I find it amazing that fifty years after Bruce Lee’s untimely passing, arguments and wars of words still abound concerning what his art and philosophy of Jeet Kune Do is all about. And maybe (at least according to the comments of some) I think too highly of myself or my own knowledge concerning the art, but I just don’t get how JKD can continue to be misunderstood by some many people. Non-stop petty squabbles over what JKD is or isn’t, what should or shouldn’t be included in JKD, or what you are allowed to do or not do as a JKD practitioner. This is one of the reasons I avoid the so-called JKD “chat rooms” like the plague. While some of them may be legitimately looking to broaden people’s awareness and understanding concerning JKD, the majority seem to be, for wont of better words, “bitching sessions” in which one person or group slags off another. I would like to offer my comments on the matter. As I have said before, I do not expect everyone to accept my opinions or agree with me. But I would like them at least think about it.
Bruce Lee’s personal goal was to develop himself and actualize his full potential as a martial artist. I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but the bottom line is that he was in it for himself. I don’t think he was sitting around wondering how he could make all the other martial artists in the world better. And I don’t think this is any different from anyone really when it comes down to it. I don’t think that as a guitar player, Eric Clapton was sitting around trying to figure out how to make someone else better. He was interested in developing himself and making himself the best guitar player he could be. This isn’t being selfish, it’s being real. The fact that someone else, even one of Lee’s own students could become better by following his training principles or methods speaks for itself.
Initially, and the important word here is “initially” Lee was interested in creating the ‘ultimate system’ which, according to him, at that time was chiefly comprised of Western boxing, fencing, and wing chun gung fu. In a letter to his friend and assistant instructor, Taky Kimura dated 1965, Lee wrote, “My mind is made up to start a system of my own. I mean a system of totality, embracing all but yet guided with simplicity. It will concentrate on the root of things -- rhythm, timing, distance - and embrace the five ways of attack.”In 1967, Lee christened what he was doing “Jeet Kune Do.”
However, by 1970, for whatever reasons, Bruce Lee decided that martial art is a “pathless path.” Lee realized the limitations inherent in any “system” or “method” of combat, including his own beloved Jeet Kune Do. By 1971, Lee’s focus had shifted the idea of a method of “no-method”, a “style-less style, and his combative approach was predicated on total freedom for the individual practitioner
The following are some quotes taken from Bruce Lee’s article entitled “Liberate Yourself From Classical Karate” published in an issue of Black Belt in 1971 which give his own opinion on the subject:
“Let it be understood once and for all that I have not invented a new style, composite, or modification. I have in no way set JKD within a distinct for governed by laws that distinguish it from “this” style or “that” method. On the contrary, I hope to free my comrades from bondage to styles, patterns and doctrines”
Do remember, however, that “jeet kune do” is merely a convenient name. I am not interested in the term itself; I am interested in its effect of liberation when JKD is used as a mirror for self-examination.”
“There is no series of rules or classification of technique that constitutes a distinct “jeet kune do” method of fighting. JKD is not a form of special conditioning with its own rigid philosophy. It looks at combat not from a single angle, but from all possible angles. While JKD use all ways and means to serve its end, it is bound by none and therefore free. In other words, JKD possesses everything but is in itself possessed by nothing.”
Therefore, any attempt to define JKD in terms of a distinct style - be it gung fu, karate, street fighting, or Bruce Lee’s martial art -- is to completely miss its meaning. Its teaching simply cannot be confined within a system. Since JKD is at once “this” and Not this”, it neither opposes nor adheres to any style”
A JKD man who says JKD is exclusively JKD is simply not in with it.”
JKD is merely just a name used; a boat to get across, and once across, it is to be discarded, and not carried on one’s back.”
As you can see, Lee’s whole idea wasn’t to create a melting pot of different styles, his idea was to do away with styles and even the names of styles completely.
Everything depends on what a person’s point of view and understanding is with regard to Jeet Kune Do, If, for example, a person views JKD simply as another of the plethora of martial arts that exist in the world today, then it is understandable that they would say such things as “I practice JKD as well as such-and-such, and also…” because to them, JKD would be nothing more than a bunch of physical techniques that some famous martial artist did at one time.
If a person’s point of view is that they see JKD as an open invitation to accumulate an eclectic assortment of techniques from various arts such as boxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu and Muay Thai boxing, gung fu, and whatever, then of course it would be very easy for them to perceive JKD as another form of “mixed martial arts.” JKD has often been referred to as simply a bunch of elements drawn from various sources, an eclectic mix. It’s easy to see how that perception exists and has some validity. But it is a partial truth. Yes, Lee did investigate all types of combative arts, Western, Eastern, ancient and modern; and yes, he did incorporate principles and techniques from boxing, fencing, judo, wing chun gung fu, and wrestling, etc. But that is only part of the overall equation. JKD is based on certain principles that Bruce Lee found to be universal to all human beings with two arm and two legs. For a technique or action to become part of Lee’s personal martial expression it had to fit the parameters of the fundamental principles (JKD is a principle-centered art vs. technique-centered art). This process of absorbing was not merely done by whim but given profound deliberation through research and investigation and putting material to the test.
If a person considers JKD as the sole property of its originator and something that can never be changed, then the moment they make one adjustment or change, they have violated their own belief. In addition, then only the originator would be able to perform it. While there exists a “non-fixed” body of technical and philosophical knowledge which was studied and taught by Bruce Lee, clearly the essential element of JKD is that it is not a thing, rather it is an individual process of evolving to the greatest heights of self-actualization.
While it is true that JKD became the personal martial expression of Bruce Lee, the amalgamation of his mind and body, it is equally true that ideally, everyone who understands JKD should end up expressing himself uniquely. That doesn’t mean completely differently than everyone else (see my article on “Becoming an Artist of Self-Expression”). Allow me to use the example given by Dan Inosanto in the article “Jeet Kune Do is Fast, Powerful, Deceptive” (Karate Illustrated):
“In boxing, everyone can’t be a Marciano (world heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano) because everyone doesn’t have the rugged build needed to wade in and take a punch or have the ability to give one. Not everyone can be a Muhammad Ali because they don’t have his speed or his deceptive coordination.”
So, for me, what it boils down to is this. If I am following, for the want of a better word, JKD “protocol”, then I should be “find the cause of my ignorance” and correct it by investigating the roots of efficient combative motions in all elements (striking, grappling, etc.). I am also free to “absorb” what I find to be useful for me into my own structure, to incorporate it into my own personal method of self-defense and self-expression so that it becomes a part of me. But, and the this is the important point, I should not be concerned about calling what I learn from my investigations by particular names, such as Brazilian jiu jitsu, Judo, Thai boxing, etc. This is not a lack of respect for those arts. It is simply my point of view as a JKD practitioner. As I have said before, one of the first maxims concerning JKD was “If you understand it and can use it, it belongs to no one; it’s yours.” And again, I am free to use something or not use depending on the situation. That is one of the reasons I like Gene LaBell. He simply calls what he does “grappling.” No one can doubt that he is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world when it comes to the subject of grappling, but he doesn’t separate it in to a bunch of different categories and say, “This is Greco-Roman wrestling, this is Russian Sambo, this is Brazilian jiu jitsu, etc.”
It’s important to understand that the ultimate goal in JKD is not to perpetuate a martial art, but to actualize one’s own potential, not only in martial art, but in life as well. JKD becomes your own personal form of evolution. The final aim of JKD was, and still remains personal liberation. It’s not about building your “own style” or going from style to style. It’s about removing the whole notion of “style” and becoming not only a fully developed martial artist, but also a fully developed human being. It’s not an easy path and it requires a lot of research and an on-going process of self-knowledge. To me, when it comes to JKD, in the end you either get it or you don’t. You either understand what Bruce Lee was doing and see the truth that he was pointing at -- or you don’t.