Perpetuating The Bruce Lee Legacy: Shannon Lee Discusses Father's Impact (Part 2)!

Shannon Lee reveals her personal insights concerning the man so many have come to love and admire (Part 2). Find out more about the legacy that is Bruce Lee!

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Q
If Bruce Lee were alive today what would he make of the global phenomenon that is Mixed Martial Arts?

Shannon: I think he would find it interesting. I think he would be intrigued to watch the matches. He was a fan of Western boxing and I think he would find this type of competition very intriguing. I think that while he would not consider what he calls Jeet Kune Do MMA, he did spawn, I think, a movement away from traditional martial arts. Sort of what MMA is.

MMA is all about mixing different types of martial arts, which is not what Jeet Kune Do was about, but his emphasis in terms of Jeet Kune Do was that you have to be a complete fighter, you have to be ready for any kind of situation you find yourself in. And that the best way to do that was not to have an arsenal of a million different moves, but rather to pair down and simplify to a very select arsenal of efficient moves that take into consideration any situation that you might find yourself in.

MMA is a mixture of traditional arts essentially—they train in Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, and Karate and mix all of these things together. But in a way though it is in the vein of being prepared.

Speaking of traditional martial arts there is a persisting belief within the martial arts fraternity itself that there has been a gradual watering down of traditional forms to where there is little, if any, authenticity among many styles. What would your father's thoughts be on the state of martial arts today do you think?

Shannon: I'm not really sure. My father, interestingly enough, was somewhat of a traditionalist. He found a lot of beauty in the martial arts. He found beauty in the cultural heritage of the martial arts and while he didn't find traditional styles to be useful in real combat, he did appreciate traditional styles and weapons and traditional forms and he was well-versed in lots of different types and styles of martial arts as well.

It depends what you are training in the martial arts for. If you are training to go into the UFC maybe you need something that is more compatible with street fighting or combat so to speak. But if you are really interested in martial arts just from a pure, cultural, fitness and heritage standpoint there's a lot of beauty in many of the traditional arts and they are well worthwhile pursuing. I think he would feel that way.

What is it about your father that fascinated so many people? There was the martial arts side of course, but Bruce Lee was much more than just a martial artist. He appealed to many people on various levels.

Shannon: He did. He had a huge amount of charisma obviously. You can't take your eyes off him when he's onscreen. And I think in the roles he played in his films he was mostly sort of the underdog standing up for the downtrodden. So I think people really like that and the fact he broke a lot of barriers.

He was sort of responsible for bringing Eastern martial arts cinematically to the West, and making the world smaller in that sense. And putting a non-caucasian face on a hero meant a lot to many people around the world. He just had an amazing amount of dynamism. He was so graceful and so powerful.

The type of martial arts he did in his movies, even by today's standards, is different from anything you see. He was always about showing the power behind martial arts. His fight scenes don't go on for 20 minutes and they are fairly realistic to a certain extent. And they show a lot of the quickness, grace and power behind the martial arts. You really believe what you are seeing when you look at him onscreen.

Bruce Lee - Nunchaku Bone Breaking Fight - Way of the Dragon

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In that vein it is known that your father's speed and power are legendary, and it is said that he was unequalled as a martial artist? No one could successfully challenge him. What made Bruce Lee such a skilled martial arts practitioner?

Shannon: I think it was more the work ethic behind it. He used to say to people, "I'm not that fast." Obviously he was fast, but he trained to be that fast. He had specific exercises that he did. He not only trained his muscles but would also train his twitch reflexes and his perceptual speed, his eye speed.

He would try to catch a movement in his periphery and respond to that quickly. He was really attuned to other people's intent. People used to say, "He knew what I was going to do before even I knew what I was going to do."

Because he was such a student of the body he could see a twitch in a muscle and knew immediately what was coming next. He trained very hard to be able to do that. He was very scientific; he studied kinesiology. He studied all sorts of different things in order to know how the body worked and what he needed to do to make himself better.

And your father would also apply his skills in a street context to test the real world validity and application of them.

Shannon: Yes, back in the day when he was working there were no full contact tournaments and they had to make their own pads and equipment so that they could full contact spar because it wasn't really being done back then. Because he really wanted to know in the context of a real fight what happens and how do I defend and what is my offense, my defense in the context of really striking another person.

There is the belief that Bruce Lee was never successfully challenged in a fight in any capacity, whether it on the street or in sparring. Is this true to your knowledge?

Shannon: Yes, as far as I know.

Following the passing of your father in 1973 there was much innuendo and speculation regarding the cause of his death. What is Bruce Lee's family's official stance on the cause of his death?

Shannon: My mother is very satisfied with the explanation of his death essentially. I know it was very shocking to a lot of people because here was a man in the very prime of his life and in good health as far as anyone could see.

To die all of a sudden I know that is very hard for a lot of people to accept. And because of that there was a long inquest process. There were forensic specialists flown in from around the world to conduct the autopsy. In the end it's just that any one of us can succumb to the wrong thing at the wrong time.

His death was ruled to be caused by an allergic reaction to a medication he had taken (a prescription painkiller called Equagesic), which caused a cerebral edema and I'm sure a lot of people have a hard time accepting that; it seems too simple. But people find themselves in the hospital all the time having not known they are allergic to penicillin or something else they have taken.

I have talked to her (Bruce Lee's wife and Shannon's mother Linda Lee Cadwell) at length about it and spoken to other people at length about it and I have no reason to believe that there is any explanation other than that at all.

Your father shared much of his martial arts knowledge with others. But it is also believed he withheld much of his knowledge to prevent his students from some day countering him? Is there any truth to this do you think?

Shannon: I don't think so. My father was the kind of person that if a person had a sincere interest and a sincere desire to hear what he was teaching then he would teach them. And he went against many, many years of traditional belief in order to do that. So I don't know what he would have to gain from revealing these Chinese secrets to so many people, yet holding back on some of his knowledge.

I will say that he probably did feel like he taught to the individual's level, so my guess is if the person who was his student was being inauthentic in any way or was not really understanding then he probably would have kept his teaching at a certain place until he felt that person would open up their minds more and be more available to it, which I think a lot of times didn't happen.

I think what he was talking about was really so ahead of its time and so revolutionary and difficult to grasp that a lot of people probably didn't grasp it fully. I think he tried to teach what he believed and I don't think he held back his secrets.

What are the fondest recollections you have of your father?

Shannon: I remember visiting him on his film sets was always a lot of fun because it was a pretty exciting environment for a kid. And it was fun because at the time they didn't film using sound so the sound was always added in later. You didn't have to be quiet. You could be playing and running around in the background and so it was an exciting time to get to see him and be around the cameras and all of that stuff. And he would take breaks and come and play with us.

Among the many attributes your father is known for is his phenomenal physical development. He was also a bodybuilder in the sense that he would work on his physique to enhance his martial arts prowess.

Shannon: In 1965 is when he really started taking up weight training seriously and he had a good friend named Allen Joe—who was an amateur bodybuilder who won some contests up in the Bay area. So he went to Allen and worked with him and had Allen get him some weights. And he really began building his strength in that regard.

A lot of that as well was his beginning for the idea of Jeet Kune Do came from—and I'm sure you have heard about this—the fight that he had at the beginning of 1965 where he was challenged by the Chinese community to stop teaching martial arts to non-Chinese.

They had this match, which he won in three minutes. But at the end of that he was actually very disappointed. He was winded and he thought that the match should have been ended much more quickly. And that's when he decided his classical training was really getting in the way of getting to the heart of the matter and that he needed better cardio and better musculature to be able to have the sort of spring and the power that he wanted, and of course the endurance.

And that's when he began training in earnest for these. He began lifting with barbells and dumbbells and had different trainers for different areas of development. He would also design his own equipment based on what he was trying to achieve as well. And he had a couple of friends make workout equipment for him based on his drawings.

I've heard stories that he would target specific muscles. He had extremely large forearms for a man of his size and structure and he thought that was real important in terms of his punching power. So he would have specific types of weight training exercises that he would do to work specific parts of his body. I think in terms of his bodybuilding he was really at the cutting edge of fitness.

Your father was also known for his amazing abdominal development and he seemed to emphasize this area as well.

Shannon: Well it's pretty well known that you need to have good core strength to be a good martial artist. To be an athlete of any kind most of your movements come from a solid core and abdominal work is very important in strengthening the core.

Since the generation of force through his punches and kicks were to a large extent dependent upon good core strength, did your father emphasize core training?

Shannon: Yes. He did abdominal work every day. He might focus more on upper body one day, or lower body on another, but he did abs every day.

Your father was also a very big proponent of supplementation for maximizing training results and would use protein drinks to enhance his muscle size and strength.

Shannon: I know my father had trouble keeping weight on because he exercised all of the time. So he was constantly trying to make sure his protein intake was high. He would do things like mix peanut butter with raw eggs.

He ate a considerable amount of organ meat like kidney and liver because it was very rich in protein. And he probably ate a lot more fat than a lot of people eat, but mostly because he needed it. He burned through a lot of calories.

Of course back then there were not all of the specifically engineered powders available like there are today, so he ate a lot of peanut butter and drank a lot of whole milk and all that kind of stuff to try to get his protein.

And Bruce Lee was known for being ultra lean with no visible body fat. Along with all of the work he did, was his metabolism also very fast?

Shannon: Yes, he had a very fast metabolism and he did a ton of cardio every day too. So as quickly as it (food and calories) was going in it was going out at the same time.

I understand your father's preferred form of cardio was running.

Shannon: Yes, he really enjoyed running. And he jumped rope as well quite a bit. But running was something he really liked in terms of a cardio activity.

You have said the Bruce Lee Foundation's goal is to continue to inspire people through your father's legacy. What legacy has Bruce Lee left the world?

Shannon: I think that his legacy, influence and effect can be felt in lots of different areas. To me his legacy has really been about the lasting impression that you really leave behind when you look from within and develop yourself to the most of your potential.

So to me his message is self-actualization. That we can each leave behind a lasting impression with those around us and in some cases everyone around the world if we work hard to evolve our selves into the best self we can be.

On behalf of Bodybuilding.com and myself I would like to thank you Shannon for these great insights into the life of a true legend.

Shannon: Thank you. And I do want to mention that the Bruce Lee Foundation is having an event on November 13-15th and I would love for people to come.

We are going to be doing JKD seminars and some fun events like a bowling competition, which we are calling 'the art of fighting without fighting tournament'.

We will be having a banquet with a silent auction and we will be unveiling our traveling exhibit for the Bruce Lee Action Museum called The Art of Action. So it's going to be a fun weekend of events at the Sheraton Universal in Los Angeles.

You can go to BruceLeeFoundation.org to learn more and sign up for the event. It is perfect for those who would like to come down and get to know the legacy of Bruce Lee.

More Info On Bruce Lee ///
  • The Official Website Of Bruce Lee: The official website of Bruce Lee. Everything you wanted to know about the martial artist.
  • Bruce Lee Merchandise: Get all of your Bruce Lee gear right here. Everything from t-shirts to DVD's, and more!
  • The Bruce Lee Foundation: The Bruce Lee Foundation is a California 501(c)(3) public charity formed in 2002 to perpetuate and preserve the legacy of Bruce Lee. The Bruce Lee Foundation will be holding an event on November 13-15th, 2009 at the Sheraton Universal in Los Angeles. There will be a banquet with a silent auction and they will be unveiling their traveling exhibit for the Bruce Lee Action Museum called The Art of Action.

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