There are some individuals who can cross space and time in consciousness. Bruce Lee was one of these time-travelers who understood ancient traditions, embodied the best of them, and turned the experience into a philosophy. Namely, the philosophy outlined in his book, Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
Many of us are familiar with aspects of Bruce Lee’s legendary life. I want to point out moments in Lee’s life that led to his philosophy, which can help humanity.
Before the injury
Before 1969, Bruce Lee was training hard and trying to make a place for himself in Hollywood movies. He was engaged in creative isometric training and had what his daughter, Shannon Lee, describes as “a superhuman drive.” Lee was preparing his body for fight scenes and launching his career in what he hoped would be starring roles. He led his life following a personal philosophy that “time is what life is made up of, so don’t waste it.” (Bruce Lee)
During one of his intense training sessions, as he pushed his physical body to its limits, he heard a sound that no bone should ever make and knew he was in trouble: his back gave out. Our understanding of back injuries in 1969 differed from what we know today. And even though Bruce Lee was a philosophical time traveler, he could not make time move faster to catch up with our modern-day approaches to injuries. To ease his suffering, he was advised to take prescription pain medications, which some think led to his eventual death. During this time, he looked deep inside his soul to find a path forward and developed his philosophy, Walk On, which led him to become one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. His writings, gracefully communicated by Shannon Lee in the book, Be Water, my Friend, became the manifesto that helped him heal.
Lee writes: “Whether I like it or not, circumstances are thrust upon me, and being a fighter at heart, I sort of fight in the beginning, but soon realize that what I need is not inner resistance and needless conflict, but rather to join forces and readjust and make the best of it. Walk on and leave behind all things that would dam up the inlet or clog the outlet of experience.”
During this deep reflective period, Lee developed fundamental concepts like “patience is not passive” and that in any given situation, you must “research your own experience.” In addition, he understood the emotional and energetic body within polarities: “energized or flat,” “engaged or bored,” “relaxed and strong,” “peaceful and enthusiastic,” and he harnessed Wei no Wei, or “doing and not doing.”
Lee reminds us that if Water becomes stagnant it evaporates and cannot become itself, but if we let it alone it finds its own path. He reminds us to be like Water and shows us how to align with integrity, stay true to our center, and trust that there is peace and authentic power in knowing oneself and that if we work on being content and happy, the rest will follow. In this day and age, where over-working, under-earning, and isolation are increasingly prevalent, it takes real courage to work on being happy and content.
Even when he faced blatant racism, watching white actors getting cast as Chinese men instead of him, for example, he knew his own center and remained true to his warrior path.
Bruce Lee’s Chinese name is Little Dragon, and we can agree that dragons never settle for mediocrity. Lee certainly never settled. He reminds us that as martial artists, we give our hearts in all we do, and he encourages all humans to embrace their personal warrior path and, above all else, to stay true to their center.
An artist of life
The Art of Jeet Kune Do expresses Bruce Lee’s essence. It was an art form created from the depths of his center. He writes, “The root is the fulcrum on which will rest the expression of your soul and is the central ingredient to your unfolding.”
He offers an obvious path to all humans:
(From Be Water, My Friend)
● The least (we) humans can do is be honest
● When we are rooted in our purpose, we are free
● Absolute stillness is found within movement
● Waters are in motion all the time, but the moon retains its serenity
● Do your actions match your words?
My own personal relationship
I began reading The Tao of Jeet Kune Do with my Friend, colleague, and founder of Yogic Arts, Duncan Wong. During this time, in the early 90s, my desire to go deeper into the practice of martial arts and philosophy presented its own fulcrum. The universe and Master Wong guided me to meet Master Sung Jin Su, and my journey began. This, coupled with the Master’s program at CIIS in Philosophy, was uncanny in its timing and has taken me 20 years to see the perfect tensegrity of it all. I can thank the Tao of Jeet Kune Do for leading me to one of the world’s greatest Masters, Master Su, who to this day is my teacher. As Shannon Lee reminds us, her father held spontaneity as sacred. Jungshin Fitness is also a spontaneous inspiration mixed with instinct: my life experience, philosophy, and desire to be a better human every day.In 1972 the film, The Game of Death, produced and written by Bruce Lee, had not had a chance to come to completion before Lee’s passing. The archives were lost for some time but were finally found and released. You can see parts of The Game of Death in this film: Bruce Lee’s: A Warrior Journey.
In 2011 Game of Thrones came out. Just saying.
Bruce Lee wrote that his sole purpose in life was to actualize himself to be an artist of life, and he did just this, even in and especially within his short life span. As the artist Eminem raps in Lose Yourself, Lee knew,
“We only have one shot.”
If we apply one of Bruce Lee’s pillars of philosophy a week, I do believe we will all harness the human in us that was meant to be, humans that care for planet earth and one-another.
We hope you can join us in a RE-TREAT yourself in April of 2023!
Bruce lee, Jeet kune do, Jkd
Black Belt Magazine
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