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Cultivating Your Lead-Side Tools

When I began training in JKD in Dan Inosanto’s backyard in 1973, a great deal of emphasis was placed upon the cultivation and development of our lead side tools, both in training on equipment and also in sparring. I’m sure that most people have read Bruce Lee’s notes about the use of the lead side; that the dominant side is better coordinated, that it’s closer to the opponent therefore is faster and can be used with greater frequency, etc. But it goes further than that. It’s about the attitude one takes towards developing those lead side tools.

When I asked Dan about the stress on the lead side weapons when so many other arts put the emphasis on the rear side tools (in boxing, the lead jab is used primarily as a ‘distance gauge’ or ‘probe.’ Rarely do boxers knock an opponent out with a lead straight) he explained to me that Bruce’s attitude toward developing the lead side kicking tools was, “See that guy’s rear hook ki? Well, I’m going to train my lead hook kick until it’s stronger than his rear hook kick.” It was the same with regard to the hands. “See that guy’s rear cross? Well, I’m going to train my lead straight punch until it’s stronger than his rear cross.” Then he went out and did the work necessary to achieve it. That work included developing his body and the muscles that were involved in that kick or punch to the maximum, and doing thousands of repetitions of the movement to develop the neuromuscular coordination to deliver the blow with maximum speed and power.

The ultimate goal in cultivating your lead side tools is to develop the ability to literally “tear up an opponent” with those weapons. Then, if and when you want to, you can bring rear side tools into play as well. Now the opponent isn’t just concerned mainly with your rear side tools. He has to worry about your lead side inflicting great damage as well. Every lead side weapon in your arsenal should be trained from that perspective -- the side kick, hook kick, inverted hook kick, straight kick, the finger jab, the straight punch, the backfist, hook, and uppercut. Training a weapon in this way gives you options. The lead straight punch, for example, can not only be used as a probe or to set up different attacks, but it can also be used to “take the opponent out” if an opportunity presents itself or is created.

The lead side tools are closer to the opponent, yes. But they can and will only be able to “tear up an opponent” if they have been developed to do so. And if that’s your goal then you need to cultivate each lead weapon with that perspective in mind. You should develop the ability to use your lead side tools while moving forward, stationary, following or while retreating, and moving laterally or circling.

Finally, developing your lead side tools doesn’t mean that you should forsake the cultivation of your rear side tools. You need to develop all of the tools in your combative arsenal. What you choose to develop and when will be your choice.

(NOTE) – Many people mistakenly assume that all JKD practitioners will fight in a right lead forward position. Such is not the case. There were specific reasons as to why Bruce Lee chose a right lead for himself (which I have discussed in other blogs), and some people may choose to fight from a left lead position. In either case, you should be able to fight from the opposite lead with a good level of competency should the need arise.

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