Striking Distance Bruce Lee & The Dawn of Martial Arts in America Book Summary

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As this is a book of aphorisms, everything is a direct quotation, not my own thoughts.

You can never step in the same water twice, my friend. Like flowing water, life is perpetual movement.

Life — for its own sake. — Realize the fact that you simply “live” and not “live for.”

The meaning of life. — The meaning of life is that it is to be lived, and it is not to be traded and conceptualized and squeezed into a pattern of systems.

Pliability is life. — Be pliable. When a man is living, he is soft and pliable; when he is dead, he becomes rigid. Pliability is life; rigidity is death, whether one speaks of man’s body, his mind, or his spirit.

To live is to create. — To live is to express, and to express you have to create. Creation is never merely repetition. To live is to express oneself freely in creation.

The life of perfection is the simple life. — A simple life is one of plainness, in which profit is discarded, cleverness abandoned, selfishness eliminated, and desires reduced. It is the life of perfection which seems to be incomplete, and of fullness which seems to be empty.

Enjoy yourself. — Remember my friend to enjoy your planning as well as your accomplishment, for life is too short for negative energy.

To waste time is to expend it thoughtlessly or carelessly. We all have time to either spend or waste, and it is our decision what to do with it. But once passed, it is gone forever.

The root of concentration. — Concentration is the ROOT of all the higher abilities in man.


Seek to understand the root. — It is futile to argue as to which single leaf, which design of branch, or which attractive flower you like; when you understand the root, you understand all its blossoming.

The root vs. the branches. — What we are after is the ROOT and not the branches. The root is the real knowledge; the branches are surface knowledge. Real knowledge breeds “body feel” and personal expression; surface knowledge breeds mechanical conditioning and imposing limitation and squelches creativity.


Flow in the living moment. — We are always in a process of becoming and NOTHING is fixed. Have no rigid system in you, and you’ll be flexible to change with the ever changing. OPEN yourself and flow, my friend. Flow in the TOTAL OPENESS OF THE LIVING MOMENT. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.

Being in the Now. — Listen. Can you hear the wind? And can you hear the birds singing? You have to HEAR IT. Empty your mind. You know how water fills a cup? It BECOMES that cup. You have to think about nothing. You have to BECOME nothing.

The Moment is freedom. — I couldn’t live by a rigid schedule. I try to live freely from moment to moment, letting things happen and adjusting to them.

The Now is creative. — If you are in the NOW, you are creative.

The Now is inventive. — If you are in the NOW, you are inventive.

There is no anxiety in the Now. — When you are in the NOW, you can’t be anxious, because the excitement flows immediately into ongoing spontaneous activity.

“Is” vs. “should.” What is and what should be. — What IS is more important than WHAT SHOULD BE. Too many people are looking at “what is” from a position of thinking “what should be.”

Experiencing is believing. — A fat belly cannot believe that such a thing as hunger exists.

The law of self-will. — A self-willed man obeys a different law, the one law I, too, hold absolutely sacred — the human law in himself, his own individual will.

The law of harmony. — The law of harmony, in which one should be in harmony with, and not in opposition to, the strength and force of the opposition. This means that one should do nothing that is not natural or spontaneous; the important thing is not to strain in any way.

Don’t neglect life by worrying about death. — I don’t know what is the meaning of death, but I am not afraid to die — and I go on, non-stop, going forward [with life]. Even though I, Bruce Lee, may die some day without fulfilling all of my ambitions, I will have no regrets. I did what I wanted to do and what I’ve done, I’ve done with sincerity and to the best of my ability. You can’t expect much more from life.


Acceptance of death. — The round of summer and winter becomes a blessing the moment we give up the fantasy of eternal spring.

Fluidity is the way to an empty mind. You must free your ambitious mind and learn the art of dying.

The function and duty of a human being. — The function and duty of a human being, a “quality” human being, that is, is the sincere and honest development of potential and self-actualization. One additional comment: the energy from within and the physical strength from your body can guide you toward accomplishing your purpose in life — and to actually act on actualizing your duty to yourself.

The goal of a human being. — The human goal: to actualize oneself.

A human being is the creative animal. — It is the creative ability of a human being that separates him from all other animals.

We are capable of much more. — The fact [is] that we live only on such a small percentage of our potential: You do not allow yourself to be totally yourself. Society does not allow you to be totally yourself.

The necessity for acting on our beliefs. — Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.

Not to think, but to do. — Our grand business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.

The point is the doing. — The point is the doing of them rather than the accomplishments. There is no actor but the action — there is no experiencer but experience.

The end of man is action. — The end of man is action, and not thought, though it be of the noblest. In this world there are a lot of people who cannot touch the heart of the matter but talk merely intellectually (not emotionally) about how they would do this or do that; talk about it, but yet nothing is ever actualized or accomplished.

Wu-wei’s expression in daily life. — In ordinary life wu-wei is expressed in “producing and rearing things without taking possession of them” and “doing work but not taking pride in it” — thus the natural “way” stands in complement to all artificial ways such as regulation, ceremonies, etc. This is the reason why the Taoists don’t like formalities and artificialities.

On not expending one’s powers prematurely. — The work of conservation is shown to be a continuous actualization and differentiation of form. One does not allow oneself to be influenced by outward success or failure, but confident in one’s strength, one bides one’s time.

Don’t seek, but allow. — Do not seek IT, for it will come when least expected. Let go. Don’t seek or run away.

An intelligent mind is constantly learning. — An intelligent mind is one which is constantly learning, never concluding — styles and patterns have come to conclusion, therefore they [have] ceased to be intelligent.

Don’t be a slave to learning. — Learning is important but do not become its slave. Above all, do not harbor anything external and superfluous, the mind is the primary.

The thought of a distracted mind cannot be sincere.


Concepts vs. understanding. — If you learn concepts, if you work for information, then you don’t understand. You only explain. When a man is thinking he stands off from what he is trying to understand.

Balance your thoughts with action. — If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.

Concepts vs. self-actualization. — Instead of dedicating your life to actualize a concept of what you should be like, ACTUALIZE YOURSELF. The process of maturing does not mean to become a captive of conceptualization. It is to come to the realization of what lies in our innermost selves.

Abstract analysis is not the answer. — There is too much tendency to look inward at one’s own moods, and to try and evaluate them. To stand on the outside and try to look inside is futile; whatever was there will go away. This also applies to a nebulous thing described as “Happiness.” To try to identify it is like turning on a light to look at darkness. Analyze it, and it is gone.

The value of ideas. — Ideas are the beginning of all achievement — in every industry, in every profession.

Four idea principles. — The four idea principles are: Find a human need, an unsolved problem Master all of the essentials of the problem Give a new “twist” to an old principle Believe in your idea — and act! A five-step process to formulating ideas. Gather materials. Masticate the facts. Relax and drop the whole subject. Be ready to recognize and welcome the idea when it comes. Shape and develop your idea into usefulness.

Perception is continuous awareness. — Require not just a moment of perception, but a continuous awareness, a continuous state of inquiry in which there is no conclusion.

On social functions. — I don’t like to wear stuffy clothes and be at places where everyone is trying to impress each other.

Use the ego as a tool. — Those who are materialistic still hold onto the ego as though it were a possession, rather than using it as a tool. Inwardly, psychologically, be a nobody.

Too much concentration belittles life. — Concentration is a narrowing down of the mind — but we are concerned with the total process of living, and to concentrate exclusively on any particular aspect of life, belittles life.

Concentration leads to success. — One great cause of failure is lack of concentration.

Emotions are both positive and negative. — Realizing that my emotions are both Positive and negative, I will form daily Habits which will encourage the development of the positive emotions and aid me in converting the negative emotions into some form of useful action.

Simple pleasures. I like light rain. It gives one such a sense of calmness and tranquillity. I enjoy walking in the rain. But most of all, I like books. I read all types of books — fiction and nonfiction.

The more we value things, the less we value our selves. — We should devote ourselves to being self-sufficient and must not depend upon the external rating by others for our happiness. So it is true that the more we value things, the less we value our self. The more we depend upon others for esteem, the less we are self-sufficient.

Let friendships develop on their own. — Let friendship creep gently to a height; if it rushes to it, it may soon run itself out of breath.

On organized religion. — I have no religion whatsoever. I believe that life is a process and that man is a self-made product. The spirit of the individual is determined by his dominating thought habits.

To flow like water. — The method for health promotion is based on water, as flowing water never grows stale. The idea is not to overdevelop or to overexert, but to normalize the function of the body.

Absence in love. — Absence in love is like water upon fire; a little quickens, but much extinguishes it.



Young love vs. mature love. — Young love is a flame: very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.

You are judged by your acts. — If you make an ass out of yourself, there’ll always be someone ready to ride you. Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.

The nature of education. — Education consists in cultivation of intelligence (not cunning, passing exams, etc.).

The value of self education. — Self-education makes great men.

Absorption vs. accumulation in education. — It is not how much you have learned, but how much you have absorbed in what you have learned — the best techniques are the simple ones executed right.

Put my words to the test. — Remember, I am no teacher; I can merely be a signpost for a traveler who is lost. It is up to you to decide on the direction. All I can offer is an experience but never a conclusion, so even what I have said needs to be thoroughly examined by you.

The ideal teacher. — Not “what” to think but “how” to think. [Education] after all, it is merely the root to function from. Look for ways to raise the pupil’s mind above duality, to the absolute awareness which transcends it.

The six principle steps of teaching. Motivation of the trainee Maintaining their complete attention Promoting mental activity (thinking) — discussion, question, lecture Creating a clear picture of material to be learned; outlining the material Developing comprehension of the significance, the implications, and the practical application of the material being presented (clear goals) Repetition of the five preceding steps until learning has taken place.

Sincere students are rare. — Sincere and serious learners are difficult to come by. Many of them are five minute enthusiasts, some of them come in with ill intentions, but unfortunately, most of them are second-hand artists; basically conformers.

Never waste energy on worries and negative thoughts. — I mean who has the most insecure job as I have? What do I live on? My faith in my ability that I’ll make it. Sure my back screwed me up good for a year but with every adversity comes a blessing because a shock acts as a reminder to oneself that we must not get stale in routine.

Don’t add worry to your troubles. — Serene, detached from all results, ready to fight or run, to win or lose, and always ready to laugh at all things, take whatever comes. Your child is ill you say, or you cannot pay the rent? Very well, accept these facts and face them. Are they not trouble enough in themselves without adding the aggravation of worry to them?

You cannot clear muddied water with your hand. — Who is there that can make muddy water clear? But if allowed to remain still, it will become clear of itself. Who is there that can secure a state of absolute repose? But keep calm and let time go on, and the state of repose will gradually arrest.

Worry only creates problems for those around you. — One who is possessed by worry not only lacks the poise to solve his own problems, but by his nervousness and irritability creates additional problems for those around him.

You control the confrontation. — No one can hurt you unless you allow him to.


Adaptability is intelligence. — Intelligence is sometimes defined as the capacity of the individual to adjust himself successfully to his environment, or to adjust the environment to his needs.

Bend and survive. — There is another bit of Chinese philosophy that has a bearing on problems common to all human kind. We say, “The oak tree is mighty, yet it will be destroyed by a mighty wind because it resists the elements; the bamboo bends with the wind, and by bending, survives.”

Adapt like water. — Be like water; water has form and yet it has no form. It is the softest element on earth, yet it penetrates the hardest rock. It has no shape of its own, yet it can take any shape in which it is placed.

The importance of reading. — Reading, specialized reading, is the mental food.

The disease of philosophy. — Philosophy is itself the disease for which it pretends to be the cure: the wise man does not pursue wisdom but lives his life, and therein precisely does his wisdom lie.

The practical nature of the world. — This world is very practical. You do more work, you get rewarded more; you do less work, you lose your rewards.

Intense desire creates its own talents and opportunities. — We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. But it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents.

Two ways of making a good living. — There are two ways of making a good living. One is the result of hard working, and the other, the result of the imagination (requires work, too, of course). Some may not believe it, but I spent hours perfecting whatever I did.

Never prostitute your principles in your work. — I will never prostitute myself in any way that I do what I don’t believe in.

On office work. — I never wanted a job in an office or any job that I had to work eight hours a day at — day in and day out. I don’t think I could have stood it. I’m not the type of guy who can sit in the office doing the same routine day in and day out. I have to do something that is creative and interesting to me.

You have that personal obligation to yourself to make yourself the best product possible according to your own terms. Not the biggest or the most successful, but the best quality — with that achieved, comes everything else.

Defeat is a state of mind. — Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.


Don’t choose to waste energy. — Never waste energy on worries or negative thoughts. All problems are brought into existence — drop them.

Become what you think. — What you HABITUALLY THINK largely determines what you will ultimately become.

Choose the positive. — You have your choice — you are master of your attitude — choose the POSITIVE, the CONSTRUCTIVE. Optimism is a faith that leads to success.

A goal is not always meant to be reached. — A goal is not always meant to be reached. It often serves simply as something to aim at.

Daily progress. — Make at least one definite move daily toward your goal.

Faith in oneself. — What do I live on? My faith in my ability that I’ll make it.

The price of success. — He who wants to succeed should learn how to fight, to strive, and to suffer. You can acquire a lot in life, if you are prepared to give up a lot to get it.

The three keys to success. — Persistence, persistence, and persistence. The Power can be created and maintained through daily practice — continuous effort.

The good times will not always last. — I profited from my father’s philosophy about money. He used to tell me, “If you make 10 dollars this year, always think to yourself that next year you may only make five dollars — so be prepared.

Enjoying your work is the important thing. — At [one] time I wanted all the indirect things — money, fame, the big opening nights. Now I have it, or am beginning to get it, the whole thing doesn’t seem important any more. I have found that doing a thing is more important. I am having fun doing it. Money comes second.

When a man seeks your advice he generally wants your praise.


The individual and the “what should he.” — Why do you as an individual depend on thousands of years of propaganda? Ideals, principles, the “what should be” leads to hypocrisy.

Keep your mind uncontaminated by past conditioning. — The more and more you’re aware, the more and more you shed from day to day what you have learned so that your mind is always fresh, uncontaminated by previous conditioning.

Tradition enslaves the mind. — Classical methods and tradition make the mind a slave — you are no longer an individual, but merely a product. Your mind is the result of a thousand yesterdays.

The strength of emptiness. — Nothingness cannot be confined, the softest thing cannot be snapped.

Holding on prevents growth. — Tension: from NOW to THEN. People try to hold onto the sameness. This holding onto prevents growth.

Wu-hsin is making oneself empty. — I must give up my desire to force, direct, strangle the world outside of me and within me in order to be completely open, responsible, aware, alive. This is often called “to make oneself empty” — which does not mean something negative, but means the openness to receive.

Meditation is without mental effort. — Any effort the mind makes will further limit the mind, because effort implies the struggle towards a goal, and when you have a goal, a purpose, an end in view, you have placed a limit on the mind, and it is with such a mind that you are trying to meditate.

Freedom is self-knowledge. — Freedom lies in understanding yourself from moment to moment.

The second-hand artist seldom learns to depend upon himself for expression; instead, he faithfully follows an imposed pattern. So what is nurtured is the dependent mind rather than independent inquiry.

The most poignant sense of insecurity comes from standing alone; we are not alone when we imitate.


Perform your own mission in life. — If you look within yourself and are sure that you have done right, what do you have to fear or worry about? You are required only to perform your own mission in life without any thoughts of aggressiveness or competition.

Ignorance is blind. — Those who are unaware they are walking in darkness will never seek the light.

Self-actualization vs. self-image actualization.

Absorb what is useful. — Research your own experience; absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is essentially your own.

True individualism is self-sufficiency. — Evaluation by others is not a guide for me. Only the self-sufficient stand alone — most people follow the crowd and imitate.

That ultimately the greatest help is self-help; that there is no other help but self-help — doing one’s best, dedicating one’s self whole-heartedly to a given task, which happens to have no end but is an ongoing process.

To conquer oneself. — A man is born to achieve great things if he has the strength to conquer himself. To see oneself is to be clear of right.

Self-knowledge as the road to freedom. — Freedom lies in understanding yourself from moment to moment.


Head toward self-expression. — Head toward self-expression and self-actualization and not just a means of mediocre functioning or repetitious drilling on a chosen pattern.

Learning is boundless. — I dare not say that I have reached any state of achievement. I’m still learning, for learning is boundless.

Simplicity is hacking away the unessential. — It is not daily increase but daily decrease — hack away the unessential! The closer to the source, the less wastage there is.

The semi-actualized talk to impress. — False teachers of the Way of life use flowery words.

Simplicity is difficult. — It is indeed difficult to convey simplicity.

Extreme inactivity will, in the same way, return to become activity, which is yang. Activity then is the cause of inactivity, and vice versa. This system of complementary increasing and decreasing of the principle is continuous. From this, one can see that the two forces (yin-yang), although they appear to conflict, in reality are mutually interdependent; instead of opposition, there is cooperation and alternation.

Yin-yang is not dualistic. — The common mistake of the Western World is to identify these two forces, yin and yang, as dualistic; that is, yang being the opposite of yin, and vice versa. At best they see the two forces as cause and effect, but never paired like sound and echo, or light and shadow.

Extreme heat kills and so does extreme cold; no violent extremes can endure long, but a sober moderation [can]. Therefore positiveness (yang) should be concealed in negativeness (yin), and vice versa.

Truth must be experienced by the individual to be meaningful. — A fat belly cannot believe that such a thing as hunger exists. It is something you have to go through and understand. No one can eat and digest your food for you in order to give you the necessary strength to live.

Truth is not found in a book. — Truth is not to be found in a book. Furthermore, such a book merely presents a barrier to progress in your search for truth. Independent inquiry is needed in your search for truth, not dependence on anyone else’s view or a mere book.


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