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Fundamental Misperceptions Concerning Jeet Kune Do

Numerous misperceptions exist today with regard to the art and philosophy of Jeet Kune Do. The following are nine of what I consider to be the most fundamental misperceptions. As you read this article you will obviously note some crossover between some of them, which is to be expected.

1) JKD was simply Bruce Lee’s “very personal expression in martial art” therefore 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 false. The fact is that Bruce did believe other people could learn and do JKD. If he didn’t, why did he teach it, both to his private students and also in group classes at his LA school and in his backyard? How can you teach something if only you yourself can do it? It doesn’t make sense. Let’s clear this up. 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 nobody 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 is your personal expression of Jun Fan Gung Fu

This one is way off base, and I actually have to take to task some members of the Jun Fan Gung Fu side of the JKD family with regard to this misperception. In an email response to a person inquiring about JFGF and JKD and their relationship, differences, etc., the person who replied wrote, “As you progress in Jun Fan Gung Fu your interpretation and how you express yourself in JFGF is YOUR Jeet Kune Do… That is why nobody can teach you JKD as it is your own self-expression in JFGF… JFGF and JKD are one in the same like a circle.”

This is incorrect. If this were the case, then why did Bruce teach all of his private students (as well as his class students) in Los Angeles “Jeet Kune Do” and not “Jun Fan Gung Fu”? Why, once Jeet Kune Do came into existence, both in name and in physical expression, did Bruce never, in any magazine article, video interview, or any of his written notes refer to what he was doing or teaching at the time as Jun Fan Gung Fu? He only ever spoke of Jeet Kune Do. There are noticeable differences between Jun Fan Gung Fu and Jeet Kune Do and to see them all one has to do is take the time to investigate. While Jun Fan Gung Fu and Jeet Kune Do are interrelated, they are not one in the same. They are two connected yet different stages of Bruce Lee’s martial evolution. The bottom line is that Jun Fan Gung Fu is your expression of Jun Fan Gung Fu and Jeet Kune Do is your expression of Jeet Kune Do.

3) JKD cannot be taught

In the same email I mentioned above the writer also goes on to say, “You cannot teach JKD and only JFGF.” Again, this is completely erroneous. Of course JKD 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. However, you don’t expect everyone to play the identical song or make identical sculptures. The same goes for JKD. Once an individual has developed the requisite tools and skills, how they make good use of those tools and skills is up to them. JKD can be taught, and even Dan Inosanto acknowledged that it can be taught. However, he also stated that he believed that while it could be taught, it couldn’t be standardized.

4) 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. Eclecticism in martial art is simply the random stockpiling of techniques according to an individual’s fleeting fancy or personal tastes. This is not what Bruce Lee was doing. 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 one often used to hear Dan Inosanto tell the class such things as, “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.”

5) 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.

6) JKD’s evolution ended when Bruce Lee passed away

Some people have stated in articles and interviews that they feel that JKD stopped evolving when Bruce Lee died or shortly thereafter because he was no longer around to evolve it. Personally I believe this is more a case that the person making the statement feels it did not evolve the way they feel it should have. First, we need to define what we mean by the term “evolve.” According to the dictionary “evolve” is defined as “to develop gradually, especially from a simple to a more complex form… “to change or develop slowly often into a better, more complex, or more advanced state.”

When we discussing ‘evolving’ as it applies to JKD, we’re not talking about the mere accumulation or adding-on of different techniques, or the never-ending studying of multiple different systems or styles of martial arts. Refinement through the removal of non-essentials is also an important element in the evolution of JKD. We’re talking about evolving in terms of staying up to date with modern training methods and increasing one’s knowledge and understanding of various separate elements that exist with the totality of the art such as striking, grappling, etc. We’re talking about evolving by maintaining the same attitude and mindset and using the same rigorous thought processes Bruce applied to his own research and investigation. The fact of the matter is that JKD has always been in a process of evolution (at least for some people that is).

7) In order to learn or understand JKD you need to learn Wing Chun Gung Fu

There have been numerous comments floating around on the internet in the past several years concerning Jeet Kune Do and its relationship to Wing Chun Gung Fu. Some individuals have put forth the idea that Bruce Lee never learned the entire Wing Chun Gung Fu system, and that if he had he would not have developed (or needed to develop) Jeet Kune Do. There also seems to be an attempt by some people, including some members of the JKD community, to realign JKD with Wing Chun and in a sense, try to reunite or reconnect them.

Some people mistakenly believe and have put forth the notion that in order for a person to truly understand JKD, it is necessary for them to study Wing Chun Gung Fu in depth, including learning the forms and the 108 movements on the wooden dummy.

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.

While it is true that there are elements that are part of the Wing Chun system which Lee continued to practice and teach his students (such as the use of chi sao and other exercises to develop tactile awareness, understanding of energy, and develop contact reflex actions, as well as well as such things as controlling the centerline and trapping components) he also discarded many things which he felt were impractical or unnecessary, including the practice of the classical forms.

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 real ‘root’ of JKD is not Wing Chun, but Bruce Lee himself.

This is not an attack upon the Wing Chun system by any means (although I am sure there are some people out there who will take it such). If you’re practicing JKD and wish to investigate Wing Chun in greater depth, then by all means you should feel free to do so. However, do not make the mistake of assuming that JKD and Wing Chun are they the same thing. JKD is not Wing Chun, and Wing Chun is not JKD. Each is an entity unto itself.

8) JKD is all about fighting

While JKD takes a very real-world perspective towards martial art training and was designed for use on the street, if it was strictly all about fighting, why then did people such as Stirling Silliphant, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Coburn study with Bruce? What did they expect to get out of it? These people weren’t going out looking to get into fights on the street on a daily basis. What about the 12 year-old child who is dealing with personal confidence issues or bullying? What about the business professional looking for a way of dealing with the stress they are embroiled in on a daily basis? Or the person who simply wants to learn about themselves and understand themselves better? If Jeet Kune Do is simply about fighting, what does it have to offer these individuals?

Combative fighting is simply one element of Jeet Kune Do, albeit an extremely important one as it relates to the physical aspect. As I said, JKD looks at martial arts from a very real-world perspective and is about functional self-defense. But remaining constrained to that element alone is very limiting. The fact is that people are drawn to JKD for a variety of reasons, with different goals and objectives, and while fighting is an important aspect of JKD, it is not the complete picture, especially if one reads Bruce Lee’s notes concerning JKD during the final two years of his life. While Jeet Kune Do might not be the art for just anyone, it has something to offer everyone.

9) JKD is MMA

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. This in no way denigrates Mixed Martial Arts or its practitioners. Some of the best martial artists in the world today are involved in the sport.

As I said at the beginning of this article, there are numerous misperceptions concerning Jeet Kune Do that exist in the world today. The above article deals with nine of them. I can assure you that there are more. Hopefully, over time and with open, honest communication, these misperceptions can be eradicated and people will be able to get a clear and true understanding of Jeet Kune Do.

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