Bruce Lee: Through his Daughter’s Eyes

bruce lee quote we need emotional content

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Verily Allah has prescribed Ihsan (proficiency, perfection) in all things. So if you kill then kill well and if you slaughter then slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.”

When it comes to self-improvement in our time Bruce Lee is the most famous example and most likely the gold standard, even though he died over 40 years ago.

He is commonly known as a superlative martial artist and an action movie superstar. Less well known is his expertise as a philosopher and being a prolific writer.

Most important to you and I is his constant striving to not only achieve balance but to excel in every aspect of his life. This made him an excellent husband, father, friend, teacher, and student as well. His holistic self-improvement is rooted in a worldview based on Eastern philosophies like Taoism.

Whatever his beliefs, what is relevant here, and what we can learn from, is his action. We Muslims know his actions as a manifestation of Ihsan – personal excellence.

Lee died in 1973 just before the release of “Enter the Dragon,” the movie which catapulted him into global stardom. Today, his legacy is carried on by his daughter, Shannon Lee.

Lee died when she was 4, so she didn’t grow up around him. When asked, she has few memories of him. She was more exposed to his personality, his philosophy, and his person through his prolific writings and library. She is as much a student of Bruce Lee as she is his daughter.

So, I’m always riveted when I hear her speak about him.

Recently, I’ve been going through episodes of the Bruce Lee podcast. It is hosted by Shannon Lee and her Chief Marketing Officer, Sharon Lee (no relation.) Each episode is marvelously pithy. The podcast is what inspired this week’s post and podcast (I explain more in the podcast, which will be published tomorrow in shaa Allah.)

Two years ago, Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter, gave an AMA (Ask Me Anything) interview on Reddit. Since many people don’t use Reddit, or may not have come across this interview, I have compiled all the questions and answers here. I have also categorized the questions.

So, this post is easier and much more enjoyable to read than a Reddit thread.

In this post you will see Shannon answer questions about:

  • Bruce Lee’s personality and philosophy

  • Bruce Lee’s fighting prowess

  • Bruce Lee’s training and nutrition

  • Bruce Lee’s family

  • Bruce Lee’s friends and students

  • Bruce Lee’s movies

  • The Bruce Lee family business and Bruce Lee Foundation

  • Bruce Lee: Enter the Game – a video game for smartphones

  • Shannon Lee’s own life and career

  • Miscellaneous off-topic questions

Why learn from the example of a non-Muslim?

It is reported that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “The wise statement is the lost property of the believer. Wherever he finds it, he is more worthy of it.”

This post took me 10+ hours to put together

I left the content as-is, except to correct grammar and spelling. However, this post is not a simple copy-and-paste job. Here’s what went into it. I had to:

  • Scrape all the questions and answers into a spreadsheet

  • Read through and categorize them

  • Proof-read and edit them

  • Write the introduction and conclusion

  • Source royalty-free images and relevant video clips

  • Script, record, and edit a podcast to go with this episode

bruce lee philosophy personality

Your father has been a role model for me and my question is what was his main motivation in life?

His main motivation in life was self-cultivation. He wanted to “peel the onion” as it were. He wanted to expose his true essence and then express it out into the world. I think he was really successful at doing this and it’s the reason there will never been anyone like him. He was quintessentially himself!

Shannon, you answered my question on Twitter and have responded on FB. I appreciate how attentive you are to fans of your father’s work and of your work to make others aware of his lifestyle. Question: Bruce said in an interview that he wasn’t a saint when asked about fame. He seems almost superhuman. Is there any aspect of life or personality that you would say he struggled with the most? For example, I lack patience and am quick to anger. It would be nice to know one of my heroes was definitely human in this regard too, even though he had many answers.

He was definitely human. He also had a temper. He was also quick to anger. He wanted things a certain way and he had high standards and sometimes he could lose it. But the good thing about him was that he was self-aware. He knew when he had had a blow-up and he would recover and reset and apologize and work on doing better next time. That was the thing with him – he was always in process and always self-improving and being the observer of his own behavior and trying to affect change. He was pretty awesome that way! Oh, and he was terrible at cooking, singing, and handyman type work! Ha!

What was his comfort food?

He loved Chinese food most of all – oyster sauce beef – but he loved my mom’s spaghetti (we all do to this day.) He also liked to have an occasional root beer!

What do you think is the biggest misconception about your father or his image?

I think that a lot of people think he was arrogant. But he was just confident and self-assured and (by the way) extremely knowledgeable and accomplished. He was also extremely caring – he liked to help people out as much as he could. I also think that people don’t realize the depth of who he was as a writer, creator, thinker, and innovator. He was an amazing man. It’s what I want people to understand. Thanks for asking

Thank you so much for doing this Ms. Lee. May I ask; of all your father’s philosophies, which do you feel we can all learn from? I am a huge fan of your father’s cinema, martial art form and of course his writings.

I feel we can learn from his philosophy on self-actualization. I believe we are all still talking about him because he was so good at cultivating and expressing his true essence. If we all did that, we would all be cultivating our uniqueness and we would all put something original and truly authentic into the world because it would emanate from deep within ourselves which a place that no one else can inhabit but ourselves!

What is your favorite quote that your father said? What is something that he told you that you will never forget?

My favorite quote is: “The medicine for my suffering I had within me all along.” I just love that we all have the ability to change our perspective to change our world. I try to remain open to life and change and all the possibilities.

Favorite thing about him?

His energy. I mean, wow. That he was so self-aware and courageous. That he walked his own path while at the same time, allowing for others to have their own experiences and beliefs. That he didn’t judge. That he just concentrated on his own journey. And how hard he worked. Inspiring.

Bruce Lee’s Fighting Prowess

How good of a fighter was your father?

He was actually an extremely accomplished fighter. For his size, he was extremely strong and extremely fast. He practiced several hours every day and never let up on his training. He sparred as often as he could and was challenged many times throughout his lifetime. He sparred with the top fighters of the day as well. He was truly dedicated to martial arts more than anything and he studied the science of fighting including the laws of physics and biomechanics. He was the real deal.

Hi Shannon, I have had the great honour by being taught JKD by Tommy Carruthers here in Glasgow. With Such great knowledge of the martial art from the likes of Ted Wong and Jesse Glover who have now sadly passed, do you ever have any fears that JKD may lose its Key Goals and Philosophies?

I don’t think JKD will ever lose anything. I think the knowledge and the key elements are always there for anyone wishing to discover them. I think that JKD is a living thing and it may ebb and flow and flux but it will always be JKD. It is sad to lose so many great students and teachers as time passes on but JKD is JKD. It can always be discovered and rediscovered. As we already know there have been many who have tried to interpret it, use it, practice it, study it, teach it, and there will be many more. I don’t fear for JKD.

UFC fighters and as an organization gives props and respect to Bruce Lee as the founder of mixed martial arts. I heard stories from older martial artists here in the Bay Area that he would ask to train across styles, particularly Judo. I think he would’ve revolutionized martial arts even more than he was able to. How do you feel about this?

I think my father was definitely on the cutting edge of martial innovation. He believed that in order to be a complete fighter you had to be able to handle yourself in ANY situation (ground, stand up, etc). He was an innovator and a free thinker and he was very good at distilling down techniques based on their effectiveness. I really do think he would have further revolutionized martial arts, in particular, one’s way of thinking and approaching combat. He was a true innovator and he truly appreciated studying and looking into other arts through his personal approach was freer than is sometimes understood.

Do you think anyone can become as accomplished a fighter as your father? What was his diet and how much did he train to keep himself in top condition? Thank you.

I think that it is possible for fighters to be as accomplished. He was dedicated and he worked hard and he never stopped. He always wanted to be fight-ready. I think that’s the difference. It was a way of life for him. He didn’t just get ready for a particular match (in particular since he didn’t compete); he believed that he should always be ready for combat. In fact, he often trained in his street clothes and shoes so that he could know what that was and feel accomplished in that way as well. His diet was something he always working with. He did Juicing and protein shakes. He ate organ meat for minerals at times. He had trouble keeping weight on because he exercised so much and so often and in so many different ways (cardio, weights, body weight, martial techniques, etc.)

Bruce Lee vs Muhammad Ali in their respective primes. Who would win a fight?

I don’t think this is truly a fair question because if my father was allowed to use his legs as well as his arms, then my father would win. If he could only box, then (off the record) I think Ali would likely win. Ali outweighed him and he was a professional boxer who did nothing but box. But on the record? My father! Of course! Always!

bruce lee ip man wing chun

Bruce Lee’s Training and Nutrition

Bruce was so athletic and muscular, but thin. Do you know what Bruce ever thought of guys like Schwarzenegger and other bodybuilder’s bodies? And If Bruce was still with us, Do you think he would have agreed to be in those Expendables movies or would he not get along with so many Hollywood egos all in one film?

My father was very much into body building however he believed in training for function rather than size. When he first started lifting he got too bulky and found that it affected his flexibility and speed so he changed his methods and experimented with isometric training and other types to better serve his martial needs. As for the Expendables movies, I have no idea. It’s hard to say where he would have been at that point but I have to say it’s hard for me to see him as anything but the kick-ass lead that he was. Hard to picture him in a huge ensemble like that. But who knows.

Hey, Shannon. Do you know if your father had ever trained in Tae Kwon Do? I know he originally came from a Wing Chun background but the fighting style and the spectacular kicks he showed on-screen definitely come from something else.

He did not train in TKD. He was good friends with Jhoon Rhee and they discussed TKD often but the only art my father ever trained in was Wing Chun. My father was extraordinarily coordinated and good at most things physical. He was an extremely accomplished dancer as well and he knew how to fight for film.

This question was deleted by the commenter but it sounds like it was a question about Yip Man (his teacher) and Wing Chun.

My father didn’t but my mom did. She told me my father truly loved and respected Yip Man (that’s how my father spelled his name). He was loyal to him as his only teacher and all throughout his life, he always kept his Wing Chun skills and basics honed even though his own martial journey evolved. My father was thrilled to be able to introduce my brother to Yip Man and visited him every time he came back to HK before Yip Man’s passing. He truly thought of him as a father figure and was grateful to him for the philosophical thinking he instilled in him at such a young age.

Was your father ever in the Shaolin Monastery? Did he learn from monks? If yes, could you tell us more about this? (If you know something) Thanks!

No. He never studied at the monastery.

bruce lee brandon lee family

Bruce Lee’s Family

I know Brandon’s death was an accident but was there ever a moment where you blamed someone?

I blame the production for their negligence. Many people were careless and all their small mistakes and substandard practices lead to his death. It could have been avoided.

Thank you for doing this! I’m so grateful for all you do to keep your father and brothers memory alive!! What is your favorite memory of each of them?

I’ll tell you about my brother since I already mentioned some things about my father to another person. He once threw an orange at me so hard that it stuck to my forehead and juice ran all down my face! He loved cats and motorcycles. His favorite book was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He had a huge laugh and he had an incredible vocabulary. He was like a walking dictionary. He was a great big brother.

I actually just downloaded the game yesterday ironically enough. Anyone who hasn’t, check it out, it’s fun. But my question is, what was your father like at home?

Glad you like the game! My father was very active at home. He was constantly training (even if he was watching tv). We always had people over working out in the back yard. My brother’s friends were afraid to come to our house as kids because there were always grown men beating each other up in the back yard! My mom would be cooking or taking care of us kids. We always had pets. My father loved animals. We had cats and dogs. It was lively household!

I love The Crow, and Brandon was incredible. If they chose to remake the movie, who could you see as the lead?

I don’t think they should remake the movie. They are. But they shouldn’t.

How did your father die?

The official autopsy report indicated that he died from an allergic reaction to an equagesic pain medication that he took for a headache. It caused his brain to swell and he never regained consciousness.

Hi Shannon it’s an honor to speak to you. How is your Mom doing? Is your daughter being taught JKD and by which teacher?

My mom is great! She is living life to the fullest and in great health! My daughter is not currently studying JKD. But she will at some point!

What’s your earliest memory of your Dad?

My earliest memories are from when we lived in Hong Kong. I remember visiting him on set at Golden Harvest when he was filming. I remember playing with him at our house but mostly I remember the feeling of being with him.

Bruce Lee’s Friends and Students

Do you have any funny or interesting stories about the celebrities that your father worked with, such as Steve McQueen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Chuck Norris, etc?

We have a picture from when Kareem was at our house. He is lifting my brother up and putting him on the roof! My dad was always a little competitive with Steve McQueen. He bought a Porsche because of Steve. Chuck used to live a couple streets down from us after my dad died and we settled back in Southern California. He and his two sons would come over for BBQs. I remember going to the premiere of The Octagon and thinking it was pretty awesome. Chuck had this strange dripping wax sculpture thing in his house that I was always mesmerized by. Haha.

Have you seen this video of Jackie Chan talking about meeting Bruce Lee on the set of Enter the Dragon? Jackie seems to remember it rather fondly.

I did! I think it’s awesome! He is so cute telling that story. I know Jackie (not well) and he has always been very kind and gracious to me and to my father’s memory.

Dean here from Some questions from our members. We hear Dan and Taky are not in such good health, any truth on this and are you still in touch? What are your thoughts on The Crow reboot being filmed now? Lastly, say hi to Linda and Wren and thanks for everything you are doing!

Thanks for the hellos! I will pass them on. Taky, in particular, is getting older and has had some health concerns however he is doing well. I just saw him in October in Seattle. I haven’t seen Dan in some time so I am not sure but as far as I know, he is in good health and still very active with his teaching. I don’t think they should remake The Crow. Booooo!

I loved the documentary that was recently put on, that had many of his old students and some UFC fighters as well. My first exposure to your dad was actually Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. His work was amazing and he seemed to have a certain philosophy about life much different than others. My question is do you still keep in contact with his former students? How much time do you get to spend with them?

I do keep in contact with a number of them – not all of them. A number of them have passed over the last several years which has been sad. I see some of them annually and speak to some on the phone much more regularly.

Would you say “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” is an accurate portrayal/depiction of your father’s life?

It’s not particularly accurate. I think the thing that film did do well, however, is capture the spirit of my father – his energy. I think Jason did a great job in the role.

If you could recommend any of your father’s movies, which would it be?

All his movies are worth watching. Game of Death isn’t a great movie but the pagoda scenes are worth the watch for sure. My mom’s favorite film is Way of the Dragon because she feels it really represents my father as a person.

What is your favorite movie your dad was in?

My favorite movies are – Way of the Dragon because my father wrote it, starred in it, produced it, directed it and choreographed it. it really shows his style and sense of humor. But I love hearing his own voice in Enter the Dragon (and it’s great movie)

Your father was instrumental in forming the entire martial arts movie genre. What’s your favorite martial-arts-heavy movie in the last ten or so years? How do you see the genre progressing?

The genre is always fluctuating. My father really was responsible for bringing a realistic artistry to the genre that had not been seen before. I think we’ve danced all around the genre quite a bit with wire work and close in quick cuts where you can’t really see what’s happening, etc. I think that we’ve gotten away a bit from the type of fighting and shooting that my father did and I would like to see a return to that. Part of the problem is that you need accomplished practitioners who can also act and who have the charisma to really pull it off. There are some and there will be more but it is hard to find. I think there have been some great movies – from Kung Fu Hustle to Crouching Tiger to Ong Bak to The Raid to all the superhero films. It’s been a fun ride and I look forward to seeing more.

bruce lee statue

The Bruce Lee Family Business and the Bruce Lee Foundation

What does the Bruce Lee Foundation do?

The Bruce Lee Foundation is a non-profit public charity. We have a college scholarship program; we do talks at schools and organizations; we do seminars and events and are working to build the first official Bruce Lee museum as well.

Will you be producing any new film projects?

We are working on several new projects for film and tv. We are working on some biographical based projects as well as projects based on my father’s own writings and ideas. He was a prolific writer and I am grateful to be able to try to bring you his ideas and get them out into the world.

What were the motives for the Foundation?

To educate and to keep the message of his legacy alive, to inspire new generations and to help people.

Hi Shannon! I am a huge fan of your father’s and love the work you do to keep his legacy alive. Do you know if the statue in California is close to finding a permanent home?

We are working on fundraising efforts right now! It will live permanently in LA Chinatown where it currently is but it has not been completely installed yet. We are working on a campaign to finish the installation now! Should be finished next year!

Not to be disrespectful – but do you ever feel as though you’re exploiting your father’s memory with everything you do in connection to his name? Or do you feel that ventures like ‘Bruce Lee: Enter the Game’ will help your father’s legacy by keeping him in the cultural zeitgeist? I am genuinely curious about this, and can understand that it is sometimes a fine line to walk.

I am constantly looking for opportunities to spread his message and keep his legacy alive and in front of today’s generations. I know to a lot of people it looks like blatant consumerism but now that I have the opportunity to be able to control the messaging (which wasn’t always the case), I work very hard to do things that I feel are of quality and that my father would appreciate. My father himself was very success oriented and I think he would be happy to know that he is still remembered and inspiring people who weren’t even born when he was alive!

bruce lee enter the game

What convinced you to get into the mobile games market?

I think it’s a great opportunity to reach a younger generation with not only something fun and entertaining but to be able to include some of his philosophies in a fun way. Also, a lot of people have been asking us for a game for a long time now and this was the first opportunity we had to do our own game for all of you!

It’s good to see a Kung fu master/vigilante (for those old enough to remember the arcades) type game featuring such an iconic hero and role model, I hope he will continue to inspire new generations for years to come. Bruce Lee never had justice done in video games during the 80s & 90s often just clone characters, I assume that was due to licensing issues? Are any other games in development? With the advancement of in CGI in movies, do you ever envisage that we may one day see a digital version of your father in a movie in the future?

As to older games, for a looooonnnnnggg time, we were not in control of our destiny there. There were a LOT of rip-offs and homages in other games. We were not able to do games as we would have liked back in those days as the property was under other controls. This is why we are so happy to be able to bring you this mobile game. I’m glad you like it. I think it’s a lot of fun and it has that underdog/vigilante-master feel that I think it great. As to other games, we are constantly working on things. We just go this one out so we will turn our sites on assessing other possibilities now! Nothing in the works right this sec! One thing at a time! AS to the CGI question – it’s oft asked and oft considered. Not sure. I think on the one hand it would be amazing and on the other hand, it’s such a scary prospect. I would want it to be good and it’s so hard to assure that. It is certainly something I would consider with the right script, the right message, the right feel and the BEST technology. I guess we’ll see if we can come up with all that!

Are you nervous that people will compare this game unfavorably with the original 1984 Bruce Lee game for the Commodore 64? Cause that’s a pretty high bar.

This game SHOULD be more favorable since you won’t need a floppy disc to play it.

Shannon Lee’s Life & Career

Are you also a kung fu badass? Can you do the thing where you swap the coins on one’s palm before someone can close their hand?

I have studied Kung Fu in my life but I am no badass. I cannot do the coin thing either. I had to give up the notion a long time ago of walking in my father’s footsteps. I train because I like it and because it’s good for my body and my spirit but I’m not a kung fu badass. Just a general badass, haha.

What is the most common response when you tell people who you’re father was?

It ranges from….”Really?!” to “No way!” Haha. I really try not to tell people who my father is right away. I prefer to just get to know people without that layer on top of it. But at some point, it comes around to that and people are generally pretty surprised and/or excited. It’s kind of fun to see their expression change sometimes.

Aside from safeguarding your father’s legacy, what are the things we should really know about you?

I have an amazing almost 12-year-old daughter who is the light of my life. I love to read and write. I truly am inspired by my father’s life example. I have two dogs and I used to have cats too but my daughter is allergic so no mas gatos. (Oh, I know a little Spanish). I can count to ten in ten different languages (not very useful). I love my friends. I have friends that are my family. My mom is awesome and fun. And I’m just getting started on expressing myself and living my life to the fullest!

I’m trying to remember that show that was on UPN that I believe you hosted. It was basically a staged version of Mortal Combat. What was it called again?

WMAC Masters.

What can you tell us about the production and filming of the show WMAC Masters?

It was a lot of fun to shoot. The martial artists were all really nice and accomplished. Doing the commentary and voice over was great. It was a fun experience and I made a lot of friends that I still have from that time!

What the heck happened to WMAC Masters, and isn’t now the perfect time for a reboot? (Okay, maybe 6-year-old me just really loved that show…)

You know, that was one of the first on-camera jobs I ever had and it was a really fun show. I agree a reboot would be great. I was only in the first season. They changed the format after that and then it went off the air. It is always surprising to me how many people loved that show. I still keep in touch with several people from that show. It was a lot of fun.

Are you as good as your dad?

Not as a martial artist and not as a film-maker. As a human being? maybe. I’m a work in progress.

How good of a fighter are you?

I’m pretty out of practice these days. I used to spar a bit and I really enjoyed it.

But these days, I wouldn’t even begin to rank myself.

Hi Shannon. You are gorgeous. Are you still singing? Also, did Bruce use headphones where he would concentrate on a recording of the sound of dripping water, as well as the sounds of background noises? I read this somewhere. Also, according to what I read, the dripping water was on one channel and background noise on the other. This was so he could turn one sound up or down as he concentrated on the water. He did this for concentration. So, it was training for him to be in a relaxed/meditative state in a real fight/encounter. Also, did Bruce work with a clock and light timer? Note: this also has a switch setup. This equipment was for reflexes, first strikes, and non-telegraphed training. Sorry for the typos, sending on my cell.

Hi! I still sing occasionally. Here and there. I perform in Asia occasionally. My father did have big cans that he used when listening to music. I don’t know if he used to listen to water drop sounds. I kind of think not but I would have to ask my mom to know for sure. He did use drums and drumming in training. He had a concept called “broken rhythm” where in he tried to break the rhythm of his opponent and get in between the beats as it were.

What kind of guys do you date?

Kind, intelligent, funny, available ones….know any? haha!

What is your favorite form of martial arts and why?

I guess I’d have to say JKD for obvious reasons. It’s such a part of who my father was and it’s so simple yet so deep and profound and difficult in its simplicity. I trained in kickboxing for a long time too and loved that as well.

What led to your decision to quit acting? You were starting to carve out a good career in that field. Also, do you sing much nowadays? Thanks for doing the AMA. Your dad was a great man and an inspiration.

I sing occasionally. As for acting, as much as I wanted to have a career, honestly my heart just wasn’t in it at the time. I didn’t have great representation and thereby not a lot of solid support. And I had planned to come to LA and get into acting right before my brother died and so even though I went through with my plan, it was hard not having him here and being in constant grief for so long. It’s such a hard industry – so critical and shallow – it wasn’t a good fit for where I was in my life at that time. It was a tough time and I think it was best for me to turn to something else in my life at that time. I always dream about getting back into it though.

Miscellaneous Questions

Are you related to Sara Lee?

Only in my appreciation of pound cake…..:)

How much wood could Bruce Lee chuck if Bruce Lee could chuck wood?

A shit ton.

Hi Shannon, Can you confirm that Bruce would actually beat a dragon in a fight?

I can neither confirm or deny that Bruce Lee would indeed beat a dragon in a fight. Off the record, I would have to say yes. Yes, he would.

Hi Shannon! This may sound like a silly question, but what do you think of the Wu-Tang Clan?

I know that the RZA is a huge Bruce Lee fan. I have met him once and he was very nice.

Can you share some pictures that we may not have seen before? Thank you!

Check out our Facebook page. We post a lot of great quotes and images there!

Did your dad ever walk in on you and a boyfriend? Is that boyfriend still in the hospital?

Haha. I was four when my father died, so…no.

What is your favorite dinosaur?

Ooooo. Rough one. Not much of a dino connoisseur but here it goes… I like pterodactyl cuz it can fly I like T-rex for the hilarious short arms (no wonder he’s so aggro.) And, if you must know, I like Pachycephalosaurus for the cranial cap, right?

I am going to close this post with this interview of Bruce Lee by Pierre Berton for the Pierre Berton Show in 1971. It has been dubbed “The Lost Interview” because it was presumed lost until it was rediscovered and aired in 1994. It is the only interview Lee gave speaking entirely in English.

I am sharing it with you all so you can see how mastery manifests in and on one’s person.

Are you a Bruce Lee fan?

One thing Lee taught me was how to express my authentic self at all times. What have you learned from him? Leave a comment below and let me know.

You should also read:

Join the conversation

or to participate.