In an exclusive interview with G20, Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee talks about her life, martial arts, and how her father’s philosophy has inspired her through thick and thin.


She is the daughter of world-renowned martial artist and actor Bruce Lee who mesmerised us with his extraordinary skills on the big screen. While he continues to be a pop culture icon of this century, he is also much more — a philosopher whose principles continue to influence many around the world. His daughter Shannon Lee’s latest book Be Water, My Friend (Penguin Random House) encapsulates the true teachings of Bruce Lee. In this interview with G20, author, actor and filmmaker Shannon Lee talks about her book, her father and more.

Q. Obviously your father was the inspiration behind writing ‘Be Water, My Friend’ but what made you write this particular book?

A. I have been sitting with my father’s philosophies now for years and have been discussing them via the Bruce Lee Podcast as well and I just felt like my understanding of the material had deepened and grown to the point where the challenge of organising and expressing my thoughts through the medium of a book was the next intriguing step. I have always wanted to give people the gift of my father’s philosophy because I know how helpful it has been to me in my own life and this book is my attempt to do that.

Q. Water is used metaphorically in the title but this element is so vital for our existence. Is having the qualities of water vital to a peaceful and happy life according to you?

A. As you say, water is vital – you can’t live without it and in fact, our bodies are made up significantly of water. So then, to tap into our essential selves and function vitally in our lives by being like water is extremely meaningful. I think when we grow and feel more confident and centred, we automatically become happier and more peaceful and it is a powerful experience. Then we can direct the flow of our water ways (or our energy) in this lifetime more dynamically and effortlessly.

Q. You share your father’s passion for martial arts and he taught you a lot through it. How much has this influenced your way of life?

A. I am certainly NOT the martial artist my father was. He was passionate about martial arts as a way of life and as a vehicle for self-discovery. I studied martial arts really in order to understand my father better and what I found was a deeply meaningful practice for myself as well. I am grateful for having trained in martial arts because it has revealed myself to me – who I am under stress, how to develop inner strength and confidence, how to increase self sufficiency, and on and on. The study of martial arts (and in particular jeet kune do) also brought me closer to my father and understanding his point of view. It has been a terrifically healing and invaluable experience for me.

Q. What you share in the book as your father’s teachings is so relevant to life today.

A. These teachings of my father are timeless and will always be relevant because they are about the human condition and living a more fulfilling life, something that will always be useful as long as there are humans walking the earth. My father’s philosophies are about quieting and directing the mind in productive and healthy ways so that our body and our life can be in deep relationship with this cultivated mind. It is about giving us the tools to navigate the difficulties of life as well as tools for the discovery of our most realised self so that we can then direct all our energies to flow in one meaningful direction, rather than running off in a chaos of wastefulness.

Q. It was interesting to note your father did not believe in competition. What was his yardstick to be the best at what he does?

A. His yardstick was his himself. And not just “am I accomplishing all the goals I set for myself” but “am I working sincerely and genuinely and authentically within everything I do? AM I understanding myself more each day?” The goal isn’t outside success but inner satisfaction – satisfaction with having tried sincerely to do one’s best and to grow and learn each day and to be more harmonious in our lives. As my father said, “Success is a journey, not a destination. Have faith in your ability and you will do just fine.”

Q. Like your father, you also started writing at a young age (journaling in high school). Is writing a tool that will help us envision and live our lives better?

A. Writing can be a helpful tool, but I don’t want to say that it’s the only tool or best tool for everyone. I think people have to discover what works best for themselves. Perhaps writing can be extremely useful, but perhaps it’s a particular kind of writing as well. Maybe stream of consciousness writing is great to unclutter the mind and tap into the subconscious; maybe to do lists or goal setting is what’s best for you to help direct you and keep you moving forward. Maybe deep introspective essays on the nature of reality are what are helpful to stimulate your imagination and to uncover the mysteries you seek to understand. Or maybe you work better to make audio recordings or maybe something else is a better tool for you altogether. I would say writing can be extremely helpful, but it would be up to the individual to try different things and see what works best for them.

Q. Given that your father was an all-time great martial arts specialist and renowned actor, were you in awe of him?

A.I am awed by what he was able to do and accomplish and the impact he has had and continues to have. But I try not to hold him on a pedestal. I don’t think that is helpful. He was a human being with his own struggles but the fact that he did all of what he did while having all the same human foibles that we all have is what’s awe inspiring and something I think we can all learn from.

Q. What was the most important lesson he taught you?

A. The only lesson he taught me in person is what radiance feels like when it is shared. But after the fact of his death, he has continued to teach me many things. Right now, he is teaching me about simplicity and the subtler levels of the difference between self-image actualisation and self-actualisation. He is teaching me about effortless action (wu wei) and not wasting time. He teaches me everyday still and I imagine he always will.