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Photo: shioshvili

Bruce Lee didn’t just kick ass. He stimulated minds, too. Here’s how travelers can learn from his lessons.

BRUCE KICKED ASS. He could take on a dozen buffoons single-handedly in an alley full of wooden crates and stinking garbage. He even beat the crap out of Chuck Norris and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar. But he was more than what you see in his movies. He was an innovator and a philosopher as well.

A second take on Bruce Lee

What got me thinking about Mr. Lee again was Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, which I watched recently for the first time since its 1993 release. I’ve changed a lot since then; his messages resonate with me now. As a kid watching Fists of Fury and Enter the Dragon, I would never have thought of the man as a deep thinker and teacher of life.

Now, at 33 and with my own life views, I can’t help but relate many of his teachings to one of my favourite activities: travel.

So I dug up a few of his choice quotes and, though he was mostly speaking specifically about his martial arts techniques, extracted some lessons that might help to make us all better travelers:

Photo by fuzheado

“The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment.”

Expectations lead to disappointment. Maybe you had an idea — the perfect ending to an excursion — that you viewed as a victory but which didn’t pan out.

At the other extreme, maybe you were so convinced of a horrible outcome that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What should we learn from Master Lee’s words here? Let go. Let go and let whatever happens, happen. Your “tools” — your resourcefulness and wits — will work for you in actualizing a desirable outcome.

“Do not pray for an easy life; pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

Substitute “trip” for “life.” It’s fruitless hoping that your travels go flawlessly. They don’t. Instead, build up the strength to deal with problems when they arise. Sometimes things get so rotten that enduring is all we can do. These events are usually character-building and make for killer stories.

“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 teapot, it becomes the teapot…. Be water, my friend.”

If you insist on rigid plans, they will snap and break like dry branches under your feet in the forest. Flexibility is proportional to enjoyment while traveling. Let your instincts guide you. Feel like dipping down that interesting side street? Or investigating the music and laughter coming from behind that obscure door? Go for it. Flow, my friend.

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”

So you tried something which, in hindsight, seems pretty stupid. You’re probably saying, “What was I thinking?” but you learned a valuable lesson and you learned it first-hand. Too often, we rely on guidebooks to do the thinking for us, blindly following the text without thought. Ask that “foolish question” and find the answer yourself.

“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.”

Photo by astique

It’s too easy to get caught up in the consumerist lifestyle. So many dazzling items out there that do all sorts of wonderful things. Hardly any of it matters, and this is no more true than when on the road. Backpackers bringing too much, and shedding the weight as they go, is a common theme.

This “hacking away at the inessentials” brings us closer to ourselves. Who am I? I’m certainly not the $250 pair of jeans that I’m wearing or the 63″ plasma screen hanging on my wall.

Embrace the Yin and Yang

So how would Bruce Lee want you to travel? I would think something like this: be at one with your environment and move in conjunction with your surroundings.

Rather than fight against negativity, become its compliment and make any situation work in your favour. Every Yin has its Yang, every black its white, and every problem its solution.

Your experiences, both positive and negative, are wrapped together tightly and comprise your journey. One just wouldn’t be the same without the other.

[Editor's note: This republishing is in honour of Bruce Lee's birthday today. He would have been 72 this year.]



About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • Sarah_Menkedick

    Hey Carlo–

    Great article. I'd never have thought of Bruce Lee as a travel philosopher but you distill his ideas really nicely in this context. I particularly like the part about embracing a difficult trip–in my opinion, my favorite trips have been the ones characterized by big, random bumps in the road that, as you say, make for great stories later.

  • ianmack

    Awesome post! With some excellent quotes. You applied them well to the theme of travel. The one about expectations is my favourite. When setting out on a trip, it's difficult not to get caught up in imagining how amazing it "should" be… that's part of the fun. Letting go of the outcome is key to enjoying yourself.

  • brian

    To bring together two of my favorite things, Bruce Lee and travel, is a stroke of genius.

    The biggest thing with travel: Go with the flow of what's happening around you and don't worry about too much. If you are breathing and standing under your own power, you can overcome any "minor" difficulties you encounter when you travel.

  • Rebecca

    I really needed to read this today. I think I'll re-read it. Not only does it apply to travel, but it applies to life! I've been working on letting go of the outcome and being less rigid. The part about water is something I read before in another blog. I guess I needed another reminder…Great insights!

    • VagabonderZ

      I fully agree! His lessons do relate to life as a whole…and I have to admit, I still struggle myself fully adhering to them. Something to strive for…cheers!

  • VagabonderZ

    Thanks for the comments all – it's funny how sometimes things click into place when you least expect it. Like Bruce Lee and traveling!

  • george_viste

    At first i thought, oh no, another person trading on poor Bruces memory. But hay, great post! Martial arts and travel are also my favorite pass times and martial arts has saved my ass (literally) several times. (turkey, Iran, Thailand at least 6 times and yes, they make the best stories).

  • Janeth/diamontv

    wow this was good, really deep, thumbs up!

  • Carlo Alcos

    Thanks Janeth.

    George, I’d love to hear those stories!! Care to share?

  • Bill

    I’m glad to see that you’ve started to look at the man behind the legend, but i’m sorry to say that, Dragon: the Bruce Lee story, while an entertaining movie was about as far away from a biography as possible while still having him as a character, but if you ever get a chance read his book, The Tao of Jeet Kun Do it’s a good read and a good philosophy book

  • Carlo

    Thanks for the book tip Bill! I would definitely love to give it a read. And yes, I understand the movie is not completely accurate, but it is based on Linda Lee’s book, and she obviously endorses it as she gives an intro on the DVD and an interview. So I guess that gives it some credibility…

    What the movie does do, for those of us who’ve only thought of him as a martial arts legend and movie star, is start to reveal, as you said, the “man behind the legend”. As with many (all) biographical Hollywood movies, facts are changed/tweaked for the storyline…hopefully viewers of these understand that and if interested do more research for the real stories…but I also know that many get their history lessons from Hollywood films, which is quite sad.

    For some of the inaccuracies of the movie, check out this link:

  • Pingback: Masters of Living « mischief & impermanent bliss

  • Mr. Twenty Twenty


    Great article. Every single quote COULD be life transforming, ONCE it is chosen to be a principle to guide ones life by.

    I teach people who to discover their spirit, while exploring Native American surivival skills. It’s all the same, to soar in spirit, you have to take care of survival.

    Eliminate what isn’t necessary.
    Strengthen your mind, body and spirit.
    Notice. Notice more.
    Notice how amazing you are, and how special each moment is.

    Best to you, thanks for the inspiration this morning,

    Mr. Twenty Twenty
    That guy who really did change his name to the number of perfect vision, because YOU living yours matters!

    • Carlo

      Thanks for the comment! Sounds like a very noble pursuit you have there. All the best!

  • brent

    I am looking for a quote that bruce lee wrote about two birds ,if you love something so much you must let them go…Its something like that. If you can help me I would be very thankfull..

  • mik fowler

    if you love something let it go, if it returns , it was meant to be , if it doesnt, it never was. –but this saying was before bruce i believe

  • Kenobi

    Great read. Thanks for sharing the wisdom behind the man, the legend that is Bruce Lee.

  • hayley

    they used Bruce’s image after his death for some energy drink commercial in Japan

  • TheReviewer

    Bruce Lee didn’t travel. He just appeared.

  • Jurmi Chhowing

    “[M]y Obsession is to Make, Pardon the Expression, the Fuckingest Action Motion Picture That Has Ever Been Made”? Bruce Lee The Uncompromising Perfectionist.

  • Marc Lynton Latham

    Nice reminder of Bruce’s wisdom Carlos, and relevant parallels with modern travel…

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