Island Senior: Inspiration from a Martial Arts legend

By Peggy Sue McRae

Journal contributor

Bruce Lee, if you think of him at all you may remember him starring as Kato, sidekick to the Green Hornet. You might recall his epic fight with Chuck Norris in the classic martial arts film, Way of the Dragon or you may simply recall his signature cry Ey-yiyiyi! Bruce Lee, while best known for martial arts and his innovative film career, has another side to his legacy.

Lee is proudly claimed by the city of Seattle where he studied philosophy at the University of Washington, spoke at Seattle high schools about Chinese philosophy, developed and taught Jeet Kune Do at his school for martial arts, raised his young family, and eventually was buried in Lakeview Cemetery on Capital Hill.

Bruce Lee exhibits are a cornerstone of Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific Experience. Lee was born in San Francisco when his father was on tour performing with the Chinese Opera. He was raised in Hong Kong then in order to retain his dual citizenship Lee took a steamship to Seattle when he was 18. There, family friend Ruby Chow gave him a job in her restaurant. Lee attended the UW, started his own groundbreaking school of martial arts, and met and married his wife Linda.

Chinese Taoism, a philosophy that encourages harmony with nature was a significant influence on Lee. One of his most well-known quotes reflects this philosophy. “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you will find a way round or through it.” He continued, “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup it becomes the cup. You put water in a bottle it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.”

Hollywood became a frustration for Lee in the late 1960s when Asian stereotypes were the rule and you never saw Asian actors in starring roles. He got some advice from actors James Coburn and Steve McQueen, martial arts students of his who over time became close friends. Coburn and McQueen advised him to follow the example of Clint Eastwood who was also frustrated by Hollywood. Eastwood went to Italy where he made a name for himself in “Spaghetti Westerns” before his successful return to Hollywood. They advised Lee to return to Hong Kong where he’d acted in films as a child. Lee took their advice.

Like water, Bruce Lee found a way to flow around the mighty obstacle of Hollywood’s racism. His success in Hong Kong established Kung Fu movies as a worldwide phenomena and showcased Lee in the starring roles he was meant to play.

Are there obstacles in your own life that you could find a way to flow through or around? Could adopting the qualities of water’s non-judging adaptability help you to resolve stubborn issues? In the words of Bruce Lee, “Be water my friend”.

Local martial arts classes for seniors, 55 and older, are taught by Adam SoRelle Sensei of Evergreen Kenpo – Gain flexibility strength and mobility while learning traditional Karate katas. For more information please call Anna at the Mullis Center 360-370-4015