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Most of the martial arts we know of are said to have origins going back to hundreds of years in some Asian country, thought up and perfected by some enlightened master who then taught the art to others in an effort to spread the practice. Some of that is true, although historical sources may vary. Then there are more modern schools that came about during the 19th or 20th century, which were consolidated from older traditions. In fact, the 20th century was a seminal time in martial arts history due to the amount of change and innovation that occurred, and Jeet Kune Do exemplifies that.
Jeet Kune Do was perhaps the most profound example of a martial arts new age that took place during the 20th century. It’s hard to discuss Jeet Kune Do without mentioning its founder, Bruce Lee. There is much talk about what he had accomplished throughout his short life, as well as arguments on what he was and what he wasn’t. In any case, his contributions to martial arts through both his movie stardom and Jeet Kune Do.
Jeet Kune Do, which means “The Way of the Intercepting Fist”, is the culmination of Bruce Lee’s exploration and intensive research on the martial arts. At first, he called his school of fighting “Jun Fan Gung Fu” (Jun Fan is his given Chinese name). But upon realizing that he might just be creating another style, he refined his approach and came up with the name Jeet Kune Do, and he would then insist that it was merely a label for a process and not just another style.
Bruce Lee sought to break the traditions and prejudices that stifled the development of martial arts. It was a time when martial arts world was divided and different schools seemed to forbid exchange of ideas with others. The teachings of each school were presented as dogma, which kept their students from exploring other avenues in order to improve themselves. He wanted to bring about change that would bring all the different styles together and dissolve their divisions.
Behind all the showbiz glitz and glamor, Bruce Lee was a serious martial artist who sought to spread the good word. Coming from a Wing Chun kung fu background, he then explored other styles and gradually formulated his own martial philosophy that would be ahead of his time. He challenged convention and tradition in order to clear the fog that seemed to have enveloped the martial arts world at the time and helped propagate martial arts through the strength of his teachings and his personality.
When Bruce Lee passed away in 1973, he left behind a rich legacy of spreading martial arts to the world. Over 40 since then, his book “Tao of Jeet Kune Do” is still one of the most comprehensive texts on martial arts ever published. His students such as Taky Kimura, Dan Inosanto, Ted Wong, and many others had since spread the word on Jeet Kune Do and the evolution of martial arts.
Bruce Lee sought to escape from the limitations of “style”, which he described as a crystallization made rigid by patterns and forms. With Jeet Kune Do, he strongly emphasized it as a process instead of a refined product that must be taken as the gospel truth.
Through that process, the student learns the fundamentals and develops his/her body and mind to reach mastery in the martial arts. Upon becoming proficient with the fundamentals, he/she must then go further by exploring the landscape, taking in whatever is useful and casting off what is useless, then finally adding what is essentially his/her own.
The ultimate goal of a Jeet Kune Do practitioner is to “be like water”, alluding to Bruce Lee’s most famous quote. Once achieving mastery of the martial arts and of self, one can become formless and shapeless, making him fully adaptable in just about any situation. It’s about not being caught
The same can be said for all martial arts, or even just about any feat of skill, wherein one must achieve the state of mastery that has the body do by itself; where actions and reactions are automatic. When you have to think before doing, you’re already too late and you make mistakes.
While the techniques and methodologies Bruce Lee put into Jeet Kune Do are formidable, they are not necessarily the only ones. The JKD philosophy is all about recognizing what works best for you in whatever situation by being proactive and open-minded in your learning process.
Terms, Techniques, and Training
The base of Jeet Kune Do is the Bai Jong stance, or the on-guard stance or ready position. This stance takes from that of different styles, including Wing Chun and boxing. It also favors “strong side forward” (i.e. southpaw stance for right-handers; orthodox stance for left-handers) in order to have the strongest weapon reach the target as quickly and directly as possible.
There are Four Ranges of Combat—Kicking, Punching, Trapping, Grappling. These are ordered from farthest to nearest. It’s actually quite similar to what later became the phases of combat in mixed martial arts, which goes to show how far ahead of his time Bruce Lee was. Being able to attack and defend accordingly in every range is a big part of getting good in Jeet Kune Do.
From understanding these four ranges, students then learn about the Five Ways of Attack:
Single Direct Attack (SDA)
Attack by Combination (ABC)
Hand Immobilization Attack (HIA)
Progressive Indirect Attack (PIA)
Attack by Drawing (ABD)
SDA is as it sounds—a single attack that is aimed directly at the target. ABC is basically SDAs done in succession to create a volume of attack. HIA is when the attacker does something to prevent the opponent’s hand from attacking or defending (i.e. pushing or pulling it out of the way).
PIA is when the attacker does something to make the opponent think that he’s being hit somewhere else other than the actual target, thus making him defend what would end up being the wrong way. Finally, ABD is drawing (or baiting) the opponent to attack in a way that is anticipated and easily defended against in order to counterattack.
It can be said that these are arranged in order of difficulty of mastery, but one is certainly not superior over the other. To truly become proficient, a practitioner must become accustomed to using all five of these ways of attack in combat under any condition with whatever is at hand against any sort of opponent when physical conflict is unavoidable.
The most basic attack is the straight lead. Most mistake it for a jab like in boxing, but it’s different due to how it’s executed and what it’s for. Perhaps it can be described as a “power jab” that combines speed and non-telegraphing with a good bit of power. It’s not just a way to “feel” the opponent and set up more attacks, but a punch that actually does damage.
One of the ways of mastering the straight lead is the famous and much-misunderstood “one-inch punch”, which Bruce Lee first demonstrated in the 1967 Long Beach International Karate Championships. He sent a full-grown man (who was trained in karate) hurtling back several feet with a punch that was thrown to his chest from a single inch. Most would then interpret this as an actual technique in itself, thus many have criticized it as ineffective.
The fact of the matter is the one-inch punch is not an offensive technique in itself, but merely a training exercise for mastering the delivery of power through proper technique. If you are able to generate such power with just a small movement in such a limited space, you can then apply the same principles for a full-blown straight lead thrown from a greater distance since the mechanics are virtually similar.
There are also the other key principles of JKD such as non-telegraphic attacks and economy of motion that are all about removing as many tells and inefficiencies in one’s offense as possible in order to hit attacks as quickly and directly as possible.
Uniforms and Rankings
With rankings, Bruce Lee did away with them altogether as he did not believe in them as a way to assess a student’s growth. In many cases, to track one’s progress in the curriculum, JKD schools would designate by seniority. In any case, whatever designation is used within the JKD context is not used to denote level of actual skill.
As for uniforms, most JKD schools have their students wear comfortable training clothes. In most cases, a shirt and a pair of shorts or pants that let you move freely and throw high kicks are sufficient unless indicated. Most schools have students train barefoot, but there are also those that focus more on realism that require shoes to best simulate real-world situations.
Organizations Dedicated to the Style
Nowadays, Jeet Kune Do (allegedly) has two main branches—(Original) Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do and Jeet Kune Do Concepts.
Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do —
Preserving what Bruce Lee originally taught as Jeet Kune Do.
JKD Concepts —
Continuing the exploration and evolution that Bruce Lee started.