#108 True Mastery


“The true gung fu master aims his blows at himself, and when successful, he may even succeed in knocking himself out. The primary function of one’s tools is really revealed when they are self-directed and used to destroy greed, fear, anger and folly. Manipulative skill is not the goal. After years of training, one hopes to achieve a vital loosening and equability of all powers.”

Martial arts were a great tool for Bruce Lee because combat has high stakes, life or death, injury. There is immediate feedback. You are attacking and being attacked, while keeping your wits about you. You are forced to make decisions in the moment.

This a charged metaphor for life. Life doesn’t stop, and may not always come at you hard like in a fight, but if you can be loose, ready, and calm when something intense is happening, then you can tackle anything.

When you get in the ring to spar for the first time after training, and someone is charging your, all you’ve learned seems to leave and your mind is blank. The same happens in life when you encounter something intensely difficult for the first time.

After years of training you hope to achieve a “vital loosening” which means that you’re able to hold your calm, you’re not so tense, but it’s a dynamic. You also hope to have an equal balance of all of your faculties and tools. Then, in the moment of intensity, you’re able remain alive and possessed of yourself to figure out what to do next.

The first time you are in the ring of life, those first blows can be very disorienting and make you retreat and avoid. It can make you never want to touch that topic or issue again because it was too painful.

“In every day life the mind is capable of moving from one thought to one object to another. However, when one is face to face with an opponent in a deadly contest, the mind tends to lose its mobility and get sticky and stopped. This is a problem that haunts everyone.”

Sometimes you can be moving easily through life and then something happens and your mind seizes up. Your mind gets stuck in a loop and you lose your contentment and ability to flow from one thing to another.

This is something that haunts everyone. The hope is that through the process of maturing, we notice these things about ourselves and we start to work on them. It takes awareness and practice to be able to do this.

True Mastery is not having a high level of expertise in a subject, it is a mastery in the harmony of life. But mastery of oneself leads to mastery over one’s art.

“Purposelessness”, “empty-mindedness” or “no art” are frequent terms used to denote the ultimate achievement of a martial artist. According to zen, the spirit is by nature formless and no “things” are to harbored in it. When anything is harbored there, psychic energy loses its balance, native activity becomes cramped, and the spirit no longer flows with the stream. When the energy is tipped out of balance, it is unable to cope with the ever-changing situations. But when there prevails a state of fluidity, the spirit harbors nothing in it, nor is it tipped out of balance. It transcends both subject and object and responds with an empty mind to whatever is happening.”

This is a practice of loosening your mind and going to a state of openness, awareness, and emptiness, so that you can stay balanced in the intense life moments where your mind would normally get stuck. Fluidity of mind leads to a balance of spirit.

There are things in our past that we continue to revisit and allow to bother us. This takes up valuable real estate in our minds and can contribute to our minds staying stuck.

“True mastery transcends any particular art. It stems from mastery of oneself – the ability, developed through self-discipline, to be calm, fully aware, and completely in tune with oneself and the surroundings in the midst of the ever-changing moment.”

The True Mastery is awareness and formlessness it is not the 10,000 hours (which is the amount of time it is claimed that you need to commit to mastering something.)

There are people who are masters of their chosen professions, art, or skillsets. This does not mean that they have mastery of self, or that they have integrated their skill to expand their view of the world or themselves.

You can master a topic without mastering yourself. A person can devote all their energy into mastering a skill and ignore all other aspects of their lives.

True Mastery can be the mastery of your art and your self.

Anyone can be a master. Remember your purpose can be to be yourself and your art can be your life.

“Everything I have learned in life, I have learned through martial arts.”

We’d love to hear your thoughts on mastery vs true mastery! Write to us at hello@brucelee.com or tag us @brucelee on social media with #bruceleepodcast.

We get many emails requesting advice with “What would Bruce Lee do?” and would like to start a “What would Bruce Lee do?” section of the podcast where Shannon and Sharon respond to your emails for advice. If you need advice and are wondering, “What would Bruce Lee do?” write to us at hello@brucelee.com


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