Bruce Lee, the famous martial artist and movie star had an amazing understanding of Taoist principles. He applied them to his art, and lived them in his day-to-day life. He is still revered years after his death as a martial arts Jesus for good reason. His authenticity, and mastery of the martial arts, including Jeet Kune Do, extends into a mastery of self. There is so much to learn from this intrepid soul.
Bruce Lee once said,
“Taoist philosophy is essentially monistic. Matter and energy, Yang and Yin, heaven and earth are conceived of as essentially one or as two coexistent poles of one indivisible whole.”
Lee was so convinced of Taoist philosophy that he named one of his teaching books the Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
The monistic view Lee refers to is a philosophical idea that all things arise from a single reality or substance. You can call this God, or the Tao, as the Taoists did, but this Oneness doesn’t fit into our convoluted and narrow image of the ‘One’ that we act out today.
Monism is in direct contrast to dualism, which holds that there are two kinds of substances (for instance good and evil). The word comes from the Greek ‘monos’ meaning single and without division.
Wherever Dualism distinguishes between body and soul, matter and spirit, object and subject, matter and force, Monism denies such a distinction or merges both in a higher unity.
It was this understanding that allowed Lee to see his opponents as part of the one – and to truly succeed by winning against himself. He often was able to beat much larger opponents not just by his impeccable training, but by his great consciousness, his immaculate mind, but sometimes his small stature and movie-star moves made him easy prey to men who had lesser wisdom.
Lee was not without ego, but his fight against that part of himself was evident for the world to observe, and this is perhaps why so many relate to him. The fighter was a teacher, really, and his most noble contribution to fighters both lesser and greater than himself physically, was in his legacy of upholding the Tao.
Lee’s philosophical Taoism (as contrasted with the religious variety) isn’t metaphysical or other-worldly, but instead was focused on the art of earthly living. He succeeded in this at times, and others, he failed.
Above all, Lee encouraged, as the Buddha did, to follow no one, and to move past limitations, even when they were set up by people in authority (which were sometimes other martial arts schools or supposed masters). Lee believed an endless process of trial and error was preferable to establishing one day’s intuition as an immutable law.
He didn’t believe in a fixed anything. His quote, ‘be like water,’ still resonates, because it so profoundly encapsulated his philosophy.
Lee also said,
“True observation begins when one sheds set patterns, and true freedom of expression occurs when one is beyond systems.
Knowledge is fixed in time, whereas, knowing is continual. Knowledge comes from a source, from accumulation, from a conclusion, while knowing is a movement.”
This is quite a decent explanation of the Tao which has no explanation. “Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” ~ Lao Tzu, the Tao te Ching
Lee lived some of the basic principles of the Tao, which can only be discovered for oneself:
- He aided others who were an extension of his own expression.
- He was always true to himself, even when others maligned him.
- He connected with others and tried to treat them as he wanted to be treated.
- He did not fight those who could not accept his true nature.
- He remained himself no matter the obstacle.
- He knew he was only the custodian of his body, and that it was merely a vessel for his spirit.