“There are two eras of badass: before Bruce Lee, and after.” This is one of the many effusive quotations featured in Do You Know Bruce? Breaking Barriers at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle’s International District.
Open six days a week until September 4, 2016, the exhibit tells an elaborate two-part folk tale: Lee as a martial arts superman, and many sobering examples depicting Lee as a regular person with a grounded, pedestrian lifestyle.
This exhibit is the third consecutive Lee-centric installment for the museum. Do you know Bruce? high-
lights both Lee’s contributions to the world of martial arts and his pioneering efforts in breaking down racial barriers in Hollywood.
Lee’s mother and father were both opera celebrities in China, but Lee was actually born in San Francisco. His family moved to China when Lee was a newborn. Lee attended several schools, and at 16 he began his pivotal Wing Chun martial arts training with the legendary Ip Man. At 18, Lee was involved in an incident that is steeped in folklore: a mythical street fight between Lee and a Triad, a member of a notorious Chinese street gang. Legend says Lee pummeled his opponent to within an inch of his life. Then, fearfully anticipating retribution, Lee’s parents were forced to send Lee back to the US. He moved to Seattle and received his high school diploma from Edison Technical School—now Seattle Central College—in 1960. Lee later graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in drama.
“A powerful model of the Asian man in the East and the West,” said Lee’s daughter, Shannon, in a video. “Practical dreamers never quit,” read a Bruce Lee quote on a wall. One man in a Seahawks hat said, “He’s badass, that’s why we named our dog Kato,” in reference to Lee’s character in the TV show The Green Hornet.
Do you know Bruce? tells the Bruce Lee legend through various media, including anecdotal video clips streaming Lee’s family and friends from numerous screens throughout the exhibit. The martial artist, actor and philosopher is revered by many for his legendary skill and discipline. However, the focus at Wing Luke celebrates more than Lee’s physical skill-set. Today, another side of Lee is recognized—the social activist.
Lee and his son, Brandon Lee, are buried in Lake View Cemetery on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Lee’s daughter is shown in a video saying, “Of all the times I’ve been to his grave, I’ve never been alone for more than five or ten minutes. It’s beautiful.”
A black, flying kick silhouette suspended with chains hangs twenty feet above the entrance, accompanied by a life-size cardboard figure of Lee standing—with muscles flexing and a face full of fury—in a fighting stance from the movie Enter the Dragon. Massive colorful pictures of Bruce Lee overlook an energetic array of lights illuminating Lee-specific memorabilia. Lunch boxes advertising The Green Hornet and depicting Kato intermingle with paychecks from the Screen Actors Guild. One corner features a trivia game for visitors to guess which martial arts move—recreated by the video’s host—comes from which particular Bruce Lee movie. Another corner allows patrons to rank Lee’s top ten major contributions to society.
Today, the force of Bruce Lee’s impact can be felt like the impact crater from a stunning one-inch punch. Scholarships have been created to honor students and Bruce Lee. In 2015, Seattle Central College and the Bruce Lee Foundation teamed up to give back to Seattle Central students. “The scholarship will award $2,000 to one student annually who exemplifies Bruce Lee’s passion for education as well as his honest expression, forward thought, self-exploration, and assertiveness,”
Lee forced his followers and students to not only develop new methods for strength and muscle training, but also elevate and adapt their thinking processes. In essence, Lee challenged his followers to live a better life through understanding that progressive action comes from progressive thought.
Bruce Lee’s words on one wall of the exhibit read, “The key to living a life of immortality is first living a life worth remembering.”
By Jack Pappin