7 Inspiring Bruce Lee quotes that will improve your guitar playing, practice, technique, and expressiveness:
1. I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
2. Be self aware, rather than a repetitious robot.
3. Everything you do, if not in a relaxed state will be done at a lesser level than you are proficient. Thus the tensed expert marksman will aim at a level less than his/her student.
4. The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.
5. It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.
6. I’m moving and not moving at all. I’m like the moon underneath the waves that ever go on rolling and rocking. It is not, ‘I am doing this,’ but rather, an inner realization that ‘this is happening through me,’ or ‘it is doing this for me.’ The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action.
7. Time means a lot to me because you see I am also a learner and am often lost in the joy of forever developing.
Few figures are more well-known in the martial arts realm than the late instructor, director, and philosopher Bruce Lee (Li Zhenfan 李振藩, 1940-1973). Although Bruce Lee lived a short life, his movies and inspirational legacy continues to impact the lives of people around the world. Not only am I a huge fan of Bruce Lee movies, but I’m also a fan of his wise motivational quotes.
Bruce Lee quotes are applicable to dedicated practitioners of any craft–including guitarists! I’ve interpreted seven Bruce Lee quotes below that will help you improve your guitar playing, practice approach, technique, and expressiveness.
1. “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
In my opinion this is the the ultimate Bruce Lee mantra that’s helpful guitarists of all levels.
As your technique improves, the temptation is to jump into as many new pieces as possible. You’ve learned the basics, and know how to navigate a score. So now you’re ready to take on any piece in the repertoire, right?!
Well, not exactly.
It’s one thing to get through a piece. But it’s another thing to play a piece with supreme precision, articulation, and musicality.
It may seem counter intuitive, but if you spend more time on the fundamentals, exercises, and simpler etudes, you’ll develop a level of comfort and familiarity with your instrument that will better prepare you for more advanced pieces in the future.
Mastering various right and left hand techniques–each finger harnessing refined control and accuracy on each string and on each fret–can enable you to learn advance pieces with ease in the long run. As it turns out, this is a much better approach than choosing to play a difficult piece just for difficulty’s sake!
To put it another way, if you’ve practiced the right hand tremelo technique 10,000 times over a basic chord or progression on multiple strings, you’ll be prepared to play a greater variety of tremelo pieces compared to if you’ve only played Recuerdos de la Alhambra 10,000 times.
2. “Be self aware, rather than a repetitious robot.”
Practicing your techniques methodically and diligently is the path to produce advanced results. But that doesn’t mean you should be completely robotic in your approach.
I’ve found that sometimes when I work on one repetitive thing for too long in one sitting, I can start to lose focus. The mind wanders, and I find myself going through some motions but not playing with any intent or feeling.
If you notice yourself experiencing something similar, go ahead and switch up your exercise routine and work on something new! Being self aware is crucial to developing your skills, and keeping musicality top of mind.
3. “Everything you do, if not in a relaxed state will be done at a lesser level than you are proficient. Thus the tensed expert marksman will aim at a level less than his/her student.”
One of the most important practice tips that I cannot emphasize enough is the need to keep your body (hands specifically) relaxed.
Beginner guitarists will often feel the need to apply excess pressure to “make a clean and strong sound”. In reality, you can probably get away with utilizing half the pressure–or even less–than you’re using and still get a clean sound.
Moreover, keeping your hands relaxed allows you to play nimbly, with more agility and speed.
How do you relax before playing your instrument? I recommend you close your eyes, take a deep exhale, then calmly place your fingers on the guitar. As a result, you’ll notice whatever chord or starting position you’re in will be stable and secure. You may find that your tone even improves in this relaxed state.
The other reason I love this quote is because it explains that you don’t always have to overexert yourself by playing the most challenging pieces available.
Most teachers would agree, going back through early etudes and exercises can be a rewarding and thoughtful experience that can make you a better guitarist. This is the approach I took while working on my album “20 Classical Guitar Etudes for Beginner & Intermediate Students“, an album of short works that on the surface looks rudimentary, but are in fact beautiful, challenging, and nuanced.
If you can play Austurias, you should be able to play through Carcassi, Giuliani, and Sor etudes no problem, right? The truth is, guitarists too often rush through the fundamentals and jump into advanced repertoire.
If you’re an intermediate or even advanced player, I recommend you choose a ‘beginner’ etude daily to play through. Not only will it help your sight reading, but you may even find it satisfying to read through a new piece fluidly and without limitation.
Furthermore, set your sights low, and over time it’ll allow you to play pieces at a higher level.
4. “The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.”
This Bruce Lee quote goes hand in hand with the relaxation quote above. Yes, you want a full motion with your right hand fingers and your left hand fingers firmly pressing on the fretboard to produce a clear sound. However, a rich sound can still be produced in a relaxed state.
If you find yourself having difficulty playing your guitar ‘loudly’ or ‘quickly’, this is most likely because your movement is being prohibited by unnecessary stress and tension.
Try taking a deep breath and playing with 50% effort or less. When you’re in a relaxed state, do you find that your fingers are no longer being restricted? Does your tone and agility increase? The answer should be a resounding yes!
So what’s the moral of the story with this Bruce Lee quote? Don’t try so hard! Let your tension and restriction dissolve and your speed and power will increase.
5. “It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”
For serious guitarists, daily practice is a way of life. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the fundamental techniques, you’ll discover a whole new set of challenges emerges: quality consistency.
What are the things that get in the way of playing a piece or phrase cleanly? Is it a complex chord shape or left hand formation? Are your right hand fingers playing the wrong strings?
Well, if a particular phrase is giving you a lot of trouble, try coming up with a new way to practice it. For example, let’s say you’re having trouble with an arpeggio pattern that’s happening over a difficult chord. Release the difficult chord and instead practice the right hand pattern over a first position chord you’re more familiar with, like A minor or C major.
Are you able to play the arpeggio clearly and consistently? If not, practice the pattern over the simpler chord consecutively for a minute or two straight. Once you’re able to play it with no errors whatsoever, try playing the pattern over the original chord again. Voilà!
Getting rid of the complexity and density of a phrase or piece is an excellent method to “hack away at the unessential.” In short, simplify your practice life by dumbing down what’s notated on the page to something more doable! Bruce Lee would surely offer a sly smile at this liberating approach.
6. “I’m moving and not moving at all. I’m like the moon underneath the waves that ever go on rolling and rocking. It is not, ‘I am doing this,’ but rather, an inner realization that ‘this is happening through me,’ or ‘it is doing this for me.’ The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action.”
It’s one of the most challenging aspect of musicianship: being present in moment without overthinking it. Have you ever found that you’re trying so hard to play a phrase cleanly but it just isn’t happening? Or maybe it seems to keep sounding worse and worse?
More often than not, it’s not your hands that are at fault. Rather, it’s your consciousness that’s getting in the way! This Bruce Lee quote is perfect for guitarists and all musicians, as it reminds you that sometimes you need to just relinquish control and let the body take over.
Obviously, you’ll need to learn the music and be somewhat comfortable with it first. Then, allow your mind to wander. See if you can blend with the music so much that you’re not playing it, but instead, the music is just happening through you.
So keep your mind occupied on the feeling of the music, and what it’s trying to evoke rather than the mechanics of the piece. Relax, breathe, and transcend!
7. “Time means a lot to me because you see I am also a learner and am often lost in the joy of forever developing.”
No matter how long you’ve been playing guitar, there’s always something new you can learn. Even if you’ve played every Bach suite, there’s always additional phrasing choices or nuances you can explore.
Guitar is the gift that keeps on giving. And that’s perhaps the greatest joy of all! When it comes down to it, if you’re serious guitarists, you’re a lifelong student at heart. To that extent, your time with your instrument is extremely valuable.
If you find yourself frustrated with a piece or feeling like your playing has stagnated, try to keep things in perspective. Just think about how far you’ve come since you first picked up the guitar and learned your first chord!
The journey of learning anything has peaks and valleys. Sometimes we reach a plateau, and it takes awhile to advance to a higher level. You’ll experience these plateaus often as you get more comfortable on your instrument, and for exponentially longer periods of time. But rest assured, this is not uncommon at all! Remember that everything you need to succeed with guitar, you have within you already.
Bruce Lee is considered one of the greatest martial artists of all time. So if he can be satisfied and lost in joy with the fact that he’s a lifelong student, surely you can too!
Enjoy the time you have with your instrument. Consider it an investment in your own joy and well-being. In turn, the joy you feel will manifest in your playing, and extend to all those who listen to you play.