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Martial Arts Myths & Misconceptions

Bruce Lee Was Assassinated By Shaolin Killer Monks

By Jonathan Maberry

This myth one began circulating shortly after Lee’s untimely death in 1973. Actually there are dozens --perhaps hundreds-- of myths surrounding the death of Bruce Lee. The one I heard most often as a teenager was that he was killed for revealing secrets of the Shaolin Temple; or murdered by rival kung-fu teachers in Chinatown. In the 1980s, during the height of the Ninja movie craze, the story that ninjas killed Lee became the big urban legend.

None of that is true.

Despite his megalithic stature as an actor, and his quickly-growing reputation as a top-flight martial arts innovator and thinker, Lee was an ordinary man subject to the same weaknesses and medical frailties as anyone else. It was an allergic reaction that slew the Dragon, not invisible assassins.

Lee had been discussing script points with Betty Tingpei, an actress with whom he was co-starring in the never-finished Game of Death. Lee, who suffered from severe headaches, began getting a pounding one that afternoon and asked for some painkillers. She offered him some Equagesic, a painkiller she often used; Lee took some and then went into another room to lie down for a few moments. Unfortunately the medicine the actress offered him contained aspirin, to which Lee was severely allergic. The anaphylactic reaction caused a brain edema (a swelling of the brain caused by a congestion of fluid) and he lapsed into a coma during his nap. Though there were heroic attempts to revive him, he never recovered and died quickly. Dr. R.R. Lycette of Queen Elizabeth Hospital, cited Lee's death as a hypersensitivity to one or more of the compounds found in the Equagesic tablet he consumed that afternoon.

Considering how much life and energy Lee projected on the screen and in public appearances it was almost impossible for anyone --myself included—to accept that he had just simply died. Lee was the martial arts cinema’s superman. He was unbeatable, unkillable; and we all could have accepted, in some strange way, that he had gone down fighting against a rash of overwhelming enemies; but an allergic reaction to aspirin was not possible. Giants don’t die so easily.

Now, over 30 years later, there are still conspiracy theorists who make elaborate cases for the mysterious and nefarious murder of Lee; and with the tragic and unfortunate death of his son, Brandon --who died in a way that bizarrely mirrored a scene in Game of Death-- the myths persist, coroner’s reports notwithstanding.

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About the Author:

Jonathan Maberry is the award-winning author of over 700 articles as well as several books, including Ultimate Jujutsu Principles and Practices and The Martial Arts Student Logbook. He holds an 8th degree black belt in jujutsu and a 5th dan in Hapkido, is a member of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, and is co-founder of the COP-Safe program. Visit his website here.

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martial arts myths, Bruce Lee, kung fu, Shaolin

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