Be like the water

Growing up I loved Kung fu movies.

One of the many cool things about them, were these flamboyant fighting styles that the characters always used.

Each fighting style had a different name, usually the name of an animal, which embodied the philosophy of that fighting style. The name reflected that fighting style’s philosophy of strength, what it believed was the was the best way to approach conflict.

  • Tiger Style – Focused on strength and speed. Overpowering and crushing any opponent that stands in its way.
  • Snake style – Fast, flexible and unpredictable. Able to twist out of any attack and then counter-strike with unbelievable speed.
  • Eagle Style – Umm…, …yeah I never figured out the philosophy of this one.

Anyway, after a while, a new martial arts actor shows up.

His name is Bruce Lee and he suggests a new fighting philosophy;

Be like the water!

This was an amazing idea!

The philosophy of water contains so many lessons. Providing insight on dealing with conflict, obstacles, and difficulty.

By channeling the story of water, we can gain insight into ways to handle many different scenarios.

In this post, I’ll talk about what I think are the best two lessons to start with, when learning water-style Kungfu.


When we think of being “Strong”, we often translate it to mean being “powerful” and “unyielding”.

Like a rock.

Like a rock we tend to believe that, if we are strong enough, any hurtful situation should simply bounce off our surface without even leaving a mark or slowing us down.

We tend to believe that, when we move towards an important goal, something really precious to us, we must do so with as much power as possible.

We must be Relentless and Unstoppable.

Like a massive rock. Rolling over every obstacle, crushing everything that gets in our way.


So, let us take a look at an example:

There is a large rock, at the top of a hill, its most important goal is to roll into the valley below. Luckily, there is a convenient channel (sort of shaped like a chute) that forms a path from the top of the hill into the valley.

Our rock begins to roll down this channel, with focus and determination. Heading towards its goal in the valley.

But then, halfway down, there is a problem. A tree is growing in the path. Right in the middle of the channel.

Our rock is about to meet that tree.

At this point, in order to progress , the rock has two options:
– It either needs to be big enough to roll over the tree
– Or powerful enough to smash through it.

Otherwise, our rock will get stuck there.
Locked in constant battle, pushing against that tree. Stuck for all time, or until there is a clear winner.

The tree is no longer just an obstacle to the rock, it has become an enemy!
For there to be a clear winner, either the tree or the rock must be destroyed.


Now let’s consider a slightly different scenario.

Imagine, instead of a rock at the top of the hill, there is some water. Not as much water as there was rock. Something much smaller, let’s say about a bucket full.

The water has the same very important goal, to get into the same valley. So it flows down the same channel as the rock did, and it meets the same tree.

Oh no! This tree was a big problem for our rock, what is the water going to do?

The water barely even slows down. It simply flows around the tree and continues along its way.

To the water, the tree is not an enemy, it is not even an obstacle, it is simply another part of the landscape.

The water is focused on what is important, it’s goal.


Now, let’s look at this from the perspective of the tree as well.

This tree was never aiming to become an obstacle or an enemy. It was simply focused on its own important goal. To grow and strong, giving it’s leaves access to more delicious sunlight.

However, when the goal of the tree clashes with the goal of the rock, it results in an eternal battle, causing a lot of damage, possibly leading towards ultimate destruction.

But, when the goal of the tree clashes with the goal of the water, the water makes space for the tree and they both continue on their way.

Water is always willing to make space, to give allowance, but it is never willing to be diverted from its goal.

You can splash the water, the wind can scatter it, and heat can even evaporate it.

The water will keep coming back.
As droplets, as rivulets, as rain.
Relentlessly focused on getting to what is important.

It will try to flow over, under, around, and even attempt to penetrate through anything that tries to get in its way.
It is practically Unstoppable

Relentless and Unstoppable,
Achieved not by the giant rock, but by the flowing water.


For the second lesson, we ask a question.

Where does the water get its power?

The power to create massive waves, the power to carve through rocks, the power to recover from attacks that splash it everywhere and scatter its calmness.

How does water gain this power?

By gaining depth.

The deeper a pool is, the more power it contains, no matter how still the surface seems.

Water always seeks to flow to the deepest point and fill it up.

No matter how wide a pool is, it is the depth of that pool that determines the size of waves that it can sustain on its surface.

When a dam is built, the depth of the lake created, determines how much power the dam will be able to produce. If the water gets deeper than the dam builders intended, the power of that water will be so much that it will burst the whole dam apart.

So, what does depth mean to a practitioner of water-style Kungfu?

Just as it sounds.

Our depth of self-acceptance gives us strength to deal with the fear of failure, the confusion of guilt, and the pain of disappointment.

Our depth of self knowledge gives us power to understand what is truly important to us. Power to choose what is a worthwhile goal to us. Power to turn things that look like obstacles into just another part of the landscape.

Our depth of knowledge, about whatever situation we are in, helps us understand the lay of the land. Helps us find the best way to flow towards our goals.
Help’s us understand our options.
Should we flow over, under, around, or through?
Or perhaps we need to wait, evaporate, allow ourselves to be carried by the wind, so that we can rain down in a more promising location.

As we increase our depth, our power increases as well.


Well, that’s it.

Thank you fellow student, for listening to this introduction of water-fu.

Like all martial arts, the path to becoming a master at water style Kungfu follows three important steps:

Practice …

… practice …

… practice! 😊



For Further Study

Tips From Spies – Planet Money podcast Episode 791

In this podcast an ex-spy was being interviewed and he talked about a time when someone tried to mug him. The spy ended up getting beaten up.
However, for him that was a success! Even though he was trained in martial arts, he consciously didn’t aim to crush the opponent in front of him. Rather he kept his eye on the bigger goal, and carefully redirected the situation so that he could get the best outcome (getting beaten up).
This is the link to the podcast (Planet Money – Episode 791).


Before we go here’s another fun video clip:

2 comments

  1. This is my favourite post so far. I was able to visualise the flow of the water and to see the importance of being fluid. Great piece.

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