Enter the Museum

New Wing Luke Exhibit Showcases the Teachings of Bruce Lee

The permanent museum gallery Be Water, My Friend features 2,800 of the famous martial artist's books.

By Ann Karneus August 3, 2022

When you first enter the space, Lee is quite literally composed of his books.

Bruce Lee could blast a man backwards with one punch, but his identity as an intellectual and voracious reader was far less known. “You think of Bruce Lee as a martial artist and as an actor, but you don't necessarily think of him as a philosopher,” says Jessica Rubenacker, exhibit director of Wing Luke Museum.

Over the course of his life, Lee collected more than 2,800 books, now part of the Wing Luke Museum’s new interactive Bruce Lee exhibit, Be Water, My Friend. Lee’s collection was supplied by Shannon Lee, his daughter and the president of the Bruce Lee Foundation.

The space invites viewers to learn about the guiding principles that informed every facet of Lee’s life, including—but not limited to—his style as a martial artist. As his iconic quote (and the exhibit title) suggests, Lee firmly believed in fluidity and formlessness, chafing at labels and their inherently limiting nature. 

The books on display tell more about Lee's varied interests, covering topics like martial arts, boxing, and jiu-jitsu, but also yoga, fencing, football, filmmaking, acting, and entrepreneurship. A book on jogging rests beside How to Attract Good Luck and How to Build a Better Vocabulary.

There are also a few artifacts on display, including one of Lee's report cards from the University of Washington (he got a C in gymnastics). The gallery even features the detailed annotations within some of his books, the margins decorated with big paragraphs of his neat cursive.

Three circular projections of water rippling over smooth stones represent mind, body, and spirit. Step onto a pad, and a book passage that Lee underlined or commented on materializes with an accompanying picture or video. Creative directors Jessica Kantor and Eve Weston of immersive media firm Lola Tango wanted to convey how these passages were realized in his day-to-day life. 

“Bruce Lee was truly a lifelong student, and a lifelong learner,” says Rubenacker. “And I think looking at his library collection just cements that idea and that understanding of how his pursuit of knowledge really came through in his life and his philosophy.”

Be Water, My Friend is the fifth collaboration to date between Wing Luke and the Bruce Lee Foundation. The space is now specifically designated as a Bruce Lee gallery and will rotate every few years to showcase different aspects of the his life and career.

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