In his short time on Earth, Bruce Lee not only created some of the most iconic martial arts films in history, but he also left us with countless pieces of wisdom. In Volume 5 of the Official Bruce Lee Collector’s Edition, we take a closer look at the Dragon’s philosophies and how we can apply them to our own lives. Below, read an exclusive excerpt from the issue on Bruce’s famous quote about limitations. You can get the rest of Bruce’s life lessons in Volume 5, available in stores and online August 6.
When Bruce Lee talked about the most important tenets of Jeet Kune Do, he spoke of “using no way as way; having no limitation as limitation.” This is an easily digestible nugget of wisdom that could be readily recalled by students under pressure. With it they could remember to adapt to their situation instead of allowing their emotions or overthinking to get them stuck. This skill for adaptation is an essential part of Bruce’s practical philosophy: Instead of accepting limits, whether that means the confines of a traditional way of thinking or our all-too-common inability to break from routines and habits, we should change to move forward. Creating a mind-set in which there are no limitations not only fosters our creativity, it makes complacency impossible.
When Bruce talks about “limitations” he is not telling us that if we’re self-actualized enough we can shrug off gravity and fly away—he’s talking about those limitations we put on ourselves. “Being limitless is the ability to make the decision to be and do anything that is centered in your heart and in harmony with you and the world,” says Shannon Lee on The Bruce Lee Podcast . “The idea of being limitless is a mind-set and a sense of freedom within one’s own life; it does not mean that you have no boundaries or that you are negligible of your environment or others around you...You do not have to ask for permission or get approval from any outside institution, person or society.”
Whether we do so because we fear criticism or failure, because we have convinced ourselves we have done all we can for any other reason, becoming complacent and stuck in a single mind-set is degenerative to our growth as human beings. “[Through complacency], unlimited living is turned into something dead for the sake of security,” said Bruce. “Pattern equals limit. One ought to throw away all ideals, patterns, styles and throw away any concepts about what is ideal. Can you look at a situation without naming it? Naming it causes fear.” Routine causes us to gauge every situation based on the past rather than being truly invested in the present. “The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement—to spend your time sitting in what might be,” is how Bruce elaborated on the feeling.
It isn’t easy to avoid overthinking: Before a confrontation, we are often plagued by what-ifs, afterword by what we could have done differently. Both prevent us from reacting to the present rather than acting on the past. Bruce rightly saw this kind of thinking as one of the many ways the human spirit can box itself in. “Being limitless is to have infinite mobility, not that you have no path or direction,” Shannon says, elaborating on her father’s own notes. “Being limitless means you have the freedom to pursue any direction to create your life in the way that is best and most enjoyable for you.”
The end result of the kind of evolution that comes from accepting no limit as your limit is to become what Bruce called an “Artist of Life.” This more spiritually attuned version of the Renaissance Man is never focused on one school of thought, though he is well-versed in all, nor dedicated to a single path, though he has taken many. He is, in other words, never boxed in and always free to approach any situation from another direction.
Bruce encouraged being a “practical dreamer” because utilizing your imagination is one of the only ways to truly unlock your mind’s potential and in martial arts, your body’s. But he also warned students that dreaming without taking action is useless. As Shannon puts it, “Dream something that is achievable, and then go for it.” This kind of confidence in our imagination as well as our skills as artists of life allows us to gain freedom from our old limitations, address our flaws and judgments and, in time, actualize ourselves.
Bruce himself summarized his philosophical take on the freedom provided by accepting no limit as limit in his notes: “To realize freedom requires an alert mind, a mind that is deep with energy, a mind that is capable of immediate perception without the process of graduation, without the idea of an end to be slowly achieved. Preformations simply lack the flexibility to adapt to the ever-changing. At this point, many would ask, ‘How then do we gain this unlimited freedom?’ I cannot tell you because it will then become an approach. Although I can tell you what it is not, I cannot tell you what it is. That, my friend, you have to find out all by yourself.”