Greglon Yimm Lee
James Lee was born on January
31,1920 in Oakland, California. During high
school, he practiced much weight training, bodybuilding, hand balancing,
and acrobatics. In 1938-9, Lee was
on the Oakland YMCA weightlifting team and won the Northern California
Championship in the 132 pound division. Although he had an avid talent for
drawing and art, James began a career in welding and worked in the Pearl Harbor
shipyards in Hawaii as a civilian. While in Hawaii, Lee began studying Judo at
the Okazaki Gym with Bill Montero and Sydney Yim and also competed in a few
amateur boxing matches.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, James Lee returned
to Oakland and continued welding until he entered the Army and was stationed in
the Philippines, during which time he became infected with malaria and
dysentery. His condition became so serious that he was actually shipped to the
death ward, but he continued to fight the disease and overcame it. James Lee was
a fighter at heart, his most profound quality. In April, 1946 he was discharged
and after returning home, Lee begain weight training again for the illness
caused him to go from 158 pounds to 116.¡]He had a thirty percent disability but never tried to
He continued to regain his strength and picked up his
martial arts training when he studied Sil Lum Gung Fu under T.Y. Wong in San
Francisco for four years. James became known for his iron hand/palm training and
would routinely perform his specialty at public demonstrations: breaking ten
bricks with his bare hands¡]which
were not scarred or calloused, but soft and smooth¡^.
In 1957-8, he authored, published, and distributed¡]by
mail order through his own company, Oriental Book Sales¡^a
"Modern Kung-Fu Karate: Iron, Poison Hand
James first heard about Bruce Lee when Robert, James'
older brother, told him about how Bruce was teaching a cha-cha class
(while visiting from Seattle)
that he was good in Chinese Gung-Fu. Wally Jay and Allen Joe also informed James
about Bruce's prowess as a fighter. In 1962, they met after one of Bruce's dance
lessons and they hit it off immediately, meeting as often as they could to train
and talk. In late 1962, James visited Bruce in Seattle for further training and
seriously considered relocating permanently to study with Bruce. But due to
other family obligations, James had to put that idea on hold.
When James' wife, Katherine, died in 1964, Bruce and
Linda Lee moved to Oakland to stay with James and his children. James helped
Bruce Lee publish his first book,
Gung-Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense."
They opened a school in
Oakland but later moved it to James' garage since the school was not a
commercial success. After Bruce moved to Los Angeles in 1966, James continued to
teach in his garage. In 1972, James
published his last book,
"Wing Chun Kung Fu,"
with Bruce as the book's
James conducted four classes, during the evenings
after work. There was a weekend class in which students came as far as eighty
miles away. James was simple and direct with his students: no beating around the
bush or attempts to woo them or seek visual/verbal gratitude from them. All he
wanted was to train hard and often, try the best one could do without any
explanation, and treat each other with due respect, behaving as gentlemen. He
constantly told his students to pay attention since James disliked repeating
himself when giving instructions. Students were on probation which meant that
they could be released if they were a detriment to James or the class. He was a
very patient teacher as long as the student put out their best effort. He
neither watered down not diluted his teaching methods. Class ran smoothly and
efficiently, deliberate and constant in both physical and mental energy.
Students would occasionally be allowed to rest, but at the end, they knew they
had been through a complete workout.