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Learning From Bruce Lee

By Cliff Montgomery,
Perhaps no fighter in modern history has affected hand-to-hand combat more than Bruce Lee. It was he who first began mixing martial arts styles of both the East and the West, always utilizing what he found essential and discarding the rest. He was also the very first who brought Chinese martial arts styles--and the wonders of Asian culture itself--out of its mysterious shroud to make it understandable and accessible to everyone else.

Though originally trained in the Shaolin fighting style Wing Chun, Bruce Lee began to find its rules restricting, sometimes even futile, in actual combat situations. What worked during practice did not always work when fighting someone of a different style or an unorthodox way of fighting.

And how, you may ask, did the philosophical Bruce Lee discover this bold fact? While living in America before his film fame, Bruce Lee began doing what was, for many Chinese in martial arts, a definite no-no: he started teaching non-Asians Wing Chun, firmly believing that what matters is who a person is, and not the race of the student--again, he was a man ahead of his time. Other Asian martial arts schools were not pleased, and offered Bruce Lee an ultimatum: Battle and beat one of our best fighters to prove you are a teacher of ability and integrity, or we will make it very tough for you in America.

Bruce Lee accepted the challenge, and defeated the fighter in a fierce struggle--though it must be noted that while this was covered in Hollywood's otherwise excellent telling of Lee's life in the biopic Dragon some 10 years ago, the other fighter in fact did not injure Lee in any way after the match. Lee injured himself later by pushing his body beyond its limits during one grueling workout, severely injuring his own back.

Lee used his convalescence to re-think his fighting style, and eventually the role of martial arts itself in a modern society. The result was his own fighting 'style'--if it is proper to call no definite style a 'style' at all--which he called 'Jeet Kune Do', or the 'Way of the Intercepting Fist'.

Jeet Kune Do is not about setting up restrictions or "Ways" of doing things. It has no interest in trying to mold or shape you. It accepts you as you are. Individuals may--and in fact are encouraged to--modify, add and delete the style until they have transcended the need for any "way" or "system" at all--including Jeet Kune Do.

Bruce Lee's philosophy of personal liberation is that the teacher is, in many ways, a physician rather than a person handing down expired dogma. A physician is always trying to get rid of his patients' sicknesses, and to send them away healthy enough to stand on their own two feet. Bruce Lee's ultimate objective as a teacher was to get rid of his students so that they wouldn't need him or any other teacher.

Jeet Kune Do can be viewed as a guide to reach the peak of personal liberation and fighting ability through the study of non-stylized martial arts. You, the individual become, through this process of self-discovery, your own best teacher. What we really need to know about ourselves and how we fight, think, or live should not end when finishing study at any school. Through the practice of Jeet Kune Do, the martial arts trials and tribulations we experience result in a never-ending gain in abilities and self-knowledge.

We'll end by letting Bruce Lee explain himself. The following are quotes from an article Lee himself penned entitled, My View on Gung Fu:

"Some instructors of martial art favor forms, the more complex and fancy the better. [...] To me, the extraordinary aspect of gung fu lies in its simplicity.

Gung fu is simply the direct expression of one's feeling with the minimum of movements and energy. [...] The easy way is always the right way, and gung fu is nothing at all special; the closer to the true way of gung fu, the less wastage of expression there is.

Instead of facing combat in its suchness, quite a few systems of martial art accumulate "fanciness" that distorts and cramps their practitioners and distracts them from the actual reality of combat, which is simple and direct and non-classical. Instead of going immediately to the heart of things, flowery forms and artificial techniques (organized despair!) are ritually practiced to simulate actual combat. Thus, instead of being in combat, these practitioners are idealistically doing something about combat.

"True gung fu is not daily increase, but daily decrease. Bring wise in gung fu does not mean adding more, but to be able to get on without ornamentation and be simply simple--like a sculptor building a statue, not by adding but by hacking away the unessential so that the truth will be revealed unobstructed."

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