Lee was born “Lee Jun Fan” November 27, 1940 in San Francisco, the son of Lee Hoi Chuen, a singer with the Cantonese Opera. Approximately one year later the family returned to Kowloon in Hong Kong and at the age of five, a young Bruce begins appearing in children’s roles in minor films including The Birth of Mankind (1946) and Fu gui fu yun (1948).
His father was Chinese. His mother, Grace Ho, is described as being of mixed Chinese and European (usually stated as German) descent. When Grace was asked by officials if both of her parents were full-bloodied Chinese, she answered: “My father is Chinese and my mother is English.”
Left for Seattle in 1958 with $100. Being an accomplished dancer, he gave cha cha cha lessons to first-class passengers to earn extra money during ship ride to US.
Spoke English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Japanese.
His development of Jeet Kune Do came partially out of an incident with his school. A rival martial artist challenged him to a duel over his decision to teach non-Chinese students. Lee accepted the challenge and won the duel but later thought that the fight took too long because his martial art technique was too rigid and formalistic. Thus he decided to develop a better system with an emphasis on practicality and flexibility.
Faced discrimination from other Chinese kung fu masters when trying to learn other martial arts styles. Would usually go to the number 3 or 4 man in a certain system to learn it in exchange for teaching what he knew.
According to Hong Kong stuntman Phillip Ko, Lee was challenged by a tiger/crane kung fu stylist, an extra on Enter the Dragon (1973), who claimed Lee was a phony. Lee, who was furious at the claim, accepted the challenge to prove that his martial arts were indeed the real deal. The fight, which took place on the film set, only lasted 30 seconds, with Bruce pummeling his challenger with a series of straight punches to the face, low-line kicks to his shins/knees/thighs and finally ended with the guy being smashed to the wall with his hair pulled and his arms trapped by Bruce. After Lee forced the kung fu stylist to submit, he showed some class by telling him to go back to work instead of firing him. This fight was witnessed by the film’s producer, Fred Weintraub, and Robert Wall.
Lee, upon claiming that he invented a new martial art, was pitted against a former karate champion in an attempt to prove his claims. Lee, unfazed, claimed that not only would he defeat the challenger, but he would do so within one minute. He did it in 58 seconds.
He was a huge soap opera fan and it was said that missing an episode of General Hospital (1963) could leave him upset for days.