Jeet Kune Do
"Research your own experience. Absorb what is useful. Reject what is useless. Add what is essentially your own."
– Bruce Lee.
Back in 1988, my family purchased our first Nintendo game system. We also bought three games to go with it - Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, and Kung Fu. I did not know it at the time, but the last game, Kung Fu, was based on Bruce Lee's final film, Game of Death (1).
Bruce Lee is widely known as the most influential martial artist of all time, although only a few people know much about his life (2). Bruce was born in San Francisco but grew up in Hong Kong. He appeared in several films as a child, but he also engaged in a lot of street fighting as a teenager. Given the situation, Bruce's parents appealed to a family friend, Kung-Fu master William Cheung, to assist in enrolling their errant son in martial arts training, which would divert his energy into organized competitions rather than the streets. Cheung spoke on Bruce's behalf to the legendary Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man, who eventually agreed to train the boy. Bruce worked hard and became one of only a handful of students to be personally taught by the grandmaster.
Bruce Lee is seen here in one of his classic fighting stances (3).
A very young Bruce is seen here in training with Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man.
During these later years, Bruce began to feel more and more restricted by the pre-arranged patterns taught to him by his experiences in street fighting, Wing Chun, tai chi, and boxing. He thought that such pre-arranged patterns were at best restrictive, and at worst ineffective. So, he decided to create a new way, which he called Jeet Kune Do.
Jeet Kune Do: Philosophical Aspects
Jeet Kune Do literally translates to "The way of the intercepting fist" (4). Bruce wanted to create an intelligent, hybrid martial art, one that borrowed from the styles of all other fighting methods, yet lacked any signature style itself.
"The best fighter is not a Boxer, Karate or Judo man.The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style, to be formless, to adopt an individual's own style and not following the system of styles."
- Bruce Lee.
Philosophically speaking, Jeet Kune Do fundamentally aims to make the human mind and body to "be like water" (5). Bruce emphasized that since every situation is unique, one cannot rigidly apply any pre-determined methods, but must empty the mind so as to be fluid and adaptable to the circumstances. Like water, which becomes the shape of whatever container it is poured into, he stated that the mind and body should know when to speed up or slow down, when to expand or contract, when to remain flowing or crash. He warned of the dangers of stagnation, and that a constant evolution of one's methods was crucial.
Jeet Kune Do is fluid and adaptable, like water.
Importantly, Jeet Kune Do prioritizes simplicity, directness, and freedom (6). Rather than aiming to "add more" to a fighting system, it aims to select the best of a wide range of possible options. Bruce often referred to a Buddhist metaphor involving the filling of a cup of water, which was constantly emptied so as to cast off what was useless. Through this approach, the Jeet June Do martial artist could apply a fighting style that was perpetually formless, dynamic, and alive.
Jeet Kune Do: Practical Aspects
Returning to the etymology of Jeet Kune Do, there is a reason it translates to "The way of the intercepting fist" (4). Essentially, Bruce's fighting style aimed to intercept the opponent's attacks.
"To reach me, you must move to me. Your attack offers me an opportunity to intercept you."
- Bruce Lee.
Practically speaking, Jeet Kune Do aims to perceive the body language of the opponent, which allows the mind to predict the nature of their planned assault and therefore attack the attack itself. By not only blocking but actually disrupting the opponent's attack, not only is their attack compromised, and not only can they be attacked in turn, but the flow of their own mind and body becomes rattled. The intercepts can take the form of stop hits, which involves intercepting an attack with an attack, simultaneous parries and punches, which involves blocking an attack while concurrently counter-attacking, or low kicks, which involve disrupting the opponent's stance. Although these intercepts focus on punching and kicking, trapping and grappling are also emphasized...whatever works.
Importantly, Bruce emphasized that Jeet Kune Do had to involve combat realism, meaning the techniques had to effective in real combat situations. He felt that many other fighting styles relied too much on demonstrations, leading to "flowery techniques" that often looked good, but were not actually useful. To understand Jeet Kune Do, perhaps it is most helpful to witness one of the last examples of Bruce's fighting style for yourself (watch the short video to the right, where Bruce fights the final boss in Game of Death).
Jeet Kune Do...in the flesh.