Book Review: The Tao of Gung Fu: Commentaries on the Chinese Martial Arts by Bruce Lee (Edited by John Little)
September 8, 2015
Non-Fiction - Educational
When I see the two words “martial arts” anywhere, I’m instantly thrust back into the mind of my childhood self, pretending to be an expert martial artist in the backyard of my childhood home and defeating imaginary adversaries as easy as famous actors-slash-martial-artists like Bruce Lee, Jean Claude Van Dam, Jacky Chan, and Jet Li did in their movies. There are many who don’t know who Bruce Lee was off the screen. Edited by John Little, the foremost authority on everything Bruce Lee, The Tao of Gung Fu: Commentaries on the Chinese Martial Arts is a collection of essays written by Bruce Lee that paints him in a different, unknown and bright new light.
There is more to this iconic martial artist then I ever would’ve known. It is just as much so with gung fu. People have their own assumptions about what gung fu really is. As Bruce Lee reveals, some gung fu instructors might employ fancy moves in their techniques that do not need to be there or turn out to be a disappointment to the eager student who made the mistake of picking the wrong instructor. There is so much more to gung fu then people know. This book includes everything from martial arts techniques to agreeable definitions of what a “gung fu man” really is.
He succeeds in erasing the image of himself as a movie star; the image he draws on the reader’s mental chalkboards is of that of a genuinely good-hearted teacher who will educate you in anything but falsehoods.
Illustrations, photographs, and scanned-in notes coupled with the author’s writings all make for a pleasing learning experience. Concerning one style of martial arts, the author does inform the reader that something like an instruction book is not the way to learn the style. What I’ve gained from reading this book is great knowledge of many things that I never would’ve known. Of course, many different gung fu styles are among them, but in the scope of the whole book and what it’s truly about, that is only half of it. The author’s words will be devoured by readers and they’ll feel like they can never get their fill of it.
In the context of introducing someone to gung fu who harbors only a pinch of salt’s worth of knowledge about it, I’d say that this book is a must-read on the subject. Right now, as I write this, I cannot help but feel that someone who is no longer with us has somehow, truly and clearly, spoken to me. I can still feel the raised hairs on the back of neck and it’s not because I thought the author’s ghost was present as I was reading this book or anything; I think it’s because his words had so much truth and wisdom in it that I could not help but be affected by it.
Sure, there are many styles that this author writes about and I suspect that readers will like the way that it is prettied up by all of the diagrams and photos that can be found on almost every page, but in essence, what readers will find here is the author’s strong belief that simplicity in gung fu is key. If the only thing you know about gung fu is from what you have seen in martial arts movies, then rest assured, this book will make you forget all about it. I saw some martial arts movie on tee-vee while reading this book and you know how I looked at the fight scenes? Smiling, I think I’m going to refrain from giving you the answer to that one.
The reader might wonder why certain definitions are repeated in other passages when it doesn’t have to be, but from the view of someone who has read this book it’s easy to see why. When the reader closes this book, the author’s points are not only driven home, but they’re quite cohesive. This book includes scanned-in text from the author himself, but the handwriting borders on being decipherable. I wanted to read the handwritten letter from the author included at the end of the book, but I could only glean a few words here and there. There’s nothing wrong with my eyes.
Although I learned of various fight stances, gun fu styles and practice exercises, I can in no way call this book a manual, because it’s not. Instead, I will call it a sample of an art that I want to know more of. That is what this author does. He succeeds in erasing the image of himself as a movie star; the image he draws on the reader’s mental chalkboards is of that of a genuinely good-hearted teacher who will educate you in anything but falsehoods. I would recommend this book to the gung fu enthusiast before I do any other title on the subject.
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