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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Siems

"Be Water My Friend"

I've written about the martial artist, actor, and philosopher Bruce Lee before. However, today I want to focus on one of his most famous philosophical quotes "Be like water". The story, as he tells it, was about when he was younger and learning the art of Wing Chun under Master Yip Man (the movie Ip Man is based on him). Bruce was young and talented, and would often let his energy and passion get the best of him by showing everyone around him just how talented he was. He wanted to win and show he was the best. Master Yip saw the talent, but also saw problems ahead for Bruce if he continued to act that way. This is the account of that interaction as told by Bruce Lee in forgotten tapes found after his death.

Master Yip: "Preserve yourself by following the natural bends of things and don’t interfere. Remember never to assert yourself against nature; never be in frontal opposition to any problems, but control it by swinging with it. Don’t practice this week: Go home and think about it.”

Bruce: "After spending many hours meditating, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk (a small boat). On the sea I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water! Right then — at that moment — a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? Hadn’t this water just now illustrated to me the principle of gung fu? I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all of my might — yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water."

I remember the first time I watched the interview of Bruce Lee talking about the idea of being like water. Often it takes several times hearing an idea before it truly sticks with me, but this idea stuck with me immediately. I am stubborn and opinionated in most areas of life and it can be difficult for me to change my mind. This is not a bad thing and I view this as a strength. However, those traits have not always served me well and I have found, more often than not, they stunt my growth as I work to become the highest value of myself. It is often the case that we feel ourselves drawn to desire the characteristics of those most different from ourselves because we more easily see their value. My stubborn and deliberative character limits my ability to change and develop. Perhaps that is why I feel pulled towards this idea of being like water. I want to be able to adapt and absorb the good that comes from change. "Water can flow, or it can crash" meaning it can be soft or strong. Be water my friends.

I hope you find this useful,


"Be Water, My Friend.

Empty your mind.

Be formless, shapeless, like water.

You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.

You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle.

You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

Now water can flow or it can crash.

Be water, my friend."

-Bruce Lee

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