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Why Bruce Lee was the Ultimate Performer

When I was a kid, I grew up in an environment of both oppression and aggression, known to us as “The Troubles“… it was Northern Ireland in the late 1970’s and even though things were getting better, they were still pretty bad… There were British troops patrolling the streets we lived in, bombs were exploding and people were getting shot on a regular basis… that’s when Bruce Lee entered my life at roughly age five. Everything he did resonated with me on such a deep level, especially that he was usually the underdog who stood up to the big guy and always won, at least in my mind…

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The pivotal moment came for me when I saw his masterpiece “Enter The Dragon” – that scene towards the end when he is trapped in a basement network and uses two big sticks to “defend” himself and basically beat the living daylights out of everyone who crosses his path…

When I was 11, my mother asked me what instrument I would like to learn and I immediately said drums, not so much because I liked the instrument but to be honest, I thought I was going to be Bruce Lee in that basement scene… and the rest, as they say, is history….

My love for Bruce Lee was far from over, if anything it was just beginning… a year later he inspired me to take up martial arts, which I took to a competitive level… and I did pretty well (even if I say so myself)…

It wasn’t until I was quite a bit older and bought a special edition of “Enter The Dragon” with an interview on it, that I fully realized the depths of this mans perspective (see below).

Lets take a closer look at some of the core insights from this interview & other sources, that have impacted me as a performer over the years:

Jeet Kune Do:
What I love so much about Bruce’s journey in the martial arts is that he started off within a very traditional style, Wing Chun, but once he had a solid understanding of it, he no longer let himself be defined by it. His personal approach – Jeet Kune Do – was all about studying as much as possible and taking the things from ALL styles that he felt worked for him and discarding the rest. So he very much lived his motto of “Be water, my friend”, as he never felt like he knew it all, rather he was always open to stay flowing and evolving his perspective.

This is something I feel is very important as a performer… It is easy to find a bunch of things that work for you, maybe a particular move as a dancer that really impresses people, a certain topic as a stand-up comic or a specific fill-in as a drummer that always seems to make peoples jaws drop…  the more you grasp onto these specific moves or techniques the less flow will be in your performance and the more stale these aspects will become. It’s all about staying open to how things are evolving around you and to continue to take the best new ideas and over time incorporate them into your being, always evolving yourself as an artist and performer.

Honestly expressing oneself:
This has to be the key insight for me so far. I remember when I was just starting out as a drummer, I had a lot of heroes who I looked up to and copied for quite a few years. This is normal as a performer, because we need to build our vocabulary and the best way of doing this is by copying those people who we look up to. But this will only ever take us so far. The next step is to start synthesizing all of these disparate elements we have taken from our heroes and try to make them our own… this is where I found myself for much of my twenties. It was easy for me to pull out a lick that I had learned from Dennis Chambers or impress someone with a nice tight funk beat… but eventually I found myself on a plateau again, where I had gathered all of these cool patterns and ideas from those giants that went before me, but was still trying to figure out my OWN voice. And that is when I discovered the above interview with Bruce, where he spoke about how the most challenging thing to do, is to express oneself completely and honestly. It is really not that hard to find things other performers have come up with and copy them… but to really dig deep within yourself and to not only find your own voice – your own truth – but to also EXPRESS it to the world as it is – without altering it in the hopes of people liking you more – is a very difficult thing to do indeed!

Last but not least, I would like to leave you with the following excerpts from a role Bruce played that sums up his philosophy beautifully:

“Empty your mind
Be formless, shapeless
Like Water.
Now you put water into a cup,
It becomes the cup.
You put water into a bottle,
It becomes the bottle.
You put it in a tea pot,
It becomes the tea pot.
Now water can flow or it can crash
Be water my friend!”

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All the best for now,