A shirtless Bruce Lee stands shirtless on a street corner, smiling with his hands clasped together
21st July 2017 The MALESTROM

Striking thoughts: Life according to Bruce Lee

This week, more specifically the 20th July represented what would have been Bruce Lee’s 76th birthday. It’s remarkable to think he was merely 32 years old at his time of his passing. A pioneer both physically and spiritually, Bruce Lee was an insatiable learner and philosophiser. As with the films he made or his approach to physical perfection – he took the best of what was on offer and created his own unique take, and from this perspective was years ahead of his time. The ideas of simplicity, self realisation and the ability to be at one with your environment underlie his philosophical approach and the flexibility with which he went about his day-to-day life is a lesson to us all. Which is why we here at The MALESTROM have comprised a short compilation of some of his wisest words.

On life:

“You can never step in the same water twice, my friend. Like flowing water, life is perpetual movement. There is nothing fixed. Whatever your problems happen to be in the future, remember well that they cannot remain stationary but must move together with your living spirit. Otherwise, you will drift into artificiality or attempt to solidify the ever-flowing. To avoid that, you must change and be flexible. Remember, the usefulness of a cup is in its emptiness.”

“Be pliable. When a man is living, he is soft and pliable; when he is dead, he becomes rigid. Pliability is life; rigidity is death, whether one speaks of man’s body, his mind, or his spirit.”

“Life is something for which there is no answer; it must be understood from moment to moment – the answer we find inevitably conforms to the pattern of what we think we know.”

“Remember my friend to enjoy your planning as well as your accomplishment, for life is too short for negative energy.”

On knowledge:

“Learning is discovery, the discovery of the cause of our ignorance. However, the best way of learning is not the computation of information. Learning is discovering, uncovering what is there in us. When we discover, we are uncovering what is there in us. When we discover, we are uncovering our own ability, our own eyes, in order to find our potential, to see what is going on, to discover how we can enlarge our lives, to find means at our disposal that will let us cope with a difficult situation. And all this, I maintain, is taking place in there here and now.”

On willpower:

“The attitude ‘That you can win if you want to badly enough’ means that the will to win is constant and no amount of punishment, no amount of effort, or no condition is too ‘tough’ to take in order to win. Such an attitude can be developed only if winning is closely tied to the practitioner’s ideals and dreams. Experience shows us that an athlete who forces himself  to the limit, can keep going as long as necessary. It means that ordinary effort, highly emotionalised conditions, or a true determination to win at all costs will release this extra energy. Therefore an athlete is actually as tired as he feels, and if he is determined to win he can keep on almost indefinitely in order to achieve his objective.”

On teaching:

“Remember, I am no teacher, I can merely be a signpost for a traveller who is lost. It is up to you to decide on the direction. All I can offer is an experience but never a conclusion, so even what I have said needs to be thoroughly examined by you. I might be able to help you to discover and examine your problem by awakening your awareness of their cause and effect, but I cannot teach you, for I am not a teacher, and I have no style. I don’t believe in system, nor in method. And without system, without method, what’s to teach?”

“There is no fixed teaching. All I can provide is an appropriate medicine for a particular ailment. I present a possible direction, nothing more. It is like a finger pointing away to the moon; don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

On racism:

“If I say that ‘everyone under the sun is a member of a universal family’, you may think that I am bluffing and idealistic. But if anyone still believes in racial differences, I think he is too backward and narrow. Perhaps he still does not understand man’s equality and love.”

“Many people are still bound by tradition; when the elder generation says ‘no’ to something, then these other people will strongly disapprove of it as well. If the elders say that something is wrong, then they also will believe that it is wrong. They seldom use their mind to find out the truth and seldom express sincerely their real feeling. The simple truth is that these opinions on such things as racism and traditions, which are nothing more than a ‘formula’ laid down by these elder people’s experience. As we progress and time changes, it is necessary to reform this formula.”

On faith:

“What do I live on? My faith in my ability that I’ll make it. Faith makes it possible to achieve that which man’s mind can conceive and believe. It is a well known fact that one comes, finally, to believe whatever one repeats to one’s self, whether the statement be true or false. If a man repeats a lie over and over, he will eventually accept the lie as truth. Moreover, he’ll believe it to be the truth. Every man is what he is because of the dominating thoughts which he permits to occupy his mind.”

“Faith can be induced or created by affirmation or repeated instructions to the subconscious mind through the principle of autosuggestion. This is the only known method of voluntary development of the emotion of faith.”

On yin-yang:

“You cannot use the word ‘and’ when speaking of yin-yang, as yin-yang is never two, but rather poles of one interconnected process. Just as in pedalling a bicycle; you cannot just push or not push; unless both legs are working together, you cannot get anywhere……. Good and bad or pleasure and pain exist but for the other. Instead of opposites, they are complementaries and [each] is a function of the other. First of all, if I have not felt pain how can I distinguish pleasure, or vice versa? Looking at the sky I can distinguish a smaller star because of  the big stars, and, if there were no black sky at all, there will be no stars. It is not a matter to struggle between the good and the bad, but to flow like waves on the water.”

On death:

“I don’t know what is the meaning of death, but I am not afraid to die – and I go on, non-stop, going forward [with life]. Even though I, Bruce Lee, may die some day without fulfilling all my ambitions, I will have no regrets. I did what I wanted to do and what I’ve done, I’ve done with sincerity and to the best of my ability. You can’t expect much more from life.”

The text is a compilation of just some of the quotes in Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living, by Bruce Lee and edited by John Little, for the Bruce Lee Library and published by Tuttle Publishing. Copyright 2000 Linda Lee Cadwell. Purchase your own copy here

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