The Secret of Bruce Lee. Power and Serenity of the Focused Mind
Bruce Lee was famous for his legendary powers of focus. But, that ability to focus was the result of experience and discipline. Bruce Lee realised early on that what separated the merely good from the truly exceptional, was the concentrated mind. To develop his mind into a weapon he took the lessons that life gave him and molded them to his advantage. Here we’ll explore how Lee’s life and his teachers helped him develop to the legend we know today.
Seeing Into The True Nature Of The World
We tend to think of Bruce Lee as someone who had a zen-like mastery over his emotions. But, like all men Bruce Lee sometimes grew frustrated in his inability to comprehend the true nature of things.
One day Lee was meditating and reflecting on the teachings of his mentor Professor Ip. He decided to take a trip out on a junk into the harbour. Lee grew increasingly frustrated with what he perceived as his lack of his true understanding of Professor Ip’s lessons.
Overcome with anger, Lee suddenly started punching the water. As he did so that water easily parted around his hard fist. He tried to grasp the water in his hand but it slipped from his palm. A sudden realisation came to Lee. The water was like the true nature of Kung Fu. While the water seemed weak, it was impossible to hurt or damage.
From this practical life lesson Lee saw that the martial artist needed to be like water. When faced with brute force, one should redirect its energy. When the enemy tries to encircle you, flow through them. Lee had grasped that true power was found not in being hard like the ground, but flowing like the water.
Learning From Experience And Maintaining Serenity
We can also see another important aspect of Lee’s personality at play here. His ability to learn from experience. Lee took the lessons from his teacher and combined them with observation of the natural world. Through this combination he was able to see the true nature of things.
The concept of flowing like water around obstacles was essential if Bruce Lee was to achieve his goals. Lee was a martial arts teacher but he also wanted to become a film star.
Lee had two compelling reasons for becoming a film star. Firstly, Lee looked at the way that many martial arts were taught and was disappointed. Eager to commercialise their teachings many martial arts dojos “dumbed down” their teaching style. Rather than sell out his martial arts style he instead looked to film as a way for making his fortune. Secondly, Lee also knew that if he wanted to a have a real impact on society he needed a way to reach more people.
Lee was no wannabe star. As a child he had acted in twenty films. Despite this he still faced massive obstacles in becoming a western star. Between 1966 to 1967 Bruce Lee had become a minor television celebrity by appearing on the hit television series The Green Hornet. On the television show he played the role of the Green Hornets right-hand man named Kato. On the show he put on a flamboyant display of over the top Kung Fu style martial arts.
Later he developed the concept for the television show Kung Fu. It looked like Bruce Lee was about to break through to becoming the first Asian mainstream actor in the West. Unfortunately the lead role of the Buddhist monk was given to David Carradine. The reason being that studios felt that an Asian actor wouldn’t be appealing to a mass Western audience.
Given Lee’s drive and ambition this must have been a major disappointment. Compounding this was Lee’s inability to attract any meaningful roles for film and television. Luckily Lee had learned the power of serenity and flexibility. Rather, than continuing along a path that would only frustrate him, he decided to try another approach.Leaving Los Angeles Lee headed back to Hong Kong.
Returning to Hong Kong recently quickly became a hit. Bruce Lee took the lessons he had learned while living in the United States and applied them to these Hong Kong action films. He borrowed the high energy theatrical style he developed in the Green Hornet and combined this with his own Jeet Kune Do martial art style. The end result was incredibly compelling and something that audiences had never seen before.
Bruce Lee never lost sight of his overarching goal to become a film star. When he was blocked at every turn, he looked for another way. Moving to Hong Kong he was able to make the films that he wanted to. Off the back of these he was offered the role that would make his fame – Enter the Dragon.
Creating An “Empty” Mind
Lee’s ability to learn from experience didn’t come by accident. One of the stories that Lee was most fond of telling his students highlights his own approach to life. The parable tells of a great western scholar who comes to Japan to learn from a famed Zen master. The scholar has heard that the Zen master is one of the wisest men in Japan and so he is eager to learn everything that he has to know.
The meeting between the Zen master and the Western scholar began with the traditional welcoming cup of tea. Once the tea was brought out, the Zen master started to pour the tea for his guest. While this is taking place the Western scholar explains his deep knowledge of Zen buddhism.
It quickly became obvious that the Western scholar is far more interested in showing off his own knowledge, than learning anything from the Zen master. While this is taking place the Zen master continues to pour the tea from the pot into the scholar’s cup. Soon the tea is overflowing from the brim of the cup and onto the table.
The Western scholar, shocked, asked the Zen master why he continues to pour the tea. The Zen master replies that the western scholar was like the cup. He was so full of his own ideas that there was no room to for him to learn. If he wanted to learn what the Zen master had to offer he first needed to empty his cup.
Like any teacher Bruce Lee would be questioned by his students about the way that he taught the martial arts. While open to opinions at a certain point he would stop them and ask that they like the Western Scholar needed to “empty their cup”. They needed to open themselves to the possibility of different ways of doing things.
In 1973 Bruce Lee died at the age of only thirty two. Sadly, this was only one month before the film that would make a superstar in the West – Enter the Dragon – was released. Despite this, in three short decades, Lee accomplished more than most people would achieve in a dozen lifetimes. The secret to his success was the power and serenity of a deeply focused mind.