James Yimm Lee (no relation to Bruce Lee) was born on January 31, 1920 in Oakland, CA. Bruce Lee eventually became good friends with James and respected him greatly. Bruce and his family even lived with James, his wife and son in their Oakland, CA home during a time when James' wife was very sick. She died in 1964. While James was a welder by trade, he was an accomplished martial artist in his own right and self-published several martial arts-related books on his own through his publishing company Oriental Book Sales. Unfortunately, he died on December 30, 1972 - about 7 months before Bruce died - from lung cancer caused by breathing welding fumes. Only recently have people started to realize and appreciate the full impact James had on the martial arts community and the martial arts book publishing industry.
James was ahead of his time in terms of publishing and selling books on the martial arts. The first book James Yimm Lee wrote and published was "Modern Kung Fu Karate: Iron, Poison Hand Training" in 1957. There was actually a Book 1, Part A and a Book 1, Part B of this publication and various revisions and updates to the book occured over the next few years (see versions below).
The yellow cover version below is a 1962 "Modern Kung-Fu, Karate: Iron, Poison Hand Training" Book 1, Part B.
Being a generous person James sometimes used his students on the covers. So it was possible to come across the exact same book with two different covers. Understandably this caused some confusion.
The green cover version below is a 1963 "Modern Kung-Fu, Karate: Iron, Poison Hand Training: Book 1, Part A. It is inscribed to one of his first students, Curtis Yee. For comparison, note that one cover has student and business partner Al Novak on it while another one I found online has student Jack Headrick on it. Same book. An interesting thing about this copy is that on the inside of the front cover is an advertisement for Bruce Lee's forthcoming book "Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense".
Al Novak cover
The white cover version below is a republishing of Book 1, Part A by his son Greglon Lee in 1990. The text and photos in this version are much less clear than in the original gree cover version above. I'm assuming this is because Greglon did not have the original pages his father James used to put the book together in the 1950/1960s so he had to make copies of the pages from a previous edition.
The next book James published was "Fighting Arts of the Orient: Elemental Karate, and Kung Fu" in 1958. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of this book and don't know much about it. There are at least two versions - one that was published under his birth name Kein H. Lee and another later version titled "Karate Oriental Self-Defense" that says "enlarged edition" and uses the name James Y. Lee.
Top photo credit: Richard Torres
In 1961, using his birth name K(ein) H. Lee, he co-authored and published a book called "Chinese Karate Kung-Fu: Original Sil Lum System" with Professor T.Y. Wong. While James was a student of Wong's, after the book was published there was a falling out over Wong's perceived unfair distribution of the book's profits.