A Teacher Is Never a Giver of “Truth”; He Is a Guide, a Pointer to the Truth

Bruce Lee? Apocryphal?

lee08Dear Quote Investigator: Would you please help me to trace a statement attributed to the charismatic superstar martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. The first phrase in the quotation presented Lee’s viewpoint on education and mentoring:

A teacher is never a giver of truth . . .

I have seen different versions of the full comment, but I have not seen a precise citation.

Dear Quote Investigator: In 1971 “Black Belt” magazine published an essay by Bruce Lee titled “Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate” which included his provocative remark about teaching. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A teacher, a really good sensei, is never a giver of “truth”; he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that the student must discover for himself. A good teacher, therefore, studies each student individually and encourages the student to explore himself, both internally and externally, until, ultimately, the student is integrated with his being.

The passage above was the earliest close match located by QI. A somewhat different version was printed in “Black Belt” magazine in 1988 which may have produced some confusion.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1988 “Black Belt” reprinted the article with a new subtitle “Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate: Bruce Lee’s Personal Definition of Jeet Kune Do”. The laudatory introduction highlighted the prominence of the piece: 2

. . . an essay that put the knock on dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists, defined his concept of jeet kune do, and blew the lid off the eclectic martial arts movement in the United States. Since that time, the theories and passages presented in the article have been studied, rehashed and quoted in martial arts circles across the globe. As articles go, it may be the most influential piece of martial arts-related copy ever conceived.

Oddly, the passage about teaching was a bit different. For example, the 1971 phrase “a pointer to the truth” was replaced by the 1988 phrase “a pioneer to the truth”. Also, the phrase with “sensei” was deleted in 1988: 3

A really good teacher is never a giver of “truth,” but rather a guide, a pioneer to the truth that the student must discover for himself. A good teacher, therefore, studies each student individually and encourages the student to explore himself, both internally and externally, until, ultimately, the student is integrated with his being. A good teacher is a catalyst.

In 2001 a compilation of Lee’s writings edited by John R. Little was released under the title “Bruce Lee: Artist of Life”. An instance of the quotation was included: 4

Most martial art teachers are fixed in a routine. Because they depend on a method and merely drill systematic routines, they can only produce patternized prisoners according to a lifeless, systematizing concept. A teacher, a really good teacher, is never a giver of truth; he is a guide, a pointer to truth.

In conclusion, the passage published in 1971 seems to be the most accurate though the editorial process at magazines sometimes produces revisions. QI does not know the rationale behind the changes in 1988.

Image Notes: Photo of statue of Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong. Author: Johnson Lau. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license; accessed via Wikimedia Commons. JKD logo; Author: RisingSunWiki; original uploader was RisingSunWiki; public domain artwork accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to Andrew Old whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1971 September, Black Belt, Volume 9, Number 9, Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate by Bruce Lee, Start Page 24, Quote Page 27, Column 2, Published by Black Belt, Inc., Los Angeles, California. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1988 December, Black Belt, Volume 26, Number 12, Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate: Bruce Lee’s Personal Definition of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee, Start Page 30, Quote Page 31, Column 1 and 2, Rainbow Publications, Burbank, California. (Google Books Full View)
  3. 1988 December, Black Belt, Volume 26, Number 12, Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate: Bruce Lee’s Personal Definition of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee, Start Page 30, Quote Page 34, Column 2 and 3, Rainbow Publications, Burbank, California. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 2001, Bruce Lee: Artist of Life: The Essential Writings, Volume 6 of Bruce Lee Library by Bruce Lee, Compiled and edited by John R. Little, Quote Page 141, Tuttle Publishing, Rutland, Vermont. (Google Books Preview)