Solving Problems like Bruce Lee

By James H. Choi

When you face a daunting math or physics problem, you will do well to remember the “Bruce Lee Method of Problem Solving.”

Bruce Lee is a famous (perhaps the original) martial art actor of the 1970s.  In his movies, he routinely faced many villains whom he defeated single-handedly.  It is worth studying how he could confront so many enemies all alone, and win every time.

Below is a short movie clip from his movie where he faces down tens of enemies by himself and win.  Watch it first, then read the rest.

Bruce Lee Fight

As you saw, Bruce Lee’s secret is to face the enemy one by one.  The “bad guys” are so polite, they might as well have stood in line waiting for Bruce Lee’s punch.  But to make it interesting, they circle around waiting for their turn to — what else — take Bruce Lee’s punch.

Of course it does not happen in real life.  Real villains attack at the same time.  But in math/physics problems, the problems really act like Bruce Lee’s enemies, politely waiting in line — they don’t even circle around — for you to tackle, ponder and solve one by one until the last one is knocked down.

Next time you face a big bad ugly messy problem, just remember Bruce Lee.  And start attacking the problem one at a time.  For Bruce Lee, fighting 20, compared on, does not get harder, just takes longer to finish them off.  It is the same for you as well.  As you start small, and probe with simple cases, you will begin to see a pattern emerging.  Even if they want to you find f(x)1000, start with f(x)1, then f(x)2, and f(x)3. Then you will see a patter emerging before you reach f(x)6.

And before you know it, all the bad guys will be on the floor looking at you with fear in their eyes.