Lessons Learned from Bruce Lee
Sure you know Bruce Lee the martial artist and movie star.
But do you know Bruce Lee the philosopher, comedian or master of personal development?
Bruce was one of my early inspirations.
He continuously pushed his mind and body to new levels and his physical prowess inspired and influenced body builders and martial artists alike.
As far as heroes go, Bruce Lee truly set an example of what it means to be YOUR best.
Bruce was all about making the most of what you’ve got, seeking truth knowledge, and applying what you know.
If you’ve seen him in movies or you know some of his quotes, you know exactly what I mean.
10 Lessons Learned from Bruce Lee
In this post, I share my lessons from Bruce Lee.
These are my top 10 lessons from Bruce Lee:
1. Be YOUR best.
It’s not about following in someone else’s footsteps or trying to be somebody you’re not. It’s about unleashing your best version of yourself. According to Bruce, “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”
2. Absorb what is useful.
It’s not about blindly adopting patterns and practices. It’s about taking the best of the best and tailoring it. It’s also about throwing away what doesn’t work. Bruce borrowed concepts and techniques from everybody and every art in a relentless pursuit of the best of the best. According to Bruce, “Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own."
3. Keep an open mind.
You have to be willing to throw out what you already know and have a curiosity to explore new paths. If you’re cup is already full, you can’t learn new things. According to Bruce, “First empty your cup.”
4. Aim past your target.
Aim past your target, so when you fall short, you still land in the ballpark of success. Bruce Lee was famous for his one-inch punch, but in reality he was aiming past the one-inch. According to Bruce, “Don’t fear failure. Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.”
5. Stay flexible.
Be flexible in your approach. Learn from everybody and everything and don’t get locked into a particular style. According to Bruce, “Expose yourself to various conditions and learn.”
6. Focus on growth.
Push past your limits. According to Bruce, “There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”
7. Know yourself.
Your blind spots and ignorance can be your biggest weakness. According to Bruce, “After all, all knowledge simply means self-knowledge.”
8. Master your mind and body.
It’s not enough just to be smart. It’s not enough just to master your body. Your body and mind support each other. Your body helps turn what you think or dream up into results. According to Bruce, “As you think, so shall you become.”
9. Apply what you know.
Life is not about watching from the sidelines. Use what you know and put knowledge into practice. Test yourself. According to Bruce, “Knowing is not enough, we must do. Willing is not enough, we must apply.”
10. Make things happen.
When there is no wave, make one. According to Bruce, “To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.”
I think it really boils down to making the most of what you’ve got, including your mind and body, pushing past your limits and following a path of continuous learning and growth.
Bruce Lee’s Physical Feats
These are some of the physical feats attributed to Bruce based on various demonstrations, his friends and associates, and interviews:
- Bruce performed one-hand push-ups using only the thumb and index finger.
- Bruce performed 50 reps of one-arm chin-ups.
- Bruce performed a sidekick while training with James Coburn and broke a 150 lb (68 kg) punching bag.
- Bruce could cause a 200-lb bag to fly towards and thump the ceiling with a sidekick.
- Bruce could snatch a dime off a person’s open palm before they could close it, and leave a penny behind.
- Bruce’s striking speed from three feet with his hands down by his side reached five hundredths of a second.
Bruce Lee Quotes
I’ve included some of my favorite Bruce Lee quotes below. I’ve organized them using the following categories:
Art / Artistry, General, Goals, Growth / Learning, Life, Mistakes, Positive Thinking, Personal Development, Power / Speed / Flexiblity, Self-Awareness, Simplicity, Time, and Truth.
Bruce Lee on General Philosophy
- It’s not what you give, it’s the way you give it.
- Know the difference between a catastrophe and an inconvenience. — To realize that it’s just an inconvenience, that it is not a catastrophe, but just an unpleasantness, is part of coming into your own, part of waking up.
- Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.
- Obey the principles without being bound by them.
- Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.
- Take no thought of who is right or wrong or who is better than. Be not for or against.
- Take things as they are. Punch when you have to punch. Kick when you have to kick.
- “What is” is more important than “what should be.” Too many people are looking at "what is" from a position of thinking "what should be."
Bruce Lee on Art / Artistry
- Art calls for complete mastery of techniques, developed by reflection within the soul.
- Art is the way to the absolute and to the essence of human life. The aim of art is not the one-sided promotion of spirit, soul and senses, but the opening of all human capacities – thought, feeling, will – to the life rhythm of the world of nature. So will the voiceless voice be heard and the self be brought into harmony with it.
- The second-hand artist blindly following his sensei or sifu accepts his pattern. As a result, his action is and , more importantly, his thinking become mechanical. His responses become automatic, according to set patterns, making him narrow and limited.
Bruce Lee on Goals
- A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.
- If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.
Make at least one definite move daily toward your goal.
Bruce Lee on Growth / Learning
- A quick temper will make a fool of you soon enough.
- As you think, so shall you become.
- A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.
- Don’t fear failure. Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.
- Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into 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. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.
- Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.
- I am not teaching you anything. I just help you to explore yourself.
- If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.
- If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you.
- In order to taste my cup of water you must first empty your cup.
- Knowing is not enough, you must apply; willing is not enough, you must do.
- The knowledge and skills you have achieved are meant to be forgotten so you can float comfortably in emptiness, without obstruction.
Bruce Lee on Life
- Life is better lived than conceptualized. — This writing can be less demanding should I allow myself to indulge in the usual manipulating game of role creation. Fortunately for me, my self-knowledge has transcended that and I’ve come to understand that life is best to be lived — not to be conceptualized. If you have to think, you still do not understand.
- Life is never stagnation. It is constant movement, unrhythmic movement, as we as constant change. Things live by moving and gain strength as they go.
- Life is wide, limitless. There is no border, no frontier.
- Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a state of constant learning.
- Man, the living creature, the creating individual, is always more important than any established style or system.
- Real living is living for others.
- Reality is apparent when one ceases to compare. — There is "what is" only when there is no comparison at all, and to live with what is, is to be peaceful.
- The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.
Bruce Lee on Mistakes
- Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.
- The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment.
Bruce Lee on Positive Thinking
- Choose the positive. You have choice, you are master of your attitude, choose the positive, the constructive. Optimism is a faith that leads to success.
- If you think a thing is impossible, you’ll make it impossible.
- To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.
Bruce Lee on Personal Development
- Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.
- Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
- I am learning to understand rather than immediately judge or to be judged. I cannot blindly follow the crowd and accept their approach. I will not allow myself to indulge in the usual manipulating game of role creation. Fortunately for me, my self-knowledge has transcended that and I have come to understand that life is best to be lived and not to be conceptualized. I am happy because I am growing daily and I am honestly not knowing where the limit lies. To be certain, every day there can be a revelation or a new discovery. I treasure the memory of the past misfortunes. It has added more to my bank of fortitude.
- I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.
- The spirit of the individual is determined by his dominating thought habits.
- What you habitually think largely determines what you will ultimately become.
Bruce Lee on Power / Speed / Flexibility
- A powerful athlete is not a strong athlete, but one who can exert his strength quickly. Since power equals force times speed, if the athlete learns to make faster movements he increases his power, even though the contractile pulling strength of his muscles remains unchanged. Thus, a smaller man who can swing faster may hit as hard or as far as the heavier man who swings slowly.
- Do not be tense, just be ready, not thinking but not dreaming, not being set but being flexible. It is being "wholly" and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.
- Endurance is lost rapidly if one ceases to work at its maximum.
- I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
- Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.
- One should be in harmony with, not in opposition to, the strength and force of the opposition. This means that one should do nothing that is not natural or spontaneous; the important thing is not to strain in any way
- The athlete who is building muscles though weight training should be very sure to work adequately on speed and flexibility at the same time. In combat, without the prior attributes, a strong man will be like the bull with its colossal strength futilely pursuing the matador or like a low-geared truck chasing a rabbit.
- The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.
- When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.
Bruce Lee on Self-Awareness
- After all, all knowledge simply means self-knowledge.
- Fear comes from uncertainty; we can eliminate the fear within us when we know ourselves better. As the great Sun Tzu said: “When you know yourself and your opponent, you will win every time. When you know yourself but not your opponent, you will win one and lose one. However, when you do not know yourself or your opponent, you will be imperiled every time.”
- Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.
- The biggest adversary in our life is ourselves. We are what we are, in a sense, because of the dominating thoughts we allow to gather in our head. All concepts of self-improvement, all actions and paths we take, relate solely to our abstract image of ourselves. Life is limited only by how we really see ourselves and feel about our being. A great deal of pure self-knowledge and inner understanding allows us to lay an all-important foundation for the structure of our life from which we can perceive and take the right avenues.
- To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are.
- To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.
- Understanding comes about through feeling, from moment to moment in the mirror of relationship.
- When we hold to the core, the opposite sides are the same if they are seen from the center of the moving circle. I do not experience; I am experience. I am not the subject of experience; I am that experience. I am awareness. Nothing else can be I or can exist.
Bruce Lee on Simplicity
- It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.
- Simplicity is the key to brilliance.
- To spend time is to pass it in a specified manner. To waste time is to expend it thoughtlessly or carelessly. We all have time to spend or waste, and it is our decision what to do with it. But once passed, it is gone forever.
- When there is freedom from mechanical conditioning, there is simplicity. The classical man is just a bundle of routine, ideas and tradition. If you follow the classical pattern, you are understanding the routine, the tradition, the shadow – you are not understanding yourself.
Bruce Lee on Time
- Flow in the living moment. — We are always in a process of becoming and nothing is fixed. Have no rigid system in you, and you’ll be flexible to change with the ever changing. Open yourself and flow, my friend. Flow in the total openness of the living moment. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.
- If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.
- The moment is freedom. — I couldn’t live by a rigid schedule. I try to live freely from moment to moment, letting things happen and adjusting to them.
- The timeless moment. — The "moment" has no yesterday or tomorrow. It is not the result of thought and therefore has no time.
Bruce Lee on Truth
- All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.
- Truth has no path. Truth is living and, therefore, changing. Awareness is without choice, without demand, without anxiety; in that state of mind, there is perception. To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person. Awareness has no frontier; it is giving of your whole being, without exclusion.
Where to Go From Here?
While there are countless resources on the Web, and you can always check out his movies, my favorite book on Bruce Lee, is by Bruce Lee.
It’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do .
Aside from the fact that it’s written by the master himself, I like the fact that Bruce wrote it while he was bedridden for six months.
You can just imagine how Bruce, the warrior, put everything he could into sharing the best of what he knew, while dealing with a pretty traumatic point in his life.
I also like the simple sketches throughout the book which show how he borrowed the best of the best, such as the boxer’s hands or a wrestler’s grappling moves.