How Jeet Kune Do became the Ultimate Martial Art
The Journey to Contemporary Jeet Kune Do
For Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do was not a style. It was a process of self-discovery and constant growth. Martial arts styles from around the world have their own forms, movements and techniques, and practitioners of each go into battle believing that they have all of the answers. Bruce Lee refused to call Jeet Kune Do a style, as he felt doing so would be to limit it. He often said “There is no such thing as a style if you totally understand the roots of combat”. The true genius of JKD is evident in the change, and can be seen in the metamorphosis that both Bruce Lee and his art underwent. From its classical Wing Chung beginnings, it has transformed into the effective military and law-enforcement techniques that we at Progressive Fighting Systems now teach around the world. To truly understand JKD, we need to map the progression and evolution that Bruce Lee made from a 13-year-old teenager studying Wing Chun under legendary master Ip Man, to being dubbed the Grandfather of MMA by UFC president Dana White.
Wing Chun – The Nucleus
Of all the styles of kung fu being taught in Hong Kong in the 1950s, why did Bruce Lee pick Wing Chun? Even though Bruce Lee had some training in the flowing movements of Wu-Style Tai Chi from his father, his serious training in martial arts began at the age of 13. When he enrolled in the Wing Chun school headed by Grand Master Ip Man, Lee’s sole purpose was to be able to survive the dangerous street fights he would encounter in the back alleys and roof tops of Hong Kong. As a teenager Bruce had some run ins with gang kids and began to develop a reputation as a street fighter. For his own security, Lee spent countless hours sharpening his skills with Ip Man and his senior students. Bruce learned all three classical forms: Si Lum Tao’s “little idea form”, Chum Kil’s “seeking the bridge” and the “shooting fingers of “Bil Jee.” From this foundation, he went on to learn Chi Sao – sticking hands – and 60 of the 108 movements on the Mook Jong (wooden dummy). Wing Chun was the only formal martial arts training that Bruce received, and it forms the nucleus of Jeet Kune Do. The ideas of economy of motion, simultaneous block and hit, centerline theory, interception, constant forward pressure, and sensitivity training are the core fundamentals of JKD. Even at this early stage, Bruce had a very curious and inquisitive mind. He would seek out masters of other styles and trade martial arts secrets with them. He also incorporated principles of fencing from his brother. He even took part in, and won, a high school western boxing tournament. At the age of 18 Bruce Lee left Hong Kong and came to America, where he immediately began to adjust his system of fighting to fit his new environment and larger opponents. Considering the traditional form “too rigid” Bruce began to adjust the angles, stances and footwork of Wing Chun. He felt that Wing Chun placed too much emphasis on close-range hand techniques at the expense of long-range kicking techniques.
Jun Fan Gung Fu
A major turning point in the metamorphosis of Bruce Lee was his infamous clash with kung fu master Wong Jak Man. Bruce ended the fight within a few minutes, and had to be pulled off of his challenger. After the fight Bruce began to analyze his actions, and was less than impressed with his performance. He felt that he should have ended the fight in seconds. His adherence to his style, kept him from adjusting to his opponent’s Law Horn Kuen techniques. He was also unusually winded at the end of the encounter, and felt that he was in less than perfect shape. This encounter intensified Bruce’s search for the ultimate reality in combat. Through this lens, he could finally see the limits of the Wing Chun style and realized the importance of physical conditioning, functional strength and attribute development. Bruce Lee became fanatically devoted to overall development as an athlete – so much so that the principles and training strategies he employed in the 60′s and early 70′s are still cutting edge nearly 50 years later.Jun Fan Gung Fu derives its name from a variation of Lee’s Chinese name. It’s a hybrid form in which Wing Chun formed the main nucleus, and a total of 26 other styles revolved around it. It was while developing Jun Fan that Bruce Lee found his own particular style of kicking, based on Northern Chinese styles and French savate. This was the art that was taught at the schools in Seattle and Oakland during the early sixties. Up until 1967 Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto dissected the 26 arts in their search for universal combat truths, the evolution of a their research and training in these 26 arts became the art known as Jun Fan Gung Fu.
Jun Fan Gung Fu derives its name from a variation of Lee’s Chinese name. It’s a hybrid form in which Wing Chun formed the main nucleus, and a total of 26 other styles revolved around it. It was while developing Jun Fan that Bruce Lee found his own particular style of kicking, based on Northern Chinese styles and French savate. This was the art that was taught at the schools in Seattle and Oakland during the early sixties.
Up until 1967 Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto dissected the following 26 arts in their search for universal combat truths.
THE TWENTY-SIX FIGHTING ELEMENTS OF JUN FAN
- 1. Wing Chun
- 2. Northern Praying Mantis
- 3. Southern Praying Mantis
- 4. Choy Li Fut
- 5. Tai-Chi Chuan (Wu Family style)
- 6. Paqua
- 7. Hsing-I
- 8. Bak-Hoo Pai (White Crane) Bak-Fu Pai (White Tiger)
- 9. Eagle Claw
- 10. Ng Ga Kuen (Five Family System)
- 11. Ny Ying Ga (Five Animal System)
- 12. Bak Mei Pai (White Eyebrow)
- 13. Northern Shaolin
- 14. Southern Shaolin
- 15. Bok Pai
- 16. Law Horn Kuen
- 17. Chin Na
- 18. Monkey Style
- 19. Drunken Style
- 20. Western Fencing (Foil)
- 21. Western Boxing
- 22. Western Wrestling
- 23. Jujutsu
- 24. Escrima
- 25. Filipino Sikaran
- 26. Muay Thai (Thai Boxing)
During this period, Lee and Inosanto trained out of reference points. Training partners did not contest any of the techniques. Especially when grappling or performing takedowns, there was never any wrestling or contention on the ground.
Jeet Kune Do
On the last page of “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do,” Bruce Lee wrote that Jeet Kune Do was just a name, and that we shouldn’t fuss over it. As a matter of fact, Jeet Kune Do was coined in 1968 when Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto were driving home from an intense sparring session. Dan Inosanto said to Bruce Lee, “you have gotten so good that you hit us before we can do anything.” Bruce responded that what he was doing was intercepting, or stop-hitting his opponent before they were able to launch their attack. Dan asked, “What do you call this method in Chinese?” Bruce replied “Jeet Kune Do,” – the way of the intercepting fist. Jun Fan Gung Fu naturally evolved into Jeet Kune Do. Its purpose was to introduce the practitioner to the basic principles and provide them with the necessary truths of the reality of combat. Principles like the 3 times to hit someone, the 4 ranges of combat, the 5 ways of attack and the 6 diseases of the mind. From there it was up to each individual to expand on that knowledge, to find their own personal expression and discover their own truths. Jeet Kune Do is not a product, but a process of discovering the cause of your own ignorance. Only by knowing your own strengths and weaknesses can you exploit your opponent’s weaknesses and stay away from their strengths. JKD is much more than a collection of techniques and strategies from many different styles and systems. Rather, JKD unites diverse styles by identifying central themes like broken rhythm, preserving the centerline, maintaining rhythmic flow and the ability to “fit in” to the opponent’s techniques.
Bruce Lee challenged martial artists to continuously grow, to change and evolve as the times or situation demanded. He also said to find the best art for the given situation and then find a way to cheat within that art. After all, when fighting for your life, there’s nothing unsportsmanlike about gouging the eyes, kicking the groin or biting the face. Before Bruce Lee left for Hong Kong to do films, he certified only one man as level III in Jeet Kune Do, Dan Inosanto, leaving him in the position of Principal Instructor at the LA Chinatown school. After Bruce Lee’s passing in 1973, Dan Inosanto was left with the legacy of Jeet Kune Do. He continued to teach and develop the art as Bruce Lee wanted by opening the Kali Academy. He traveled the world for over 35 years perpetuating Bruce Lee’s art and philosophy. Thanks to Inosanto’s influence over the last 35 years there are qualified JKD instructors around the globe. The beauty of JKD is in its ability to change and adapt. Over the years, Dan Inosanto and Paul Vunak added Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the biting and gouging of Kina Mutai, to deal with the dangers of ground fighting. Whether it is someone who outweighs you by 50 or more pounds, or a multiple attacker scenario, the ability to handle yourself on the ground and pop back up to your feet is paramount for success in a street fight or military operation.
Contemporary Jeet Kune Do – the MMA influence
As JKD continues to change and evolve, so do our training methods. If your art is to consider itself contemporary and functional at any given time period then it needs to stand up to the strongest art of that time period, and right now we consider that art to be MMA. No longer do we do our techniques out of static reference points – we do them out of sparring. Practicing techniques with the threat of a jab to the face or a kick to the leg keeps you honest, and better represents the reality of combat in today’s world. If you were lucky enough to get into the JKD class in the late 70′s and 80′s, at Inosanto’s Kali Academy, you would be trained as a complete fighter. You had to know how to fight in all of the ranges of combat, to flow from Thai Boxing and Savate for stand up, then to Jiu-Jitsu for the ground, and back up to Wing Chun for trapping, then to Kali or Escrima for weapons. The idea of being like water, and being able to conform to an empty cup, is much like the idea of being picked up and dropped off in the meanest, nastiest, most dangerous dark alley in the world. Only by adapting to the situation will you be able to survive any kind of street fight that might occur, be it standing, ground, weapons, or mass attack.
In 1993 UFC was introduced to the world. At that time there were no weight classes and no time limits. We saw individual styles matching up with each other: boxing vs. wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu vs. Kickboxing, Karate vs. Judo. In almost every case, the conflict boiled down to strikers vs. grapplers. By 2010, UFC has blown up on a global scale, and MMA is the world’s fastest growing sport. Weight classes and timed rounds have been introduced, and martial artists now understand the necessity of having a simultaneous striking and grappling game. When we watch Lioto Machida in the octagon, we get a chance to see Contemporary JKD principles exhibited at their highest level. Machida uses his attributes of footwork, distancing, line familiarization, and spatial relationship to set up and attack his opponent. He does not stand in the pocket and try to trade blows or block punches. Lioto understands the MMA Fighting structure – essentially Thai Boxing standing up, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on the ground. Lioto knows that his opponents aren’t going to crouch in a low stance and approach him with a cocked reverse punch – the way his fellow traditional Karate stylists would. Instead, they will be up on their toes using boxers’ footwork and launching jabs and crosses. He knows that his opponents are not going to be launching side kicks to the head, instead they will be doing Thai round kicks. He also knows that at any time, his opponent has the option of diving at his feet for a takedown. After all, that’s why he earned a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This understanding of the MMA fighting structure allows him to apply the attributes he developed from his traditional Karate training. He intercepts his opponents in a Bruce Lee-esqe fashion, resulting in spectacular knock-outs while never getting hit. In a very JKD manner he has adapted his Karate attributes to shine in the MMA fighting structure, he has evolved his way of fighting to make it contemporary. Traditional martial artists should look to Machida’s example.
Contemporary Jeet Kune Do – cheat for the street
Our Contemporary Jeet Kune Do ground fighting strategy is, put simply, to cheat. To do this we employ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Filipino Art of Kina Mutai. Kina Mutai is the ancient art of uninterrupted biting and gouging that was included by Guro Dan Inosanto for serious street fighting situations: those in which your life or the life of a loved one is in danger. Neither Kina Mutai nor Brazilian Jiu Jitsu were among Lee’s original 26 fighting elements, they were added later by Dan Inosanto and Paul Vunak to deal with the danger of many street fights going to the ground. I would like to pause for a moment and say that the techniques we employ using Kina Mutai are some of the most brutal, barbaric, and vicious known to man. There are only two justifiable reasons for inflicting such brutality on another human being: military engagement or defending your family from lethal threat. Anyone can bite, but to bite effectively you must know when, how, and where to bite. You must be able to bite your attacker for 5 to 8 uninterrupted seconds in order to do enough damage to create space and escape. You must be able to bite in combination, and to draw your attacker into a bite. You need to know how to fake a bite in one direction to open a softer target, a technique called “progressive indirect biting.” The biting and gouging in Kina Mutai is like the tip of an iceberg; the remaining 90% of it is under the water and you don’t see it. Therefore the secret of Kina Mutai is in its integration with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the development of a united mind and body coordination, primarily dealing with the conservation of one’s physical, mental and spiritual energy.
The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is like a tank that provides you with your mobility on the ground, taking you from position to position with proper base, balance and posture. In an all-out street fight when a larger man slams you to the ground, you need to instantly put him in the guard and latch on to him. He will pick you up again and slam you repeatedly. He will punch you in the side. You need to take it, wait till he gets tired, and bite as he runs out of gas. Exhausted, he won’t be able to move or defend himself. The shells that this tank fires are bites and the gouges. If you try to bite your attacker before he is exhausted, his adrenaline will kick in, and he will throw you off. You will have revealed your secret weapon and it will be very difficult to bite him again. You need to be cunning, and maybe whisper some obscenities in his ear, get him riled up, and hold on. Let him struggle as you relax and hold on. Let him punch as you take it and hold on. You need to develop isometric strength in order to hold on long enough to outlast your attacker. Isometric development targets the tendons, since tendons are 500 times stronger than your muscles. The benefits are everlasting: once you’ve got it you’ve got it! Bruce Lee and most traditional martial arts systems, whether they be Chinese, Japanese, Indian, or Filipino, all knew the necessity of isometric training because of its functional benefits. The biting and gouging we do, is un-interrupted. Latch on to your attacker like an alien and set the bite for 5 to 8 seconds, wreaking irreparable damage. This renders your opponent physically and emotionally disabled. Consider most Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ground positions, such as guard, closed guard, side control, mount, and full mount. Notice how close your mouth is to vital points, like ears, eyes, throat, nipples, lats, biceps, toes, Achilles and groin. After studying primates and training with the Gracies, Sifu Paul Vunak further evolved the art by adding over 144 bites combining Kina Mutai with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu positions. This forms a crucial part in our worst-case scenarios in Contemporary Jeet Kune Do.
Bruce Lee’s art evolved and changed to adapt to the environment and opponents that he was facing. This is clear in his progression from Wing Chun to Jun Fan and to finally Jeet Kune Do. This is also clear in his physical evolution. He built a world class physique that was all parts functional muscle and no parts flashy show. Bruce Lee has inspired millions around the world because he showed us what is possible if you truly and honestly express yourself to your fullest potential. His metamorphosis proves that man the living thing is much more important than any set pattern or stylized system. Contemporary Jeet Kune Do has progressed to morph around the athletic progression of MMA, and also morphed around the increasingly barbaric demands of a modern street fight. Kina Mutai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the 27th and 28th arts, allow you to fit in with your opponent when a worst case scenario hits the ground. They allow you to adapt to an attacker’s movements, and make his techniques your techniques. The end result of Jeet Kune Do training is the production of a martial artist who possesses no structure or form. Hence, he possesses all structures, all forms. He is able to adapt to any situation, like water adjusting to the shape of any container. Able, for example, to fill an empty cup.