The man that redefined martial arts and inadvertently the perception of Asian actors in Hollywood, Bruce Lee was much more than a Kung Fu action hero. His legacy transcended martial arts and moved into philosophy, creation, expression and personal betterment. He had honed his craft so well in fact that film-makers often told him to either slow down his movements or would slow down the film in post-production editing. Is there something that we can learn and apply to our personal and professional lives based on the short, yet illustrious career of Bruce Lee?
This is one of Bruce Lee’s most famous quotes and for good reason. Adapting to your surroundings or circumstances might be instrumental to your success. If you resist change or evolution you will remain stagnant. Water is simultaneously the softest and most adaptable natural element; however it also has the potential for force. That second part basically says that you should show force when necessary and be selective when you know to be persistent. This is almost an extension of the philosophy born out of Kung Fu and Wing Chung that Lee loved so dearly.
Back Injury and Recovery
At the pinnacle of his career Bruce Lee had started dedicating himself to bringing his body to its highest physical condition. While performing “Good Morning” lifts (an exercise where you place a barbell across your shoulders and then bend over at the hips) with the equivalent of his body weight at the time, he heard a loud pop. After being in persistent pain for several days he sought medical attention for his injury and it was revealed that he sustained a severe spinal cord injury. He was ordered to rest and the prognosis was that he would not be able to continue practicing martial arts or it could inhibit his mobility. Although the injury was dire and it did give Lee back pain for the rest of his life, not only did he return to teaching his beloved martial arts, he also continued making movies. This is an obvious lesson in persistence and you might even argue stubbornness. When stubbornness is used correctly it can help you overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. According to Bruce Lee himself: “As you think, so shall you become.”
Although the inactivity involved with his rehabilitation was torturous for Lee, pre-injury he would often be seen reading a book, while doing bicep curls and watching boxing. Instead of accepting the inactivity though, he used it to his advantage by writing and completing up to 3 books during this period. A small unknown fact is that he had conceptualized the immensely popular series “Kung Fu” also during this period. The television series took place in the Wild West and followed a Kung Fu monk as he traveled the countryside and solved problems. To his chagrin, instead of Bruce Lee being cast the studio preferred David Carradine, which brings us to the next point.
You cannot force the Now. — But can you neither condemn nor justify and yet be extraordinarily alive as you walk on? You can never invite the wind, but you must leave the window open" ~ Bruce Lee
Although it was a disappointment that he wasn’t offered the job, he continued to fervently pursue to continue his acting career. After numerous stalled starts in L.A., he visited Hong Kong, but not with the explicit intent of finding opportunity. Instead, like water, he flowed and opportunity found him. While in one of his two homelands he found that Hong Kong studios and producers were interested in working with the Kung Fu master television star. After appearing on a few talk shows he was approached by Producer Raymond Chow with a two movie deal on behalf of Golden Harvest studio. Shortly after Lee would start filming the famous “Fists of Fury” film.
With both films being a huge success both in the US and Hong Kong and even considering their lower production quality compared to what Lee was used to State side, Hollywood was finally taking notice of Bruce Lee as a movie star. In 1972, Warner Bros film studio agreed to a joint American-Hong Kong production for the film “Enter the Dragon”. It would become the first joint effort between Hollywood and a foreign production company. At the time of the agreement, Lee was in the midst of filming “The game of death” that was again conceptualized by Lee and was put on hold for “Enter the Dragon”. The film was completed and coined to premier August 1973.
Creation of the Legend
Although Bruce Lee return to both his passionate pursuit of developing his physique and perfecting his own form of Kung Fu, since the time of his injury he was plagued with chronic back pain. He managed the pain with a regime of icing, massages and occasionally painkillers if it intensified. On July 20th 1973 Lee took a prescription pain killer, Equagesic, and laid down for a nap. He would unfortunately never wake up. Although there was speculation of wrong doing and even supernatural reasons for his death, world-renowned pathologists said that his death was a result of brain swelling due to sensitivity to an ingredient in Equagesic. He would never complete “The game of death” or watch the premier of his first Hollywood film, “Enter the Dragon”. The theme of Lee’s posthumous movie, “The Game of Death” didn’t exactly do wonders to quiet conspiracy theorists. The movie’s plot is about a very famous Kung Fu movie star that must fake his death to find the people that are trying to kill him. The unfinished movie was ham-fisted to completion with recycled footage and even stock video. Even so, Bruce Lee lived such an amazing life that his legacy superseded the movie industry’s exploitive meat grinder, and has become an example for overcoming institutionalized, physical and emotional obstacles. His life is rich with parables displaying the power of the human spirit.
Are you a Bruce Lee fan? Is there a lesson you have used in your life, that isn’t in the article above? Let me know in the comment section below.