Water is the essence of life. It has qualities that transcend its most basic functions.
Water has the ability to adapt to its environment. When the temperature is high, it
becomes steam. When the temperature is low, it becomes ice. What is remarkable about
water is that it manages to maintain its identity even under the most varied of
Water is ever flowing. When something gets in the way, it flows around and takes the
path of least resistance. On occasions where an obstacle seems insurmountable, it gains
strength and force until it finally wears the object down, and ultimately overcomes the
How can we, as martial artists, develop qualities like water and adapt to any environment?
If you've trained with an instructor that promotes self-defense and awareness training,
then you would know that one of the basics is to ALWAYS be aware of your environment
(people, terrain, buildings, side streets, traffic, parking lots, etc.). That way, if a
situation arises, you can quickly calculate how to respond to that situation based on your
Martial artists are also trained to use the right amount of force for each situation.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about. Let's say you are a school teacher and one
of your most unruly kids comes to you, and starts kicking, screaming, and punching you with
all his/her might. This is not the right situation to put the child into a choke hold or axe
kick the naughty child in the head! This is, however, the right opportunity for proper
restraining technique so that you, and the child, do not get injured. On the other hand, if
a thug on the street approaches you with deadly intentions, and you have no means of
escape except to defend yourself out of this situation, this is the right opportunity to do
WHATEVER IT TAKES TO SAVE YOUR LIFE, and then get out of there!
How can we flow around obstacles in life that seem insurmountable? Have you ever faced a
problem or situation in life that seemed to big, to painful, or to difficult to face? Did
running away from that problem or situation help? Probably not! Every problem or situation
(or person) that we face in life is an opportunity for us to exercise Mind-Like-Water
training. Whether our problem is a relationship that is on the rocks, weight that we want
to lose, or a new job that we really want, imagine this problem or situation as a large stone
in an ever flowing stream. The stone is not stopping the flow of water, but it is definitely
causing the water to move uncomfortably around it for a while. That stone is our issue or
problem. Now visualize what it will take to get that stone to grow smaller and smaller over
time, eventually eroding the stone away all together! As we work toward correcting the
situation (work hard to mend relationships, lose weight, or develop the skills needed for our
new job), we will slowly see the size of that stone diminish to a small tiny pebble, and
eventually washing away. We use this mindset in training to help us understand how we
need to react when confronted by a threatening situation and/or person. If the individual
is larger and stronger than us, it doesn't make sense for us to employ a strategy to
"run over" this person! Instead, our defensive strategy may be to run, or "flow around"
this person until we can run away and find a way to escape. The last resort would be to
"flow around" the individual, striking vital and lethal targets and hopefully catch this
individual off guard, while ALWAYS looking for an escape route!
Calm water is like a mirror and troubled waters reflect turmoil within. When we face a
problem or situation with a calm mind, then, like the reflection on calm water, we see
clearly what needs to be done to correct it. However, when we allow a problem to cause
turmoil within us, then like the roughness of troubled water, only confusion can be seen.
Having a Mind-Like-Water refers to our ability to react and reflect within each situation
in a balanced way. If you drop a stone in a still pond, you will see ripples appear in direct,
appropriate response to the force and mass of that stone...nothing more, nothing less. As
the ripples dissipate, the pond returns to stillness. Use this analogy to relate to the way
you react to stress, issues, or problems in life. Do you have a tendency to "over react" or
do you respond to the situation with the appropriate action or force...nothing more, nothing
In Karate, Mind-Like-Water is an image used to define the position of perfect readiness: it
never overreacts or underreacts. The power in a punch comes from speed, not from muscle;
it is the result of a focused strike, similar to the "snap" at the end of the whip. But a
tense muscle is a slow muscle. Training in Karate teaches and demands balance and
relaxation. Anything that causes us to overreact or underreact can control us, and it often
does. Responding inappropriately to family and friends, e-mail messages, people you work
with, or projects you're working on will lead to less effective results than you’d ultimately
like for your life.
Bruce Lee, martial artist and founder of the Jeet Kune Do system of martial arts
describes Mind-Like-Water as, "I'm moving and not moving at all. I'm like the moon
underneath the waves that ever go on rolling and rocking. It is not, I am doing this,
but rather, an inner realization that this is happening through me, or it is doing this
for me. The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all
physical action. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo. Be like water making
its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find
a way round or through it. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you
put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. If you put water into a bottle and it becomes
the bottle. If you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow
or it can crash. Be water my friend."
DOJO NATIONAL HOMBU
HEADQUARTERS FOR THE