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"We offer "Totality", plus... and..."

The following is a re-post of a blog I wrote back in 2010.

I recently had a conversation the other with a very nice gentleman who informed me that he currently practiced two systems of martial arts and was thinking about adding Jeet Kune Do, and wanted to know what I thought about the idea. I told him that my frame of thinking was probably very different from his (and a vast majority of other people it seems) with regard to what JKD was all about. That is the theme of this posting.

Even with the incredible amount of information that exists about Jeet Kune Do today, I feel that there are still many misperceptions with regard to what it is and what it isn’t. To truly understand what JKD is all about, I believe an individual must follow the thought processes of the art’s founder all the way through until his death. Many people fall into the trap of simply stopping at one particular point along the way, and that can be where trouble arises. When Bruce Lee originally conceived of JKD, it’s true that he did consider it chiefly a combination of Wing Chun Gung Fu, Western Boxing, Western Fencing, and Kick-boxing. But if you take the time to read Lee’s later writings concerning JKD and listen to him discussing what JKD is in interviews, you can see he considered it much, much more than that. By 1970 Lee’s approach to combat had shifted from an art based upon ‘interception’ to an art based upon “no way” which offered total freedom to the individual practitioner. The ultimate purpose of the art was to serve as a vehicle for personal liberation, both in combat and in life.

Over recent years I have spoken to and read about people who have decided to “add” JKD to their current martial art arsenal or the list of arts they teach. I have even seen advertisements in martial art magazines suggesting that martial art school owners should consider adding Jeet Kune Do to their school’s curriculum as a means to increase their revenue. I’ve said in numerous interviews how I find it interesting when I see a school advertising that it teaches JKD, plus this martial art and that martial as well. I understand the reasoning behind this. It is good marketing. When a potential student comes in to inquire about training, the owner can offer them a choice. If you don’t happen to like this art, we also offer you this one, or that one. It is like a salad buffet bar at a restaurant. It offers the customer more variety.

JKD consists of not only a martial component which has physical discipline and various combative actions as its nucleus, but also a philosophical foundation that underpins the art. Much of the time it seems to me that the philosophical foundation seems to be totally left out of the equation. The following are what I consider to be some of JKD’s most important philosophical tenets:

  • JKD is and has always been about the search for martial truth and discovering the roots underlying efficient human movement in combat It looks at combat from the point of view of ‘totality” as opposed to various separated segments.

  • JKD is a “process”, not a “product.” One of the major points that was stressed to me from the moment I began training in JKD was to “avoid making a thing out of a process.”

  • JKD is not about creating a ‘melting pot’ or a ‘mosaic’ of different styles, but with doing away with the idea of styles entirely. Another principle was continually reaffirmed to me by my teacher, Dan Inosanto was, “If you understand motion, you don’t need ‘style’.

I do not, as many people do, consider JKD to be some form of “mixed martial arts.’ The reason for this is that I view martial art as a single, unitary whole, in its “totality” as opposed to various separated segments such as striking, grappling etc. or ‘this’ art and ‘that’ art combined. While an integral part of JKD might be switching from element to element such as striking to grappling, etc., it is not about switching from one martial art to another such as Muay Thai to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Western Boxing into Wing Chun Gung Fu.

My question is this. How does one simply ‘add’ an art and philosophy which is built upon the principle of “totality” and that espouses such things as the doing away with styles, systems, etc. to other systems or styles they practice or to the curriculum they teach? To me it would be like going to a culinary school where they tell you they will teach you “total” culinary skills, then inform you that “Oh by the way, we also offer baking, or broiling, and even sautéing.”

For example, let’s say that you are currently practicing Tae Kwon Do ( it could be any art) and you decide to ‘add’ JKD. If you are truly following the principles of JKD, then you would go in and hack away anything in your Tae Kwon Do that was un-essential. This could include such things as forms or katas, pre-arranged two-step sparring drills, belt-ranking systems, etc. Now this may make it very difficult for you to continue saying that you practice Tae Kwon Do. This can be a dilemma.

I guess what it all boils down to is an individual’s understanding of JKD. If they look at JKD as simply another style of martial art or a combination of this art and that, then it would indeed be very easy for them to add it to their menu. But it is much more than that in my eyes.

Some people will say that they are following “JKD Concepts.” But which concepts, I wonder? It’s not the concept of doing away with styles or names. It’s not the concepts of discovering the roots of efficient human movement in combat. It’s not the concept of developing a single, useable martial art or developing their own personal martial expression.

So here’s the rub. I teach Jeet Kune Do. I also teach Filipino Martial Arts Kali/Escrima. How do I reconcile the fact that I teach these two arts? I don’t. I simply inform people that the fact is that no form of weaponry training existed in JKD when Lee was alive (while it is obvious that Lee had knowledge of weaponry). In addition, I do not teach it from a particular “style” perspective, such as Serrado or Largo Mano, etc. My goal is for a student to develop the ability to pick up a weapon and, based upon the characteristics of that weapon and themselves, be able to use it effectively.

I do not consider it my place to tell people what they can or cannot add to their martial art training. I simply want to help them understand the true nature of Jeet Kune Do. I welcome your comments.

Keep Blasting!

Chris Kent

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