Most of my acquaintances will tell you that I look like a very unassuming kind of guy. A geek my whole life, I have always worn dweeby clothes and never really put on airs pretending to a high degree of badassery. If you see me walking down the street you do not hear the song “Bad To The Bone” playing. Rather, it would probably be “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”. Normally, it wouldn’t bother me, but occasionally I find myself running afoul of a redneck. Living in Kentucky, this is bound to happen. Additionally, it happens to me even more since I work Security for a local business and have to ID various contractors from day to day, some of whom are felons with a natural disposition to resent, and resist, authority. Most of the time I seek my Center (or Zenter, if you will excuse the terrible pun) and let it roll off of me like so much hogwash. Yet, I must confess that occasionally I do want to surrender to my inner tiger and uppercut a couple of “good ol’ boys” when they say something passive-aggressive (often in passing and at a distance since such people are always cowards). The thing is, as my acquaintances will attest, I don’t look like a fighter. In fact, I am of a slender build and have fluffy hair (which my fiancee adores, thankfully) and I tend to cultivate a courteous demeanor. I am, in some ways, not unlike a certain Martial Arts master whose philosophy and fighting acumen have inspired me throughout my life. This person, of course, is the legendary Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee was one of the reasons I began my Martial Arts journey over two decades ago. Here was a man whose life was written by the philosophy he believed. Moreover, he was a peerless fighter who pioneered so many things which the rest of us Western Martial Artists take for granted. For example, he was one of the first to teach Martial Arts to Americans. He also formulated his own Martial Arts—called Jeet Kune Do, or the Way of the Intercepting Fist—and embodied a philosophy that reconciled a lot of Eastern and Western thought into something that was greater than the sum of its parts. He was a Renaissance Man. Idolizing him, I studied Chung Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do— in which I earned my first black belt— Kajukenbo Karate, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, and boxing. Studying him in the dojo, (or dojang), helped me not only to handle the rednecks of the world, but my own need for self-discipline and self-betterment. His lessons lent themselves to all the areas of my life. As a writer and an artist I utilize what he taught me. The pursuit of perfection, after all, is endless, and he inspired me to emulate his focused drive in the life I live (even if I falter and fall short of the aim sometimes).
Yet, there was more to him than jump kicks and two-inch punches. Despite being an amazing Martial Artist, Bruce Lee also valued the Yang aspect of Martial Arts, or passivity. His notion of the“art of fighting without fighting” wasn’t just some catchy koan to throw about to sound wiser than the people around you, but something that hints at the core of humanity and the basis of continued civilization. That is to say, our world works as well as it does because we do not, generally speaking, kill the guy who disrespects us. This refusal to follow Nature’s “tooth and claw” paradigms saves the world every minute of our lives. Without it, we would be feral beasts succored on blood.
I have lived a long time among the redneck demographic and I know that if there is an alligator nearby they will want to grab it by the tail, heedless of the consequences. And I COULD bite, if I ever surrendered to the inclination, but I instead choose to keep calm and persist in friendliness as much as I can. When I have confronted these cowards, they tend to walk away, mouthing things under their breath. Later, when they are entering the plant again, I tell them “Good morning” or “Have a good day” and they will, for the most part, mumble something likewise while staring at the ground. See, that is how I have won: they realize what they have done and become ashamed of themselves. That is the art of fighting without fighting. That is the wisdom Bruce Lee gave to me.
I rarely plug anyone’s book, but a book I have owned for over a decade now is the wonderful “The Warrior Within” by John Little. It was endorsed by Bruce Lee’s widow, Linda, and is a great place to start understanding the legend and how he can inspire all of us. It has many anecdotes and quotes and several sections regarding different aspects of Bruce Lee’s life. One of the most wonderful passages is in the section wherein Bruce Lee’s ideas about romantic relationships are discussed. He believed something that I, too, believe in regard to my own relationship with my fiancee: he says that he and his wife were like coals, burning warm and long together rather than flaring out in a blaze of passion. This, I believe, is the perfect image of a mature, healthy relationship and is the same sort of relationship I share with my fiancee. We do not party. We do not rely on mutual friends. We stay together and are happy, even if the whole world should fizzle out, leaving us together, burning contentedly in the ashes of the world.