Legend. Icon. Fighter. Unparalleled. Irreplaceable. Greatest Ever. These are just some of the words that come to people’s minds when they think of the great Bruce Lee. Even though he died at a very young age, he is still remembered as one of the greatest martial artists and actors of all time. His legacy will always remain as the greatest ever.
Even though he was predominantly known for this martial arts skills and acting in movies, not many people know that he was also one of the most underappreciated and underrated philosophers of the 20th century, who played a huge part in establishing and advocating Eastern traditions to the Western world and audiences.
Bruce Lee was a philosophy major when he was in college, where he took his own ideas and thoughts and combined them with ancient philosophies. He never failed to emphasize the strength of resilience, and how important of an attribute it was to possess it. It is from here that he came up with his famous water metaphor for resilience.
When he initially stepped foot in Hollywood, he was subjected to a lot of racial bias and was constantly sidelined due to his Asian heritage. During that time, white actors used to practice yellowface to play Asian characters, which were based on many hurtful and narrow-minded stereotypes. Lee was constantly told that the audience (which was mostly white) would never come to watch a movie that had an Asian in the lead role.
Even after he was cast in a lead role, several film studios refused to take him, his skills and emotional and mental depth seriously, and simply saw him as someone who is there to entertain everyone with his Kung-Fu skills. When they planned to edit out all the philosophical parts from Enter the Dragon, because they wanted the movie to be entertaining, Lee stopped going to the sets for two straight weeks.
He insisted and emphasized the fact that philosophy and Kung-Fu were intricately related to each other, and there is no point of one without the other. The studio had to finally give in to his vision, and that was one of the biggest driving factors behind the success of Enter the Dragon. The perfect and now timeless combination of Kung-Fu and philosophy did not just make the movie a humongous success, it established Lee as a torch-bearer of racial empowerment, and a cultural icon.
For Bruce Lee, philosophy was an inseparable and integral part of daily life, just like the mind is inseparable from the body.
For him, his philosophical meditations and meticulous workout routines were equally important, and he never took any of it for granted. He always carried a small notebook with him wherever he went, which was filled with the phone numbers of his students (which included Steve McQueen and Chuck Norris), his workout regimens, affirmations, philosophical thoughts, and poems.
Lee’s handwriting was always very measured and neat which was the perfect reflection of his strict discipline and purposefulness.
The most interesting and notable parts of his tiny notebooks were the affirmations he wrote in them. He used to write these notes to himself by articulating his personal opinions and philosophies aimed at his own personal growth but were at the same time, universal in nature, providing insights into human psychology, nature, and behavior.
Here is a look at the contents of the pages of his 1968 notebook, which were written shortly before Bruce Lee’s 28th birthday. The contents are transcribed below, starting with Napoleon Hill’s ‘Daily Success Creed’, which Lee used to write down in his pocketbooks.