An Open Letter to Bruce Lee from Hip-Hop Chess Federation

Dear Bruce Lee,
        On the 44th anniversary of your death, I find myself very short on words. I was only 3 when you passed away. It would be 6 more years for me to learn who you were. But my life after that was forever changed. I still remember it very vividly. 
        In the Summer of 1979 (yes I know, I'm quite old) my father came home with some of the newest technology in his hand. It was a VHS tape recorder. For the first time, American's could watch movies in their house as often as they'd like. The first two films my dad brought were Alien and Return of the Dragon. I did not know who Bruce Lee was at the time. I had seen a few Shaw Brothers films before, but I didn't really care about them much at the time. 
        I walked into my parent's bedroom and I saw you destroying people in the alley behind the restaurant in Italy. I asked my dad "What is this?!" and my dad explained to me who you were. It was the middle of the movie so I left and ate so it could finish. Then, I went back in and watched it from the beginning. It is hard to say exactly what I felt. It is hard to explain all the questions I had in my head. How can a man move like that? How can a man fight like that? How can a man be so skinny, but so strong? How can a man be so good at beating people up but be so nice? None of those things had answers that satisfied my mind. 
         There was not much I could do about it either. The only thing I could do was to try and make some nunchucks. I immediately went downstairs and took a hacksaw to an old yellow broomstick and put my 9-year-old elite craftsman skills to work. A year or so before, I went to visit my older cousin Steve. He was a cool older dude who looked like one of the Jackson 5. While sitting in his living room, I saw an old metal chain (very small) sitting on his coffee table. I asked him for no reason if I could have it. He said yes. I had no idea what it would be used for. Once I saw you, Bruce, I knew it was meant to be the links between my sticks. I still thank my cousin Steve till this day for giving me that chain. Till this day, he does not even remember giving it to me. I hit myself 100 times the first day I made them. But I did not care. I kept going. I'm nowhere as good as you, but I still have enough to beat up some guys in an alley if I need to with nunchucks. 
           A few years later, I had a friend at Pacific Heights Jr. High named Jamal. He wanted to be a stuntman when he grew up. He was the first kid I remember that I knew, who loved you as much as I did. We used to jump and fall down hills and climb walls trying to be like you. In the 1980's there were spots in almost every major city called Kung Fu Shops. I don't know what they were really called. They sold ninja stars, nunchucks, knives, and all kinds of weapons. The one I knew of was around 25th and Mission in San Francisco. I went there more than a few times to get stars. I still have one somewhere at my parent house. I think it is nuts they sold that stuff to us. But I am glad they did.
          I loved your other movies as well, but none as much as Return of the Dragon. Nothing can ever recapture the wonder that exploded in my head and heart the first time I saw you. Years later when I got ready to be married, I came to study you again. I never realized the responsibility of a man to keep the house safe. At the same time, I did not want to own a gun. I was studying the stick fighting art of Escrima, but I was really bad at it. My friend taught me about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and I learned as much as I could be based on as little as  I had access to. So many jiu-jitsu players are driven by your work ethic. So many people of all styles aspire to match the clarity in your movements. 
        For my birthday, I was given the Tao of Jeet Kune Do by a San Jose graff writer and my life was never, ever the same. I was already a rogue scholar of Eastern philosophy and history. But to see your ideas on paper. To see your sketches. To see your philosophies opened my head and my heart in ways that are still happening. Your work gave me moral courage. Your writings helped me be proud to be Black just as you were proud to be Chinese. Your willingness to train Black students and White students at a time when racial separation was so common pushed me to study other cultures more diligently. Every time I get ready to eat bad food I feel like I can hear you telling me to stay away from it, that it won't make me a better warrior. I read a lot about Chinese medicine and tea because of you till this day.  
       My book Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx: The Secrets of Hip-Hop Chess and my organization The Hip-Hop Chess Federation would not exist were it not for you. I recently spoke in Washington DC about you at the Kennedy Center. The entire community of Hip-Hop loves you. Thank you for making Hip-Hop better. So many rappers, DJ's, Bboys and Graff writers have worked to improve themselves because of your efforts. Your impact can be seen in the work of Public Enemy's S1W's to Wu-Tang Clan, Mixmaster Mike, Andre Nickatina and Dead Prez. So many Black people eat better because of you. So many Black people think better because of you. Thank you is such an insufficient phrase as a response to your contributions. I can only promise to champion the value of your work and to encourage others to embrace your ideas as much as I can. I started out so sad writing this. Right now though, I feel happy. I think I am happy because the ripple effect of your work is yet undone. I look forward to the joy and peace your work continues to inspire in my own life and others around the world. Much love always. Peace Bruce. 

Much Love,
Adisa Banjoko 

Popular Posts