Be like water

“Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.” – Bruce Lee

I can’t help but wonder if this quote was an echo of  the influence from his training in 詠春 (Wing Chun) (1) or from 老子 (Lao Tze)’s 道德经 (Dao De Jing) (2), or maybe both.

Since I’ve started Iaido at Aikido of London, I’ve seen a fair number of Aikido classes while doing my stretching in a corner (Iaido starts after Aikido). I know nothing about it, but I must confess to be very intrigued.

Stemming from combat forms based on weapons (primarily the sword, I think?), it developed into one of the most ‘fluid’ forms of martial arts I have ever seen. This transition from ‘hard’ to ‘soft’ over the decades is mind boggling.

Don’t get me wrong…. when I say ‘soft’, I meant how moves are executed and NOT it being in any way a pushover. Some of the techniques are downright eyebrow raising and intense!

Watching the guys and girls practice, the whole ‘be like water’ thing almost always pops up in my mind….

…and don’t even get me started on the weapons!!!

For movements that flows so well, they’re deceptively devastating (I’ve been at the end of a Jo (4 feet staff) and Bokken (wooden practice sword) a few times and felt the force of the parries and blows). In fact, the smoother and relaxed the action is, the more effective it seems….

Alas, as anyone who’s done any martial arts would know, relaxing in that kind of situation is one of the hardest things to do.

“Be like Water”…. much easier said than done.


I should stop gushing (yes, yes… no more water puns.. ) now.



(1) When I was learning Wing Chun 15 years ago (BLOODY HELL! Time flies), my 师傅 (si fu/teacher/master) kept reminding us that the basis of Wing Chun was 四兩搏千斤 (roughly translates to 4 ounces reflects/shifts a thousand… kilos..?). In other words, using your opponent’s strength against themselves.

This makes sense, since the founder of Wing Chun was… well… Wing Chun, a chinese girl who learnt/adapted the as-yet-nameless form from a Buddhist nun to avoid marrying the local warlord (or so the legend says)…. Obviously, she won (and went off to marry the love of her life, but that’s another story). For a girl to win a fight against a guy (a warlord, no less!), brute strength wouldn’t work, hence the need for speed, agility and application of 四兩搏千斤.


(2) Lao Tze writes in chapter 78 of his philosophical text, the Dao De Jing:

Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water,
Yet nothing can better overcome the hard and strong,
For they can neither control nor do away with it.

Even though this chapter (Yielding) doesn’t specifically refer to martial arts but to human behaviour in general, but has since then became an integral part of many Chinese combat forms.


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