A Little Journalistic Advice From Bruce Lee

7 04 2009

Originally published by the UC Association of Black Journalists.

A statue of Bruce Lee displayed on Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars.

A statue of Bruce Lee displayed on Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars. CC image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bruce Lee? What’s he got to do with journalism? It’ll make sense. I promise.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was a wanna-be journalist desperate for pointers on how to become a published writer. I still listen pretty intently to everyone who has writing advice to give. So you can probably imagine my surprise when other students started asking me about how they could get their work published.

“You’re looking for help from who? Really?”

After writing for The News Record, Cincinnati Magazine, and blogging for the The Root, perhaps I do have some decent experience under my belt. But it’s still surreal to be the adviser instead of the advisee. I’m not sure the learner has quite become the master yet.

But students like me – who still freshly remember having never been published before – might just have some really useful insights for new journalists. I’m that step between where they are and where they want to be.

So I started thinking about everything I learned from all the wiser, more experienced journalists I’ve been able to study with.

Everything Kathy Wilson taught me about protecting no one in the pursuit of truth and developing a distinctive voice.

What Elissa Sonnenberg told me about being versatile and well-rounded.

The lessons from Len Penix about style and solid reporting skills.

What Aiesha Little taught about imagery and pacing.

The insights I picked up from Jenny Wohlfarth about casting a wide net with research and how to synthesize all the information into something relevant and useful.

Finally, with all the experience of the last couple years swimming in my head and Jon Hughes’ driving passion for journalism compelling me, the great piece of advice I was looking for finally came.

So here it is:

“Be water.”

Of all the great kung-fu legends out there, Bruce Lee has to be one of the greatest. He wasn’t just a fighter and an actor; he was a philosopher, a teacher and an author, too.

He came up with his own approach to martial arts (which is still pretty widely practiced today) called Jeet Kune Do – “the way of the intercepting fist.” It grew out of his broader philosophy – using “no way as way.” Lee said that to express themselves completely and effectively, people had to grow beyond “styles.” He argued that the ultimate goal of training was self knowledge. Once you mastered everything you’re capable of doing, you could improvise naturally to whatever presented itself and not have to rely on some kind of artificial playbook to win a fight – or perhaps even a job, or a relationship.

One of the best illustrations Lee used to explain this was water. You can watch a fascinating interview here from the early ‘70s where he talked about it at length. “You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put it into a bottle it becomes the bottle. Put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot,” Lee said.

You can use water to clean a dish, or put it in a pitcher and drink it, or grow flowers with it, or swim in it, or wear down a mountainside with it, or fight a fire with it, or freeze a fish with it, or even use a hydroelectric dam it power a city with it.

But whatever you’re doing with it, it’s still just H2O. And no guidebook, method, or training course in the world is ever going to tell you everything you could possibly do with it. You use water most effectively when you have an open mind about what water can do.



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