“Bruce Lee, the martial arts icon, was being interviewed by a Hong Kong talk show host when the man asked Lee if he saw himself as Chinese or an American.
“Neither,” Lee said. “I think of myself as a human being.”
Forty-three years after his sudden death in July of 1973, more people are starting to think of Lee as something else: A profound thinker whose mind was as supple as his body.
That may seem like an odd claim. Lee was a fighter, not a philosopher, according to popular perception. He left behind some of the most exhilarating fights scenes ever captured on film in movies such as “Enter the Dragon” and “The “Chinese Connection.”
But his legacy also includes a revolutionary book on the martial arts and Eastern philosophy, and seven volumes of writings on everything from Taoism, quantum physics, psychotherapy and the power of positive thinking.
John Little, who examined Lee’s papers after the actor’s death, says he was stunned when he first entered Lee’s library. He had at least 1,700 heavily annotated books. That’s when he realized that Lee sharpened his mind as much as his body.
“The philosophy of Lee is more powerful than the martial arts of Lee,” says Little, author of “The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee. “Everything that Bruce Lee did flowed from his mind and his thinking. And it flowed from his pride in his Chinese heritage as well.
Lee was a devotee of Alan Watts, a 20th century British philosopher who introduced Eastern thought to Western audiences. Lee would tape Watts’ lectures and play them back to his martial arts students in class.
“Lee, too, saw himself as bridge between the East and the West. He wanted to show Americans the beauty of Chinese philosophy and its culture, his friends and biographers say…”