Be like water - philosophy of Bruce Lee

 

 

Although Bruce Lee felt heir to the thoughts and spirituality of the Far East, he was first and foremost a child of the American counter-culture of the 1960s. He became a film star and martial arts icon.

The heroes of films with Bruce Lee are like Benia Krzyk from the famous Odeska Tales by Isaac Babel. They say little, but tasty. This is closely related to the rule, which they often make on the screen - when they happen to speak to them - and which, apart from the screen, many times the man playing their roles. It sounds: the basic purpose of human life is honest and expressive self. Speech is just one of the means to achieve it. Another - perhaps even the most important - is the movement, and thus the body.

How to do it? How to express yourself fully? It is good to start from realizing at the beginning that different worldviews, systems and styles, especially fighting styles, first of all limit us. Therefore, they should be rejected. And become like water, which - itself devoid of form - always takes on the shape of the vessel in which it currently resides. Just to find yourself somewhere else and immediately, like a chameleon, resemble another shape. Water remains in constant motion in the eternal transformation process. It is elusive, unlimited, absolutely free. This is the ultimate goal of existence. There is nothing more important.

 

This order - stand like water! - returns in almost all public statements of Bruce Lee. In interviews, film scripts, private conversations, advice he gave to his students, letters to friends, a textbook for Jeet Kune Do - "style of fight without style" that he created. And also in dozens of philosophical, psychological and spiritual themes collected in the volume of Bruce Lee: Artist of Life, which appeared in 2001 edited by John Little, with the preface of the widow, Lindy Lee Cadwell. She writes there, among other things, that her late husband died "chose the path of self-knowledge, instead of collecting facts, and the path of self-expression, instead of working on his own image, and that's why he accepted what was intended for him with peace of mind."

 

Contrary to appearances, this kind of philosophy does not have so much in common with the traditional Far East spirit-and-thought systems that Bruce Lee undoubtedly felt like heir. Or rather: the author's philosophy of Bruce Lee, a man who initiated fashion in the Western cinema at the Orient and became an icon of a master of martial arts - someone who fights not so much with fists as a perfectly trained mind - this philosophy is derived largely from western sources.

 

And not at all because young Lee, before he even achieved the status of an international star, studied as much as possible Western philosophy at the University of Washington. Not at all. The thing is not in what he studied, but rather: when and where. If we would like to answer as little as possible the question about the main context of the life-course of the creator of Jeet Kune Do and his convictions, the indication would be unambiguous. Bruce Lee was first and foremost a child of the American counter-culture of the 1960s, of her spirit, the key words and desires.

 

He was a signpost for those who believe they can change their fate; a symbol of the victory of the weak and excluded over the nobles of this world. He was a box office actor and a celebrity; the Chinese incarnation of the American dream of success. Bruce Lee on the 45th anniversary of his death reminds Piotr Żelazny

 

It is no coincidence that the list of his favorite readings has been from the early years of students such classics of the then "new spirituality" as Alan Watts, an American thinker and writer propagating the western version of Taoism. Or the Hindu teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti - as a child proclaimed a new incarnation of Christ by C.W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant, the successor of Helena Bławatska in the Theosophical Society, but later acting solely on her own and proclaiming radical freedom from all social, religious and conceptual limitations. And also Fritz Perls, creator of Gestalt psychotherapy, and Abraham Maslow, precursor of psychology and humanistic psychotherapy. Counter-culture researchers today have no doubt that it is among those authors that they have most fully defined - or rather expressed - the message that defines the specificity of that era.

 

What was the most important in it? First, to wake up the "hidden potential", however understand it. Second, the phrase inwards, or interest in the spiritual-psychic sphere rather than the study and exploitation of the outside world. Thirdly, reaching for the exotic, most popular eastern concepts of spirituality and retreat from Christianity as an oppressive religion focused on feeling guilty. And finally - fourthly - the full (self) realization of one's self, that is, the self, bound by social, moral and religious conventions, as the main goal of every path of spiritual and psychological development. Here is the essence of this message. Bruce Lee accepted them and supplemented them with certain elements of Taoist and Zen philosophy. And with the vehicle for the realization of this spiritual and philosophical conglomerate he made Chinese martial arts, which he trained from childhood and in which he achieved the absolute degree of championship.

 

He included the essence of his approach in the book of Tao of Jeet Kune Do, published by Linda Lee Cadwell, which appeared two years after his death. The work on this work, which is a full exposition of his concept and vision of martial arts, Lee began in the early 1970s. He struggled with a severe back injury - the result of too intensive training - for several months most of the day spent in a specially adapted orthopedic bed. It was then that he began systematically writing his thoughts on kung fu and "techniques without technique", as he often defined his style.

 

Reading this book is like moving around a well-known area. Many sentences sound familiar, and many of them - as we now know without any doubt - have been directly rewritten from the authors' books mentioned above, as well as from the True Book of the Southern Flower of Zhuangzi, a classic work that is one of the foundations of Chinese Taoism. The main and dominant theme, however, is the striving to achieve such a level of skill that allows the combatant to move completely free and unforced, and therefore also unlimited by any codified set of techniques.

 

A warrior following the path of Jeet Kune Do is perfectly integrated with his own deepest nature at all times. It works with the highest level of freedom. He does not feel fear, because due to intense physical training his body and mind are perfectly synchronized. And also tuned to the flow of energy in the universe. In combat, he does not try to win or lose. It simply moves in accordance with its own internal dynamics and thus unknowingly and effortlessly leads to the end of the clash. It is characterized by simplicity, direct insight, an intuitive, calculation-free response to the opponent's actions. In this way - according to Tang Lung, the main character of the film The Way of the Dragon, which Bruce Lee directed - "even by the most aggressive movements adequately expresses himself".

 

But is it possible at all? It is certainly a beautiful idea. Although today it is less current than in the times of Bruce Lee. A dream of fully realizing the hidden potential, integrating the mind with the body, making life something like an undisturbed flow of mental and physical energy - in short, all the dreams and ideals of the 1960s and the later decade of the New Age movement that has grown out of them belong today rather to the past. In any case, say sociologists carefully looking at contemporary culture, including Eva Illouz and Anthony Giddens. Both humanistic psychology and the various philosophies inspired by Eastern spirituality now operate in a much more modest language. And they promise, above all, a better adaptation to the corporate reality of late capitalism. Instead of "full realization of the hidden potential", they more often offer more efficient functioning at work and more satisfying emotional life.

 

This does not mean, however, that the message of Bruce Lee has become completely obsolete or that it has not brought very specific fruit. Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world's largest MMA (mixed martial arts) organization, has no doubt that Bruce Lee is the proper father of this discipline. Moving away from traditional divisions, applying unlimited techniques to any particular school, and active, practical work on creating a style that combines at least a few classic martial arts - we owe it all to Bruce Lee.

 

But also in the deeper sense, his achievements are simply impressive. The consistency with which Lee worked to become proficient in life and martial arts is truly unique. The reading of his notes and short philosophical essays shows that he was completely overwhelmed by the desire for self-knowledge and self-improvement, and most importantly - striving to act in full accord with his own convictions. Hence his systematic pursuit of full integration of life, art and sport. Hence the acting without acting, which he practiced more or less since the time of the Big Head filmed in Hong Kong. The idea behind this particular transfer of the Taoist wu-wei principle - that is, acting through non-action - to the sphere of the film consisted in striving to remain the same person in life and on the screen. No pretense, no creation of fictional characters. Integrity of the image with the self, its "full, honest expression" in everyday life as well as in the sphere of fiction.

 

And that's probably Bruce Lee succeeded. After all, when we think about it today, this unique, one-of-a-kind iconic warrior immediately stands in front of our eyes. Equally convincing when, with a characteristic face and the accompanying cry, he knocks out a group of enemies in "Enter of the Dragon", and when in a recent interview, which Pierre Berton carried out with him shortly before his death, he says with an emphasis: "To be like water is really difficult business, my friend. "

 

Source: Polityka.pl

Translation from polish

 

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02 April 2019

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