Commentaries on Jeet Kune Do
Fundamental Misperceptions regarding Jeet Kune Do
Numerous mis-perceptions and inaccuracies exist today with regard to the art and philosophy of Jeet Kune Do. The following are some of what I consider to be the most fundamental:
1. JKD was simply Bruce Lee’s “very personal expression in martial art” therefore and only he could do it.
Some people claim that JKD was Bruce Lee’s “very personal expression of martial arts” and therefore no one else can really do it. This is incorrect. The fact is that Bruce did believe other people could learn and do JKD. When Bruce Lee taught JKD privately, he had a curriculum (not a "set-in-stone, concretized" one however). It wasn't simply a philosophy, it was a principled approach to unarmed combat that was transmissible, which is why it had certain techniques to be taught. How can you teach something if only you yourself can do it?
Jeet Kune Do is the name Bruce gave to his art and the way in which he expressed himself in combative form. And while he did indeed say it was the way in which he expressed himself, he never said that no one else could do JKD because it was his “very personal expression as a martial artist.”
JKD was the process, vehicle, tool, or whatever you want to call it that Bruce Lee developed to actualize his potential and express himself as a liberated martial artist. If people truly understand JKD, they can, like Bruce, use it as a vehicle to actualize their own potential, become liberated martial artists, and likewise express themselves.
2. JKD cannot be taught
Of course Jeet Kune Do can be taught, in the same way that learning to play a guitar or piano can be taught, or in the same way that learning how paint or sculpt can be taught, or even, for that matter, the way philosophy can be taught.
When Bruce Lee taught JKD he had a curriculum, so it wasn't just a philosophy, it was a principled approach to unarmed combat that was transmissible, which is why it had certain techniques to be taught. When it comes to JKD, there's knowledge and information that can be transmitted from one person to another; knowledge that can be learned, absorbed and utilized by another individual. However, in the same way you don’t expect everyone to play the identical song or make identical sculptures, you don't expect everyone who is expressing themselves in JKD to look identical. Once an individual has developed the requisite tools and skills, how they make good use of those tools and skills and express themselves is up to them. The fact is that JKD can be taught, however, it cannot be standardized (at least not without destroying the very heart and soul of it).
3. JKD is mere eclecticism
Many people have the misperception that JKD is simply a bunch of separate elements and techniques from various martial styles and systems such as Wing Chun gung fu, Western boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and other arts loosely jumbled together to create some sort of “chop suey” martial art. They misinterpret what Bruce was doing and claim that he was simply being eclectic. This is not what Bruce Lee was doing. Eclecticism in martial art is simply the random stockpiling of techniques according to an individual’s fleeting fancy or personal tastes.
Bruce Lee was extremely selective when it came to deciding what to add to his personal martial art arsenal. He didn’t add something simply for the sake of adding it, it had to fit into his personal structure, it had to interrelate to everything else he was doing and serve a useful purpose. If Lee found something that he felt was useful or valid in what he was doing and that he believed enhanced his overall structure and personal performance, he would analyze, test it, and if necessary, modify it before absorbing it. It might be a physical technique, combative principle or some form of training method. Hence in JKD one often hears the phrase, “While JKD has the element of [hand] trapping in it, you are not a “Wing Chun” person. While it has the element of boxing, you’re not a boxer.”
4. JKD is all about taking the "best" from all different martial arts.
This relates to the previous misperception about eclecticism. Some people say that Bruce Lee took the “best” of this martial art and the “best” from that art. But that’s not what he was doing. And when it comes to martial art techniques or actions, what exactly is the “best”? What does that mean? What metric does one use in judging or deciding what the “best” is? What might appear to the best strike or armlock or hand immobilization action in one instance may not necessarily be the best in another instance. A technique or action that works well for one person, may, depending on certain factors such as speed, power, flexibility, psychological make-up, be less effective or even non-functional for another. The point is that the so-called “best” is a fixed ideal; something static. However, combat is never fixed or static, but always unpredictable and dynamic.
5. In order to learn or understand JKD you need to learn Wing Chun Gung Fu
Some people believe that in order for a person to truly understand JKD, it is necessary for them to study Wing Chun Gung Fu in depth, including such things as learning the various forms and the 108 movements on the wooden dummy. Some martial arts practitioners have implied (some directly, others indirectly) that JKD is a synonym for, or mere variation of, Wing Chun Gung Fu. Others say that Bruce Lee never learned the complete Wing Chun system, and that if he did, he would never have developed JKD. The first statement is merely incorrect, the second is ludicrous. I'm not sure what these people base their idea upon, but obviously it couldn’t be upon an understanding of Bruce Lee’s mindset or his personality. Bruce Lee came to the realization that while Wing Chun was a great art, it still represented only a piece of totality of combat.
The fact is that from the time Lee arrived in Seattle, he began to modify his classical Wing Chun method. He began to adjust the stances, angles and positions of his Wing Chun techniques, also adding longer-range kicking techniques from some of the northern gung fu styles. Over time, as Lee’s martial evolution continued, he discarded many “core” elements of Wing Chun methodology as well as absorbing different techniques and principles from other combative arts both Eastern and Western, developing his own training methods and developing a personal philosophy that that differed greatly and created a breach between Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do.
In the book “Wing Chun Gung Fu/Jeet Kune Do – A Comparison (Vol. 1)” which is co-authored by William Cheung (WCGF) and Ted Wong (JKD), under the section “Origins of Jeet Kune Do one can read the following –
“Wing Chun does indeed form the foundation of Jeet Kune Do in concept, but not in character. There are many Wing Chun principles in JKD which were taken completely unaltered or were modified: economy of motion, directness, simultaneous attack and defense, non-opposition of force, the centerline, and the four corners. But Bruce also added many new dimensions to his system. His fighting method eventually diverged so far from Wing Chun he renamed it Jeet Kune Do.”
Jeet Kune Do is not, as some people have implied, a synonym for or mere variation of Wing Chun Gung Fu or simply “modified Wing Chun.” Wing Chun simply served as one brick (albeit an important one) in the wall of Lee’s total martial arts development. It would be more accurate to say that Wing Chun served as the 'nucleus' from which Lee evolved Jeet Kune Do. The ‘root’ of JKD is not Wing Chun, but Bruce Lee himself.
If an individual wishes to study and research Wing Chun for their own benefit that is fine. However, it is not necessary to study Wing Chun in order to understand JKD.
6. Jeet Kune Do is simply Mixed Martial Arts
A lot of people today tend to confuse JKD with what is now referred to as “Mixed Martial Arts”, and it is easy to understand the reason for this. JKD is considered by many to be the “original mixed martial art” because it seeks totality in personal combat considering all ranges and aspects of fighting. However, while some similarities exist between the two, they are not the same thing. While MMA may have adopted some of the principles that exist in JKD, such as being a well-rounded fighter who is able to function in the various ranges and aspects of fighting, there are however, some major differences between JKD and MMA. On the most fundamental level there are rules in MMA. It is a competitive combat “sport”, and as such, the rules and regulations dictate the direction of training. There are, for example, numerous actions that are considered “fouls” in MMA competition that are exactly the type of action a JKD practitioner might use in a self-defense situation, such as kicking the knee, kicking, punching or grabbing the groin, pulling the hair, poking the eyes, finger locks, etc. JKD is about combat “as it is.”
Another difference is that, as was discussed above with regard to styles, JKD views martial art as a single unitary whole, in its “totality” as opposed to various separated segments such as kicking, striking, grappling, etc., or ‘this’ art and ‘that’ art combined.
WHAT JKD IS:
The art of “fitting in” with all types of opponents and a way of expressing oneself in combat without any restriction or confinement.
WHAT JKD IS NOT:
1. A restricted set of skills merely imitative of Bruce Lee’s combative moves.
2. Simply a theoretical approach to the study of martial art.
3. An eclectic jumble of any fighting techniques and philosophical dogma that
4. Any combination of 1 – 3.
JKD is a “Principle-centered” Art
Jeet Kune Do is a ‘principle-centered’ art as opposed to a ‘technique-centered’ art. Bruce Lee developed Jeet Kune Do around principles as opposed to techniques. He started with principles as the bottom line and went from there, investigating and researching the underlying or ‘root’ principles that make for efficient or effective human combative movement and developing techniques that would exemplify those principles. For example, when he was developing his kicking skills and abilities he asked questions such as, “What are the various lines that the lead leg can travel with regard to the opponent?” as opposed to “How many different types of kicks can I learn?”
This does not mean that techniques are not important, one needs both principles and techniques. Principles help you find or developed techniques, and the techniques should serve as a practical illustration of the principles. They fit together two halves of a whole, like Yin/Yang.
What the term "personal martial expression" means --
Jeet Kune Do is a unique art in that it’s very individualized. Not individualized in the sense that a person does whatever the they want to do and however they want to do it, but individualized in the sense that they develop their own personal attributes and qualities to their fullest capacity and then express those attributes and qualities in their actions.
When it comes to JKD, each person is different in regards to what they bring to the table. Personal martial expression takes into account such things as:
Individual genetics -- Differences in such things as age, body structure, genetic predisposition, personal preferences and aptitudes all play into the equation. For example, one individual might be tall and lanky, another short and stocky.
Personal attributes -- One person might possess fast perceptual speed, whereas another might be slower in picking things up visually. One individual might have good coordinative abilities while another is clumsy and uncoordinated.
Personal nature -- One person might have a very aggressive nature while another has a non-aggressive personality. One individual might have a predisposition to work and train hard, while another lacks the willingness to put forth a high degree of effort.