I recently read the book Be Water My Friend, by Shannon Lee. Shannon Lee is Bruce Lee’s daughter, and the keeper of her father’s legacy. This book is a summary of Bruce Lee’s thoughts on philosophy and self-improvement, told through the lens of the major events of his life. Bruce Lee was a remarkable man, and his daughter has created quite an empire based on his legacy. In addition to this book, she runs the Bruce Lee website, Bruce Lee podcast, Bruce Lee foundation, and more.
I’ve enjoyed Bruce’s films, and I knew he was a thoughtful martial artist, so I gave the book a try!
What the Book is About
Bruce Lee left behind his thoughts in journals, media interviews, and in movies that he co-wrote. He is quoted in the book, while his daughter Shannon offers additional explanation on their application, using Bruce’s life (and parts of her life!) as an example.
Bruce himself gives a decent overview of what to expect with this book in a quote:
Remember, I am no teacher. I can merely be a signpost for a traveler who is lost. It is up to you to decide on the direction…I might be able to help you discover and examine your problem by awakening your awareness. A teacher…functions as a pointer to truth but not the giver of truth.Bruce Lee, Quoted in “Be Water, My Friend”
If you read this book expecting to hear the thoughts of a driven, intelligent man who led a remarkable life, then you are in the right mindset.
The Book’s Core Points
The core tenant of the book is “Using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation”. The analogy to explain this cryptic statement is “Be water, My Friend”. Flowing water will find any way to reach its destination. It is unstoppable. It can carve out canyons with patient, concentrated effort. Water reflects its surroundings, and adapts itself to whatever situation it finds itself in.
The book discusses how to “Be Water” from multiple angles, such as emptying your mind of preconceptions in order to see the present moment clearly. While there is a lot of advice in this book, I will focus on a practical list of tools Bruce used in his own life:
- Take Aim – Write down a big goal or dream, and energize it. Bruce called this his “definite chief aim”.
- Take Action – Begin, practice, and experiment. Action begets more action.
- Affirm – Train your mind into the emotional state you desire. If they are not true, then they are not true yet.
- Be Symbolic – Symbolism is powerful. Use it to represent your progress. Create monuments to encouragement and remembrance.
- Journal – Write to understand what matters to you, and create a personal vision for yourself.
- Get Physical – Commune with your body, feel discomfort, and grow beyond it.
If you use these tools as a starting point, this principle from Bruce will guide you the rest of the way:
Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.Bruce Lee, quoted in “Be Water, My Friend”
My Thoughts on the Book
I enjoyed reading this book. Reading how Bruce applied these thoughts to his daily life was a fascinating history lesson. Some of the concepts rooted in Taoism were difficult for me to understand, but Shannon does a good job of explaining Chinese philosophical ideas in concrete terms.
Bruce’s focus on action and discipline are admirable. I note these concepts are surprisingly similar to concepts from Letters from a Stoic. Neither Seneca nor Bruce has much use for people who only talk. Philosophy is meant to be applied to your own life through action. I love it!
My Takeaways from the Book
After reading this book, I will:
- Find ways to use symbolism in my life to remind myself of my values, my vision for the future, and what I have accomplished so far.
- Journal to work through issues and to capture insights. The journal itself will be a symbol of my work on attaining wisdom.
- Learn more about the Taoist ideas that clearly influenced Bruce, such as “effortless action”
Cover image from shop.brucelee.com’s page for Be Water, My Friend.