“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one”
― Bruce Lee
alone are no good if you don’t support them with strength and flexibility.
voiced by veteran Chinese character actor Keye Luke), near the end of Bruce Lee’s last film,
Enter the Dragon. It occurs when Kien’s character, the evil Han, is taking John Saxon’s
character, Roper, on a small tour of his “museum” of feudal weaponry. As they walk, Han says:
It is difficult to associate these horrors with the proud civilizations that created them. Sparta,
Rome, the knights of Europe, the Samurai . .. all shared the lone ideal: the honor of strength,
because it is strength that makes all other values possible. Nothing survives without it. Who
knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world for want of the strength to survive?
Although excised from the final print, in Bruce Lee’s copy of the script, Han’s peripatetic
Civilizations highest ideas-Justice-could not exist without strong men to enforce it. Indeed,
what is civilization but simply the honor of strong men? Today, the young are taught nothing of
honor. The sense of life as epic, of life as big, of life as something for which one learns to fightthis
is foolish to them. To them, grandeur is irrelevant. The young no longer dream.
species has so ardently pursued the acquisition of strength throughout the centuries.
The pursuit of strength is by no means something antiquated; it is still revered today, albeit
in its many different forms: strength of character, strength of will, strength of resolve, strength in
the face of adversity, strength of patience, strength of belief, and of course, physical strength. In
all of these realms, there is much to learn from Bruce Lee. This book reveals the methods Lee
employed to develop such legendary physical strength.
While most of his contemporaries considered training to be simply the performance of
their martial art techniques, Bruce Lee’s regimen involved all the components of total fitness.
Apart from his daily martial art training, Lee engaged in supplemental training to improve his
speed, endurance, strength, flexibility, coordination, rhythm, sensitivity, and timing. In fact, in a
book published by one of his students, Dan Inosanto, the author lists no less than forty, one dif,
ferent types of training made use of by practitioners of Lee’s art of jeet kune do.
the role strength played in the
overall scheme of things was of
vital importance, not only for its
own sake (in building stronger
muscles, tendons, and ligaments),
but also because an increase in
muscular strength brings with it
greater mastery of striking tech,
niques, increased speed and en,
durance, better,toned muscles,
and improved body function.
However, Lee did not regard
weight training as the “open
sesame” to athletic success. He
recognized it for exactly what it
was: an important facet of total
fitness that had to be integrated into one’s workout schedule along with other exercises to improve one’s technique, speed, agility, and so on.
― Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee’s belief that a martial artist must engage in training methods apart from the
techniques and movements of the art he or she has been trained in was based on purely scien,
tific grounds. For example, one study that caught Lee’s eye regarding the subject of supplemen,
tal training involved the training methods of competitive swimmers. During the early 1950s
American swimming coaches, particularly those at Yale University, found that the muscles used
for swimming did not increase their strength enough during actual swimming training because
the resistance applied to the muscles from the water was not great enough. To correct this,
weight training was introduced. The coaches wisely ignored the objection that their swimmers
would become muscle,bound by engaging in weight training, and quickly learned that the
weight, training exercises, far from producing negative effects on their swimmers, produced huge
increases in strength in their upper arms, shoulders, and back, allowing the swimmers to make
great improvements in their performance. Lee immediately saw a parallel between the swim,
mers in the water and the “dryland” martial art training in which he was engaged where he typ’
ically performed kicks and punches in the air with no resistance. Lee noted that such
movements were a form of calisthenics, which have value but are limited in their results because
they lack any progressive resistance for the muscles to overcome and thus become stronger.
Lee’s conclusion was the same as that of the Yale swimming coaches: It was time to incorporate
weight training into his workouts
The Advantage of Resistance Exercise
Lee liked the fact that the training motions used with barbells and dumbbells were natural body
motions that could be adapted to strengthen any positioning or movement of the limbs. The ex,
ercises to be performed with barbells were basically simple movements that required little if any
skill or learning. Lee further found that barbell and dumbbell exercises were perfectly adaptable
to all muscle groups, resulting in improvement in mechanical efficiency. Further, resistance
exercises could be measured and increased by adding weight, sets, or repetitions, according
to one’s own innate adaptability to exercise. Another appeal was the fact that, at its most
basic level, Lee’s strength, training workouts required but a mere fifteen to thirty minutes
Velocity-The Forgotten Factor in Strength Development::
As well as progressing in weight and repetitions, Lee believed that velocity could also be quan~
tifiable as a calculated progression. An increase in speed-speed of movement and speed of re~
covery-he reasoned, should be a planned part of the training scheme of any serious martial
artist. To this end, Lee found it beneficial to occasionally ignore adding repetitions or weight,
and concentrate instead on working to reduce the overall performance time of his workout. Lee
would carefully time his workouts, striving to execute each repetition as quickly as possible. The
recovery period between muscle groups was also timed and, if increased stamina was one of his
goals during a particular workout, an effort would be made to reduce the length of his
recovery periods between sets.
In attempting speed training for yourself, you’ll find that you will not be able to handle
quite so much weight as you would if the exercises were performed in the normal way, but the
\yeight should be heavy enough to make the last few repetitions of the last set a distinct effort.
=-‘ike Lee, you should set yourself a target time and not alter your exercise poundage or repeti~
dons until this target is reached.
The Role of Overload in Strength Training
Excluding physical defects and some pathological conditions, your present physical condition is
not static or fixed. Your physical condition merely reflects the specific adaptation of your body to
your everyday life. In other words, you are trained for whatever activity you have been practic~
ing, and no more. Changes in the state of your physical condition are possible, however. Muscles
can be strengthened through strength training. Your heart can become more efficient through
endurance training, and usually the range of motion of joints can be improved by incorporating
a sound flexibility program. However, if you wish to improve in any or all of these areas, then
you must follow the overload principle by altering your daily work habits or by adding appropri,
ate exercises. Whichever procedure is decided on, the overload should be gradual to permit
adaptation to take place without undue strain on the body.
Excessive muscle soreness and fatigue due to overwork is unnecessary. However, it is
normal to have some muscle
soreness and fatigue at the start
of training. In fact, muscle sore,
ness may reflect the effectiveness
of the training. As an example,
consider the man who lifts a
maximum of 60 pounds in his
daily work. If he wishes to in,
crease the strength of the mus,
cles used in that movement
without undue soreness, he
should start training by lifting 70
or 75 pounds, not 100 or 120
pounds, even though his rate of
improvement would be faster
with the heavier load. If an unconditioned individual who can do a maximum of ten push, ups
with extreme effort wishes to train to do more, he or she should start below his or her maximal
level until some conditioning for that activity is attained. After this, the overload principle may
be applied without undue stress.
Regarding the nature of overload, it should be remembered that the strength of a muscle is
determined by the use made of it in carrying on your daily activities. For example, if no supple,
mentary exercises are taken and the maximum load placed on a muscle during your daily
activities does not exceed 60 pounds, then this is the strength of that muscle. The muscle
strength has adapted specifically to your needs. If greater strength is desired, it will be necessary
to make that muscle contract against a greater load until it has adapted to the overload. The
essentials of training, therefore, are overload and adaptation.