“Reflections” on The Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee, why Inner Game of Tennis is probably more worth your time, and why eventually we must stop studying, and start fighting.

 

I’m sure you’ve read phrases like this before, thousands of times probably. “I’ve always loved Xing, ever since I was a child”. Well, I’ve always loved reading, ever since I was a child. However back when I was a child, I was not into reading books on competitive mentality, the art of learning (which I read about in a book called “The Art of Learning”), sports psychology, or the like. I was into Captain Underpants, you know. Stupid stuff. (Still am, actually). My interests these days are into such subjects, which I find quite ironic since I grew up under the class of “Not into sports at all”, yet here I am subconsciously nagging at the fact that I need another book to read, most likely falling under the subject of sports mentality.

So why is it that I, some nerd who plays a 15 year old Nintendo Gamecube game competitively, would ever want to start reading a book by Martial Arts genius, Bruce Lee? Well, I started to take competitive Melee a bit more seriously around the beginning of 2015. Around this time, I did find myself “stuck” as far as tournament mentality or improvement goes. This is why I picked up The Inner Game, as it seemed like the perfect antidote for my predicament. I wanted answers. I was seeking. The way my mind works is that I often make absurd connections. I hear something, I read something, and I instantly feed it back or connect the phrase or question or statement into my main passion (Which is Melee. Or maybe one day it will be Tennis. Who knows).  Why I do this, I have no idea. It’s probably much more beneficial to think about the game using strictly game terms, like “When Fox is doing this, try not to do that” instead of “The mind must be wide open to function freely in thought. A limited mind cannot think freely.” (Bruce) It’s definitely caught me in awkward situations where I wanted to explain a question or an answer to someone about Melee and I had to try extra hard not to sound too overbearingly philosophical on the matter. Simplicity can be a very powerful tool, which is one of the most important things I’ve learned from the book, along with my studies of the Melee in general.

So, lets get into how I came about discovering the book. I read a mention of the book from a Smashboards post from a particular top level Falco/Marth main in regards to a question someone had asked this particular Falco/Marth main about books. This particular player of the Bird and Sword Guy has many times recommended Inner Game and Art of Learning to many people before (which is how I learned of those books), but this was the first mention of the book from him that I had seen, or any mention of this book from anyone in the Smash community ever. It seemed interesting to me because I had never seen it mentioned before, unlike Inner Game. The thing about Inner Game, is that it’s mentioned and discussed to great amounts in the Smash community as being this holy savior textbook of mentality-changing “This will change your tournament life forever and ever”. Well, it pretty much is just that in my opinion. Inner Game is a fantastic book that any Melee player of any skill level should pick up, as it personally gave me new major insights to what can go on in the brain during training, and more importantly, performance under pressures. It’s a fantastic book, and is very well worth your time if you think you have that “stuck-in-a-rut” feeling with improvement in Melee.

 

Head


The differences between Inner Game, and Jeet Kune Do.

So we get that Inner Game can be a very helpful book if you take it seriously, right? We do? Cool. Great. Tao of Jeet Kune do is the complete opposite. I do not believe it is a textbook, a “go-to” book that you can open up and go “Ohhh yeah, okay, that totally makes sense! That’s what I was doing wrong!” The book is not really like that at all. You get these moments, sometimes after a period of some thinking, and sometimes instantly, that go more like, “Oh, that makes sense. That makes sense too”. However, the book rarely provides moments of “That’s how I should be doing it! Exactly like it says in the book!” The book is not a how-to, nor is it filled with suggestions or evidence of any of the material being something that practitioners can cite as being “tools” that have helped them immensely in their art of choice. The opposite is Inner Game. Inner Game is filled to the brim of moments like that for the interested reader.  Jeet Kune Do teaches you nothing. Inner Game teaches you everything. Inner Game has “Self 1 and Self 2”. Jeet Kune Do makes you think in a different way than how Inner Game makes you think. Inner Game shows you a practical way. A thing that you and I can apply immediately. Jeet Kune Do makes you figure things out for yourself. Jeet Kune Do is all about you. Not a “technique” that Inner Game has. Both are very important books, for very different (Though maybe similar) reasons.

Jeet Kune Do

I’m not here to review the book. I’m not here to actually “reflect” on the book, even though that’s the title of this post. I simply recommend the book to those that want to be challenged, not be taught something.

Jeet Kune Do is not like Melee. Melee is not like Jeet Kune Do.

Though there were many times throughout the book where I found myself going “A-ha!” after reading passages like “A golden rule is to never use more complex movements than are necessary to achieve the desired result“, I wanted to be careful to not decide that my comparisons to Melee meant that Melee was like Jeet Kune Do. Melee just happens to be a fighting game, so it was very easy and fun to make comparisons to Melee. I could see myself making such comparisons to Tennis or Golf even, if that was my art.  Let me just rant for a moment…As much as I love the book, and want to see more people reading it some day, I really would hate to start hearing things like “Oh wow, Melee is like Jeet Kune Do!” Much in the way that players like to say Melee is like Jazz. Or Melee is like this, or Melee is like that. Analogies like that are great and definitely fun to come up with if it actually makes sense, but Jeet Kune Do explores subjects that do not pertain to only things that can be applied to playing Melee well. Topics like Zen. Topics like Art. Expression. Expressing. Knowledge and knowing. Moving, never stopping. Wanting more. Deeper, deeper, yet deeper still, and then returning to where we began, and starting over.

Why I loved reading it.

I’ve wanted to find out where Melee is in my life for sometime. What Melee was for me. What I’m doing this all for. What my goals mean to me. What’s the point. The purpose, why? Is it an outlet, a ventilation, a prescription, a therapy, a journey, a goal, a disease? A thing beyond my reach yet within my grasp yet being pulled farther and farther away and drawn closer and closer to me with each thing that I learn and thing that I forget and thing that I return to time and time again? I would ask myself questions like “Why am I plagued with such difficulties in tournament performance and how do I get rid of them? How can I be free?”

While Inner Game was a fantastic read no doubt, and I praise the book highly, I still found myself often unsatisfied with many tournament performances, training sessions, and overall confidence in the foundation of my game. This was very confusing, as I thought that I had all the answers I could ever want from having read Inner Game, and proving to myself that when applied, the pressure of wanting to perform well and wanting to practice well, and being able to process the different aspects of my game that could use refinement, eased up a bit. Which it certainly did at times, but yet I would still have those times where I despised everything about practice, process, and performance. (The three Peas, as I like to call them. Practice, processing the practice, and performance in a tournament). I very much did feel like I had some sort of disease that I desired to get rid of, which word for word will be what this first quote of the three I’m about to present to you, describes. These three quotes I present to you, are the ones that had the most booming effect on me. I’ll break them down and go over my interpretation of them and what I believe it means to my art.

Quote number one:

The six diseases:

  1. The desire for victory
  2. The desire to resort to technical cunning.
  3. The desire to display all that has been learned.
  4. The desire to awe the enemy.
  5. The desire to play the passive role.
  6. The desire to get rid of whatever disease one is affected by.”

This passage right here, this was a very profound moment for me. Disease number six was the one that was the most important to me in the list, though I related to the other five strongly. As this piece is personal, and as I’m still competing at the time of writing, I’m not quite sure what tense to write this as. Past tense or present tense, because I could very well still feel that there is some disease I wish to be rid of that resides in my mind that effects my performance in and out of tournament! Passages like this were really a starting point for me. It led me to “question-answers” that I brought on to myself. This was no “A-ha! That’s how I should do it!” moment. Which is exactly why reading such a thing is still profound to me right this very second. This was a challenging moment for me. Moments like this are not exactly found in The Inner Game. This quote is an essential example of the challenges this book has available to the reader, if they so choose to pick it up. It was challenging and difficult to swallow for me because it made sense, but still seems very difficult to “apply”. The paradox is that there could be nothing to apply at all in the first place, and a quote ahead reads “To desire not to desire is also an attachment”. I read that statement, and it become all the more confusing, and really made me rethink how I’ve been going along my journey in competitive Melee. Had I really been wasting all of this time wanting to be rid of a disease? Where did the disease even come from? What brought it on? Why do I label it as such a thing that brings on such hindering feelings? Why is “it” a thing in the first place? Can I make “it” not exist? If I can make “it” exist, can I make it not exist? Looking back on the past two years since I began competing seriously, nothing has really been holding me back except for lack of experience, and lack of game knowledge on many aspects.

Every single tournament that I have been attending, every single bracket match that I have been playing, every single loss and every single win, up to this point, and possibly in the future if I do not change, has been because I have been wanting to prove myself that I can overcome this disease I brought upon myself, instead of wanting to play my tournament matches, walking away from them, thinking to myself “Well, my DI was not exactly on point in a few situations in neutral where if I had done the correct DI, I would not have been hit for such high percentage and I could have escaped their combo. I dropped a game because my edge guards were a bit sloppy and I got way too lazy in the last minute of the match, but at least I composed myself and brought it together during game three. He had a solid counter-pick though. I’ll remember this for next time”. What it has been, is much more chaotic, less defined, less matter of fact, less thoughts that I can productively take away from and think about and apply for the next time. Now, I understand that it will never always be like the first example of how I want to think all of the time. There will definitely be times where emotions cloud judgement of what really went on in a tournament set, especially right after the tournament set is finished.  The point is, I really do believe that I’ve been plaguing myself, for no real reason exactly, and this first quote is still a challenge to swallow weeks after having read it.

 

Quote number two:

The knowledge and skill you have achieved are meant to be “forgotten” so that you can float comfortably in emptiness, without obstruction. Learning is important but do not become its slave. Above all, do not harbor anything external and superfluous-the mind is primary. Any technique, however worthy and desirable, becomes a disease when the mind is obsessed with it”.

The knowledge and skill you have achieved are meant to be “forgotten”…”

This is not something I would have had an easy time digesting had I read it two or three years ago as I was starting out in competitive Melee. I easily understand and completely agree with this quote because I spent a very long time in the most frustrating, confusing, and muddy state in my practice of Melee during my initial years of training and study. Things simply just make much more sense to me now than they ever did back then, and when I do not understand something, it is not such a tremendously difficult task to comprehend why, how, when, and where that something that I do not understand would work, and would not work. I spent the vast majority of my training sessions, learning. Writing. Watching. Digesting and regurgitating thoughts and ideas and drilling deep into my brain what I must not do, how things really are, what moves really do. My perception of the game in front of me completely changed in the end, after much painful confusion.

We must learn to forget. We learn, to forget. When the stakes are up, when the pressure is on, when you are fighting, you must fight. I am still romantic about the learning process of course I have a tremendous amount more to learn and practice in the game, but the hilarious paradox that I’ve come to, one that’s given me much confidence, is that it is in-fact okay at times to put the pen down and fight! During the end of these difficult years, I was definitely feeling a “pulled apart” feeling. One side of me craved knowledge. The other side of me craved adaptability. I wanted to fight, while wanting to learn. I wanted to win, while learning how to lose. I never felt centered. I never felt whole. Again, I find no conclusion to draw here, as I believe I’m just getting started. This quote has given me tremendous clarity and self-awareness, and for that I am very thankful for it ever being written.

 

Any technique, however worthy and desirable, becomes a disease when the mind is obsessed with it” The next part of this quote makes me think of tunnel-visioning in a match. Which is narrowing your focus to a select few amount of options, and solely looking for just those options the entire time in play. A quick example would be a Falco player only ever looking to Short Hop Fast Fall Laser -> Wavedash back in neutral. While in a vacuum that sequence could be very beneficial, only doing that sequence could possibly end up hurting the player in the end against an adaptive opponent, or if they are not being a bit more mindful of the nuances of the scenario at hand. Being adaptive, being active, always being present, is something I believe is one of the main takeaways from Jeet Kune Do. Though I did say that Jeet Kune Do is not like Melee, and vice versa, in Melee, I believe we must never be so romantic over a move or sequence of moves no matter how great they may seem. In Melee, there really are no fantastic, amazing moves that rack up tons of damage or establish a very strong sense of stage control right off the bat. Even moves like Peach’s Down-Smash. In a vacuum, or on paper, we as players understand how strong these moves definitely can be, but the over-reliant user is hurt in the end. Being always present and ever-adapting is something that I want to say is the single most powerful skill one could have when competing in Melee. Our greatest players are the most flexible, the most fluid, and the ones that everyone watches and says to themselves “Wow, that was so smart. That makes so much sense”. (Mostly. Maybe not for Mango).

 

Quote number three:

 “To desire” is an attachment. “To desire not to desire” is also an attachment.”

This one I believe kind of ties into the previous two quotes as a whole. This one was pretty big for me. My interpretation of this is that the desire itself is the disease. Well, that’s actually literally what it says is it not? To desire to be freed of some sort of mental block we think we have when it comes to performance, that desire is the disease itself. It’s a weird contradiction it seems. When we are plagued by a mental disease that we must overcome to perform better, some of us may turn to a book called Inner Game of Tennis. But…the desire itself…is the disease? Strange.


The answer to all of those questions I had before, then? Well, if I am to make an analogy to Melee, one that I would hope makes a lot of sense, then Melee is Art to me. Who you are as a human being, what it is you want to express, comes out in Art. No matter the form. No matter the game. Your passion, intensity, personality, dullness, passionate attributes, extroversion and introversion, who you are and your essence and qualities and smarts and stupids, all come out in what we call art. Art does not have to be painting, or writing, or reading. Art is neither wrong nor right. Art is not yes or no. Art can be competition. Art can be martial. Art can be anger, Art can be sadness, Art can be dullness and Art can be boring. All that matters is that it is what it is, nothing more, nothing less, nothing special and nothing dull.

Though given all of this, there is correct and incorrect in Melee. Much like how I think in Art there are certain colors you can’t really put together well. You know like how sometimes Brown and Purple do not really mix well together. I’m not saying do whatever the fuck you want in Melee because it’s Art, because Tao of Jeet Kune do is the “formless form”. Quite the contrary. Something important that I learned about Melee, is “Just because you can, does not mean you should”. You should not be recklessly jumping into your opponent and swinging like an absolute madman. Nor should you always be standing in place trying to trick your opponent into doing things all the time. No one way works all the time forever.

Ending thoughts.

I have no conclusion to draw from all of this. It is all a process. It’s happening every single day and changing every single minute I spend living. There is no conclusion to draw. Jeet Kune Do is just a great way to begin to challenge my own thinking, make new absurd connections to my art form, as I have been doing since the beginning.

 

Happy Cycling,

Paul LeCrone.

 


Soundtrack

 

If The Tao of Jeet Kune Do interests you, the link to purchase it on Amazon is here! —

 

And the Inner Game of Tennis can be purchased here:


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