Bruce Lee said “Be water my friend.” What does he mean? What is it to “be water”?
What is it to “be water“? Water flows and adapts. It has no plan, but deals with the environment that it finds. It fully explores the space. It has no expectations of what it will find. It forgets immediately when it leaves one space to find another. It remains the same inside even as it flows and adapts outside. Is this what it is to “be water, my friend”? What did Bruce mean?
Bruce in speaking of be water is talking about a Tao concept called Wu Wei – knowing when to act and when not to act. Wu Wei can variously be translated as “effortless doing” or “effortless action”. It connects to the Greek Rhetoric school and “Kairos” – recognizing the right moment to act, and knowing in the moment the right way of acting.
According to masters of rhetoric it is impossible to teach a general way to identify these moments and the right methods of action – so we must turn inwards and go back to our intuition, and really become good at listening to our own internal voice.
This is the path to being water.
“Don’t make a plan of fighting
that is a very good way to lose your teeth
if you try to remember you will lose
Empty your mind
put water into a cup
becomes the cup
put water into a teapot
becomes the teapot
water can flow or creep or drip or crash
be water my friend”
Here is the video of Bruce (on the blog here):