||Tao of the Dragon:
Bruce Lee's Ongoing Global Influence
By Davis Miller
On a September
evening in 1973
I stepped into a tiny, dilapidated cinema. The house lights dimmed, the stained velvet
curtains parted. And there he stood, luminous with hubris. One minute into the movie, Bruce
Lee threw his first punch. With it, a power came roiling up from Lee's abdomen, affecting
itself in waves not only upon his onscreen opponent, but on the movie audience.
|My hands shook; I quivered
electrically from head to toe, as if I'd swallowed a bellyful of lightning. Then Bruce Lee
launched the first real kick I'd ever seen. My jaw fell open like the business-end of a
dumptruck. This man could fly. Not like Superman -- better -- his hands and feet flew
whistling through sky.
Lee was so
quick that the paths of his handstrikes were invisible. You could see punches begin and end --
nothing in the middle. And he moved in such a marvelously precise fashion that when he was
facing the camera, his blows seemed to slice the screen into sections.
|A large part of Bruce Lee's appeal for me was that he was my size. (I
was five-foot-six and weighed ninety pounds. Guys had nicknamed me "Fetus.")
Though Lee seemed invulnerable, he was almost puny; there was an egg-shell fragility about
him. If this little guy could whup bad guys and do so with power and ratifying beauty, I
In the lobby, I
found a copy of a pulp magazine with Lee on the cover. I read the obituary on page one --
at 32, Lee had died on July 20, three weeks before the release of Enter
the Dragon (1973), the movie designed to introduce him to American audiences.
Inspired by what I'd witnessed on the screen, I went
into training to become the Second Greatest Martial Artist of All Time. Of course I never
made that goal. Along the way, however, I became some sort of Bruce Lee scholar.
||A few things I learned may
surprise you. Lee was a childhood movie star in Hong Kong; by the time he moved to the US
in 1958, he was a teen idol. Lee's own childhood idols were Elvis, James Dean and Jerry
Lewis. He was so taken with Lewis that the comedian's facial expressions and body habits
are observable in the martial arts films Lee made as an adult. Lee had the idea for his
movie, Game of Death (1978), when he was a teenager; Kareem Abdul
Jabbar's character in the movie was based on one of Lee's greatest fears -- a large
version of himself.
is usually regarded as a martial arts ascetic, the truth is notably different. In 1971,
when he moved back to Hong Kong, he bought a floor-length mink coat, Elvis-style
sunglasses, and various pairs of platform shoes. He drank sake and caroused. Hong Kong
fans called him "Three Legs Lee," a reference to his kicking ability, as well as
his sexual prowess.
In death, Lee became the first genuinely international
film luminary. A theater in Iran played Enter
the Dragon from 1973 until 1979, when Shah Pahlavi was overthrown by the Ayatollah
Khomeni. By 1977, Enter the Dragon was one of the twenty most profitable movies
in the history of cinema. Over the years, millions of people came to regard Lee's fight
scenes as virtual religious artifacts. Now, his name is recognizable everywhere on the
planet. In the 1960s, there were less than 500 martial arts schools in the world; by the
turn of the millennium, owing chiefly to Lee's influence, there were more than ten million
martial arts students in the U.S. alone.
Which brings me again to my story. In September 1973,
I saw Bruce Lee's image on a movie screen and woke up. When I glided from a rundown movie
house into the great big world, everything was different -- brilliant, interesting, as
vivid as a freshly sliced orange in the sun on a winter kitchen windowsill. And it stayed
that way. This wakefulness is a quite fine thing to have been given by my childhood idol.
|Davis Miller is
the author of the critically acclaimed bestseller "The Tao of Bruce Lee"
(Vintage). In his new book, "The Zen of Muhammad Ali and Other Obsessions"
(Vintage), Miller further explores the Bruce Lee phenomenon in a section titled
"Bruce Lee, American." Read