Absorb what is useful (Bruce Lee)

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Absorb what is useful (Bruce Lee)

Welcome to today´s episode of the Martial Podcast. This episode is about a quote by the famous Bruce Lee. He said: “Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.”

As always you can either listen to the audio or read the full transcript below:


Hi and welcome to episode No. 8 of our Martial Podcast. My name is Martin, I´m a martial arts instructor from Austria and as always I want to talk a little bit about a specific martial arts topic.

This time it is about a quote by Bruce Lee – one of the most famous and probably best martial artists of all time.

And the quote is:

Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.

So there are three different pieces to this quote:

  1. Absorb what is useful.
  2. Discard what is not.
  3. Add what is uniquely your own.

Apparently Bruce Lee was a strong believer that there is no such thing as the best martial art.

In fact, he didn´t believe in systems. He believed in the individual. Everybody should express himself in an individual way.

But let´s look at all these pieces one at a time. So let´s begin with …

Absorb what is useful.

As you perhaps know, Bruce Lee developed a martial art or better yet a martial art concept called Jeet Kune Do. And he based this art on several other martial arts and training methods.

And one of these martial arts was Wing Chun Kung Fu, which he trained during the time he lived in China.

But as he moved to the United States he was not teached any longer by his Master Yip Man. The reason for this was, that he didn´t want Bruce Lee to show western people Wing Chun. And as he already did that, Yip Man refused to teach him any longer.

And by the way: Have you ever compared the Wing Chun Wooden Dummy form with the Jeet Kune Do Wooden Dummy form? The first half of the form is very similar. But the second half of the form – especially near the end – is totally different.

So apparently Bruce Lee had to add the missing parts as Yip Man didn´t show him the full Wooden Dummy form.

So now you may think that this was a bad thing, that Yip Man didn´t teach him any longer.

But in fact, it was a good thing for Bruce Lee. Because now he began to think for himself.

He began to absorb what was useful to him.

He now began to discover other martial arts. One of these was Kali which he learned from Dan Inosanto. And if you have seen his movies than you will know About Bruce Lee´s incredible skill set when it comes to nunchucks.

And of course he incorporated the weaponless style of fighting in Kali too – called Panantukan or Filipino Dirty Boxing.

But all of that was not the end of the story. There was still more to come.

In his pursuit to develop the perfect system of fighting for himself he met with a lot of other martial artists in order to exchange views.

One of these people was Chuck Norris who showed Bruce Lee his way of kicking. Bruce Lee on the other hand showed him a training method called Chi Sao or sticky hands. This is an effective way to get very fast reactions in close distance fighting. And it is derived from Wing Chun.

And over the years Bruce Lee kept absorbing what was useful to him. He also incorporated certain footwork from a French martial art called Savate and he made use of the footwork of the famous western boxer Muhammed Ali.

He even incorporated something from fencing – namely the feinting which is used heavily in fencing. Bruce Lee took that and converted it to use in his new fighting method called Jeet Kune Do.

But of course, just absorbing things from other martial art styles is not enough. And to incorporate just everything from other arts – without asking yourself if it is useful or not – would not be a very wise idea.

So there is a second piece to the equation and that is …

Discard what is NOT useful.

According to Bruce Lee traditional martial arts tend to fool around and overcomplicate certain techniques.

But in his opinion there is nothing better than simplification. In his view simplicity is the key to brilliance.

He even said once that he doesn´t fear the man who has practiced 10.000 different kicks once. Though he fears the man who has just practiced one kick – but this one kick over 10.000 times.

So according to Bruce Lee it is not about accumulating thousands of techniques. It is far better to know just a few – but to really master these few techniques.

So he was always trying to discard unnecessary things in order to develop a really effective way of fighting.

But there is still one piece left as Bruce Lee always overemphasized the individual. And as absorbing what is useful and discarding what is not is just focusing on particular martial arts, he also mentioned that you should …

Add what is uniquely your own.

To specify this: Have you ever read Youtube comments on popular Wing Chun Videos?

Quite often a viewer mentions that this is no proper Wing Chun as the instructor did the Bong Sao in a wrong way. However it has to be a textbook example of a Bong Sao – otherwise it is not Wing Chun.

Have you ever read things like that in the comment section on Youtube? I did a lot.

Bruce Lee had a very different opinion on that. In his view there is no gospel truth. So there is no correct way to do a Bong Sao.

Because what´s the point of doing something by the book? If a technique is more effective by doing it differently, than please do it differently!

There is no need to be a traditionalist.

Of course adding something on your own is not a reasonable way at the beginning. And even at an intermediate level it doesn´t make that much sense. But as you get better and better you should begin to think for yourself.

Try to create your own style of fighting – as you and I are not exactly the same.

Probably you are much more flexible or stronger than me. Or you have longer or shorter limbs than I have. Or you are much taller than me. Or you are shorter than me. Or you are older than me – or younger.

Perhaps you have an easy time performing kicks. Or you have a very hard time to do them as your hip flexibility is very bad.

So you are unique and I am unique. So why should you train exactly the same as I do?

But let me conclude today´s episode of the Martial Podcast with another quote by Bruce Lee himself. He put it that way:

“I´m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you´re not in this world to live up to mine.”

And therefore:

Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. And add what is uniquely your own!

… … …

Have a nice day and a good training!

And see you next time at the Martial Podcast.

Sifu Martin Grünstäudl – themartialstudio.com


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