Bruce Lee once said “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.” This famous quote has sometimes been worded slightly differently, but the meaning remains essentially the same. I interpret it as “Get out there, experiment! Find what works and ignore what doesn’t. Along the way you will find your true and unique self.”
In his short life (Lee died at 32) the Little Dragon reached an astonishing level of fame and accomplishment. Known primarily as an action star and martial artist, Lee was also a philosopher, whose observations on fighting carried over into a philosophy of living. If you look closely at his musings you can find some valuable insights on bettering yourself. So how can this help you get in better shape and create a better life for yourself? Let’s break it down and see!
Absorb what is useful: Applied to martial arts Lee’s reasoning was simple; he would try a technique or concept and judge it not on his feelings, prejudices or the opinions of others but rather on results. Did it work? Is it practical? Can it be applied to the real world? Does it work for my body and my temperament? You can apply the same methodology to your fitness goals. When evaluating a training method, exercise, piece of equipment or nutrition plan ask yourself these simple questions: Does it produce results? Is it safe? Practical? Is it something I can do consistently? Does it work for my goals, body and temperament? Is it based on verifiable exercise science or is it based on a slick marketing campaign and Bro Science?
Once you have answered these questions honestly you can make a valued decision about whether something is right for you. The challenge is to set aside opinion and prejudice and see things how they truly are. People often believe what they want to believe despite the evidence. This is repeated often in the world of fitness. Challenge yourself to take the higher, tougher road and learn the truth even if it disappoints you!
Discard what is Useless: This goes hand in hand with absorbing what is useful. If something is inappropriate for your situation or simply not bringing you the results you need, then you need to move on from it and stop wasting time and effort. It doesn’t matter how cool it is, how popular or how convincing. What matters are results and practical application. The same questions that you’ll ask to absorb something useful will help you to reject what is useless. With each question you move closer to real solutions.
Add what is Specifically your Own: Here is where your true evolution begins. Going back to Lee, he felt that a martial artist was making a mistake to learn one style and then stay within the narrow confines of that style. He felt that trying to make a system fit the person instead of a person trying to find his own path was limiting. His philosophy was that once you had a solid foundation under your feet, then it was best for each student to experiment and explore and find what worked best for them. When it comes to fitness and in many ways life, the same holds true. If you have primarily been a runner, explore strength training. If you have been hitting the iron regularly but get out of breath after a hundred yard jog you need to add some cardio (strength training offers significant cardiovascular benefits if done right by the way). Feeling tight? Dynamic mobilization, and maybe a little yoga is the ticket. Many opportunities from martial arts (Bruce would approve) to kayaking and Pilates to organized sports are available to try new things. And within the context of each activity there are multiple modes, methods and philosophies to experience.
Everyone’s heard the old adage “Curiosity killed the cat.” Maybe true, but the cat always seems to be having so much fun! Follow Lee’s example and training philosophy in your fitness journey and in life. Be curious and bold. Explore and investigate. Be willing to look deep into what you are told, what you read and what you see. As the X-Files use to say “The truth is out there.” Go find it and while you’re out there, have some fun! Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and make your fitness and life unique!