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Be Water: Unveiling the Transformative Power of Martial Arts Principles in Everyday Life

This week's blog comes courtesy of Matt Payne our resident martial arts and pad-work coach. He has studied martial arts for the majority of his adult life and we were keen to know why. So we asked him to write a blog about why and expecting the usual piece about health benefits and self-confidence. What we got was this considered and thoughtful piece about the impact that the philosophies underpinning martial arts can have on your day to day experience. We hope you enjoy it!

A wave crashing through the surf
Be Like Water - Bruce Lee's Philosophy on Martial Arts. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bishop (Unsplash)

Introduction: Be Like Water A Guiding Principle in Martial Arts

"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 in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

Now, water can flow or it can crash.

Be water, my friend."

These profound words from the legendary Bruce Lee encapsulate a philosophy that transcends the boundaries of the martial arts dojo. In this blog post, we will explore how the wisdom of "Be Water" intertwines with the development and application of martial arts principles like respect, perseverance, self-control, and mindfulness in our everyday lives, bringing about positive change and personal growth.


One of the core tenets of martial arts is respect – respect for your instructors, training partners, and the art itself. Embracing the philosophy of being like water, we can adapt to different situations and relate to others with fluidity. Imagine encountering a challenging co-worker at the office. By embodying the philosophy of being like water you can adapt to the situation. You approach your co-worker with respect, acknowledging their perspective even where you may disagree with all or part of it, and try to find a common ground- flowing with them in a sense. This adaptability can foster positive relationships and contribute to a more harmonious work environment.


Martial artists understand that progress is achieved through consistent effort and perseverance. "Be Water, My Friend" helps us through the challenges of persevering towards a goal by encouraging us to flow and adapt. The journey from A to Z may be difficult, but the ability to keep going empowers us, like water, to navigate challenges that enable us to emerge stronger and, hopefully, to appreciate the transformative journey that we have under-taken. Consider a personal fitness goal, such as running a marathon. The journey from starting your training (point A) to crossing the finish line (point Z) is filled with challenges. By embracing the "Be Water, My Friend" philosophy, you flow through the difficulties that will occur, adapting your training plan as needed by the impact of work & life stressors such as illness or injury, ultimately persevering to achieve your goal. Understanding the steps it takes to get from A to Z will be difficult but absolutely worth it if you just focus on your goal and keep working towards it.


In the heat of a sparring session or during a complex martial arts technique, self-control is paramount. "Water can flow or it can crash." By being formless, like water, we adapt with grace and control, managing emotions and avoiding impulsive reactions. Focusing on the journey of achieving emotional balance contributes to a stable social environment. In a heated family discussion, you may find yourself on the verge of reacting impulsively. Channelling the wisdom of "Water can flow or it can crash," you become formless, exercising self-control. Instead of reacting emotionally, you respond thoughtfully, contributing to a healthier family dynamic and fostering understanding.


Martial arts places a strong emphasis on being present in the moment, akin to the philosophy of “be formless" The formlessness of water in a still pond is often used as an analogy for that state of pure mindfulness sought by meditators when they fully disengage from the busyness of their internal thoughts – particularly those related to either the past or the future.

Translating this principle into daily life involves being fully engaged in activities, embracing the formlessness of water. By appreciating the process, we enhance focus, reduce stress, and improve our overall quality of life. Picture yourself in a busy, stressful workday. By embodying the philosophy of being like water, you become fully engaged in each task, flowing seamlessly from one to another. This mindfulness helps you stay focused, reduce stress, and maintain a positive mindset, enhancing your overall well-being.


The principles learned within the confines of a martial arts dojo, guided by the philosophy of "Be Water," extend beyond physical prowess. Let's say you face a new challenge in life, perhaps a career change. By adapting, persevering through uncertainties, exercising self-control, and staying mindful of your goals, you navigate the transition with fluidity, embracing the transformative journey that extends far beyond the dojo. "Be Water, My Friend" becomes a guiding principle for personal development and positive contributions to the evolving currents of life.


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