This week we sit down with journalist Charles Russo, author of Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America His book covers Bruce Lee’s early years as a young martial artist in San Francisco and his polarizing effect as a brash upstart in the Bay Area martial arts scene of the 1960’s.
Charles Russo’s interest in Bruce Lee started with his fascination of the history of the Bay Area (San Francisco, CA.) Russo was sitting in his photojournalist class and another student was sharing images of Chinatown, including a picture of the Chinese Hospital stating that that was the hospital where Bruce Lee was born. Russo says, “It blew my mind…how come no one had every told me that Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco?” It instantly made San Francisco that much cooler and interesting, but he was indignant that no one was celebrating that fact. So he decided to look into that story.
Once Charles started looking into the story of Bruce Lee and San Francisco, he found a treasure trove of forgotten history. Bruce’s Bay Area years in the 60’s mark the origins of martial arts culture in America. And the small group of young martial artists he collaborated with would collectively create the modern martial arts movement. Striking Distance chronicles the old guard of the San Francisco martial arts masters as well as Bruce’s influential friendship with James Lee and the young bucks of Oakland trying to modernize the old styles. Russo also tells the dramatic story of the friction Bruce had with the established Chinatown martial arts community resulting in that famous showdown fight in Oakland that inspired Bruce Lee to create his own martial way called Jeet Kune Do.
We also discuss who actually won that famous fight between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man--Bruce’s scientific street fighting versus traditional flamboyant style. Charles also tells us why Bruce Lee is one of the philosophical godfathers of MMA.
(Awesome Asians & Hapas)
Charles Russo had two #AAHA shout-outs for us, Sara Hayden and Brian Leo.
Russo's first #AAHA shout-out goes to his friend and colleague Sara Hayden, a young hapa journalist who helped Russo with editing his book. Sara is currently working on a project called The Silk Knots Project, which documents and preserves the stories of Asian Americans and Hapas in the American West.
Sara and Brian—you’re awesome, keep up the amazing work!
Russo shares that since working on his book, he has had many #BruceLeeMoments. Specifically, when he was watching the show “The Get Down” and seeing the character Shaolin Fantastic who wears a Bruce Lee belt buckle, how Bruce Lee is viewed as the badass cool in the early hip-hop community. Russo thinks of the Bruce Lee quote, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, make something uniquely your own,” as he’s watching the early DJs discuss isolating parts of records and making something uniquely their own. Russo realizes this embodies exactly what Bruce Lee was talking about. After writing his book, Russo finds that more often as he watches these shows and movies that “Bruce totally talked about this,” and that many things fit into Bruce’s universe.
You can purchase Charles Russo’s book, and help the Bruce Lee Podcast, through our Amazon affiliate link here: