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Fitness Lessons from Bruce Lee
Part One

As I was writing last week's article on 'fitness kickboxing', Louie Buenaventura, instructor of Bakbakan International, pointed out that if you really want to be fit, it's not enough to only do kickboxing. Louie cited famed martial artist Bruce Lee as a prime example of someone who believed in the benefits of cross training or doing different exercise activities to keep fit and advised me to read the book "Bruce Lee: The Art of Expressing the Human Body".

Author John Little, who has devoted himself to documenting the life and career of Bruce Lee, writes that people have always been intrigued by how Lee, a five foot, seven-and-a-half inch and 135-pound man, could have achieved such an impressive physique. "Certainly he wasn't born with such a body, nor with such awesome physical ability. He must have created it - but how? If it was simply the result of martial art training, then, by definition, anyone who practiced martial art - and Lee's martial art of jeet kune do in particular - would have a similar if not identical physique. And this clearly was not the case."

The book clears up misconceptions that have grown over the years about Lee's training methods since it is a compilation of Lee's own records and notes as well as recollections by close associates. Lee's widow, Linda Lee Caldwell, just recently made the private papers concerning his exercise beliefs public in 1997. The book details all the different training methods that Bruce Lee used to achieve a body that has been admired by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris.

However, for me, the true value of the book is Bruce Lee's personal fitness philosophy. Whether you are male or female, professional athlete or "week-end warrior", novice exerciser or hardcore fitness buff, we all have much to learn from this remarkable man.

It's not what you have; it's what you do with it.
According to his wife, Bruce Lee was not an especially genetically gifted youngster. Lee's mother remembers that "Bruce was a skinny little kid". Little says that the book "should forever put to rest the misbegotten notion that Bruce was somehow a "natural" who didn't have to work - and work hard and often - to obtain every ounce of muscle he developed". Kareem Abdul-Jabbar noted that "he didn't weigh that much but he got the most out of what he had. He was very strong and the weight that he did have was all muscle." This is such an inspiration for so many of us who have less than perfect bodies. It's not what you have; it's what you do with what was given to you by Mother Nature.

There is always room for improvement.
The turning point in Bruce Lee's career in terms of fitness came in 1965 when he had to fight with a kung fu master to defend his right to teach martial arts to non-Chinese people. At that time, the traditional belief was that martial arts should only be taught to fellow Chinese. Lee quickly finished off his opponent but like Linda Lee says, "He was surprised and disappointed at the physical condition he was in. Although it took all of three minutes, he thought that the fight had lasted way too long and that it was his own lack of proper conditioning that made it such a lengthy set-to. He felt inordinately tired and winded afterward." Bruce Lee was in top physical shape and yet was humble enough to accept that there was still room for improvement and that he would have to look outside his sport for the answer.

Have a scientific approach towards fitness.
In Lee's search for alternative methods of exercise, he used the scientific approach. Little writes that Lee did not only subscribe to every commercial muscle magazine he could get his hands on but also bought exercise science books written by professors of physiology and kinesiology. He was an avid student of anatomy. Lee quickly learned to cut through the "hype and sales pitches" of the magazines and retain only the knowledge that he could confirm through scientific research and his own experiments.

Never stop learning.
As more research comes along, remove the old and adapt the new. Don't get stuck with your same old exercise routine simply because "that's the way I've always done it". Bruce Lee's exercise programs were constantly evolving as he learned new information. Linda Lee comments that "with the explosion of the fitness-health-wellness industries in the past decades, there certainly is a great amount of information available to the inspired student. Bruce would have immersed himself in the new research and would encourage you to do likewise."

Apply what you learn.
All the knowledge in the world will not help you achieve a fit body unless you apply what you learn. Bruce Lee said, "Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do."

If you want results, expect to work hard.
Little cautions the readers of his book not to "expect Bruce Lee-like results unless you're willing to put in Bruce Lee-like hours to achieve them." Linda Lee says, "Bruce built up his outstanding physique through sheer application and willpower; through intense training."

Make time in your schedule.
When people would ask Linda Lee how her husband was able to find the time to do all those hours of training, she answered saying "that was how he decided to spend his time. The choices he made in each of his 24-hour days included devoting several hours to training his body and mind in order to be the best that he could be." I am not saying we should spend hours a day in physical training, but we can learn from Bruce Lee by "choosing" to set aside time in our daily schedules to keep our bodies fit. In short, the choice is ours. No matter how busy we are, we can keep fit if we make fitness one of our top priorities.

Correction: Last week's article stated that John Little was a close friend of Bruce Lee. This is incorrect. It was Allen Joe, who wrote the foreword, who was the close friend.

Note: The Association of Fitness Professionals of the Philippines will be holding a one-day seminar for instructors and enthusiasts at the U.P. Diliman Campus on Saturday, September 11, 1999. Topics will include "Current Exercise Controversies", "Active-Isolated Stretching", "Yoga for Group Exercise Classes", and "Fitness Kickboxing". For more details call Ellen at 871-2420 or Lorna at 807-5820 or email Shirley at napq@skyinet.net.

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