I'm giving an academic presentation and I'd like to incorporate some concepts from JKD. I've always liked “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” and it really gets at the point I'm trying to make in the presentation, but I'm having trouble figuring out where this quote actually comes from. Is it in Tao of JKD? Did he just say it in an interview somewhere? Anyone have any ideas for finding a primary source?



2 Answers 2


That quotation is from the "Dedication" on the inside cover of Lee's "Tao of Jeet Kune Do"

It reads,

"This book is dedicated to the free, creative martial artist: 'Research your own experience; absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is essentially your own.' "

That may also appear elsewhere in the book, but I could not find it while skimming through the various philosophical sections.

  • Haha. That was simple! Here I was trying to scour ancient philosophy texts for something similar sounding to find the true origin. I'm pretty sure Bruce Lee wasn't the first to come up with this idea, and I remember reading something similar elsewhere, but I forget where. Aug 12, 2015 at 4:08
  • I think he may have been. My understanding is that Bruce's outlook towards martial arts as being one big box we can pull from, as opposed to strict stylism was pretty uncommon. Aug 12, 2015 at 14:56
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    The dedication I saw was: This Book is Dedicated to the Free, Creative, Martial Artist Take what is useful and develop from there. Does someone have a different dedication in their book? Also, as the book was published posthumously, can we know who wrote the dedication?
    – user6730
    Feb 11, 2016 at 14:49

Source of quote

Bruce read widely and took aphorisms from many different sources, incorporating them into his writings on his own martial arts and philosophy. The idea behind this quote is ancient,1 but this specific wording appears to come from Mao Zedong:

All military laws and military theories which are in the nature of principles are the experience of past wars summed up by people in former days or in our own times. We should seriously study these lessons, paid for in blood, which are a heritage of past wars. That is one point. But there is another. We should put these conclusions to the test of our own experience, assimilating what is useful, rejecting what is useless, and adding what is specifically our own. The latter is very important, for otherwise we cannot direct a war.

Similar quotes in Bruce Lee's writings

Very similar quotes appear in a couple of Lee's works:

Absorb what is useful. - Research your own experience; absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is essentially your own.

This Book is Dedicated to the Free, Creative Martial Artist

Take what is useful and develop from there.

However, Bruce Lee said and wrote many things very similar to this thought, and to some extent it characterises the ideology of Jeet Kune Do. See this quote from the same book (p.24 and worded slightly differently on p.12):

Jeet Kune Do favors formlessness so that it can assume all forms and, since it has no style, Jeet Kune Do fits in with all styles. As a result, Jeet Kune Do uses all ways and is bound by none and, likewise, uses any technique or means which serves its end. In this art, efficiency is anything that scores.


1. The Eudemian Ethics (Book VII, Chapter I), Aristotle

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