By Christopher Busbin
“Art calls for complete mastery of techniques, developed by reflection within the soul.”
Bruce Lee changed the world of film with his powerful charisma and unparalleled martial arts skill. He continues to inspire millions around the world today through those films, as well as his many books published after his death. A teacher, actor, philosopher, entrepreneur, and author, Bruce accomplished many things in his short 33 years of life. Although much of Bruce’s writing was devoted to his passion for martial arts, his books are much more than how-to’s on kicking ass. Bruce’s insights have applications across many kinesthetic arts. Here are a few of his lessons that can help you become a better dancer.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Don’t try to learn every step there is to know out there. Try instead to master a handful of steps that you really like, and can fully enjoy. If you perform, don’t put every step and trick known to man into your competitive routines. Try instead to master moves that suit you and your personal style.
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”
Remember, dance is about personal expression. Quality over quantity.
“Always train in good form. Learn to move easily and smoothly….At first concentrate on proper form; later, work harder.”*
Many of my coaches have given me advice similar to this. Don’t “walk through” your steps. Doing so trains your body to dance 2 different ways. Always dance with good form. Dance only for smoothness and grace during your warm-up, and as you progress into the rehearsal, you can add more speed and power.
“A few simple techniques, well presented, and an aim clearly seen, are better than a tangled maze of data whirling in disorganized educational chaos.”
“Students should learn something new each lesson but one or two new actions are enough for one session. Each lesson should reward the students with pleasure, satisfaction of achievement, and the sense of vigorous, joyous movement.”**
Most of us don’t think of Bruce Lee as a teacher, but he was in fact a teacher many years longer than he was a movie star. Only when reading Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee’s Commentaries on the Martial Way, one gets a real sense of Bruce’s expertise as an instructor. He did, after all get $275 per hour (that’s $1,805.04 in today’s money) teaching martial arts to celebrities in the late 60’s.
“I am not teaching you anything. I just help you to explore yourself.”
“A good teacher protects his pupils from his own influence.”
Bruce didn’t believe in the conventional role of instructor. He believed that the best he could do for his students was help them discover the truth for themselves. His ideal role as instructor was as a “signpost” that others could follow along their own path to self-discovery.
“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.”
“Simplicity is the key to brilliance.”
One of Bruce’s aims was to simplify his technique so that there was never a wasted movement. This was one of the secrets of his legendary speed and power. As we learn to dance, training ourselves to improve technique is oftentimes like being a sculptor, chipping away unnecessary elements until we have achieved a directness, or clarity in our movement.
“The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.”
“Good form is the most efficient manner to accomplish the purpose of a performance with a minimum of lost motion and wasted energy.”*
Everyone has heard the saying “That guy makes it look easy”. So how exactly do you make it look so easy?
By working smarter, not harder. Bruce understood how excess tension (both mental and physical) could hold you back from your peak performance by expending too much energy on non-essential movement.
“The ability to feel contraction and relaxation, to know what a muscle is doing, is called ‘kinesthetic perception’. Kinesthetic perception is developed by consciously placing the body and its parts in a given position and ‘getting the feel of it’. This feeling of balance or imbalance, grace or awkwardness, serves as a constant guide to the body as it moves.”*
“Acquire the kinesthetic perception [to] distinguish between the relaxed and the tense states. Practice controlling the body responses voluntarily and at will. Use only those muscles to perform movements which do not contribute to the act or which interfere with it. Expend constructively both the mental and physical energy (economical, neuromuscular, perceptive movement). In coordinated, graceful, and efficient movement, the opposing muscles must be relaxed and lengthen readily and easily.”**
“Energy saved by sound mechanics of form can be utilized in the longer persistence or the more forceful expression of the skill.”*
Oftentimes when we dance “all out”, we can over-power our movements through sheer adrenaline and effort, making us look jerky or off-time. The key to finesse, or “slickness” is knowing when to step on the gas and when to coast. In practice, try dancing through your routines or steps as smoothly as possible. You may find that you didn’t need to work as hard as you thought. This exercise can help you find your own finesse, and keep you from wasting energy.
“Balance is only achieved through correct body alignment. The feet, the legs, the trunk, the head are all important in creating and maintaining a balanced position. They are the vehicles of body force.”*
“One should seek good balance in motion and not in stillness”*
“Art lives where freedom is, because where it is not, there can be no creativity.”
“The mind must be wide open to function freely in thought. A limited mind cannot think freely.”*
Bruce never allowed himself to be limited by convention, custom, or tradition. He broke from traditional martial arts and developed his own because he didn’t like being limited by the established styles.
I first read the Tao of Jeet Kune Do as a martial arts obsessed kid, and every time I have read it since, I still learn new things. Bruce Lee was a profound thinker and a prolific note taker.
It is, in fact from Bruce’s voluminous collection of notes that the Tao was produced. I have found that many of Bruce’s commentaries are not only applicable to martial arts, but to dance, and all kinesthetic arts in general. I hope that you can learn as much as I have from the “Little Dragon”.
Have any other Bruce Lee quotes that you think are particularly useful? Don’t hesitate to share them below.
* Quote from The Tao of Jeet Kune Do
**Quote from Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee’s Commentaries on the Martial Way