with Dan, Terry and Cass Magda – 25 years later this experience is still one of my martial arts highlights. I was getting to meet people who really knew Bruce Lee. I was learning about this man who had inspired me so much. It was nothing to what I would learn from the man who has been my teacher for the past 21 years. Richard Bustillo helped me to know JKD, to really understand it, but the conversations I had with him was where my true learning came from. Richard taught me about Bruce Lee, the man, not the legend. Bruce was a driven man, a man of intense belief, a man of great talent and a phenomenal work ethic. It was this that made him the movie star and legend. Richard also told me about his home life, the struggles with money, the human side of Bruce, the family man. When we admire people it is so important to see them as they are, not as who we think they are. Richard, and others, helped me understand this about Bruce Lee and the fact is without Bruce passing I would not have been so rich in experience. I wish he was still around, but I’m so grateful for all I’ve learned, all I’ve become and all the wonderful people I’ve met because of his legacy. Thanks for everything Bruce.