Bruce Lee: an artist of life
The game of opposites was in fine balance during Lee’s life.
– Do you think of yourself as Chinese or North American?
– You know, I want to think of myself as a human being. Because –I don’t wanna sound, “as Confucius said”, man– but under the sky, under the heaven there is but one family: it just so happened that people are different.
The story of Bruce Lee can be told from the perspective of the hero’s trajectory: the movements the soul is subject to in all the mythological and narrative traditions, one in which archetypes such as the master, the magician and obviously the warrior are played, all of which are visible in the artistic career and life of Bruce Lee.
Lee has a fascinating effect on all kinds of people, irrespective of gender, age group or nationality. Throughout his life, Bruce found that often the differences between people had a disproportionate importance: that the prison of identities – in his case, for example, fame as an actor or his status as a martial arts master, both of which are very competitive scenes – stagnates people. And one’s mission is to find the way to flow.
Lee was the 1957 chachacha champion in Hong Kong, and his passion for dancing, street fighting and boxing would be fundamental to his later development and for the legwork of his own martial art style: a looseness, and a lightness based on rhythm that allowed his movements to acquire briskness and fluidity, unlike the rigid positions of many styles of Asian combat. By making his opponent dance, Lee’s style resulted in a particular beauty.
Bruce Lee left Hong Kong in 1959 after an altercation with the police and, upon arriving in the US (he was born in San Francisco in 1940) he began giving wing sun (or wing chun) classes, a martial art little-known until the first half of the 20th century that gained global respect thanks to his influence. But at the same time he combined martial arts with philosophy classes in the university, an alliance of apparent opposites that mutually expressed themselves. Bruce saw martial arts as an honest way of self-expression, beyond the mere violence.
And that is one of the fundamental paradoxes of many kinds of martial arts: one learns how to fight to avoid a fight; learns how to kill to stay alive. The real violence is not two wing sun students training, but the societal violence, the racial and economic violence. Lee spent his professional life harassed for being the Chinese racial stereotype, and which still survives today: no actor with oriental features plays a lead role in a Hollywood super production.
The Chinese in Hollywood appear as part of the scene and not as complex characters; in his film, Lee played the icon of resistance through his roles, in portraying contraries, like the peasant against his master, the honest fighter in search of his father or the good student obliged to take revenge for his murdered teacher. The Chinese saw Lee’s films as a declaration of revenge toward the Japanese, who had exercised economic and military supremacy over China during the first decades of the 20th century. Where Westerners saw an exciting action movie, they also saw a declaration of war. Bruce Lee moved to back Hong Kong, where his films were becoming more accepted and where he could develop his ideas without the racial and financial pressures of Hollywood.
In the US his films were too evocative of the enemy that had been fought in Vietnam, in addition to the racial stereotypes relating to Asians, meaning that his message was literally lost in translation. Lee transformed himself into a rebel icon of resistance to the traditional “Asian values” in the face of the colonizers, either of Caucasian-Western origin (such as the archetypical Chuck Norris-style American cowboy) and the internal enemy: the gangs, the neighborhood armies that are also represented in Fists of Fury and The Chinese Connection.
His films and the Jeet Kune Do martial art (the road of the interceptor punch) were Bruce Lee’s legacy, and who died at the age of 32 at the height of his fame. Many will remember him for the many conspiracy theories that surrounded his death; however, in one of the last interviews he gave, Lee said that “to be a martial artist means to be an artist of life.” There is life where there is movement, and within the “style without style” of Jeet Kune Do is the intricate union of opposites that recognize each other one by one.
By Javier Raya
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