Be Like Water: How Bruce Lee’s Philosophy Can Improve Your Life

Ben Thomas
4 min readJan 15, 2022

Many watching this video have probably seen the famous YouTube video where Bruce Lee talks about his philosophy of being like water. Beyond that, many of us tend to remember Lee as an amazing martial artist and entertainer, much less as a serious philosopher. However Bruce Lee was anything but amateur in his pursuit of understanding. He would constantly read both philosophical texts and, later in his life, self-help books. His influences, including the likes of Krishnamurti, Buddha, Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell, all were used to piece together his own philosophy of life; one that can be used in everyday experience just as much as in street fighting.

In the heart of Chinatown, Bruce Lee was famously born in the hour and year of the dragon, a strong omen in Chinese culture. He would appear in many films while growing up, including a leading role in The Kid.

Photo by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash

He began to box while in high school and involved himself in a series of street fights. His parents realized that Lee needed to be trained in martial arts and so they took him to China. There he met the infamous Ip Man, the founder of Wing Chun.

While training under him, Bruce Lee would be very aggressive and would constantly try to win. Ip Man told him:

“Stop trying to enforce a strategy, get out of your head, you have to follow your opponent’s movements, you have to be more fluid”

Lee initially ignored his advice and he was promptly sent home and told to not come back for a week. Lee spent his suspension perplexed by the Ip Man’s advice. While meditating on a boat in the Hong Kong harbour, Lee became increasingly frustrated by the whole situation and punched the water. He noticed as he punched that the water simply moved out of the way and made space for his fist. Lee then tried to grab it but it slipped through his fingers. Lee observed that water is gentle and soft but, at the same time, it is one of the strongest forces on the planet, causing storms and eroding rocky cliffs.