Bruce Lee Interviewed by Pierre Burton:
By Steve Amoia
Our theme this month is perseverance. In my humble opinion, few in martial arts history represent that concept better than Bruce Lee. He overcame racial stereotypes to become a mainstream American actor before his unfortunate and untimely death. Equally important were his numerous contributions to the Martial Arts, along with his decision to teach non-Orientals (the correct term used during his lifetime) his passion for self-defense and self-improvement.
The following interview is a unique display of Mr. Lee speaking about a variety of themes. I will provide a few of his more salient quotes, and encourage you to view the video. If you are like me, you probably will watch it several times. The discussion occurred two years before his death.
Here is the link to the video:
I will also place this video link on our WDK Slayer News Blog for future reference.
We are taught to study techniques of the grand masters. It is rare to have the opportunity to study the mind of one. Please take 25 minutes to view the philosophies of Mr. Lee. Feel his passion, and absorb his words. They may strike you harder than one of his punches.
Commenting about film.
“To me, a motion picture is motion. You got to keep the dialogue down to a minimum.”
What are the Martial Arts?
“The Martial Arts include all the combative forms of fighting.”
Can you break five or six boards with your hands or feet?
“I’d probably break my hands and feet.”
Why did actors in Hollywood (such as James Coburn and Steve McQueen) want to learn martial arts?
“All types of knowledge ultimately mean self-knowledge. They came to me not only to so much to defend themselves or to do somebody in, rather, to learn how to express themselves through some movement, be it anger, be it determination... He is paying me to show him in combative form the art of expressing the human body.”
“The idea is unnatural naturalness or natural unnaturalness.”
On his opinion of styles:
“I do not believe in styles anymore. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a Chinese way of fighting, or a Japanese way of fighting… Styles tend to only separate men, because they have their own doctrines which became the Gospel truth, but if you don’t have styles, here I am as a human being, how can I express myself… That way you won’t create a style. Because style is a crystallization; not continuous growth.”
“But when you talk about fighting as it is, with no rules, well then baby you better teach every part of your body. And when you do punch, you got to put the whole hip into it, and snap it, and get all your energy into it, and make this into a weapon.” (He demonstrated).
On Tai Chi Chuan:
“It is a slow form of exercise called Tai Chi Chuan. It is more of an exercise for the elderly. Not so much for the young. Hand-wise it is very slow but you push it out and keep the continuity going. Bending, stretching, everything. You keep it moving. To them the idea is “Running water never goes stale.” You got to keep it moving.
On his best actor/student:
“Steve McQueen had that toughness in him. He just gets it done. James Coburn is a peace-loving man. He is really nice. Super mellow and all that. He appreciates the philosophical part of it more than Steve.”
On philosophy, art, and thought:
“Honestly expressing yourself. It’s easy for me to put on a show and be cocky… Or I can make all kinds of phony things. But to express oneself honestly, that my friend, is very hard to do. You have to train. When you move, you are determined to move… To become one with what you think.”
“Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless like water. Put water in a cup. It becomes a cup… Water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.”
Are you going to be able to live in both worlds and be a superstar in the States?
“The word ‘star’ is an illusion. You should look at yourself as an actor… Yes, I have been very successful, but when I think of the word star, I don’t look upon myself as a star.”
Have people come up and said “We don’t know how they’ll take a non-American?”
“The true Oriental should be shown… Unfortunately, such things do exist in this world, certain parts of the country, business-wise, it is a risk. I don’t blame them… If you honestly express yourself, it shouldn’t matter.”
“I think of myself as a human being. Under the sky, under the heaven, there is but one family. It just so happens that people are different.”
by Phoebe Nelson Oshirak, RN, Tai Chi Student
That’s right, something unexpected happened in our Tai Chi class. No one saw it coming. No one knew exactly when it happened, either. It wasn’t there a few months ago, and now it is. One thing I do know, it didn't happen overnight. And when it did happen, I didn't recognize it right off the bat. I mean, it didn't just come into to classroom and say, “Hey, wake up and smell the coffee, folks!” It happened gradually over time and with a lot of hard work.
The first time I became aware of what had happened in our class was last week when the new students arrived for the next 8 week Tai Chi session. I was pleased to see so many new faces. Coach Ron invited our class, (aka: Advanced Tai Chi class) to demonstrate the 31 moves of Sun Style Tai Chi for the incoming students. He wanted to demonstrate to them exactly what they, as Tai Chi students, could accomplish through dedication, attending class and spending a little time practicing at home. Needless to say, I personally felt a slight expansion the old ego when I was asked to demonstrate the moves for the new kids on the block. Of course it was not just I who would be performing the 31 moves it was the entire class; who have become my buddies and my friends.
We performed the 31 moves with grace and precision…using slow, even and continuous motion to execute each move. I noticed how synchronized with one another we had become after many months of working together. The realization hit me then and there. Something wonderful and remarkable had happened to our class. We were no longer merely Tai Chi students going through the moves. Somewhere along the line, we had transformed. A metamorphosis had occurred and we didn't even see it coming. But here we were, moving together as if we had been doing this side by side for a very long time. Right in the middle of the 31 moves it dawned on me that we were no longer a class of individuals.
What happened to our Tai Chi Class? We had become... a TEAM.
You know what they say: “The older you get the etc. etc. etc.” Add your own subject, they’re all true. My particular demon was time. Time that used to flow so slowly, so gently; day by day, week after week. Despite the fact that each new birthday accelerated the flow of time, I looked forward to a leisurely, slow paced retirement at age 65. But retirement simply made me available to all kinds of needs and wants of other people. At 70 I was busier than I had been at 60. The days, weeks and months were flying by at an unbelievable pace. I knew I couldn’t keep this up. By age 75 we had changed things; my wife and I were living in a condominium (let others do all that yard work, snow blowing, etc.), my term on the church council had ended and I had no committee, seminar or other outside commitments. Wow, now I’m really retired! Arthritis and all.
And then I saw the Geneva Lakes YMCA Program Brochure. Paged through it and was stopped cold on the Health and Fitness page by the words under the heading Tai Chi for Health: Arthritis, Back Pain Certified. I had suffered back pain and some spinal arthritis for many years and had been told by doctors that it will never get better. On-line research convinced me that Tai Chi might help both with pain and with the breathing and balance problems I’d been having. So I signed up for the 2006 Fall I session Intro class.
And that was the beginning of my journey. Coach Ron and the intro class grabbed my attention on the first day. I knew intuitively that this was something I could do. That this was something I had to do. So little by little, step by step, slow move by slow move, over the next nine months I advanced from form to form, Intro class into Tai Chi I, 6 forms into 12 forms into 24 forms into the full Tai Chi for Arthritis and part way into the 73 forms. I was being helped immensely in balance and breathing and my back pain had not gotten worse but seemed to have changed in nature. What had been lower back muscular pains coalesced into sharp lower spine pains. That prompted me to see my doctor who ordered spinal x-rays which confirmed his diagnosis of increasing calcification of the lower spine; two sets of vertebrae were locked up.
Then came the warning; a radiologist reviewing the spinal x-rays had detected an aneurism on my aorta. Four weeks later sad news: a CT had shown the aneurism to be growing, growing too fast. Doctors insisted I stop all exercise including Tai Chi, no physical strain whatsoever. I was sent to St. Luke’s in Milwaukee to see a cardiovascular interventionist who ordered an angiogram of the aorta and a battery of tests. The stent graft procedure followed three weeks later. After three more weeks of doing nothing, I was allowed to drive and to begin stretching exercises. Four weeks later the doctors turned me loose to go back gradually into Tai Chi and other exercises.
So I’m back in class again, willing but a bit wobbly. I know time (and practice) will bring me back to where I was when forced to stop. I really look forward to the classes and to a great group of fellow students. Tai Chi has changed my outlook on time, my outlook on life.
About that title up above: I named this article The Tai Chi Choo-Choo to remind everyone that Tai Chi, like a child’s choo-choo train, has no real destination. It is the journey itself that is all-important. That journey will slow down at times, speed up at times and may even go into reverse at times. But it is up to each of us, individually, to see that it never stops.
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