BRUCE LEE: SWAGGER OF A DRAGON


By Malice Intended of Planet Ill

Yesterday marked the 37th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s passing. The volatile and potent energy once contained in Bruce Lee’s frame hasn’t died, but has simply changed form and redistributed itself around the earth. It continues to irrigate popular culture and to nourish the spirits of eager minds. Lee was the conduit for something greater than himself. That his physical form could contain such a vibrant presence was an amazing accomplishment itself.

The impact that Bruce Lee has had on world culture goes far beyond the scope of the martial arts or cinema. More than anything else, Lee’s attitude and determination together stood as a living, breathing manifestation of the American dream; made startling by a nation that refused to acknowledge his citizenship. Armed with a steely resolve, he chose to change hearts and minds on his own terms. By simply adhering to and presenting various aspects of Chinese culture to the world, he changed the perception of his people and created a place for them in the new age.

Lee revolutionized the world of martial arts by founding a style known as Jeet Kun Do, translated as “the way of the intercepting fist.” His disdain for the fixed positions and stiff, rehearsed movements in martial arts inspired him to deviate from the norm. Jeet Kun Do emphasized fluidity and improvisation, eschewing katas and set patterns while opting, instead, to adapt and overcome. This approach would become an essential element of “mixed martial arts,” in which styles and sensibilities are combined into the combat equivalent of an amoeba: formless and shapeless, yet not without purpose or discipline.

Lee had a keen understanding of image and fitness, as evidenced by his immaculately ripped physique. At a time when bodybuilders concentrated on muscle size, Bruce focused on shredding his musculature into an impenetrable map of cuts and striations. His latissimus dorsi muscles extended outward like the wings of an angel. Suddenly, definition mattered as much as size. Bruce might not have been the sole inspiration for this shift, but perhaps unknowingly he was one of its earliest practitioners.

Unable to achieve the desired level of stardom in the West, Bruce ventured to Hong Kong, determined to make it on his own terms. He cast his lot with producer Raymond Chow and his then-fledgling Golden Harvest studios and together, they churned out a trio of films that would make Bruce a star. The Big Boss and Fists of Fury gave him the visibility and clout to command the desired attention from Hollywood. It was then that he teamed with Warner Brothers pictures to make Enter The Dragon, and popular culture would never be the same. Enter the Dragon almost single handedly made martial arts cinema into a worldwide phenomenon. Even non martial arts related action films began to incorporate such elements into their fight scenes. Even today the ripple effect started by the film can be felt.

Way of the Dragonallowed Lee to truly flex his artistic muscles, as he was granted full creative control. He wrote, produced, directed, and starred in the project and even played the percussion instruments for the musical score. He also showcased the comedic side of his persona. Walker, Texas Ranger fans can also thank Lee for introducing the world to a young Karate champion by the name of Chuck Norris, who went on to have a very successful career in film and television.

Long before the American entertainment industry learned how to effectively package and mass produce the swagger of other cultures, Bruce emerged as swagger personified. He possessed a self-assuredness that was rarely identified with Asian-Americans. Lee’s unapologetic refusal to kowtow inspired awe, and such cultural pride, crossed with a keen sense of self promotion, endeared him to the hearts of people of color around the world. African-Americans especially were influenced by his image and touched by his message. You didn’t have to be white to be a superhero.

The historic block party that “gave birth” to Hip-Hop culture took place at 1520 Sedgwick Ave in the Bronx on August 11th in 1973, less than month after Bruce’s passing. I would like to think that the spirit of the little dragon chose to reincarnate itself in a culture that would affect the world in much different way. It may seem like a stretch until you consider the artful yet undeniably self promotional and egotistical nature of Hip-Hop. The most revered rapper of all time, Tupac Shakur, was a huge Bruce Lee fan. One only has to look at the defiant, devilish smirk that Pac displayed on the cover of Rolling Stone as proof. Let’s not even get into the countless Bruce Lee references that have been a perpetual part of rap music from day one.

Energy cannot be destroyed. It can change form and redistribute itself, but it will always be present in some form. The essence of Bruce Lee roams the earth restlessly, searching for new ways to inspire the populace and manifest itself. His touch forever altered the world he lived in, and continues to reverberate in ways in which Bruce himself could never have imagines. He has, in fact has become like water: Fluid, permeating, and inextricably linked to the infrastructure.

Art by kse332

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