Not one to ever run from a fight, Bruce Lee was known for his extreme dedication to his chosen craft of martial arts. How did a man with such physical skill break his back?
Bruce Lee broke his back doing routine training in 1969. He would do morning warm-ups, which he called ‘good morning exercises,’ and severely injured his back during a typical session.
Bruce Lee inspired countless people through his dedication and martial arts prowess, but he was more complicated than many people realize.
Injury and Aftermath
Bruce Lee stuck to a strictly regimented training schedule. He was known to take many supplements and even blend raw meat to provide enough protein for his incredible physical feats.
Many people see Bruce Lee as superhuman, an amazing fighter that never could be beaten by anything – a back injury seems almost impossible. However, the reality is that Bruce Lee was a man and not immune to humanity’s trappings; his humanity actually makes his accomplishments all the more impressive for his daring and bravery.
Bruce Lee would do ‘good morning exercises’ to prepare for his day. One of the exercises consisted of carrying weights on his shoulders and bending down.
According to Dan Inosanto, Bruce Lee’s training partner and friend, one day, Lee was carrying too much weight and strained his back, causing the injury. You can watch Dan Inosanto discuss this with World of Martial Arts Television here:
Inosanto said that although the injury troubled Bruce Lee immensely, he made the best of the situation and threw himself into other work, namely his writing and developing a new fighting style.
However, just because he was invested in other projects does not mean that he didn’t struggle with his injury. His official website says that physicians told Bruce Lee that he would never practice martial arts again and might not even walk normally again.
Bruce Lee took this as a challenge; however, the road to recovery was arduous.
In Bruce Lee’s own words, “Whether I like it or not, circumstances are thrust upon me, and being a fighter at heart, I sort of fight it in the beginning. But soon realize that what I need is not inner resistance and needless conflict, rather by joining forces to readjust, I need to make the best of it.”
Recovery took four years, some of which Lee spent confined to his bed invested in his writings and planning Jeet Kune Do, a new martial arts philosophy.
Jeet Kune Do
Jeet Kune Do was a revolutionary new martial arts philosophy pioneered by Bruce Lee while recovering from his back injury. The core tenet of Jeet Kune Do is that it is more about the philosophy itself than it is about the fighting style or specific moves.
Central to Jeet Kune Do is the body flowing without limitations or rigidity, similar to the flow of water from a cup. Bruce Lee wrote about the despair he found in the limiting move sets of martial arts such as karate, which he thought dulled the imagination.
Instead, Jeet Kune Do was open to all moves, including spontaneous strikes such as biting and jabs – it was focused on the efficiency of attacks.
In the modern era, Jeet Kune Do, which is Cantonese for ‘the way of the intercepting fist’ is a hybrid martial arts philosophy practiced worldwide.
Many people know of Bruce Lee’s famous ‘be like water’ quote, exemplified in this fighting philosophy. Being like water, or being formless, meant that someone could adapt to any situation they found themselves in with ease.
Poetry and Philosophy
Bruce Lee’s philosophy also extends to his poetry. Many people know Bruce Lee for his exceptional films, such as ‘Enter the Dragon,’ a hit that was released posthumously; however, Bruce Lee was also an accomplished poet.
His poetry explored his personal philosophies and was deeply contemplative, following the same principles of flow and formlessness as Jeet Kune Do. He also wrote many poems expressing his deep love and affection for his wife, Linda Lee Cadwell.
A few lines from a Bruce Lee poem titled ‘Love is like a friendship caught on fire’ read as follows, “Love is like a friendship caught on fire / In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce but still only light and flickering / As love grows older our hearts mature, and our love becomes as coals deep burning and unquenchable.”
Bruce Lee was a complicated and passionate man, one who broke barriers in the worlds of film and in martial arts. In the end, he was inspirational not because he was superhuman, but because of his deep humanity, which demonstrated what the human spirit could truly accomplish.