When Preparation Meets Opportunity
by Linda Lee Cadwell
Allow me to describe to you a particular day in Bruce Lee's life - a day when he failed to achieve the level of expectation he had set for himself; a day that became a turning point in his life. The stage for the unfolding drama was the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute on Broadway in Oakland, California, a training gym established by Bruce and James Y. Lee. Because I was about eight months pregnant with Brandon, I recall quite clearly that the events of this day took place either in late December 1964 or early in January 1965.
Present to witness the historic milestone were Jimmy Lee and myself and several martial artists from San Francisco, whose names I never knew, although they appeared to be elder masters. The featured players were Bruce and a Chinese martial artist (younger than the elders), who undoubtedly had been picked to represent the interests of the San Francisco group. Discussion of the issue that led up to this meeting could be an essay in itself, when viewed from the perspective of Chinese encounters with the West going back at least to the Boxer Rebellion. Suffice it to say that, in this instance, the traditionally trained Gung Fu masters did not look favorably on Bruce's teaching martial art to Westerners, or actually to anyone who was not Chinese. So strongly did they harbor this historically bound belief, that a formal challenge was issued to Bruce, insisting that he participate in a confrontation, the result of which would decide whether he could continue to teach the "foreign devils." Bruce's philosophy echoed that of Confucius: "In teaching there should be no class distinctions." Therefore, without hesitation or doubt, Bruce accepted the challenge and the date was set.
The fight that ensued is more important for the effect it had on the course of Bruce's life than for the result of the actual confrontation. However, here is a brief description of the physical action: Within moments of the initial clash, the Chinese Gung Fu man had proceeded to run in a circle around the room, out a door that led to a small back room, then in through another door to the main room. He completed this circle several times, with Bruce in hot pursuit. Finally, Bruce brought the man to the floor, pinning him helplessly, and shouted (in Chinese), "Do you give up?" After repeating this question two or three times, the man conceded, and the San Francisco party departed quickly.
The entire fight lasted about three minutes, leaving James and me ecstatic that the decisive conquest was so quickly concluded. Not Bruce. Like it was yesterday, I remember Bruce sitting on the back steps of the gym, head in hands, despairing over his inability to finish off the opponent with efficient technique, and the failure of his stamina when he attempted to capture the running man. For what probably was the first time in his life, Bruce was winded and weakened. Instead of triumphing in his win, he was disappointed that his physical condition and Gung Fu training had not lived up to his expectations. This momentous event, then, was the impetus for the evolution of Jeet Kune Do and the birth of his new training regime.
Let me emphasize that, to my or just about anybody else's observation, in early 1965 Bruce appeared to be in superb physical condition. Growing up in Hong Kong, Bruce was not an especially genetically gifted youngster. In fact, his mother recounted to me that Bruce was a skinny little kid whose schedule of attending school in the day and (often) working on films late into the night did not foster a healthy lifestyle. However, from the age of thirteen, when he began to study Wing Chun under Master Yip Man, Bruce trained continuously and arduously on a daily basis, so that when I met him in 1963 he appeared to be in great shape. After the Oakland confrontation, this was not good enough for Bruce -- he knew he had to do more and better to be prepared to realize his dreams when the opportunity arose.
For Bruce, it was not simply a matter of running extra miles, doing more reps, or increasing poundage in his weight training. He approached the resolution of the "problem" in a scientific manner: (1) Set new goals for fitness and health, (2) research the best ways to accomplish the desired changes, and (3) implement the new methods using a scientific approach, recording progress and modifying the approach when necessary. There was nothing haphazard about Bruce's training regime, neither was he particularly "lucky" in having started out with natural physical gifts. The greatest talents that Bruce brought to realizing his dreams were intelligence and curiosity (hand in hand, a powerful combination), dedication and perseverance (stick-to-itiveness even in the face of intervening obstacles), and focus (enjoying the journey as much as the destination).
Sometimes I am asked, "How did he have the time to do so much training?" The answer is simple-that was how he decided to spend his time. The choices he made in each of his 24-hour days included devoting several hours to training his body and mind in order to be the best that he could be. This is also where the wealth of his imagination came into play. In addition to regularly scheduled training times, it was "normal" for Bruce to be involved in several things at the same time: reading a book, curling a dumbbell, and stretching a leg, for example; or playing some kind of physical game with the children; or doing isometric-type exercises while driving his car. As a child he was nicknamed, "Never Sits Still"; he was the same as an adult.
The process that Bruce undertook to achieve his goal of superior fitness forms the contents [of the book,] The Art of Expressing the Human Body, the title of which was so aptly coined by Bruce in describing his way of martial art. Bruce's martial art, Jeet Kune Do, which is an all-encompassing approach to living life at the pinnacle of developed potential, naturally includes training the physical body to achieve its peak performance. A fitting description of Bruce's devotion to his art is to say that he attained the apex of functional beauty.
When reading this volume, it is more important that the reader recognize the process Bruce employed rather than dwell on the specific exercises and daily schedules. Rather than merely copy exactly what Bruce Lee did in his exercise sessions, one should take note of the numerous sources-both technical and through personal observation-Bruce employed in his research and seek to follow this scientific pattern of problem resolution. With the explosion of the fitness- health-wellness industries in the past several decades, there certainly is a great amount of information available to the inspired student. Bruce would have immersed himself in the new research and would encourage you to do likewise.
Always improving, never arriving at the peak, but always undergoing the process, Bruce enjoyed the never-ending journey toward physical perfection. In other words, the means were as important as the goal, which was to be prepared when the opportunity arose to share his "art of expressing the human body." The record that survives of Bruce's preparation for opportunity consists, of course, of his classic films as well as the training notes he left, many of which are contained in this volume.
For myself, Bruce has served as a lifelong inspiration to be physically active and health- conscious. Throughout our lives together he was my teacher as well as husband, friend, and father of my children. I continue to rely on his example for daily motivation. Now, in the form of this book, an opportunity arises for the reader to share in Bruce's art and inspiration.
Paraphrasing Aristotle, the exclusive sign of a thorough knowledge is the power of teaching. It will become evident to the reader that Bruce had a thorough knowledge of fitness and training. Rather than clinging to the bits of factual information in this volume, it is more important to understand the method. We can all show our gratitude to Bruce for the example he left us by allowing the gift of Bruce's teaching to empower us to know "the way" to reach our maximum potential so that preparation will arise to meet opportunity.