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Why "Being Like Water" Makes Us Stronger: Bruce Lee's Martial Arts Philosophy

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“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. Be formless, shapeless, like water” ― Bruce Lee

Voted as one of the most influential people of the 20th century by Time magazine, Bruce Lee was an actor, teacher, father, and philosopher. Among his many contributions in the field of martial arts, what stands out the most is his famous quote on “being like water”. From kung fu apprentices to muay thai students, people from all walks of life want to embody Lee’s teaching and incorporate it into their lives to become more productive, successful, and balanced.

What does “being like water” really mean? And how can you adapt this thinking into everyday situations? Continue reading to learn more.

You Will Become Fearless

One of water’s most notable characteristics is its fluidity. If you spill your drink, it will scatter on the floor, filling every crevice or crack. It is unafraid to explore what lies beyond. It doesn’t have a plan; it will simply spread where it can. Bruce Lee was not the first to admire this fascinating ability of water. Ancient philosopher and founder of Tao principles, Lao Tzu, also believed in water’s amazing ability to find its way around anything without care or anxiety.

Are there things you always dreamed of doing but were always too afraid to try? Have you thought about quitting something only to back out of your decision for fear of what comes next? Timing is certainly important, but if you always wait for that “opportune moment”, it might never come.

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Want to switch careers but you’re already in your late 30’s? Interested in starting a business but you don’t have a budget? Instead of over-thinking, learn to let go and simply flow. Be like water – it’s not scared to venture into the unknown because it will simply make the rules as it goes. The minute you realize that there’s nothing in your way but yourself, it will open doors to possibilities you didn’t even know existed.

You’ll Be Adaptable To Change

A lot of people mistake Bruce Lee’s famous quote to being a conformist. However, there’s a difference: adapting means “to change or be changed to fit or work better in particular scenarios”; whereas conforming means “having the same behavior as most people in a group”. Water adapts – it changes based on where it is placed. If you pour it into a bowl, it will take the shape of a bowl. Its components do not change.

If you are faced with a situation that you’re not familiar with (like being a new employee at a company), adapt – but DO NOT conform! Conforming means you will obey or copy the behavior of others to gain social acceptance. Although it’s going to be difficult at first, aim to gain people’s respect above their approval. Respect is objective; even if folks around you may not like you as much, if they respect you, this isn’t likely to change even if circumstances become different.

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Once you master the art of adaptability, you’ll have nothing to fear wherever you are. Traveling alone? Facing new responsibilities at the office? Starting a family? If you’re like water, you’ll simply find better ways to adjust to your new environment. Your condition will not change you. In fact, you might be the one to change things around you!

You Can Maneuver Through Any Problem

What does water do when faced with a wall? It finds a way through it. Water will crash, erode, or seep into crevices until it can find its way again. For example, the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona was carved from a great river that once flowed through it. Water is one of the most powerful elements on earth, capable of moving boulders, shaping coastlines, and carving massive caves.

Sometimes, your problems become a huge mountain that blocks your path. It seems too tall, too big, and too powerful to overcome. So what do you do? Instead of trying to climb it, why not go through it? Often, the challenges you face have multiple solutions – but you can’t see it because you keep looking above. Answers can lurk in the most unexpected yet obvious of places. If you’re too busy viewing just one angle, you won’t be able to get through it.

Once when Lee was under the instruction of his teacher, Yip Man, he became frustrated because he couldn’t master what Yip wanted him to learn. Thus, Yip gave him a week to meditate and reflect upon his situation. Lee surprisingly found the answer to his dilemma not from something supernatural, but rather, when he went sailing alone. It was when he looked at the water that he realized what he has to do in order to be great.

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Not only was he able to overcome his problem, he also came up with his own ideology that would serve to become one of the greatest sources of inspiration today.

You are Gentle, Yet Powerful

“Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water, my friend.”

Power doesn’t mean having great muscles, being able to hold the highest position in office, or putting people down into submission. To be powerful means to stay standing despite the odds. Commanding authority means having people willingly follow you because they find you wise and inspiring. Like water that can bore through stones, you should be strong enough to break away at life’s challenges. At the same time, you should be gentle enough to respect life around you.

Conclusion

Bruce Lee was like water: he displayed strength whenever he fought; however, he was always kind when he dealt with those around him. People tried to put him down, but he simply found other ways to follow his dreams and succeed. Water is an amazing element. Learn its ways and it will lead you to become the best person you can be.

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Featured photo credit: Alex Wong via stocksnap.io

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