Martial Arts Meets Philosophy: Developing an Iron Mindset

Martial Arts Meets Philosophy: Developing an Iron Mindset

Bruce Lee is renowned as one of the greatest martial artists who has ever lived. Death took Lee at only age 32 (due to a bizarre allergic reaction to the tranquilizer meprobamate), but he had already left a stunning legacy. Beyond being an acclaimed actor and practitioner of the martial arts, Lee was also a philosopher. He first studied philosophy as a student at the University of Washington, but more than anything, Lee was a lifelong learner, someone consumed by self-knowledge and self-expression. He frequented the Taoism, Buddhism, and concepts of Stoicism, such as mental strength and the importance of virtue. Most of Lee’s output consisted of maxims and aphorisms; quick and short “how-to’s” that can be used as a guide to daily living.

What was the aim of his philosophical beliefs? According to Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living, Lee believed that “to free one’s self from preconceived notions, prejudices and conditioned responses is essential to understanding truth and reality.” However, Lee wasn’t dogmatic about his thoughts and beliefs; he thought each of us had to find their own way in life. According to Lee, “a teacher is never a giver of truth; he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that each student must find for himself. A good teacher is merely a catalyst.”

Lee wanted his students and readers to develop a flexible mind; a mind that was naturally inquisitive (Bruce called it “independent inquiry”). He wanted us to be able to come to our own conclusions and not rely on blind obedience to the thoughts of others. Striking Thoughts is organized into 8 distinct themes, and then 72 sub-themes.

The goal of this article is to analyze Lee’s thoughts to help enhance your own life and lead to more fulfillment and meaning. My analysis is in red.

Life Principles

The secret of lifeThe aphorism “as a man thinketh in his heart so is he” contains the secret of life. James Allen further added “A man is literally what he thinks.” This might be a shocking statement, but everything is a state of mind.

You are what you think; there is nothing more to it. So many people spend their lives looking for some secret to “figuring it all out.” There is no better “secret” than positive thoughts. However, these thoughts aren’t enough; action must be the end-goal. 

The root vs. the branches – What we are after is the ROOT and not the branches. The root is the real knowledge; the branches are surface knowledge. Real knowledge breeds “body feel” and personal expression; surface knowledge breeds mechanical conditioning and imposing limitation and squelches creativity.

Endless distractions have led us to embrace surface knowledge. Skimming the news, watching YouTube clips, avoiding long-form writing; all serve as roadblocks to deep learning. True success lies in embracing the ROOT, not the BRANCH. It takes dedicated, consistent practice and attention to detail. Most people aren’t cut out for this. Instead, they prefer to live in a sort of fog; jumping from one thing to the next without ever fully emerging themselves deeply enough to make a difference. 

The way of death – Throughout the ages, the end for heroes is the same as for ordinary men. They all died and gradually faded away in the memory of men.

Death brings the same result for all people, whether you are rich, poor, good-looking, or famous. The result is always the same. Within no time, you will fade from memory. So what’s the point of chasing riches? Of treating others poorly to get ahead? Instead, work on balance – you want your internal and external state to be in harmony with each other. When unbalanced, chaos ensues and unhappiness reigns. Embrace each of your days and live to do what you want to do, and not what others tell you to do. 

The end of man is action – The end of man is action, and not thought, thought it be of the noblest. In this world there are a lot of people who cannot touch the heart of the matter but talk merely intellectually (not emotionally) about how they would do this or do that; talk about it, but yet nothing is ever actualized or accomplished.

Action is everything. You’ll meet a lot of people who have a million ideas but never act on any of them. Such people are all talk, but deep down, afraid to act for fear of failure. This is what holds most people back, an overwhelming paranoia of failing and being judged negatively by their peers. It’s safer to speak of things instead of attempting them. True success artists ALWAYS take action immediately and deal with the consequences afterwards. 

An intelligent mind is an inquiring mind – An intelligent mind is an INQUIRING mind. It is not satisfied with explanations, with conclusions; nor is it a mind that believes, because belief is again another form of conclusion.

An intelligent mind comes to its own conclusions. It shuns the consensus opinion. While most people embrace conformity, the man with the inquisitive mind is always asking, “why?” Learning breeds success; those who are always seeking out new ideas run laps around those who stay mentally stagnant. 

Absorption vs. accumulation in education – It is not how much you have learned, but how much you have absorbed in what you have learned – the best techniques are the simple ones executed right.

Any fool can learn a lot of facts and trivia, but real intelligence lies in how deep such knowledge lies. Surface level earning has become the norm in today’s attention deficit economy; you must overcome such tendencies to take yourself to the next level. Remember: quality over quantity – there is no better rule of thumb. 

Adversity causes the mind to think properly – In a time when everything goes well, my mind is pampered with enjoyment, possessiveness, etc. Only in times of adversity, privation, or mishap, does my mind function and think properly of my state. This close examination of self strengthens my mind and leads me to understand and be understood.

Without adversity, we stay stagnant. This is precisely what happens to most people. Pain and trauma help us to break through plateaus and grow into a better version of ourselves. Doing the same thing over and over creates the same sub-par results. Growth comes when we embrace adversity and make drastic changes. 

Don’t add to your troubles – Serene, detached from all results, ready to fight or run, to win or lose, and always ready to laugh at things, take whatever comes. Your child is ill you say, or you cannot pay the rent? Very well, accept these facts and face them. Are they not trouble enough in themselves without adding the aggravation of worry to them?

We should focus our attentions only on that in which we can control. Everything else is just noise. Far too often, people bring ruin to their lives by obsessing over things outside of their control. They bicker and argue over tedious matters, and see constant drama as a way of life. Nature will always surprise us with misfortunes and setbacks. It’s how we respond that defines us. 

Aim at perfection in all endeavors – Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable; however, they who aim at it, and persevere, will come much nearer to it than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as unattainable.

Always give your best efforts, even in a losing cause. Have integrity in all that you do, for life is about more than achievement by any means. The lazy are never rewarded with anything; fortune favors those who try the hardest. If you are struggling in life, remember to keep giving it everything you have, and soon enough you will have a breakthrough. 


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