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Absorb What is Useful
by Steve Golden

 November 27, 1988

I think this statement has caused more confusion and damage to the practice of Jeet Kune Do than any other statement attributed to Bruce Lee.  "Absorb what is useful".  Well, what is useful?  Part of the distortion arises from our interpretation.  The quote was "Absorb what is useful".  What we read is, "Absorb what you like" or "Absorb what fascinates you".  It's hardly our fault for doing so because we don't know what's useful but we sure know what we like.  And, NO!  They're not always the same thing.  Many times I've seen something that I liked and I know I could use.  I took it because I was sure it would be useful.  Some­times I even guessed right.  What was usually lacking was the guidelines needed to determine usefulness.

    * * *
Walk into a Martial Arts school.  Classical, tradi­tional, non-classical, my school.  Tell the instructor that you want him to teach you only what is useful.  I hope that both you and the instructor have a great sense of humor.  Here is what might happen:

    1.    "Well, everything we teach is useful so we'll just teach you the whole system."

    2.    "Of course we will. But first you have to learn the entire system like everyone else."

    3.    "Sure!  That's $50.00 per 'useful' with a minimum of twenty-five 'usefulls' payable in advance please!"

    This as assuming you are not grabbed by the seat of your pants and thrown out the door first.  But even if the instructor really understands what you want, why would he take the extra time and effort to cater to your wishes when you've insulted him by saying that he teaches a system that is less than useful?

#    Absorb what is useful.  One big problem in understanding what the author was trying to tell you is that a critical part of the statement was intentionally omitted.  This was done partially to make you think.  Partially to make you ask.  And partially because the author thought that you would figure it out.  Well, he never considered western civilization.  We expect answers to be given to us.  "I paid for the book!  It better have the answer or I'm getting my money back!"  Should I tell you what was left out?  Will it do any good?  For the answer, enclose a check or money order for fifteen thousand dollars... 

    Never mind.  "To you".  That's it.  "To you".  "Absorb what is useful to you".  Disappointed?  If ten percent of you already understood that that's what it meant, then maybe we're now  up to twelve percent of you under­standing.  How much of our time is spent on absorbing what is useful to our instructor or what was useful to the originator of the system one thousand years ago?  Is your instructor seven foot two inches tall  and are you four foot six?  He uses kicks to your head so you just go ahead and use the same kick to his head.  Sure!  He makes it work so why shouldn't you?

To be continued:

After reading these note, feel free to absorb what is useful...

--Steve Golden

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