What is Jeet Kune Do?
“Research your own experience. Absorb what is useful. Reject what is useless. Add what is essentially your own. “ – Bruce Lee
The term Jeet Kune Do was coined and put into use in 1967 by Bruce Lee in an attempt to put a name to his martial expression. Lee wrestled with putting a name to his art as he constantly veered away from any type of crystallization (and thereby limitation) of its essence, however, the simple need to refer to it in some concrete way won out and Jeet Kune Do was born.
The idea of intercepting is key to Jeet Kune Do, whether it be the interception of your opponent’s technique or his intent. The basic guiding principles are: simplicity, directness and freedom (the form of no form).
The techniques and philosophies of Jeet Kune Do can be applied to real combat as well as challenging life situations. Jeet Kune Do consists of physical techniques and applied philosophies and requires the individual to train him or herself to their most cultivated state of being-ness so that when faced with a combat situation or a challenging personal situation, the tools needed are available in the moment and can be executed without thought. Jeet Kune Do celebrates the cultivation and honest self expression of the individual over any organized style.
To date, there is no consensus on what Jeet Kune Do is. In fact, there are probably as many definitions of Jeet Kune Do as there are people calling themselves practitioners. According to my mentor, Mark Stewart, Jeet Kune Do has several signature tenets.
The Pinnacle of Refinement
Jeet Kune Do (JKD) or “Way of the intercepting fist,” was created by Bruce Lee and may be classified as a modern form of Chinese-American martial art. Although Jeet Kune Do’s primary influences are Wing Chun Gung Fu, Western Fencing and Western Boxing, Jeet Kune Do is more accurately, “Bruce Lee’s martial art.” Jeet Kune Do is “simple, direct and non-classical (functional).” Jeet Kune Do is primarily a striking art that includes refined trapping and grappling to facilitate – you guessed it – striking. Jeet Kune Do is about space/time mastery and is based on its sound structure and super mobility.
Intercepting primarily refers to, but is not limited to, stopping or striking the opponent “at the gate” before or during the aggression. Although the idea of interception can be found in many martial arts, it is usually not emphasized as much as the traditional block and counter method. To understand the strategy of Jeet Kune Do, you must understand the philosophy behind the method.
The philosophy of Jeet Kune Do in training and fighting strategy is one of “daily decrease” or discarding the non-essential elements. In Jeet Kune Do, these non-essential elements are considered to be decoration and unwanted baggage. Must one imitate and organize chaos? Or must one simplify and cut through chaos with the clarity of a bolt of lightning. The former represents “the classical mess” and the latter represents Jeet Kune Do.
Jeet Kune Do prepares the practitioner for “any possibility” but not “every possibility.” In other words, Jeet Kune Do is not concerned with the unlimited possible scenarios that might happen and exactly how to deal with them. Jeet Kune Do is concerned with having a long-term, adaptable strategy in training and pure spontaneity in actual usage. Jeet Kune Do is unrehearsed, streamlined and adaptable.
Adaptability in Jeet Kune Do comes from the idea of “being like water.” Like water, Jeet Kune Do is the art of fitting in. Like water, whose structure is H2O, the Jeet Kune Do structure is the on-guard stance. Thus, Jeet Kune Do chooses the path of least resistance. “like a wave,” water crashes (water fills the void) and water recedes (water creates the void).
Jeet Kune Do transcends the notion of specific style or “way,” which in turn encompasses all styles or “no way.” Jeet Kune Do is the realization that “true refinement seeks simplicity” and that simplicity is the pinnacle of refinement. The way to transcend the notion of specific style or method is to simplify human combative expression into its single element. This root element is motion. One must move to attack. Now, one can move in many ways and from many directions, but one must move.
Jeet Kune Do is practiced primarily in a “pro-active” fashion from the perspective of its on-guard sance and secondly in a “reactive” fashion from the perspective of no guard. Also, Jeet Kune Do is practiced primarily with absence of touch and secondarily with touch. “Jeet Kune Do chooses the path of least resistance.”
“Proper footwork is only accomplished through a balanced or central, movable base.” This base is the on-guard stance, which is the foundation that supports all susequent factors. How do you put yourself in a position of advantage to create the space/time necessary to intercept the opponent’s motion?
The answer first lies in your depth perception or ability to judge distance or measure, and secondly, the ability to move your mass and create/control that distance at will. To attain the ability to orchestrate accurate, fighting measure, Jeet Kune Do’s strategy and training emphasizes footwork or mobility.
According to the founder, “The highest level of offensive footwork is the ability to punch or kick while in motion,” preferably forward motion.
“Not only does this catch the opponent unprepared, but it also utilizes the entire weight of the body to power the attack. One’s footwork must be subtle, relaxed and easy. The punches and kicks of the Jeet Kune Do man are like the artillery of an army. The artillery must be mobile to pin down and annihilate an evasive foe. Mobility is also very important in defense. A moving target or one that is just out of range is definitely harder to hit than one that stays still.”
For you to understand Jeet Kune Do, you must accept that the optimal function of Jeet Kune Do is to hit the opponent, with the least chance of being hit back and to finish the fight quickly. You must also accept that the on-guard stance and footwork are the foundation and key to all other factors in Jeet Kune Do.
Jeet Kune Do is actualized through the expression of its strategy of optimal function of “non engagement” and its inherent tactical back-up system of controlled “engagement.” Jeet Kune Do is the “art of fighting, without fighting” or the art of fighting with the least amount of struggle. This strategy of embracing simplicity is the pinnacle of refinement and involves a lifetime commitment to excellence on the continuous path of mastery.