“Be formless, shapeless, like water.” — Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee’s timeless wisdom has resonated with millions, inspiring a mindset of adaptability and flow.
In his iconic quote, “Be water, my friend,” he captures the essence of a philosophy that transcends martial arts and extends into broader life and mindset principles.
Let’s dive into the origins of this philosophy, what it truly means, and how you can apply it to various aspects of your life.
“Be Water, My Friend” by Bruce Lee
Here is the full Be Water, My Friend passage from an episode of Longstreet called “The Way of The Intercepting Fist”:
“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
The Origin of Bruce Lee’s “Be Water, My Friend”
In September 1971, Bruce Lee featured in an episode of Longstreet called “The Way of The Intercepting Fist” in the role of Li Tsung.
In the episode, Mike Longstreet, the blind protagonist, enlists Li Tsung’s help to learn how to fight and protect himself.
Frustrated by the complexity of it all, Longstreet voices, “There’s too much to remember.”
Li Tsung admonishes Longstreet, cautioning him that “if you try to remember, you will lose!”
The wise Li Tsung then imparts his groundbreaking advice.
It was during Bruce Lee’s interview with Pierre Burton later that year that these words truly became iconic.
Watch Bruce Lee as Li Tsung Say “Be Water, My Friend”
Here is the Longstreet episode called “The Way of The Intercepting Fist”, where Bruce Lee in the role of Li Tsung says his famous words, “Be water, my friend.”
What Did Bruce Lee Mean by “Be Water, My Friend”?
According to Taoism, water is often used as a metaphor for the Tao, which is the natural order of existence.
Water is formless, neutral, and present, and it simply follows the natural order of things without any resistance. It’s a symbol of humility, depth, kindness, integrity, versatility, and administration.
Water is also known for its ability to adapt to any situation and overcome obstacles with ease.
In simple terms, think of water as the ultimate go-with-the-flow expert. It doesn’t overthink or question. It effortlessly aligns itself with the way things naturally are.
It’s the ultimate example of adapting to its surroundings.
Mushin, or ‘no mind,’ is like a mental ninja state. It means being aware without letting your inner voice chatter away. In martial arts, this mental state is pure gold because you’re fully present and responsive, not stuck in your head.
Flowing is when you’re like water, moving effortlessly without getting stuck or resisting. You’re not clinging to one outcome or avoiding another; you’re simply responding to what’s happening.
In martial arts and life, the goal is to be as adaptable as water. When you encounter a situation, you want to instantly know whether to adapt gently or take it head-on.
This isn’t just about martial arts; it’s a mindset we can train ourselves in daily life. We want our minds finely tuned, like a well-trained instrument, so we can flow with life’s challenges and opportunities, adapting effortlessly as needed.
How To Apply the “Be Water” Philosophy
Bruce Lee’s “Be like water” philosophy is a versatile concept that applies to various aspects of life. While it was initially emphasized in his martial arts teachings, it transcends the boundaries of martial arts and extends into broader life and mindset principles.
Here’s how it can be applied:
- Martial Arts: Bruce Lee originally introduced this concept in the context of martial arts. He encouraged martial artists to be adaptable, flexible, and responsive in combat, just like water takes on the shape of its container. It means not being fixed in one approach but being open to different techniques and strategies.
- Life: “Be like water” can be seen as a life philosophy. In life, we often face unexpected challenges and changes. Bruce Lee’s advice encourages us to adapt to these situations rather than resisting or being rigid. It’s about maintaining a calm and flexible mindset, making it easier to navigate life’s twists and turns.
- Mindset: At its core, “be like water” is a mindset. It’s about having a growth mindset that embraces change and learning. Instead of approaching problems with a fixed perspective, this mindset encourages curiosity and a willingness to adjust and evolve.
- Work: In the context of work, this philosophy can mean being adaptable to different work environments, tasks, or roles. It’s about being open to new challenges, methodologies, and approaches in your career.
So, “be like water” is a philosophy that encompasses martial arts, life, mindset, and work. It promotes adaptability, resilience, and an open mindset, making it a valuable concept for personal growth and success in various areas of life.
Be Like Water
Bruce Lee’s “Be water, my friend” is a philosophy for life.
It invites us to embrace change, let go of rigid thinking, and adapt to the challenges life presents.
Like water, we too can become versatile, resilient, and ever-flowing.
So, remember these profound words from Bruce Lee and strive to be water, my friend.