Martial Artist, Mystic, Philosopher
Words: Victor Parachin
Those who are unaware they are walking in darkness, will never seek the light.
In India as in other places around the world, young men are drawn to martial arts are often inspired by martial artist and movie star, Bruce Lee. However, in India, those young martial arts students are often reminded that Bruce Lee could be viewed as an incarnation of Bodhidharma, the Indian Buddhist monk who brought Buddhism and Kung Fu to China centuries earlier. Like Bodhidharma, Bruce Lee was a highly skilled martial artist, philosopher and mystic who taught that martial arts are not merely a physical activity but a philosophy to be used for living with wisdom, integrity, discipline and compassion. Bruce Lee was born on November 27, 1940 in San Francisco to parents from Hong Kong but was raised in Kowloon until his late teens. Traditional education was tedious for Lee but he became intrigued with martial arts and self defence practices persuading his mother to pay for lessons. Aftercarefully observing various martial arts systems, he was drawn to the teacher Yip Man, regarded as the twentieth century master of wing chun style of martial art. Lee’s love of this style became all consuming and he threw himself into the lessons with a fierce passion and determination. In order to test his progress, he would accept informal street fight challenges from youths studying other martial arts systems. These street fight experiences, though not condoned by his teachers, improved his techniques. In 1958 he competed in the Hong Kong interscholastic fight championships. Making it to the finals, Lee, using his wing chun skills, quickly defeating his opponent, a British youth who used classic boxing techniques and who had been champion three years in a row. At the urging of his parents, Lee moved back to the United States in 1959 settling in the Seattle, Washington area. He found work in a restaurant, completed high school and enrolled in the University of Washington as a philosophy major. In Seattle, he opened a martial arts studio.
The space allowed him to earn an income and, more importantly develop his own unique style of martial arts. He married Linda Emery in 1964. They became the parents of two children. That year, Lee demonstrated his martial arts skills in Long Beach, California. His style and speed mesmerised the audience one of whom was William Dozier, a Hollywood television producer who cast Lee in a television series called The Green Hornet. Lee and his family moved to the Los Angeles area so he could work in television. There, he opened another studio continuing to teach and perfect his skills. Among his students were several celebrity actors.
Though the Green Hornet series only lasted one season, it was enough to give Lee broad exposure as an actor. With no acting work coming his way in Hollywood, Lee accepted an offer from a Hong Kong producer to appear in a series of films. So, in 1971, the Lee family moved to Hong Kong where Lee made several films. His fighting skills propelled the martial arts film genre into worldwide popularity and, in the process, made him an international superstar. Though most people know Lee only as a martial artist, it was philosophy which provided the intellectual structure for his physical perfection. Sounding much like a BRUCE LEE Taoist philosopher, he often reminded students: “Be like Water . . . Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water.” In an interview, Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee, described her father as a “philosopher of movement.” She explained: “When I say that he is a philosopher of movement what I really mean to say is that he physicalised philosophy. My father fully applied his beliefs and thoughts to his training and his art. He physicalised ideas such as adaptability, pliability, freedom, efficiency, and Instinct.” Lee died July 20, 1973 in HongKong. He was 32 years of age. An official autopsy cited the cause of his sudden and completely unexpected death was due to a brain edema (excess fluid in the brain) produced by a reaction to a prescription painkiller he was taking for a back injury. However, controversy and conspiracy theories surrounded Lee’s death immediately with claims he was murdered. In spite of his death at a young age, Bruce Lee left behind a remarkable legacy: movie star, martial arts innovator, cultural icon and philosopher. During his short life he achieved mastery of mind, body and movement.
WORDS OF WISDOM FROM BRUCE LEE
- 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.
- The way to transcend karma lies in the proper use of the mind and the will.
- Simplicity is the last step of art and the beginning of nature.
- The oneness of all life is a truth that can be fully realised only when false notions of a separate.
- self, whose destiny can be considered apart from the whole, are forever annihilated.
- Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
- The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.
- Wisdom does not consist of trying to wrest the good from the evil but in learning to ride them as a cork adapts itself to the crests and troughs of the waves.
- Overcome your own greed, anger and folly.
- Bring the mind into sharp focus and make it alert so that it can immediately intuit i truth, which is everywhere. The mind must be emancipated from old habits, prejudices, restrictive thought processes and even ordinary thought itself.
- To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.
- Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.
- Let yourself go with the disease, be with it, keep company with it — this is the way to be rid of it.
- Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.
- A good teacher protects his pupils from his own influence.
- I see that I will never find the light unless, like the candle, I am my own fuel, consuming myself.
- Using no way as a way, having no limitation as limitation.
- If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.
- Defeat is not defeat unless accepted as a reality in your own mind.
- The meaning of life is that it is to be lived, and it is not to be traded and conceptualised and squeezed into a patter of systems.
Victor M. Parachin, M. Div. (CYT) is an author, Vedic educator, yoga instructor, and Buddhist meditation teacher. He is the director of Tulsa Yoga Meditation Centre (USA). Victor researches and writes extensively about eastern spiritual philosophy and is the author of numerous books. His work is published regularly in YOGA Magazine. His latest book – ‘Think Like a Buddha: 108 Days of Mindfulness’ was published by Hohm Publishers.