Objectivism and Bruce Lee

How does objectivism relate to Jeet Kune Do? Just to get this clear, I have no idea if Bruce Lee was a fan of Ayn Rand or her logic-based philosophy known as objectivism. Objectivism attempts to remove all prejudice and opinion from the formation of philosophy so that it can stand on its own merit. Lee developed his approach to martial arts, Jeet Kune Do, by rejecting the dogma traditionally associated with martial arts; whether he knew it or not, his approach reflected objectivism. He realized that the outcome of style—any style—would naturally be weakness and constraint, and so he created what he would describe as formless form, or style-less style. Lee’s approach shattered the mold of conventional martial arts, allowing for the hybridity and flexibility that are inherent to mixed martial arts. The intent of his style was for the practitioner to experiment objectively with various styles and then to combine the elements that worked for him or her. This process can only evolve with no resistance from prejudice, opinion, dogma, tradition, ego, or any other preconceived notions of what is best or what works.

Objectivism leads to effectiveness. The development of Jeet Kune Do was the result of extensive trial and error with all types of martial arts. Lee included only what proved most effective and excluded everything else. Notice here that I’m not saying he included the effective and excluded the ineffective because even the “not quite as effective” must be excluded to allow for all things to be optimized. This process is a road map to greatness in all things—ALL things. Continuous learning and experimentation keeps possibility constant. Objectivism keeps the mind from attaching to anything not effective. Lee’s famous advice to “be water” is one that encapsulates the objectivist philosophy because it implies the importance of adaptability. Google it if you have not heard it—choose the right video and you can even watch Lee play ping-pong with nunchucks.

What is effective? You might ask how one identifies what is most effective. Well, the key to any experiment is empirical data and objective reasoning. Keeping track of your results when you try a new method begins the process of productive experimentation. Alter a single dependent variable and measure the results. Then, alter another and measure. Figure out a way to compare those two variables directly and so on and so forth. These variables can be as obtuse as comparing two entire programming protocols (westside vs. sheiko) or just comparing grip width on the bench press. The key is to be as emotionally detached from the results as possible so that you can objectively perceive the results.

Guard against dogmatic closed-mindedness. Dogma are epidemic in the world of exercise, but progress is hampered by the presence of these practices, by simply doing what has always been done for no other reason than tradition. It leads to limitations in thought, action, and results. I am too frequently guilty of closed-mindedness myself—maybe someone suggests a new strategy and, instead of considering it, my immediate reaction is to close the door on it. This mindset is toxic. It is completely okay to try out every type of exercise routine there is, especially as a Novice. As you progress and gain knowledge, not only will you have a better picture of what is out there and what works for you, but you will also become more efficient at separating the useful from the useless. This efficiency only increases if you are completely objective during the experimentation phase.

Figure out what works for you. Often, a Novice will observe what worked for someone they wish to emulate, and then he will attempt to replicate the strategy, expecting the same results. Observation of the greats who come before is not negative in and of itself, but strategy has to evolve. Trainers have to individuate by questioning their practices, especially if they’ve resulted in sub-par or stagnant progress. Do not just expend energy without intent. For example, various types of stretching can have different effects. How do they affect you specifically? Have you compared your recovery times using traditional massage, deep tissue massage, Active Release Techniques, fascial therapy, Rolfing, or even just using a roller bar between sets? Historically, the “experts” have tended to acknowledge the most successful advances only begrudgingly once someone else has used them to produce results. Nobody knows everything—one trait common among all great people is that they remain students forever. The day you stop learning is the day you start shrinking.

Emulation is okay, but individuation is better. I remember many times observing the behaviors of those I chose to emulate in various activities. While emulation can be an effective learning tool, simply imitating the actions of those who have achieved what you desire is little more than monkey-see, monkey-do. It undermines any logic behind the behavior and thwarts improvement because certain influences become major roadblocks to a truly objective mindset. If I see a great thrower training 5 days per week for 2 hours per day and using a specific drill sequence, simply imitating these motions will not necessarily bring me the same level of performance. However, if I was able to gather a little more input from the athlete, such as the logic behind this workload and pattern, I may be able to find usable concepts that I can implement optimally into my programming. But it’s also possible that this athlete may be training with a program, developed by some other athlete, that just happens to work for him, with no thought given to his unique properties, e.g. recovery ability, neural capacity and efficiency, cognitive capacity, level of technique, etc. Blindly replicating a drill sequence disregards individual technique flaws where reorganizing drills used, sequence of the drills, and workload can properly address them. It sounds obvious, but something has to change for something to change.

Know which advice to take & which to disregard. The real-world, in-the-trenches application of this evolution looks like a younger man or woman walking into Globo gym for the first time without a battle plan. Everything works for the Novice. Once the honeymoon period is over, though, the true research regarding the most effective programs can begin. Newbies will be bombarded with all the dogma that the herd-minded like to spew at those with the look of inexperience. I’ve already addressed the need to filter information aggressively, regardless of source or situation, especially when it comes to training. My rule of thumb is: if you don’t appear to have what I want, then I don’t have anything I want to hear from you. You would have to have a hell of a reputation for me to take training advice from you if you are not more advanced than me in some way. On the other hand, I would eat emu shit and a leotard if there was concrete evidence that it would help me advance. Throughout your advancement, seek out those that have what you want and do what they do. Just know that when those resources are spent, it will be time to break new ground.

Experiment, distill, implement. Back to my Bruce Lee example: In his own words, Lee’s style was unbeatable because he had no style. He would use boxing footwork with Wing Chun trapping and savate kicks and distancing, all decades before anyone had even conceived of MMA. Jeet Kune Do demonstrated a break from traditional form that had never been seen, a martial arts version of “crossing the streams” (yes, from Ghostbusters) that many critics thought would unravel the very fabric of the universe. The actual result was a martial arts system so complex that it is still commonly misunderstood. JKD classes typically teach the methods that Bruce Lee used for himself, rather than focusing on the concept of experimentation, distillation, and implementation based on the highest levels of objective reasoning. Tim Ferriss uses the term “meta-learning” to describe the same process, where a subject is distilled down until only the components responsible for the most significant progress remain. Objectivism can be applied to high performance training when practitioners are willing to evaluate their routines honestly, discarding what’s useful in favor of what’s MOST useful in every situation. These practitioners are able to progress consistently because they don’t waste effort on behaviors that don’t contribute to their growth. This is the path of the Elite.

Choose objectivism over comfort. Objectivism as a mindset is the true secret to rapid progression. It bars prejudice and pride, and it condemns ignorance in any form. The human component will always gravitate toward comfort; only harsh objective logic can overcome that movement. Anyone familiar with the writings of Ayn Rand knows that true objectivism can be cruel. It does not focus on personal comfort, but rather on brutal loyalty to conviction and integrity. Objective reason—as the highest level of thought available to the human race—should be the bar that determines all of our actions, through constantly questioning, evaluating, and improving, using unfettered logic and reason as guideposts, and attacking the habits of the lower ego and self pride. Never get comfortable or complacent. This is the secret to making progress indefinitely.

Leave any response or comment here or hit me at jbrandonhall78@gmail.com if you want to continue this discussion.

“Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.”—Ayn Rand

2 thoughts on “Objectivism and Bruce Lee

  1. Eric April 11, 2015 / 11:13 pm

    this is great

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