Like Water: The Wisdom of Bruce Lee

Two years before his death, at the age of 31, American martial arts icon Bruce Lee had an epiphany. Already a successful actor and filmmaker, Lee had accomplished much, but he wanted more. Self-consciousness over goals left unaccomplished consumed him.

Sensing this inner struggle, Lee’s sensei, Yip Man, said: “Preserve yourself by following the natural bends of things and don’t interfere. Remember to never assert yourself against nature…never be in frontal opposition to any problems, but control it by swinging with it. Don’t practice this week: go home and think about it.”

After hours of introspection, Lee gave up and took a sailboat out onto the ocean. Angrily, he punched the water, and the epiphany came crashing through his consciousness like a ton of bricks. As Lee later wrote: “I struck it but it did not suffer hurt…I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible…Therefore, in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.” Lee had discovered that to succeed effortlessly, one must be like water: flexible but unwavering in one’s movement toward one’s final destination.

In an age where the idea of “taking the bull by the horns” is glorified, we can all benefit from Lee’s water-inspired wisdom, moving with the bull instead of against it, trading pride for flexibility, and reaching the same destination with less sacrifice.

 

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