"Be water, my friend" Bruce Lee

“Be water my friend.”  Bruce Lee

What does Bruce Lee mean?  What is it to “be water”?

On “being 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.

Bruce Lee:

“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
like water
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”


P.S. If you liked this post you might also like Sun Tzu’s 5 factors for Victory and 5 attributes of a leader and There are no answers, just Stories.


  1. Sometimes, when there’s conflict, our words come out effortless, as gently as water, at the right time and with the right tone, right meaning and we ourselves feel stunned, as if the words didn’t come from us but from another power or source…but it was us who said them and we walk away peacefully, no conflict, all’s fine. How can we experience this more often?

    1. I heard a wonderful definition of “listening” last week: “Listening is an openness to being changed”. I think there might be something in there…

  2. I think we need to remember/be reminded of this from time to time. We tend to stray from ourselves at times and have to learn how to get back on track. A friend told me: “Be water, my friend” and looking it up brought me to this page. This has enriched me.

  3. This is so cool that is the coolest saying I have ever heard in my life Is that a chinese saying? If it is that is so cool if you are a angry man you will lose in a fight if you are corshis man you get through it

  4. The human mind is constantly working against us, you must break those boundaries and move forward. Your mind will tell you it is easier to do nothing than to do something. Which is why you are your own enemy. Beating your mind will give you motivation,control and confidence. Once you have removed all negative thoughts like hesitation, confusion and fear. You will learn to adapt and become….WATER….nothing can hold you back. If you want to run, you will run. If you want to be a lawyer, your will not stop you from learning.


    1. Sir, thank you for the words you speak I v would ask if you could just let me talk with you in email and you can reply whenever you wish, I am 51 years old white male, I had an aortic anurism 5 years ago, I am limited physically to what u can do, my mind is still strong and I want to feel like,a man again I have,a young wife and I feel as though I cannot protect her much less myself anymore, I began meditation but I need more can you please help me?


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