If you were like most boys, you probably went through a karate phase as a kid. When I went through my karate phase as a 5- and 6-year-old, I demanded that my family called me “Daniel-san.” Unfortunately, they did not comply.
There’s one man you can thank for your karate phase: Bruce Lee.
As my guest will show us today, Bruce Lee nearly single-handedly popularized martial arts in America thanks to his breakout Hong Kong kung fu movies in the early 1970s. My guest's name is Matthew Polly and he’s the author of the new definitive biography of Bruce Lee called Bruce Lee: A Life.
Today on the show, Matthew and I explore the creation of the legend that is Bruce Lee, starting with his unique family history that had him straddling Eastern and Western cultures his entire life. Matthew gives us vignettes into Lee’s early life that show his fire, scrappiness, and love of martial arts, including his rise as a child star in Hong Kong and his love of street brawling. We then discuss how Lee started formal kung fu training as a teenager and how his ambition caused him to bump heads with his teachers. Matthew then shares how coming to America helped Lee refine and reinvent his martial arts practice, how Lee got his break in Hollywood, and how he ended up teaching kung fu to movie stars like Steve McQueen and James Coburn. Along the way, Matthew shares details of Lee’s relentless fitness routine and talks about Lee’s personal library of over 2,500 books that included a lot of philosophy and psychology. We end our conversation discussing Lee’s legacy and how he changed not only cinema, but our idea of manhood in America.
Get the show notes at aom.is/brucelee.