You Will Never Believe the Biggest Factor to Bruce Lee’s Success

5 min read

Case study: Bruce Lee

Take a look at the most famous and my favorite martial artist, Bruce Lee.

Bruce completely and monumentally revolutionized Martial Arts in a way no one would ever have thought possible.

He earned a spot on Time magazine’s Time 100: The Most Important People of the 20th Century under Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century. source: Bruce Lee Official Website

Bruce had been inaugurated into countless Hall of Fames and won incredible awards for his hard work including achieving the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Man of the Year and Martial Artist of the Year and was even honored by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. source: Bruce Lee Official Website

Bruce even made time for humanitarian causes such appearing on the Hong Kong TVB Operation Relief telethon for typhoon victims. source: Bruce Lee Official Website

How did Bruce Lee become so successful?

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He read books.

Behind the trophies, the awards, the amazing titles, and the successful film icon is a spirit with a thirst for knowledge.

Bruce Lee read books quietly in the afternoons and even in the evenings. source: The Art of Manliness: The Libraries of Famous Men: Bruce Lee

His bookshelf contains 2,500 books. Bruce loved to read philosophy, American self help books, and of course a lot of martial arts topics like fencing, boxing, etc. source: The Art of Manliness: The Libraries of Famous Men: Bruce Lee

He read so much material and was “actively engaged [in his reading] and [continuously] wrestled with new ideas” he was able to create a philosophy and practice of martial arts, Jeet Kun Do.

How did Bruce Lee read?

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When he read, Bruce Lee would write a ton of notes, annotate, and carefully underlined sentences (sometimes with a ruler!) and write his favorite passages and quotes into a notebook. Source: The Art of Manliness: The Libraries of Famous Men: Bruce Lee

Even before martial arts he was already “frequenting bookstores” and even wanted to open a used bookstore. source: The Art of Manliness: The Libraries of Famous Men: Bruce Lee

Bruce’s Have Read List

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Western Philosophy: 

  • Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas $39 Books A Million
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume
  • Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes
  • The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung
  • On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers
  • The Works of Bertrand Russell
  • The Works of Plato 
  • Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian 
  • Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (and other Campbell titles)
  • Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza
  • Maxims and Reflections by Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

Eastern Philosophy:

  • The Works of Jiddu Krishnamurti (whom Polly notes was “one of his more important influences”)
  • Tao-Te-Ching by Lao-Tzu
  • The Way of Chuang-Tzu
  • The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi 
  • The Works of Alan Watts
  • The Analects of Confucius
  • Art of War by Sun-Tzu 
  • Bushido: The Soul of the Samurai
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (and many other Hesse titles) 
  • Buddhism by Christmas Humphreys (and dozens of other Buddhism-related titles)
  • The Chinese Classics compiled by James Legge (all 5 volumes)
  • Living Zen by Robert Linssen (and many other Zen-related titles)

Martial Arts/Fencing/Boxing:

  • On Fencing by Aldo Nadi (plus at least 60(!) other books on fencing and fencing theory)
  • Aikido: The Art of Self-Defense by Ko„ichi Tohei
  • Advanced Karate by Mas Oyama (and many other Oyama titles)
  • A Beginner’s Book of Gymnastics by Barry Johnson
  • Championship Fighting by Jack Dempsey 
  • Book of Boxing and Bodybuilding by Rocky Marciano
  • How to Box by Joe Louis
  • US Army Boxing Manual
  • Efficiency of Human Movement by Marion Ruth Broer
  • Physiology of Exercise by Laurence Morehouse
  • Wing Chun by James Lee
  • Acupuncture: The Ancient Chinese Art of Healing by Felix Mann
  • Esquire’s The Art of Keeping Fit 
  • Combat Training of the Individual Soldier by the US Army 
  • Modern Bodybuilding by Oscar Heidenstam

American Self-Help:

  • The Amazing Results of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale (and many other Peale titles)
  • Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
  • Dynamic Thinking by Melvin Powers
  • The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz
  • As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
  • The Success System That Never Fails by Clement Stone
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie $6.95 Books A Million
  • How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger


  • Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • Playboy’s Party Jokes & More Playboy’s Party Jokes 
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (one of the few novels) 
  • The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis 
  • The Story of Civilization by Will Durant (all 11 volumes!) 
  • The Viking Book of Aphorisms
  • The Works of Shakespeare

source: The Art of Manliness: The Libraries of Famous Men: Bruce Lee

Who is your inspiration?

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