Bruce Lee and the Perfection of Martial Arts (Studies): An Exercise in Alterdisciplinarity
Kyle Barrowman is an Adjunct Instructor of Film Studies at Columbia College Chicago and the College of Lake County. He received his PhD from the School of Journalism, Media, and Culture at Cardiff University. He has published widely on film history, aesthetics, and philosophy, and his research interests in martial arts studies include the genre of martial arts cinema and the sport of MMA. He also serves as an editorial assistant of Martial Arts Studies.
This essay builds from an analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of Bruce Lee’s jeet kune do to an analysis of the current state of academic scholarship generally and martial arts studies scholarship specifically. For the sake of a more comprehensive understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of jeet kune do, and in particular its affinities with a philosophical tradition traced by Stanley Cavell under the heading of perfectionism, this essay brings the philosophical writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ayn Rand into contact with Lee’s writings during the time that he spent formulating his martial arts philosophy. Additionally, this essay uses the philosophical insights of Emerson, Rand, and Lee to challenge longstanding academic dogma vis-à-vis poststructuralist philosophy, the methods of academic intervention, and the nature of philosophical argumentation. Though pitched as a debate regarding the content and the status of Bruce Lee and his combative philosophy, this essay endeavors to inspire scholars to (re)examine their conceptions of Bruce Lee, martial arts, and martial arts studies.