Be Water, My Friend

By Asian Reporter

Plenty of boys probably tell their mothers they don’t need to go to school because, ‘I’ll become a famous film star one day.’ Bruce Lee was a rare one who made good on his promise, but it wasn’t easy. Be Water, My Friend is the story of the early years of this pioneer of martial-arts cinema, and Ken Mochizuki and Dom Lee — author and illustrator of the award-winning Baseball Saved Us, Passage to Freedom, and Heroes — have given us yet another wonderful book. ‘Like flowing water, Bruce Lee could never be still.’ Born in San Francisco in 1940, he first appeared in a movie when he was just three months old, and acted in a number of films as a youngster growing up in Hong Kong. But although he was always in motion, Bruce Lee sometimes took as many steps backwards as forwards. Be Water, My Friend is an unflinching look at his troubled youth and his ultimate triumph over his own worst enemy: himself. Enamored of street fighting, Bruce decided to learn martial arts, and assured Yip Man, the best martial-arts master in Hong Kong at the time, ‘I will become your most dedicated student.’ While the young man was clearly both talented and motivated, he missed a crucial point of his training when he used martial arts in one of his after-school fights. Yip Man suspended him from lessons for a week and told him to think about harmony, yielding, and gentleness in martial arts. Perplexed and angry, he went out in a boat by himself and found his answer in what surrounded and buoyed him: ‘Water, the softest substance on Earth, could never be hurt because it offered no resistance. But with enough force it could break through anything in the world.’ Unfortunately Bruce Lee had a temper, and he couldn’t refuse a challenge. He continued to fight, and eventually got into trouble with the police. His parents sent him back to the United States when he was eighteen, thinking that he needed a fresh start. The narrative ends with the young man watching ‘the swirling water from the deck of the ship’ carrying him across the Pacific Ocean. ‘The Rest of Bruce Lee’s Story’ concludes Be Water, My Friend, and there’s some fascinating information here. Bruce Lee studied philosophy at the University of Washington in Seattle, undertook an interracial marriage in 1964, and ‘created his own martial art called jeet kune do.’ Dom Lee’s sepia-toned illustrations perfectly complement the tension Ken Mochizuki builds as he tells the story of a famous martial-arts film star whose greatest accomplishment may well have been that he learned to be gentle.