The master at work. Never has their been, or never will their be a greater example of the merging of the spiritual and the physical. In beauty, grace and depth, Bruce Lee is on his own island.
One of our greatest tragedies on par with the losses of the Kennedy’s, John Lennon, MLK. Bruce Lee is the epitome of what can be achieved with hard work, determination and grace.
This scene is from “Enter the Dragon”. Bruce’s best known work. There are so many dynamics to talk about and I will probably elaborate in depth at a later time. I write from memory as I have seen the movie twenty times.
It is the beginning of the movie and Bruce is teaching at a Shaolin Monastery in China. In the scene before this you will see Bruce do an amazing flip over the outstretched arms of ten monks, after he defeats the great vaudeville martial artist Sammo Hung in a demonstration.
He then sits down for tea with a Mr Braithewaite, a British Intelligence Agent who is sent to enroll Bruce in the effort to take down a Mr Han. Mr Han is the evil guy that gave Bruce those famous bloody tiger claw marks on his chest at the end of the movie. I could get into all the socio-political ramifications of Bruce’s life and this movie but, I will save it for another time. An example of one of the ‘slings and arrows’ that took down Bruce is the directors insistence that the agent’s name be Braithewaite, even though Bruce had a hard time pronouncing it. What makes people do this to the great ones, even other artists? Bruce still had a lot to teach us, but the death by a thousand cuts or rather a thousand ninja stars is what took him. Not the ‘brain aneurysm from an allergic reaction to aspirin’ that is in the file.
Bruce was always haunted by a sinister and powerful dark force. The force took the form of a giant samurai in the biopic “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.” Which is also the iconography that Terry Gilliam used for his heroes nemesis in “Brazil”, but I digress.
You cannot tell here the toll that everything had taken on Bruce, but he had lost much weight by the time he was making this movie. Why were so many people intimidated by a man who only stood 5’7 and spoke softly? His energy and charisma were probably the cause. You would be amazed at the effect that quiet, powerful, spiritual energy has on those who have agendas and are motivated by the rusty gears of their egos or worse. They squeak and squirm.
Now the fact that Bruce only made four or five movies, three of which are in Chinese before his tragic death in 1973, makes me cry, he was only 33. The fact that the 70’s TV show “Kung Fu” was his original idea, and that he could have starred in it if it weren’t for racist attitudes in Hollywood and elsewhere, is the biggest tragedy of all. Kwai Chang Caine, as played by David Carradine is one of the great TV characters of all time. It went on for 4 or more years and while David was good in the role, Bruce would have taken it to another level. Despite his suspicious and tragic death, the real tragedy is that we would have had 80 or more hour long episodes of Bruce showcasing his talent and art, if it weren’t for the racist attitudes of those in charge.
His death is controversial but it is obvious that racism and stress led to his early departure. The depth of his ‘emotional content’ could not overcome the pain and sorrow that an unjust and uncaring society places on those who try to make positive change. Bruce gave it his all though, and will live on forever as one of our great cultural and spiritual heroes.
Bruce was a great artist in many realms. His martial art choreography is unmatched, and his drawings and writings on the Tao are sublime. He was schooled in art and philosophy and his charm and charisma were off the charts.
In this video Bruce is able to show his beauty and grace in a softer way. Instead of whirlwind spin kicks sending an army to the ground…it is “Lao’s time”. Lao Tzu is an ‘old master’, the author of the Tao Te Ching, which can be translated as ‘the way of virtue.” The Tao also has a mystical quality about it, a oneness with nature and the natural elements which allow us to experience eternal truths and live more in harmony and accordance with natures laws. Chinese Transcendentalism if you will. Lao Tzu and Bruce Lee are great demonstrators of the beauty and power of ‘the way.”
Now in the video, a young student has come for a lesson, and a lesson he will get, but it is softer than it looks. The little slaps you see are not hard, but are meant to focus attention, to snap one out of it.
What you see first is Bruce and his student bowing to one another with equal respect. This is very rare in western society. Bruce is meeting his student as an equal, the bow and respect is for spirit, not hierarchy.
He then asks the student to kick him, which he does and Bruce easily moves away. He then says, “Again with emotional content.”
Again the kid kicks and it is a better effort but Bruce is still not satisfied. He wants emotional content, not anger from his student. Again he asks the kid to try again, “with meaning.”
“That’s it. How did it feel to you?” he asks the kid.
The kid replies, “Let me think.”
Bruce slaps him and gets in his face, “Don’t think! Feel!”
“It is like a finger pointing a way to the moon.”
The kid looks at finger and then get’s slapped again.
“Don’t concentrate on the finger”says Bruce, “or you will miss all the heavenly glory.”
“Do you understand?” he asks gently.
One of my favorite scenes from any movie, Bruce uses his voice, face and grace to ‘point to’ the beautiful metaphor of ‘the finger and the moon.’ It is a way to show how focusing on the trappings and peripherals of the activity rather than grasping its essence, is akin to focusing on the finger instead of the moon. The finger is there to ‘point’ the way, but the essence is the moon, or the experience of being. It is akin to Yoda’s famous quote, “there is no try, only do” or the sport’s analogy of ‘be the ball.’
The student bows and then is slapped again!
“Never take your eyes off your opponent, even when you bow.”
He sends him off encouragingly, “That’s it.”