Bruce Lee, Kung Fu Dancer

Recently, while watching Bruce Lee in the ridiculously dubbed movie FIST OF FURY (1972), I was reminded of how I’ve always found his graceful Kung Fu moves just as beautiful as the motions of a talented dancer.

For me, Bruce Lee (birth name Lee Jun-fan) came across as a real-life superhero when I was a child. Sadly, he died not long before I turned seven in the summer of 1973, shortly before I returned to the U.S.A. after a year abroad in Europe and Central America. I spent the next few years or so enjoying images of Bruce wherever I came across them, such as catching snippets of his movies on TV and coming across posters of him in stores or other people’s homes. I wish I could confidently remember the very first time I saw Lee on TV or in a photograph, but I can’t. It wouldn’t be until around aged thirty that I’d finally watch him as Kato in the 1960s campy TV series THE GREEN HORNET and then, still later, in a few cross-over episodes of BATMAN. Certain media celebrities and fantastical beings (such as Marilyn Monroe, Godzilla, or the mighty genie/djinn of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, for example), have a relatively clear touchstone memory of introduction into my world and psyche. It surprises me that Bruce Lee doesn’t.

There is a memory I have of being about nine years old and visiting a house where my father happened to be busy on a carpentry job. This was in Berkeley, California. It must have been on a weekend or an afternoon, after school. There before me in what seemed to be an entry room or hallway of the house hung a large poster of Bruce Lee, shirtless. His smooth and defined pecs and abs gleamed with sweat. His thick black hair and side burns framed his face, which held an expression of determination, focus, and defiance. I believe it was an enlarged still from his final completed movie ENTER THE DRAGON, released in 1973. Perhaps this is my initial touchstone memory of Mr. Lee, though I’m not at all certain. I sense that I knew about him even before this moment. It is possible that I’d heard talk of Bruce and already seen him in photos or briefly on TV at friends’ or neighbors’ homes. Anyway, I think my mother was standing right next to me during this deeply impressing moment. She explained, either right then or a little later, that Bruce Lee had died from “a stroke” a few years before, due to being too hard on his body. He had exercised too much, too harshly. At that time, I had never heard of this happening to someone. This man of incredible strength and agility, who looked so fit and healthy, had died suddenly from actual physical abuse to himself, like a master pushing a slave to keep laboring through their exhaustion. At least this is the sense I’m left with of how my parents explained what had tragically happened to him. The image of my father pretending to bang his head against a wall to demonstrate just how brutally Bruce practiced his discipline resurfaces in my mind here.

I felt sad for Mr. Lee, disappointed that I would never be able to meet this handsome man of such skill and grace. I have found that grief so often arises over the loss of potential, what could have been but wasn’t. I grieved over something that, for me, never existed, in this case, the possibility to follow with adoration the life of someone actually alive in the world. There I was, come to awareness too late of a great man long gone while also being too young to fully understand what I intuitively was appreciating. I would simply have to make do with treasuring whatever legacy Bruce Lee left behind– his movies, TV show appearances, photographs, and writings.

Life has a way of distracting and taking one’s focus elsewhere. I had frequent moves with my parents and subsequent adjusting to deal with, school to attend and homework to complete, and an imagination already filled with assorted imagery and other stimuli to keep me plenty occupied. Bruce Lee entered the labyrinth of my psyche, taking his place among many icons and magical beings. On occasion, he would be mentioned during play with childhood peers, where sometimes I pretended to be Mr. Lee fighting off villains, executing what I thought to be his trademark “flying kick” to fell evil men.

At around age twelve, I seized the opportunity to finally see Bruce Lee on the big screen. Having moved to the small Northern California city of Grass Valley by this time, I attended a screening of ENTER THE DRAGON put on by a local projectionist, who made it a point to show movies in town for a reasonable admission fee. I was entranced from beginning to end with the film, marveling at Lee’s incredible grace, agility, speed, strength, passion, and– though I dared not admit it to myself then– sweaty, lithe sexiness. In one scene, a supporting character in the drama musingly referred to him as a “human fly” while watching Bruce jump high up onto a rock wall and either proceed to scale it or walk with ease along its narrow edge. (Given this was over forty years ago, my memory of the actual imagery is not very clear. Regardless, it was some impressive feat of balance and strength evoking comparison to the fine movements of an insect.) His animal-like stances, leaps, punches, hand chops, and kicks relayed a super-human, aggressive form of dance, the intensity enhanced by his constant howling-like kiai’s/battle cries. Every time Bruce was on-screen I watched with rapt attention, captivated by such charisma.

What particularly both moved me yet also puzzled my naive pre-teen mind was Lee’s dramatic facial expressions, namely in one slow motion scene where he jumps upon a villain’s back, crushing it. The camera focuses on Bruce’s pain-filled visage, his eyes wide and mouth pulled back. The emotions of rage, anguish, sadness, perhaps also disbelief, pass through him like shifting lightning bolts captured on very slow film. Pure passion within such intense focus. I wondered what was actually going through his mind in this scene, both his own and the character’s he was portraying. That particular image of Lee’s face lingered in my thoughts for at least a few days. I never arrived at a clear answer to my wondering, but simply found peace around the not knowing. I came to realize that Lee was a complex person, driven yet thoughtful, with a profound ability to focus his will like a laser. My much later reading of a book he wrote about his actual life philosophy confirmed this impression. There, he stressed the importance of being both formless yet adaptive and flowing like water.

The union of beauty in form and movement, such as Bruce Lee’s, is special. Dance often relays this embodiment, succinctly stated by W.B. Yeats’ question, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” According to Wikipedia, dance is defined as “a performing art form consisting of purposefully selected sequences of human movement. This movement has aesthetic and symbolic value.” Martial arts, including Bruce Lee’s invention of Jeet Kune Do, is considered to have a dance-like quality to it, because, though it is a fighting art with vanquishment of a perceived foe as a primary goal, there is also an aesthetic intent to its movements. Dance occurs mainly to evoke pleasure, wonder, even bliss in the viewer and/or participant. In regards to Bruce Lee and his film and television performances of Jeet Kune Do, he especially met the criteria of doing actual dancing in conjunction with displaying a fighting (warrior/martial) art. Since performance for viewers was primary, with actual defeat of opponents in combat scenes being fictional actions as a means to create entertainment, the aesthetic purpose of Lee’s martial art was pushed to the forefront for a worldwide audience, like what is done with dance. (More intimately, the truly martial aspect of his art was, of course, expressed through the actual classes he taught and his own personal practice. But, I am less concerned with that whole domain of Lee’s discipline here.) I have no doubt he performed his deft foot work, kicks, and strikes to evoke in viewers a sense of wonder and pleasure at the incredible grace emanating from his body. His on-screen opponents are partners in dance. They follow through on choreographed moves, as traditional dance techniques do, albeit explicitly driven by polarized aggression, with touches of erotic energy and intent more in the background, just enough to enhance keeping the opponents’ attention locked on each other. Conversely, traditional dance moves appear to stem more from a source of polarized, controlled erotic energy, the aggression aspect underplayed yet present as well, or sometimes even equally so to the erotic, depending on the dance style. Hence, dance and martial arts– certainly Jeet Kune Do as performance– can be viewed as two sides of the same coin, if not two neighboring sections on the same side. An end result for both of these different movement arts is a multi-dimensional– or form and movement united– expression of beauty, to be enjoyed by onlookers. Bruce Lee for me was and is like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire was to my grandparents and parents, masters of graceful movement through time and space, i.e., dance, immortalized on screen, while each looked wonderfully dapper in his unique ways. It is no wonder Mr. Lee developed such a following and maintains one to this day, attracting men and women alike for both similar and different reasons as fans experience for Kelly, Astaire, and other famous dancers.

Over a year after watching ENTER THE DRAGON, I started attending a local Jujitsu dojo (school). This Japanese martial art, which focused on avoiding aggression and deflecting attackers via using their own forceful energy against them as much as possible, could not have been more different than Bruce Lee’s explicitly aggressive Jeet Kune Do. For a time, Tyron, the tall, muscular, raven-haired Italian-American Sensei (teacher) at the dojo became somewhat super-imposed in my psyche with Bruce Lee. Before me on a weekly basis was a real-life, darkly handsome martial arts master who, on at least a few occasions, gave me extra attention in between classes. However, at thirteen and fourteen, I was too young and insecure to fully appreciate this man’s kind gestures. What else strikes me, though, about that two years-long experience of martial arts training was how the Sensei mentioned Bruce Lee on a few different instances while teaching us students. He compared styles of certain Jujitsu moves to Lee’s Jeet Kune Do ones, demonstrating how Bruce was a worthy, memorable influence in the overall field of martial arts. I warmed at these brief intersections of my inner world with outer life. Lee’s legacy really did live on(!).

It took me years to integrate my understanding of why and how I embraced Bruce Lee as such a worthy icon. Often, venerating beauty is initially a simple impulse, born of intuition and longing, like a budding flower opening to the sun. It simply feels right to do. Being attracted since childhood to an assortment of appealing, fascinating images, tales, and concepts borne out of the Near and Far East, Lee harmoniously fit within that matrix of my interests. How he stood out from all of this was that he was a man who had actually been alive in relatively recent times and possessed seemingly heroic powers. He represented a union of male beauty and strength, sheer power in pursuit of the greater good, channeled through perfecting his body and movement while deepening his mind. Paradoxically (and, hence, humanly), Lee pursued world stardom, an often selfish endeavor, while also generously developing and teaching others a philosophy of harmony through clearer thinking, being, and movement (like water). He was still early on in developing a healthy life path for others to further emulate or at least draw from, his movie and TV show appearances an expression of his public persona, one of beauty in form and movement. He apparently explained that his martial art was poetic metaphor for his philosophy. Cut down too young (aged 32) from cerebral edema, Lee’s loss was tragic, given his deep potential that he’d only just tapped and started sharing with the world. But, in my own way, I slowly took in what I could of Bruce Lee’s legacy of beauty and wisdom he left behind. And, now and then, I return to take in a bit more.

Howard Stern Is Growing Up

Yesterday, I listened for a bit to Terry Gross on her radio show “Fresh Air.” She was rebroadcasting segments of different interviews she conducted of people over the past year. I heard the one Terry did of Howard Stern last May. Now, this is a man who has put me off big-time with his sexism, crudeness, and narcissism, certainly not someone I ever voluntarily listened to. I remember hearing snippets of Stern’s radio show now and then several years ago due to others around me liking it, namely in two former workplaces. (Okay, I admit to finding something he said funny on *one* occasion that I can recall, about Tom Cruise and his then wife Katie Holmes. Otherwise, Stern grated on me.) And I certainly heard friends and family talk about him with understandable disdain.

So, I was heartened to hear what sounded like a relatively transformed Howard Stern talking openly to Terry Gross about him changing his nasty ways, thanks in significant part to entering psychotherapy some years back . While he didn’t directly apologize for his many years of sexism and self-centeredness on his show, he acknowledged how he has developed empathy and a clearer understanding of how his own narrow, sexist perspective was distorted and hurtful. He talked of saying things that have him “cringe” inside these days. He opened up about his grief-filled upbringing and how exploring it with compassion helped him to better understand the suffering of others, such as that of someone he interviewed, Stephen Colbert, who, like Stern, had a very depressed mother while growing up. He admitted to having narcissism and how it got in the way of him actually learning much from those he interviewed. Howard sounded sincere with his openness and insights. I was pleasantly surprised and even touched.

I’m certainly not about to start listening to Howard Stern on the radio. I honestly don’t feel interested at this time. And I don’t excuse him for his many years of crass, sexist, sensationalist on-air bombast. I don’t think Terry Gross– who I respect very much– does either. She rightfully, pointedly called Stern out on his disgusting, objectifying ways he spoke of women so often on his show. But, what I came away with after listening to this interview was a sense of both relief and hope. It is a relief to me when any prominent, powerful man in the public eye acknowledges his harmful behavior and develops insight, empathy, and compassion where little to none of any of these previously existed. I have no doubt Howard Stern still has a lot more healing and growing up to do, but I get the sense he is well on his way, however long that takes. Admittedly, I haven’t listened to his radio show to hear just how sincere and thorough he actually is with walking his talk. However, I imagine that, to some extent or other, Howard interviews from a softer, more listening place than he used to, like he says he does. (I suspect those of you who are mindful, can hold a broad perspective, and actually listen to him regularly can readily confirm or deny this.) Hope then arises in me that other men, and even other people in general, can and will change for the better even when wealth, privilege, and power tempt them into remaining complacent. Perhaps the Me Too movement is due some credit in this evolution of Howard Stern and, by extension, in other men, other people. I’ll quietly celebrate any positive change in someone, however small, wherever I come across it.

Movie Review (ARRIVAL)

I watched the movie ARRIVAL (from 2016) last night, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. What a fascinating premise: A linguist assists the U.S. military to communicate with highly advanced alien visitors. I particularly enjoyed the weird atmosphere and vibe within the aliens’ spacecraft. Amy Adams is very believable as a grieving, open-minded yet freaked out professor trying to peacefully connect with enormous heptopod (seven-legged, seven-digited) beings from another world. The claustrophobic environments of the spacecraft and the military tents for much of the film lend an immediacy to the narrative. It also made me, the viewer, more readily able to empathize with Dr. Banks (Adams). Her past becomes interwoven into the story, making the drama a very personal one. The way time gets looped is purposefully confusing and intriguing. The primary shape of the circle is a key element in the story, symbolizing interconnection, the foundation of language, nonlinear aspects of time and space, and probably other things. Very clever. There is a lot to ponder in this contemplative film.

I appreciated the ultimate message of ARRIVAL that inter-cooperation among people and nations is vital in order to save humanity and the planet. I also valued the movie’s other main message: from one’s personal pain can come deep learning and even success. My hope is that it does not take an alien race catalyzing world peace to finally occur. But, I’m certainly open to this if that’s what it will require to accomplish such a dream. In any case, I enjoyed watching this thought-provoking, introspective, hope-inspiring movie. If you like this sort of screenplay, I recommend you see ARRIVAL.

Movie Review (BOMBSHELL)

I am not a close follower of any official news outlets, and I despise the slant of Fox News, but the movie BOMBSHELL intrigued me from start to finish.

Based quite loosely on actual events leading up to and surrounding the scandalous downfall of Fox News’ sexist, paranoid CEO Roger Ailes during the U.S. presidential election cycle in 2016, the movie focuses on three blonde women employees of Fox. Charlize Theron plays well-known, controversial top tier anchor Megyn Kelly so believably that I initially could not recognize the actress the first few times I watched a preview of BOMBSHELL. Nicole Kidman is the shrewd, risk-taking Gretchen Carlson, a middle aged show host whose star is fading, in no small part because of her overt concern for gender equality in the cut throat corporate broadcasting business. Well, that combined with her desperate need to keep her hard-won job status and not be relegated to irrelevance and unemployment. She spearheads what eventually becomes an avalanche of sexual abuse and harassment allegations against Fox’s founder Ailes, who is powerfully portrayed by John Lithgow. Margot Robbie as young and ambitious Kayla Pospisil is the third woman star in this drama, a fictionalized amalgam of associate producers for the conservative-focused news network. The rest of the cast, including Kate McKinnon as a closeted lesbian and secretly Democrat-identifying news producer, are terrific. Everyone was sharp and effective in their look and delivery, sometimes humorously so. An over-the-top, big-lipped Richard Kind as corporate attorney and former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani comes to mind. But, there are others, such as the smug, queen bee Beth, played by Connie Britton, wife of the corpulent, ultra creepy Roger Ailes. And then there’s the ever-impressive Allison Janney as Susan Estrich, Ailes’ salty and jaded legal counsel. Entertainment abounds.

Due to the large ensemble cast of real life characters, the periodic identification of each of them via quick on-screen titling was helpful for keeping track of who is who while also underscoring the film’s genre of docudrama. We viewers are smoothly moved along at a brisk clip from studio and office, place to place as if we too are right behind the camera. This all lends an intimacy and immediacy to a narrative about such public figures and issues.

The toxic environment of the Fox News network comes across as no less fascinating than an age-old unfolding of power struggles between a self-indulgent king and his nobles. On the surface, I found nobody to be particularly sympathetic in the movie, except for McKinnon as the lesbian news producer Jess Carr. She seems quite genuine right away, cynically and sadly compromising her principles to survive. Everyone else is also white but even more privileged, with the women competitively fighting by rules set by men in a patriarchal industry and culture. This is not at all a story about the 98%– i.e., most of us, including those of color and/or non-cis-genderedness or queerness (with Jess Carr being a closeted, token exception), and certainly all those who earn far less than the characters in BOMBSHELL do. Rather, it’s a peek into an emotionally and existentially dangerous world of politically and economically powerful people, all living within an ethos of self-centeredness and opportunism that I find quite foreign, yet is all too sadly real. To varying degrees, the three women stars grow increasingly more human and evolved, allowing for some sympathy and even empathy to actually develop within us viewers. This attests to the production’s decent, well-paced writing (by Charles Randolph), good directing (by Jay Roach), and solid acting.

The sociological and historical ramifications in BOMBSHELL are there to be found for the more discerning viewer. British actor Malcolm McDowall as Rupert Murdoch, billionaire owner of Fox News, felt to me like a colonialist or emperor coming from the “Motherland” to straighten out his large interests, or tribute country, in the “New World.” Of course, this is only one interpretation one can derive from that short segment of the movie. In part, this drama is a modern American allegory about the world of male rulers and their vassals, even though actual feudal times are supposedly long over (yeah, I’m not so sure about that). Looming in the background of the story is Trump, the up-and-coming petty tyrant “king,” cut from the same cloth as the fading, temperamental Ailes. However, a major, refreshing element is that the film is also about women pushing hard against the archaic sexual expectations, norms, and boundaries imposed on them by these very same men. The good fight goes on.

The movie evoked a nuanced response in me, one of hope for much-needed changes to finally happen for women in the workplace in modern society on one hand while also reminding me that, often, it can be like musical chairs. Out goes one old white patriarch to be replaced by yet another. This is how it’s been for millennia, no matter the time, setting, or governmental structure of a society. However, social movements, such as for women’s empowerment, do make waves, which slowly ebb and flow forward for the better, with BOMBSHELL ultimately being a product of artistic expression out of those very current and concerted, well-meaning efforts.

My Tribe, My Humanity

I sit with some amazing people in my practice. They teach me so much, just by their actions and who they are. This exposure to a cross section of humanity keeps me humble and open.

Outside of my office hours/work, I am particularly aware of a tribe I am a part of and grateful for. I am also aware of how nice it is to step outside of this safe space of belonging and find commonality with others who are not a member of my tribe, nor I theirs. We share a common belonging to humanity.


Having recently seen last year’s documentary on Fred Rogers, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, I was primed to view more about this American icon who lovingly affirmed me during my often troubled childhood. I had some initial reservations about Tom Hanks playing the main character in the movie A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. During the opening scene, he seemed like an impostor– for about five minutes. This sense soon melted away as I witnessed the skilled actor so effectively relay the mannerisms and facial expressions of someone I felt I’ve known since I was three or four years old, when I regularly watched MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD.

Inspired by actual events, the movie takes place in 1998, during which cynical investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is assigned to interview Fred Rogers for his employer, the magazine ESQUIRE. Preoccupied with estrangement from his alcohol-abusing father and used to writing sensational exposes, Lloyd reluctantly accepts what he feels is a “fluff” project on a modern “hero.” What follows is nothing short of life-changing and poignant for Lloyd and those around him. He experiences being the subject as much as the interviewer. A deep relationship develops between him and Rogers.

Through Fred Rogers’s trademark soft-spoken voice, steady eye contact, small silences, and genuine interest in whoever he was talking with, Tom Hanks embodies this perpetually open-hearted man who touched so many lives. I felt myself buoyed along in an encompassing calm warmth, which often brought tears to my eyes. As I suspected there would be, an accompanying wistfulness arose as I recalled feeling this warm calm each time while watching Mister Rogers’s half hour show so long ago. One particularly succinct and powerful scene (among many) in the movie evoked these nuanced emotions so palpably. After dealing poorly with a family crisis, Lloyd goes with Mister Rogers to a restaurant for lunch. Fred asks the journalist to sit in silence with him for one minute while thinking of those who have “loved you into being.” The other patrons stop eating and talking, joining the two men in this quiet moment. The camera pans across the room, showing contemplative faces, including that of Joanne Rogers, Fred’s widow, who apparently was glad to lend her approving presence in this project. I also participated, thinking of my parents, grandmother, sister, and husband until the minute was up. I was willing to go longer.

The truth for me is that I often felt wistful at the end of an episode of MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD. Undivided, loving attention paired with music and creative, always understandable, imaginings (such as talking puppets) are a heady, soothing mix. Every time he was on-screen, Tom Hanks tapped right into that unique, genuine soothing presence of Fred Rogers, leaving me wanting it to never end, or at least not for a good while.

I think anyone who grew up watching Mister Rogers’s wonderful children’s show will likely come away feeling moved, possibly even inspired, after viewing A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. Personally, I’m now inspired to be more attentive to the moment, such as the one I’ll happen to be sharing with the next client sitting in my office. But, also, I am now more aware of the priceless moments with members of my family, blood and chosen. It is rare for me that a feature film is so positively affecting. Perhaps it will even be so for those who did not watch Fred Rogers in their childhood and are introduced to him through this screen drama, which comes across as nothing short of a labor of love.