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Bruce Lee's Philosophy - Life Lessons from the Little Dragon

Updated on April 25, 2015

"Man, the living creature, the creating individual, is always more important than any established style or system."

- Bruce Lee

Bruce with his son Brandon
Bruce with his son Brandon | Source

If you haven't lived all your life on an island that is isolated from rest of the world, chances are you have heard of Bruce Lee. He was the most famous and influential martial artists of all times. Every kid who has ever tried a karate kick knows about Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee was a martial artist, actor, trainer, filmmaker, and philosopher. He fenced -- he boxed -- he won dancing championships. He was Incredible! Watch the movie I am Bruce Lee, to know more about this legendary master from Hong Kong who changed the world.

What I admire about him the most is his ideas. he was way ahead of his time. He was the Leonardo da Vinci of martial arts. He made philosophy simple. If you haven't read his book: The Tao of Jeet Kune do yet. Please do. It may change your life.

Bruce's Philosophy

Most people know Bruce Lee as a film-star and a martial artist, but he was also a philosopher. He had a huge collection of books on philosophy. He developed the interest in philosophy when he started his Wing Chun training with Yip Man He believe that a martial artist has to be equally skilled in both physical and spiritual aspects of the art. If you just focus on the spiritual, you are not expressing yourself. If you just focus on the physical, you will become a mechanical man.

His sayings and quotes are not always exclusive to him. He took complicated ideas he learned and made them simple so that they can be used in real life situations. I think that's what philosophy should be. What we can use in day to day life.

Following is the collection of Bruce Lee's quotes. Read them, and try to understand the philosophy.

"Be Like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. If you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."

- Bruce Lee

Jeet Kune Do logo
Jeet Kune Do logo | Source

This is Bruce Lee's most famous quote. In his interview on the Pierre Burton Show, he shared his philosophy and thoughts on martial arts with the world. The quote itself seems quit self explanatory, but there is a deep philosophical meaning to these words.

Be like water making its way through cracks -- Life is a journey, and you will face obstacles on every step, but you can't let that stop you from moving forward. You have to find a way around it. There is always a way, and you can find it.

If you put water into a container that even has a tiny hole, water will find it and get out. What we can learn from this is to seize every opportunity you get, if it takes you closer to your goals. Even if it is a small one.

Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object -- Adjusting doesn't mean you compromise or settle for less. It just means that you improvise -- Find a better way. Find the way that won't distract you from your goals. Focus on reaching your destinations. Don't try to change who you are, but start working to be a better you. The world is always changing -- if you don't -- you will be left behind.

Bruce Lee was always learning. He was always experimenting with new methods, and inventing his own. He was willing to learn anything that will help him improve his skills. This is how he became the master of his art. His fighting style Jeet Kune Do was based on this idea.

He said if nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. That's true; what is inside is reflected outside. What you think is what you become. If you don't stay strong from within, it will be reflected from the outside. Stay strong, believe in yourself, and you will succeed.

Empty your mind, be formless -- If your mind is full of thoughts, you can't focus on the job at hand. Filling your mind with unnecessary thoughts will slow it down; you won't be able to think clearly, and that will affect your ability to make right decisions. Clear your head and focus on the plan. Be formless like water. With an empty mind, you will be formless -- open to all the possibilities.

Water is formless, shapeless; it takes the shape of its container and fits in. Learn to improvise according to your surroundings, but as I said before, don't try to change who you are, rather start working to be a better version of you. Do what is necessary to survive.

The knowledge we can learn from the nature around us is ceaseless. We see it everyday, but ignore it because our minds are too distracted.

Bruce Lee learned the most important life lesson by observing water. Nature is incredible.

Bruce Lee as a baby
Bruce Lee as a baby | Source

"The art of Jeet Kune Do is simply to simplify."

- Bruce Lee

It's not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away the unessentials.

The quote reminds me of a story. A talented sculptor created a beautiful sculpture of a goddess, the people praised him; they asked him how was he able to create such an extraordinary piece of art. The sculptor said, "the sculpture was already there in the stone, I just removed the unessential parts."

We tend to focus on improving certain areas of life, and still totally neglect others; these things are mostly more important and need to get fixed. You must have heard people say, “We are only as strong as our weakest links.” We are never going to move forward if these things hold us back.

It's a lot easier to move forward if there is nothing holding you back. Work on your weaknesses and you will get stronger. Get rid of bad habits that are in the way to your dreams. It won’t happen overnight, just as you don’t make good habits overnight. If you want to get rid of addiction, decrease daily rather then quitting right away. Both your mind and body need to adapt, sudden change weakens you; you can’t fight it.

Bruce Lee with Yip man
Bruce Lee with Yip man | Source

"Man, he is constantly growing and when he is bound by a set pattern of ideas or way of doing things, that’s when he stops growing."

- Bruce Lee

Learning Philosophy

Learning is the most important thing in our lives, and we must always learn. It makes us who we are. Learn from your mistakes and make better decisions in the future. Everyone makes mistakes, it's all right as long as you have learned your lesson, but if you don't learn anything from that experience, you are going to repeat the same thing all over again.

In the movie: This Means War, Chris Pine says, "I don't believe in mistakes; our mistakes makes us who we are."

Our mistakes make us who we are; that's true; for every mistake you make there will be consequences, but they will also play part in the future decisions you make. Don't worry much about the mistakes you make; focus on improving yourself so that they don't happen again.

Every night before you go to bed, write down the things you learned that day. Write down what you are you going to do to ensure that it won't happen again. Keep a separate notebook or diary for this. Take it everywhere you go.

A few simple techniques well presented, an aim clearly seen, are better than a tangled maze of data whirling in disorganized educational chaos.

- Bruce Lee

Use only that which works and take it from any place you can find it.

The lifestyle of Bruce Lee was based on this idea; he was not bound by any form tradition or style. He always preached that we should take what’s effective and leave out what is not. Every religion and tradition consists of good things that we should all learn and follow, and there also some things that we should not follow. You should only take what you need and want. Being bound to one religion, you will miss all the great things from others.

You can use this method in any situation -- In learning something, sports, business, etc. It ensures that you are not wasting your time and energy on unnecessary tasks, and you always end up learning deeper. Successful people use the same strategy to achieve what they want, and it works!

Bruce in The Green Hornet
Bruce in The Green Hornet | Source

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate him.

The secret to be successful is not duplicating successful people. Just find out what they did to get there, find out more, and use your own ideas and be better then them.

Everyone is unique, and if you try to duplicate someone you’ll never be yourself and you’ll never reach your true potential. Being yourself doesn’t mean you stop improving; you always improve, just don’t sacrifice you values and give up on yourself. Have faith on yourself; believe in yourself. If you don’t, no one will!

One thing that I have definitely learned in my life is that I do have a bad temper—a violent temper, in fact.

- Bruce Lee

A quick temper will make fool of you soon enough.

Your inability to control your anger shows your lack of self control, which makes you look weak. Anger is not going to help you in any way, nor will it make things easier. You can’t think straight when you are angry; you don’t make good decisions. If you don’t understand this, you’ll learn the hard way!

There are so many things he taught us, the world would have been different if he were still alive.

"Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own."

- Bruce Lee

Was Bruce Lee a great martial artist?

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Now that you have read the quotes, try to understand them. Try to find out what they mean. Write down what you learned. Write how you are going to use that knowledge to improve yourself. If you don't, than reading these quotes is of no use; it's just a waste of your time.

You can read the most inspiring quote of all times, but if it didn't change anything in your life, and you remain the same as you were before, then it's useless and waste of time.

There are so many things he taught us, the world would have been different if he were still alive.I dedicate this article to Bruce Lee and his art. May he rest in peace.

"Boards don't hit back."

- Bruce Lee


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    • Be Like Water profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Thank you for reading, Hezekiah! Silly of me to leave out that quote. Going to add it.

    • Hezekiah profile image


      5 years ago from Japan

      What legend. Best quote for me is 'Board don't fight back'


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