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Who Does This Belong To?

When I used to travel with my teacher, Sifu Dan Inosanto, and assist him on seminars, on numerous occasions he would demonstrate a particular wristlock or armlock on me and ask the participants, “Where does this lock come from? Who owns it?” Dependent upon the martial art background, one person might answer that it was a ju jitsu lock, while another might say that it came from Kenpo. And so on and so forth. Then Dan would make the point that the fact is that it doesn’t matter where the lock came from or what you call it. If you understand the lock and can use it, it belongs to you.

This is one of the fundamental philosophical tenets of Jeet Kune Do that was continually reaffirmed from the moment I began training in the art – “It doesn’t matter where it comes from; if you understand it and can use it, it belongs to no one: it’s yours.” It is an integral and essential element of what I refer to as the “JKD mindset/attitude.”

When it came to martial art techniques or actions, Lee was interested in what made for a more efficient kick or punch, not where it came from or who claimed ownership of it. Eastern, Western, ancient, modern, if it was useful, if it was efficient and effective and something he felt would benefit him, he would examine it, modify or adapt it he felt it necessary, and add it to his combative arsenal. It became an integral part of his Jeet Kune Do, an integral part of his personal expression as a martial artist.

Take the Truth, Forget the Carrier

Numerous times, when I have been with someone who is observing a JKD training session, depending upon what they’re watching, I will hear comments such as, “Oh, that’s a Wing Chun punch” -- “That’s a Savate kick” -- “That’s a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu armlock, etc. The people who make these comments are still hung up on “styles” and labeling what they see as being from “this” style or “that” style. They’re locked into categorizing and labeling everything they see, even down to the current label du jour, “He’s doing MMA.”

While Lee drew from diverse forms of combat, he did not keep the names of the sources attached to what he was doing. He did not, for example, tell his students, “Okay, now we’re do this punch, which comes from Western boxing” -- “Now we’re going to do this footwork, which comes from Western Fencing” -- “Alright, let’s work on this hand immobilization that comes from Wing Chun Gung Fu.” He was interested in truth, not the carrier of truth.

The bottom line is that when it comes to martial arts movements, nobody “owns” anything and nothing is the sole property of any style or system or group (note that this also applies to JKD itself). If you want to develop yourself to your utmost potential in Jeet Kune Do, cultivate the “JKD mindset/attitude and remember -- “It doesn’t matter where it comes from; if you understand it and can use it, it belongs to no one: it’s yours.”

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