Read time: 4 min


Be Water, My Friend are untold stories about Bruce Lee’s life, along with the concepts at the core of his teachings. Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s only daughter, offers insights she learned from her upbringing. Each chapter reveals a lesson from Bruce Lee, expanding on the foundation of his iconic ’be water’ philosophy. Subsequently, Be Water, My Friend reveals a path to an enlightened way of being.

About Shannon Lee

Shannon Lee grew up in both Los Angeles and Hong Kong until settling back in the LA area in 1974. In 1987, Shannon moved to New Orleans, where she attended Tulane University. She earned a B.F.A. in vocal performance and appeared in many musicals, operas, and choral concerts. In 1993, Shannon returned to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. She is currently the CEO of the Bruce Lee Family Companies and Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Bruce Lee Foundation.

The Water Way

“To change with change is the changeless state.” – Shannon Lee

When Bruce Lee was young, he would walk to the local lake to practice his martial arts. One day, for some reason, Bruce decided to punch the water as hard as he could. Crucially, though, he realized that the water simply gave way. No matter how many times or how hard he punched the water, it would give way and reform as it was before. The water was simply absorbing his energy.

Bruce’s experience with water inspired his future martial arts style of adjusting and moving according to the opponent. Bruce also applied the metaphor of water to his wider life. He better understood that humans overcome challenges when they can adapt, grow, and find the best path. This is precisely what water does when it encounters an obstacle. Water is pliable and flexible. When poured into a cop, it becomes the cup.

The Obstacle

Martial arts practice is very deliberate and straight-edged. It is almost like a dance routine. Conversely, Shannon talks about a real-life fight that Bruce once had. This fight’s sloppiness highlighted that even considerable practice won’t ready you for every challenge you will meet in the real world. Therefore, be prepared for new challenges and be like water: ready to adapt. Become a fluid movement within the world that can naturally engage with these obstacles.

If we respond to obstacles as water does, then we can both be shaped by and shape our world. Mastering ourselves will allow us to respond in every situation that life hands us.

Bruce Lee’s Four Stages of Cultivation

“An artist of life creates his own life, creates himself, moment by moment. And in his ability to choose and create, he is powerful and free.” – Shannon Lee

Self-actualization is a common theme throughout the book. Subsequently, Shannon offers four stages of cultivation that encourage mastery of intuition:

  1. Partiality (stage one) – Letting your unconscious direct your life with unskilled actions and decisions.
  2. Fluidity (stage two) – A learning phase where you adopt responsibility for developing awareness and skills.
  3. Emptiness (stage three) – During stage three, you have reached a stage where you have mastered skills. You can now perform these skills without even thinking. Subsequently, you can act almost entirely on intuition and become what Shannon describes as a ‘formless form.’
  4. Jeet Kune Do (stage four) – This stage translates as ‘self Kung Fu. Kung Fu means a skill achieved through hard work. Therefore, in stage four, you have mastered the skill of being you, based on prolonged hard work.

Empty Your Cup

“Without being open to the possibility of what there is to discover, you’ll never expand your knowledge, and your growth as a person will be stunted and slowed.” – Shannon Lee

Emptying your cup is the act of liberating yourself from the burden of your preconceived ideas. This emptiness should not be considered a negative state. Instead, it offers an openness and neutrality that allows you to consider beliefs, judgments, and preferences.

Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.

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