Bruce Lee made these jokes possible:

  • When Chuck Norris wants popcorn, he breathes on Nebraska.
  • Chuck Norris beat the sun in a staring contest.
  • When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.

Dropping one-liners about the toughness of legendary martial arts movie hero Chuck Norris has become an internet cottage industry, and we have the moxie of Bruce Lee to thank for that.

Bruce Lee had the moxie to blaze a new trail for action heroes. The American-born Chinese actor fused his love of gung fu (also known as “kung fu”) with his deep background as a performer to elevate his passion for martial arts to the world stage. Not only did he develop the martial arts action movie genre, he actually gave his friend Chuck Norris his first role (and then kicked Norris’ butt on screen.)

The fusion of movie-making and martial arts was the perfect expression of Lee’s philosophy, which centered around the idea of “harmonious individuality.”

Harmonious individuality is an apt description of how Lee lived. He flowed like a river, with streams from his heritage and interests adding power to the current, shaping the landscape around him with years of steady commitment to his craft and a strong vision for what could be.

Lee was born in San Francisco while his parents were touring with the Chinese Opera. Being born to parents who were performers surely guided Lee’s early years. He was a child star back in Hong Kong, appearing in nearly two dozen films.

He also discovered his life’s passion as a child, when he began learning and training in the art of gung fu. After that, gung fu became the defining practice of his life. When he returned to the United States at the age of eighteen to study philosophy at the University of Washington, he began to teach gung fu.

Once again, his passions fused. He wasn’t just teaching a martial art or studying in a classroom; he was practicing, developing and sharing an approach to life. Then, in the mid-1960s, he established his own martial art, Jeet Kune Do, which means “the way of the intercepting fist.” At its core, Jeet Kune Do is about simplicity, directness, and personal freedom.

The flow of Bruce’s life was not without significant interruption. He injured a nerve in his back while exercising and was told by doctors he would never practice gung fu again. After several months of bed rest – time he spent reading, writing, and reflecting – Lee began his own program of recovery. It took months, but Lee regained his ability to walk, and eventually his ability to practice the art he loved.

Lee never left behind the on-screen skills learned in his childhood. He saw movies as a way to introduce his art and philosophy to the world, but Hollywood wasn’t yet ready to put an Asian action star on the silver screen. So Lee returned to Hong Kong. He starred in several films and earned enough influence to begin writing and directing his own films.

His success caught the attention of Hollywood, and Bruce got the backing he needed from a major studio to produce and distribute “Enter the Dragon.”

Alas, Lee never got the chance to see his biggest movie become a runaway success. Just weeks before it was set to premiere, he suffered a significant reaction to a prescription painkiller and died at just 32.

In his short life, he lived out one of his more famous quotes: “Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. So be water, my friend.”

Lee flowed, but just as water carves out canyons and cuts through farmland, and wears away rocks, he influenced the world around him. Using every aspect of his being – mind, body, and spirit – he catapulted a genre and art into the spotlight and broke down barriers like a gung fu master splitting a board.

That’s moxie.

Who do you know that’s blazing a trail as Bruce did for Chuck?

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