Zibby Owens: Welcome, Shannon, to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Shannon Lee: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Zibby: It’s a pleasure to have you. Be Water, My Friend, by the way, this book cover is my favorite colors, image. This is the most soothing, beautiful — I love it. Don’t you just love it?

Shannon: I do. I love it. Soothing is such a great word. Also, the feel of the book is really nice.

Zibby: I don’t know how you make things happen like this. Anyway, I won’t belabor the point.

Shannon: I don’t either.

Zibby: It just feels so good, especially because the inside so matches it. It’s so perfect for the content and all of the amazing tips and advice and all the rest. Now that I’ve started off on this train, it’s called Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee, who was your father. What made you decide to write this book? Why take all of his learnings? Why make it a book? Why dedicate your life to running a whole foundation and business around him? Tell me the whole story.

Shannon: Give you the whole story.

Zibby: The whole thing.

Shannon: All these things are interconnected. To start at the beginning, the reason that I do what I do is because I am healed by it and because I am inspired by it, because I am motived by it. By it I mean my father’s words, his practices, the way he lived his life. All of that has helped me in my life. Even though I run all the different aspects of the business, I’m not in this for the cool T-shirts and posters. Although, they’re super cool. For me, when my mom approached me and said, “Do you have an interest in helping to oversee this?” The immediate answer was yes because I just feel like there’s so much value for everyone to encounter him and his message. I want him to be known more as the deep thinker and personal growth seeker and philosopher that he truly was. I think you will say after reading the book that he wasn’t just an armchair philosopher. He was really invested in these thoughts and these practices and trying to live them. That’s why I do all of this in the first place.

Then why I wrote this book, I have a deep love of reading. I have a deep love of writing. I always had this desire to write a book. I just didn’t know what book to write. I had been doing the “Bruce Lee Podcast” for a couple of years discussing his philosophy and how to apply it and all of that. It caught the eye of a literary agent who was listening and reached out and said, “Oh, my god, I love this. Have you ever thought about writing a book?” I said, “Actually, yes. I have thought about it.” He said, “I feel like putting these teachings in another format, an additional format that can then reach a whole nother swath of people is a really great idea.” The “be water” philosophy of my father’s is really one of his best known. A lot of people have heard him say the quote. It’s made its way into popular culture in that regard. It’s such an expansive quote. It encapsulates so much of him and his perspective and his practices. I just thought this is a great entry point and a way to keep it focused. It’s such a vast amount of information. To not have a focal point would be really hard. I feel like the book would be all over the place.

Zibby: It was great because you broke it down into all this different advice, but in highly structured formats. Each chapter gave a little different take on different advice. I know these concepts are so timeless and they date back to the beginning of rational thought, but I feel like he was ahead of time for where we are now with a whole society focused on mindfulness and breath. I feel like thirty years ago it wasn’t quite so mainstream as it is today.

Shannon: Totally. That’s what I would say one of the hallmarks of my father’s life is, that he was an innovator. He was ahead of his time. Look, he’s taking timeless information, for sure. This goes all the way back to Daoism. It goes all the way back to the beginning of, as you say, conscious thought. He interpreted it and represented it for himself and his place and set and setting, and his place and moment in time. Now many years have gone by. Society continues to change. I feel like I’ve taken it now and placed it more in this moment in time.

Zibby: You have, yes. Some of the tips are just so actionable that you could do right away like journaling or getting physical or owning your own stuff in your head. Stop judging people so much. It’s all great advice. It’s all things you want to work towards.

Shannon: It’s all things that you, in some regard, already know or already have a sense of. Sometimes you just need to have it laid out in a particular way for you so that it really grabs you and speaks to you directly. Then you go, oh, you know what, actually, I’m going to try that or I’m going to do that.

Zibby: One of the best ways to really, not convince people, but to get your message across is through storytelling. I feel like that’s what you did well, especially by starting the book off and talking about the history. Even though you were only three or four when your dad passed away —

Shannon: — Four.

Zibby: Four. The legacy he left and your reaction to it and all of that because then you’re immediately invested in the person telling the story, giving the tips.

Shannon: Thank you.

Zibby: How did your dad end up becoming a movie star? He was this cerebral, mindful — then his life took off in a whole different direction, martial arts and everything.

Shannon: It’s so interesting. My father was a child actor, actually. He was in about twenty films as a child in Hong Kong, so a very different time and place, a very different industry than Hollywood. He was already, from birth — the first cameo that he ever had in a film, he was an infant in the arms of his father. Then it just called to him. Creative outlets really called to him. As I say in the book, his nickname as a child was Mo Si Ting, which means never sit still. He had a ton of energy. As a child in Hong Kong, he grew up under challenging circumstances. Even though he was born in the United States, he went back to Hong Kong as an infant, was raised in Hong Kong, lived through Japanese-occupied Hong Kong in World War II, then lived under British rule of Hong Kong. He himself was of mixed-race descent. He started to get bullied a lot, and so he wanted to take martial arts. The gangs were very prevalent in Hong Kong. There was always a tug on kids to get into gangs. He was certainly no exception. As a kid, he had quite a temper, quite honestly. He was feisty. He wanted to get in fights. He wanted to do that kind of thing. At the same time, he had this creative side. He was an actor. He was a cha-cha dancer.

He was interested in the teachings of his shifu, his teacher, in Wing Chun which he started training in at the age of thirteen. There were a lot of Daoist principles passed onto him at that time. He had this really active, interested, curious mind. He had a drive to understand things and to pursue things. All of that came very naturally to him, but he was getting in a ton of trouble. He was getting in fights. Someone was injured quite seriously. He was ultimately shipped off to the United States with a hundred dollars in his pocket by his parents who were like, “You got to get out of Hong Kong. You should go to the United States because technically you’re a citizen. You should go there. We know some people. We’ll put you in touch. Good luck.” Then when he landed in the United States, he very much was like, well, I’m a martial artist, I love martial arts, I guess I need to get my GED. He worked as a busboy and a prep cook in a Chinese restaurant. He enrolled in University of Washington. He started really delving into philosophy. Then he was just training and started teaching some people very casually in the US with no desire to be a movie star, no desire to do any of that. It was through these passionate pursuits of his and his desire to pursue everything with a certain amount of quality and a certain amount of thoughtfulness, and he had an extremely diligent work ethic, that he caught the eye of a Hollywood producer. Then all of a sudden, his whole life took a turn.

Zibby: It’s so crazy.

Shannon: Quite interestingly, as I talk about in the book, he suddenly realized, this is an avenue, actually, for me to reach even more people with the same thing I want to reach them with right now but in a bigger format and in a bigger way.

Zibby: In the book, you talked about how when you were younger, you weren’t always so quick to say, guess what, Bruce Lee’s my dad.

Shannon: Oh, no.

Zibby: Now it’s your whole life. You’re owning it to the fullest. Tell me about what happened in between or how you used to feel.

Shannon: It’s hard. When you say now you’re owning it, I’m like, am I owning it? I guess I am.

Zibby: Do you still not feel like that? Oh, my gosh, that’s funny.

Shannon: I do, but it’s this thing where I have to own it. It is true. It is my life. As you say in the beginning, my mom would tell us when we were kids, “Don’t tell people that Bruce Lee is your father. Just let them get to know you without that information. Then at some point, they’ll find out. Then they’ll already either like you or not like you. You’ll kind of know where you stand and all of that.” It was great advice. As I came into adulthood, I started to feel like I was guarding a secret and that there was some part of me that was not okay to share. I proceeded along like that for a long time. Then when I was older, I started to go, why can’t I share that? as we do. What’s wrong with that? Why can’t I? Then I started to experiment with sharing that. Then I realized, oh, this isn’t an all-or-nothing thing, just like with everything, by the way. Nothing is an all-or-nothing proposition. You actually have to show up to each moment with all your sensors on, your intuition in play, feeling into the other people, feeling into the situation to say, is this an instance where it’s safe to share this information? Or I feel empowered to share this information or not.

I’ve experimented with it my whole life. I would say that it got even harder when I decided to start looking after his legacy because now this is also what I do for work. All those conversations, “So what do you do for work?” Well… I’m not instantly recognizable as a person out in the world. I’ve questioned my own identity my whole life, which I think, quite frankly, we all do anyway. It’s just I have a little bit different lens on mine. That’s what I mean. I do feel like I am finally coming into ownership of myself. Bruce Lee as my father is definitely a part of who I am. Yet it’s not all that I am. I think that writing this book was a way for me to say even though I’m going to focus on what his teachings have in them that are so great for everyone and for me, I’m also going to put some of myself out there. I’m going to write this book. There have been a lot of books written about Bruce Lee and about his writings, but never by me. It is a way for me to start stepping more and more into my own identity.

Zibby: I wonder how you’re going to feel with this book out in the world. I hope it goes okay for you. I hope you’re ready.

Shannon: Thank you. I hope so too. I guess we’ll find out.

Zibby: That’s such a natural thing to do when you’re younger. I know yours was inspired by your mom. I feel like there was a point at which everyone’s a little embarrassed by their parents. Then you grow up and you’re like, wait, there’s actually some cool stuff about my parents, or there’s not.

Shannon: And at different times, I have to abandon my parents. Then at other times you’re like, no, I need to own my parents. It’s your strive for your individuation. You strive to be different. You strive to learn from the mistakes that you feel like have been made. Then ultimately, you come into this understanding of everybody’s just trying to do their best. Nobody knows the secret formula here. Then you’re like, so I have to try to do my best also.

Zibby: Totally. Sometimes my dad can be pretty vocal politically or make statements. People might assume that I have the same ones. Then I’m like, why? Do most people share the same views as their parents these days? Maybe, but maybe not. We all have so many differences from who our parents are, I think. Sorry, there’s sirens here.

Shannon: Welcome to modern times.

Zibby: I know. There’s this lingering thing. You’re Bruce Lee’s daughter. You must have all the same beliefs. You must feel the same way. You might totally not. That’s why it’s so great that you could include your thoughts and feelings alongside it and share things that shaped you. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know about your brother. That part was so sad. That could’ve been the trajectory your life takes a different turn because of. I didn’t say that very well, but you know what I mean. That part was heart-wrenching. After that, you said — this is the aftermath. You said, “I knew how to go through each day, but I no longer knew how to live.” That is the best quote on grief I’ve heard in a long time. That’s just it. Your world is different.

Shannon: Totally. That’s it exactly. When I think back to the aftermath of those times, I was like, oh, my god. I had moved to LA. I started pursuing an acting career of all things. I was on autopilot. I got married in the middle of all that. I was just like, this is life. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. Inside, I was just like, help me. I don’t feel okay.

Zibby: Can you back up? Do you mind sharing what happened? You were kind of vague about something happened in accident.

Shannon: My brother was killed on the filming of the set The Crow for the film The Crow. They were almost done shooting. They just had a couple weeks left of shooting. My brother was going to finish up. Then he was going to take off to go and get married. His wedding was three weeks away. They were extremely negligent on the set of the film. They let the firearms expert go because they were like, we’re almost done. We don’t need the firearms expert around more. We don’t have to pay for that, great. Then they ran out of certain props. They ran out of these things called dummy bullets. Whenever they need to make a shot of a bullet in a film, they don’t use real bullets. They use fake bullets. They look just like bullets, but they don’t have gunpowder in them. They had to do a shot where a character was loading a gun, so they needed some dummy bullets. They didn’t have any, so they bought real bullets.

Zibby: No.

Shannon: Yeah. They bought real bullets. In an attempt to be safe, they pried them open and dumped the gunpowder out, but there was still gunpowder residue in the chambers of these bullets. It’s a crazy sequence of events that took place, any of one of which, if somebody had been paying attention and doing their job, would have stopped it. They had these real bullets that they’d dumped the gunpowder out of. Then they did the shots they were doing. In that, somebody was dry firing the gun. Because there was a little residue of gunpowder — this is things that I never thought I would know about bullets, by the way. A bullet has a flat side with a little circle in it. That’s the firing pin. When the hammer of the gun comes up, it hits that firing pin which ignites the gunpowder inside which is what projects the bullet out of the gun. When they dumped the gunpowder out, they didn’t also fire off the pins. When somebody was playing around with the gun and firing it, they hit the pin which ignited the residue of the gunpowder inside the bullet which separated the casing and lodged it in the barrel of the gun. Now, we have no firearms expert on set. They go to shoot a scene with my brother a week later or something. Because no one is looking at the gun, no one’s checking the gun, they don’t know that this piece of metal is lodged in the barrel. Then they put a blank in a gun. A blank is gunpowder, but it just is encased in paper. It’s not encased in metal. They stick this blank in the gun which, in essence, makes a bullet because there is a metal projectile lodged in the barrel. Nobody checks it. They shoot the scene. The actor pulls the triggers and shoots my brother.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh.

Shannon: It’s pretty horrifying.

Zibby: Actually, as you’re telling this, now I’m starting to remember this happening in popular culture. This is twenty years ago or something, right?

Shannon: It’s twenty-seven years ago now.

Zibby: I hadn’t put two and two together until you mentioned the movie name. Oh, my gosh, I am so sorry. I know how you came back because I read the book, but how did you go through? You got married. Your life was sort of on autopilot. Then what?

Shannon: Like I said, I was going through life, but I was in excruciating internal pain. I was in full depression. At times, I couldn’t leave my house. I would drive around in my car, which in LA we do a lot. I would cry while I was driving. Then I’d get to a place. I’d wipe the tears away and be like, okay, here I go. Just terrible. I remember thinking in my head, I need help. I can’t live like this. I had this consistent mantra just going through my head, going through my head. What showed up without me actually — I was too depressed to even try to pursue something logically to do like go to therapy. I had never been in therapy before. I’ve been in therapy now, by the way. Like many people who have never been in therapy, there’s a little bit of a stigma of, you should just be able to handle your own problems and all that kind of stuff and not really understanding the process and the value of it. I was in this place of pain. What came to me was my father’s writings, completely delivered to me from the universe, quite frankly. Yes, they were always there, but at the time, my mom was working with someone to organize them into a book. They had gathered them all and made photocopies of them. Just as a, “Hey, this is interesting. Would you like to see? We happened to have them all photocopied, so would you like to see them?” they were given to me, a stack like three phonebooks high of writings.

I started flipping through them. I came across this quote which I mention in the book. For whatever reason in that moment, it was just what I needed to hear. It said, “The medicine for my suffering, I had within me from the very beginning, but I did not take it. My ailment came from within myself, but I didn’t observe it until this moment. Now I see that I will never find the light unless, like the candle, I am my own fuel.” I was like, I have the medicine for my own — my suffering isn’t just going to magically disappear. I think that that’s what we all want. We just want to be like, something good will happen in my life and I’ll get so happy that all my suffering will disappear. It was like, no, actually, you have to be your own fuel. You have to figure it out. That’s when I started trying to figure it out and sought the things like healers and therapists and friends and books to read and all these things. This book that I wrote is my way of hopefully there being some little tiny something that pops out at the reader who is also struggling with something and they go, oh. That was my experience.

Zibby: That’s just beautiful. I’m sorry you went through all this. I’m so glad that you found the ticket to getting to the next level of processing your grief. People always say, go get help, go get help, but as you mentioned, if you’re in that state, it’s hard to motivate to do anything. It can feel really overwhelming. What are you going to do, google It’s just overwhelming sometimes. Where do you turn? Who’s good? Who’s going to click with you? Who takes insurance? There’s all these things that prevent people. It’s so much easier to do nothing and just wallow.

Shannon: And just hope.

Zibby: And just hope and wait for time to pass. Eventually, things change over time. You’re so right. How great that your own dad’s words are the ones that got you through. It’s amazing, really. Most people’s dads don’t have writing like this just sitting around.

Shannon: They could use my dad’s. There you go.

Zibby: They could use your dad’s. That’s amazing.

Shannon: I would say books are a place to go. They’re easy. They’re cheap. You can listen to a book. You don’t have to take the time to read a book. Podcasts like we’re having a discussion right now, all these things, they’re an easy onramp into maybe at some point feeling like you’re ready to get a therapist or whatever the next thing is.

Zibby: I totally agree. I’ve had some recent losses due to COVID, my husband’s mother and grandmother within six weeks of each other. It was this excruciating six-week medical journey. I won’t go into it. I keep posting and saying books are getting me through this. Books are it. Not books, the idea of the books, but getting lost in somebody else’s story and knowing that other people have suffered and that you’re going to get through it eventually in some way. It can be a horrible accident, something. It doesn’t have to be loss. It’s just that hitting bottom. I totally agree with you. People who don’t read books, read books. It’s cheaper than therapy.

Shannon: Or listen to books. How about that?

Zibby: Listen to books, yeah. We listened to a book this morning on our long drive. Going back for two seconds to the writing of this book, what was that process like for you? Did it become very emotional? Did it take you a long time? What was that process like?

Shannon: I wrote the first draft of the book over the course of a year. I’m busy, so I had to fit that time into my schedule, which is why it took a year. I think I probably could’ve done it faster if I’d had nothing to do but that. I had lots of other things to do.

Zibby: You don’t know. People who have nothing but time also struggle. There’s no good way.

Shannon: This is true. There were a lot of things going on at the time as well. The writing of the book was a journey. I have to say, I approached the first draft as, I just have to get this out. I just have to get it out. I just have to create deadlines. I just have to find a time to write. I would work from home two days a week and try to take hours out of those days to write, and on weekends and things like that. By the way, I’m a single mom, so I also had those duties as well. Catch-as-catch-can, I got a draft out. I felt good about the draft. Then I sent it off to my publisher, editor, and waited a while for their comments. With the timing and everything, and they had some things — they were moving offices and all that. It took them a few months to get back to me. It was good. I was like, good, I got a draft out of it. I was feeling good about it. Then the notes came back. They were like, “This is great. Here are our comments.” In that time — look, as humans, especially for me — I’m a person who’s dedicated to continue to work on myself, to continue to grow, to continue to shift my perspective over time on all sorts of things and life and all of that.

I was so grateful for those months because I continued to learn and grow in those months and go through a lot of things that I was struggling with and learning from. Then I got the notes back. When I started to read the notes and they were like, “We’re not sure we understand this. We could use a little more explanation here,” I was reading it, I’m like, oh, my god, yes. This needs some work, for sure. I was so grateful because I felt so much more clear. I’d had that space. I’d had some time to continue on my journey. In the edits, I feel like the book really bloomed. I was so grateful for the ability to revisit those thoughts and those chapters and reorganize them. Chapters seven, eight, and nine really got a lot of work done to them, which are the weightier material in the book. I was grateful for that. By the time I was finally like, okay, this is the last time I’m going to get to ever change anything in it, I felt at peace with it. This is my understanding of this material as best as I can get it for right now for where I am. I believe there are some good-enough pieces in here that it can be of help to some other people.

Zibby: What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Shannon: We all face this idea, whether you’re an author or whether you’re anything, of there’s not enough time, with procrastination. I’m a huge procrastinator. If I don’t have a deadline, it’s really hard for me to get something done. Sometimes when I would sit down in front of the computer to write, I would find myself typing three sentences and then being like, I’m going to get a snack. I’d come back and type three more sentences and be like, you know what, I have to go to the bathroom. I would watch myself squirm. Then there were times when it just flowed. What I would say is it’s great to fight through those moments when you’re squirming because they do ultimate lead to times when it starts to flow. For me, deadlines are key. Trying to have, these are the days that I write. It’s on my calendar. I’m protecting this time. I’m protecting this practice. Yes, a big meeting is coming up. They’re requesting this time from me. Okay, fine, I’ll take the meeting, but then I’m going to schedule this time and protect it. You’ve got to protect the time. There really is enough time. There’s so many things that I am trying to do. I’m running these businesses. I’m parenting my child, all of this. It would be easy for me to say that there’s not enough time. A lot of times, I use the excuse, I’m very busy. If this is something that is important to you, then there is enough time. You’ll find the time. It doesn’t matter if it’s an hour once a week. Find the time. Protect that time. Just keep going. I use this example in the book. If you just keep dreaming about writing a book and never actually take any steps toward writing it — even if it takes you ten years, in ten years you’ll have a book, versus in ten years you’ll still just have a dream about having a book.

Zibby: Such great advice.

Shannon: The other thing, too, is I would get off of the need for the book to be perfect or the need for the book to be immediately publishable. Just get the book out. Then you can always work on it from there. Until you get that draft out, that first idea, rough idea, then there’s nothing to work with, and work with it you will. We all had the dream. My first draft, I was like, check, done. Perfect book in the first draft. Then it was like, no, no. It’s not perfect. It needs work. Great, let’s do the work.

Zibby: Shannon, it was so nice talking to you and learning more about your story and your beautiful mission for why you even want the book out there. From where I sit, I feel like you’re doing an amazing job of upholding the legacy of your entire family. I give you a check for that.

Shannon: Thank you so much. Thank you for your beautiful questions, for the work that you’re doing as well. I hold so much love for you and your process and what you’re going through with those losses and just as a human. Being a human, it’s challenging. I don’t want to put the thing on it that it’s hard because it’s not always. There’s a lot of joy. It’s challenging. It’s challenging to be with ourselves. When we’re in quarantine, we are with ourselves. That is challenging.

Zibby: That’s nice. I hope I get to meet you at some point.

Shannon: Me too. I would love that. Please, let’s keep in touch.

Zibby: Excellent. Bye-bye. Have a great day.

Shannon: You take care. Buh-bye.