21 Bruce Lee Quotes: Be Water and Other Agile Thoughts

Bruce Lee quotes, like his famous quote on water, are well-known for their depth and insight.

But did you know Bruce Lee was an agile thinker too?

Check out this highly curated list of 21 Bruce Lee quotes for the proof.

Bruce Lee Quote: Be Like Water

One of my earliest memories of retail misadventure was inspired by Bruce Lee and his movies. I obliterated a clothing display with a well-placed nunchuk hit ala my hero Bruce in Enter the Dragon.

Needless to say, the proprietor of the store wasn’t as impressed with my martial arts skill as I was (and neither were my embarrassed parents).

It’s hard to overstate the impact Bruce Lee has on you growing up as an Asian kid. When I was a boy, it was hard to find positive Asian male role models in popular culture. One problem is that there aren’t many Asian faces in American media to begin with.

The other is that Asian men in particular are usually depicted as nerds, perverts, or effeminate weirdoes in movies and television. The best modern example of an actor playing into this stereotype is Bobby Lee.

(Note that I’m not blaming him necessarily since the Hollywood roles available for Asian-American men are highly limited.)

Not Bruce Lee. 

Bruce Lee was the hero in his movies, the main character. He was strong, powerful, and fearless. And he got the girl in the end.

In short, Bruce Lee taught me and a generation of Asian-American boys that we could be the protagonists of our own stories, and not just the geeky friend or sexless nerd cameoing in someone else’s movie.

Imagine my surprise combing through Bruce Lee quotes some twenty-odd years later and discovering that there was a strong thread of agile thinking in the late master’s words.

Bruce believed strongly in adaptability and iteration as a means to learn from your mistakes and grow. He was not afraid to fail. Bruce believed in the power of radical simplicity as a means to clarify and enlighten.

The martial art he founded, jeet kune do, was essentially the kung fu equivalent of Moneyball in its day.

Like the sabermetrics revolution in baseball, Bruce’s jeet kune do style challenged the status quo of kung fu teachings.

Jeet kune do pissed off a lot of old-school practitioners because it deleted the ritualistic dance and wasted movements of traditional kung fu, replacing it instead with minimalist movement used for maximum speed and power.

Jeet kune do was direct, simple, and clear, like the thinking of its founder, Bruce Lee.

21 Agile Bruce Lee Quotes to Inspire Action

1. On the adaptability of water:

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.

2. On goal setting:

A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.

3. On 20-mile marching:

If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done. Make at least one definite move daily toward your goal.

4. On the process of iteration:

Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.

5. On fear of failure:

Don’t fear failure. Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.

6. On simplicity:

It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.

7. On limiting beliefs:

If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.

8. On taking action:

Knowing is not enough, you must apply; willing is not enough, you must do.

9. On continuous improvement:

Life is never stagnation. It is constant movement, un-rhythmic movement, as we as constant change. Things live by moving and gain strength as they go.

10. On leaving your legacy:

The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.

11. On making mistakes:

Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.

12. On being authentic:

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.

13. On flow:

Flow in the living moment. — We are always in a process of becoming and nothing is fixed. Have no rigid system in you, and you’ll be flexible to change with the ever changing. Open yourself and flow, my friend. Flow in the total openness of the living moment. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.

14. On the preciousness of time:

If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.

15. On self-actualization:

Instead of dedicating your life to actualize a concept of what you should be like, ACTUALIZE YOURSELF. The process of maturing does not mean to become a captive of conceptualization. It is to come to the realization of what lies in our innermost selves.

16. On the power of focus:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

17. On setbacks:

Know the difference between a catastrophe and an inconvenience. — To realize that it’s just an inconvenience, that it is not a catastrophe, but just an unpleasantness, is part of coming into your own, part of waking up.

18. On personal kaizen:

There is no such thing as maturity. There is instead an ever-evolving process of maturing.

19. On knowing what counts and what doesn’t:

Boards don’t hit back.
– Bruce Lee’s character in Enter the Dragon

20. On external expectations:

I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.

21. On finding your own path:

Obey the principles without being bound by them.

Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973 due to an allergic reaction to medication. He was 32. His legacy lives on in his movies and his words.

What are your memories of Bruce Lee? How have his words affected you?

Photo Credit: Zanthia via Compfight cc

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