When the legendary martial artist Bruce Lee was 21 years old and studying at the University of Washington, he wrote a letter to Pearl, an old flame and good friend of his who was still living in Hong Kong.
In this incredible letter, he shares a vision for his life, his career differentiation strategy and the impact he hopes to make:
One part of my life is gung fu. This art influences me greatly in the formation of my character and ideas. I practice gung fu as a physical culture, a form of mental training, a method of self-defense, and a way of life.
Gung fu is the best of all martial art; yet the Chinese derivatives of judo and karate, which are only basics of gung fu, are flourishing all over the US. This so happens because no one has heard of this supreme art; also there are no competent instructors…I believe my long years of practice back up my title to become the first instructor of this movement.
There are yet long years ahead of me to polish my techniques and character. My aim, therefore, is to establish a first Gung Fu Institute that will later spread out all over the US (I have set up a time limit of 10 to 15 years to complete the whole project).
My reason in doing this is not the sole objective of making money. The motives are many and among them are: I like to let the world know about the greatness of this Chinese art; I enjoy teaching and helping people; I like to have a well-to-do home for my family; I like to originate something; and the last but yet one of the important is because gung fu is part of myself.
What I found fascinating in reading this was Bruce’s understanding of 3 key things:
 The Principle of Career Arbitrage 🌎
Arbitrage refers to the idea of taking advantage of the differences between two or more markets.
Bruce at 21 got that he could do that with gung fu:
Gung fu is the best of all martial art; yet the Chinese derivatives of judo and karate, which are only basics of gung fu, are flourishing all over the US.
Bruce recognised he could exploit this difference between markets, and take something that was incredibly popular elsewhere in the globe and apply it in Seattle (and then the broader US).
This is such a fantastic strategy for building your career quickly – you find the best globally that isn’t available in your local market, and you copy, adapt and paste for your own context. You’ve also got the confidence that it’s highly likely to work given the success it’s had in other markets.
Bruce got this from a very young age and played a key role in his ability to achieve so much before he died at 32 (only 11 years later).
 The Principle of Differentiation ☝️
Bruce understood that the best way to stand out quickly, is to pick something that has very little competition:
This so happens because no one has heard of this supreme art; also there are no competent instructors…I believe my long years of practice back up my title to become the first instructor of this movement.
Often when we are thinking about growing our career, we end up focusing on similar actions that all of our peers are also doing in an attempt to ‘differentiate’ ourselves. Studying the same courses at university, joining the same societies, attending the same events, and networking with the same people.
The irony of course, is that if everyone else is doing it, you’re not different AND you’ve also got more competition.
What is no-one else doing in your industry?
Focus on this, instead of what everyone else is doing.
 The Principle of Alignment ❤️
Bruce wasn’t simply doing it for the money:
I like to originate something; and the last but yet one of the important is because gung fu is part of myself.
This is absolutely key. Bruce’s decision to focus on gung fu and bring it to the US was something he viewed that was a core part of who he was. It’s why he believed and was so confident that he was the right person to become it’s first instructor of the movement.
What Bruce had was an alignment between his purpose, and an opportunity to make an impact.
This gave him a mission which he worked on with incredibly urgency and intensity in the 11 short years of his life after writing this letter.
What is part of yourself? Some that calls to you, that you feel compelled to do?
Bruce wouldn’t end up seeing his vision come to reality.
While he did transform martial arts as we know it today, it wasn’t in the form that he anticipated (franchised martial arts schools across the US).
His work to found a hybrid martial arts philosophy in Jeet Kune Do led to the development of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and he played a pivotal role in bridging the gap between East and West through his films.
What’s interesting however, is that the legacy he did leave was born from the same 3 principles and his sense of mission.
Join the discussion