Deep in grief after the sudden death of her brother, actor Brandon Lee, in 1993, Shannon Lee started flipping through her father’s writings — photocopied pages of book annotations stacked 2 feet high. She came by a note that she did not recognize, which was odd because she, along with a lot of other people, knew the majority of her father’s famous quotes — he was, after all, Bruce Lee.
“’The medicine for my suffering I had within me from the very beginning, but I did not take it,’ ” Shannon Lee recited from memory. “’My ailment came from within myself, but I did not observe it until this moment. Now I see, I will never find the light, unless like the candle, I am my own fuel.’ ”
The passage opened something in her, and she realized her suffering was not going to erase itself. Delving back into the knowledge her father left behind helped her cope. Within seven years, she said, she was the happiest she had ever been.
“As hard as he worked on his body, he worked on his mind and worked on his energy, and that is what made the difference,” she said. “That is why we’re still talking about Bruce Lee 50 years later.”
While he was most well-known for his movies and martial arts, Bruce Lee (1940-1973) was also strong in his own philosophy. After taking the helm of the Bruce Lee Foundation, Shannon Lee has made it her mission to tie her father’s image to his teachings as part of his legacy.
Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum, in partnership with the foundation, launched an interactive exhibit July 9 dedicated to Bruce Lee’s philosophy titled “Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee.” The exhibit, which is becoming a permanent part of the museum, is based on the martial artist’s 2,800-book collection. It opens with a glass cutout of his famous flying side kick embedded in a wall with books from his collection filling the image. Immersive storytellers Jessica Kantor and Eve Weston, the exhibit’s creative team, found knowledge in Bruce Lee’s work as they transposed the annotations hidden among his books into the exhibit’s works.
“He is a pioneer. He’s an entrepreneur. He’s an innovator. He’s an athlete. He’s an intellectual,” Weston said. “He’s incredibly hardworking and driven and thoughtful.”
The exhibit’s story is told on blue-colored walls. From his writing, Bruce Lee described losing his “theory of gentleness” once he entered a fight. He would remember the teachings from his only formal instructor, Yip Man, but was unable to put them it into practice. He spent an afternoon on a boat, realizing he wanted to be like water — going with his nature, instead of against it.
Between the story are stacks of books, black-and-white photos and a glass case of some of Bruce Lee’s possessions surrounded by plaques dedicated to his philosophy behind learning, known as the three stages of cultivation: partiality, fluidity and emptiness.
The exhibit continues into a dimly lit room hosting three circles — representing the mind, body and spirit — on the floor with projected images of lily pads. When patrons stand on the lily pads, a bell will ring and a quote once highlighted by Bruce Lee will appear at their feet. Moments later, a screen in front of them will show photos, videos or more quotes. There are about 30 different pairings for the three circles.
The exhibit ends with a large image of Bruce Lee accompanied by a quote written across the wall in a font designed after his handwriting.
Exhibiting and celebrating stories of people like Bruce Lee and Wing Chong Luke — who is not only the museum’s namesake but also the first Asian American elected into public office in the Pacific Northwest — is vital in the current political climate, said museum executive director Joël Barraquiel Tan.
“This is the time to really bring our communities together to experience the kind of teachings and inspiration of someone as integral to Seattle as Bruce Lee, to remind us that we can actualize something bigger than we could have ever imagined,” Barraquiel Tan said.
The exhibit marks the permanent partnership between the museum and the Bruce Lee Foundation. The museum will host the Bruce Lee Gallery and several future exhibits dedicated to the martial artist and his legacy.