If you’re interested in the study of the martial arts as both a mental and a physical discipline, no work is more essential than Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
In this book, Lee – the first Asian-American martial arts superstar and a grandfather of mixed martial arts (MMA) – expounds upon his principles of ‘Jeet Kune Do’ (JKD), or the ‘Way of the Intercepting Fist’. He sums up his philosophy thus:
Accept what is useful,
Reject what is useless, and
Add what is essentially your own.
This is an approach we can adopt for far more than martial arts training, of course. I believe Lee means his idea to apply to everything one learns in life.
In TJKD Lee delves a great deal into his philosophy behind training and fighting, long before he even gets to punching and kicking. His statements are echoed by coaches and trainers in all manner of sports and arts, from boxing to gymnastics to dance. Take, for instance, what he says on form:
Good form is the most efficient manner to accomplish the purpose of a performance with a minimum of lost motion and wasted energy.
He goes into far more detail on the relation of tension and relaxation in the body for physical performance, but my point is: he knows his stuff. That killer physique, unbeaten fight record, and mile-long list of top students was no accident.
But again, Lee knows more than martial arts. He was well-educated in both the Eastern and Western philosophical traditions, and sought to bring them together in the same way he attempted to meld the practices of physical and mental development.
Bring the mind into sharp focus and make it alert so that it can immediately intuit truth, which is everywhere. The mind must be emancipated from old habits, prejudices, restrictive thought processes and even ordinary thought itself.
Lee was against what he called ‘static thinking’ – that is, fixating one’s mind on any one idea, to the exclusion of all others. From his Eastern heritage he brought the principles of mindfulness, of forgetting the self, of Zen and Taoism and the stoic acceptance of the world as it is. Yet he melded these ideas with Western ideals of continual striving for self-improvement, and for the elevation of the individual above any established styles or systems.
I know a lot of this sounds esoteric. Lee was, above all, a philosopher and teacher, trying to wrap his mind around difficult concepts, apply them to his life, and pass them on to his students and to future generations. But he was also immensely practical, and TJKD reflects that. While he does give us inspiring but difficult-to-understand passages like this:
The mind must be wide open to function freely in thought. A limited mind cannot think freely.
…He also brings it down to Earth, like so:
Some observations are applicable to all types of hitting. Hit as straight as possible. Step in when you punch and make your reach good. Don’t telegraph any punch. If you have to set your fist in a certain way for a particular punch, do it in a manner that won’t warn your opponent… After hitting, instantly get back on guard.
Yes, if you’ve been training for a while, this may seem pretty basic… but Lee has a lot more to say on this subject, much of which you may not have heard before. The way he melds philosophy with practical training strategies is both inspirational and instructive.
In short, this book gets my highest possible recommendation. Pick up Tao of Jeet Kune Do right away! You’ll be glad you did.