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The Strong Side Forward Debate

For a number of years now there’s been on-going debate from various JKD people and groups concerning the principle of placing one’s strong side forward.

When it came to adopting the strong side forward principle, part of Bruce’s thinking grew from his study of Western Fencing and using his lead hand like a sword, especially when using such things as the lead straight punch or finger jab. And think about it for a moment. While most people choose to fight out of a left lead when unarmed, if you give them a weapon such as a stick or blade and they will usually switch to the opposite lead so the weapon is in front (unless the they are using a shield in conjunction with the weapon, in which case they may choose to hold the weapon hand back).

I wrote a blog awhile back dealing with the cultivation of the lead side tools as it relates to JKD. Here is a short excerpt from that blog --

“I’m sure that most people have read Bruce Lee’s notes about the use of the lead side; that the dominant side is better coordinated, that it’s closer to the opponent therefore is faster and can be used with greater frequency, etc. But it goes further than that. It’s about the attitude one takes towards developing those lead side tools. When I asked Dan about the stress on the lead side weapons when so many other arts put the emphasis on the rear side tools (in boxing, the lead jab is used primarily as a ‘distance gauge’ or ‘probe.’ Rarely do boxers knock an opponent out with a lead straight) he explained to me that Bruce’s attitude toward developing the lead side kicking tools was, “See that guy’s rear hook kick? Well, I’m going to train my lead hook kick until it’s stronger than his rear hook kick.” It was the same with regard to the hands. “See that guy’s rear cross? Well, I’m going to train my lead straight punch until it’s stronger than his rear cross.” Then he went out and did the work necessary to achieve it.”

But let’s take a look back at how and when the switching to a left lead stance became more prevalent and some reasons why it happened, at least as it relates to JKD in the Inosanto and Bustillo lineages. At the Filipino Kali Academy in the late 1970’s we started an amateur boxing team that was coached by both Richard Bustillo and Art Saxell. Both Richard and Art wanted the members of the team to train in the orthodox lead (left side forward). Some may have stayed southpaw but for the most part everyone trained in a left lead. And we had a great team with people like Freddie Jin, Cameron Rico, and others, and several of them became Golden Glove champions.

In addition, when Sifu Dan began introducing Thai Boxing at the Academy and bringing in his friend, the legendary Surachai Sirisute, to teach classes at various times, Chai also preferred people to train in a left lead, in part because having people train in the opposite lead made it more difficult for him to instruct, and also because he followed the idea of keeping the power side back for maximum use. Several years later, when the Boxe Francise-Savate teams started coming over and teaching workshops at the Inosanto Academy and the IMB Academy, most of them taught and fought in a left lead also.

So over time, as I said, the left lead became more and more prevalent in some JKD circles. Some JKD people at the academies, myself included, chose to stay in a right lead. And other individuals such as Sifu Ted Wong also stayed with the right lead, strong side forward method.

In conclusion, here’s my take on this issue. Many people mistakenly assume that any and all JKD practitioners will or must fight in a right lead forward position. Such is not the case. There were very specific reasons as to why Bruce Lee chose a right lead for himself. If you are left-handed then you might choose to fight out of a left lead as that is your dominant side. Some people who are right-handed may choose to fight from a left lead position as well. The lead you fight out of is less important than your ability to express your lead and rear side tools with maximum speed, power, and accuracy and deal effectively with an opponent in either lead. Whatever the case may be, you should be able to fight from the opposite lead with a good level of competency should the need arise. Remember that the strong side forward is a principle and not an inviolable rule.