Is Bruce Lee a Stoic? A Deep Dive into Bruce Lee’s Ideals and Stoicism

Bruce Lee is often considered one of the most influential martial artists of all time. He was also a philosopher with Stoic tendencies, an actor, and the founder of Jeet Kune Do. But how Stoic is Bruce Lee? Is Bruce Lee a Stoic? Let’s find out.

Bruce Lee is not a Stoic, but there are times where he uses Stoic principles to live life. One of which is his famous quote of “Be water, my friend” where he focuses on the Stoic principle of the dichotomy of control. Although, there are times where he is not handling things in a Stoic way.

This blog post will talk about some of Bruce Lee’s principles where he showed Stoic characteristics. I will also talk about some aspects where he goes against Stoic principles. That way, you can have a clear picture of Bruce Lee’s philosophy and its relationship with Stoicism.

Was Bruce Lee a Stoic
Was Bruce Lee a Stoic

Was Bruce Lee a Stoic?

Bruce Lee showed Stoic principles in his notes and life. Furthermore, it is apparent that Lee has been interested in philosophy.

While Bruce Lee was a student at the University of Washington in the United States, he studied two courses in philosophy.

The reason why I’m saying this is because Stoicism is a philosophy. This means there is a high chance that he was interested in Stoicism when he was studying.

Bruce Lee’s reference to Stoic principles where apparent in his notes and words. I turned some of these into quotes we will correlate with Stoicism.

That way, we can see Bruce Lee’s view and what Stoic principles he is talking about in his words.

Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

Bruce Lee

This quote is probably Bruce Lee’s famous quote we’ll always hear. “Be formless, hapless, like water” has been one of the main quotes people remember from him.

However, many people don’t know that this quote is significantly correlated with the Stoic principle of the dichotomy of control.

The Stoics believe that everything can be divided into two, which are things we can and can’t control. So we need to mind the things we can control and not mind the things we can’t.

If we go deeper, the only things we can control are our current thoughts and actions, which is the main principle of Stoicism. This means the weather, circumstances, and the future are outside our control.

Applying Lee’s principle, he talks about being water where it reshapes no matter where it is. If it is in a cup, it will reshape into a cup. If it’s in a bottle, it will change its shape into a bottle.

That’s the same in Stoicism. Since the only thing we can control is our current thoughts and actions, we should adjust our situation based on what we can do.

For example, when dealing with breakups, since we can’t control other people, we should instead find what we can do.

In this case, maybe we can improve our social skills and see where we did wrong to prevent the same thing from happening again in the future.

For a guide on how Stoics deal with breakups, feel free to check this blog post: How do Stoics deal with breakups

This means, in times of adversity, a Stoic should depend on their current actions instead of contemplating on what they did in the past since they can’t change what already happened.

Recognizing that both my positive & negative emotions may be dangerous if they are not controlled and guided to desirable ends, I will submit all my desires, aims and purposes to my faculties of reason, and I will be guided by it in giving expression to these.

Bruce Lee

Next is Bruce Lee’s quote on emotions. He is aware that emotions may be dangerous if not controlled.

This is the same in Stoicism, where Stoics stay away from passion. Basically, the Stoics call excess or too much emotion as passion.

The Stoics believe that too much emotion can harm our logical thinking. They believe that being rational is essential to living a virtuous life.

This is also why many people see Stoics as emotionless. The truth is, they’re not. Stoics are people who learned how to properly handle emotions to not harm their rational thinking.

Our emotions can harm our rational thinking. For example, when we are so sad, we might go on a shopping spree without thinking if what we are buying is necessary.

Furthermore, we can lash out at other people around us because we are furious.

These are examples of how too much emotion can harm rational thinking.

Bruce Lee also knows this. Thus, he said that emotions could be harmful when misguided. Stoicism offers us ways to guide our emotions.

Be a practical dreamer backed by action.

Bruce Lee

This quote is another famous quote by Bruce Lee, and this can also be correlated to Stoic principles.

With this, let’s go back to the dichotomy of control. Stoics should always focus on the things they can control.

Remember that the only thing we can control, according to Stoics, is our present thoughts and actions.

This means we can hope for a better future if our present actions align with our dreams.

An example is when you want to build a business, you should learn business principles and work instead of playing games all day.

However, while I explained how his quotes are related to Stoicism, there are also times where his thoughts don’t correlate with Stoicism.

Here is an example.

Using no way as way; having no limitation as limitation.

Bruce Lee

The Stoics believe in limitations. One of which is knowing that we only control our present thoughts and actions.

Other things such as controlling other people or changing the weather are outside our capabilities. These are our limits.

Furthermore, Stoics believe in nature. Nature isn’t the trees or mountains around. Nature, according to Stoics, is how our environment moves or our fate.

If you want to learn more about the Stoic’s view of nature, you may find it here: What is Nature in Stoicism?

But for now, let’s see nature as fate. Stoics as deterministic, and they believe in fate. They think they cant change fate, so they respect their limitation.

Now that you understand which among Bruce Lee’s principles align with Stoicism and which aren’t, let’s have a broader view of Lee’s philosophy.

What was Bruce Lee’s philosophy?

Bruce Lee’s main philosophy is to research his experience where he analyzes and accepts what’s useful and rejects what’s useless. This coincides with his principle of being like water, where he is aware and lives in the moment. Lastly, he emphasizes being, expressing, and having faith in yourself.

Bruce Lee believes in learning the things around him and seeing what is useful.

Research your own experience. Absorb what is useful Reject what is useless. Add what is essentially your own. – Bruce Lee

Thus, when he sees something as useless, he doesn’t use it.

This might also be why he applies some Stoics principles but not all. He found what works for him and what doesn’t.

I believe that Stoicism is not a one size fits all solution. There are times when it will be helpful and when it won’t help.

Bruce Lee might have the same thought; thus, not everything he says is compatible with Stoic principles.

He believes in being himself and trusting himself. He questions everything and finds what works best for him.

That way, he created his philosophy and even his martial art called Jeet Kune Do.

What’s next? Now that you know that Stoicism is not a one size fits all solution, it is essential to understand what Stoicism is good for. You can find that by reading my other blog post here: Is Stoicism the best philosophy?

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Recommended Books

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