Bruce Lee. The very name conjures images of lightning-fast punches, rock-hard muscles, whirlwind footwork and a blazing intensity that demands attention.
If you’ve only known The Little Dragon from his movies, you’ve been missing out. Catch rare footage from his first American screen test, his demonstration at the International Karate Championships of 1964, of 2-finger push-ups (yes, doing push ups on 2 fingers), his infamous one-inch punch, and sparring sessions that, to me, make his movie fighting look slow (warning: video contains techno music!).
Mind-blowing, isn’t it? If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it first, because that’d make what I have to say next even more astounding.
Most of us who watch someone so amazingly skilled at what he does would think that Bruce must have had all the right talents and all the right opportunities to get where he did.
While he did undoubtedbly had potential locked within him, did you know he faced massive obstacles to unleash that giant within? In fact, did you know that at one time, he was injured so badly he was told he would never be able to practice martial arts again for the rest of his life? How did he overcome that?
What would you say if I told you that you might also have that same potential locked within you? Then the only question would be; how do you explode that talent’s growth? If there’s anyone who’s been there, done that, and can give us clues to the answer, it’s Bruce Lee.
6 Things You Didn’t Know About Bruce Lee’s Success
1) He never finished university.
Growing up a teenage in Hong Kong, Bruce would get into fights. After a particularly bloody one involving a trip to the police station, Bruce’s family decided to send him back to America where he was born.
In 1964, at the end of his junior year, Bruce decided to drop out of university to head the Seattle branch of his Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, and dedicate himself to expanding his martial arts schools, joining the ranks of people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, people who never finished university and became massive successes later on in life.
Not to say that Bruce was an idiot! In fact, he had been a philosophy major before he left the University of Washington. And not to say you shouldn’t go to university either! But Bruce never let the lack of a degree stop him from achieving his heart’s desires.
2) He almost never practiced martial arts again.
In 1970, with The Green Hornet series in which he co-starred in cancelled and finances tight, Bruce failed to warm up properly during one of his weight-training routines and severly injured his back.
The doctors told him to rest in bed, and to forget kung fu: he would never kick again.
To someone whom once said that everything he learned, he learned from martial art, this would be a devastating blow. With financial worries bearing down on him, Bruce could only lay flat on his bed for the next three months, and for another three months be confined indoors.
But even then, he refused to let this stop him. If he couldn’t work out his body, he could work out his mind. In those six months he wrote furiously, penning down his own thoughts and methods of the martial arts which he so loved.
In six months’ time, he had written eight, two-inch volumes of notes. And in all that time, with evidence to the contrary, he refused to believe that he wouldn’t heal; he was an avid believer that our thoughts create our reality.
After those six months he started working out again, moderately at first, and resumed teaching afterwards.
And even though his back would remain a source of pain throughout his entire life, you wouldn’t think it to see the man blazing faster in his movies than any able-bodied person.
3) His greatest achievement came from a less than perfect victory.
Bruce Lee’s greatest contribution to the martial arts world was his philosophy and martial system of Jeet Kune Do. But he didn’t make up this martial art from thin air.
In fact, the catalyst that gave birth to one of the most efficient martial arts in the world came from a less than efficient fight.
In the 1960s, Bruce Lee was challenged for daring to reveal the secrets of Chinese martial arts to non-Chinese. He won the fight, but found himself unusually winded afterwards, and was disturbed in thinking back that even though he could have ended it in one, the fight had taken three minutes instead.
Before that time, Bruce had been content with modifying the traditional martial art of Wing Chun. But because of that less-than-perfect experience, he pursued more sophisticated training methods and rigourously dissected the martial arts for the very best that he could find, and in time his own profound and deadly expression of the martial arts was born.
4) He had his opportunities stolen from him.
Did Bruce have it easy from the get-go, especially with someone that had such astounding skills you’d think Hollywood would have been banging down his door to sign him on?
After the cancellation of The Green Hornet series, Bruce couldn’t find much more television work. In 1969, a movie project called The Silent Flute, which he had put in massive effort and pinned high hopes on, fell through.
With his back still hurting, and financial disaster on the horizon, his wife Linda had to work, while Bruce stayed at home to watch the kids and rest his back.
During that time, Warner Brothers contacted him with what looked like a glimmer of hope; they wanted his help to develop a TV series based on the martial arts. He was deeply involved and gave them numerous ideas…many of which were used in the ensuring TV series Kung Fu, starring not Bruce Lee, but David Carradine.
Later on, Warner Brothers admitted that despite his heavy involvement, they had never even considered him for the role.
Ironically, this was the final straw that pushed Bruce to accept an offer by a Hong Kong film producer named Raymond Chow to make the movie that would propel him into superstardom; The Big Boss.
Bruce turned setback into success, when he met Raymond for the very first time Bruce told him; ‘You just wait, I’m going to be the biggest Chinese star in the world.’
5) He practiced incessantly.
What do you think was the price of his eye-popping feats and unbeatable athletism? Exercising two times a week and a bottle of beer in front of the TV after?
Bruce Lee trained religiously every single day, there are training records that suggest he practiced kicks…upward to a thousand times a day!
6) He was an avid reader.
He had a vast library of books and loved scouring the bookshops for more. He not only had a appetite for books on martial arts, but he also devoured books on the personal growth writers of his day, pioneers like Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale and Clement Stone.
He believed in personal development so much so he once penned down this prophetic personal affirmation in 1969, 2 years before his first hit movie The Big Boss:
I, Bruce Lee, will be the highest paid Oriental superstar in the United States. In return, I will give the most exciting performances and render the best quality in the capacity of an actor. Starting in 1970, I will achieve world fame and from then onward till the end of 1989 I will have in my possession $10,000,000. Then I will live the way I please and achieve inner harmony and happiness.
So What Was The Key To Bruce Lee’s Amazing Success?
At the beginning of this article, I asked you the question: what if you already had the same potential for greatness as Bruce Lee (in anything, not just martial arts) locked within you, how would you unlock it?
Who better to answer you than Bruce Lee himself?
Dedication, absolute dedication, is what keeps one ahead-a sort of indomitable obsessive dedication and the realization that there is no end or limit to this because life is simply an ever-growing process, an ever-renewing process.
Thank you, Bruce.
To end; let me share with you my all-time favorite Bruce Lee quote that says it all:
Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function of and duty of a quality human is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.
I have come to discover through earnest personal experience and dedicated learning that ultimately the greatest help is self-help-doing one’s best, dedicating one’s self wholeheartedly to a given task, which happens to have no end but is an on-going process.
Recommended Reading About Bruce Lee
The best Bruce Lee biography I’ve ever read in eleven years of being a fan (my copy is so worn the pages are falling off!), written by his widow, Linda Lee Cadwell.
Edit: Hadn’t realized it, but the original YouTube video no longer exists. I’ve updated it with a different clip showing even more rare footage – but still has bad techno music.
Update: Like this post? Learn the secrets of Bruce Lee’s charisma.