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...
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