Words from Bruce Lee’s Letters

Quotes from “Letters of the Dragon” that spoke to me

David Drake
7 min readJun 25, 2021
Photo Credits: Bruce Lee Enterprises — Bruce Lee was an avid and prolific writer.

I have been a fan of Bruce Lee since I was a small child. My father was the one who got me into him by introducing me to his films when I was younger. The fight between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in “The Way of the Dragon” stuck with me during my childhood and solidified my love of martial arts. It led me to attempt a pursuit in Taekwondo which was an utter failure for me. Partially because of my instructor (according to dad), and partially (probably, mostly) because I was not a very disciplined child. The sounds, the form, the combat, the speed, and everything else about Bruce Lee was mystical to me.

Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee in “The Way of the Dragon” — 1971

Eventually I would move on to practicing martial arts through imitating the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it was Bruce, and my dad’s own Aikdo practice that really got me started.

“It can’t rain all the time.”

Growing older, my love for Bruce Lee was renewed through his son’s portrayal in “The Crow” from 1994. Being a kid entering his teenage years, I started to become more fascinated with Bruce Lee. I saw some of his other movies and loved them all. The gritty film quality, the speed and precision with which Bruce executed his forms, and the sounds from both the FX and the vocals emanating from Bruce when he performed his kung fu moves were unlike anyone else out there. I thought it was awesome. I used to imitate his sounds and movements to entertain my friends and feel like a badass. I think it was more entertaining than outwardly emanating any qualities of being a badass, but I thought it was fun at the time.

Recently, I’ve been looking towards martial arts as a way of refining my discipline, finding a stronger sense of self, and exploring the possibility of pursuing a practice for physical training as well. I’ve looked around for some Aikido practitioners nearby, but to no avail. So I did the next best thing I know how to do when I can’t find a teacher: I tried to find a book or words to help me along the way.

The quote “Be water, my friend” from the famous “Lost Interview” of Bruce Lee was one that always stuck with me. I’ve always liked the idea and principle behind “being water.”

  • Water can keep on moving or flowing.
  • Water can give life and take it away.
  • Water can erode even the toughest material with enough pressure or time.
  • Water can be extremely powerful and heavy in large quantities.
  • Water can also be very relaxing.
Listening to Bruce Lee speak gives a voice to the quotes that follow. You can also hear his famous “Be water, my friend,” speech in this interview.

So, when I was seeking out something to read regarding martial arts, I decided to check out the words of someone who had spoken to me in other capacities. Bruce Lee seemed like a good place to start. I didn’t know much about him beyond his films and what I had briefly picked up on the Internet and through this interview, but I wanted to learn more. The book I picked up is called “Bruce Lee — Letters of the Dragon” and I’m so glad I happened upon it.

Within the book are reproductions of letters that Bruce wrote to his friends, loved ones, teachers, and more. It’s a glimpse into his life, his thinking, and how he experienced the world. I really enjoyed a quote from the dedication in the book to give an idea of the power of letters:

“Some have said that theater is what literature does at night. If so, then letters are what the creators of such literature do and think in the evening of their thoughts. For it is there, in the darkened, innermost recesses of one’s mind, well behind the glare of superficiality and trivia, that the passions, desires, and truest selves reside.”

— John Little and Linda Lee Caldwell

I found so many of Bruce’s words inspirational, transformative, familiar, comforting, and instructional. His way of speaking honestly and truly without mincing words or adding fluff was very refreshing and a joy to read.

What follows are some of my favorite quotes from the book that spoke to me which I wanted to jot down and share with others. Hopefully you’ll find them interesting or they’ll speak to you in some way as well.

On making a good living, work, and ideas:

“There are two ways of making a good living. One is the result of hard working, and the other, the result of the imagination (requires work, too of course). It is a fact that labor and thrift produce a competence, but fortune, in the sense of wealth, is the reward of the man who can think of something that hasn’t been thought before. In every industry, in every profession, ideas are what America is looking for. Ideas have made America what she is, and one good idea will make a man what he wants to be.”

“I know my idea is right, and therefore, the results would be satisfactory. I don’t really worry about the reward, but to set in motion the machinery to achieve it. My contribution will be the measure of my reward and success.”

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.”

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

On process and being:

“Wishing to cultivate oneself, one first rectifies his heart (mind).
Wishing to rectify his heart, one seeks to be sincere in his thoughts.
Wishing to be sincere in his thoughts, one first extends to the utmost of his knowledge — such extension of knowledge lies in the investigation of things.”

1. To be one thing and not to change, is the climax of STILLNESS.
2. To have nothing in one that resists is the climax of EMPTINESS.
3. To remain detached from all outside things is the climax of FINENESS.
4. To have in oneself no contraries, is the climax of PURITY.

Photo by Ava Sol on Unsplash

A poem on realizing your destiny and being a doer:

Who am I?
That is the age-old question
Asked by every man
At one time or another.
Though he looks into a mirror
And recognizes the face,
Though he knows his own name
And age and history,
Still he wonders, deep down,
Who am I?
Am I a giant among men,
Master of all I survey,
Or an ineffectual pygmy
Who clumsily blocks his own way?
Am I the self-assured gentleman
With a winng style,
The natural born leader
Who makes friends instantly,
Or the frightened heart
Tiptoeing among strangers,
Who, behind a frozen smile, trembles
Like a little boy lost in a dark forest?
Most of us yearn to be one,
But fear we are the other.
Yet we CAN be
What we aspire to be.
Those who cultivate
Their natural instincts,
Who set their sights
On the good, the admirable, the excellent,
And believe they can achieve it
Will find their confidence rewarded.
And, in the process,
They will discover the true identity
Of him who looks back from the mirror.
The doubters said,
“Man cannot fly,”
The doers said,
“Maybe, but we’ll try,”
And finally soared
Into the morning’s glow
While non-believers
Watched from below.
The doubters claimed
The world was flat,
Ships plunged over its edge,
And that was that!
Yet a brand new world
Some doers found,
And returned to prove
This planet round.
The doubters knew
’Twas fact, “Of course,
No noisy gadget
Would e’er replace the horse.”
Yet the carriages
Of doers, sans equine,
Came to traverse
All our roads in time
But those who kept saying
“It can’t be done,”
Never are the victories
Or the honors won.
But, rather,
By the believing, doing kind,
While the doubters
Watched from far behind.

Day 3 of 60 for developing a writing habit.

Day 2 of 60 for developing a writing habit:

Day 4 of 60 for developing a writing habit:



David Drake

Accomplished Father, Leader, Engineer, Writer, and Wannabe Chef. @randomdrake