Five Bruce Lee Myths That Never Die!

Since Bruce Lee’s death, myths and misconceptions about his lifestyle, fighting system and martial philosophy have been spread across the world and it continues to this day. Some of these misconceptions are grounded in certain realities while others are outright falsehoods. Plenty of die hard fans of Bruce Lee have objected to these myths in the past but somehow they have survived. While growing up even I had heard of many myths which I found to be incredible when I was a kid. When I found out the truth behind these misconceptions, I was not shocked. Instead I felt that Bruce Lee was a legend that went out of control in the minds of people.

In this article I will discuss the myths that I personally heard from people who are close to me. I am sure they will keep you interested.

Myth 1: Bruce Lee was a Karate artist

This is perhaps the most widely believed Bruce Lee myth. Even in a recent episode of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, Kunal Nayyar mentions Bruce Lee and his Karate which made me think why hasn’t this myth died yet. It is true that during his stay in the United States, Lee was associated with several martial artists many of whom were Karate experts. His students, friends and fellow martial artists such as Ed Parker, Dan Inosanto, Taky Kimura and Chuck Norris are good examples of this. However, Bruce himself didn’t practice Karate as far as my understanding goes. In fact he despised the idea of style itself during his later years. He adopted a training system which he called Jeet Kune Do that was highly adaptable and flexible and discarded the notion a rigid set of rules in combat. His original training was in Wing Chun kung fu from Grandmaster Ip Man which he couldn’t complete since he moved to the United States. From then on he started adopting techniques from different fighting systems such as Boxing, Fencing etc. Perhaps he did adopt some methods from Karate as well. But he was never a Karate “artist” as most people believe.

Myth 2: Bruce Lee started with Kung Fu but later switched to Karate

This came from my old Karate master. He is a great martial artist but this particular information from him was not entirely accurate. It is true that there is a famous martial artist who started with kung fu but later switched to Karate. However, that man is not Bruce Lee. His name is Masutatsu Oyama. The Wikipedia article on Oyama clearly describes this transition. Oyama, born Choi Young-Eui was a Korean martial artist who initially trained in Chinese martial arts while he was living in his sister’s farm in Northeastern China. His first teacher according to the article was a farmer named Li who worked in that farm. Later he moved to Japan aspiring to become a fighter pilot. He obtained his higher education in Japan and also training in Karate. He trained under Gigo and Gichin Funakoshi in Shotokan style and under So Nei Chu in Goju Ryu style Karate. He also attained 4th Dan in Judo. He went on to develop his own version of Karate which is today known as Kyokushin. Somehow this story was wrongly associated with Bruce Lee. Actually there was a funny poster I saw online of Enter the Dragon written in Malayalam which was released in Kerala many years after Bruce Lee’s death. Unfortunately I am unable to find it now. In that it is written “Kharatte!” in Malayalam script which is a mispronunciation of Karate. Anyway, I think this myth has been debunked for you.

Myth 3: Bruce Lee killed and smashed horns of bulls

This is another incident that is real but wrongly associated with Bruce Lee. It is said that Bruce Lee fought with 50 bulls in the streets of Hong Kong of which he killed 2 and broke the horns of 48. An incredible story indeed but it is not Lee who is the central character in it. It is again part of Mas Oyama’s biography that is incorrectly attributed to Lee. In the “About the Author” section of the 1967 book by Mas Oyama titled Vital Karate, it is clearly written that it was Oyama who performed this incredible feat. However, he didn’t do it in one shot. It was a collection of feats throughout his lifetime. And the real numbers are like this – there were 52 bulls of which 3 were killed and 48 had their horns snapped. And Oyama achieved this score over a long period of time. So the next time someone tells you this, correct that person with the right version of the story.

Myth 4: Bruce Lee drank goat blood

No he did not! Bruce Lee used to have a unique diet that let him practice his martial arts in the most effective way. One of the items in his diet was a special protein shake that he prepared using raw beef. If you search online you will find the recipe of this shake which includes raw beef, egg and milk. I don’t know how protein milk shake became goat blood while traveling from United States to India. To be fair, there are some sources online that claim that Bruce used to drink cow blood but later stopped since he couldn’t sterilize it. Anyway, unless I find a reliable source for Lee’s blood drinking, this will remain a myth.

Myth 5: Bruce Lee was murdered with poisonous gas

This is the granddaddy of all Bruce Lee myths. Many people have told me this – “Bruce Lee was brutally murdered inside the bathroom using poisonous gas.” Unfortunately it is not true! Lee did die a mysterious death causing speculation about a possible murder. And over the years especially after his son’s death the rumor grew to epic proportions. People theorized that both Bruce and his son Brandon were a threat to someone and that is why they were eliminated one after the other. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are many factors that led to Lee’s death. Most importantly, his tendency of misadventure. In Malayalam we can say ഓവർ അഭ്യാസം! During his later years he had a terrible weight loss from 70 to 60 kg and people who had met him during that time confirmed that he looked unhealthy, paranoid and depressed. In addition to this he was sensitive to certain pain killers such as Equagesic, Doloxene and Dilantin. He had a spine injury in the sacral nerve in 1970 for which he had been taking Doloxene. This coupled with the fact that he was a workaholic perfectionist would have led to his eventual death. On the day of his death he did take Equagesic for a headache after which he went into a nap from which he never woke up. Two months prior to that he had been diagnosed with Cerebral Edema when he fainted during the dubbing session of Enter the Dragon. So that is settled. Bruce Lee died of medical causes. There was no conspiracy against him and he was never a threat to anyone.

As I said, these are the myths about Bruce Lee I grew up listening to from many people. If there are any more myths that you want me to address, please let me know and I will include them.