Interview with Doug Palmer

 DigiLetter (“DL”): Who do you envision as readers of your DigiLetter?

Those who are interested in the martial arts in general and Bruce’s contributions in particular might find my DigiLetter of interest.  Also those interested in Bruce as a person, beyond his obvious skill as a martial artist, and in his evolution as a human being.  Even during the brief time I knew him, he was growing, learning, evolving not only in terms of his approach to the martial arts but also to life and interpersonal relations.

DL: Please describe yourself to your readers.

I would describe myself as easy-going, irreverent and adventurous.  I love to travel and see new places, experience new things, eat new foods.  My first trip outside the U.S. (other than a family camping trip to British Columbia) was to Hong Kong, when invited by Bruce to stay with his family the summer after my first year in college.  It was a pivotal influence in my life.

DL: Are there any other forms of martial arts you are interested in other than gung fu and boxing?

I took judo for a very short period of time (and enrolled my son in judo lessons when he was small), but my main focus has been boxing and gung fu—in particular, Wing Chun gung fu and Jeet Kune Do as taught by Bruce.  For me, martial arts depends as much or more on the teacher as on the particular style, and I was fortunate enough to have great teachers for both boxing and gung fu.

DL:  Which Bruce Lee movie do you think the best (in terms of showing his ability or personality, or simply just love the most)? 

I like them all, for different reasons.  The first one I saw was the first one he made after he returned to Hong Kong, Big Boss, set in Thailand.  My wife and I were visiting him in Hong Kong (I was working in Japan at the time), and he showed us the film in a private theater at his studio.  He was reluctant to show us his second movie (Fist of Fury, also known as The Chinese Connection), set in pre-WW II Shanghai, because Japanese were the bad guys and he had extended fights with a Japanese dojo, and he thought my wife (who is Japanese) might be offended.  I don’t think his third film, Way of the Dragon (also known as Return of the Dragon), set in Rome, his first and only completed film where he had full directorial control, had been released then.  When I saw it later, I enjoyed the humor as well as the fight scenes, some set in the Colosseum.  He was filming (and directing) The Game of Death when we visited him, and had just filmed the dramatic fight scenes with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, so I was excited when the movie finally came out several years after his death, even though the final version of necessity used a stand-in for Bruce in some scenes and was not the same film he envisioned.  And of course I liked his only “Hollywood” movie, Enter the Dragon, which was released only six days after he died.

DL: Please let us know your relationship with Bruce Lee.  How did you meet him and become a good friend of his?

I first met Bruce when I was in high school and heavily involved in boxing.  He was only four years older than I was—still 20 at the time.  I saw a gung fu demo he gave in Seattle’s Chinatown—something I had never heard of before, let alone seen.  I was blown away and immediately wanted to learn this exotic martial art.  He agreed to let me join the group of students he was teaching, and he became a friend and older brother of sorts as well as a teacher.  I go into more detail in my DigiLetter.

 DL: Please describe one interesting event you had with Bruce, or an unforgettable memory. 

It’s hard to choose one event or memory that stands out above the others.  I learned any number of life lessons by watching him deal with other people—including skeptics and hecklers—with grace and wit.  His unparalled physicality was just one dimension he could employ, and often he did not resort to it at all, even when he could have.  I give many examples in my DigiLetter.

DL: What motivated you to write about Bruce in the form of DigiLetter? 

It was a tragedy that he died so young, with such a wide-open future before him.  He broke so many barriers and accomplished so much in his short sojourn on earth, but I hope that he will be remembered as more than just a martial artist and movie star.  I wanted to contribute to that aspect of his legacy.