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Crosscurrents

Bruce Lee's Bay Area roots

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Courtesy of Barney Scollan
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Bruce Lee on Monticello Avenue in the Maxwell Park neighborhood of Oakland circa 1965.

Bruce Lee is admired around the world for his legendary martial artistry, and his film and TV roles — but less known are his early years in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Now a new movie, Birth of the Dragon, explores that story, and depicts a legendary fight between the upstart Lee and martial-arts traditionalist Wong Jack Man. But there’s a lot that this Hollywood version doesn’t show. The people who do know those stories are Charles Russo, author of the book, "Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America," and Gary Cagaanan, an early student at Bruce Lee’s school in Oakland.  KALW’s Ben Trefny sat down to talk with them about Bruce Lee and the birth of the Bay Area's martial arts scene.

RUSSO: The circumstances of his birth in San Francisco are really interesting. His parents were traveling opera performers with the Cantonese opera and they got special visas to perform at a theater in Chinatown. It was during this time that Bruce was born at the Chinese hospital on Jackson Street.

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Click the audio player above to hear the full interview. 

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