Bruce Lee: The philosopher and poet

On the 27th of November 1940, Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco’s Chinatown, US. Mostly known for his acting career and his masterful martial arts roles in such movies as The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), Enter the Dragon (1973) and The Game of Death (1973), Lee should be also remembered for his passionate approach to philosophy, art and poetry. All of these trails became important elements of his own life philosophy, which he summarised as follows: “Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot… Be water, my friend.” (Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey (2000)).

It should be also noted that Lee was acquainted with the film industry from a very young age, way before his martial arts movies. He had begun his acting career when he was only three months old, before his parents left the States for Hong Kong. He played the role of a female baby in a film called Golden Gate Girl (1941). But it was not until the age of six when he got his first proper role in the Hong Kong production The Birth of Mankind (1946). He played a street kid, who fights with a shoeshine boy; this theme would reoccur throughout his acting career as well as private life. Apparently, Lee was a feisty young boy who got himself into many street fights, to which his father’s reaction was to sign Bruce up for martial arts classes.  In the same year, 1946, he made his other film My Son, Ah Chung, in which he appeared with his father and for the first time under the name Lee Siu Lung – Lee Little Dragon, under which he became  known in Asia. Altogether Lee appeared as a child actor in around twenty films. The best known of them all is The Orphan (1958), in which he played his only leading role as a child actor.

At the age of eighteen, Bruce Lee returned to America and in 1961 enrolled at the University of Washington, where among other subjects he studied drama, philosophy and psychology. Even though he eventually dropped out of college, and according to Linda Lee’s ex-husband, Tom Bleecker, “he was anything but a philosopher” (Bruce Thomas, Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit), Lee adopted philosophy into his martial arts and life. “It was in the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamutri in particular that Bruce Lee found the philosophical underpinnings of jeet kune do [martial art philosophy founded by Bruce Lee]… Krishnamutri’s message was that, by their very nature, all systems of thought and religion obscure the truth, which is a living force that cannot be named or pinned down… A great many of the aphorisms on jeet kune do attributed to Bruce Lee were taken directly, or adapted slightly, from writings and talks by Krishnamutri.” (Thomas). Bruce Lee studied also other thinkers, such as Plato, Socrates or Descartes. His handwritten notes on philosophy were eventually published in the book Artist of Life. Even though most of them are short abstracts, reduced merely to a few pinning thoughts, they are the evidence of the highly reflective philosophy behind Lee’s fighting system. Jeet kune do is an eclectic style of no style, supported not only by philosophical thought but also by thorough study of body movements, depicted through hundreds of Lee’s own illustrations, which are shown  in his book Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

Not many people know that Bruce Lee wrote poetry as well. It seems that by doing so he brought into his life a necessary balance, the balance between physicality and intellect, or simply between Yin and Yang – another philosophical system he went by in his life.

“Once More I hold You In My Arms”

Once more I hold you in my arms;

And once more I lost myself in

A paradise of my own.

Right now you and I are in

A golden boat drifting freely on a sunny sea

Far, far away from the human world.

I am happy as the waves dancing around us.

Too much analysis kills spontaneity,

As too much light dazzles my eyes.

Too much truth astonishes me.

Despite all obstacles,

Love still exists between us.

It is useless to try to stir the dirt

Out of the muddy water,

As it will become murkier.

But leave it alone,

And if it should be cleared;

It will become clear by itself.

(Bruce Lee, Artist of Life)