Swimming Lessons from Bruce Lee
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on November 6th, 2009

From The Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee


This book is a compilation of thoughts and ideas Bruce Lee recorded from his study and practice of Eastern philosophy and martial arts over 19 years. I bought it in the mid-1990s after several people commented on the similarity they had observed between Total Immersion and martial arts.  Here, from the book is Buddhism’s Eight Fold Path: I’ve added a TI thought after the colon in each. (Note: #2 and #4 were modified from original post, thanks to suggestions from TW .)

1. Right views (understanding): Understand yourself and how your body behaves in water. Seek to understand — not judge — what is happening . . . including your “imperfect” moments.

2. Right purpose (aspiration): Mindfulness on each stroke, in the here and now, is Right Purpose.

3. Right speech: Emphasize possibility, not limits or obstacles, in talking about your swimming.

4, Right conduct: Be considerate of – indeed cooperative and collaborative with – other swimmers. Provide good example.

5. Right vocation: Seek harmony between your work and your practice.

6. Right effort: It takes effort to become effortless, but avoid heedless struggle.

7. Right awareness: Feel and think about swimming even when not swimming.  Your muscles learn from thought as well as action.

8. Right concentration: The most important object of all practice is to improve your capacity for focus and for merging mind and body in unified action

9 Responses to “Swimming Lessons from Bruce Lee”

  1. TW says:

    I like it. And agree.

    Perhaps 2. would be better as: Don’t think about how far to go, or what happens when you get there. Mindfulness on each stroke, in the here and now, is Right Purpose.

    And 4. Right Conduct I think is more about consideration for other swimmers. And also how you behave out the pool – eg. as an example to others. I think you have this one down 😉

    I’ve also noticed similarities between sitting(zazen) and swimming – something about alignment of the spine and a feeling through your back.

    I find each practise feeds the other!

  2. TW You have definitely improved upon the expression. May I borrow your edits to modify my original?

  3. TW says:

    I would be honoured!


  4. I’m glad you like the article. Do you feel differently about the way in which Bruce Lee’s views are represented or their application to swimming?

  5. Shuumai says:

    Typo in point #6. “…avoid heedless struggle.”

    Point #3 is something I remind my kid about during bowling practice. “Don’t say, ‘I can’t make that shot.'” The mind is always at work manifesting our thoughts and intentions.

    I don’t like the picture. Clearly Bruce wasn’t holding the katana when the picture was taken; look at the fingers of the right hand. (His grip would also be too narrow.) Most of all, he wasn’t really known for his sword skills.

  6. juliana says:

    Good points to remember in a nutshell. Its application is relevant in the elevation of swimming as an art form like kung fu (skilful work). Indeed, it requres constant practice and focus against the opponent, in this case, density of water. Appreciate the extrapolation of ideas you made…swimming has become more interesting and enriching.

  7. Rob Polley says:

    Just a thought about how I handle “I can’t” whether I am teaching elementary school or swimming lessons. I simply say, “I’ll try?” with a slight question mark tone. It’s amazing how quickly most “I cants” become “I dids” within a minute or 2 – sometimes less. I then try to follow up by asking, “What other things do you think you can’t do?” to encourage the idea that maybe the child can do THOSE things, too.

    Thank you!

  8. Juliana
    I’m always fascinated by the synthesis of ideas from martial arts as applied to swimming.

  9. Thank you for your entry. It has given me a little to ponder. Thank you again!

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