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Be water, my friend

prashanthr profile image Prashanth Rajaram (He/Him) ・Updated on ・5 min read

I've been reading a lot of Bruce Lee's philosophies lately. He was a great man who faced his fair share of challenges and was treated like an outsider even after he made it to Hollywood and became famous [1].


Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. - Bruce Lee [1971]

What really amazes me is that even at the age of 26, he was immensely disciplined and kept a nice little pocket journal with thoughts, lessons and teachings that he could read and reflect on whenever he needed it.
(Notebook Image Source [1])

Here are some of his famous philosophies. I picked the ones that I can relate to and I'm going to attempt to explain the meaning behind them and how one can apply it to their daily life to become a better developer/programmer.

Bruce Lee's Philosophies 🥋

Always be yourself; express yourself; have faith in yourself

My interpretation: I believe Bruce lee says this in light of the many obstacles he faced in his career and his path to fame. People didn't respect him enough because he was an outsider didn't think he deserved worthy casting roles. He frames this idea to remind himself to be true to himself and keep persevering.

Application: In the programming world, everyone is unique in terms of what they can bring to the table. Always be yourself, add your own flair to your craft and believe in yourself for you have the ability to accomplish wonders.

Be a practical dreamer backed by action

My interpretation: Bruce was a firm believer that philosophies are meant to be applied and not just pondered [2]. He wholeheartedly tried to apply all of his philosophies to his way of life. They were a part of his core outlook and he practiced them religiously.

Application: While this particular idea is more philosophical than anything else, we can still apply it to a developer's life. Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. When faced with a size-able technical problem, dream and dream big without limitations. Then shrink it based on practical considerations like time, effort, resources and constraints. Finally, be sure to see it to completion.

Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family

My interpretation: This was in response to the question posed by Pierre Berton in his interview. Pierce asked Bruce if he considers himself Chinese or North American? (Fun fact: Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco [3]). He replied that he never considered himself to be from either place but he believed that he was just a human being, one among others on this planet.

Application: I personally think Bruce couldn't have said it better. Everyone has their own origin stories but in a professional world, we're all just human beings. We need to learn to treat each other with respect and dignity and there is no room for hate or any form of discrimination.

Walk on!

My interpretation: During the time between his first Hollywood debut series, The Green Hornet and his simultaneous acting career in Hong Kong, Bruce faced many challenges. He wasn’t getting the roles he felt he deserved, his financials struggled and he also had medical problems which affected his acting career which was primarily martial arts based. This was a key turning point for him where he turned to many self-help books for inspiration. He wrote "Walk On!" on the back of one of his business cards and placed it in line of sight. It became a constant reminder for him to always keep moving forward [2].

Application: During your professional career as a developer, there will often be times when you will be faced with adversity or difficult situations that are simply out of your control. This philosophy can serve as a reminder to find the strength to persevere and move on. As an unknown saying goes, it may be stormy now, but it never rains forever. Keep walking on...

Be Water, My Friend

This is by far my favorite philosophy from Bruce. He explains it quite well in the interview segment at the beginning of this post.

My interpretation: What Bruce Lee is aiming at is that in order to survive in this world, you have to learn to be adaptable to changing situations so you can always be ready to face and overcome any challenges. If you choose to become like water, you are shapeless and formless and can survive anything you're up against.

Application: In a developer's world we are often faced with with various challenges and problems. Plans change, designs change, requirements change and people change. We can apply this idea here by learning to be adaptable to changing situations by always expecting change and thereby applying an adaptable form or layer to several facets of your work i.e. your code, architecture, systems, process etc. When the world around you changes, you'll be ready for it.

Be Water, My Friend. 🌊

Bonus ☮️

  1. Jeet Kune Do - Way of the intercepted Fist
  2. Bruce Lee on the Pierre Berton Show, 1971
  3. Bruce Lee Podcast
  4. Things you didn't know about Bruce Lee
  5. Best of Bruce Lee's Fights

References & Credits

  1. Bruce Lee's Writings
  2. Bruce Lee's Philosophies
  3. Bruce Lee on Wikipedia
  4. Cover Image: Photo by Yaopey Yong on Unsplash

Q: What do you think of these interpretations? Do you have your own versions of these ideas? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

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