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on 27 July 2017
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on 22 January 2002
Bruce Thomas author of the book has gone to extreme lengths to make this book a good read. He has succeeded, this book is a masterpiece in its own right, not just because of the subject matter but because of the way the story of an important person has been told. After reading this book i felt i had a little more knowledge and insight on not only the master himself but the history of cinema. (Both Hong Kong and Hollywood) Bruce Lee faced many put downs in his career, there was, for instance, the racism in the Hollywood studio system that kept him away from the big screen in the first place. When he finally reached an extraordinary amount of success in Hong Kong, America finally decided that he might be worth the investment.
From this book you will discover what actually drove Bruce to become what he was, a perfectionist. Someone who was always working, thinking or fighting. Agood read with lots of information.
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on 16 August 2010
Perhaps it is a common pitfall for the biographer: trying to view with objectivity and dispassion someone who may well have had a huge influence on your own life. But it is a pitfall into which the author, Bruce Thomas, tumbles time and time again.

The book is written in simple prose, chronologically detailing Bruce Lee's life from his childhood on the streets of Hong Kong to Hollywood fame. The biography is factually well researched and one of the book's few strengths is the focus on Bruce Lee's passion for martial arts. The author, a long-time student of the martial arts, clearly shares this passion and is very knowledgeable about its roots and history, detailing the evolution of Bruce Lee's own art: jeet kune do. Given that Bruce Lee considered himself first and foremost a martial artist, this is a key pillar in any biography of his life. Thomas has also gone to great lengths to put Lee's path to stardom into a cinematic context, highlighting his childhood performances in Hong Kong, as well as the theatrical environment to which he was exposed as a young child.

But Bruce Lee now lives on as more than just a movie star, and to draw his life around the camera is to only to glance at the man who became one of the twentieth century's greatest cultural icons, and around whom - perhaps more so than any other person - myths have been built on myths.

Disabusing the reader of the more far-fetched of these is hardly a commendable challenge. I doubt very much any readers thought that there might be a grain of truth in the theories suggesting that black magic or a group of "stealth ninjas" were responsible for the star's death. But in the same breath that Thomas derides such fantasy, the author salivates over rhetorical questions about who would win in a fight - Muhammad Ali or Bruce Lee? And any opinion that questions Bruce Lee's ability as a fighter rather than an artist is swiftly nipped in the bud. Joe Lewis, for example, praising Lee's technical proficiency but doubting his ability to perform in the ring (Bruce Lee never fought competitively) is quickly countered by a few lesser sources who cannot separate the icon from the artist, claiming that Bruce Lee was the greatest fighter that ever lived - not pound-for-pound, just simply undefeatable. And, whilst Thomas doesn't put his head over the parapet and state so explicitly, the reader is left with little doubt as to which way his opinion lies on a question that neither needed asking nor warrants an answer.

At other times the book devolves into a medium through which Thomas can thrill himself with his idea of the "formidable fighting machine" - detailing small incidents (Bruce Lee allegedly spin kicking two Hong Kong thugs in the shins when they started to hassle him, for instance) that bear no relevance whatsoever to the chapter and only serve to betray the high school student in Thomas that can't quite let go of the playground hyperbole.

This almost sycophantic attitude can be seen throughout the book. Once Bruce Lee was finally on his path to international stardom, there is a lingering sense that he wasn't always appreciative and respectful to those who had gone out of their way to get him in front of the camera and help him achieve his goal. But any paragraph that begins with such a latent suggestion invariably ends with the author either trying to justify Lee's behaviour or taking a quick and spiteful jab at those that dared to express such an opinion in the first place, for fear that they might deflate the myth that the author himself doesn't dare to burst.

Bruce Lee is one of the twentieth century's most fascinating figures. He was a movie star, a master of his art, and, above all, a cultural icon who had a tremendous impact on the image of Asian people in a post-war era when racial discrimination was surfacing. That Thomas manages to write a biography of Bruce Lee without putting his life and achievements into this broader context is a farce and one the book's greatest failings. Had he not died so tragically young I doubt, as Thomas is convinced, he would have become the world's greatest movie star: he was not a versatile actor and, like romantic comedies or periodical dramas, there is a market for only so many Kung Fu action movies. And like so many others (James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley), his premature death perversely provided the foundations for his goal: fame beyond fame.

If you want a warts-and-all biography of Bruce Lee that sheds some light on why Time magazine rightly regarded him as one of the most important people of the twentieth century, look elsewhere.
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on 22 February 2002
The authour is a musician by trade and has an insight into the price of fame, a theme which runs throughout this book. Split into three sections the book outlines Lee's life, his relationship with women and his fighting spirit.
Lee's biography has been told and re-told many times but Thomas is not afraid to portray Lee as a somewhat tragic figure. Always looking to be accepted but never really achieving world wide fame until after his death. At times his self confidence spills over to arrogance and Thomas deals with Lee's complex character in a well researched and balanced way. However, it is the role of Lee as a martial artist and his rejection of traditional methods which led to the creation of Jeet Kune Do, which is more interesting.
One draw back is that many of the quotes attributed to Lee and others are widely taken from many videos available, but as a single volume account of the life of one of cinemas and martial arts true icons the book is an excellent starting point for anyone looking into the life of a man who died 30 years ago.
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on 6 August 2008
Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit

I remember being a fascinated 7 year old boy reading in a magazine about Bruce Lee only to see in the paper a few weeks later that he was dead. Hard to believe today but his death reached notoriety of `Elvis' proportions in the 70s and that controversy has helped cement Bruce's fame in the collective psyche for all these years, often for all the wrong reasons.

It is, therefore, puzzling that 35 years later there is still only one REAL biography of Bruce Lee. And this is it. Due to the controversial nature of Lee's martial arts, and some would say his death, most books about him fall into the `Marylin/Elvis/Hendrix' category of here-say, conjecture and sensationalism or deal with only specific times or areas of Bruce Lee's life.
This book, however, avoids all the pitfalls and concentrates on the facts. It is a wonderfully written book, obviously written with love and admiration but not, one hastens to add, any degree of sycophancy. Whilst it may be measured and discreet the author doesn't flinch from the more awkward aspects of Bruce's character nor his sometimes volatile and unpredictable relationships.

Bruce Thomas' updated version of Fighting Spirit not only surpasses his original it exceeds it in everyway without losing any of the sincerity or honesty of its predecessor. It concentrates equally on Bruce's early life and subsequent path to fame as it does on his development as a marshal artist

It is a cautionary tale of one mans obsession with his art and his desire to spread marshal arts and its philosophy to the west whilst coupled with a burning desire for fame and fortune. It is also an excellent analysis of the sometimes contradictory nature of Bruce's character.

There are a lot of the `missing details' of Bruce's final months and as always the ending of many of our heroes is largely more straight forward and less sinister than many people would care to believe. It is sad that there is something about the common human nature that cannot accept that our heroes are fallable and that only sinister, machievellian or supernatural endings may befall them. However, as in most cases, we are finally allowed to consider the facts (that have always been there to those who wish to look) and see that Bruce's death was in fact preventable in many ways, if not by more timeous action on the part of others then, in the initial instance, by more judiscous attention to his own well being by himself.

Whilst ultimately a very sad tale of a spectacular life cut short in its prime the book manages to inspire respect and awe at both Bruce's commitment and talent and also to give an insight into the creation of a new style of marshal art and the philosophy that goes along with it. In depth explanations of Bruce's root training and the true meaning of jeet kune do (in reality a marshal art which complements and adds to the training of other accomplished marshal artists rather than something that can be seen as an entity of itself.) are provided in a complimentary and clearly explained way which I am sure Bruce would have approved of himself.
Thomas' comparisons between music and JKD are enlightening and help a lay person understand why it was so controversial and at the same time so revolutionary. It also shows clearly that there where marshal arts before Bruce Lee and marshal arts after and that things have never quite been the same since.
I can find only one criticism and that is that the book is probably too short, although I'm sure that non prolific book readers will find the page count fine and anyway maybe Mr Thomas will come back and make additions in the future?

A book that's worth every penny whether you're interested in marshal arts or not. It will be going on my shelf next to Guralnick's bio of Elvis, Andersons Ché and Tony Fletchers Dear Boy .. it's THAT good.
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on 10 June 2008
In a recent article for The Daily Mirror Tony Parson's wrote that "not all the Chinese have a stake in the country's new found prosperity but every single one of them has a stake in the Beijing Olympics". A cursory glance in the year-view mirror reminds us that, up until these last few post-empire decades, the Chinese, viewed through these now dimming lens of colonialism, were rendered a nation of waiters, laundry workers and villains; so it's hardly surprising that this global scale event should be embraced so passionately with a view of saying to the world "Look how far we've come." But the true genesis of this particular brand of pan-cultural re-calibration had already taken place back in 1971 with a movie called Tang Shan Da Xiong (The Big Boss) and an actor called Bruce Lee.

To describe Lee as a cultural phenomenon is an understatement and inevitably legends are built on myths which grow more fantastic with every telling. His four completed works defined martial arts movies for all time and his unfinished opus Game of Death is basically the template for computer gaming which now, of course, informs much of modern action movie making; add `visionary innovator' to Lee's curriculum vitae.

This oft maligned icon has suffered much in death but has been redeemed somewhat by the sober and highly respectful biography `Fighting Spirit' from Bruce Thomas who is perhaps better known as the geeky and underrated bass player with Elvis Costello's Attractions. Thomas, as it turns out, is also a disciple of Lee's own fluid style of Kung Fu known as Jeet Kun Do (Way of the Intercepting fist) - clearly not a geek to be messed with.
Thomas' Fighting Spirit is the story of Siu Lung (Little Dragon) and his metamorphosis from child actor to teenage hoodlum; from martial artist to international superstar and media martyrdom at thirty two. It deals extensively with Lee's personal philosophy and the constant evolution of his art - and on reading Fighting Spirit you do come to appreciate that beyond the `chop socky' conventions of the movies which defines the form - Kung Fu is indeed an art.
Chapters examining Lee's philosophy inevitably verge into `ah Grasshopper' territory; "Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and 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." But much of Lee's impish humour comes through with the no less insightful "A punch in the mouth is a punch in the mouth."

As much as that now iconic image back in `89 of a lone student hindering the progress of a tank in Tinneman Square, the mise-en-scene that we most associate with China is Bruce Lee streaked with blood in a hall of mirrors from Enter the Dragon. As the political sturm und drang of the Tibetan conflict threaten to engulf the event, Parson's assertion that Olympiad 2008 is a demonstration of national pride and a chance to say to the world "You can't look down on us anymore" - the fact of the matter is - the world hasn't looked down on China since Bruce Lee.
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on 6 October 2015
Never been into hagiographies, I always tend to regard them as the literary equivalent of a waste of time. Sadly author Bruce Thomas took the decision to pay tribute to Lee, rather than writing a frank and honest account of the man's life, flaws and all. No mention of his extra marital affairs behind his wife's back. No reference of his marijuana and cannabis use. No mention of his fast track, partying lifestyle. It's a strange airbrushed depiction that leaves Lee without any flaws at all. Consequently the search for a definitive and honest biography of Lee continues.
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on 19 October 2000
This was really detailed and contained a lot of background information and interviews with people who knew or were around Bruce Lee. This is probably the clearest, sanest account of the man's life you'll get. Also has the best suggestion i've heard about how he died.
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on 19 March 2009
I have read many biographies on Bruce Lee over the last 15 years and 'Fighting Spirit' by Bruce Thomas is by far the best and most believable. You can see his devotion to Bruce Lee, his obsession with the man, he has done his research and it shows, you trust the man who is writing on the page.

If you want to know as much as you can about martial arts greatest ever star, this book is the perfect way to start, you won't get everything from this book, but, you will get a fantastic insight into the mind of a very special man.
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on 7 April 2002
Bruce Thomas has perfectly captured the philosophy behind Bruce Lee's extraordinary ability in the martial arts and creating
'Jeet Kun Do'. Bruce Lee did this through studying the philosophy of various ancient Asian martial arts and combining them together to unintentionaly create 'jeet kun Do' which is still studied to the present day.
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