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Has Jargon Creep Invaded JKD?

Note -- The following is a blog I wrote several years ago for my previous website.


This is a purely personal observation. It seems to me that since the mid 1990’s, more and more jargon seems to be creeping into the JKD vernacular. ‘Jargon’ is language that is specific to a particular industry or profession; specialized vocabulary and idioms of those in the same work. It seems as if there is a resurgence in the use of the Chinese language going on in some of the JKD world with regard to JKD terminology. By this I mean the complete overload of the art in which Chinese terms are now being attached to everything from various parts of the body to every possible physical technique and action.


Why are so many people now reverting to using this formalized Chinese terminology? To be truthful, I’m not sure. Perhaps it is an attempt to help JKD retain some form of link with Bruce Lee’s roots in Wing Chun Gung Fu. Perhaps some people are using it as some sort of sorting device to separate those who supposedly know JKD from those who supposedly don’t. Perhaps it’s being done to help JKD retain characteristic differences that help differentiate it from the plethora of hybrid and eclectic martial art systems and methods now proliferating the market. Perhaps it has something to do with all of the things going on to do with Bruce Lee back in China. Maybe it is due in part, to all of the recent Ip Man movies. As I said, I am not sure.


The potential downside to jargon creep is that it can create roadblocks and become an obstacle to the free and easy communication and the exchange of ideas, be it between you and other JKD practitioners, or between you and other martial artists. Using jargon can make you appear esoteric and knowledgeable. However, if much of it is incomprehensible to the average person, it doesn’t really do you any good, does it? Another drawback is that the terminology being used is that it is in Cantonese. So those who speak Mandarin may not be able to comprehend what it means or may use different words to mean the same thing.


When I read through Bruce Lee’s martial art notes, I see terms such as the side kick, the reverse hook kick, the leading straight punch, the backfist, the headbutt, etc., and questions such as, “How can I be a master of the hook kick?’ What I don’t see is, “How can I be master of the O’ou tek?” I do see Chinese terms in the notes as well, but it usually is listed under sections titled “traditional” or “classical” techniques.


Do I ever use Chinese terminology? Yes, at times. For example, when I am explaining specific Hand Immobilization Attack (trapping) actions I will often use Chinese terms such as pak sao, lop sao, etc. However, even then it is often combined with English terms such as “inside pak sao” or “outside lop sao” -- or abbreviated such as “pak” or “lop.”


When I was training in Sifu Dan Inosanto’s backyard and at the Filipino Kali Academy we did an extensive amount of HIA and tactile awareness training exercises. But even when we worked compound trapping actions, it was usually cut down to such things as “pak sao, lop sao” or “double pak sao,” not “pak sao chung chuie go da, gnoy lop sao, gua chuie.” With regard to my own teaching of JKD, I have tried to use English as much as possible. However (and don’t laugh), I have to say that I have difficulty telling a student that they need to practice “jerking hand.” (Note -- If you really want to use authentic and full Chinese terminology for this stuff then I would suggest you look to people such as Wing Chun Master Randy Williams. That dude knows and uses complete Chinese terminology in his books, dvds, etc.)


Now I see terms such as “Simo” (teacher’s wife) being tossed into the JKD vernacular. During a conversation I had with Linda Lee Cadwell over coffee not too long ago, I broached the subject and asked if she was ever referred to as Simo at any of Bruce’s schools or by any of Bruce’s students. Her response was no, that she was always simply called “Linda.” So why has this term now made its way into the JKD vernacular? Is it supposed to be out of respect for the teacher? Because Bruce Lee was Chinese-American and Wing Chun, the art he first studied was Chinese? I’m not Chinese. My wife is not Chinese. She never has, nor ever will be referred to as Simo by me or my students. What I find interesting and somewhat puzzling is that many of the people who routinely use these terms such as Si Gung, Si Jo, Sifu, Simo, etc. as a prefix to anyone’s name rarely, if ever, use all of the other hierarchical terms that go along with them such as Si Hing (senior, older brother) or Si Dai (junior, younger brother). I guess you just choose what you want to take and use.


Am I opposed to the use of Chinese terminology with regard to JKD? Do I think it should be removed from the JKD lexicon? The answer to both questions is no. I can see the use of some of the terms when it comes to such things as understanding the original terms for the forms, techniques and actions utilized in Wing Chun, and for the sake of historical reference. For this reason, I do give my students a glossary of the Chinese terms so that they can look at them and learn them if they choose to. But I don’t require them to memorize them or use them. And I choose not to use many of them myself. Personally, I prefer to keep my speech simple and as jargon free as possible


Finally, please keep in mind that I am talking about how this terminology relates to Jeet Kune Do, not Wing Chun gung fu or any other martial art.

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