The Bruce Lee Library and More
Where can one find reputable Bruce Lee quotes?
It's common to find quotes by Bruce Lee throughout social media. A fair number of these quotes are just plain fakes. There's so many false "quotes" on the Internet that I (Richard) occasionally research them for a dedicated affiliated blog called Sourcing Bruce Lee.
If there are so many fakes around, how does one find reputable Bruce Lee quotes? This post will introduce several sets of resources, starting with Tuttle's Bruce Lee Library. These books, especially those in the Library, are the sources social media users will find as the most accurate and fruitful repositories of Bruce Lee material.
The Bruce Lee Library: "Tier Zero" Sources
Tier Zero Sources: The Bruce Lee Library, volumes 1-8
The Bruce Lee Library is a series of 8 books originally produced by Tuttle Publishing between 1997 and 2000. They are mainly written by John Little. His LinkedIn page states that he was the literary executor for the Bruce Lee estate from 1995 to 2000.
The series includes the following 8 books:
- Bruce Lee: Words of the Dragon: Interviews, 1958-1973; 30 Nov 1997
- Bruce Lee: The Tao of Gung Fu: A Study in the Way of Chinese Martial Art; 15 Nov 1997
- Bruce Lee: Jeet Kune Do: Bruce Lee's Commentaries on the Martial Way; 15 Nov 1997
- Bruce Lee: The Art of Expressing the Human Body; 15 Nov 1998
- Bruce Lee: Letters of the Dragon: Correspondence, 1958-73; 15 Nov 1998
- Bruce Lee: Artist of Life; 15 Sep 1999
- Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee's Wisdom for Daily Living; 1 Apr 2000
- Bruce Lee: The Celebrated Life of the Golden Dragon; 27 Nov 2000
These 8 books are the primary and most reliable sources for Bruce Lee's words. As literary executor for the Bruce Lee estate, Mr. Little had access to Mr. Lee's library and the Lee family. As he wrote in the introduction to the first volume in the series:
"In 1994, Linda Lee Cadwell, the widow of Bruce Lee, paid me the tremendous and unprecedented honor of being the first person she ever allowed to go through every scrap of her late husband’s personal papers, notes, letters, essays, rough drafts of screenplays, choreography notes, poetry, art work, reading annotations, and daytime diaries, in an attempt to put together a multivolume testament to his incredible legacy and reveal the human being behind the legendary persona."
Therefore, these 8 books are the definitive account of Bruce Lee's writings. They should be your first stop when searching for material by Bruce Lee. I call them "tier zero" as I consider them more important than the tier one sources which follow.
Tier One Sources
|Tier One Sources|
I'm sure some readers would have thought that the first place to look for material by Bruce Lee would be in books bearing Bruce Lee's name, especially The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
I place these books, plus one other, in the "tier one" category after the Bruce Lee Library for two reasons.
First, these books tend to be more about Bruce Lee's fighting style, and less about his philosophy. Yes, his philosophy is in his fighting style and vice versa. However, readers are less likely to encounter so-called "motivational quotes" in books on fighting techniques.
Second, some of these books, and especially The Tao, did not undergo the rigorous process pursued by Mr. Little when he assembled the Bruce Lee Library. It's clear that multiple sections of The Tao are just republished notes that Mr. Lee wrote concerning other people's thoughts. Unfortunately, these words appear as if written by Mr. Lee.
With that in mind, these are the four tier one sources. The first three are all attributed to Bruce Lee.
- The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, New Expanded Edition; 11 Nov 2011
- Bruce Lee's Fighting Method, the Complete Edition; 1 Sep 2008
- Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense Revised and Updated; 1 Feb 1997
- The Warrior Within : The Philosophies of Bruce Lee by John Little; 22 Apr 1996
The fourth title is also by Mr. Little, and he published it within the timeframe that he was literary executor of the Lee estate. It is not a part of the Library as it was published by Contemporary Books.
Note also that I do not include anywhere in these lists another book from Mr. Little and Contemporary Books titled Bruce Lee: Words from a Master, published 1 Nov 1998. This small 132 page, 7 inch by 5 inch book apparently only contains 43 pages of Bruce Lee material. The remainder contains interviews by people on their thoughts about Mr. Lee. Given the vast amount of material Mr. Little published in the Library, and the degree to which material appears in more than one volume, I highly doubt anything in these 43 pages does not appear elsewhere.
Tier Two Sources
|Tier Two Sources|
My tier two sources are books by his family members and a couple biographies. These include the following:
- The Life and Tragic Death of Bruce Lee by Linda Lee, 1975; this is the same as #5
- The Legendary Bruce Lee by the Editors of Black Belt Magazine, 1 Jun 1986
- The Bruce Lee Story by Linda Lee, 1 Feb 1989
- Bruce Lee: Wisdom for the Way by Bruce Lee and Shannon Lee, 1 Oct 1989
- Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew by Linda Lee, 1975; this is the same as #1
- Bruce Lee: The Evolution of a Martial Artist by Tommy Gong, forewords by Linda Lee Cadwell and Shannon Lee, 1 Jun 2014
- Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America by Charles Russo; 1 Jun 2016
- Be Water, My Friend: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee by Shannon Lee, 6 Oct 2020
Beware books 1 and 5! They are the same book, only published with different titles by different houses. I list them both here to warn readers.
While many of these books are by family members, or appear endorsed by family members, I place them in a category below tier zero and tier one. Those two higher tiers contain material either based strictly on Mr. Lee's words, or purport to be Mr. Lee's words (as attributed to him as author of several books). Books by others about Mr. Lee, while credible in the eyes of the author, are from an historian's point of view more of a secondary source, rather than a primary source.
But What About...
There's no way I could forget Matthew Polly's incomparable and authoritative biography, Bruce Lee: A Life (2018)! However, I don't consider it a source of quotes, as one would find in the Library. It's my go-to source for biography and history.
Similarly, Dr. Paul Bowman has written two scholarly treatises that situate Mr. Lee within global culture, and hence comment on his philosophy. Check our Theorizing Bruce Lee (2009) and Beyond Bruce Lee (2013) for details.
Black Belt Magazine
One other resource worth mentioning is the Google archive of Black Belt Magazine. This link searches for the term "Bruce Lee" across all issues in the archive. Sometimes you will find articles that quote Mr. Lee.
How to make use of this material? Or, how do I at least make use of this material?
When researching a supposed Bruce Lee quote, I ask the following research questions:
- Does the quote appear in any volume of the Bruce Lee Library? If not, there's still a chance it could be in a tier one source.
- Does the quote appear in any tier one sources? If not, I severely doubt it appears anywhere else. If I suspect it might, I will check the tier two sources. As half of these are only in my print library, that's a tough slog.
- If there's any reason to think the quote is legitimate, but it has not appeared in tier zero or tier one sources, then I will check other sources listed here. The likelihood of finding it is slim. However, one in a while there is a hit. For example, I found the "inspiration" for a supposed quote in a 1967 issue of Black Belt Magazine, as noted in this Sourcing Bruce Lee post.
I hope you have found this post useful. I'd like to thank Tuttle Publishing for sending my three digital copies of Bruce Lee Library texts to round out my research laboratory.
If anyone would like to contribute to the Martial History Team research library, I started an Amazon Wish List. It currently has an entry for Tommy Gong's book. I have a print edition already, but it would be easier to search a Kindle version.