Bruce Lee was an entertainer, a philosopher, a creative kung fu master and indirectly an improviser we can all look up to. His hallmark style was no style and he always emphasized formlessness a goal.
At the start of the film Enter the Dragon, a senior Shaolin Temple instructor quizzes Lee: What is the highest technique you hope to achieve?
To have no technique he responds. Damn straight. Isnt seemingly effortless mastery the hallmark of the best improvisers and indeed the most skilled practitioners of any craft?
Lee grew up in Hong Kong with cosmopolitan parents and spent much of his adult life in the US, where he attended university, formalized his kung fu ideas, and got into show business. He appeared as Kato in the TV series The Green Hornet, and in both Hollywood and Hong Kong film productions. His best known films were Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon, which was released in 1973 one month after his death at age 32.
Lee developed his own school of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do. He outlined his thoughts in a famous essay called "Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate", which contains stuff that could have come out an Improv comedy manual.
One cannot express himself fully when imprisoned by a confining style. Combat "as is" is total, and it includes all the "is" as well as "is not," without favorite lines or angles. Lacking boundaries, combat is always fresh, alive and constantly changing. Your particular style, your personal inclinations and your physical makeup are all 'parts' of combat, but they do not constitute the 'whole' of combat.
Replace combat with improv and you have an ideal to which we can aspire.
Learning is definitely not mere imitation, nor is it the ability to accumulate and regurgitate fixed knowledge. Learning is a constant process of discovery, a process without end.
Were all students, all the time. Lee spread his philosophy through writing, demonstrations, and teaching. His celebrity students included Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Chuck Norris, and Roman Polanski (I am not making this up). More than anyone else, Lee was responsible for jump starting interest in Chinese martial arts in the US through his teaching and his films.
Enter the Dragon has not aged well think a lower budget James Bond film from the same era only replacing Bonds womanizing with Lees philosophizing- you may wish to view it as a curio or cultural artifact. As I write this the entire film is available on YouTube. There is one scene I particularly appreciate. Lee schools a young kung fu acolyte who is too mechanistic:
Dont think. Feel. It is like a finger pointing to the moon. Dont concentrate on the finger or you will miss all the heavenly glories.
As someone who thinks too much on stage, I take this advice to heart.
I like to imagine Lee in Heaven today, kicking Del Closes ass in the weekly shoot-around. Yeah.