Bruce Lee: Artist of Life by John Little

Summary
  1. “Basically, I have always been a martial artist by choice and actor by profession. But, above all, I am hoping to actualize myself to be an artist of life by daily actualizing my potentiality through soulful discoveries and daily exercising.” By artist of life he refers to the process of being an individual who, through the use of his own independent judgment, sought to fully actualize himself as a total human being (physically, mentally, spiritually)
Key Takeaways
  1. “My life…seems to me to be a life of self-examination, a peeling of my self bit by bit, day by day.”
  2. Bruce was a highly educated man because he never missed an opportunity for a “fact” or “situation” to teach him more about himself
  3. Multi-disciplinary thinker – finding a truth in one discipline and then applying that truth to an entirely unrelated discipline is a hallmark of Lee’s genius: he saw the connections where others did not (combined Krishnamurti’s and Alan Watts’ thinking on spirituality into martial arts)
  4. Only through process of coming to know self can we come to know anything
  5. Wu Hsin (no-mindedness)
    1. No-mindedness is not a blank mind that excludes all emotions; nor is it simply calmness and quietness of mind. Although quietude and calmness are important, it is the non-graspingness of the mind that mainly constitutes the principle of no-mindedness.
    2. The mind should be like a mirror – grasps nothing and refuses nothing; it receives but does not keep
    3. No-mindedness is not being without emotion but being one in whom feeling is not sticky nor blocked. It is a mind immune to emotional influences
  6. Gung fu – discipline/training toward ultimate reality of the object (master towards any objective, not only martial arts)
    1. Gung fu values the wonder of the ordinary, and the idea is not daily increase but daily decrease. Being wise in gung fu does not mean adding more but being able to remove sophistication and ornamentation and be simply simple. The closer one is to the true way of gung fu, the less wastage of expression there is
    2. A simple life is one of plainness in which profit is discarded, cleverness abandoned, selfishness eliminated, and desires reduced. It is the life of perfection which seems to be incomplete and of fullness which seems to be empty. It is the life that is as bright as light but does not dazzle. In short, it is a life of harmony, unity, contentment, tranquility, constancy, enlightenment, peace and long life.
  7. Art is the expression of the self; the more complicated and restrictive the method is, the less opportunity there is for expression of one’s original sense of freedom
  8. The measure of a moral man is his happiness
  9. On perfection – since perfection is an impossibility, you can never live up to it. You are merely in love with this ideal and there is no end to the self-torture, to the self-nagging, self-castigating. It hides under the mask of “self-improvement.” It never works
  10. Many people dedicate their lives to actualizing a concept of what they should be like, rather than actualizing themselves. The difference between self-actualizing and self-image actualizing is very important. Most people only live life for their image
  11. On anxiety – thinking is rehearsing in fantasy for the role you have to play in society. And when it comes to the moment of performance and you’re not sure whether your performance will be well received, then you get stage fright. This stage fright has been given by psychiatry the name “anxiety”
  12. Maturation is the development from environmental support to self-support
  13. On Learning
    1. The best way of learning is not through computation of information. Learning is discovering, uncovering what is there in us. When we discover, we are uncovering our own ability, in our own eyes, in order to find our potential, to see what is gung fu, to discover how we can enlarge our lives, to find the means at our disposal that will let us cope with a difficult situation. And all this, I maintain, is taking place in the here and now
    2. You will find nothing develops your intelligence better than to take any question and turning it into a genuine statement
  14. On Resistance
    1. Once we are capable of understanding our reluctance to accept unpleasant experiences, we can get to the next layer, the phobic layer, the resistance, the objection to being what we are
    2. A choice method [toward liberation] is the cultivation of resistance, and where there is resistance there is no understanding. A so-called well-disciplined mind is not a free mind. A choice method, however exacting, fixes the mind in a pattern – a crystallization. This type of dead drilling is not an adequate response to the ever-changing moment in combat [or life]
  15. The self-willed man – A self-willed man has no other aim than his own growth. He values only one thing, the mysterious power in himself which bids him life and helps him to grow. The power can be neither preserved nor increased nor deepened by money and power, because money and power are the invention of distrust. When a man has confidence in himself, when all he wants in the world is to live out his destiny in freedom and purity, he comes to regard all those vastly overestimated and far too costly possessions as mere accessories, pleasant perhaps to have and make use of, but never essential. His only living destiny is the silent, ungainsayable law in his own heart, which comfortable habits make it so hard to obey but which to the self-willed man is destiny and godhead.
  16. Jeet Kune Do
    1. JKD is not about a more efficient way to subdue one’s opponent, but rather a more efficient way to subdue oneself; to rid oneself of hang-ups, insecurities, fears, and suppressed emotions – anything, in other words, that would bind the individual from becoming anything less than the fullest expression of himself
    2. True observation begins when one is devoid of set patterns; freedom of expression occurs when one is beyond system
      1. When a system becomes “dogma” it becomes a crutch which limits and blocks the natural growth of a martial artist. Thus, any special technique, however classically correct or cleverly designed, is in reality a disease, should one become obsessed with it.
    3. There is no help but self help
    4. Accumulating fixed knowledge of oneself externally is not the process of JKD; rather, JKD is a process of discovering the cause of one’s ignorance and oftentimes involves a shedding process
    5. His physical movement is his soul made visible. Indeed, martial art is the direct expression of the human soul
    6. A good student is one who is able to enter a mold but not be caged by it, to follow the principles yet without being limited or bound by them. This is important, for a pliable, choiceless observation without exclusion is so essential in the cultivation of JKD. So what is important here is not to have an organized philosophy of combat, or, for that matter, a method of combat, but to observe neutrally what is taking place in actual combat, inwardly as well as outwardly
    7. A good JKD artists rests in direct intuition
  17. Efficiency is anything that scores
  18. On Understanding
    1. Understanding requires not just a moment of perception, but a continuous awareness, a continuous state of inquiry in which there is no conclusion. There is no thinking that is free – all thought is partial; it can never be total. Thought is the response of memory, and memory is always partial, because memory is the result of experience; so thought is the reaction of a mind which is conditioned by experience
    2. Awareness is never exclusive, it includes everything
    3. To bring the mind into sharp focus and to make it alert so it can immediately intuit truth, which is everywhere, the mind must be emancipated from old habits, prejudices, restrictive thought process and even ordinary thought itself
  19. The 3 Faults
    1. The invention of an empirical self that observes itself
    2. Viewing one’s thought as a kind of object or possession, situating it in a separate, isolated “part of itself” – I “have” a mind
    3. The striving to wiping the mirror
      1. Zen is not “attained” by mirror-wiping meditation, but by becoming fully in the now. Don’t strive to “become,” but be
  20. Learning to unlearn
    1. The knowledge and skill you have achieved are after all meant to be “forgotten” so you can float in emptiness without obstruction and comfortably. Learning is important, but do not become its slave. Above all, do not harbor anything external and superfluous; the mind is the primary (see Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning for more color on this process of mastery)
    2. To have no technique is to have all technique
  21. The 6 Diseases
    1. The desire for victory
    2. The desire to resort to technical cunning
    3. The desire to display all that you have learned
    4. The desire to overawe the enemy
    5. The desire to play a passive role
    6. The desire to get rid of whatever disease you are likely to be infected with
  22. True mastery
    1. True mastery transcends any particular art. It stems from mastery of oneself – the ability, developed through self-discipline, to be calm, fully aware, and completely in tune with oneself and the surroundings. Then, and only then, can a person know himself
    2. Remember well my friend that all styles are man-made, and the man is always more important than the style. Style concludes. Man grows
  23. Self-knowledge
    1. Only self-knowledge leads to freedom
    2. Through my own observation I am convinced that an absolutely honest and direct inquiry into oneself will lead to understanding
    3. Having gone through a lot of ups and downs, I realize that there is no help but self-help. Self-help comes in many forms: daily discoveries through choiceless observation, honestly, as well as wholeheartedly always doing one’s best; a sort of indomitable obsessive dedication and, above all, realizing that there is no end or limit to this, because life is simply an ever-going process, an ever renewing process. The duty of a human being, in my personal opinion, is to become transparently real, to simply be.
  24. Life is best lived, not conceptualized and squeezed into a pattern of systems. Living exists when life lives through us – unhampered in its flow, for he who is living is not conscious of living and, in this, is the life he lives. Life lives; and in the living flow, no questions are raised. The reason is that life is a living now. Completeness, the now, is an absence of the conscious mind striving to divide the indivisible.
  25. We can see through others only when we see ourselves – Batesian mimicry (master knows the impostors)
  26. We have more faith in what we imitate than in what we originate. We cannot derive a sense of absolute certitude from anything that has its roots in us. The most poignant sense of insecurity comes from standing alone; we are not alone when we imitate. It is thus with most of us! We are what other people say we are. We know ourselves chiefly by hearsay
  27. In every passionate pursuit, the pursuit matters more than the object being pursued
What I got out of it
  1. Fantastic book! Great overview of Bruce’s life, philosophy and depth of thought