Bruce Lee

Rare Bruce Lee letter to go under the hammer in Los Angeles – for at least US$30,000

Hong Kong kung fu icon writes of his philosophy in 1964 letter to martial arts student Gene Snelling

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 7:50pm

Fans of late Hong Kong kung fu icon Bruce Lee are about to get a chance to own a piece of martial arts history – if they have at least US$30,000.

A 1964 handwritten letter from actor Lee to aspiring martial arts student Gene Snelling is set to go under the hammer at Los Angeles-based auction house Nate D Sanders Auctions on Thursday.

According to the auction house, it’s “simply the best Bruce Lee letter ever to appear on the market”.

But the handwritten letter and original envelope won’t come cheap – bidding starts at US$30,000.

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Lee died in Kowloon Tong in 1973 aged 32. Due to his short life, his autograph is very rare, Nate D Sanders says on its site.

In the letter, Lee details the philosophical and spiritual ideas behind kung fu, which is also known as gung fu.

“A good Gung Fu man is a simplifier – to express the utmost in the minimum of motion and energy,” Lee writes in a flowing script.

“The highest stage occurs when a person is devoided of self-consciousness and his feeling and experience expresses himself freely.”

The letter was dated April 4, 1964, the same year Lee opened his second martial arts studio in the United States.

Last year, the auction house sold a one-of-a-kind Bruce Lee jacket with inscriptions written by Lee’s wife and daughter for US$25,000.

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Self-described “lifelong Bruce Lee fan” Thomas Mcloughlin, who works for a Chinese-language teaching company in Shanghai, described the letter as “excellent”.

“I find it charming to read Lee’s graceful and thought-provoking reply to this student. The letter is simple and reflects Lee’s philosophy,” the 34-year-old Englishman told the Post.

Despite liking the letter, Mcloughlin said the starting price was out of his range.

“It might struggle to realise this price. It should be in a museum in Hong Kong rather than in a private collection,” he said.

An exhibition of hundreds of pieces of Lee memorabilia which ran for two years in Hong Kong at the Heritage Museum closed on July 20 – the 44th anniversary of Lee’s death.

In 2011, 13 pieces of Bruce Lee memorabilia went up for sale in Hong Kong – the first time since 1993 that several of the great’s items had become available at the same time.

The items, which included a fur-lined coat worn by Lee in the 70s, sold for HK$1.78 million (US$227,000).

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Among the items was a letter from Lee to a friend where he talked about The Green Hornet television series, in which he starred as Kato. The letter sold for HK$400,000.

Lee was born in San Francisco, but spent his childhood in Hong Kong before returning to the United States. Despite his early death, Lee starred in a number of feature-length films and gained legendary status as a martial arts icon.

1964 was a turning point for Bruce Lee and his career
Matt Robins, Bruce Lee Archives

Matt Robins, who is based in Guernsey in the Channel Islands and runs the Bruce Lee Archives Facebook page, said the letter was very interesting from a historical perspective.

“1964 was a turning point for Bruce Lee and his career,” said the 45-year-old Lee fan whose collection comprises hundreds of memorabilia, including rare autographs and personal writings.

“I cannot afford to bid on these items as they are way out of my league. I could only dream of owning these pieces.”

Robins wished that all Lee’s items were gathered in a museum to enable visitors to view them personally.

“But then again, what Bruce Lee fan would not want to own a piece of the Little Dragon in some way or another?” he added, referring to Lee’s nickname in Asia.