Lessons from a Legend
"Real living is living for others."
– Bruce Lee
We recently went to the movies to see “Once Upon a Time…. In Hollywood”, Quentin Tarantino’s “love letter to Old Hollywood”, as more than a couple critics have described it. (We all enjoyed it, and do indeed recommend it to anyone not turned off by the language and brief but gory violence). When it comes to LA history, the movie has a couple of surprises--one of which has really gotten on the nerves of family, friends and admirers of Bruce Lee.
A memorable scene in the movie has Lee sparring with a stunt double played by Brad Pitt. Critics of the scene say it’s implausible that the two fight to a draw (it’s reported Pitt himself insisted it be changed from the original version where his character wins), but really reserve their ire for the way Lee is portrayed as a bit of a big mouth. Tarantino says it’s based on stories he’s heard, and I in fact met an ex-stunt man, back in 1993, who told me a coupler first-hand stories of how Lee liked to mix it up with the more macho-acting doubles on the Green Hornet set. But this is also the same Philosopher-Warrior who once called showing off “the fool’s idea of glory.”
I can’t say I’ve lost any sleep over the question, but it does prompt me to once again urge my students to check out the Bruce Lee that I have come to know and deeply respect through my time as a martial artist. It’s not the “Little Dragon” of his Kung Fu movies, although those are still amazing to watch no matter how many times you’ve seen Lee in action. Instead, it’s the person who devoted his life to finding ways to make himself the best person he could be in everything he did--including leading a good life. He meticulously recorded his successes and failures in this search, and shared them all to help others find their ways.
There’s a wealth of material written by Bruce Lee, and written about him (on top of the documentaries and bio-pics). There are two places I recommend starting to someone who wants to get an idea of what this iconic person was really about.
One is The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, a holistic description of the fighting style Lee had developed himself when he felt the rigid structure of Kung Fu had taken him as far as it could. This has much of the nitty-gritty of hand-to-hand combat found in Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method, but also concerns itself deeply with the spiritual development of the reader (it’s dedicated to “The Free, Creative Martial Artist”). It is as much a contribution to modern martial arts practice as anything else Lee ever did.
I also find myself going back to “The Art of Expressing the Human Body.” Even the title raises some interesting thoughts about the Mind/Body/Spirit connection at the center of our training. This is actually a collection of Lee’s notes, diagrams and thoughts on his training, published after his death. Highly motivating and inspiring stuff.
And there’s plenty more, as well. Lee was true to his “living for others” credo, and left behind a life’s legacy that has informed my own training and efforts to be the best person I can be. I hope you find the same inspiration.