Be Water, My Friend — Book Summary

Summary of Shannon Lee's latest book.

Be Water, My Friend — Book Summary
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1-sentence summary: The more you you become, the better everything, personally and globally, will become as well.

Table of contents

This book has 10 chapters and is bookended by an Introduction, Epilogue, and Acknowledgements.

  1. The Water Way
  2. The Empty Cup
  3. The Eternal Student
  4. The Opponent
  5. The Tools
  6. The Obstacle
  7. The Rainstorm
  8. The Living Void
  9. The Way of the Intercepting Fist
  10. My Friend

Big ideas

What it means to be water.

The crux of the book lies in understanding what Bruce Lee meant by his famous quote, “Be water, my friend.” To be water means to embody the characteristics of the element.

Water is continuously moving, finding a way “when there is no way.” It always chooses to keep going. It’s pliable, flexible. When poured into a cup, “it becomes the cup.” To be like water also means developing an attuned awareness of the present. The goal is for our lives to become fluid movements within the world, naturally engaging with obstacles. Reshaping, evolving, and responding as “humans, fully expressed.”

As fluid, water-like creatures, we can both be shaped by and shape our world (“Life is a co-creation”). Then, as we master ourselves, we will be able to respond (make a “natural and masterful choice”) in every situation life hands us, rather than react (“an unskilled expression” that relies on ego and fear).

Master your intuition through emptiness.

One of the most potent themes laced throughout the book is the idea of self-actualization. The author brings numerous ideas together in Chapter 8 when she breaks down her father’s 4 Stages of Cultivation.

  1. Stage one: Partiality – This is where we all begin: letting our undisciplined unconscious direct our lives with unskilled actions and decisions.
  2. Stage two: Fluidity – I characterize this as the learning phase. It’s when the individual begins to bring the yin and yang together, taking responsibility for developing their awareness, their skills, and allowing “forms” to shape them.
  3. Stage three: Emptiness – Here is where we begin to flirt with the “formless form.” We’ve now mastered our skills to a point where we can perform them without thinking. Our lives have been shaped by brilliant books and mentors and experiences, but now it's time to let them go as we seek to act fully out of our intuition. Emptiness is the ultimate readiness because it always has room prepared for what may come.
  4. Stage four: Jeet Kune Do – At this stage, you are fully yourself. For context, kung fu literally means “a skill achieved through hard work” and “has no ties to martial arts” in the original language. Jeet Kune Do is self kung fu. You have mastered the skill of being you. Your intuition is your guide. Your life is a continual expression of who you are, now.

Shannon Lee summarizes the fourth stage beautifully in this way, “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.”

Belief in possibility.

This book is full of stories about Bruce Lee I had never heard before. From his struggles with back pain to his encounters with racism (in China, well before the ones he faced in America), Bruce Lee had every reason not to believe that what we wanted to accomplish was possible. And yet, he continued on. He called himself “a practical dreamer backed by action.”

One of the most powerful sections in the book is found in Chapter 5, where Shannon shares her father’s “Definite Chief Aim,” which he wrote in 1969. In it, he lists the goals he plans to achieve in the next decade, such as become “the first highest paid Oriental superstar in the US” and “have in my possession $10,000,000.”

Bruce believed that “Pessimism blunts the tools you need to succeed.” So, he trained his mind as hard as he trained his body through reading (see the books I’ve listed below), affirmations (p. 117 lists the seven he would say every day), and journaling.

Possibility fuels hope. It undergirds his expression to “walk on.” Shannon explains the sentiment as follows, “Just keep doing your work, one step at a time, one moment at a time – even if you’re not sure where it will ultimately lead.”

When possibility pairs with intuitive action, change becomes inevitable.

Additional themes worth noting:

  • Learning to not be so “sticky.”
  • Willpower as the mind’s “supreme court.”
  • Anti-existence.

Notable quotes

This book beautifully intertwines the philosophy of Bruce Lee with the lived experiences of the author, Shannon Lee. She strives to live out the principles that her father passed down through his writing and friendships.

All quotes are by Bruce Lee unless otherwise noted.

“Do not be tense, but ready; not thinking, but not dreaming; not being set, but flexible.”

“Using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation.”

“He lost because he got too caught in what he wanted the fight to be, rather than what the fight actually was.” - Shannon Lee

“Don’t look at ‘what is’ from the position of thinking what should be.”

“In the watching lies the wonder.”
“A teacher, a good teacher that is, functions as a pointer to truth but not a giver of truth.”

“Fear compels us to cling to traditions and gurus. There can be no initiative if one has fear.”

“The problem is never apart from the answer; the problem is the answer.”

“You want to become better, not better than.” - Shannon Lee

“There is a powerful craving in most of us to see ourselves as instruments in the hands of others and thus free ourselves from the responsibility of our actions.”

“To change with change is the changeless state.”

“There will never be means to ends, only means. And I am means.”

“Worry doesn’t solve a problem; it makes a problem out of the problem.” - Shannon Lee

“Patience is not passive.”

“If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”

Books mentioned

You can find additional books by and about Bruce Lee here. Please note that some of the titles listed below are older works and may be currently out of print.

The Secret Language of Birthdays by Gary Goldscheider

Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

Happiness Begins Before Breakfast by Harry and Joan Mier

The Art of Love by Erich Fromm

Anxiety by Heiri Steiner and Jean Gebser

Give Yourself a Chance by Gordon Byron

Joy by William C. Schutz

Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa

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