Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940 San Francisco, Calif. – July 20, 1973 Hong Kong), the fabulous martial arts star, has Oakland connections.
Martial Arts Clubs
”In the early 60’s in Oakland Bruce Lee opened two martial arts kwoons (clubs), creating first jun fan gung fu, and then jeet kune do. His first martial studio, “Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute”, was at 4157 Broadway near the old site of Dave's Coffee Shop [North Oakland] together with his friend, martial artist James Yimm Lee. It lasted some years probably [and was torn down and replaced with a Toyota car dealership]". Note: the address is often mistakenly listed as 4175 Broadway but this is incorrect. The 4157 address has been confirmed via the Oakland City permit completed 7/20/64 as well as the Institute's own stationery as seen below.
"Another site was opened concurrently ,where a different group of students could come on Saturdays, at James Yimm Lee’s garage ( The idea that in a garage could do something other than park a car was popular in the 60s-70s. It was a personal place , far from a public view, with a strong magnetic pull - draws for the life changements of the people in and out the city of Oakland ) at 3039 Monticello Avenue (Maxwell Park area, East Oakland). These students had the chance to learn here the importance of a work ethic : not the creation of a serial "assembly line" of students but tailoring them according to different and unique biographies and leaving their ego outside from it. A mutual experience who gave a lot not only to the students but also to the instructors too. Bruce and James Lee saw in every face of the students the symbol of a life and that every life was really special and deserved respect . It continued until 1972. Other locations for their school included 26663 Mission Blvd., Hayward (probably referred to as the Haymont Shopping Center) and a class in Fremont, also.”
”James Yimm Lee was already an established and respected instructor of kung fu and iron palm in the Oakland, California, area when he met Bruce Lee (no relation), a young college student at the time. James Yimm Lee was very impressed with Bruce Lee’s kung fu skills and teaching methods.” Although 20 years older than Bruce Lee, the open-minded James Yimm Lee decided to train with him and absorb what this talented young practitioner had to offer. Their liaison resulted in a lifelong friendship.”1
Bruce and Linda (then newlywed) lived at the home of James and Katharine Lee at 3039 Monticello Ave. from August 1964 to Feb. 1965. During that short time:
- James’ wife, Katharine, died
- Bruce & Linda’s son, Brandon was born (at the old Oakland Hospital on International/E14th)
- Bruce had a screen test for 20th Century Fox
- Bruce fought a legendary / disputed / variously-recounted fight with SF martial artist Wong Jack Man. His self-perceived shortcomings in that fight propelled him to develop what became his signature Jeet Kune Do style
In Feb 1965 Bruce’s father died, in Hong Kong. After returning from there he and his family relocated to Los Angeles, where he had landed the role of Kato on “The Green Hornet.”
So while Bruce was in Oakland only 7 or 8 months, those were a pivotal time for his martial arts development, family life, and acting career.
Bruce Lee and Linda Lee's son Brandon Lee (February 1, 1965 – March 31, 1993) was born at the East Oakland Hospital.
More Research is Needed
The Oakland newpaper index, collection of articles indexed by Oakland librarians, lists several microfilms articles from the Oakland Tribune and Montclarion related to the subject of Bruce Lee. These need to be researched in the library. There may also be a collection of articles in the Oakland History Room: http://catalog.oaklandlibrary.org:85/
Links and References
- The video on the late Professor Al Novak, Bruce and James Yimm Lee's student
- Felix Macias school and Oakland jkd sites
- Meet James Yimm Lee: “The Man Who Helped Make Bruce Lee a Success” Black Belt
- Jeet Kune Do Sportzline
”Bruce Lee’s Toughest Fight” Official Karate
- A collection of internet links to articles and biographies on Bruce Lee that mention Oakland can be found on Diigo.
- A collection of Flickr images having to do with Bruce Lee and Oakland
- Oaklandish mini-documentary about Bruce Lee and Oakland (via BoingBoing)
- Oakland May Honor Bruce Lee’s Local History - The Bay Citizen, 8/31/2010
- "Bruce Lee Kick-Started Modern Martial Arts" (online with headline In Oakland, Bruce Lee Transformed Martial Arts), Vic Tafur, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9/15