Bruce Lee was always an innovator during his lifetime … It is lesser-known fact that he studied philosophy at Washington State University during this time he developed an interest in emerging practical approaches to philosophy from East and West. Authors he was particularly fond of reading including J Krishnamurti and Alan Watts. It is from J Krishnamurti that Bruce Lee acquired the phrase” no school or institution has a monopoly on truth” a phrase which has become synonymous with him..
Krishnamurti is best known to the martial arts community as the philosopher who greatly influenced Bruce Lee. Krishnamurti’s philosophy was fundamental in Lee’s formulation of Jeet Kune Do as well as his personal approach to life. Now both Bruce and Krishnamurti are gone, but their influence still echoes in our lives like the clear resonance of a bell. In the centennial year of Krishnamurti’s birth, many celebrate and continue to learn from this idealistic man who dedicated his life to setting mankind “absolutely and unconditionally free.” His philosophy shows the direction to the path within. Since he did not approve of conflict or violence in solving the problems of life, the application of his views to martial arts must be selectively and carefully done. It is possible through the principles he presents to evolve to new heights of creative development beyond technique alone..
Krishnamurti’s Teachings: To Be Aware of What Is
Krishnamurti returns us to ourselves to find the answer to difficulties. To know anything, to understand and solve problems, we must first understand ourselves through awareness of what is, now, in this moment. Everything else, our beliefs, our concepts, even our prejudices, are all products of conditioning. This conditioning, whether from theories, schools, professions, system, or even social structure, is also the source of conflict, leading us into inevitable chaos. Translated into the martial arts world, Krishnamurti would explain the endless disputes between the validity and merits of various styles and masters as deriving from their background conditioning. It always puts adherents on one side or another: they become for this and against that. Thus, the tragic division into allies and foes, and according to Krishnamurti, the hatred and wars which tear our world apart. We must search deeper to prevent this, yet gain the learning, and free ourselves from these limitations. Awareness can bring about understanding, but accumulated knowledge is not the same as understanding. Knowledge is what is readily available. How can we go from there to understanding? What is the nature of this awareness which Krishnamurti fostered? True awareness must be passive, choiceless awareness, where you are open to perceiving things just as they are, forming no concepts whatsoever. Knowledge and learning of any sort can be an impediment to true understanding. Openness of the mind is essential.
“A mind that is crowded, encased in facts, in knowledge – is it capable of receiving something new, sudden, spontaneous?”
Bruce Lee drew inspiration from this to give up all traditional forms in his Jeet Kune Do. Rehearsing old patterns, he felt, prevents practitioners from the potential of discovery in the moment, which naturally would include how to best deal with opponents.
Form is the cultivation of resistance; it is the exclusive drilling of a pattern of choice moves. Instead of creating resistance, enter straight into the movement as it arises; do not condemn or condone — choiceless awareness leads to reconciliation with the opponent in a total understanding of what is. (Bruce Lee)
But how does one go about learning in this way, remaining unpatterned, always open to the new? Krishnamurti asked people to imagine: what would you be like if you had never read a book (or even a magazine) and knew nothing? How would you go about trying to understand something fully, (like martial arts)? First we should try to understand the whole process of learning. This will lead us on a path of finding the truth, free from the past, creative and open to the new, moment-to-moment. The mind becomes quiet, undisturbed, open to deep understanding. How do you achieve a quiet mind, receptive and open? One traditional method is that of discipline: daily unfailing discipline. If you bring yourself to practice your art, every day, without fail, week after week, year after year, you will eventually achieve mastery. Krishnamurti’s conception of this is very different. He explained that discipline is conformity to a pattern of action. When you discipline your mind, according to Krishnamurti, it becomes resistant, unpliable, and slow. The result of discipline is the creation of habit, which is repetitious, imitative, and narrow. Imitation does not lead to wisdom. He states:
By practising a certain rule, by practicing a certain discipline, a mode of conduct, are you ever free? Surely there must be freedom for discovery, must there not?
Krishnamurti’s alternative to repetitive discipline is to be fully aware. When you are deeply interested in something, such as your martial art, you naturally and easily become acutely aware of every movement. Immersed, fascinated, you observe carefully, without judgment. Each punch, each kick, is a discovery, is new. Then, you have a more expansive awareness, pure experiencing. With this comes great freedom, which allows you to make creative discoveries through your art. As Bruce Lee said, “Free yourself by observing closely what you normally practice. Do not condemn or approve; merely observe.” Awareness brings about a spontaneously disciplined state that takes place effortlessly. Awareness is always awareness of relationship. When you become fully aware of your true relationship to your opponent and accept what is, you have wisdom. The fighting attitude is part of this. Thus, if you are either too aggressive or too passive, it interferes with performance. You cannot hope to change this unless you become aware of it and accept what it is.
Krishnamurti believed that you can only become truly aware of something when you no longer condemn it or justify it. Once you say to yourself, “I’m too aggressive”, or perhaps, “I am not aggressive enough”, you lose contact with the reality of the moment-to-moment situation and no longer understand it. You struggle with your attitude, and try to avoid doing it. You become bound to the conflict with yourself. You thus lose the ability to change. Krishnamurti always returned people to a clear mind, to experience fully, with awareness. You learn without distraction or divided attention. In order to improve, you must be aware without judgment, for to judge is not to be fully aware. Judgment requires thought, analysis, and comparison. You must accept what is as it is, without judging that it is good or bad, and become aware of your relationship to it, with all that it means to you. The experience itself is the source of change. Then, change takes place of itself. Only then can you let go of faulty conditioning, to learn. Dissiculties dissolve. Learning happens instantaneously. Improvement is natural, inevitable.
Thinker and Thought
Krishnamurti encourages people to follow the logic of their use of thought further. Thought always perpetuates itself: thought leads to more thought, ideas to ideas, theories to more theories, but prior conditioning tends to determine the response, the outcome. Thus, the effort to resolve problems using thought process analyses leads to theory, not fact. Krishnamurti holds that we can understand directly, without interposing theories or ideas, and achieve great understanding. How can we use our awareness to do this? The mind must be quiet and tranquil. Then problems and difficulties spontaneously resolve. Krishnamurti believed that it is possible for the mind to be free of conditioning. It must be found by every person for themselves, not by following authority. It cannot be found by mere analysis, because analysis relies on interpretation. The moment you have interpretation, you become bound to the background and point of view. Thus the answer is practically predetermined. How, then, is it possible to be creative? Creative action cannot be based in an idea or an interpretation. A gap then exists between thought and action. In martial arts applications, this slows you down because there is an increase in reaction time due to the gap: it takes time to consider what to do. How can we bridge the gap? How can we find this highly attuned state?
The Still Mind: Beyond Technique
Krishnamurti does not intend to suggest that you give up one form of conditioning for another. He encourages us to look within, to watch our thoughts carefully as they flow. The interval between thoughts has a silence, which is not of time or of conditioning. There the mind can find its own natural stillness which need not be induced by a system or method. It is already there. Only with sensitive and focused attention does this emerge. Education, including training in the martial arts, must encourage inner search, inner questioning. Merely following a method or a technique can be misleading. The method may become more important than the person. Technique is only the starting point, not the outcome, or else the practitioner of a martial art only imitates and does not discover the truth in the moment. We must transcend technique and method, to express something original, something beyond the outer form. We learn a style, a technique, a method, and become proficient. But mastery comes at a point when the technique is no longer just a technique, when it ceases to be merely something we are attempting to perfect, to imitate in a sequence. This is only the beginning. There is an opportunity to discover ourselves and become integrated, mind and heart fully, one in action, to understand oneself as you are. This sometimes leads the martial artist with more years of training to come to the point of questioning the boundaries of the system or method that is taught. Questioning is natural, but unfortunately often results in dojo-hopping. Maybe, it is thought, some other system will offer the ultimate secret technique. Mistakenly, a system or method is believed to be the source, because of disillusion, or loss of interest. A loss of commitment to the school may follow, then we get lost. To find true martial arts enlightenment, we must follow our original system to its roots, and seek its wellspring. We need great techniques, but they are only the springboard for coming to know ourselves in action. The ultimate technique is discovered in the moment-to-moment aware experience in which one comes to truly and fully understand. Krishnamurti shows the path.