I finished reading my first book of the year. A book about Bruce Lee and the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do. And what a fabulous start to the year it has been! Of course, reading is only the beginning. Unless the tenets are put into practice, just finishing a book has no meaning. A summary/review can’t possibly do justice to the legend of Bruce Lee and his teachings. I’ll try and put down some of the points mentioned to give a better glimpse into the book. Read on.
Title – Beyond The Limits
Author – Bruce Thomas
Genre – Non fiction
“Put the heart of martial arts in your own heart and have it be a part of you. When you have that, you will know there are no limits.”
“The successful warrior is the average man – with focus.”
“As you think, so shall you become.”
“If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against.”
“There is no one to fight, only an illusion to see through.”
With Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee wasn’t simply teaching a fighting method, but a means of self transformation, combining martial arts with philosophical underpinnings. He taught in the language of culture and tradition (taoism), but also included ideas from emerging sciences (like epigenetics and neuroplasticity). Bruce Lee’s teachings apply not only to the martial arts, but to everything in life.
The book starts with a brief introduction about Lee’s background and life. Lee began training in wing chun (a streamlined style of kung fu) under grand master Ip Man, at the age of thirteen, in order to defend himself against bullies. It was Ip Man who taught him how to fight better, and ‘be like water‘ – yielding to blows and countering by flowing into any open gaps. As a teenager, Lee was also the Hong Kong Cha Cha champion of 1957. As his learning and training grew, he never considered “styles” per se – for him, a punch was simply a punch – not a kung fu punch, boxing punch, or karate punch. He understood core body mechanics, and mastered and integrated different fighting methods. He learnt from various martial arts he encountered – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and even fencing and boxing. He considered the shared principles behind the various techniques more important than acquiring a vast catalogue of moves. This belief was the basis of his supremely popular quote, “I do not fear the man who has practiced ten thousand kicks once. But I fear the man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times.” He also acknowledged the origins of martial arts from India, from where they were brought to China by monk Bodhidharma. A setback, caused due to a back injury (a damaged sacral nerve), leaving him bedridden, led him to stave off depression by making notes on his fighting methods and the philosophical basis behind them. (After his death, these were edited and released as The Tao Of Jeet Kune Do). Jeet Kune Do was never intended as a fighting style, but a conceptual overview based on the core principles of all martial arts. “Self knowledge is the basis of Jeet Kune Do because it is effective, not only for the individual’s martial art, but also for his life as a human being.” – was Lee’s description of the philosophical art of self defense.
The book also delves into his cinematic history – the movies he made, and how he got around to making them. The book is not a biography of Bruce Lee, so I’m not elaborating on these. There are also various quotes and writings featured from essays Lee had written while studying philosophy at University – he studied English, Maths, Humanities, American History, Drawing, Composition, Chinese Philosophy, Psychology, Business Management, Health and Social Dance. The author has provided descriptions of his training routines – covering various aspects of weight training, muscle building, speed and flexibility, along with Lee’s apt quotes, “A powerful athlete is not a strong athlete, but one who can exert his strength quickly.” The concepts of yin and yang are beautifully explained in depth, exercises to instill awareness (sil lum), waves of coherence and collective consciousness, energy (chi), atoms and matter, shadow projection, self directed neuroplasticity, and many more concepts depicted with illustrations, and of course Lee’s quotes. Some lovely stories and anecdotes Lee had shared with his students are also written about.
Bruce Lee’s explanation of the Void – Imagine a circle. A circle that contains everything within – everything that exists, everything that has existed, or could possibly exist. This same circle is also “0” – a zero representing nothingness. The circle is both everything and nothing.
Lee also speaks about awareness, perception, healing, immortality, and unity. “Reality is fluid. Perception is the shape of the container into which it is poured.” Do you read the image below as “dead” or “alive”? This was how Lee explained “polarity” – like the yin and yang, positive and negative, heaven and earth.
How do you perceive the image below? The character in the middle can be read as both, an alphabet (B) as well as a number (13). We perceive life in different ways – nobody is right or wrong when each one’s perception differs.
Let’s try one more. Do you see a white triangle in the drawing below? Well it’s not actually there. It’s only suggested, and the mind automatically fills it in. With recreating the familiar, we fail to recognize what’s not familiar.
The image below is from one of Lee’s sketches, and how he saw himself.
The picture featured on the cover of the book was taken a few weeks before Bruce Lee passed away. A man whose life was short but made a huge impact on people the world over. His quotes and teachings have withstood the test of time, his wisdom way beyond his years. As the author writes, this book is just a footnote to the trailblazing martial artist, action star, hero, philosopher and many more hats that the legend wore. Similarly, this review cannot do enough justice to the book. It’s a must-read and a must-have for the home library. There is a detailed bibliography at the end, for further reading. Like I said in the beginning, with books like these, it’s not just about finishing reading them; the application of the principles suggested is important to lead a fruitful life. As the Master himself sums up, “Independent inquiry is needed in your search for truth, not dependence on anyone else’s view or a mere book.”
Rating – 5/5