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Bruce Lee fans commemorate late martial artist’s birthday

One-time UW student was father of film genre

Mark Rahner Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Martial artists from a Kirkland school comprised the bulk of a small group gathered Friday at Bruce Lee’s grave for what would have been his 69th birthday.

“I wanted to pay homage,” said Drew Damberville of Kirkland’s AMC Kickboxing & Pankration (the latter being a Greek form of combat). “If you’re a true martial artist, you have to pay respect to Bruce Lee because he literally paved the way.”

Lee died at age 32 in 1973 – before his landmark film “Enter the Dragon” was released – from swelling of the brain. He was born in San Francisco and grew up in Hong Kong, but Seattle claims him as a local because of time he spent here before he became a superstar. Lee popularized martial arts in America, and he was a nunchaku-wielding pop-culture icon on velvet black-light posters everywhere. He moved here in 1959, worked at Ruby Chow’s restaurant, and attended the University of Washington for three years, where he taught his Jeet Kune Do classes on the lawn outside the student union – and met his wife, Linda.

A relatively simple stone nearly hidden behind shrubs at the Lake View Cemetery, Lee’s gravestone reads: “Your inspiration continues to guide us toward personal liberation.” The grave of his son, Brandon, who died at age 28 in 1993, is next to it. Flower bouquets covered both graves Friday.

Along with being responsible for the careers of Jet Li, Jackie Chan and their entire film genre in the West, Lee also was more or less the father of popular contemporary mixed martial arts, or MMA, and Ultimate Fighting, the fans pointed out Friday. Lee’s Jeet Kune Do wasn’t a rigid discipline with set rules, but rather a fluid one that employed techniques from all manner of disciplines to beat any given opponent.

“He was the first to say that it’s not one style, and that’s what MMA is today,” Damberville said.

The Seattle Museum of Mysteries organized the “Bruce Lee Day,” originally declared by former Mayor Charles Royer, which also included a birthday cake at the group’s 623 Broadway E. location. Co-director Charlette LeFevre said they had to make do with a “Kung Fu Panda” cake.

“We want to get Seattle to recognize that Bruce Lee bridged the gap between East and West,” LeFevre said. Lee broke racial barriers and stereotypes, and there should be more memorials to him around the city, she said – particularly because of the devotees who come from around the world to pay their respects.

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