How Bruce Lee Saved my Life

Watching a Bruce Lee movie inspired me to live my life on my terms.

April 5, 2016 | 4 min read
Craig D. Reid, Ph.D.

I was 16 when Doc told me I'd be dead in five years because of cystic fibrosis. When he shared this depression-inspiring news, I was taking 30 pills per day, had an hour of painful chest physical therapy every day and was in the hospital every three months. The drugs came with punishments that always got the best of me. Steroids and antibiotics imbalanced my body and wreaked havoc on my skin. Sinus-frying decongestants, gut-eroding enzymes and unknown test drugs robbed my brain of clarity. Like a broken camera, I was always out of focus, making school more challenging than for most. My flip-flopping patterns of logic were unpredictable. As a last resort, Doc proposed hanging me upside down in highly oxygenated water because mouse research showed it helped their lungs. Side effect, death by drowning.

It occurred to me that to slowly waste away over five years would be tough on mum and dad, so I decided to go out on my own terms -- stop taking medication and die in two weeks.

I withdrew myself from the world so it wouldn't miss me. I had no energy or desire to interact with anyone, including myself. After two weeks without meds, my health faded fast. Eyes turning black, I lost 20 pounds and coughed up blood…spitting out pieces of broken lungs. It was hard to walk. I was overwhelmed. At the same time, I thought it was taking too long to die, and I chastised myself for not doing even that right.

Soon thereafter, my brothers came home from college and insisted that I go with them and their girlfriends to a drive-in theater. As I leaned toward saying no, my oldest brother blurted, "Once in a lifetime opportunity man." For some rabid reason, I didn't give into my emotional angst and bizarrely agreed to go with them. 

My brothers made out with their girlfriends while I impatiently watched Fists of Fury (1973). It starred the little-known Bruce Lee playing the hero Cheng. As Cheng's friends are getting beaten up, the jade around his neck signifies that Cheng is bound by a promise of nonviolence. Yet when a thug rips the jade away, Lee's face changes from a minuscule measured sneer to an enraged snarl followed by a bloodcurdling scream. Spinal chills, my mouth agape and heart racing as Lee charged into the fray, I sensed something insane was about to happen.

An eerie silence instantly permeated my mind as a gangster lunged at Lee with a knife. Then with the two fastest kicks in kickdom history, Lee knocked the knife out of the goon's hand and then venomously decked him with a second kick. I screamed out like a banshee. However, the kicks were also powerful emotional contradictions as Lee went from pure rage to instant serenity. How did Lee kick so violently fast yet remain so calm and peaceful? I needed to know.

In that split second, I went from being depressed and waiting to die, to wanting to live and learn what Lee was doing. I had a life purpose.

Kung fu-ing my mum in upstate New York, 1974. Me and Silvia on our wedding day in Taiwan, 1981. Me and Silvia with Bruce Lee's brother, Robert Lee, in Los Angeles, 2004.

After graduating from Cornell, my quest to find a teacher and understand what Lee did led me to the Republic of China, where the knowledge I sought found me.

All I am today, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, is a result of CF and Bruce Lee inspiring me to practice kung fu. I eventually understood that martial arts is about learning not to fight and about learning to heal rather than hurt.

It's why I just turned 60 and have been married for 35 years. It's why I'm still living today.

This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.

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Diagnosed with CF in 1957, English-born Craig found new life in 1973 through martial arts. After attending Cornell, Craig became a stuntman in Chinese kung fu films. He later received a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois where he was a 12-time award-winning university teacher of pre-med biology and medical entomology. Apart from being a professional writer for 23 years, with more than 1,800 articles covering entertainment, science and health, Craig is also a medical writer, screenwriter and a stand-up comic. He's been married to Silvia Reid for more than 30 years.

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