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    This is Master Bruce Lee's oft-cited metaphor for the philosophy of Gung Fu, at the heart of which is the Chinese concept of wu wei - "trying not to try". The thinking that originated this famous metaphor came after a period of frustration Lee felt with his inability to master "the art of detachment" that his Master Instructor, Yip Man, was trying to impart on him:


    "After spending many hours meditating and practicing, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk. On the sea I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water! Right then -- at that moment -- a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. Again, I struck it with all my might -- and yet, it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it, but this proved impossible. The water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water. Suddenly, a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then I was absorbing myself with the lesson of water, another mystic sense of hidden meaning revealed itself to me: should not the thoughts and emotions I had when in front of an opponent pass like the reflection of the birds flying over the water? This was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached -- not being sticky or blocked. Therefore, in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature. Water is so fine that it is impossible to grasp a handful of it. Strike it, yet it does not suffer hurt; stab it, and it is not wounded; sever it, yet it is not divided. It has no shape of its own, but molds itself to the receptacle that contains it. When heated to the state of steam, it is invisible but has enough power to split the earth itself. When frozen, it crystallizes into a mighty rock. First, it is turbulent like Niagara Falls, and then calm like a still pond, fearful like a torrent, and refreshing like a spring on a hot summer's day."


    The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu taught this apt lesson in his "Tau Te Ching":


    "The rivers and seas are lords of a hundred valleys. This is because their strwength is in lowliness; they are kings of them all. So it is that the perfect master wishing to lead them, he follow. Thus, though he is above them, men do not feel him to be an injury. And since he will no strive, none strive with him."



Victoria Generao


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