Self-mastery is the key to your soul

There are very few people in this world who are true Renaissance Men, people who are full of wisdom, and whose thoughts continue to inspire years after they have passed.

Rarer still, are those people who truly embody the ancient adage that a person should have a good mind in a healthy body.

Bruce Lee was one of them.

His legend continues to shine bright. When people think of kung fu, when they think of martial arts, it is often the image of Bruce Lee that comes up.

Here was a man who trained hard, yet was not satisfied with only getting knowledge, but who strove to perfect it.

His jeet-kune-do was one of the earliest attempts to create a mixed martial art, combining the best techniques from both East and West.

Yet, this martial arts star was also a philosopher with deep thoughts on the nature of existence and a wide perspective on living a good life.

In her foreword to one of the biographies of Bruce Lee, his widow talks about the purpose that he had found and that drove him during his life.

In many ways, his vision was influenced by many philosophies, chiefly Taoism, but one of his core principles was very Stoic. It’s not the things that happen that make a difference between people, but instead, it’s the way a person chooses to react to their circumstances.

Bruce was a man who throughout his entire life was on a journey of self-discovery.

What made him larger than life, was that as he was undergoing this process, he was able to communicate his insights and teach others how they could embark on the same process.

In the foreword, his widow compares Bruce Lee to Michelangelo. Just as Michelangelo chipped away at blocks of marble to reveal a masterpiece, Bruce worked hard on revealing all the different layers of his soul.

Linda Emery, Lee’s widow, ends her homage to her deceased husband by revealing that he had found the meaning of life. For him, it was peace of mind.

The ultimate destination of Bruce’s journey was peace of mind — the true meaning of life.

Bruce Lee was a man who throughout his life surpassed all the different levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and arrived at self-actualization, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.

His thoughts are nuggets of wisdom, which can help you to arrive there yourself. Being a lover of philosophy and martial arts, they have inspired me greatly.

The Tao

The two forces (Yin-Yang), although they appear in conflict, in reality are mutually interdependent. Instead of opposition, there is cooperation and alternation.” — Bruce Lee

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical and religious tradition which has as its aim living a life of harmony.

Bruce Lee wrote that the Law of Harmony teaches that you should always be in harmony with the strength and forces of your opposition. This applies in kung fu and life.

The idea is if you do unfortunately have an opponent, you don’t beat him with force, but instead yield to him, and thereby have him beat himself with his own force.

Bruce Lee illustrated this principle by using the simple metaphor of reeds. While the branches of the fir tree snap if pressure is applied to them, reeds bend and overcome this pressure without breaking.

How to apply this lesson:

While for many people this lesson might seem a bit metaphysical, it has very real, practical applications. It is fundamentally about your deep core, your mindset, and how you conduct yourself.

Don’t get angry, don’t let outside circumstances bring you down. This is quite hard, and I fail all the time in this endeavor, but you only become better by practice and carrying on.

Kung Fu, Learning, and Improvement

Kung Fu is a special kind of skill, a fine art rather than just a physical exercise. It is the subtle art of matching the essence of the mind to that of the techniques in which it has to work.” — Bruce Lee

Bruce states that there are three stages of learning kung fu. In many ways, these are similar to learning any new skill.

You start off in the primitive stage, in which you don’t know anything. At this stage, you just do whatever comes naturally, but not in a scientific way.

Then comes the so-called stage of “the art”. This occurs after you start learning a skill and this learning is usually jumpy. Often, you stop and think about things too much, and end up intellectually bound.

However, after many years of training, you reach the stage of artlessness. Here things start coming naturally. Instead of trying to impose your mind on the world, you start flowing with the blows. You become formless, just like water.

For Lee, whenever you start learning a new subject, you have to approach it with a beginner’s mindset. If your cup is full, then you have no room for learning. In order to absorb new things, first, you have to empty your cup.

How to apply this lesson:

Whenever you are learning something, don’t let your ego get in the way. I remember many times when I was learning a new subject and thought I knew better. I regret these things, even years later after they happened.

In order to avoid this problem, always adopt a beginner’s mindset.

Separating Facts from Opinions

Objective is factual. Subjective is a matter of opinion. There is a big difference between why you THINK something is wrong and to justify, explain, prove that something is wrong.” — Bruce Lee

Thinking something, and being to support it with evidence and justifying it, are two different things. Many people have opinions on various things, yet they never examine why they believe what they do.

They equate their subjective opinions with objective facts when in reality there is a huge difference between the two.

How to apply this lesson:

You need to learn about separating facts from opinions. Engage in meta-cognition, keep an open mind, and always be ready to change your mind if new facts come to light that contradicts your position.

On Knowledge

All types of knowledge, ultimately mean self-knowledge.” — Bruce Lee

As the ancient sages used to say, the first towards living a better life is knowing yourself. This involves learning about your inner nature, but also the outside world.

For we function in terms of the environment around us. Learning about how the world works at the end feeds into learning about ourselves.

How to apply this lesson:

Learn, learn, and learn some more. Learn by experience. Challenge yourself to do hard things, like playing sports, fitness, or climbing mountains. It is amazing how much you can learn about yourself, your mindset and your willpower, in the process.

Learn by reading. Read books about a variety of subjects. Be curious, and never say that something is not interesting or boring. Nothing is boring, only your own mindset.

The Difference between Self-Actualization and Self-Image Actualization

Many people dedicate their lives to actualizing a concept of what they should be like, rather than actualizing themselves. This difference between self-actualizing and self-image actualizing is very important. Most people live only for their image.” — Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee saw that most people instead of working on improving themselves, prefer to live for their image. Most people have a huge void in the place where their authentic self should be.

Social media has made this belief even more present. People spend more time trying to take the perfect picture for Instagram, spending countless hours applying all kinds of filters, instead of using that time to actually work on themselves.

They believe that by projecting a false image on social media, they will somehow become a better, more successful person. However, as Bruce Lee observed, life should not be about optimizing an image of yourself, life should be about optimizing yourself as a human being.

How to apply this lesson:

Stop with the selfies, stop with instant gratification. Pick something challenging and do it. Work on improving yourself, and not your image.

Personal Growth and Willpower

A self-willed man has no other aim than his own growth.” — Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee’s philosophy of personal development was driven by one mantra:

Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.

You always need to look for ways to expand your horizons, to keep on growing. This was how Bruce lived his life, always finding new challenges to tackle, always learning about himself, always discovering how the world works.

How to apply this lesson:

A self-willed person goes against the herd, not paying attention to what the masses are doing. If the rest of the population is doing stupid things, there is no reason you should follow in their footsteps.


There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” — Bruce Lee

For Bruce, a goal was not always something meant to be reached, but it served as something to aim at. If you reached it, awesome, but if you didn’t, at least you made the effort to get there.

Failure is not something to be bothered about. It just means you are learning. It is better to aim high and fail, rather than just sit on the bench.

Failure is also an important feedback mechanism. It tells you that what you are doing right now is not working, and you need to adjust your process.

In the world of Bruce Lee, there were no limits. He only saw plateaus that with the right amount of effort could be overcome.

How to apply this lesson:

If you train hard, there are very few things that can block you. Things that seem out of reach at the beginning, will become quite doable after you make an effort to reach them.

The effort you put in will be greatly reflected in the output. Impossible will become quite possible.

The Nature of Mankind and Happiness

The better the man, the more happiness. Happiness is the synonym of well-being.” — Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was a student of philosophy, and not only the Eastern variety but also Western. In his writings, he often mentions philosophers like Plato or Aristotle.

In many ways, he agreed with their virtue ethics. You should always do the right things for the right reasons. This is the basis of happiness.

How to apply this lesson:

Always do the right things for the right reasons. Don’t be tempted by the Dark Side.

Bruce Lee’s Legacy

Bruce Lee has been quite an inspirational figure for me. Ever since I saw my first kung fu movie with him in the starring role, I knew I wanted to be like him.

At first, I thought he was only a tough martial artist, but as I grew up, I also discovered his deeper, philosophical side.
Bruce Lee is a man who has left a legacy of wisdom, which when applied can change a person’s life.

When you realize that while the two opposing forces, yin and yang, of the Tao are interdependent, you start seeing the world in a different way.

You realize that your opponents can defeat themselves, the only thing you need to do is keep a calm mind.

Kung fu is not an art of attack, but one of self-defense, and a way of life. The way you learn a martial art is the same way you learn anything. The key is to have a beginner’s mind, to empty your cup.

Bruce Lee teaches us to realize what is important in life. This then should be manifested in your acts.

It is not about the image that you project, but what type of person you are inside.

In the modern world, many people try to project the perfect face, the perfect life on social media, but in reality, feel empty inside.

For Bruce, it was personal growth that needs to fill that void. Set goals, and strive to achieve them. For you should constantly be trying to reach higher.

This is the way to learn about yourself, and ultimately to reach happiness.



This story was originally published on “Medium” here.

Credit: 1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.