Bruce Lee’s “Be water”

October 5, 2006 6:59 PM
Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee once said:

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.

The meaning of that is simply that being adaptable and flexible is a strength.

Then there’s also one of Aesop’s Fables titled “The Oak and the Reeds”:

A mighty oak tree was uprooted by a gale and fell across a stream into some reeds. “How have you reeds, so frail, survived, when I, so strong, have been felled?” asked the oak tree. “You were stubborn and wouldn’t bend,” replied the reeds, “whereas we yield and allow the gale to pass harmlessly by.”

Moral: yielding does not necessarily mean losing.

And finally this is something I came up with in a moment of brilliance (it doesn’t happen often ;)):

There’s no point pushing up against a rock that won’t budge. Instead, flow around it.

My point to all this? You will come across many difficult problems and stubborn people in life, especially in the workplace. The most obvious solution to a problem may not be the best; winning over stubborn people does not necessarily mean that you have to push them down until they surrender to your point of view, if that is even possible.

Instead, be flexible and adapt to the person and the situation, be prepared to give way a little, or visualise the end point “behind” the problem and go around it. It’s how I deal with stress at work, whether it be from a difficult problem, or an incorrigible colleague or superior.

How about you? 🙂

8 thoughts on “Bruce Lee’s “Be water”

  1. hobart

    hmm…let’s assume the problem manifests itself as a person.what if the person also considers you as the problem and applies the identical philosophy?then you’re back to phase one…heh…sorry…just complicating matters in a silly way. i completely agree with you that it’s an effective philosophy to practise but it’s one of the situations where life isn’t like in the books :P.

  2. ian

    Flexitbility has always been a trait I’m praticising, although some misinterpret it as being an act of a pushover.

    M. Scott Peck suggested that ‘Gentleness’ should not be associated with frailty or weak, for its true meaning elaborates a strong person having the ability to control his actions and strength to handle delicate matters. Just like the analogy of those kung fu training when you have to grab tofu tossing towards you without breaking it.

    Oh, have I digressed?

  3. mooiness Post author

    hobart: in your example, the water analogy works even better – water from different sources can come together and become one body.

    ian: no no, you made your point perfectly well. 🙂

  4. Rob

    That’s one of the all time great quotes.
    water can be both flexible and bending and hard and rigid ie ice. We’d all love to be water but unfortunately I can’t claim to yet developed the wisdom and judgement of when to be water and when to be ice. I think most of the time I’m just hot vapour 😛 sigh.

  5. yanzzz

    some lame things to say

    does anyone know how come bruce lee is always calling for water ?? whenever his fighting ??
    did anyone realise he kept calling for water ??

    ans :: “wa tar ~ ” = water

  6. mooiness Post author

    herman: heheh must have been a real doozy for you to lose it like that eh?

    Rob: actually I don’t think being ice is good – it’s hard but it’s also brittle. Hot vapour is no good either – it means you have no substance. Hahah! Water all the way!

    yanzzz: wow. that IS lame. plus he never said that in any of his movies. 😉

  7. herman

    yeah he was being really rude, but i reckon it’s because i’m holding up the anger (from stuffs ). So, it kinda bottles up. My Boss’s friend who were visiting at that time, told me , ” young men, don’t lose it so fast “, next time, ” think first, what if next time you lose it in front of your kids ? ”

    So, I’m kinda humbled by my own anger incident.


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