Be water, my friend.
This is probably one of my favorite pearls of wisdom from the legend himself, Bruce Lee. The Great One suggests that in Martial Arts, we have to be like water to become powerful, meaningful, and successful.
What does water signify? What does it symbolize? How does water as an element exemplify the aspects that are important in Martial Arts?
For one, water is fluid. Its flexibility allows it to take the form of the shape of the container it is poured into. It doesn’t fight or goes against the grain; rather, it harmonizes with the surface that it comes in contact with, and this bond allows it to fulfill its purpose.
When I attempt to be like water, I cannot help but think about the spiritual side of Martial Arts. And whenever the spirituality in Martial Arts is discussed, it always seems to be such a touchy subject.
In order to objectively tackle this concept, the distinction between spirituality and religiosity must be strictly defined. To be clear, being connected with your spirit goes beyond the mere practices and disciplines that you employ in relation to your religion or chosen faith affiliation.
Spirituality is about connecting yourself to things that are around you and allowing yourself to be one with them. It’s about harnessing nature, the earth, your flesh, mind and whole self into a collective that moves freely, and strongly.
Frankly, this is the problem with how most martial artists approach the spiritual side of the arts. It is quite impossible to be efficient in Martial Arts or go deep into it without allowing yourself toat least consider the non-physical aspects.
Bear in mind that one-on-one combat can result in violence, and untempered violence is the most dangerous thing you can ever unleash into this world.
This is why it is essential in martial arts to have a deeper philosophy. It should not just be resorted to when you want to inflict pain or be violent towards others. the teachings of martial arts reveal that the strongest one is the one that stays away from battle, violence or conflict, even though he knows very well that he can take on any opponent.
In itself, martial arts has a competitive nature. But if we are able to harness the spiritual side of it, it can take us into a meaningful journey of self-realization, which then leads to self-discovery and self-improvement.
So in essence, rejecting the spiritual side of the martial arts will only wreak havoc because you are ignoring the thermostat that sets the temperature of such a powerful weapon.
The physical side of martial arts focuses on developing external strength, while the spiritual side promotes the nourishing of our soul and spirit through breathing and meditation.
More often than not, we overlook the spiritual and mental benefits of martial arts because we solely focus on the advantages of self-defense and physicality. But the true value of the arts is allowing yourself to be able to reign in your physical strength through the ability of your mind and spirit.
It is the self-control to not engage in physical battle or avoid it altogether, even though you know very well that you have the upper hand against your challenger.
In the spiritual side of martial arts, it is not religious in any way, nor does it attempt to contradict any religious beliefs that one might have. Rather, the spiritual aspect teaches you how to clear your mind of destructive distractions; purify your spirit of any anger or bitterness that you may have which causes you to abuse your skill and power; and improve your breathing to help you relax in order to mentally prepare for your match.
The last one is a skill or practice that is most often taken for granted. It has been proven that knowing the right breathing techniques are the key to successfully executing any physical or strenuous activity. As a result, you will have a more potent mind, body, soul, and spirit. For example, in Toastmasters, the first techniques taught are breathing exercises to help expand the lungs and relax the muscles, so that the person speaking in public will have a more natural voice, facial expression, intonation, and all-around delivery.
Engaging deep in spirituality has also proven to improve some ailments and strengthen a person’s immune system, making him more resilient to sickness or injury. Though we don’t practice martial arts for this reason, the benefits shouldn't be ignored but rather appreciated or maximized. a means to cure physical illness and stress.
And in allowing the spiritual side of Martial Arts come full circle, let’s revisit the full version of the quote from Bruce Lee:
Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless — like water.
Now 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.