Shannon Lee is an actress, martial artist, the CEO of Bruce Lee Enterprises and Leeway Media Group, President of the Bruce Lee Foundation, and the daughter of legendary martial artist and actor Bruce Lee and Linda Lee Cadwell.
Her latest endeavors read like the most interesting man in the world’s to-do list; create a Bruce Lee documentary for Spike TV, build The Bruce Lee Action Museum in Seattle, oversee two different film projects and an animated project all while running three different companies simultaneously.
Lee is like a Swiss Army Knife of knowledge seamlessly mending philosophical musings, the martial arts, and Bruce Lee all into sonorous harmony that would make her father proud.
Shannon recently granted an exclusive phone interview with Brian Peterson. They talked about how her father’s creation of Jeet Kune Do pertains to modern day MMA, her martial art pursuits, and what she’s doing to assure that the legacy of Bruce Lee continues to flourish well into the 21st century.
BP: Hunter S. Thompson once said of Muhammad Ali, “That was always the difference between Muhammad Ali and the rest of us. He came, he saw, and if he didn’t entirely conquer, he came as close as anybody we are likely to see in this lifetime.” Do you believe the same can be said about your father for the way he revolutionized martial arts and the film industry?
SL: For sure, but I would phrase it slightly more like this: The thing that my father was absolutely brilliant at doing was being Bruce Lee. Nobody was able to do what he did or be like he was. He was extremely unique; he was extremely evolved; and he was ahead of his time-physically, mentally, and spiritually. And, he did, through the vehicle of himself, revolutionize martial arts and action films to a place we’re just catching up to now. At the same time, we’re never going to catch up to him because nobody can be him. That’s how I feel about it. We were just talking about this the other day, which is when you think back to his films you can’t even remember the name of the characters he played. They’re just Bruce Lee movies.
BP: UFC President Dana White has gone on record calling Bruce Lee the father of mixed martial arts. What is your take on his assessment?
SL: I think that phrase can be claimed as accurate, but I probably look at it a little differently than say Dana or maybe some of the other fighters would, because my father in his martial pursuit and his creation of Jeet Kune Do wasn’t really looking to mix the martial arts so much. It was his attitude of breaking away from the tradition of staying in one art and his attitude of being a fluid and well-rounded fighter from top to bottom no matter what situation you find yourself in. This is the attitude that you need to have in order to be successful in MMA. I wouldn’t call Jeet Kune Do necessarily the same thing as MMA (to me it’s not). I would, however, say that the attitude and the belief system behind what my father was doing is the one that gave birth to MMA.
BP: Is there a fighter in boxing or MMA that reminds you of your father or has glimpses of your father?
SL: Yeah sure, there are things about different fighters that remind me of my father. I should qualify all of this by saying that I love to go to the fights and watch the fights, but I’m not an avid know every stat, know everything about every fighter kind-of-fan so my information is probably a little more general than others. But first, I agree with you, I don’t think there’s anybody that I would say, “Oh my God he’s just like my father”, but at the same time, there are people who have things about them that remind me of my father. I think Manny Pacquaio is one for his endurance and for the power he possess for his size. JKD, which I’ve studied a little bit, has a lot to do with broken rhythm and coming in at the angles, which I think Manny does. He has glimpses of my father.
I would say that somebody like GSP reminds me somewhat of my father because he’s in a constant state of learning & evolution. He has sort of a philosophical approach and technical approach to his craft. He kind of reminds me on a warrior plane of my father. There are lots of people who I would say are exceptional warriors and exceptional fighters. I think someone like Jon Jones demonstrates few weaknesses. He is very well rounded and has the right attitude. He is now making his mark in MMA and will hopefully have a very long & undefeated career. He doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses. He’s an extremely gifted athlete and it remains to be seen where he’s going to go with that. I would say anyone like that definitely has some Bruce Lee in them.
BP: Bruce wasn’t a believer in rules or styles when it came to the martial arts. With that being said, how do you think your father would fare in modern day MMA, and would he even compete in a tournament format due to rules and regulations in the cage?
SL: I think it’s hard to say whether he would have competed or not. On one hand, he would have been pretty old by the time MMA came to be what it is today so he probably would have been more in the position of being a coach. I will say that my father loved to teach and was a very gifted teacher. He probably would have been an excellent coach and trainer.
My father didn’t compete ever in martial arts tournaments because they were not real. They were tag tournaments or touch tournaments, which he thought was bizarre and not really what the martial arts is about. Jeet Kune Do as you said, was developed as real street fighting. There are no illegal moves. It’s sort of a do what you need to do to win; you can bite, you can gouge eyes, you can hit to the groin, you can do all that sort of stuff which obviously you can’t do in MMA. At the same time, it’s hard to say because MMA today and the UFC are a far cry from the tag tournaments of yesteryear. Now people are really going all out using their skills. It’s not Ancient Rome with gladiators. You can’t have people killing each other in the ring (laughs). If martial arts at that time was at the level MMA is today, then maybe he would have considered competing. Certainly back in the day he didn’t compete because he thought it was all rather kind of silly. JKD was, and is, about street fighting so its hard to say.
BP: Bruce Lee’s philosophical prowess is not only present in his movies, writings, and teachings, but also seems to have rubbed off on you and your brother Brandon. Is there any quote by your father that stands out for you or that you guide your life by?
SL: It’s true that his philosophical writings have definitely rubbed off on me. Even though, a lot of what he said was directed towards his martial and combative pursuits, they could really be applied to anything. I think that’s really the job of philosophy so to speak, which is that it is to be applied to the physical. I think when people hear the word philosophy, they think of Plato and a bunch of people sitting around in their robes pontificating about life and how it should be. But really somebody who is an active philosopher should not only be thinking of these things but putting them into practice. In that way, I think that my father was also quite cutting edge because as they say, he walked the walk as well as talked the talk. That’s really whats inspiring about him.
Many of the things that my father has said are inspirational to me at different times of my life and in different situations. I think the ones I hold most to myself are his quotes on honest self-expression. You have to have faith in yourself, be yourself, and walk your own path. You have to be whole and completely yourself, not someone else.
He has a quote that says that success is doing something with wholehearted sincerity. You’re successful if you’re pursuing something at the best that you can do it. I think the using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation is a great motto to remind yourself of every now and again. Don’t get too caught up or bound by anything. Just persist and find the way that works best by not limiting yourself. You have to be open to all possibilities. There was one that he said that I also really liked, which I’m not going to be able to repeat verbatim but the idea of it is, “The medicine that I needed to heal myself I had within me all along.” Sometimes I really turn to that because I think it’s true that when we’re struggling in our lives, we’re always looking to the outside as a way to fix what’s on the inside. You have everything that you need inside. You just have to figure out what that is and put it into action
BP: Was it tough being the girl in a family of martial artists? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being Bruce Lee’s daughter in the world of martial arts?
SL: (laughs) you know it’s funny; I don’t know why this is. I don’t know if it’s because of the way I was raised or if it’s because my genetics. It may be due to my own inherent personality but I’ve never really thought of myself as just a girl. Do you know what I’m saying? Obviously I’m a girl, and I appreciate that I’m a girl in many ways but I never saw that as limiting in any way for myself. I do what I want to do and if other people limit me in that way then that’s there problem so to speak. Certainly a lot of people out in the world have expectations of you as a girl, as your father’s daughter, as the person running this company or as their friend, but now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize those are other people’s expectations. What’s important to me are my own expectations. So not so much, but that’s not to say there haven’t been times when I felt pressured to do well because of the mantle that I hold or something like that but that comes and goes.
BP: What is the extent of Brandon’s training and your training in martial arts?
SL: You know obviously my father trained Brandon more, because I was a lot younger when we were children. He used to have us do kid things like kick, punch, break boards, and wrestle around with him.
After my father died, my brother and I both sort of tended to shy away from the martial arts. I don’t know why. It just felt like a lot to continue after he was gone. We moved from Hong Kong and finally settled back in California. I think we just wanted to feel like normal kids and not worry too much about that. We both were very active kids. We did all sorts of sports and activities, but not so much martial arts. I think every now and again we would go and meet up with some of my dad’s old students and do a little something here or there. It wasn’t until we were older –I think my brother was probably about 17 or 18 when he started to get into it and really train. He went and studied over with Dan Inosanto and had training in JKD, Thai boxing, and Muay-Thai. He was very good. My brother was very athletic and extremely coordinated. We both have a certain amount of coordination and athleticism that just comes naturally to us. He in particular could just learn something and pick it up immediately. The first time he’d do it, he’d kind of be feeling it out, the second time, he’d kind of get the handle of it, and by the third time, he was like better than you at it (laughs) He continued in his training and then obviously started to do more in acting and films. He got into fight choreography and did his own fight choreography. That was sort of his journey.
I really didn’t approach the martial arts till I was in my early twenties. I started with some JKD and I think that was a natural progression. I think probably for my brother and I know for myself that it just felt like something you needed to do. It was part of your heritage and another way to get to know my father, which was to study his art, and to understand the thing that he was so passionate about as best as I could. It gave me the opportunity to talk to his students and his friends. I started in JKD, then I trained in kickboxing with Benny Urquidez for several years. I trained in Wushu, a little bit of Tae Kwon Do, but primarily in kickboxing and JKD. I did that for many years and over the last few years I sort of not been doing it as much as I’ve been raising my daughter and running businesses. I need to get back to it because it’s a lot of fun.
BP: In addition to being an actress, you’re also the President of the Bruce Lee Foundation, and CEO of your own production company. Can you give some insight into your foundation and your production company Leeway Media Group?
SL: I am also the CEO of Bruce Lee Enterprises so I’ll tell you a little about all those. The Bruce Lee Foundation is a California 501(c)(3) public charity formed in 2002. It has a board of directors and the mission of the foundation is to preserve and perpetuate the legacy of my father primarily through educational means. If you go to BruceLeeFoundation.Org you can see that there’s a scholarship application. I do talks at schools and different things like that.
Our long term goal, which we’re really starting to ramp up on now is to build a Bruce Lee museum. We’re looking to build the museum in the Seattle, Washington area. The idea behind the museum is that it’s the Bruce Lee Action Museum. We really want to express the idea of action in it’s many forms through the model of my father’s legacy. That would mean not only looking at martial arts action, and movie action, but also self actualization, social action, taking action, and all those different things that my father was really all about. It’s important that these types of actions are expressed throughout the walls of the museum. So lots of fun stuff, but also some good inspirational and educational stuff as well.
With Bruce Lee Enterprises, that is our licensing company and we license my father’s name and likeness for different products, commercials, and productions, and things like that.
Leeway Media is the production company that I created primarily to create new Bruce Lee related production content such as films, TV shows, and all sorts of things. We’ve only been around since 2008 and so far we’ve done a documentary for the History Channel called How Bruce Lee Changed the World, and we’ve done a fifty part TV series in China called the Legend of Bruce Lee for CCTV. Right now, we’re working on another documentary for Spike that will air at the end of this year. We’re mid-shooting that right now. We also have several other projects. We have two different film projects that are in development right now and an animated series project that’s also in development. We’re looking to get my father back out in front of the public eye so that his legacy can continue to live on and continue to be remembered for generations to come.
BP: WOW! Well, it certainly seems like you have a full plate.
SL: (laughs) I got some stuff going on-just a few (laughs)
BP: Well, that’s quite excellent. I look forward to seeing all this come to fruition.
SL: Yes, me too (laughs) I was just going to say if you follow us on Facebook, our website, or on Twitter, you’ll be kept up to date on what’s going on .
BP: On Twitter you are BruceLeeLegacy? Correct?
SL: Yes, and we have a Facebook page. The website is BruceLee.Com. I do blogs and on there and we post news items. Twitter I would say is the one that I personally am the most active on because I can just do it from my phone (laughs) in this information age. I’m not that tech savvy. It’s easier for me to turn on my phone and tweet something as opposed to log in, write a blog, and all that stuff.
BP: Shannon, it’s been an honor and a pleasure.
SL: Sure, thank you I really appreciate your time and your interest.
Follow Shannon Lee on Twitter @BruceLeeLegacy
On the World Wide Web @ http://www.BruceLee.com
The Bruce Lee Foundation @ www.BruceLeeFoundation.org
On Facebook @ www.Facebook.com/BruceLee