If I asked you what you expect to see in a martial arts film, what would you say?
Dramatic, highly choreographed stunts?
A quest for vengeance that ends with the bad guy getting kicked off a cliff?
You expect mindless schlock, because that’s what martial arts movies mostly are.
In reality, martial arts represent the exact opposite. Instead of flashy punches, disciples are taught discipline. Rather than learn how to win a fight that sees them outnumbered 100:1, they are shown how to relax.
Kanō Jigorō, Ng Mui, Ip Man – they didn’t teach how to fight. They taught a philosophy of mind and body.
There’s no greater example than the man widely considered pop-culture’s greatest martial artist, Bruce Lee. Lee lived Jeet Kune Do the hybrid martial art he founded upon arriving in America. It was so important to him that, after years of being rejected by Hollywood executives who preferred casting Caucasian actors as Asian characters, he brought production of Enter the Dragon to a standstill in order to ensure Warner Brothers didn’t remove the philosophical aspects of the script he’d co-written to broaden its appeal.
It is only in the decades following his death that Lee developed a reputation not only as one of the most brilliant martial artists who ever lived, but as a brilliant thinker too. He was a philosopher; a man who could reflect on the intricacies of his quest to unleash his potential with the delicate insight of a poet.
While his reputation as a philosopher has been slowly developing, it is only in the last couple of years that Lee’s most philosophical work has been revealed.
In My Own Process was a collection of letters Lee wrote to himself throughout the last year of his life. Though he composed nine drafts, Lee’s work on the project wasn’t revealed to the public until February 17, when website Brain Pickings released them with the permission of the Bruce Lee Foundation.
One of the most important aspects of life for Lee was tapping into the power of self-actualisation in the pursuit of greatness, and it is this concept that he considers during the biggest, arguably most successful days of his life.
In the seventh draft, he writes:
“We possess a pair of eyes to help us to observe as well as to discover, yet most of us simply do not see in the true sense of the word. However, when it comes to observing faults in others, most of us are are quick to react with condemnation. But what about looking inwardly for a change? To personally examine who we really are and what we are, our merits as well as our faults — in short, to see oneself as (one) is for once and to take responsibility (for) oneself.”
Lee’s insight is worth exploring not only if you’re a martial artist, but if you too value honesty of self, the importance of confronting your fears, and unleashing your potential. Images of the notes are available on Brain Pickings, so I encourage you to click over and take a look.