Exceptional early essays by Bruce Lee on the philosophy of martial arts: “Gung Fu, in short, is not domination over nature, but harmony with it”
Amazing handwritten manuscript, four pages both sides, 6 x 8.25, no date but written by Lee during his high school years (circa 1959–1960), consisting of two separate handwritten essays, entitled “On the Unity of Softness & Firmness” and “On Gung Fu.” The first, in part: “Softness and firmness (yin/yang) are two interdependent and complementary forces in the art of Chinese Gung Fu. The aim is the attainment of perfect balance between these two forces…’Oneness’ of things is a characteristic of the Chinese mind. In the Chinese language, events are looked on as a whole…The same thing goes to Chinese Gung Fu technique, which is always the ceaseless interplay of the two forces, firmness and softness, and is conceived of as essentially one, or as two co-existent forces of one indivisible whole…a Gung Fu man should be pliable like a spring and bend with the oncoming force in order to spring back stronger than before. Thus, the gap between softness and firmness is bridged.” The second, in part: “The center of the Far Eastern martial arts has been the art of Gung Fu, whose principle and techniques pervaded and influenced the different arts of Oriental self-defense. Gung Fu is the oldest known form of self-defense and can well be called the concentrated essence of wisdom and profound thoughts on the art of self-defense. It has never been surpassed in comprehensiveness or understanding…Gung Fu means training and discipline toward the ‘way’ to the object—be it the ‘way’ to health promotion, to spiritual cultivation, or to the art of self-defense…The philosophy of Gung Fu is based on the integral parts of the philosophies of Taoism…Ch’an…and I’Ching…the ideal of harmony of yin/yang (negative/positive force), of tuning in with nature, etc. Harmony and calmness distinguish the Chinese art of Gung Fu. A G. F. man rejects all forms of self-assertiveness and competition and practices the art of self-forgetfulness—to detach not only from his opponent but from his ‘self.’ Gung Fu, in short, is not domination over nature, but harmony with it.” In the upper right corner of the final page, Lee also sketches a small figure of a man throwing a punch. These essays have been edited throughout by one of his peers in blue ballpoint. In fine condition, with small tears to binder holes on a few pages. Accompanied by the original binder, and a letter of provenance from the consignor, in full: “I have in my possession a hand written notebook by Bruce Lee. The little black notebook consists of four pages written on both sides. These writings were done when Bruce Lee was at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington. My son passed away in 1999, leaving me all his personal property, which included the notebook. My son’s Uncle and Bruce Lee went to Garfield High School together. These notes were given to him for editing. The blue marks are the Uncle’s edit notes.”
Lee left Kowloon for America in 1959 and settled in Seattle, where he completed high school and entered the University of Washington to study philosophy and drama. While in Seattle he began teaching what he called Jun Fan Gung Fu (literally Bruce Lee's Kung Fu)—he later developed this into Jeet Kune Do, which embodies many of the principles he outlines in these early essays. As much a system of philosophy as it was of martial arts, Lee explained it as ‘a style without style’ or ‘the art of fighting without fighting’—using these descriptions of opposing forces just as he does in describing the ideas of “softness and firmness.” Any sort of Bruce Lee material is exceedingly scarce, and this handwritten manuscript offers tremendous insight into his ideas on philosophy and martial arts just as he was truly beginning to develop his own style—an absolutely remarkable piece.