Calmness is the Greatest Expression of Psychological Security and Self-Control.
Eastern Philosophy teaches us that direct confrontation is not always the best solution to deal with insult and provocation.
In August 1973, just three weeks after Bruce Lee’s death, Enter The Dragon was released in theaters. Considered by critics as one of the best martial arts films and used today as a reference for the production of other works of the genre, Enter the Dragon ended up surprising many people by presenting very well-choreographed and accurate fight scenes.
However, one of the most surprising scenes in this film does not involve any fighting. At least not in the way fights are usually presented. It’s a scene in which Lee’s character fights in a very different than we would have imagined.
In that scene, the character, Lee (Bruce Lee), is on a boat headed towards the island where an important martial arts tournament is taking place. Meanwhile, a fighter named Parsons (Peter Archer), to show his strength and intimidate his competitors, attacks some defenseless boys — who were not fighters, only in charge of the boat’s maitenance. After the attacks, Parsons approaches Lee and asks him what his fighting style is. Lee calmly replies: “My style is the art of fighting without fighting”.
What did Bruce Lee mean by the expression “the art of fighting without fighting”?
“The art of fighting without fighting”
“Fighting without fighting” means to fight without creating conflicts. It means that we must know how to choose our daily battles and canalize our energy towards important things.
“Water does not fight with obstacles”. — Roberto Otsu
Many people know Bruce Lee by his famous expression, “Be Water, My Friend”, spoken during an interview with the Pierre Burton Show in 1971. This expression is used by many people as an inspiration for their lives, and it carries several meanings. One is that the water does not fight with small obstacles.
That’s what we see in that Enter The Dragon scene. Lee could have confronted the man who disturbed him, but he knew it would be a waste of time and energy. Lee was on a boat en route to the martial arts tournament, his most important objective that deserved his attention and focus. Instead of opting for a confrontation with Parsons, Lee decided to work around the situation and defeat him in another way, without lifting a finger.
After saying that his fighting style is the “Art of Fighting Without Fighting”, Lee soon tries to walk away, but Parsons stops him by placing his hand on Lee’s shoulder. Lee realizes that Parsons won’t let him leave, so he proposes to demonstrate his fighting style to Parsons on the beach, using a small boat to get there. Ever suspicious, Parsons accepts Lee’s proposal and embarks on the boat. Without Parsons noticing, Lee holds a rope that ties the small boat to a bigger boat, where they were all. Lee does not get on the small boat to go to the island. Instead, he uses the rope to move the boat away from the bigger boat, leaving Parsons, who is inside the small boat, totally separated from everyone. Drenched in seawater and not knowing what to do, Parsons yells, “Pull me back!”, and Lee replies, “Don’t try to get here by pulling on the rope, or I’ll let you go.” Lee then hands the rope over to the boat maintenance boys who were attacked by Parsons, who laugh at the awkward situation.
A person who bothers us, or who offends us, is nothing but a small stone in the flow of our lives. If the water decided to fight every small stone that came in its way, it would arrive late to the sea, and full of resentment and hurt. The water, being flexible, can get around any situation, even when facing the hardest stone. Even with a punch, the water adapts to the shape of the human hand and is not hit.
This is what Roberto Otsu say in the book, an important author who brings some eastern teachings, The Wisdom of Nature. According to Otsu, when water encounters a stone in its path, it wastes no time with conflict. The water goes around the stone and continues its journey smoothly:
“Instead of thinking about small things, it is better to focus on important things. The water of the river goes to the sea, to the great. That’s what it’s in the flow for. That’s what matters.” — Roberto Otsu.
Otsu further says that:
“There are several situations in everyday life — almost all — that are silly, simple river stones. There are many incidents at home, at work, in traffic, at school, at the hotel, in the restaurant, at the movie theater, but few situations deserve boredom and drastic attitudes.” — Roberto Otsu.
In his posthumous book, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee says: “There will be calm and tranquility when you are free from outside influences and are not disturbed. Being calm means having no illusions or disillusionment with reality.”
Lee still writes that we need to be flexible calmly and consciously: “Not to be tense, but to be prepared, not to think and not to dream, not to be immobile, but flexible, is to be alive in a complete and serene way, conscious and alert, prepared for anything that may happen”.
The 2010 film The Karate Kid also presents this idea. In a specific scene in this film, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) saves Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) from an ambush and fights several bullies without hurting them, just by dodging, defending himself, and making so that the boys, themselves, hit each other. When Dre Parker wakes up at Mr. Han’s house to receive proper care for his injuries from being hit by the bullies, Dre asks:
-How did you do that? You didn’t even hit them. It is as if they hit each other.
-When fighting angry blind men, best to just stay out of the way. Replies Mr. Han.
Silence and calmness are the greatest expressions of strength that we can have. To achieve serenity is to achieve psychological strength. Serenity is manifested by silence and embracing it allows us to have sufficient awareness, sensitivity, and flexibility so that we can adapt to any situation. In a fight, the one that keeps calm and has control of themselves, can anticipate the opponent’s movements, so they are more likely to win. The aggressive and hate-filled fighter will get more beaten more easily. Anger is a feeling that blinds the individual and prevents them from seeing what is really in front of them. Calm and silence mean psychological security and self-control.
Throughout his life, Bruce Lee brought his philosophy of life to martial arts and movies. According to him, “Art is never decorative, ornamental. It is a work of clarification. Art is a technique to acquire freedom”.