Why I Stopped Writing About Bruce Lee

For those who are unfamiliar with my work on the subject of Bruce Lee, I wrote a number of articles and two books on Bruce Lee in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In April of 2000, I took the first place collegiate prize for philosophical writing at the Bruce Lee Educational Foundation’s conference in Las Vegas, the only such award that was ever given by the foundation. After receiving my award at the ceremony, Bruce Lee’s widow walked to the podium and publicly praised my first book on Lee. John Little, the director of the Bruce Lee Educational Foundation, considered me to be one of the world’s top authorities on Bruce Lee’s philosophy, and, at his request, I participated in a series of groundbreaking lectures in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the Fall of 2000. And I established, along with Spain’s leading authority on Bruce Lee, the most popular website on Bruce Lee in the Spanish-speaking world.

I saw Bruce Lee and his philosophy as a vehicle to accomplish something socially relevant; to use Bruce Lee to educate the masses on issues concerning society, religion, philosophy, and psychology. It was my own profile of Martin O’Neill, a senior social worker in Northern Ireland, who was using Bruce Lee’s martial art to unite Protestants and Catholics, that led to our symposiums at Queens University and Trinity College. I believed that the value of studying Bruce Lee was in the opportunity for personal growth. After all, as Lee was often quoted as saying: “All knowledge leads to self knowledge.”

By 2004, however, I had grown disillusioned with the study of Bruce Lee. Partially, it was my own discoveries of numerous misattributions credited to Bruce Lee, but mostly it was disillusionment with the audience for which I was writing. There were a number of reasons for my disillusionment:

  • An unhealthy fanaticism among followers and fans of Bruce Lee that bordered on religious zeal; unflattering revelations about Bruce Lee were viewed as heresy, and your “purity” was called into question if you expected compensation for your contributions to the body of knowledge on Lee (you were expected to give it away as an act of faith)
  • The hucksterism and conflict between people who at some point studied under Bruce Lee and now operated their own martial art schools; these little fiefdoms competed for the attention of the Bruce Lee acolytes and the “original Bruce Lee students” seemed more interested in what Bruce Lee’s martial art could do for them than how they could use it to improve the world
  • Numerous self-appointed Bruce Lee experts who provided little original contributions to the body of knowledge on the man
  • A number of odd and unsettling personal interactions with psychologically-disturbed Bruce Lee fans

Ultimately, I came to believe that a great number of the fans who were drawn to Bruce Lee weren’t interested in personal growth, as Lee himself was, but instead had a single-minded fascination with Bruce Lee that was fantasy-based and ultimately had its roots in a rejection of their own selves. They objectified Bruce Lee as the premiere example of everything they wanted to be, because he was imbued with abilities beyond their own and lacked their self-perceived faults. Lee’s yellow Game of Death tracksuit became the Bruce Lee fan’s equivalent of Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb’s “woman suit” in Thomas Harris’ novel Silence of the Lambs; for each, the wearing of the suit allowed the wearer to escape his or her own hated identity.

None of these disillusions, individually or collectively, are the reason that I have not written anything new on Bruce Lee in 11 years. I quit writing on the subject of Bruce Lee because less-than-honorable individuals, in the community for which my writing was intended, were misappropriating my work.

During the early 2000s, I began to notice that my articles, research, and commentary were being lifted in toto from their original publications and republished on the World Wide Web without permission or attribution.

This discovery proved coincidental, because at the same time I was wrapping up research on the existing publications attributed to Bruce Lee and had discovered hundreds of examples of Lee being credited with the writing and words of other authors. I realized how futile it was to argue about the morally objectionable practice of widespread plagiarism to an audience that was already demonstrating their comfort with it. And I also realized, in that moment, that Bruce Lee fandom was no longer the audience I wanted to reach. This specifically led me to redirect my efforts elsewhere.

My final published work on the subject of Bruce Lee was the revised edition of my book Bruce Lee: Dynamic Becoming, published in 2004. The book was intended to close out my direct involvement in that particular field. It was a summation of the work I had accomplished during my time studying Bruce Lee. I structured the book to resemble Carl Rogers’ classic On Becoming a Person, which was also a summation of Roger’s work in psychotherapy. Unlike my first book on Bruce Lee, I insisted that it was published without photographs, to ensure that it did not appeal to a specific subset of Bruce Lee fandom.

With the publication of my book, I knew two things would result: first, I would be persona non grata with the Bruce Lee Estate for revealing hundreds of published misattributions and directly criticizing them for it, and, second, I would receive a great deal of criticism from the general Bruce Lee fan community for attacking the foundations of some of their strongest-held beliefs. I was fine with that.

At the end of the book, I included a list of almost 400 books Bruce Lee possessed in his personal library. No such list had ever been made available before. I developed that list to serve a greater purpose: to add to the existing body of scholarship on Bruce Lee. By identifying the books Lee possessed, sources of intellectual content wrongly attributed to him could be further identified and properly credited. It was my hope that readers would seek out the books and discover, in addition to the wisdom contained therein, other examples of misattributions. It was my effort to pass the baton.

There were a number of articles on Bruce Lee that I already finished and were ready for publication, including an exposé of the Bruce Lee Estate and a feature article on Bruce Lee’s senior student Taky Kimura. Others were in the process of being completed, including an interesting report on Bruce Lee’s connections to the Manson murders. I chose not to publish or continue with these articles because I was no longer motivated to write for the intended audience. I also removed myself from involvement with the Spanish Bruce Lee website.

In the 11 years that followed the publication of my last book, I felt no desire to return to the field or the audience, other than a brief mention of Bruce Lee in a paper I presented on self-actualization at an academic conference in 2011 and a few statements provided to some Spanish-language news agencies in 2006. Besides those exceptions, I have not written or spoken publicly on the subject, nor have I granted interviews concerning my past work.

Recently, on a whim, I performed a Google search on the subject of Bruce Lee’s library. I was disturbed, but certainly not shocked, to see that someone had republished my list of Lee’s library without my permission and without proper attribution. Even worse, that person claimed the credit for compiling the list himself.

Let me say a few words about the work involved in compiling this list. It was a rigorous process that involved painstaking examinations of photographs of Lee’s library and matching whole or partial titles and authors via catalogue tools like WorldCat, the online catalogue of library holdings. The methodology included validating matches by publication date and even by the physical appearance of the books (in some cases). In addition, published accounts of books Lee possessed as well as first-person interviews with friends and associates of Bruce Lee also yielded some of the titles. Finally, a number of titles were identified by running a web search on quotes attributed to Bruce Lee and finding the actual authors and publications.

The list took several months to compile and also involved the participation of Marcos Ocaña, Spain’s leading Bruce Lee authority, and Doug Klinger, a Canadian martial arts instructor. It was no easy task, I assure you. So it is understandable why I would be unhappy to find it pilfered.

In academia, plagiarism is a cardinal sin, but in Bruce Lee fandom, it is considered an accepted practice. Let me make this perfectly clear: plagiarism is theft, it is fraud, it is immoral, and it is wrong. It was wrong when Bruce Lee did it, it was wrong when the Bruce Lee Estate did it in the past and when they continue to do it, and it is wrong when the followers of Bruce Lee do it.

For those who think plagiarism is okay, I can assure you that you ultimately lose when you plagiarize or support acts of plagiarism. You lose because acts of plagiarism or piracy have a demotivating effect on the writers, artists, musicians, and other innovators who produce original content. By plagiarizing, you decrease the likelihood that these individuals will produce new work or make new work available to you.

It is also why I will not publish my current list of Bruce Lee’s library, which has grown since the original was last published in 2004.

Sadly, to my knowledge, in the 11 years since I published the list of Bruce Lee’s library and left that field of study, relatively few new misattributions have been identified, even as Bruce Lee’s estate continues to recycle them in new publications. While I am absolutely certain I merely scratched the surface of the problem, only my Spanish colleague Marcos Ocaña has continued the line of research, when he published additional misattributions in his 2010 book Bruce Lee: El Guerrero de Bambú. No other Bruce Lee expert, authority, or historian has added to that body of knowledge in that time. In fairness, I understand why there are no new discoveries: most people who read Bruce Lee books are interested in the iconography of Bruce Lee and largely uninterested in an ancillary education. That’s a pity, but it is the reality.

I must admit that the title of this article is misleading, because I cannot truly say that I will never write about Bruce Lee again. In fact, I know that I will: as a researcher on the subjects of giftedness and talent, I study exceptional people, particularly people who have risen to the level of eminence in their domains. Bruce Lee deserves consideration in that regard. However, any further writing that I do on the subject of Bruce Lee will be sparing, research-based, and likely only published in peer-reviewed academic journals or presented in academic conferences. Presently, I have a qualitative study outlined that would look at eminent self-actualized people and their moral reasoning in pursuit of self-actualization – this could include Bruce Lee, among others. And I am considering writing an academic paper on the continued plagiarism involving writing attributed to Bruce Lee.

It is less likely, however, that any of these will be written for a mass audience.

3 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Writing About Bruce Lee”

  1. Sir,

    As I have enjoyed your work over the years, I find this state of affairs to be sad, sickening really. It is one thing to quote from a Master, to pass on there words, there knowledge. How many quote Shakespeare or Howard? It is something else to say it is yours. It is, as you say, theft. It is the writers time work and dedication that is taken. I think that the group you were writing for will never know the difference. And so, they miss the point of this Masters work.

  2. I am definitely going to buy your book, I have been a fan of Bruce’s since 1975 but from the start it was his message of self actualization that really meant most to me. A long time ago that books like Tao of Jeet Kune Do are filled with other peoples ideas that Bruce found inspiring. I found it incredible in the Dragon film that they dared pretend that it was published in his lifetime.
    So I look forward to your book immensely!
    One question if I may? Who do you attribute the Taoist Priest poem at the front of T of JKD to? I cant find it anywhere though I assume it is From Zen or some Taoist text.

  3. It is not just the words that are taken from other peoples books and misattributed to Lee. Many of the drawings in TofJKD are taken from other sources and not attributed to those sources

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