Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in 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. Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.
Bruce Lee said it*—but did he actually do it? Did he flow like water? Judging by his performances in Enter the Dragon, Chinese Connection and Fists of Fury, I’d say: no, not at all.
Bruce Lee in The Chinese Connection
Maybe Bruce didn’t show his real kung fu skills on the silver screen. Movie audiences expect to be entertained, after all, and genuine soft-style martial arts applications appear staged and phony—an insult to the viewer’s intelligence! So we could instead look to real-life demonstrations by Bruce Lee’s surviving students: Taky Kimura, Jesse Glover, Dan Inosanto. Do they move like water?
Non-Classical Kung Fu by Pierre Hartmann
Chief Instructor, Chinese Boxing Association
Student of Jesse Glover
Now maybe if you squint your eyes, you can see a certain metaphorical or theoretical flow in Pierre Hartmann’s movement. Literally and kinesthetically, his application is as far from water as anything can be.
In the Analects, Confucius said that reconciling speech and action is the first concern of the gentleman and the state. “Fast and hard” is a perfectly valid approach to kung fu training, but why should we be ashamed to call it by its name?