Commusings: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom—for Your Diet by Dr. William Li

Apr 15, 2023

Dear Commune Community,

Since today’s essay features a wonderful Asian American doctor, William Li, paying homage to another Asian American, the great Bruce Lee, I am compelled to follow suit and pen a brief preamble on li, the Taoist aesthetic concept. This approach feels particularly appropriate given the recent launch of our free Qi Gong course and the impending unveiling of our Eastern wisdom program with the brilliant Alan Watts. 

Li can be translated as “the markings in jade.” It can be observed in the striations of muscle, the swirl in marble, the patterns in clouds, the veins in leaves, and the grain in wood as traced by the flowed of sap and water. Li is the asymmetrical, nonrepetitive and unregimented order that spontaneously emerges within nature. 

You, too, are li. You are a pattern. And when you align yourself with nature and her course, you find balance. Well-being is the maintenance of this sensitive order that brings opposites into a tenuous equilibrium. 

The Tao is often dubbed “The Water’s Course.” And, as you will read, Lee had a great affinity for the nature of water: It is both supple yet supremely powerful. It never resists but always persists. It reflects and never clutches. It humbly streams to the lowest point, filling space where it is needed, changing states in relation to its environment. 

Lee embodied li — he flowed. While he was a virtuoso of controlled aggression, he never used violence unduly. Like many of the martial arts masters, he managed space and let others exhaust themselves in their fury. He manifested flow state, a perfect awareness of body in space, a yoking of action and intention, an inhabitation of the ever now. Lee (and li) – are the epitome of well-being.

Here at [email protected] and flowing with the current on IG @jeffkrasno.
In love, include me,

• • •

Bruce Lee’s Wisdom—for Your Diet

by Dr. William Li

Excerpted from Eat to Beat Your Diet

At 5 feet, 8 inches tall and 130 pounds, Bruce Lee had a lean, cut physique that he kept in perfect shape through relentless training and careful nutrition. He was a fitness icon as well as an iconic martial artist. You only need to watch one of his films to be awed by his physical prowess. What most people do not know is that Bruce Lee developed a strong philosophy for adapting to and overcoming obstacles—including health challenges—and winning. His philosophy continues to influence many people, including today’s top athletes. And me.

As a teenager, I was a huge Bruce Lee fan. His lightning-quick fighting moves were hypnotizing, and his ripped physique was so defined, his muscles looked like they’d been drawn by a comic book artist. In my youth, I related to Bruce Lee’s identity because we are both Asian Americans, and the themes of his movies hit home for me—overcoming injustice, racism, and bullying. Bruce Lee fought his opponents with speed, skill, grace, and efficacy. As a teen, I aspired to have his physical abilities.

While part of me still hopes one day to gain those remarkable physical skills, I’ve had a lot more success incorporating the other themes that Bruce Lee espoused. He taught the importance of learning new skills and adapting them to your own unique physical abilities and limitations. He exemplified how one can respect traditional ways without being beholden to traditional rules, and how not to be afraid to solve problems by creating your own solutions. Lee said, “Research your own experience. Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.” 

When it comes to finding your own way to fight body fat, Bruce Lee’s wisdom is gold. 

That may sound like a stretch, so let me explain. Lee used combat training as a metaphor for solving problems and achieving success in life. Don’t waste time debating the merits of different approaches—be direct, deal with the situation, and get results!

Learning to apply different techniques to use food as medicine to heal and optimize your metabolism not only broadens your abilities; it also helps you break out of the mindset of any single school of thought and throws rigid diet rules and philosophies out the window. You will become a more adaptive and flexible individual when it comes to food and health. If you’ve been frustrated with past efforts at weight loss or feel that dieting seems like an impossible mountain to climb, what I’m about to share with you will make it possible for you to accomplish your goals for a better metabolism and health while enjoying the process.

Here is my response to the “diet doctors” and other lifestyle gurus who promote inflexible rules and soulless eating programs. I’ve drawn five important principles from Bruce Lee’s philosophy:

Principle #1: Clear Your Mind of Assumptions

Bruce Lee believed people should be open-minded and aim to be free of rigid thoughts and preconceived notions. One of his most famous quotes is: “Be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow, or it can crash. Be water.” His point was to be fluid and accepting.

Applied to eating, this means letting go of the rigidities in any past, popular doctrines you may have embraced on how and why to “fight fat.” If you’ve believed there is a “right way” or “wrong way” for losing weight and being healthy, this is the time to open your mind to what works for you.

Principle #2: Understand Yourself and How You React

Acquiring self-knowledge is important for achieving success in life, according to Bruce Lee. Rather than being distracted by the expectations of others, he believed in the power of understanding the truest essence of yourself. 

As an actor arriving in Hollywood, Lee found himself at first obeying the television producers who had stereotypes in mind for him to portray. While he initially conformed to those expectations, he later broke out of the mold by acting true to his character, which led to the iconic roles he played in his martial arts films. His self-reckoning also guided his actions as a practitioner and teacher of the martial arts, and in his personal life. Bruce Lee undertook a lifelong quest to understand his own true motivations, so he could live an authentic life.

Bruce Lee said, “Learn your inner nature in order to control it.” When it comes to personalizing your diet, understanding your inner nature is extremely helpful. 

Principle #3: Keep Learning in Order to Achieve Mastery

Bruce Lee believed that mastering new skills for combat requires a series of progressive steps. He said there are three stages of learning: in the first stage, a “punch is just a punch.” You just do it without fully understanding what is involved. 

In the second stage of learning, “a punch is no longer just a punch.” This is the stage of dissecting each aspect of the punch: how to make a fist, getting the right physical stance to deliver the punch, and how to deliver the blow with the most effective force. As you analyze and break down the movement, you practice and repeat it over and over. 

The third stage of learning is where “a punch is just a punch” again. By this last stage, you have dissected and understood the punch, practiced it over and over again, and integrated each component until the entire action becomes automatic and instinctive. This same process can be applied to learning any skill, including how to incorporate foods that streamline your metabolism.

Principle #4: Adapt to Whatever Life Throws at You

In his film The Game of Death, Bruce Lee ascends a stairwell to the top of a pagoda where he is confronted by an unusual opponent played by basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar … the adversary is 7 feet, 2 inches tall! The much taller, bigger, and stronger, Abdul-Jabbar uses his elongated reach and rangy legs to pummel the shorter and slighter Lee. To counter, Lee adapts by using flying kicks to reach the taller man’s head, and he delivers rapid body blows while ducking under Abdul-Jabbar’s long, lashing arms. 

When Lee discovers his opponent’s eyes are ultrasensitive to light, he punches holes in the pagoda’s rice paper windows to let in blinding sunlight, which allows Lee to overcome the giant. It was just a movie, of course, but the underlying lesson is to achieve victory by adapting and changing tactics to respond to unforeseen circumstances. This was a key component of what Lee taught his students in real life. He stated: “The inability to adapt brings destruction.”

When life’s circumstances—a holiday, a wedding, travel, a change in employment—take you away from your usual pattern, don’t give up on eating for your health. Improvise! You may be on a disciplined path of eating, but suddenly you’re required to take a day trip to an area where you cannot easily find healthy food. Pivot and adapt by bringing food with you or by skipping a meal—fasting not only won’t hurt you; it can heal you. 

When you are invited to dinner at a friend’s home, choose only the healthiest offerings. If you feel comfortable doing so, tell your hosts about your eating preferences ahead of time, so they can accommodate you.

Finding success sometimes means not giving in to the easiest solution but finding a new path that could be hidden in plain sight. Follow Bruce Lee’s advice of “not being tense, but ready . . . not being rigidly set, but flexible. Aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.”

Principle #5: Be Mindful of What You Eat

As a teen, Bruce Lee was skinny and not particularly fit. When he began to study martial arts, he started to condition his body and mind. When it came to his diet, Lee ate nutrient-dense foods. He urged mindfulness in eating: “Eat what your body requires, and don’t get carried away with foods that don’t benefit you.” This means, avoid overeating and choose foods that are beneficial to your metabolism over those that are detrimental.

Lee observed that a healthy person has a good balance between sensing what is around him and taking the proper action. He encouraged the cultivation of awareness—of self and of the world around us. Said Lee: “A mind that is in a state of awareness can concentrate.” 

You have control of everything you feed your body, so it’s vital that you are present and deliberate whenever you are planning meals, shopping for groceries, cooking, serving, and eating. Self-awareness saves you from harmful self-indulgences and lets you find a healthier and more agreeable path of moderation. Notice I didn’t say deprivation. Being intentional and mindful will help you make every decision count when it comes to your food and your health.

Excerpted from Eat to Beat Your Diet by William W. Li, MD. Copyright © 2023 by William W. Li, MD. Reprinted with permission of Balance Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved.
• • •
William W. Li, MD, is an internationally renowned physician, scientist and author of the New York Times bestseller “Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.” His groundbreaking research has led to the development of more than 30 new medical treatments that impact care for more than 70 diseases including diabetes, blindness, heart disease and obesity. Dr. Li is President and Medical Director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, and he is leading global initiatives on food as medicine. His newest book, “Eat to Beat Your Diet: Burn Fat, Heal Your Metabolism, and Live Longer” was released March 21, 2023.

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