Leo Fong, a
Methodist minister, movie director, and former
student of Bruce Lee's, remembers a conversation
he had with Bruce in 1964. "Bruce asked me,
'Why are you taking all these gung fu classes?'
said, 'Well, I'm looking for the ultimate.'
let out a big laugh. He said, "Man, there
ain't no ultimate!
The ultimate is
took me a while to let go of the old beliefs, the
old crutches. When I got around to letting go and
started to train on my own I realized what Bruce
had imparted to me. It's frightening being your
own teacher. The only way you can find the cause
of your own ignorance, he said, is
self-evaluation and total commitment to your own
process toward growth."
Los Angeles Chinatown student Bob Bremer
remembers Bruce relating to him the story of the
"Chinese Woodcutter". "The old
Chinese woodcutter was out in the forest chopping
wood," said Bruce. "He's chopping the
wood and chopping the wood and pretty soon the
bushes start rattling and the trees start
vibrating. He looks over there, the bushes part
and out steps a dragon. The Chinese woodcutter
says to himself, Golly! I
always thought they were just stories! This is
real! If I could capture it or kill it I could be
famous! I wouldn't have to cut wood anymore!
he took his ax and takes a step toward the
dragon. The dragon turns and says, 'Oh oh oh. I
know what you're thinking. If you take another
step toward me I'm going to breathe fire all over
you and burn you to a cinder.'
woodcutter thinks, He can
read my mind! He knows what I'm thinking before I
even do it! It's hopeless! I might as well go
back to chopping wood!
he goes back to chopping his wood and he's
chopping and chopping. In the middle of one of
his swings the ax flies out of his hand and hits
the dragon right between the eyes. Kills
never told me what he meant by that story,"
says Bremer. "For months I was thinking, What
was he trying to tell me? I'm going over there to
learn a physical thing and he's messing with my
mind! What the hell is going on?"
believed that he could not teach his students so
much as point them in the direction of knowledge.
"I cannot teach you, " Bruce mused to
James Franciscus in the television series Longstreet,
"only help you to explore yourself."
actually was one of the very few that applied the
philosophy to the art," said student Dan
Inosanto. "Everything he taught was like 'Be
soft yet not yielding. Firm yet not hard.' I was
thinking, what the hell does
was not alone when it came to being confused by
Bruce's philosophical nature. "He often
spoke in parables," says author Joe Hyams.
of Bruce's favorite parables was the story of the
western scholar who came to Japan to learn about
Zen from an old Zen master. As the story goes,
the two sat down to introductory tea, and it
became evident after a few minutes that the
western scholar was more interested in telling
the Zen master what he knew than learning
anything from him. As the Zen master poured the
tea for his guest, the scholar continued to
ramble on. The tea began to spill over the edges
of the cup; the Zen master continued pouring.
"Sir!" said the western scholar.
"The cup is over-full!"
replied the Zen master, "and like this cup
you too are over-filled with your own ideas and
opinions. How do you expect to learn if you are
not willing to empty your cup?"
would often quote this parable to his students.
He encouraged them to speak up if they had a
difference of opinion in his teachings but, if
pushed too long, he would say, "At least
empty your cup and try." Bruce believed that
you should not dismiss something out of hand
without first investigating it for yourself.
also felt that, "Knowing is not enough; you
It was his opinion that knowledge is useless if
it is not put to good use. More importantly, one
can never determine the value
of knowledge if it is not tested.
embodied the Taoist concept of tzu
jan, or honest
self-expression. Because he refused to
subordinate himself to one style of fighting, he
was free to be open and critical of all fighting
concepts, including his own. This part of Bruce's
character caused the greatest conflict between
himself and others, especially martial artists
who are often trained to accept the teachings of
their instructor without question. Indeed, the
used in many martial arts styles to denote the
teacher or leader of the school, implies absolute
and unquestioning authority.
personal expression of martial arts was something
that he believed was unique to him and him alone,
because it was the product of his personal
attributes and deficiencies. Dan Inosanto said,
"The total picture Bruce Lee wanted to
present to his pupil was that, above everything
else, he must find his own way. It is important
to remember that Bruce Lee was a 'pointer' to the
truth and not the truth itself."
Bruce all knowledge led to self-knowledge. Bruce
placed a great deal of emphasis on this belief in
his teachings. It was one of the most important
concepts he derived from his study of
Krishnamurti. As Krishnamurti said: "We must
first understand ourselves in order to know
anything and to understand and solve
problems." Bruce felt that, for a person to
grow and evolve, they must come to know
themselves through whatever medium they choose:
dance, music, art, or martial arts to name a few.
in the end it will be the philosophy of Bruce Lee
that has the greatest importance in a historical
perspective. Bruce has influenced generations
since his passing with his concepts of liberation
from classical thought, bending to adversity,
economy of action, and openness to learn. These
are concepts that will greatly benefit people of
all doctrines, disciplines, and vocations.
lee's best friend Taky Kimura sees the effect
Bruce has had on people every time he goes to
Seattle's Lakeview Cemetery to tend to Bruce's
grave. "I go up to the cemetery all the time
and I see these people up there and many of them
aren't even martial artists, but they're up
there. They're up there looking for something
within themselves. When you look at all these
people out there who claim that they aren't role
models, they are role models because they are in
the limelight. But Bruce is a guy that,
twenty-six years later, that cemetery is so
trodden that they just put new sod up there. You
watch, in a few months it will be worn out again.
When I go up there I usually bump into somebody
and I try not to be forward but I usually
introduce myself. I ask them why they are up
there and they tell me these things, you know,
and it's just incredible the inspiration Bruce is
creating, aiding these people."