Jeet Kune Do: History and Style Guide

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Though it fits neatly under the category of a martial arts style, Jeet Kune Do really isn't one. You see, it's more of a philosophy. A way. And that's exactly what founder Bruce Lee was thinking of when he formed it. In fact, let's hear it straight from the legendary man's mouth.

"I have not invented a "new style," composite, modified or otherwise that is set within distinct form as apart from "this" method or "that" method," he once told Black Belt Magazine. "On the contrary, I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, and molds."

Said another way, Lee believed that only what worked should be used in martial arts and the rest discarded. And that's what makes Jeet Kune Do special. By the way, it's also what makes his ideology the precursor to modern-day mixed martial arts.

The Early History of Jeet Kune Do and Its Founder Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee studied Wing Chun, an empty hand form of kung fu under Sifu Yip Man and one of his top students, Wong Shun-Leung, in China before leaving for the United States in 1959. With this training, he developed an understanding of striking through centerline control (protecting the middle so opponents had to attack from the outside). What's more, he gained a dislike for flashy movements and an understanding of how to intercept an attack before it had even started (an unorthodox method of countering). Beyond Wing Chun, Lee also studied both western boxing and fencing.

After moving to America in 1964 (Seattle), Lee opened a martial arts school named the Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute (literally Bruce Lee's Kung Fu Institute), where he taught Wing Chun with some modifications. However, things changed for him and martial arts in general in 1964 after he fought and defeated local Chinese martial arts master Wong Jack Man in less than three minutes in a challenge match. Despite his victory, Lee was disappointed, believing that he had not fought to his potential because of the limits his style of fighting had placed on him. Eventually, this led to the formulation of a martial arts philosophy without limits, one that did not force practitioners to adopt only one style or way of doing things. This new philosophy would eventually allow Lee to incorporate boxing, Wing Chun, grappling, and even fencing into his training.

One year later, "The Way of the Intercepting Fist," or Jeet Kune Do was born.

Characteristics of Jeet Kune Do

The overriding principle of Jeet Kune Do is to eliminate what doesn't work and use what does. This isn't just a global ideology, either. There is also an individual component to the Jeet Kune Do philosophy, where the strengths and weaknesses of practitioners are taken into account when practicing and formulating their martial arts plan. With all of that said, there is a framework that is utilized to allow for this, which sometimes varies depending on the branch or substyle being of JKD being offered. Regardless, here are some of the important and rather universal points.

Centerline Control: Bruce Lee's Wing Chun training taught him to protect his centerline so attackers were forced to try and strike from the outside in. This is a staple of JKD.

Combat Realism: AKA- forget kata. Some martial arts styles swear by kata or pre-arranged fighting movements conducted in isolation where practitioners are asked to pretend that they are taking on attackers while delivering punches or kicks. JKD and Lee did not subscribe to the kata philosophy, nor any flashy movements or point sparring measures. Rather, they believed that learning in such a manner sometimes fooled martial artists into a false sense of combat security, as many of the moves being practiced did not work in real life.

Economy of Motion: Eliminating wasteful movement is a staple of Jeet Kune Do. In other words, why do a spinning head kick if a front kick to the midsection will do? The front kick is faster and doesn't waste as much motion.

Emphasis on Low Kicks, Not High Kicks: If a high kick opening presented itself, then fine. That said, JKD, in conjunction with the idea behind the economy of motion, emphasized low and body kicks to the shins, thighs, and midsection. Of course, nothing in JKD was written in stone, which may be why Bruce Lee stopped short of abolishing the idea of high kicks completely.

Five Ways of Attack: This refers to the five ways JKD practitioners are taught to attack. These are Single Angular Attack and its converse Single Direct Attack; Hand Immobilization Attack; Progressive Indirect Attack; Attack By Combinations; and Attack By Drawing. Emphasis is placed on deception and counter striking in all of these.

Four Parts of JKD: These are efficiency (an attack that reaches its mark quickly and with sufficient force), directness (doing what comes naturally in a learned way), simplicity (without flashiness or being overly complicated), and quickness (moving in a fast manner before an opponent can think).

Inside Fighting: Lee believed in learning how to fight not only from a distance- as most point styles emphasize- but also on the inside.

Simultaneous Blocks and Attacks and Intercepting Attacks: Again, in going along with the economy of motion principle, JKD emphasizes simultaneous blocks and attacks so as to not waste motion or time (speed was important). In addition, anticipating an attack and delivering a strike while an opponent was coming forward was also emphasized (intercepting attacks).

Three Ranges of Combat: Rather than ignore certain parts of combat, Bruce Lee embraced them. Along with this, he noted that the ranges of combat were close, medium, and long.

The Goals of Jeet Kune Do

The Jeet Kune Do philosophy is to defeat an opponent by any means necessary as fast and efficiently as possible.

Substyles of Jeet Kune Do
  • Original or Jun Fan Branch: Groups that fit under this moniker tend to grasp tightly to the actual teachings of Bruce Lee. In other words, they teach only what they believe was taught by Bruce Lee and hope that practitioners will improve their fighting abilities through this. Thus, this substyle subscribes to the philosophy of a "style without style," but is somewhat traditional in their practice of it.
  • JKD Concepts Branch: This substyle of Jeet Kune Do has added much beyond what Lee originally taught. Under this substyle, Jeet Kune Do practice is much more individualized and less static. For example, when Brazilian Jiu Jitsu proved to be a valid fighting art, many JKD Concepts artists began to incorporate it.Some Famous Jeet Kune Do Practitioners
      • Dan Inosanto: Inosanto is the only former student of Bruce Lee to be granted third level Instructorship by him. He is an expert in several different martial arts styles and recently attained a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is not unusual for those practicing under the JKD Concepts branch.
    • Bruce Lee: The founder of Jeet Kune Do, Lee is one of the most famous martial artists and martial arts movie actors of all-time.
    • Jerry Poteet: One of Lee's original students in the late 1960's, Poteet continues to teach Jeet Kune Do in the same way it was taught to him by Lee (Jun Fan substyle).