Wong Shun Leung – The Death of Bruce Lee
The Death of Bruce Lee
Wong Shun Leung
Bruce was too heavily burdened with trying to maintain his fitness. I do not say this groundlessly. Bruce had come to a position where he could only look forward up upward. He could not look back because he feared that one day he might be passed by another. It was this kind of psychology that pressed him. I was sorry for that.
About two months before he died he gave me a ‘phone call. He wanted to come to my institute and take some photographs. That was a Sunday. My family had stayed in the house for a week and they needed to go out for an excursion, so I refused his suggestion. Later I regretted this decision. We were old friends. At least I should have let him take some photographs, but now we will not be able to see each other. Although I did not let him come to my institute, I agreed to visit him in the afternoon. We exchanged our experiences and ideas about martial arts and compared our ideas. After this he left Hong Kong to settle his film business. When he came back, he called me up and wanted me to participate in the making of “The Game of Death”. He had also invited me to the studio to attend a screen test. I did not promise to act in the film, yet I still went to attend the screen test to please him. I brought along a student named Wan on my trip to the studio. The light in the studio was much stronger than in Bruce’s home. In the making of a scene, our eyes met. At once, I had an uncomfortable and unlucky feeling in me. His eyes showed something which was very familiar to me. I seemed to have seen that somewhere before.
In the break time, he put on an expensive camera. The lens attachments made it a long thing. With his camera round his neck, he walked here and there boastfully. It might have been one of his ways to exhibit his manly appearance.
The studio was stuffy. In the recess time, I went out to have a real rest. What I just saw in Bruce’s eyes flowed up in my mind. Why did I feel familiar with that thing? Where had I seen that phenomenon? Finally I found the answer. I saw that phenomenon two months before my aunt passed away. Then I was still a small boy, but because my family had many doctors. I had also learnt some medical knowledge, and was more careful in observing physiological phenomena. I saw that the black and white Bruce’s eyes were not clear.
As I was thinking over these things, Bruce came out. I immediately asked him, “Do you feel tired? I see that the colour of your eyes is different. Is it because you have stayed in a foreign land for a long time?”
“No, I don’t see any difference,” Bruce answered.
I hoped that it was because he had over-worked, so I advised him to take more rest, for even if a man could work like a machine, he would break down if he did not have any rest.
He had just finished the making of “Enter the Dragon” If you have seen that film, I think you will agree with my idea. In that film, his eyes are dull and dim. The look of his eyes in this film differs greatly with that of “The Big Boss.” I really hoped that the dull look in his eyes was the result of overwork, but I was only explaining it away. I could not wipe away the unlucky feeling. Owing to the fact that his situation might get worse if he knew it, I did not tell him about it.
About two or three months before he died, I had paid Bruce a visit. We discussed and compared the results of our researches on Kung Fu in Bruce’s study while our wives were having a good chat outside. Firstly, he wanted to test the power of our punches. It might be because he wanted to know how old I was. He tested one time, and then repeated the procedure another time. He was still powerful, but not so powerful as he was a few years before. He was fitter before. It might have been because before he had a much more disciplined life, he did not have too many burdens and he was younger. Things were different later. He was famous. Changes occurred in every aspect of his life. Moreover, he had a better life. When a sportsman does not have enough practice and rest and only relies on vitamins and medicines to support him, his results will surely be no good. Bruce had lived such a kind of life for a long time. Although the electronic machine could help him in some ways, his mental and physical burdens were still great.
After the test of our punching power, we compared our kicking power. In this comparison, of course, we had many things in common. Yet we still had some disagreement on certain points. I felt that he was not so good as before. After the kicking comparison, we still had not touched on the main issue. He then proposed to go downstairs to visit his training room. The equipment there was very modern.
We then came to his garden where there was a ball which was used to train the punch. It was smaller than an American football and one of its ends was tied to a spring. The other end was tied to a nylon thread which was connected to the ground. When the ball was hit, it would spin and swing swiftly. Usually, its movement was in proportion to the force and speed of your punch.
After he finished his practice with the ball, he asked me to try. Even though I did not hit accurately as he did, the difference was not too big. As this device was installed by him, certainly he would be more familiar with it and hit more accurately. It that was my first time in using the ball That I could have such a result was already very good. In fact, that was out of his expectation. My performance had shattered his dream of being a superman. Originally Bruce thought that I would not be able to hit the ball.
After the trial, he understood that the difference among men was very small. I always told him this, “If a man has the same size and physical power as you have, even though he does not know Kung Fu, he will still be able to fight with you. You will win because you have techniques. If you do not take yourself as a superman, you will have a better and meaningful life otherwise, you will feel lonely and cold.”
He should have remembered my words. With two fingers resting between his eye-brows, he meditated for a while. Then he took a deep breath and said, “Leung, I am different now. I have had my life insured. I am ready to face any accident. My family need not worry about their future lives. I don’t have any worry too. If anybody disturbs me, he should be careful. I am not afraid of death, I can kill any attacker at any time.” Bruce seemed to have many cares and concerns. I could only soothe him. I said, “You should not think in this way. To be a father is more than just leaving behind some money. If this is correct, then every millionaire would be a model father. I think, if you have time, you should try to care more about you wife and children. Don’t spend all your time on making money.” He looked at me. He just shook his head and smiled.
Bruce seemed to feel that I had been critical of him in almost everything, but yet he was not able to argue with me. He changed the topic of our discussion. He asked me whether there was any Wing Chun follower working in the film world. According to my information. there was only one. He then asked me about his Kung Fu. So I told him what I knew about that man. He was always so interested in any new fighting star. Actually none could compare with him at that time. As he was striking at the ball, he said, “Leung, let me tell you two events which I have come across. One day, in the studio, I met an extra. When I got close to him, he challenged the validity of my Kung Fu. I saw his pride. I said, ‘If I do not have real Kung Fu, I don’t think you will have it. You are stupid!’ Then he challenged me to fight. I was very angry. I asked him to come down to fight.. He asked, ‘How should we play?’ I answered, ‘Fight. This is the way we play.’ With a shout, I kicked at his lower abdomen. I only used. a small part of my energy, yet he did not know how to defend himself. He fell back against the setting board. He then ran towards me. I kicked again, but this time, I kicked at his chest. He was hurt. His looked bad. He did not make any sound. Later, other fighting actors came. They wanted to bear him. So he apologized for his fault. Seeing his appearance, I did not want to hurt him again. I let him go. After a few days, as I ran along Waterloo Hill Road, I passed by a construction site. This time a construction worker asked me whether I would fight with him. So I jumped over a plank and stood before them. I asked them, ‘Who wants to fight?’ However, no one answered, so I scolded them.”
From here, Bruce continued to throw out some slang. Hearing his words, I laughed. I said, “Certainly, you did not fight.”
He said, “In the end, they bowed their heads and apologized for their actions. They said that they were only playing with me. Seeing this, I didn’t care about them and continued to do my running.”
In telling me these two events Bruce’s aim was to prove that he would fight with anybody at any time. He was like a wounded beast. He did not have to care about any other thing. If a famous and rich man was normal, he would not behave in this way unless he had some hidden secrets. As Bruce had said, his children would not have to suffer poverty. He knew that he would die at an early age. No matter how he pretended or tried to cover up, his thoughts would show up in his words and attitude. In front of his close friend, it was certainly much more difficult to hide his real self. Among the lives of the people in the film world, Bruce’s life can be regarded as a disciplined one. However, the way one dies and the place cannot be arranged. beforehand according to one’s will. Many people have suggested different reasons for his death which blemish his good name. As a matter of fact, we cannot be too strict in this. If we are critical, then even Confucius will not be able to stand properly.
We went upstairs to Bruce’s room. We sat down. Bruce began to give his comments on the skill and acting of each fighting film stage. He asked my opinion too, but I seldom went to see martial arts movies. Therefore, I was not qualified to say anything. He had worked in this field for so many years, he should be much more familiar with these things than me. His comments were very objective and accurate. He had commented on people like Chen Sing, Jhoon Rhee, Jimmy Wang Yu, Wang Gia Ta and Tan Tao Liang.
Apart from acting, Bruce mainly concentrated on his Kung Fu. He had also explained how painstakingly he made his films. Very often, a few actions would be shot for over 200 times before one was acceptable. Thus the popularity of his films was no accident at all. When he finished his comments on the stars, he turned to talk about his exclusive technique. He said, “Leung, my feet can kick at any angle.”
He immediately stood up and illustrated his point. Bruce took out the shield-like protector for me to see. It had been used on a TV performance.
He said, “Try this. It is very useful. Let’s see how powerful you are now.”
I replied, “Man’s power has limits. My body is not too old, but it is not possible to look for big progress.”
I understood his intention. He wanted to test my power. Just before we started, he said, “I agree with that idea. When one’s power reaches a certain limit, it is difficult to make any further progress. He is also handicapped by his age. I still have much auxiliary training equipment (he meant his electronic training machine), I can have some small breakthroughs. My hope is, when I am 60 years old, I will not be insulted by another 60 year old man.”
Although he had this hope, he would never be able to fulfil his hope. All his friends and fans feel sorry about that. He asked me to hold the shield so that he could make his demonstration. He took a step backward, dashed forward and sent out a side kick. I did not try to oppose him firmly. When his leg reached me, I retreated to extinguish his power. I did this because we were not having a comparison. I could only defend. I did not have to resist him firmly. He tried again. He kicked with his left foot this time. I fell back to dissolve his power. When his third kick arrived, I could no longer draw back for I had reached the wall. So I shunned aside and pushed away his leg. Bruce said, “Leung, how is my kick? As a matter of fact, l can kick at any time from any angle. See my muscles.”
Bruce showed me the muscles of his lower abdomen. They were firm. This proved that he had spent time in training himself.
I said to him, “Doubtlessly your speed and power are good. In the past, you had trained yourself hard. The results you have now are not easily got. The result is in proportion to the work. This is a rule.”
Bruce next asked me to test the power and the speed of his punch. To show the swiftness of his punch, he asked me to catch his punch. I had seen how he did this on TV. He would rest his fist on his chest, then he would jet it out. Its reaction would automatically draw back his fist. Therefore, he could take back his fist in a shorter time. When one concentrated on catching his fist, one would be misled to follow the movement of his fist. I knew Bruce’s psychology well. His performance on TV was wise. I laughed and said, “Bruce! You treat me as your audience. I have seen your performance on TV. You are clever, but don’t think that I am stupid. I have seen how you slowed down your action to hit at your opponent’s chest so that he could catch your fist easily. You then praised him and asked him to get ready. The next time you tried to hit at his abdomen. Because the opponent was misled, he immediately protected his chest when you took action. Of course, he missed your punch. Then you used your hand to touch his face. In fact, you could touch him for a number of times because he was shocked by your trick. That was the fruit of your study of psychology.”
Bruce said, “Do you think that my Kung Fu is false?”
I replied, “That is not entirely correct. One part of your Kung Fu is real, but you cannot deny that part of it is used in performance.”
We rested for a while. I said to him, “If you can break an iron plate with your punch and I can only break a stone, of course, your strength is greater than mine. However, if I hit you, do not think you could stand it ? Therefore, power is very important, but when you have reached a certain level, properness is more important.”
Bruce stressed practicality. His performance struggled for power and beauty. When I brought out this question of power or cultivation and properness, Bruce smiled. He asked me, “Have you ever thought over other questions?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Bruce answered, “What I mean is the question of performance. You cannot exhibit your properness. Even if you have made a long and detailed explanation, the audience will still find it difficult to understand your meaning. They will not believe it either. Furthermore, they will not have any interest in your theory. But when you show them your power, they will understand it at once. They will feel it too. This is my opinion on cultivation of power and properness!”
There may be some truth in his words. To him, an American boxing teacher, exhibition of his power is unavoidable. Foreigners are practical. However, the properness of boxing will not be grasped in a short time. We have to see things from different angles. My judgment on him only represents my viewpoint. Clearly I have neglected his environment and standpoint. His family has much to do with show business. He naturally will pay more attention to the element of performance. On the other hand, in his performance, he struggled for beauty and power. However, in the aspect of properness, he had deviated. For example, he used an unreasonable technique to tackle his opponent which was not good in Kung Fu at all. It was because he had good speed and was prepared psychologically. Therefore, his opponent was not able to resist him. Gradually this kind of action might have become one of his habits. He then would have been trapped by his own trick. Possibly he would take the unreasonable to be reasonable. Of course, in our conversation, we had touched on this problem. He did not agree with me on this point. He doubted my words.
He asked, “Then what do you see? What is your basis?”
I answered him, “I base it on what you have just said when you asked me to catch your fist. For when you rest your fist on your chest, you can punch and retract more quickly. If you want to subdue your enemy, it is more important to punch quick than to retrace quick. In real fighting, however, your opponent may not stop your punch. He can actually attack your body. A bad strategist will avoid your attack, but a good one will try to counter-attack. We practice Kung Fu because we want to be able to handle opponents who are stronger than us. We do not practice Kung Fu to tackle a small boy.”
In the discussion, we had different viewpoints. Bruce emphasized all-roundness.
I continued, “If you punch horizontally from your chest against a man who weighs 200 pounds, it will not be easy for you to push him away. On the contrary, your punch will fold your body. The big man may throw his arms around. If you say your punch is heavy, you are being too subjective to bear your punch. Is there a professional boxer who does not weigh a few hundred pounds? Have they not been able to bear heavy punches? But if you punch in a straight line, even though you cannot push them, the reaction will draw you back. You can still keep your opponent at a distance. Certainly, if your opponent is weak, this action will look even more beautiful. In your film, you can do your own way. But don’t let it develop into a bad habit and unconsciously regard it as the most powerful strike. Do you have the same feeling that I have?”
Bruce meditated for a while and said, “Yes, but you don’t have to care about that in combat. Combat demands an all roundness.”
I replied, “I do not object to this statement. But now you have reached such a high state, don’t you think you need to take away the useless things that are in you? In combat, if your weakness is exposed, it may become a deadly blow.”
Bruce wanted to compare with me. His forearm was used to disturb your attention so that his leg could attack. We had talked for about four hours that afternoon. Bruce said, “Originally, I had an appointment today. But since we seldom have the chance to meet and talk, I have postponed it.”
He told his wife Linda to tell the other party that they would meet the next day. Our wives were also in the room. Bruce then told them, “Would you please bring Mrs. Wong downstairs? We have something important to discuss.”
Since my little son had stayed too long in the room and the women were not interested in our discussion, it was wise to let them go.
After a little rest, Bruce said, “Leung! Although we have differences, we still have many things in common. For example, we both think that Kung Fu is a kind of sport only. Would you like to make some movement?”
I said, “If it is only for interest and research, it will be fine. If it is a competition. I will not do it.”
“O.K.” ,replied Bruce.
We stood up together. Bruce lowered his forearm. The other arm was placed below his lower jaw near his shoulder for protection. His body slightly turned to one side. His leg in the front did not stick firmly to the ground. His intention was to use his forearm to disturb you so that he could attack with the other arm and his legs. His intention was to attack with his leg first. If I tried to stop his leg, he would be able to attack my upper section. In that case, I would be forced to take a passive and defensive position. I had practiced with him for a long time and already had some understanding about him I did not hurry. I got close to him slowly and guarded carefully against his sudden attack. When I was about half a step from him, I suddenly started to take action. Swiftly I rushed forward and used my foot to strike against his leg which was in front. His response was extremely fast. He withdrew his leg in front. His back leg then became the leg in front. Moreover, he was able to punch at my throat at the same time. He was experienced. As a matter of fact, I did not try to win with one strike. When I struck at his knee, I did not think that he would easily be hit. I only tried to force him to take a defensive position.
His punch was swift and powerful. I had raised my hand in order to stop it, and used my other hand to pierce towards his throat, but my chest was still hit. As my fingers were half an inch from his throat, I stopped. We then both stopped. Bruce said, “You want to hurt my knee? You are smart. Fortunately, I am accustomed to this trick. OK. Let’s try again.”
This time he did not set down a firm stance. When we got near to each other, he started to attack with his fists. He did not use his leg. The kind of punch he used was the kind which I mentioned above. The aim of this attack was to confuse his enemy. So I stepped back a little bit and used my hands to dissolve his attack. I did not want to attack carelessly, for if I did, he would be able to make heavy attacks with his fists and legs. I took a few steps backward. When he had used his right fist for a long time, I turned aside and attacked him from the right towards his chest. He had studied Wing Chun for some time and was familiar with its tactics. He already knew that I would attack in this way. So he changed his right hand into a finger and used it to hit against my face. To use this method, one had to run an arch. This method was not suitable for Wing Chun Kung Fu. I had sent out my left fist. When he shunned aside, of course, I missed my target. His was experienced and understood the weakness of Wing Chun, so he used this method. However, I had seen his performance, and so I knew that he would use it. At once I turned my left punch into a protecting hand and used my right hand to pierce towards his throat. Although we did not use much of our force, we both were hit. He jumped away, and said, “Leung, actually I hit you first. Do you think so?”
I smiled and answered, “Don’t take it seriously. Who first hit the other is not the most important thing. It is the strength of the hit that matters You are right. Your hand hit first, but my protecting hand had already dissolved much of your power. Truly, if you strike with all your force, I may not be able to stand it, but if the power is greatly reduced, the strike will not be so effective. On the other hand, my hand also grasped your throat. If we had really fought, surely you would know who would have been hurt more badly.”
After that meeting, Bruce went to the States. One day before he died he gave me a phone call.
He said, “Among my friends, I respect you most. You are optimistic. You don’t take fame and money seriously, your life is better than mine.”
I then soothed him and said, ”I only try to find happiness from life. If we work hard for money and fame, in the end we will find that we are only torturing ourselves. You can live like me too. Live properly. Don’t exceed the limit. Then you’ll find that your life is better than everybody’s life.”
But now, we are separated forever.
In 1970 Bruce Lee wrote a letter in Chinese to the author of this article, Wong Shun-Leung. The content is recorded as follow:
Dear Shun-Leung, Jan. 11, 1970
It has been a long time since I last wrote to you. How are you? Alan Shaw’s letter from Canada asks me to lend you my 8mm film. I am sorry about that. It is because I have lost it when I moved my home. That film is already very old and I seldom use it, so I have lost it. I am sorry for it. Now I have bought a house in Bel-Air. It is about half an acre. There are many trees. It has the taste of a range. It is located on a hill top near Beverly Hills. Moreover, besides my son Brandon, I have had a daughter, Shannon, who is seven months old now. Have you re-married ? Please send my regards to your sisters. Recently, I have organised a film production company. I have also written a story “The Silent Flute”. James Coburn and I will act in it. Stirling Silliphant is the screen-play writer. He is a famous screen-play writer (In the Heat of the Night). We plan to make the first fighting film in Hollywood. The prospect is good. About six months later, the filming work will begin. All who participate in this film are my followers. In the future, Steve McQueen may also work together with me.
I am very excited about this plan. As to martial arts, I still practice daily. I meet my students and friends twice a week. No matter they are western boxer, Taekwondo learner or wrestler, I will meet them as long as they are friendly and will not get angry. Since I started to practice realistically in 1966 (Protectors, gloves, etc.), I feel that I had many prejudices before, and they are wrong. So I change the name of the gist of my study to Jeet-kune-do. Jeet-kune-do is only a name. The most important thing is to avoid having bias in the training. Of course, I run everyday, I practice my instruments (punch, kick, throw, etc.). I have to raise the basic conditions daily. Although the principle of boxing is important, practicality is even more important. I thank you and Master for teaching me the ways of Wing Chun in Hong Kong. Actually, I have to thank you for leading me to walk on a practical road. Especially in the States, there are western boxers, I often practise with them too. There are many so-called masters in Wing Chun here, I really hope that they will not be so blind to fight with those western boxers may make a trip to Hong Kong. I hope that you will live in the same place. We are intimate friends, we need to meet more and chat about our past days. That will be a lot of fun? When you see Master Yip, please send my regard to him. Happiness be with you!