Bruce Lee, Poker, and the Warrior Within

The name Bruce Lee will conjure up images of the martial artist who appeared in television and movies more than 50 years ago, but you probably didn’t know that he was also a philosopher and poet. Lee’s philosophy inspired me to become a better person, a better writer, and oddly enough a better poker player.

“Simplicity is the key to brilliance.” – Bruce Lee

The Warrior Within

Lee was a devout follower and student of Eastern religions. He tried to find harmony at the intersection of Eastern philosophy and Western capitalism.

One of my favorite books is “The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee” by John R. R. Little, which delves into Lee’s personal philosophy on life and his connection to Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid of multiple martial arts.

Lee knew that he couldn’t become successful in martial arts until he achieved an acute level of self-awareness and mastering the warrior within himself.

A lot of westerners have misconceptions about martial arts. They think about the violent aspects of combat, but Lee focused on the self-discipline.

To connect with the “warrior within” is to know your limitations. You will discover that by pushing yourself and working hard to achieve a level of mastery.

Poker experience really means attaining self-knowledge and honesty about yourself, and accepting the consequences and taking responsibility of your actions. This is where martial arts and poker share a common ground.

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Know Thy Honest Self

Being honest with yourself is something that is very hard to do in poker, or in your normal everyday life. If you are blinded with fame and fortune at the poker tables and you’re not 100% honest with yourself with your true skill level, then you’re going to fail hard. The more you lie to yourself, the more it’s going to hurt you and your loved ones in the future.

It takes a lot of courage to be honest and exhibit a high level of patience and discipline before reaching a stark realization that you’re not ready to play higher stakes. Sometimes you get blinded by ambition instead of accepting the fact that you require several more years of training before you make a jump to higher stakes, or decide to become a pro.

You cannot deceive yourself when it’s crunch time at the poker table and it’s your time to make a move on the money bubble of a tournament. Your weaknesses are exposed when you are confronted with difficult decisions. Perhaps you can cover up your liabilities to your opponents, especially if you play online poker, but you cannot lie to yourself.

Do you have the intestinal fortitude to make calculated risks? Or do you lack the discipline or self-restraint to reel in your aggression because you don’t have the patience to wait for a more favorable time to get your money in the pot?

Being able to identify your weaknesses allows you to point out your strengths. Then you can focus your energy on what you do best. You can take the necessary time to improve aspects of your life that are liabilities. That dual-pronged approach is a way to flourish at the poker table and improve at the same time.

I remember reaching a crossroads early in my poker career. A lot of my friends were thriving by playing tournaments, but I didn’t achieve the same level of success. I had to make a frank and honest assessment of my abilities at the time. I realized I was a much better limit hold’em cash game player, even though the format was not as cool as tournaments. Struggling to go deep in no-limit hold’em tournaments, I needed to get better before I lost my bankroll.

I made a wise decision to cut back on tournaments, and spent more time paying limit hold’em. I also set aside time to study. It helped find my weaknesses so I could plug the holes in my tournament game.

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The Great Inner Energy Source

Lee taught his students that a martial arts warrior is a symbol which represents that great inner energy force. If harnessed properly, the warrior wins numerous battles and crushes the competition using their energy force. However, we end up achieving far less than what we’re capable of doing if that warrior force is mishandled, ignored, and neglected. Once again, Lee is talking about your everyday life, or about your faltering poker game.

Your goal is to tap into the vast energy cycles that encircle life. That’s something that Japanese Zen masters refer to as “satori”, and Chinese Taoists like Lee refer to as “tun-wu.”

Learning to tap into energy cycles leads to a complete and total harmony of the mind and body. It culminates in a great spiritual awakening. As non-enlightened humans, we’re prone to mistakes and notions of self-doubt trick us into thinking that perfection is impossible. However, there are moments when one can achieve total perfection. Professional athletes call it “the zone.” Wall Street traders call it being “locked in.” In poker we call that the “rush.”

Musicians and artists struggle to reach that ideal place all the time. The great ones easily tap into their inner energy force and channel the universe so art and music flow out of their bodies. Carlos Santana often referenced a harmonic convergence when he made music with “the hose”, which is like holding on to a gigantic water hose that’s connected to the universe. Instead of water, music rushes out of the hose.

During one of my worst downswings in poker, I couldn’t tap into my inner energy source. It felt like I wandered around the desert for months without finding a drop of water. During the times I tapped into the inner energy source, I picked up the hose and my entire poker game makes sense because I’m making amazing decisions. I’m folding when I’m about to walk into a trap, or I’m making the correct hero call to sniff out a big bluff. Sometimes this connection only happens for short period before it fades out, and I’m lost again.

Your poker game can achieve harmony and perfection. Those moments do exist, and often coincide with winning streaks. You just have to work harder to focus, and when you find the inner energy force, you must hold on to it for as long as you can. That’s the point when you’ll harness the full power of Bruce Lee’s warrior within yourself.

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