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Book Review: The Art Of Expressing The Human Body by Bruce Lee


Bruce Lee

You probably don’t need me to tell you who Bruce Lee is. I will simply say that he was The Man and that he died too young.

People admire Bruce Lee for his physique, his acting abilities (debatable), his dedication, his drive, and so on. I admire him for all these reasons and more. But one of Lee’s tenets in particular has had a huge effect on my strength training and the way I think about the human body.

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless

Could it be any simpler? It could not. This statement informs every page of the wonderful book The Art Of Expressing The Human Body. Bruce Lee did not do anything without a purpose. I’m not talking about his leisure time–I refer to the activities he pursued to better himself.

If he did a bicep curl, he could tell you why he was doing it and the benefits he would get out of it. A big fan of isometrics, Bruce Lee would push on the roof of his car during red lights. And he could tell you exactly why he did it and the results he expected.

He had goals that were non-negotiable. Once he made up his mind, he drew up the map that would achieve the goal and followed it until it either worked or was discarded because of ineffectiveness.

Forever a student

More than a martial artist, more than a walking quote factory…Bruce Lee succeeded because he was humble enough to study. His belief that anyone could teach him something led to him consuming book after book on strength, martial arts, mental balance, et cetera. The reading lists he compiled during his studies are incredible in scope and breadth.

It requires humility to learn from others, especially when you’re a master at something. I have no experience in mastering anything other than the original Contra for the NES.

I never used the 30 lives code

I never used the 30 lives code

To my knowledge, I am the only student from Spring Creek Elementary who made it all the way through the game on one life. Recognize, fools! But this isn’t about my own personal glory…glorious as it undeniably is.

Bruce Lee was supernaturally talented. Gifted like the X-Men. Wise like Obi Wan. He could jump like Lebron and punch like He-Man. And yet…he would have no problem asking for your help, or mine–if you had knowledge or experience that would help him succeed in his quest for constant improvement.

What is art?

The arts typically fall into these categories:

  • Literature
  • Music
  • Film
  • All the art that comprises painting, drawing, sculpture, et cetera

Is a martial art an art?

You might be saying that art as in “Arnolfini Wedding” doesn’t have much in common with, say… kicking Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the face.





The answer is that no: kicking is not an art.  Neither is punching, blocking, grappling, or breaking a board with your fist.

To suggest that a martial art is no more than a fighting technique is oversimplifying and naive.  The art is the entire package: body, mind, and spirit. When you read The Art Of Expressing The Human Body, this becomes clearer.  There is much, much more than the strikes and stunts we have come to expect from Hollywood.

The body is more than just a vehicle which carries us from place to place.  More than a machine that must eat and sleep.  The body is something to be expressed–it is a tool for demonstrating the limitless potential of human ingenuity, discipline, and strength.  Ideas are typically what we express through our actions, whether directly or indirectly.  Bruce Lee suggests that the body can convey ideas as effectively as any artistic instrument.

The body is not merely the paintbrush, but also the paint, the canvas, and the creative spark.

The book

The Art of Expressing the Human Body contains many of Lee’s workout routines.  Also present are his thoughts about training at various times in his lives, the reasons he had for choosing certain exercises, and for discarding others.  His widow is to thank for the book–she made Bruce’s training logs and diaries available to his most prominent biographer, John Little.

I cannot stress enough that this is not a book about working out or fighting.  It is a manual about dedication, strength, and artistry.  Bruce Lee left a lifetime of information behind that is all worthy of study.  If you are looking for a place to start investigating the man behind the movies, The Art of Expressing the Human Body is the perfect place to begin.


This is part 5 in a series: Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

PS: Have a favorite Bruce Lee movie, quote, or moment?  Tell us about it in the comments section.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • David Racho October 9, 2009, 12:50 am

    Hey, I also finished Contra on one life. I did use the 30 lives code, but by the time the game repeats, I have 33 or 34 lives. Then I finish it again with the same life, without dying. My favorite weapon is the S and R combined (Spread and Rapid fire), that I would avoid all the other letters.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 9, 2009, 8:58 am

      @David R: All right! So there are at least two of us. And I know I never finished Contra twice without dying. Spread and Rapid Fire combined was king, you are right. The worst was the Laser. Hats off to you, sir!