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Jeet Kune Do and Wing Chun... Not the Same Thing

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. Perhaps you’ve seen them, perhaps you haven’t. I’d like to discuss two such comments that I strongly feel need to be addressed.

The first is that some Wing Chun practitioners have implied (some directly, others indirectly) that JKD is a synonym for, or mere variation of, Wing Chun Gung Fu. The second is that Bruce Lee never learned the complete Wing Chun system, and that if he did, he would never have developed JKD. The first is merely incorrect, the second is ludicrous.

I ran into a very nice man recently at a martial event who happened to be a practitioner and teacher of Wing Chun. During our conversation he kept adamantly saying that “Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do, they’re the the same thing…” I realized that it would take much more time than I had to discuss with him the reasons why they were not, so I smiled politely and allowed him to continue on.

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. Why? No one can say for certain. Perhaps it may have had something to do with the fact that in the U.S. he found himself dealing with opponents who were often bigger and stronger than he had dealt with in Hong Kong. Over time, Lee 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 philosophy that formed a massive breach between Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do.

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.”

When I was training in the JKD class in Sifu Dan Inosanto’s backyard and the Filipino Kali Academy he often used to tell us, “Remember, while JKD possesses the elements of hand immobilization and tactile awareness, you are not a Wing Chun person.” (In the same way he use to tell us “JKD has the element of boxing in it, but you are not a boxer.”)

What about those individuals who put forth the notion that if Bruce Lee had really learned the entire Wing Chun Gung Fu system he would not have developed (or needed to develop) Jeet Kune Do? Really? What do they base this idea upon? Obviously it couldn’t be based upon an understanding of Bruce Lee’s mindset or his personality. Bruce Lee came to the realization that while Wing Chun was a great art, it still represented only a piece of totality of combat (especially following his fight with Wong Jak Man in Oakland.

I put it down to an interesting phenomenon in the martial art world that comes around every so often. I call it “Bruce Lee-Bashing” because that is exactly what it is – an attempt made by certain individuals to belittle Bruce Lee’s achievements in martial arts, for whatever reason or reasons they may have. I guess if I felt so inclined I could respond by reversing things and say that if the people making such comments had been fully trained in JKD and truly understood what JKD is really all about, they would know exactly why Lee went the direction he did.

In an interview on one of his training videos, Dan Inosanto makes the following comment concerning Bruce and Wing Chun -- ”Bruce never learned the complete system, but what he did was take the ‘essence’ of Wing Chun and make it work for you.”

This blog is not some form of attack against the Wing Chun system (although I’m sure that some of those individuals making the comments I have discussed may take it as such). Through my years training with Sifu Inosanto I had the opportunity to meet and train with a number of excellent Wing Chun teachers. And I have great respect for the art. Rather it is an indictment of those individuals (both within the Wing Chun system and elsewhere) who attempt to distort the truth and attempt to manipulate it to fit their own agenda and support their own actions.

I’m not saying that Jeet Kune Do is better than Wing Chun, nor is Wing Chun better than Jeet Kune Do. What I am saying is that JKD is not Wing Chun, and Wing Chun is not JKD. Each is an entity unto itself.