“Be like water.”

There is a famous quote “Be like water….” that is attributed to martial arts icon Bruce Lee that is especially helpful to jiu-jitsu students.
The full quote : “Be like water making its way through cracks.

Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and 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.”

― Bruce Lee

Water being formless is a metaphor for mental and strategic flexibility in a fight, but you might ask “How does this apply to our study and enjoyment of jiu-jitsu?”

There are many ways that this concept of water flowing might be applied to our jiu-jitsu, but today I’m going to share an experience in my own jiu-jitsu that I used the “be like water” to improve my submissions and overall enjoyment of rolling.

You’ve probably heard someone say, after rolling with a high level black belt, “I could see what was coming, but I couldn’t stop it!” I became determined to develop some submission attacks that were unstoppable even when my opponent became aware of what I was trying to do. But that strategy proved to be easier said than done! My training partners understood the counters and frustrated my attempts. I became frustrated when that arm lock setup I fell in love with wasn’t working. What was I missing?

When I rolled with my instructor, I was quite familiar with his game and resolved to shut down his most effective attacks to see if he was able to overcome my defense. My instructor caught me in as many submissions as usual…but I noticed he had an opposite strategy than what I had been trying. He just simply abandoned the unsuccessful attack and immediately switched to another attack where I had left an opening.

I asked him after the roll “Gosh, you don’t seem to get too attached to any single attack do you?”

“Not at all” he shrugged, “I just switch to something else that is open and don’t waste energy trying to get something that isn’t there.”

“Like Bruce Lee says: be like water.”

I thought about this change in strategy and asked myself if this advice would serve my jiu-jitsu better?

Around that time I was a spectator at a bjj tournament and watched a blue belt match with that lesson very much on my mind.

In the match one of the competitors was determined that he was going to use the knee cut guard pass NO MATTER WHAT! His opponent identified what he was doing immediately and defended with a knee shield. And in this titanic but futile struggle, both competitors remained locked for the entire duration of the 6 minutes match and the match ended with zero points.

I wondered watching the competitor repeatedly try the same pass without success “Why doesn’t he just switch and pass to the other side?”

Well, because perhaps he wasn’t working with a “water mind” and couldn’t see that he had any other alternatives.

This was one meaningful way I was able to apply the wisdom of the Bruce Lee quote in my own understanding of jiu-jitsu.

Do you have a favorite martial arts quote that has helped your jiu-jitsu?

See also on Gracie Barra : Learning From Tapping? Yes!

Learning From Tapping? Yes!

Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Asia
FB: facebook.com/markmullenbjj