The sequel in my Lindy Hop According to Bruce Lee series. Read the first post.

Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just a punch, a kick was just a kick. After I’d studied the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick.Bruce Lee

legos dancing by nanagyei flickr
Once upon a time, Bruce Lee was a dancer. He studied many forms of movement, rather than getting indoctrinated in only one “way.”

On our shelf sits my husband’s copy of Tao of Jeet Kune Do, the book this quote is from. As far as the internet can tell me, the quote (like the rest of the book) is strongly influenced by Buddhist philosophy.

This “punch is just a punch” quote has been on my mind lately. Here’s why.

Months ago, a commenter on this blog remarked to me (paraphrased): “I can tell you are not an advanced dancer because you use words like ‘steps’ and ‘moves,’ showing that you do not have an in-depth understanding of full body movement.”

The comment initially annoyed me. Go figure.

But after shrugging it off, I could only shake my head. I’m all too familiar with that brimming sense of superiority displayed by the commenter. I, too, once looked for weaknesses in others’ dancing (or words or ideas) so I could knock them down and feel better about myself. I still catch myself doing it.

But this isn’t a post about how humility is good and arrogance is bad. (Is that even true?) And I didn’t write this to tell off some commenter who will probably never read my response.

Instead, I want to use this space to explain what Bruce’s words mean to me in a dancing sense.

Phase 1

Before I made a serious study of dancing, I learned moves. They were simple; they fit together easily into patterns I could do with my classmates. They each had names, and they were always done the same way.

puzzle by olgaberrios flickr

But I couldn’t do anything very challenging or creative with my dancing.

Phase 2

After I’d studied and struggled for some time, my patterns fell away. Steps and moves became movements that flowed into one another, with no clear distinction between them. My motion flowed from my center, from the ground, from my partner. The steps and their names were irrelevant, I just flowed.

I was one with my partner! I was inside the music.

The first time I read Bruce’s quote years ago, I knew instantly my dancing was right in the middle of it—in that “all is one” mind space, teaching complexity, getting deep into detail, and chasing bliss.

I could also see the wisdom of passing out of this second phase. I knew there was more.

Phase 3

Now that I understand partner dancing… What words should come after that? How exactly do I express my sense of simplicity?

Now that I understand partner dancing, steps are just steps. Moves are just moves.

The foundations of movement all relate to one another, but I can once again see them as separate concepts. The music is around me, and I am a distinct individual once more. The simplicity of understanding has returned; it’s exactly as I thought, only now I get how simple it really is.

broadways steps - flickr jbhthescots

When I say “step” or “move,” those words are a deliberate choice. I’m familiar with the panoply of complex movement concepts dancers invent and promote. I promote certain complex ideas myself.

Bruce’s words express something I’ve been trying to understand about my process of learning: This cycle of understanding that goes from simple, to complex, and back to simple again.

What is the essence, the soul of the movement, the TL;DR?

How can I communicate so that the newest of newbies can grasp what I’m saying?

I simplify relentlessly.

Part of teaching is understanding where your students are in their learning. I don’t always get it right. Words that seem profound and deeply intuitive to me may seem simplistic to you. I may use the words I mean, but they are not always the words you need to hear.

There is no fixed teaching. All I can provide is an appropriate medicine for a particular path.”Bruce Lee

That’s why I like the Tao of Jeet Kune Do. I don’t understand everything Bruce Lee writes. In fact, much of it I skim over and save for another day.

You’re welcome to do the same with this blog. Or you can wrestle with my words and leave impassioned, thoughtful comments.

You can also leave arrogant comments, which will annoy me. But I know where you come from. I know that feeling of resistance, and I can’t stop you from having it.

Besides, you may be right. Perhaps one day again, a step will no longer be a step, a move no longer a move. There is much more to learn.

Where are you in your cycle of learning?

Photo credits: Nana B Agyei (legos dancing), Olgo Berrios (puzzle), John Henderson (dance steps)