Bruce Lee
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes


In 1963, BRUCE LEE (1940-73), an immigrant from Hong Kong who’d been studying philosophy at the University of Washington in Seattle, dropped out in order to teach the Chinese art of kung fu. Impatient with the confines of traditional martial arts styles, Lee borrowed freely from various forms of combat, including fencing, boxing, and wrestling, as well as from Zen and Taoist philosophy, not to mention Baruch Spinoza, and developed a philosophy and fighting method appropriate to the postmodern era. Forget his subsequent career as a TV actor (The Green Hornet, 1966-67) and movie star (three films made at Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest studio; 1973′s Enter the Dragon, which was supposed to herald his return to Hollywood; and the posthumously released Game of Death). Lee’s major accomplishment was Jeet Kune Do, “The Method of the Intercepting Fist” — so named because the JKD practitioner strikes back before her opponent has finished throwing a punch. (How? According to one of his celebrity clients, James Coburn, Lee taught “bridging the gap,” a mode in which “you and your opponent are one — not divided.”) JKD is always also a “work of enlightenment,” according to Lee, who sounds like a hilobrow (in The Tao of Jeet Kune Do) when he criticizes other Eastern and Western philosophies and fighting techniques: “The physically bound go for puffing and straining and miss the delicate way; the intellectually bound go for idealism and exotics and lack efficiency and actually seeing realities.” Though he did recruit disciples from rival martial arts schools (by beating them in fights; he even baptized a few converts by kicking them into swimming pools), Lee wasn’t interested in being a guru. “Truth,” according to the precepts of JKD, is “relationship with the opponent; constantly moving, living, never static.” Rigid belief systems/combat styles are therefore to be eschewed — because “styles require adjustment, partiality, denials, condensation, and a lot of self-justification.” The “way” of Jeet Kune Do, Lee insisted, is “no way.”

A longer version of this essay originally appeared in Hermenaut #10.


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Joshua Glenn is an author, publisher, and semiotic analyst. He is co-author (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) of THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and co-author (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) of the family activities guide UNBORED and three forthcoming spinoffs, including UNBORED Games. He is editor of HILOBROW and publisher of the Radium Age science fiction imprint HiLoBooks. Also: Glenn manages a secretive online community known as the Hermenautic Circle; he is founding editor of the e-book club Save the Adventure; and he's a frequent co-host of Boing Boing's podcast GWEEK. In the ’00s, Glenn was an editor, columnist, and blogger for the Boston Globe's IDEAS section, he co-founded the international semiotics website SEMIONAUT, and contributed to CABINET, SLATE, and elsewhere. In the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT, worked as a dotcom and magazine editor, and contributed to THE BAFFLER, FEED, and elsewhere. His publishing company is King Mixer, LLC; and his semiotic analysis consultancy is Semiovox LLC. He lives in Boston with his wife and children.