Living the Yin and the Yang of life on Bruce Lee Tribute Night

Living the Yin and the Yang of life on Bruce Lee Tribute Night
September 5, 2012, 3:30 am

Bruce Lee died at the age of 32 on July 20, 1973. (AP)

Editor's note: On the 40th anniversary of the passing of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, A's Insider Paul Gutierrez shares his story with Lee's widow from Bruce Lee Tribute Night at AT&T Park last September.

"Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend." -- Bruce Lee, on his life philosophy

SAN FRANCISCO -- Thing was, I wasn't being quiet like still waters, or crashing like a rampaging wave. It was somewhere in the middle. A babbling brook, if you will. Literally.

I can still see the disapproving looks of the people sitting in front of me as they turned to throw me, and my parents, a dirty look. The plaintive "shhhhhhhhhh"s coming my way in the darkened movie theater. Hey, I was 3 years old, and what's a 3-year-old to do in the middle of a two-hour movie but make some noise, or mimic the kicks and punches being demonstrated up on the silver screen?

It was late August or early September of 1973 and it's one of my earliest memories -- sitting in Grauman's Chinese Theater to take in Bruce Lee's "Enter The Dragon," still considered the best martial arts movie of all time, with my mother and father, who himself had just begun his journey into martial arts. A journey that included all of our family and continues today with my dad's studio in my hometown of Barstow.

So it only seemed as though the journey had come full circle, or at least reached a crescendo, at AT&T Park last year when I shared my story with martial arts royalty, Lee's widow Linda Lee Cadwell, and his daughter Shannon as the Giants commemorated Bruce Lee Tribute Night. They both laughed, and seemed to appreciate it.

***

"If I tell you I am good, probably you will say I am boasting. But if I tell you I'm no good, you know I'm lying." -- Bruce Lee, on his skill level

You can dispute the assertion that Bruce Lee is the greatest martial artist who ever lived. But you cannot argue that he is the most famous.

Or at least, the most revered. In any walk of life.

"A legend," said Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who dabbled in martial arts as a youngster. "Disciplined. He was one of those rare athletes that, you just knew he left no stone unturned in terms of preparation. He was just on another level from everybody else."

Marcel Reece, the Raiders' multi-skilled fullback, has trained in Brazilian jiujitsu and smiled when asked his impression of Lee.

"The best," Reece said. "He was the best at what he did and will always be remembered as that. I remember as a kid watching all his movies and still, to this day, you hear his name and you look to him as the best."

Lee transcended martial arts as an actor, philosopher and founder of his style of martial art he deemed Jeet Kune Do, which bypassed many of the traditional disciplines while combining others.

So if it seems like there has been a resurgence of interest in The Little Dragon, you're right.

"I think my father is even more relevant today, in some ways," Shannon Lee told me. "Because there's so many things that he was talking about doing in his lifetime that are happening now. You see the UFC and MMA. You see the fitness and nutrition people are into. You see the philosophy and the self-help andŠmy father's own philosophies fit so well into that.

"And I think that as the world becomes a smaller place and opens up, more and more people are able to have access to who he was and know a little bit more about himŠand his legacy has so much value in it for everybody, I think, out there so that when people know what it is, they latch on to it."

Shannon Lee was four years old when her father passed away under mysterious circumstances -- the official cause was of a cerebral edema caused by an allergic reaction to a medication he took for a headache -- on July 20, 1973.

And yet, as she notes, almost 40 years later, Bruce Lee is more relevant now than in his short 32 years of life.

"People are beginning to find out that he was much deeper than just a martial artist or an actor," said Linda Lee Cadwell. "And that he had a philosophy of life that people are finding very helpful in their own lives."

Now, he is being seen as a revolutionary figure, a hero to the counterculture of the late 1960's and early 1970's. A Chinese American who appealed to every ethnicity and nationality.

I asked Linda if he realized it at the time. She smiled but shrugged.

"He was just 32 years old," she said. "Very young, but very wise for his years because he left so much for the rest of us to follow, in his writings and his teachings. He has just influenced so many people all over the world. Amazing."

As an instructor in Los Angeles, Lee taught the rich and the famous. Celebrities such James Coburn, Steve McQueen, James Garner and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took classes from him.

And Lee did what would be considered cross-training today -- he used to study fencing and boxing to implement those disciplines in his fighting styles. Lee, whose fighting stance had his right foot forward, would watch 8mm films of Muhammad Ali boxing but with the film in backwards, so that Ali's footwork would match Lee's.

Every sport or game was worthy of studying.

"He could relate how a baseball player swings a bat," she said. "He'd correlate how it takes that much energy into a swing, with the way his body would move in martial arts."

Still not convinced?

Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow studied martial arts while a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1982.

"It was a workout for Steve Carlton, it was his deal," Krukow said. "It really was for a starting pitcher. This was something that prolonged my career."

Krukow's instructor, Gus Hoefling, had come to Philadelphia with former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel when he went to the Eagles and Hoefling found willing students with baseball players, especially Hall of Fame-bound Lefty.

They would work on full range-of-motion exercises, plow their hands into buckets of rice to strengthen their hands, work on their balance by wearing slippery shoes during their walking Chinese punching drills.

"No sparring, though," Krukow said. "Even though we wanted to.

"Carlton never threw between starts. That was his workout between starts."

Hoefling became a singular secret society, of sorts, in baseball, and his workouts became legendary.

But here's what it gets cool from a personal standpoint. As a younger man, Hoefling was classmates with my father's instructor, James Ibrao. In turn, Ibrao was Ed Parker's first black belt. And it was at Parker's tournament in 1964 in Long Beach where Lee was essentially "discovered" by Hollywood.

"We used to stay at Ed Parker's house when we first went to Los Angeles," Linda said.

***

"You know what I want to think of myself? As a human being. Because, I mean I don't want to sounds like 'As Confucius say,' but under the sky, under the heavens, man, there is but one family. It just so happens, man, that people are different. -- Bruce Lee, when asked if he considered himself Chinese or American.

Why the Giants? Why the Bay Area? Why now?

Actually, it makes all the sense in the world. Lee was born in San Francisco in the Year of the Dragon on the Chinese calendar (yes, last year was again the Year of the Dragon) and one of his first studios was in Oakland at 4175 Broadway.

It was here that Lee had to literally fight for his right to teach martial arts to non-Asians. The spot is now home to a car dealership.

Lee, whose son Brandon also died under strange circumstances, after a gunshot accident on the set of the movie "The Crow" in 1993, would be 71 years old now. He would have seen his daughter sing the National Anthem at the Giants game, and watch as his wife threw a strike as the ceremonial first pitch.

Then again, had he not died so tragically at 32, he might not be so honored today.

Last week, while in Seattle to cover the Raiders' exhibition game, I made a stop by Lee's final resting place in Lake View Cemetery to pay respects to not only the Little Dragon, but also his son, who is buried next to him.

Seattle is where Bruce and Linda met, at the University of Washington, and where Linda and Shannon hope to erect an "action" museum in his honor. That's the grand goal of the Bruce Lee Foundation, his widow said.

"To preserve and perpetuate Bruce's legacy," she said, "and to pass on his art and his philosophy to people all over the world."

It took one more step in the city of his birth last September. And Bruce Lee Tribute returned -- back by popular demand -- for its second annual AT&T Park event last month.