Success & Prosperity Blog

Be Like Water

By Randy Gage in Critical Thinking, Success, Prosperity.

Of course the quote above comes from Bruce Lee, the legendary martial artist, poet and philosopher. While it has been re-quoted often, few actually understand what Lee meant by that, and the story of how it came about.

I want to revisit it here, because it holds a very important lesson for everyone on the path of self-development and prosperity consciousness.

The story begins when Bruce was still training with Professor Yip Man, head of the wing chun school of gung fu, during the only formal martial arts training he received. During the training, Yip Man repeatedly came up to Lee and said, “Loong, relax and calm your mind. Forget about yourself and follow the opponent’s movements. Let your mind, the basic reality, do the counter-movement without any interfering deliberation. Above all, learn the art of detachment.”

These were abstract concepts to the young Lee, and he experienced great frustration and consternation. He would tell himself to relax, but instinctively do something to contradict his will. Seeing his anxiety, Yip Man returned again and said, “Loong, preserve yourself by following the natural bend of things and don’t interfere. Remember to never assert yourself against nature; never be in frontal opposition to any problems, but control it by swinging with it.” After a time, the instructor told his youthful student to stop practicing for a week, go home, get away from the routines and reflect.

Lee spent a week practicing and meditating, but felt no closer to what he was seeking. In an attempt to clear his mind, he went out sailing by himself on a junk in the harbor. Here’s what happened next, in Lee’s own words:

“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 the water the very essence of gun fu? Hadn’t the 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 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.

“Suddenly a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then as I was absorbing myself with the lessons of the water, another mystic sense of hidden meaning revealed itself to me; should not the thoughts and emotions I had when in front of an opponent pass like the reflection of the bird flying over the water? That was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached—not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. Therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.”

After his epiphany, Lee just lay there and let the boat drift freely, feeling united with Tao. He possessed a feeling in which opposition had become mutually cooperative instead of mutually exclusive, and he lost all feeling of conflict in his mind.  That experience on the water was a seminal moment and became a defining concept later in life when Lee went on to found Jeet Kune Do (JKD).   And that is where we can learn much about how we can best respond to challenges, setbacks, and the mindset necessary for success. Because here’s the thing:

At some point, you’re going to get a bad medical diagnosis, lose a loved one, get fired, be in a horrific accident, go bankrupt, be jilted by the love of your life, have your business fail, or other similar event. And mostly likely, a lot more than one.

Like you, I hate to see a kid get leukemia, parents unable to have children, entrepreneurs get their dreams dashed, or a child lose a parent. But these things are all part of this tapestry called life and they happen to some of us everyday.

I’m not going to tell you it’s easy. Often it is not. Sometimes we are tested to the limits of our fortitude. It is times such as these that we must be like water. Bend, adapt, reshape and reform. Find new directions or different levels.  You have to stop trying to assert yourself with frontal opposition against nature, but by bending with it.

Sometimes we don’t have a choice in the events that happen to us. But we always have the choice in how we respond to those events. So what is the area in your life right now, where you must be like water?


Randy Gage is the author of nine international bestsellers on success, including, Risky Is the New Safe.  He’s currently on sabbatical, writing his next book, but posts occasionally here.  If you find these postcards helpful, please share them.

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30 thoughts on “Be Like Water

  1. Judy Clark says:

    Very deep and amazing story. Bend, adapt, reshape, and reform. Be like water. A lifetime of learning for this lesson, but well worth the effort. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Jonathan1 says:

    This is reminiscent of one of my favorite sayings, ‘what you resist persists’. Due to beliefs and thoughts we hold, we all will develop a ‘wall’ of sorts which stems from a fear we have. So rather than to ‘be like water’, we resist it which in turn, plants the fear firmer in place. Realizing there is no basis for this ‘wall’, it dissolves along with our fear. 
    Right now, I realize I must allow a flow of creativity and inspiration with those I collaborate with rather than forcing it. And with this allowing comes my own creative flow which moves me closer and closer to what I intend and choose for my Life. Thanks RG.. good stuff here!

  3. zimmermanbryan says:

    LOVE this post. Thanks Randy. The water story is very powerful.

  4. Bob Burg says:

    Pure Brilliance!!!!!

  5. leila_hoffmann says:

    Wow, what a big realization that was! so powerful, so profound. I’ll think about being like water this week, for sure. As always, thanks for sharing wonderful insights, Randy.

  6. margaret8 says:

    Thank you for the beautiful story. This will be passed on to many.

  7. Like Water says:

    Watch on YouTube:
    Be Water, My Friend! – Bruce Lee Remix | #eTHErSEC

  8. Joe Lee says:

    An idealistic concept, but tough in practice. When one can’t achieve his dream, does he be like water and go with the flow or does he fight to get what he wants.

  9. LeneJytteHansen says:

    WOW – GREAT article that touched me deeply! Right now I have a huge health chalenge and have had for a few years. I’ve really beaten myself up for not having the energy to make progress and change my life – in stead of taking care of my health. Until a couple of months ago where I got to hospital, and now know what it is and can act accordingly for progress. Now I know how to respond and get closer to achieve my DREAMLIFE. THANK YOU.

  10. Barry Moniak says:

    Interestingly enough I trained with William Cheung, Bruce Lee’s elder (martial arts school) brother. William went on to become the Grand Master of Wing Chun Gung Fu after Yip Man passed, however he never brought the usable life philosophies to light like Bruce did. There are people who have been touched by Bruce’s words, yet they’ve never taken a Martial Arts class.
    Bruce’s legacy reminds me of someone we all know and love who also brings things to light that we can all benefit from. Thanks Randy for your insights and perspectives.

  11. Victor P Vigil Jr. says:

    Be like water thank G

  12. RichardBony says:

    Randy, I want to be like water in all areas, for the battle is always ahead of us.

  13. leslieespaillat says:

    Joe Lee In my opinion, fight is conflict. It is simply a push and pull energy. Water is vitality and energy, flowing like a peace-keeping force. It has no attachments.  Perhaps peace of mind is what we should attain regardless of the experience or challenges. It allows one the clarity to respond, and not react especially in uncertain moments. We don’t have to fight with ourselves anymore.
    “The mind is so powerful. If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves,,,’~Thomas Edison
    Free your mind,
    Leslie E.

  14. Kasozi says:

    in support of Randy Gay

  15. Charles Ariyo says:

    Thank you so much Mr. Randy, You have Inspired me the more, I need to be like water in very many cases. I have fought battles but now i think am going to be very smart and learn why, how and when to respond to situation in such events that require me to be like water.

  16. DavidNg1 says:

    Joe Lee This is how I see it and the answer to you question lies in these few lines Randy shared  “I struck it, but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all my might—yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it, but this proved impossible” . When you hit at water, it does not fight back. it opens up to take your blows but it always folds back to fill the space left by your withdrawing fists. In a way, water always achieve it’s goals.

  17. Anupam Rawat says:

    Thank u Randy, I am a huge fan of Bruce Lee and martial arts and this is the philosophy I need to live with and practice. Thanks for words of wisdom

  18. Jorgcon says:

    This is for me an eye-opemer and give  confidence for my next step in life

  19. Valerie says:

    Amazing how the component that is the greatest percentage of our body, is the one we act the least like …  a good reminder

  20. TheFitRebel says:

    Thanks so much Randy, I’m a big fan of Bruce Lee but this quote is new to me. By chance, where did you find it?

  21. Randy_Gage says:

    TheFitRebel He said it a number of places.  But you can find the whole story in the book, “Bruce Lee  Artist of Life.”

  22. Antoinette Simms says:

    I teach yoga, aquatics and spiritual dance and quite often I say those very words…be like water.  We are water beings.  We began in utero filled with and surrounded by water.  Feeling like the element of water helps me to move with and through my emotions…energy in motion… and keep a healthy body/mind. Thank you for this reminder RG
    Blessings abound, Antoinette Simms

  23. Thanks for the reminder to not only go with the flow   but be the flow itself.

  24. otaida says:

    I like the title “be like water”… very nature.

  25. Gratitude, Sir Randy, for this blogpost here in #EvolutionStudio. as the “power of suggestion” is so powerful and inherent, let’s let us take this blogpost topic to heart!

    we can say to ourselves: “Be like water”, understand it’s power, and gain from positive (self) dimension & “auto-suggestion”; especially in moments of uncertainty.

  26. Jonathan1 says:

    His Holiness, the Dalai Lama tells us “Accept and Surrender” which by nature is the same essence as ‘be like water’. Resistance is the most insidious force known to man and those that are able to fee ourselves of it, find our true center and live with the flow.

  27. Rick Goodman says:

    Thank you Randy you have the right story at the right time!

  28. Oluwafemi Ogunade says:

    Sincerely, Randy you are a blessing to this generation with this wonderful story. More grease to your elbow.

  29. Sanzhar says:

    GREAT SAID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!U0001f4aaU0001f4aaU0001f4aaU0001f4aaU0001f4aaU0001f4aaU0001f4aa

  30. sagingsaging says:

    The area in my life that I should be like water is in my personal relationships with people.  I have expectations to people I met that when they failed I get depressed.


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