Bruce Lee on Pride, Fear, and Self-Rejection

Bruce Lee on Pride, Fear, and Self-Rejection September 24, 2023

Though many think of him only as a martial artist and/or movie star, it never ceases to amaze me how profound of a philosopher Bruce Lee was.

His views on the importance of blending styles to be a “style without style” goes way beyond martial arts and aims at the pursuit of knowledge itself (epistemology), as well as reaching one’s ultimate potential. As I wrote in “Bruce Lee, Evolution, and Being Water”, to not recognize the importance of “being water” and open to many views and styles is to ensure ideas, character, and living things never reach their potential. As I penned in my related article “What Mixed Martial Arts Can Teach us About Truth Seeking” , we see this proven out – in the mixed martial arts octagon, through mutation and natural selection – something stronger is created. My Entrepreneur article “What Bruce Lee Can Teach Use About the Benefits of Conflict” makes this point for business organizations and leaders “creating an octagon “where ideas are pressure tested so that the best idea/practice can live. And in my article “Bruce Lee on Glory, Defeat, and the Art of Dying”, we’re urged by Lee to “learn the art of dying” as “defeat simply tells me that something is wrong in my doing; it is a path leading to success and truth”.

Being comfortable with losing/defeat – seeking the best ideas or version of oneself, shedding off old ideas as they are pressure tested with new ones, and evolving our ideas, character, and systems through mutation and natural selection – there is a key obstacle to this actualization: pride. Whether it’s in martial arts, one’s philosophical views, religious view (or irreligious), or one’s political views, staying firmly grounded in one’s views out of pride (and relatedly fear). “My way is the way” guarantees pride, comfort, and orthodoxy, not truth.

Lee tells us:

“A gung fu man who was really good was not proud at all. Pride emphasizes the superiority of one’s status. There has to be fear and insecurity in pride, because when a person aims at being highly esteemed and achieve such status, he is automatically involved in the fear of losing his status. Then protection of his status becomes his most important need, and this creates anxiety.” [1]

Within these sentiments, he cited philosopher Eric Hoffer:

“There is fear and intolerance in pride; it is sensitive and uncompromising. The less promise and potentiality in the self, the more imperative is the need for pride. [2]

Lee continues:

“Gung fu is aiming at self-cultivation and the inner self is one’s true self. So in order t realize his true self, a gung fu man lives without being dependent upon the opinion of others. Since he is completely self-sufficient he can have no fear of not being esteemed. A gung fu man devotes himself to being self sufficient and never depends on the external rating by others for his happiness. A gung fu master, unlike the beginner, holds himself in reserve, is quiet and unassuming, without the least desire to show off. Under the influence of gung fu training his proficiency becomes spiritual, and he himself, grown ever freer through spiritual struggle, is transformed. To him, fame and status, mean nothing.”

Transformation through struggle.

There is a key epistemological truth here: the rigidness of pride disallows the octagon, mutation and natural selection, and the evolutionary process where something stronger is created. It disallows transformation through struggle, as it disallows debate and the pressure testing of various viewpoints. It’s why the core of pride is indeed self-rejection. And it’s why those who don’t value free speech and critical thinking are not just prideful, but ultimately scared.

Is your way the way? Step into the octagon of life and prove it. Welcome the conflict, debate it, and pressure test it. Whether it’s an idea or your own epistemology to all ideas – if you allow your ideas and character to go through the crucible of mutation and natural selection – you have evolved into something better, stronger, and closer to truth.

And, if you don’t, you’ll end up somewhere else – where pride, fear, and ultimately self-rejection live – and a fraction of what you could be.


[1] Artist of Life, Bruce Lee

[2] Passionate State of Mind, Eric Hoffer

[3] Artist of Life, Bruce Lee

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, Photo of Bruce Lee from the film Fists of Fury (aka The Big Boss)



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