Most people are familiar with Bruce Lee as a famous martial artist. Lee's philosophical accomplishments are less well known. But they are part and parcel of his Jeet Kune Do artistry.
This morning I couldn't resist -- I jumped ahead and read the final chapter in Daniele Bolelli's "On the Warrior's Path: Philosophy, Fighting, and Martial Arts Mythology." It's called "Epistemological Anarchism, The Philosophy of Jeet Kune Do."
Bruce Lee's philosophy is rooted in Taoism. The past few days I've been enjoying some spirited discussion about Taoism in comment conversations on posts here and here.
I've been arguing that philosophical Taoism (as contrasted with its religious variety) isn't metaphysical or other-worldly, but instead is focused on the art of earthly living. Bolelli's description of Lee's Taoist leanings fits with my conception of Taoism.
Bolelli notes that Lee was at odds with much of Chinese culture, since religious Buddhism and Taoism, plus the rigid moral structures of Confucianism, don't fit with the iconoclastic Jeet Kune Do philosophy.
...By rejecting Confucianism and choosing to embrace the antiauthoritarian viewpoint of philosophical Taoism, Lee allied himself with the fringe-dwellers, the outcasts, the mavericks, the philosophical outlaws, the misfits of Chinese culture.
Ooh! Count me in! Those are my sorts of people. Following my sort of philosophy.
The philosophical side of martial arts is near to my heart, because I spent nine years studying traditional Shotokan karate -- an exemplar of a Confucian style (though Shotokan is rooted in Japanese culture).
About the time my churchlessness started to flower, I got disenchanted with the rigidity of Shotokan karate. I shifted to a mixed martial arts style and enjoyed the much looser dojo atmosphere (which included a photo of Bruce Lee on a wall).
After three-plus years of that, I've been Tai Chi'ing it for about five years (yes, Tai Chi is a martial art; even more, my instructor likes to say that it is the foundation of the martial arts).
So my evolution has been in the direction of Bruce Lee's Taoist Jeet Kune Do, whose basic precepts are "using no way as way" and "having no limitation as limitation." Lee encouraged his students to question everything and find out for themselves what works, and what doesn't.
Good advice. I've stopped meditating the way I was taught in my true believing phase, because I didn't feel that it was doing for me what I wanted. Now I'm much more eclectic.
Just as Lee used "whatever works" as his guiding philosophy, I don't feel that I need to follow any set of moral, ethical, or meditative dogmas. I'm still a vegetarian, but I drink a glass of red wine most evenings. I still meditate every morning, but I vary between mantra and mantra-less awareness, and worry a lot less about how much time I spend on my cushion.
Bolelli shares some good Bruce Lee quotations:
True observation begins when one sheds set patterns, and true freedom of expression occurs when one is beyond systems.
Knowledge is fixed in time, whereas, knowing is continual. Knowledge comes from a source, from accumulation, from a conclusion, while knowing is a movement.
Jeet Kune Do favors formlessness so that it can assume all forms and since Jeet Kune Do has no style, it can fit with all styles. As a result, Jeet Kune Do utilizes all ways and is bound by none and, likewise, uses any techniques or means which serve its ends.
More excellent Taoist advice. Lee makes the same point that I've been arguing in the above-mentioned comment conversations:
Philosophical Taoism's embrace of every way, depending on the circumstances, doesn't make this philosophy a defined belief system. Rather, it is the antithesis of religious, moralistic, or ethical dogmatism.
Bolellis says that Lee gave full power back to the individual through this set of "using no way as the way" aphorisms:
2. Absorb what is useful.
3. Reject what is useless.
4. Add what is specifically your own.
Sure sounds good for a churchless philosophy of life.
(For more about Bruce Lee's philosophy, check out my "Kung Fu meditating" post.)
How revealing !!
Is this a post about Bruce Lee and Taoism or another post about Brian?
Certainly more references to Brian (26 references) than to Bruce (4 references)
This blog should be called 'The Life of Brian' blog
Posted by: ex Brian Admirer | July 09, 2009 at 10:16 PM
ex Brian admirer, thank you for paying so much attention to me! I love it!
Keep it up. I never had any idea that someone was reading my posts and carefully counting the "I's" in them.
Terrific! I can't tell you how much I like it when I'm the center of attention (counting alert: add six to your tally, now that I've written this comment; oops, make that seven).
Also...did you notice this quote in my post from Bruce Lee?:
"1. Research your own experience.
2. Absorb what is useful.
3. Reject what is useless.
4. Add what is specifically your own."
Gosh, Lee uses "your" twice. He is urging us to focus on ourselves! Our own experience. Adding what is specifically our own.
Why, that's just what I did in this post. Described my own experience. Added what is specifically my own. Somehow it made sense to me to follow Bruce Lee's advice, since I was writing about Lee.
Anyway, I'm glad you're paying so much attention to my blog. You sure seem to be reading my posts more carefully than even I do.
Posted by: Brian | July 09, 2009 at 11:45 PM
With all due respect to the EX, this is Brian's blog and so it is natural that we hear about Brian, his thoughts, experiences and what not. If you visit my blog, you'll read the same kind of stuff but from my perspective. This is true of most blogs.
If you have a blog, what perspective do you write from? Your dog's?
Posted by: The Rambling Taoist | July 10, 2009 at 02:35 AM
Come on...Bruce Lee?
What the hell is going on here?
I want a proper taoist not a martial artist.
As for 'earthly living', we all need to do earthly living, even those dirty heathen christians do earthly living.
I still do not know what the philopsophical living is all about?! Since adopting my skeptic predatory identity, and the cagey vague responses its invoked, it seems the extent of philosophical Taoism is limited to living in accordance with nature and Tao is the flow of nature.
I've read of tai chi, bruce lee, scooters, and tango dancing, but precious else about the actual Taoist philosophy. Don't get me wrong i have enjoyed reading of all of those musings tremendously.
However, what i really would like to know is why the hell ppl have devoted large parts of their lives to writing about and living to principles that can be encapsulated in less than 2 lines?
I mean what in Tao's name was that fool Lao Tzu thinking when scribbling excessively in the Tao Te Ching what can be summed up in 2 lines?
I've realised its about time i started my own tradition, called Georgism.
Georgism has one rule only, it is this. Not that but this. Not no-thing or nothing but this. My book will be entitled "This". It will consist of one page and one line and one word "This".
It is likely I will be heralded a great sage of my time, though I reject such foolishness. Any teaching that requires a master is no teaching. This may not be easily expressed in words and is somewhat ineffable, the closest description is in this metaphorical artform:
Posted by: George | July 10, 2009 at 03:26 AM
George, your conception of philosophy is a thoroughly Western, academic, and modern one. It differs from the Greek view (in the time of Plotinus and Plato) where philosophy was viewed as a way of life, not concepts to be dragged out on special occasions.
I think this helps explain why your understanding of Taoism, and Eastern philosophy in general, is at odds with those of others who comment on this blog (including me). Taoism, for example, is fully in line with the Greek notion of philosophy being something that is lived, not something merely to think about.
I can recommend a wonderful book about Neoplatonism -- mine! -- if you want to better understand this difference between philosophy as thought and philosophy as living. I quote Pierre Hadot, a modern classical philosopher, as pointing out that in ancient times it wasn't people who read or wrote philosophy who were considered to be true sages, but those who authentically lived their philosophy.
In this sense, then, Bruce Lee was a real Taoist. Your dismissal of him is exceedingly strange -- and betrays a dim understanding of both Taoism and this classic/Eastern view of philosophy. Lee lived his Taoism, expressing it not only in words (he was well read, and could write well also) but most importantly, in his martial arts skill.
Have you seen such modern Chinese films as Hero, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Curse of the Golden Flower? If not, they might give you a fuller understanding of how Taoist/Buddhist philosophy is reflected in everyday activities (often, martial action).
Calligraphy, for example, is linked to sword play, if I remember "Hero" correctly. Calligraphy is a traditional Taoist art, along with music, painting, and such. The idea is that the simplest action or movement reflects our whole being, when undertaken in a certain spirit.
Makes sense to me. I think we err when we view philosophy as something conceptual, abstract, airy-fairy, divorced from everyday life. For example, if I'm not expressing my values, my philosophy, my life's meaning, at this very moment as I write this comment, then I'm not living as authentically as I would like to.
Hope this helps you see what I take exception to your dismissal of Bruce Lee as a pseudo Taoist. Again, the roots of Western philosophy are in the Greek experience, where philosophical investigation wasn't divorced from everyday life as it is in our modern academic culture. I think you favor that academic approach, but it is a choice, not the only way philosophy can be understood and practiced.
Posted by: Brian | July 10, 2009 at 10:21 AM
Dear Rambling Taoist
Thanks for your comments, I will visit your blog and have a look around, thanks.
I take your point in respect to the naturalness of a blog being about its owner more than anything else: my mistake, I somehow had the impression that this blog encouraged open debate. I have noticed that other posters had similar notions, but have been duly corrected.
Posted by: ex Brian Admirer | July 10, 2009 at 10:26 AM
ex Brian admirer, what are you talking about? You expressed a viewpoint. I disagreed with it. So did The Rambling Taoist. How is this not open debate? Do you expect that whatever you say, people should automatically agree with?
By the way, you used the word "I" four times in three sentences in your most recent comment. I can't resist pointing out that your comment seems to be all about you, and not The Rambling Taoist.
(for those who haven't been following our comment conversation, scroll above to see what I'm referring to)
Posted by: Brian | July 10, 2009 at 10:37 AM
Note the common theme in Brian's more emotional replies:
"what are you talking about?"
I do run a blog, and take care not to use the 'I' word but encourage open debate. Perhaps the term open debate is not understood by some on this blog
Awaiting Brians response "I dont know what you are talking about"
Posted by: ex Brian Admirer | July 10, 2009 at 11:43 AM
ex Brian admirer, I didn't feel emotional when I asked that question, which you haven't answered. I repeat, what are you talking about? You say that there hasn't been open debate about the issues I raised in this post. Please point to evidence that I've suppressed open debate.
Posted by: Brian | July 10, 2009 at 11:56 AM
ex Brian Admirer, you wrote:
"This blog should be called 'The Life of Brian' blog"
--What do you suggest... "The life of Atilla the Hun"?
WTF is the matter with you?
Brian, I don't know why you tolerate this person, aka Ashy? Kudos to your magnanimity.
Posted by: tucson | July 10, 2009 at 01:44 PM
tucson wrote: "Brian, I don't know why you tolerate this person, aka Ashy?"
Tucson - you are missing the purpose of this blog !!
"ex Brian admirer, thank you for paying so much attention to me! I love it!"
Posted by: ex Brian Admirer | July 10, 2009 at 11:17 PM
Dear ex admirer,
So what? It's his blog.
Posted by: tucson | July 10, 2009 at 11:56 PM
tucson, my magnanimity springs from my Buddha-like nature. I have boundless compassion for commenters who don't make any sense, but believe they do.
They are bound by illusion, a maya of their own making, and I vow to not cease my blogging until all sentient beings have achieved rational churchlessness (unless the Tao leads me to change my mind, of course).
Posted by: Brian | July 11, 2009 at 12:00 AM
Brian, my dear Buddha-mon...
I Love You Bro.
Long live rational churchlessness.
Posted by: [email protected] | July 11, 2009 at 01:34 AM
just a note -
Brian said: "...the Greek notion of philosophy being something that is lived, not something merely to think about."
I believe the greeks called these persons, sophists - a derogatory term.
Posted by: Jayme | July 11, 2009 at 07:44 PM
Jayme, the Greek idea of philosophy of a way of life doesn't have anything to do with the sophists, so far as I know.
Indeed, just the opposite. As the quote I provided in a comment indicated, the Greeks considered that the true philosopher (lover of wisdom, literally) was someone whose philosophy was reflected throughout his or her life -- not just in the reading, writing, or discussion of philosophy.
So as I said, a martial artist like Bruce Lee would be viewed as much more of a real philosopher if his life matched his philosophy, compared to someone who could talk the philosophical game, but not play it.
In modern times, we have pretty much lost this classic understanding of philosophy, which is too bad. Nowadays philosophy is something academics talk about in boring books, rather than being a guide to how we live everyday life.
Posted by: Brian | July 11, 2009 at 11:31 PM
Brian: Yes - sophists were those who simply "philosophized" or talked about wisdom but the philosophers were the true lovers of wisdom. This is what I meant.
Posted by: Jayme | July 11, 2009 at 11:56 PM
Jayme, for some reason I wasn't sure what "persons" referred to in your comment -- the livers or the thinkers. So I responded thinking that you might be viewing livers of a philosophical life as the sophists. Oops...
Posted by: Brian | July 12, 2009 at 09:44 AM
This discussion just confirms to me a humble human, why I respect Bruce lee so much, [never shall we find it here]?
Posted by: nameless | November 01, 2010 at 06:25 PM
If you get a chance, check out the second edition of bolelli's book. It has two extra chapters that are very much worth reading.
Posted by: oinos | January 13, 2011 at 09:48 PM
look mr rambling toaist or whatever your realname is just because you are jelous and we all know you are dont take it out on bruce lee he was better than you ever were that goes for all of his haters!
Posted by: mariam | September 26, 2011 at 01:06 PM
Have you ever noticed people can't get along online? It's simply asking too much...I'm a Satanist & noticed Lee's seeming obsession w/ nonconformity & wanted to see if I could derive some inspiration from Tao. I think Brian had a really awesome point as I have done a lot of figuring out there's nothing to figure out & nothing matters. I look at it as a natural progression.
LIVE SATANIC9. Stop rambling.
Posted by: jimi | August 06, 2012 at 10:17 PM
This whole thread is the most Taoist part of the thread. Humility mixed with unabashed centralism. What is or who is Tao and who is not. Who is getting it and who is not. The swirling and mixing of Yin and Yang. It all really "is."
Posted by: Timothy Sheehan | December 30, 2014 at 01:23 PM