Bruce Lee was a prankster

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 3, 2013

IT IS a hair-raising sight: martial arts icon Bruce Lee swinging his nunchakus, shrieking and charging at full speed.

Robert Lee, the younger brother of the legendary movie star, still remembers the day the latter tried out his famous moves on him some 50 years ago.

"He called out my name and, boom, there was this nunchaku that was right in my face," said Robert, who is nine years younger.

"I thought I was going to die."

Fortunately for Robert, Bruce had switched his trademark wooden weapon for foam ones before delivering the blow.

It was one of the many pranks that the cheeky Bruce played on Robert, the youngest of five children.

Robert, 64, is in Singapore together with sister Phoebe, 75, to attend the One Fighting Championship's Asia Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) summit at Marina Bay Sands, which begins today.

The event is a two-day forum for industry leaders, with guest speakers such as the Lee siblings and Renzo Gracie of the legendary Gracie Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) family.

"He is a very funny guy and he loved joking with people. Once, he gave me a book which gave out an electric shock," said Phoebe, who was born two years earlier than Bruce.

From prop weapons to prank gadgets, it is this endearing side of Bruce that his two siblings remember best.

To many others all over the world, however, Bruce is regarded as one of the most influential martial artists.

The Chinese American, who died in his sleep at age 32 - from a brain disorder - in 1973, is widely credited with elevating the popularity of gongfu in the west.

Today, as MMA grows in popularity, many also consider Bruce to be one of the sport's most key figures.

Dana White, president of the popular American MMA circuit Ultimate Fighting Championship, calls him the father of MMA.

Said Robert: "He always believed that one should not learn just one style of martial art. He told me that (martial art) is like a whole pie and every form is like a piece of the pie.

"He would learn anything - boxing, jujutsu, judo, anything. During the 1970s, most martial arts exponents would think one style, or at most two or three. Bruce learnt anything."

Indeed, though he trained largely in wing chun, Bruce also demonstrated his knowledge in boxing and jujutsu, the Japanese martial art which gave birth to BJJ, a staple fighting skill of most MMA fighters today.

That eagerness to learn all kinds of martial arts eventually became a driving force behind Bruce's famous philosophy - "Be like water".

He believed that in both combat and life, one should adopt the fluid and adaptable characteristics of water.

Yet, when the need arises, one should also be able to display great strength, like water rushing out from a dam.

The philosophy subsequently laid the foundations for jeet kune do (JKD) - a hybrid system of martial arts which he started.

Said Robert, a retired musician: "Bruce said that when you fight, there is no fixed form and there is no style. JKD is just a name. You can call it ABC, 123, it doesn't matter."

Bruce's versatility was also evident in his films.

In Enter The Dragon (1973), arguably his most famous movie, he put an opponent in an armbar submission hold.

In Game Of Death (1972), he choked former basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's character with a neck lock.

For all his prowess, a teenage Bruce was, at times, no match for his siblings' guile.

Phoebe remembers one rare incident when she turned the tables on her younger brother.

On a family outing at Clear Water Bay, Hong Kong, she successfully lured Bruce - who neither learnt to swim nor ride a bicycle - near the water's edge before pulling him in.

Said Phoebe: "He teased me all the time. So one time, I told him to come near the water and I pulled him in."

She had to pay a price for her mischief, as she said in between giggles: "He was so angry. He chased me around and he beat me up after that."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 3, 2013 

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