Bruce Lee: Will There Ever Be Another?

We recently saw the 75th anniversary of the birth of arguably the most celebrated martial artist of all time: Bruce Lee. An artist, actor, and philosopher, Lee set the bar for a generation of martial arts film buffs. While others have come close, none have touched the master.

One of the more interesting contributions Lee made to martial arts was his mastery of many forms, yet the rejection of form at all. As a young man, Lee became involved in a few street fights, so his parents decided it was time for him to learn some self-defense. His father began the training, but eventually Lee studied Wing Chun in a formal setting. Unfortunately, the fights continued and eventually Lee was sent to America to live with family there. He began teaching martial arts as he understood them, and it was this journey that led to his belief that street fighting should not simply be one form or another.

The “style of no style” emerged, using training combinations of martial arts, fencing, boxing, weight training, running, and stretching. This unmeasured and chaotic form of training was what Lee believed would make the most successful street fighter. The rigidity of the different forms prevented him, he believed, from adapting to the unexpected in street fighting, so a more well-rounded approach to training would make him a more flexible fighter.

It certainly gave him a leg up in the film industry. To this day, no martial artist has developed an original approach and adapted it to the screen the way Bruce Lee did. Fight sequences in a Lee film seem natural, spontaneous, and sincere, while too many others seem orchestrated, dampened, and artificial. There simply is no film in 2015 to hold a candle to Enter the Dragon or Fist of Fury, largely because Lee insisted on so much input and control during filming.

Perhaps with the resurgence of martial arts in television and film, artists will be motivated to seek the purity of the Lee genre of martial arts and its expression in film. Until then, we content ourselves with worthy attempts to revive the philosophy, scale, and power of Lee’s life in martial arts and film.

Zombies and Aikido

If you caught last night’s episode of The Walking Dead (“He’s Not Here”), you got a pretty good look at some of the truths about aikido (and not many answers to plot line issues). The self-sacrificing mentor uses aikido as a therapeutic tool to both equip his student with self-defense, but also to face his inner demons and change who he is and ultimately becomes. And this is a truly beautiful thing about the art.

Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba explains the philosophy behind the art: “Regardless of how fast or slow my attacker advances, I will not be taken off guard nor defeated. This is not because my technique is faster than that of my opponent. Fast and slow are of no consequence. The contest has already been decided from the beginning, merely by having the intention to fight with one who embodies the universe, my attacker has fixed his mind on violating the harmony of nature itself. In other words, the moment my attacker fixes his attention on fighting with me, he has already lost.” The aikido practitioner is in harmony with nature and the universe. This isn’t just a matter of mastering speed, balance, strength, and agility. This is an inner discipline that requires constant attention and practice, much more so than the physical training.

To become as one with nature and our surroundings, we come to terms with ourselves first. Morgan, in The Walking Dead, overcomes his own rejection of moral principles during his aikido training to arrive at a place where he is at peace, though his new lifestyle is immediately and sadly put to the test. We may not have walkers to conquer, but our own lives are imbued with challenges to harmonic existence that must be grappled with on a daily basis. Aikido leads us down a path of protection and potential benefit for all, rather than the zero-sum outcome of other conflict-management methods. If we can bring ourselves and our opponents to a place of contentment, Aikido has succeeded.