Review: Bruce Lee Library Vol. I: Words of the Dragon: Interviews, 1958-1973.


Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Aug 28, 2001
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Terre Haute, IN
Bruce Lee Library Vol. I: Words of the Dragon: Interviews, 1958-1973
John Little, editor

This paperback book is the first of five volumes in the Bruce Lee Library series. It runs 175 pgs. and includes an index.

The "interviews" of the title are newspaper articles clipped and saved by Linda Lee (now Linda Cadwell) over the indicated years. Some are in an interview format, but a great many are not. The book consists of a brief introduction and filmography by the editor, followed by these articles, arranged chronologically. The final selection is a handwritten 1972 essay by Brandon Lee, then 7, describing his father as his hero.

As far as I can tell, the material is limited to articles from Mrs. Cadwell's notebooks. Some material predates the her having met Bruce Lee; I assume these articles had been clipped by Bruce Lee himself. This introduces limitations that may be frustrating to some readers. Many of the early articles are poorly cited (missing, say, the date or source--in fact, Mr. Little states that he was unable to obtain permission to reprint some of the articles because he could not identify, let alone locate, the copyright holders). The articles tend to be duplicative, especially in the first section--and many are fawning and exaggerated, intended to draw an audience rather than tell the truth. They are also rife with errors. (A reporter writes: "Gung fu is a cross between Thai boxing and back-alley brawling." This is just a mild example. Bruce Lee is referred to as Mike Lee, as a Karate expert, and so on.) Fortunately, the editor has provided extensive footnotes that refute such errors and expand on certain stories.

How does one review a collection of newspaper articles from such diverse sources--high school and college newspapers, American newspapers and magazines, and Hong Kong newspapers? The editor provides no great insight into how he, or Mrs. Cadwell, selected the articles. One can only review this collection based on the contribution it makes to understanding Bruce Lee, and the impression it makes on the reader. I'm not expert enough to do the former, so I will concentrate on the latter.

My initial impression was actually one of boredeom. The facts, the errors, and the pithy quotes were repeated far too often, and I became bored of reading quotes such as "so much myth and baloney" in gung fu, puns like his "...but fu man chu" joke, and corrections indicating that Bruce Lee was a Kung Fu practitioner rather than a Karateka, or that he was actually born in the U.S., and so on.

But the collection gives one a chance to "see" the evolution of his career as it happened. The shift in focus, from early stories about the novelty of Oriental fighting arts to the later stories about the particulars of his film career, provides an interesting perspective on his professional life. There are a few articles from the late 1950s and early 1960s, starting when he was 18 or 19 years old. How many of us can say the same? It's a testament to his drive that he was already attracting attention--already newsworthy--at that time.

Some of his comments strike us differently today than they might have in the past: His repeated comment that "A woman can never whip a man" is an example, and also his frequent ethnic humour. Much attention seems to have been focused on his interracial marriage and biracial and bicultural children. Other of his comments I found interesting as a martial artist; for example, his insistence that one thing that separated Kung Fu from other arts is that it is self-offense, not self-defense; Martial Attack, not Martial Art.

Late in the book I began to have an eerie, watching-a-horror-movie feeling as I realized that the dates of the articles were leading up to July of 1973. The lack of premonition in the articles--the feeling that this human ball of energy could live forever--makes the sole obituary that is the penultimate entry all the more jarring. Even in this obituary, UPI described him as doing Karate, not Kung Fu--calling into question how much he had truly educated the public at large about the martial arts, sadly.

This is not a biography. Many details about Bruce Lee that are well-known in the martial arts community are missing here--details of his personal life, of his movies, and of his study of the martial arts. These are articles not from Black Belt magazine but instead from the Seattle Times, Springfield Union News, China Mail, TV/Radio Mirror, and the like.

When all is said and done I found it an interesting way to see not only Bruce Lee, in his own words and over the arc of his career, but also to see how he was seen by the mainstream media. I was 9 years old when he passed away and not yet a student of the martial arts, so this was enlightening to me.

If you're looking for a biography of Bruce Lee, look elsewhere. If you've already read a biography of Bruce Lee and are looking for a different perspective on his career, this quick and easy read may be what you're looking for, and at $14.95 I can easily recommend it for that purpose.


personally i would only buy 3 books from the bruce lee library they are:

the art of expressing the human body

there are some great training methods in this book although some are a little outdated, it is still well worth the read

the tao of gung fu
another verygood book it is basically brucelees take on wingchun

but the daddy has to be
jeet kune do:bruce lees commentries on the martial way

it is far FAR better than tao of jeetkune do it has great info on lots of techniques and excellent sections on bruce lees principles and concepts. it contains many information that is not in tao of jeeetkune do but also lacks a little thats in there. however te main thing that makes it so superior is the fact that it is organised far better. the otehr 2 are just supplements to this really.

it is worth buying tao of jeet kune do as well but these 3 are the best IMO