5 Things Bruce Lee Taught Me About the Art of Writing

Like him or loathe him, Bruce Lee’s popularity is responsible for single-handedly converting an entire generation to martial arts. As a Wing Chun instructor, though not a fan of his films, I respect him for spreading the teachings of the art, and I often find myself quoting his wisdoms of kung fu. With the commitment, discipline, and perseverance required to write a book, I find many parallels between the art of writing and the art of fighting. Lee himself was the author of a number of books on martial arts and philosophy. Not surprising then, that many of his tenets on kung fu can be just as equally applied to the craft of writing.

Here are 5 things the martial arts icon has taught me about writing as an art form:

GIVEAWAY: J.C. is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners can live anywhere in the world. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: cindylorene won.)



Guest column by J.C. Martin, a butt-kicking bookworm:
when she isn’t reading or writing, she teaches martial arts and
self-defense to children and adults. Born and raised in Malaysia,
she now lives in London, England, with her husband and three
dogs. ORACLE, a crime thriller set in London in the
run-up to the Olympics, is her first novel. Visit her website at
www.jc-martin.com. She also blogs here.  

1. “Be like water.”

I couldn’t resist including this classic! To expand on this quote: “Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow.”

As writers, we’ve probably read numerous how-to books on honing your craft, expounding hundreds of writing guidelines. Notice I didn’t use the word ‘rules’, but ‘guidelines’, because that is what they are: suggestions that could help improve your writing, but ultimately do what you feel is best for your manuscript. Guidelines should be your measuring stick, not your crutch.

As Lee also said, “Obey the principles without being bound by them.”

(Writer’s Digest asked literary agents for their best pieces of advice. Here are their responses.)

2. “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

Don’t try and become the next Rowling or Hocking or King. Carbon copies never surpass the originals. Find your own strengths. Forge your own path.


3. “I fear not the man who has practiced ten thousand kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times.”

We are all tempted at some point to dabble in multiple genres. Whilst this may keep your writing fresh, it will not do you any favors when it comes to getting published. There are subtle differences between genres that one has to master first. Focus on refining the elements of one genre that you are happy to stick to for the long term, and consider diversifying only after you have established yourself.

4. “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”

We may never make it to the New York Times bestsellers list, and the majority of us will never get published by one of the big six. But there is no harm in aiming high. Someone with no goal will wander around aimlessly, and will most likely misspend their time and energy focusing on the wrong things.

(Are you writing middle grade, edgy paranormal, women’s fiction or sci-fi? Read about agents seeking your query NOW.)

5. “If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”

What is the main difference between someone who says “I want to write a book” and someone who actually has? So what are you waiting for? Get to it! 🙂

GIVEAWAY: J.C. is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners can live anywhere in the world. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Cindylorene won.)


How to Blog a Book by Nina Amir discusses
how to slowly release a novel online to generate
interest in your writing and work.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:



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27 thoughts on “5 Things Bruce Lee Taught Me About the Art of Writing

  1. beanshank

    This was really helpful for me, as a martial artist and a writer. Number four was the most important for me to hear–I often don’t want to set goals too high, because I don’t want to be disappointed, but if I don’t reach for something then I’ll never get there. Hearing someone else say that high goals need to be aimed for helps make it a little more real.

  2. Denise Z

    I definitely agree with the character development needing to be well thought out and complete. Too often I have read a story and have been unable to finish or left feeling dissatisfied having followed a character wandering through their journey. I love a character I can love and see in my mind and actually miss when not visiting the pages 🙂 Thank you for your awesome advice today and congratulations on the release of Oracle, looking forward to the read.

  3. andresfragosojr

    You give good advice. I do write stories in different genres. It’s hard to stick to one. Right now I’m trying hard to do a romance. It’s not easy going from crime to romance. I’m getting all confused in my writing. However, the story is all too good to just leave it.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I will have to master one genre and slowly go into others after I’m established. It’s good to know I’m not the only one with this issue.
    Thank you.

  4. iola_reneau

    From one to five I kept thinking “yes that is true’. Thank you for sharing Bruce Lee’s wisdom, I sense that his spirit is gently and with a perfected swift kick encouraging each of us on.

  5. Matthew MacNish

    What’s your style? My style? The art of writing without writing.

    Wait, that doesn’t sound right.

    Great post, J.C.! Thanks for having her on, Chuck.

  6. bjhbruno

    Ouch. Number five really spoke to me. I also am an female instructor in the martial arts (Taekwondo and Krav Maga), own a school and try very hard to find (make) time to write. Have finished a novel and 3 short stories, produced a self-published book on martial arts weapons, but I confess I have been too busy THINKING for over a year, which translates to the fact that I have not been writing. I need a good kick to get going I guess. Thanks for your five fantastic pieces of advice. Am printing them out now to place next to my desktop.
    My best of luck to you and your future.

    BJ Bruno

    1. jcmartin

      Cool, we do have lots in common! Great to meet you, and thanks for commenting! I’m glad this post was useful, and good luck with your writing and fighting!

  7. cbulice

    I especially liked the quote about mastering one kick ten thousand times. I have thought about writing short stories for some time, but it seems I only see articles about novels and publishing. I just want to write a good story, so I will focus on a short one! By the way, what is Wing Chun?

    1. jcmartin

      I have come across some posts on writing short stories. Have you tried Googling them?

      And Wing Chun is a Chinese martial art, the first one practiced by Bruce Lee. He used the bassi of what he learned to develop his own style, Jeet Kune Do.

  8. SJ_Mitchell

    As a fan of Bruce Lee and his teachings I was happy to see this column.

    Having read many different genres and knowing some genres collide, I especially appreciate the third quote. I have drafted, started and finished several pieces of work in different genres and I always find myself straining to maintain the correct ‘voice’. There is true value to this advice and I should try harder to follow it.

    I have a completed Sci-Fi MS that I’m shopping around (4 rejections so far) and I need to make sure that I wait on teaching myself other genres until I am a master of one. I think this may be the downfall of that MS as I have been told I’m a much better Fantasy writer, but I had a really good idea and I ran with it. After hearing the words: “Stop submitting this before you commit career suicide” I realized that Sci-Fi was perhaps out of my league.

    I’m currently drafting a Fantasy themed novel in order to hone my strengths before learning a new kick.

    Thank you!

    1. jcmartin

      I’m glad the post resonated with you! It’s true that one should master one genre at a time. Stephen King stuck to horror before releasing his Dark Tower fantasy series. J.K. Rowling made sure she established herself first as an MG/YA fantasy writer before branching into contemporary adult fiction.

      Good luck with your MS’s!

  9. JR MacBeth

    Wonderful to see your article, synchronicity must be at work again! I recently revisited the wisdom of Bruce Lee, looking more at his philosophy than his legendary fighting skills. I couldn’t agree with you more about the parallels between writing and martial arts. Bruce Lee said that martial art meant “honestly expressing yourself”, and that’s exactly what is at the heart of what we strive to do as writers.

    In terms of advice, his “no way, is the way” is rather counter-intuitive, and surely chafes against the Western mindset, but it’s simply true. We often seek a “way”, but then we devolve into imitation, or worse, wondering why it doesn’t “work” for us. The answer, Bruce’s answer, is what we need: We ARE the way.

    Thanks so much JC for your inspirational words. I will look for your book!


  10. Cindylorene

    Great advice. It seems everyone wants to be the next great writer. I appreciate all the advice and helpful hints that I can absorb. Thanks to all those that have been there…done that..and now share everything they have learned. Well, I apparently I haven’t written enough as I got an error that said I was commenting too fast..Maybe I need to write more words. So let me just write some more. I do want to write a book, but really I just want to write something that people enjoy reading. I am starting to doubt that I have the imagination to write a book. All my characters come out for one scene, and then we can’t move forward. I have a copy of Martha Alderson’s “The Plot Whisperer” I hope that she can help me find direction for my characters. Imagine a room with wind up dolls… I wind them up and they start to talk and act and react…but then they..sslloowwllyy wwwwwwwiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnddddddddd down until they stop. And I can’t get them moving again. Now that I have wasted your time with my ramble, I think I will try and post my comment again. Let’s see if I am still commenting too fast.

    1. jcmartin

      Thank you Cindy, I do get what you’re saying. Characters have to be well-thought out before writing, and you must make sure each moves forward in their own way through the story.


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