The philosophy of Bruce Lee: How does “Being like water” make us stronger? by Bev Sisson - Teacher of English as a Second Language

The philosophy of Bruce Lee: How does “Being like water” make us stronger?




Apart from being a phenomenal Martial Artist the philosophy of Bruce Lee (Lee Jun-fan) has always fascinated me.

Although I have been a language teacher for many years, my teaching ‘life’ started over 20 years ago. I co owned a Martial Arts Academy where I instructed Children’s mixed martial arts, adult beginner and intermediate levels in kickboxing and Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee's system, translated to: Way of the Intercepting Fist). I also trained in Kali/Arnis/Escrema, Silat and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.


       The Tao of Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee was so ahead of his time. Having the wisdom and courage to mix Martial arts against all the odds is why we in the Western world are able to practice very versatile Martial arts and achieve such high levels today.

Many of his philosophies are pretty complex and take some figuring out. In his more famous quotes Bruce often uses references to water:


“Be like water, my friend”

Bruce Lee




  So, what does all this mean and can we learn from it?

Why water?

Water is a fluid. Once spilled, a pool of water will fill every crack and crevice, unafraid to explore its new surroundings, unafraid to explore what is beyond, the unknown, unspecified and unfamiliar.

At this point most of us feel ‘fear’ and a sudden desire to resist, come to a standstill.


“Fear comes from uncertainty, we can eliminate the fear within us when we know ourselves better”

Bruce Lee


Adapt or Conform?

Some have confused this theory as ‘conforming’. This is wrong.

To conform = (verb) to behave according to the usual standards of behavior that are expected by a group or society.

To adapt = (verb) to change or to change something, to suit different conditions or uses

Bruce used water as an example because it adapts, fits into and becomes whatever it is poured into.

So, when meeting new colleagues or joining a social group, don’t conform. Adapt. Be yourself, don’t copy the behavior of others. By adapting you will face your fears, give you the strength to change something to suit you. Conforming will allow you simply to adjust into your new situation. Not changing anything.


“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

Bruce Lee

You can face up to anything:


When faced with a wall water will find a way through, it is one of the most powerful elements on earth.

If your problems become a huge mountain, you do not know how to climb over it.  Don’t.  Be like water, go through it. Sometimes you cannot see a manifold of solutions by looking over them.  By crashing through the mountain you can scatter and eliminate your problems like bowling pins. 

As a young martial artist Bruce was unable to understand an instruction Ip Man, his then teacher had given him. This is when he first used water as a metaphor:

“After spending many hours meditating and practicing, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk. On the sea I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water! Right then — at that moment — a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? Hadn’t this water just now illustrated to me the principle of gung fu? I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all of my might — yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.”

So, by using water as a philosophical example, Bruce Lee has taught many people how to change their life, to improve upon it, become adaptable to difficult situations, conquer their fears and be like the seemingly weak but hardest substance in the word.

Take a few minutes to watch the video above.  During this interview you can witness how Bruce Lee is able to express himself in such a precise, profound manner using English as a second Language.  This was filmed in 1971, just 2 years before his untimely death.  I can only imagine, not only the quality of his Martial Art skills by 2021 but his ability to define himself.  This is surely one of the 'great interviews' of all time.

Click below for your free lesson.

Be like water, my friend

1ª Clase Gratis