I finally got the time to see this incredible documentary directed by Bao Nguyen, called “Be Water”. This is an ESPN 30 for 30 film that tells the story about Bruce Lee’s fight in through his life with the legacy he created and the knowledge he has shared. Initially, when I had the idea of writing this blog post I was going to highlight some interesting facts that I learned, but I felt so motivated and inspired that I think it is much more beneficial to highlight the lessons learned. If you haven’t watched the doc, the trailer is below and this blog post will highlight some key facts I discovered in this documentary. From his philosophy to his incredible work ethic, he sparked positive change in the world especially in Hollywood, providing better opportunity and representation for people of colour, especially of Asian descent.
1. Be Water
It’s only right I start with the title of this documentary, as it stems from his philosophy that he often shared about being like water.
“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. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee
He talks about water from a unique perspective by acknowledging how powerful it can be, and why we should all aim to be like it. He talks about it being something so light yet so powerful. Formless, yet imperative. He also answered that question when asked if he considers himself American or Chinese (since he was born in America but grew up in the states but just wants to consider himself as human). It’s something we should aim to as well, channeling something within to understand ourselves so we can learn to be adaptable and impactful in the situations we find ourselves in.
2. Be Self-Aware
Speaking of self-awareness, he mentioned “all knowledge is self-knowledge” when getting interviewed about the number of famous students he was having in his Hollywood class. It’s true, during a time where he didn’t get any significant roles he opened a class for elite Hollywood stars such as Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. It became the popular thing to do and it was more than just learning Gung Fu/Kung Fu but learning more about themselves.
I agree with this because the more you push yourself to learn new things whether it be through courses, software, or picking up new skills and activities you discover things that make you passionate and efficient in. I believe this applies to the experiences you endure. For instance, when Bruce Lee was young, an undercover cop was worried about him joining gangs so he warned his parents. His parents
3. Be Comfortable Using Your Network
Bruce Lee’s career and legacy wouldn’t have been what it is today without the help of his network. He was a very sociable guy, sure, but he was always willing to learn and grow from the people around him. From the black friends he made when he first came back to the states to study, or the Hollywood actors he met through his popular gung fu classes, Bruce Lee was always learning from others but comfortable to ask them for advice or help when needed.
For instance, during the civil rights movement he was learning first hand what the unjust hardships African Americans were experiencing and became educated on the matter. One of the people in that movement was Muhammad Ali, who he studied carefully. However, probably the best example of Bruce Lee using his network was when he reached out to NBA Legend Kareem Adbul-Jabbar. He told him that the movie (Game of Death) wasn’t financed yet but he needed this movie to work to showcase his talents as a director and actor, so Kareem Abdul-Jabbar actually took the flight to China and shot his scenes with the limited time he had available.
4. Be the best version of yourself, always
During a relatively small tournament in Long Beach, Bruce Lee was giving a speech/demonstration. He left a great impression and most people don’t know but you can say that one of Bruce Lee’s biggest break came from a hairdresser. Yes, a hairdresser who was clearly good at what he does because we worked on a lot of celebrities and was the one who recommended Bruce Lee to William Dozier, a big Hollywood exec who was looking for an asian actor for an upcoming show. That show would be the Green Hornet.
It just goes to show you that you are always being judged and observed, so its important to stay alert but also look at every opportunity to be the best version of yourself. At the time, Bruce Lee wasn’t famous or really had any big aspirations in Hollywood but that part did lead him to future opportunities. This happened again in another stage of Bruce Lee, as Raymond Chow, a big film producer in China, saw his work and wanted to showcase his talent. This is where Bruce Lee was able to create the movies he wanted and the ones we love today, such as Game of Death and Enter the Dragon.
5. Be Resilient
This is probably the biggest, and arguably the most important lesson I learned from Bruce Lee through this documentary. It seemed like his whole life was fight against the misrepresentation and unjust portrayal of asian males. It was a fight against racism and bigotry. The fact that even when people were facisnated with what he can do, he still had to fight for speaking parts. For instance, when he was on the Green Hornet, there was a significant pay difference as he was getting paid like an extra even though he was the second star (the main was making around $2,200 while he made only $450 and others below him in siginfiance to the show was making much more). It’s ridiculous, he even had a show that was made for him pretty much created by him, to suddenly be replaced by another actor, because they “couldn’t find an asian actor they can sell”.
I can’t say that I faced those same exact experiences, but I have had similar especially when it comes to my professional career aspirations. It’s unfortuante, but I do believe it does make us stronger and provides clarity. The beauty in Bruce Lee’s case was that it was clearly shown through his career development and the interviews he has done. If he didn’t face those hardships and challenges, he wouldn’t have obtained that perspective (yes, thats what CHIP stands for in case you didn’t know). He was forced to create his own path, and although it is unfortuante he wasn’t alive to see the success of Enter The Dragon (91 million worldwide, equivalent to $521 Million today), we all know him more than his captivating kung fu skills, but the wisdom and fight he gave to progress representation and diversity in hollywood and in our society.
Let me know what you think. Were you surprised with any of these facts or tips? Can you relate? Let me know in the comments below, and make sure you subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss out on future posts!