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A Matter of Interpretation


(The following is an updated version of a blog I originally wrote in 2011)

Jeet Kune Do is a single art, but it expresses it self in many ways. Tim Tackett and I wrote about this subject in our first book, “Jeet Kune Do Kickboxing.” If you are studying JKD with someone, do not make the mistake of thinking that because your instructor may teach you slightly differently than another instructor, that you are not learning “authentic” Jeet Kune Do, or that the other people are not. My objective here is not to get into a discussion as to what might or might not be deemed ‘authentic’ when it comes to Jeet Kune Do (That would merely open another can of worms in the already tumultuous JKD world and I have neither the time nor the inclination to waste my energy engaging in such useless debates).

My point is this. When it comes to teaching Jeet Kune Do, individual interpretation is all that any JKD instructor can really offer. Their personal interpretation of the art will be based upon such things as their learning, their research, their understanding, their own inclinations, their prejudices, and perhaps even their likes and dislikes as well. This doesn’t mean that you are not learning what could be considered ‘authentic’ JKD. One JKD instructor may choose to focus on a different aspect or element of training than another instructor at different times. Perhaps one instructor chooses to focus more on the kickboxing element at the start of training, whereas another may put more focus on the understanding of immobilization and tactile awareness. Neither is wrong in their approach. One instructor, for example, may teach a particular kick to his beginning students, whereas another may wait until the students are at an intermediate or even advanced level before introducing it.

I can remember seeing my teacher, Sifu Dan Inosanto attempting to explain this idea to students on numerous occasions by drawing a graph on a board, with several names of JKD instructors listed vertically and the various facets of JKD listed horizontally. One by one he would then go through each instructor and say, “Such-and-such instructor might like sixty five percent of the kickboxing, thirty percent of the trapping, eighty percent of the grappling.” The amounts he listed for each of the instructors were primarily for illustration purposes only; they were not actual percentages for the person. When he was finished going through each instructor on the list, he would then draw a circle around one of the names, point at it and tell the students, “The problem is when you say that this person is JKD and the others aren’t.” Pretty damn simple, right?

In JKD even various training phases or levels are subject to an individual instructor or school’s discretion. Whereas one instructor or school may have numerous training levels in their program, another may simply refer to them as Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced students. Some may not have any different levels at all, you’re simply a practitioner.

Jeet Kune Do never had a rigid, formulaic blueprint for its perpetuation. That’s one of the things I love most about the art. So my advice is simply this. Investigate things for yourself. Cross-reference what you’re learning with other sources of JKD instruction that exist out there. Note the similarities and differences between what you and other practitioners are doing. I’m certain that more than likely you’ll discover that the similarities far outnumber the differences. These are the common denominators that exist in JKD training. In the end, it’s simply a matter of interpretation.


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