Tao of Jeet Kune Do
by Bruce Lee
Like the myth of the dragon in Chinese life and literature, the Bruce Lee legend is steeped in mystery. This book - said to be the world's best-selling on martial arts - offers a glimpse into Lee's probing mind.
Lee's guide only surfaced after his sudden, painkiller-related death in Hong Kong in 1973, aged 32. Compiled from his notes and essays, Tao of Jeet Kune Do explains the 'science' and philosophy behind the free-form style Lee invented: jeet kune do ('the way of the intercepting fist'), which revolves around minimal movement and extreme speed.
Lee comes across as highly intelligent in Tao of Jeet Kune Do. its perfectionist self-improvement slant bringing to mind the modern American productivity guru, Tim Ferriss - except Ferriss is a pacifist.
Tao of Jeet Kune Do centres on ways to defeat the enemy through power and guile, a la The Art of War: 'With the chin dropped and pinned tight to the collarbone, the muscles and bone structure are in the best possible alignment and only the top of the head is presented to the opponent, making it impossible to be hit on the point of the chin,' Lee writes.
The tip - a potted guide on how to dodge being knocked out - is 'textbook' classic instruction. Ditto Lee's observation about how to execute the rear cross punch. 'Because the rear cross is a long-range blow, to be effective it must be delivered straight as an arrow, fast as a shot and completely without warning. The most important part of the cross is to cultivate a delivery speed so, when you strike, the damage is done before your opponent realises it.
'You must also be accurate with the straight rear cross - far more accurate than your lead - and the straighter you keep the cross, the more accurate and the more explosive it will be,' he writes.
Lee wrote most of Tao of Jeet Kune Do three years before his death while recovering from a back injury. His doctors told him to stay in bed and let his back heal. In those six months his mind whizzed.
The illustrations he scribbled during his convalescence are crude but - like the text - clear and infused with curiosity value. The main minus is that the guide could be read as a thug's manual: Lee talks about 'smashing' opponents.
Still, the book makes an intriguing read. It is enriched by its author's fame and by Zen philosophising that goes beyond 'Grasshopper' platitudes. 'Can you look at a situation without naming it? Naming it, making it a word, causes fear,' Lee writes.
His perceptive assertions leave the reader wondering how someone so fit and smart - and such a control freak - could die so young and stupidly.