Bruce, what did you mean when you said this?

The above quote is always shared in my Facebook by many martial artists. It’s probably one of Bruce Lee‘s most famous quotes. 

What does it really mean?

For me, I take it to mean that it’s better for me to train in Arnis only and not go to the Mixed Martial Arts path. Having said that, I also believe that one can train in the many different aspects of Arnis — fighting with weapons and empty hands.  “There’s really only one technique,”  my instructor Master Cris always says. “If you know how to do it with sticks, you’ll know how to do it with other weapons and even empty hands.” I think he’s right.

The opposite argument says that one can only be good either armed or unarmed, not in both. Read a very, very intelligent argument for that here.

What’s your opinion on this?


14 thoughts on “Bruce, what did you mean when you said this?

  1. Mio December 11, 2013 / 10:07 AM

    Please allow me to give my insight.

    In my view, and I can be right or wrong, what the legendary Bruce Lee meant is that martial artists should focus on the basics. In fact, he said this in another way when he was training writer Joe Hyams.

    In his insightful book Zen in the Martial Arts, Hyams quoted Lee as saying that although there are martial artists who would practice hundreds (ore probably even thousands) of moves, a person in any competition or even in a real fight, might only use around three or four, which are his favorites.

    Recall what the Grandmaster Antonio Ilustrisimo told a person during an interview. The old man said that he can teach Kali to that interviewer in just two weeks as long as the practitioner would be diligent enough to practice at least 1 hour a day. It is safe to guess that if the training took place, the old man might have only taught the BASICS of Kali Ilustrisimo, and yet made person well-trained to use it immediately to ably defend himself in a street fight.

    Please open this link––and read about the Gurkha knife (khukuri) training. You will learn that the Gurkhas have NO martial art to boast of, and yet they are feared for their ferocity in the use of the khukuri. In fact, they will tell anybody that they don’t need to practice ANY knife-fighting art. (Also, please read

    There is nothing wrong with cross-training with other martial arts. The more important thing is to follow Lee’s advice, which is the basic principle of his art called Jeet Kune Do (JKD): ABSORB WHAT IS USEFUL, REJECT WHAT IS USELESS, AND ADD WHAT IS SPECIFICALLY YOUR OWN.

    In short, what Lee probably meant and wanted to convey to his students and succeeding JKD followers is the usual K.I.S.S. (KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID).

    • thedeadlydance December 13, 2013 / 10:41 PM

      Those Gurkhas are to be feared!
      Yes, I now agree now that one can cross train with other martial arts. But there should be a prerequisite: he should have already mastered the basics of his own style. Otherwise, it will only be confusing.

      • Mio December 14, 2013 / 3:11 AM

        That is really how you start when it comes to developing your own martial art. You must have a CORE martial arts from where you will start adding techniques that you find useful. Bruce Lee would always tell people that he owed his achievements to wing chun, which he described as “a great style” taught to him by the legendary Yip (or Ip) Man. Napakadali kasing matutunan ang wing chun because of its simplicity and economy of movements. I learned my basics in wing chun from Willie Tagoon, who was also a shotokan blackbelter and kickboxer. Afterwards, I met Tamy Tamondong who taught me Jendo, a sort of modified wing chun, for eight years. Tamy is now in Chicago and prefers to teach his art only to his wife and daughter, although many people have repeatedly asked him to share his knowledge.This is the same Jendo developed by former army sergeant Jun Abaya. Dan Inosanto once said in an interview that he learned his wing chun from 9 different instructors! It was less difficult for me to learn arnis under Maestro Cris because of my wing chun background.

  2. Mio December 12, 2013 / 1:39 PM

    I once asked an arnis instructor why he is teaching too many disarming techniques. His student, to my amazement, replied to my question with an answer that really befuddled me: “Eh kung yung ibang master nga eh 100 disarming techniques ang tinuturo.” (Huh? Say again?)

    Now I find this kind of thinking quite disturbing. Why?

    First, because I don’t know how that student would respond if confronted by a violent and armed mentally deranged individual (amok). I am afraid that this student is not aware that too many concepts have crowded his mind and will likely “paralyze” him when it comes to the execution of the appropriate self-defense response. The Japanese have a term for this interruption. They call it “suki”.

    Second, the study of too many disarming techniques prevent the more fundamental yet effective striking techniques from being absorbed by the subconscious mind (the “no mind” or “Mu-shin” in Japanese). It’s like marinating a piece of meat using your favorite sauce. You have to let it seep gradually over time. But how can you let the more effective basic movements seep into your subconscious mind if their absorption is competing with the learning of the fancy yet useless techniques, e.g. unrealistic disarming, scripted movements used in martial arts demos, katas, etc.? Instinctive actions, which include reflexes, are nurtured and expressed by the subconcious mind through long periods of practice. (Sa totoo lang, gaano kadaming kaalaman ba ang natutunan natin sa kolehiyo at nagamit sa buhay? 30%? 20%? Or even less?)

    Third, the study of too many disarming techniques eat too much time that should be reserved for actual sparring where an arnisador will really show if he or she is calculating and composed or easily agitated and clumsy.

    Fourth, I strongly agree with the viewpoint of the late Kali Ilustrisimo Maestro Christopher Ricketts that a martial artist should never look for a disarm. He said the way bladed weapons are made and designed nowadays makes it extremely dangerous to perform a disarm. Maestro Ricketts would rather advise individuals to run 99.99 percent of the time when confronted with a person holding a bladed weapon. In short, don’t find a disarm; but instead, find an exit.

    • thedeadlydance December 13, 2013 / 10:49 PM

      Thank you! Great points on why trying to learn too many disarms will just be counter productive.
      Some thoughts on your fourth point. We should NEVER look for a disarm? But if we know that there’s no exit? I think practicing a few solid disarms is still helpful.

      • Mio December 14, 2013 / 2:44 AM

        Agree. I forgot to add this phrase in the last sentence of what I just wrote: “…if there is one.”

  3. Mio December 15, 2013 / 1:38 AM

    Please view these videos:

    How many times were they able to disarm each other? After answering this question, we ask more questions: How do we then teach disarming properly given the usual behavior of an assailant? How many disarming techniques are practicable and will likely be used more often because of the high probability of related attacks? How do we disarm a tattooed (ex-con or criminal recidivist) assailant who is slim, small but elusive when it comes to the speed of arms and legs, e.g. robbers who frequent the slums in Tondo, Tatalon, the blighted areas below the MRT/LRT structures, Jones Bridge, Intramuros, etc.

    • thedeadlydance December 20, 2013 / 1:10 AM

      None. I think disarms are really difficult in real life.

      • Mio January 3, 2014 / 1:39 PM

        I don’t know if somebody mentioned to you an incident that compelled Maestro Cris to hit an assailant armed with a knife. The assailant was about to draw a knife when Maestro Cris suddenly applied a “pitik” with a stick that sent the guy lying on the pavement. No disarms. No blocks. Just instinctive action. Mushin.

        • thedeadlydance January 6, 2014 / 8:32 PM

          Yes I know that. Awesome, right? Muscle memory to the max. Then there was also that incident when somebody tried to stab him with a pen, he disarmed that one — sent the pen flying across the room.

          • Mio January 7, 2014 / 2:08 AM

            Yan ang magandang matutunan sa kanya re rare situations when one could use disarming (e.g. would he advise that type of disarming if the weapon had been a double-bladed knife?), and how to disarm properly. He usually teaches two aspects of the same technique just to give the student the option to choose:
            1. disarm and then hit, or
            2. hit and then disarm (would it be better to do this just to distract the opponent’s attention and lessen his grip on the weapon?).
            But if you look at the way disarms are taught, they may also be considered as strikes (e.g., a strike to the elbow, forearm, wrist or fingers) although less fatal ones.

  4. Michael December 18, 2013 / 11:32 AM


    I would say that the message is not so much to focus one one thing to the exclusion of all else as it is to not try to do all the things and never truly learn anything. You can’t just try everything and hope to be good at it- You have to make a conscious choice about what you’re trying to improve, and then work hard to make yourself good at whatever it is you’ve chosen.

    Just my two cents, anyway.

    • thedeadlydance December 20, 2013 / 1:14 AM

      Wise words Michael, thanks. I like what you said about making a “conscious choice.” It’s really hard to be a master of all trades.

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