Lee did intense physical training each day, but he never forgot that he must also dedicate time to strengthening his mind, spirit and self.
You definitely know Bruce Lee as a famous martial artist and movie star. But did you know Lee was also a philosopher, entrepreneur and a self-made man who built an incredible life and career for himself after moving to Seattle from Hong Kong when he was just 18 years old? Though his life was tragically short, he died at age 32, Lee lived in a manner any one of us might learn from. Digging deep into his life, we can find lessons that will help any of us live a more meaningful, thoughtful, dedicated life, a little more like Lee’s.
Be purposeful about your time.
Bruce Lee kept detailed diaries and journals of his everyday activities. Some of these, from 1968-1970, are on display at the Wing Luke Museum’s “Day in the Life of Bruce Lee” exhibit. Scouring the written records of his day shows us how dedicated Lee was to practicing and focusing on his art each and every day.
Many think of martial arts as mostly a physical practice, and Lee did his share of intense physical training each day, but he never forgot that he must also dedicate time each day to strengthening his mind, spirit and self in addition to his body. You can take a page from Lee’s book and make sure each day has time committed to a well-rounded group of activities that represent the things most important to you.
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Never give up.
Lee was a martial arts leader and a movie star by the end of his life, but he didn’t start out that way. During his childhood Lee was bullied as he grew up in Hong Kong for not looking like the other kids (his mother was of Chinese and German ancestry). When he first decided to move to the United States at 18, the country where he was born, he had just $100 in his pocket and didn’t speak English at all. However, Lee didn’t let any of that stop him.
When he moved to Seattle, Lee didn’t listen to those who said people were too racist to want to learn martial arts in the U.S. He started to teach it anyway, while working as a waiter and taking English classes. Eventually he got into the University of Washington, studied drama and philosophy and opened a successful martial arts school. When Hollywood wouldn’t cast Asian actors in martial arts films, he went to Hollywood to give gung fu demonstrations until a Hollywood producer cast him in the 1966-1967 television show“The Green Hornet.”
You can adopt Lee’s never-give-up attitude by always focusing on what you know inside instead of what others tell you. As Lee said: “Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.” He clearly lived by this idea. When a serious back injury sidelined Lee in 1970, just as his movie career was taking off, doctors told him he might never recover. Instead, he focused on setting new goals for himself each day and looked for ways to motivate himself physically, mentally and spiritually — until he was fully healed.
Learn from the greats.
Lee’s personal library contained more than 2,500 volumes — the man was a voracious reader. You can see some of this vast collection in the Wing Luke Museum exhibit. It may be surprising to learn that while he owned many books on the martial arts, Lee also read constantly about philosophy, filmmaking, boxing, fencing, wrestling and much more. He was a dedicated student of the philosophy behind martial arts and even wrote his own philosophical texts that he hoped would help his students understand how he lived his life. He brushed up on other contact sports to see what he could incorporate into his own martial arts practice. Though Lee lived a remarkable life and was considered a masterful martial artist, he never stopped looking for opportunities to better himself, and he felt that reading about the successes of those who came before him was an integral way to do so.
Reject what is useless.
A quote from Lee can be found in the Wing Luke Museum exhibit: “Stop wasting time in playing a role or a concept. Instead learn to actualize yourself, your potential.” Lee did most everything in his life consciously. He realized that the martial arts films he wanted to be a part of were often racist and portrayed his culture incorrectly. Often Hollywood martial arts films would cast white men in the lead roles playing Asian men. When Lee realized that trying to make it in someone else’s idea of martial arts films would do nothing to better the perception of his own people, he decided to reject it entirely. Lee started his own production company instead so he could be in control of the casting and the storylines and push film beyond racist stereotypes. You can practice Lee’s rejection of the useless by keeping your mind on the things you want and off the things you don’t.
Share yourself with someone else.
Last, but not least, Lee didn’t live this incredible life all on his own; he had deep, important relationships he took the time to foster. At Wing Luke Museum, you can find examples of heartfelt letters Lee wrote to people close to him, his wife, children, friends and family, throughout his life to make sure that they knew they were important to him and so he could share all the things he kept learning.
You can write your own letter to someone close to you, at the Wing Luke Museum exhibit or on your own, to build up the important relationships in your life. Because, as Lee said, “It is compassion rather than the principle of justice that can guard us against being unjust to our fellow men.”
“Day in the Life of Bruce Lee: Do You Know Bruce? Part 3” is on display at the Wing Luke Museum and will be closing soon on Feb. 11, 2018.