Bruce Lee: Liberty’s Dragon


Kris Morgan 8/5/17

There is no shortage of characteristics to admire about Bruce Lee. His physical abilities were almost superhuman, his ambition was off the charts, he was a talented actor, and he was intellectually brilliant. It seems the only influence unrecognized is the mark he made on what libertarians call individualism. I’d like to spread understanding on what we mean by individualism by paying a small tribute to The Dragon.

Bruce Lee is best known for his physical attributes. His combination of amazing speed, strength, and skill as a Martial Artist was nothing short of phenominal. Even his ability as a Cha Cha dancer paid off, having once bartered lessons in dancing in exchange for Kung Fu training from a master. Lee learned so quickly the instructor was never able to collect. His success making movies is equally impressive. After making The Way Of The Dragon and setting a new Hong Kong Box Office record, Warner Brothers produced Enter The Dragon.  

While his accomplishments in film earned him the place as Hong Kong’s Star of the Century and a spot on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, it is his work as a philosopher that boosted his status to legendary. Not only did it pave the way for Mixed Martial Arts, but it also made him a hero in our pursuit of individual liberty.  

What is not revealed in his movies is that in spite of his physical abilities, and against the advice he was given from family and friends, Bruce Lee was a philosophy major. From 1961-1964 he attended the University of Washington, supporting himself by teaching Martial Arts, working as a waiter, and living in an apartment above a restaurant. Six years later, before he rose to stardom, he sustained an injury to his back that put him in a bed for six months. For a man as active as he, this was torture. Bruce fell into depression at times, but was able to get much mental labor done. He spent his time incorporating philosophy into Martial Arts before he planned his own recovery.

His philosophy of Martial arts that can be summed up using his most famous quote:

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”

He was speaking of Martial Arts during the interview, and his message was a Martial Artist should be spontaneous, ready to react to changing circumstances. This is in contrast to the view that Martial Arts is all about finding a form to copy. He thought that what truly matters is self expression.

What Bruce Lee did for Martial Arts is what Austrian economists seek to do for economies. In the same way Lee didn’t want style to dominate the way people approach combat, Austrians believe that governments suffocate individual preferences, which inevitably leads to misallocation of resources.

As consumer demand changes, decisions regarding production have to adapt. The fewer barriers producers have to overcome, the quicker resources can be allocated. When circumstances are always changing, spontaneity is the only method capable of meeting demand consistently. Lee’s ideas about the individual being more important than systems and styles reflects exactly what libertarians believe.

While it’s true that studying his life as a fifteen year old boy didn’t influence my political views at the time, years later I found myself as a member of the Army, just as President Bush decided to invade Iraq. Nobody around me had any serious thoughts as to whether the war was right or wrong. To even ask the question earned you a look of disapproval. The only thinker I had taken an interest in at that point was Bruce Lee; so what would he have done?  

After reflecting upon his individualist philosophy in Martial Arts, I began following politics seriously for the first time. After witnessing lack in consistency in the official reasons for the invasion, I realized it woud be impossible to know whether or not the war was justified, and trust in our politicians had vanished. That was not enough for me. I left the Army in a bit of disgust when my contract was up. Without Bruce’s influence I most likely would have been reamined in the military.

Rulers fear the idea of a population willing to objectively observe what they say and do.

As HL Mencken put it, “The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out… without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.”


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The author’s views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the entire Ask A Libertarian Team or its followers.


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