Pioneer Series #1. Bruce Lee. Martial Artist, Philosopher, Actor and Father of MMA

I cannot teach you, only help you to explore yourself.  Nothing more. Bruce Lee

This Pioneer Series is written to shed light and pay homage to remarkable Pioneers who have originated a way of seeing and acting that have illuminated the path for the rest of us to follow and explore.

A Pioneer is an Individual who has the courage and drive to go into the Wilderness and Investigate the way that an Intelligence functions.  They absorb and explore the content from a Witness Perspective, in order to generate Insights about the Methodology, Discipline or Function. Witnessing means the dissolution of the conventional subject-object relationship, where the subject is observed in the same way as the rest of the information present in the happening. This includes ways of thinking, and strategy, because when you understand yourself in this way, you no longer see other, as separate! This view also means that task, world and environment are seen informationally, or not separate, as factors to be understood and leveraged.

Pioneers, by their nature, perturbate main-stream views as they explore in their Discipline, and they are energised by their Observational findings, and the Power that can only come from Global Understanding!

The first Pioneer in my series, is the late, great Bruce Lee.  Bruce was the first Individual who energised my life as a child and showed me a way of Being that was dynamic, intense and creative.  He introduced the Teachings of Eastern Wisdom to the mainstream world and his influence as an Integrator of Disciplines and Ways of Training Attributes is still having an effect cross-culturally.

“A truly extraordinary characteristic of Bruce was that he had the ability to communicate his learning process at the same time he was internalising or living it.” (Linda Lee Caldwell.  Bruce Lee.  Artist of Life. p xi)

This characteristic of a true Pioneer is that all observation, exploration and interaction with their material and others is alive.  Their interest and want for us is to deepen our immersion into the happening free of assumption and begin to feel the happening directly.  Most of our processing occurs through the filter of the I-thought, which is memory based; this is what covers over ‘direct perception.’

Direct perception is ‘naked’, in that it is not mediated via memory, it is the ‘thing in itself’.  Notice that we even struggle to find language that is inclusive of the ‘happening’ as language seeks to ‘nounify’  the happening in a neat label.

Bruce was attempting to deconstruct this tendency that is conditioned in the way that all of us have been educated.  Anyone who transcends the ‘conventional’ level of development is in unknown territory, and this is what energises the creative juices of a true pioneer!

It is indeed difficult to see the situation simply- our minds are very complex- and it easy to teach one to be skilful, but it is difficult to teach one his own attitude.

Wu Wei (Action that is Non-Action)

Wu Wei translates as ‘non-action’, meaning that all action is Global or Universal in Causality.  The Finite Mind isolates happening into singular cause-effect, and acts and thinks accordingly.  The action that is pointed to, in the term Wu Wei, is the entirety of the functioning.  The biggest possible picture of the way that Global information is connecting, communicating and transforming.  The notion of ‘separateness’ is not possible in the understanding of Wu Wei.

The human organism is innately intelligent and this intelligence is situated.  Meaning that, in order for latent potential to ‘express’ requires the right causes and conditions.   If an individual is to thrive, the organism and environment are drivers that undulate in ones life situation that continually shape the individual via the context.

Dan Inosanto described how Jeet Kune Do was the transcendent process of Jun Fan Kung Fu, which was what Bruce was teaching him, when they first met. Dan emphasised that Bruce had developed the view that attributes were more important than techniques, because they were Intrinsic to the Individual. Therefore the Individual should use Disciplines to develop attributes. The more invisible aspect of this perspective, is that in order to train attributes, requires self-knowledge!

Bruce describes Wu Wei and gung fu in the following quote;
A gang fu man frees himself from all mental suggestions of resistance and adopts a supple attitude.  His actions are all performed without self-assertion; he lets his mind remain spontaneous and ungrasped.  As soon as he stops to think, his flow of movement will be disturbed and he will immediately be struck by his opponent.  Every action, therefore; has to be done “unintentionally” without ever trying. (Bruce Lee.  Artist of Life. p. 50)

What did Bruce Evolve from a Movement Perspective?

We know from Bruce himself that the martial arts were a lens through which he learned about himself and life.  We also know that he was a prolific reader, and that his reading and experimentation fuelled his evolution.

The historical evidence posits Bruce as the Father of MMA.  This is because he was one of the first to dismantle rigid styles and disciplines that divided the broader martial arts community, and experimented with integrating them into a way of fighting that was seamless and could flow.

His fascination with water as a metaphor for this ultimate adaptability is still very much in use today. This points to another characteristic of Bruce as a Pioneer, in that one’s self study must arrive at the Timeless!  This means that whatever is said that points to the Timeless, is as relevant today, or at any time, because it transcends current trends and our obsession with variety over priority.

I would also suggest as someone that has studied Integral Theory, that Bruce was also a very practical exemplar of an Integral Pioneer.  Bruce read and studied Alan Watts writings and Watts was one of the first Integrators of East and West philosophy. Bruce, who was trained in Chinese Kung Fu (specifically Wing Chun) in his quest for effectiveness and efficiency, was happy to transcend cultural boundaries and draw from the best of ‘what works.’

Ken Wilber is the author who has devoted his entire adult life into the study of Big Picture Integration. Wilber’s model describes how elements come together to form Stable Intelligences that are stage and context dependent, which are then the ingredients for the next leap into emergent higher Intelligence.

The principle which describes this vertical development is Transcend but Include.  The ingredients at a lower level, are necessary but not sufficient at the transcendent level.
eg.  In the hierarchy of atoms/molecules/cells/organisms
Each level is whole and complete in itself, while also being the necessary element for the emergent level, which transcends it, but includes it.

All Development is Envelopment

Therefore on appropriate definition of Development would be that; Development is Envelopment.

We can see from the above description that Bruce looked at the entirety of the martial arts, Western Boxing and the Olympic sport of Fencing to create Jeet Kune Do.  This art form was Bruce’s best evolving perspective of an Integral Art, that was efficient according to the principles that were informing him at the time.
To set the record straight, I have NOT invented a ‘new’ style, composite, modified or otherwise; that is, set within a distinct form as apart from ‘this’ method or ‘that’ method.  On the contrary, I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles or patterns, or moulds.  Remember that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name used, a mirror in which we see ourselves.  The brand name is nothing special.  (Bruce Lee.  The Artist of Life. p. 154)

Muscles do not act by themselves without guidance.  It is the nervous system which guides them to perform.  A well-executed movement is the consequence of daily training for skill, by developing proper coordination of the nervous system with the muscles.  These muscles contract at the exact fraction of a second with the precise degree of intensity or looseness, depending upon the command of the nervous system.
The coordination or connection between the nervous system and the muscles improves with each performance.  Each effort not only strengthens the skill but paves the way for the succeeding acts to be easier, more definite and more exact.  But absence from performance deteriorates the connection and affects the execution of the movement.  
(Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method.  Skills in Techniques. p 46)

This intuitive statement By Bruce shows amazing accuracy from what we know today from neuroscience, rehabilitation and other fields.  He understood that muscles were an end-organ and that muscularity was not worth pursuing as an end.  In the above statement, Bruce is linking the capacity of the Central Nervous System (CNS) with Skill, Coordination, and Task Performance.  Any and all physical development is a property or by-product of the training and not an end in itself.

We all have limited time to devote to our training for performance or well-being and therefore we need to seek the most efficient means! This means physical training, time in nature, the people in our network, and the map or framework that is supportive of our growth and development.

The Physiology of Jeet Kune Do
Bruce fought right side forward, his basis for this was to place his strength at the front, for quickest and easiest access.  This perspective was also influenced by fencing, where one scores via footwork and the shifting of ones centre to strike.  In the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, he outlines both right and left lead stance.

The point is that this view of movement is ipsilateral, when in right lead stance, the the left body is the support for the right body to step.  e.g. right side kick or punch, or if in left lead stance, left side kick or punch.  Ipsilateral movements are in-phase movements where the girdles cooperate from midline body. e.g. jab, sidestep, side-kick, rolling.

At the time when Bruce was fighting, the side-kick was the primary kick used in kung fu and karate.  The ipsilateral strength is the jab, the side-kick and hook punch where the pivoting foot is the same side as the hand. The footwork that went with this was a side-step or in-phase step.

From a contralateral perspective, the attack changes to right cross and round-house kick, when in conventional stance.  The contralateral perspective is organised on the diagonal quadrants of the body and is the basis of walking, running and throwing.  Our most powerful movements are therefore contralateral, because the coordination of the girdles of movement is out of phase.  This is also because the stepping function is reinforced by pivoting on the rear foot as part of the weight transfer.

Interestingly in Bruce’s drawings and photographs, there is evidence of birds eye or transverse plane views.  Remember he was doing this in the late 60’s and early 70’s!  For me, this is evidence of a way of seeing that was beginning to explore the reality of rotation and transverse plane efficiency.  This means that the author is aware of the functioning of the girdles that drive locomotion.  ie. the pelvic and shoulder girdles.  This is still not well understood or explored even today, although I believe the use of Drone photography and filming will create the causes and conditions for this ability to be better understood.

Transverse Plane View of Striking. p 174 Tao of Jeet Kune Do

From a Postural perspective, Bruce was a product of the best knowledge of the time. From observation, Bruce had a flexion dominance, with an increase in kyphosis, meaning that his thoracic curve was increased in flexion, with slight forward head posture.

Despite his impressive flexibility, Bruce had a posterior pelvic tilt, meaning that his glutes and hamstrings had hypertonus and flattened his lumbar spine.

Bruce had excessive tonus in his rectus abdominus, particularly his upper abdominals.
When Bruce suffered his back injury that led to his writing of the ‘Tao of Jeet Kune Do’, this was probably caused by psoas tightness pulling on his lumbar vertebrae coupled with his flexed lumbar spine. There would have been an incident in his training, which tipped this insufficiency over the threshold of his control.

Sit-ups and other methods involving an over-training of trunk and hip-flexion, was the best that was known at this time, and Bruce was a product of this knowledge basis.

The outstanding characteristic of the expert athlete is his ease of movement, even during maximal effort.  The novice is characterised by his tenseness, wasted motion and excess effort.  That rare person, the ‘natural athlete’ seems to be endowed with the ability to undertake any sport activity, whether he is experienced in it or not, with ease.  The ease is his ability to perform with minimal antagonistic tension.  It is more present in some athletes than in others, but can be improved by all.(Tao of Jeet Kune Do. p. 43) 

Once again, Bruce was ahead of his time in his intuition. Antagonistic coactivation is the very highest knowledge that is available at this time around posture and function. All movement involves coactivation, where the agonist is the prime-mover and the antagonist, acts as an eccentric braking force on the motion, as a control factor. Posture can be seen as a coactivation between flexion/extension, adduction/abduction, and internal/external rotation + uprighting in the field of gravity.

The Importance of Footwork is Universal
The quality of a man’s technique depends on his footwork, for one cannot use his hands or kicks efficiently until his feet have put him in the desired position.  If a man is slow on his feet, he will be slow with his punches and kicks.  Mobility and speed of footwork precede speed of kicks and punches.  (Tao of Jeet Kune Do, p 142)

Moving is used as a means of defence, a means of deception, a means of securing proper distance for attack and a means of conserving energy.  The essence of fighting is the art of moving.  (Tao of Jeet Kune Do, p 143)

Krishnamurti’s Influence on Bruce’s Teaching

The late  Jiddu Krishnamurti was a NonDual Sage and Teacher.  The term ‘nondual’ is derived from the Sanskrit term ‘Advaita’ meaning ‘not two.’  The nondual teaching is a timeless teaching interested in the Fundamental Basis of Reality.  It is non-philosophical, in that in order to grasp the teaching, one must examine the nature of experience to determine its Reality.

It is beyond the scope of this blog, to go deeper into this teaching, other than to say, that in Bruce’s exhaustive research into the Ideals underpinning his growth and evolution, he came across the Perennial Philosophy and was attempting to imbibe the timeless principles into his art and life.  The language of Jeet Kune Do was heavily influenced by the language of nonduality, so Bruce was deeply considering, what it is to act and what it is to teach, from this perspective of spontaneity, openness and direct perception.

Leave sage hood behind and enter once more into ordinary humanity.  After coming to understand the other side, come back and live on this side.  After the cultivation of no-cultivation, one’s thoughts continue to be detached from phenomenal things and one still remains amid the phenomenal, yet devoid of the phenomenal.  (Tao of Jeet Kune Do, p 200)

The other side is Nirvana in the Buddhist tradition and is the Realisation that all phenomena are impermanent and that there basis is the Ground of Being, which is itself Unmanifest.  Therefore the art of living is non-attachment, which paradoxically frees one to live fully!

All goals apart from the means are illusions. Becoming is a denial of being.  (Tao of Jeet Kune Do, p 202)
The means described above are representative of your Understanding.  Understanding and action are unified in your performance.  Goals are symbols and represent a future time when the action will be present.  Goals being future and achievement based are not representative of the means, which are present and observable.

Jeet Kune Do exists in your not seeing me and my not seeing you, where yin and yang have not yet differentiated themselves.  (Tao of Jeet Kune Do, p 202)

In this description Bruce goes all the way in his pointing, where the dissolution of ‘otherness’ is the realisation of Oneness in Awareness.  If you were to ask anyone the question; Are you aware?  they will pause, and answer’ Yes.  Therefore Awareness Itself is undifferentiated, unconditioned and possessing no objective qualities; non-phenomenal.  Yin Yang is the Ultimate Symbol because it unifies in Oneness, what appears to be dualistic.

We can now truly appreciate Bruce’s life and message in that he used his short life as a self-study, using martial arts as the vehicle, to live and express the highest teaching.

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