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Jeet Kune Do

Jeet Kune Do abbreviated JKD, is a hybrid philosophy of martial arts heavily influenced by the personal philosophy and experiences of martial artist Bruce Lee. Lee, who founded the system on July 9, 1969, referred to it as "non-classical", suggesting that JKD is a form of Chinese Kung Fu, yet without form. Unlike more traditional martial arts, Jeet Kune Do is not fixed or patterned, and is a philosophy with guiding thoughts. It was named for the Wing Chun concept of interception or attacking while one's opponent is about to attack. Jeet Kune Do practitioners believe in minimal movement with maximum effect. On January 10, 1996, the Bruce Lee Foundation decided to use the name Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do (振藩截拳道) to refer to the martial arts system which Lee founded; "Jun Fan" being Lee's Chinese given name.

History of JKD:

ALTHOUGH JEET KUNE DO is a young martial art, it generates more interest than many of its older counterparts. This is due, in large part, to the enigmatic life of its founder, Bruce Lee. We can safely say that Lee is so intertwined with the art that one cannot think of Jeet Kune Do without thinking of Bruce Lee. Therefore, to understand the history and development of Jeet Kune Do, we must examine the evolution of Lee himself as a martial artist.

Lee was born on November 27, 1940, in San Francisco, California. The following year, his family moved to the cramped, tropical environment of Hong Kong where he spent his childhood and teenage years growing up. Early on, Lee was exposed to taijiquan, an art practiced by his father. He also studied a little bit of Hung Gar, a southern style of gung fu (or kungfu). However, his primary formal gung fu training did not begin until his early teens, when he began learning Wing Chun, a close-quarters fighting style that emphasizes hand-trapping techniques. He studied for several years under the supervision of Yip Man, the head instructor of Wing Chun at his school.

Lee was obsessed with Wing Chun and practiced frequently. While other students were content to learn the art as a sport, Lee was interested in learning how to fight. He and other students engaged in several sparring matches with people from outside the school, quickly gaining a formidable reputation. This emphasis on practical, street-oriented testing would later play a major role in the creation of Jeet Kune Do.

During this time, Lee examined other gung fu styles. He also practiced dancing and became the cha-cha champion of Hong Kong. The knowledge that he gained from these experiences served as a reservoir of material when he developed his approach to martial arts.

At age eighteen Lee reached a turning point in his life. A rather poor student, he had little prospect of acceptance into college. Also, when he injured someone during a street fight, the parents of the victim lodged a complaint with the local police. Lee’s parents, worried about his future, literally shipped him off to the United States so that he could be away from the violent environment and also reclaim his American citizenship. So, in 1959 Lee returned to the place of his birth, San Francisco. After a short stay he relocated to Seattle, Washington, where he enrolled in the Edison Technical School and worked at a local restaurant owned by a family friend.

While attending high school, Lee continued to practice Wing Chun. Jesse Glover, a fellow student at Edison, used to watch Lee as he executed his techniques. Suitably impressed, Glover decided to make friends with the young man so he could learn from him. Lee began to share some of his knowledge with Glover. Glover introduced other friends to Lee, and it was not long before Lee had gathered a small group of followers, eager to learn this little-known and intriguing art. With no kwoon (school, or training place) readily available, Lee taught his students wherever there was space, including parking lots and outdoor parks.

 

At first, Lee faithfully taught Wing Chun as he had learned it. However, as he worked out with different students, he discovered that some of the classical techniques did not work as well in his new circumstances, particularly against the larger American students. This situation compelled Lee to make modifications to his techniques. The changes he made were extensive enough that he no longer felt comfortable calling his art “Wing Chun.” Instead, he eventually renamed it Jun Fan, using his own Cantonese name.

Lee graduated from Edison Technical School and enrolled at the University of Washington, where he majored in philosophy. He was deeply fascinated with Chinese philosophy, especially as it related to gung fu. Some of Lee’s students—now including Taky Kimura, who later became his best friend and assistant instructor—encouraged him to start a school and to charge for lessons, so that he would not have to continue doing menial work. As a result, Lee established what would be the first Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute at the University of Washington, where he taught his modified form of Wing Chun.

 

In 1964, after getting married, Lee and his new bride moved to Oakland, California, to live with James Lee, an active gung fu practitioner whom he had met several years earlier. Over the years Lee and James developed a strong friendship. James became fascinated with Lee’s incredible speed and power, and endeavored to learn his system of gung fu. At the same time Lee was impressed with James’s accomplishments in weight training, and James introduced him to many of the concepts that Lee later incorporated into his own development. Together, Lee and James decided to establish a second Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Oakland. Admission to the Institute was highly selective, and only the most serious candidates were allowed to train in Jun Fan.

Some members of the gung fu community in nearby San Francisco became aware that Lee was teaching non-Chinese students. Both Lee and James disagreed with the traditional idea of teaching gung fu only to persons of Chinese descent, and this upset the traditionalists. They sent a newly arrived Chinese gung fu teacher to Lee’s school to present an ultimatum: either stop teaching non-Chinese or fight the teacher.

Not one to back off, Lee refused to budge on the issue of teaching non-Chinese, and he accepted the challenge. At first, the representative and his entourage wanted to set up rules, such as no hits to the groin. However, Lee insisted on having no restrictions. The fight occurred behind closed doors. Lee adhered primarily to his modified Wing Chun style during the confrontation, which he eventually won by chasing the challenger all over the room, then keeping him subdued until he gave up.

While there is some dispute as to how long the fight lasted, there is no question that Lee was unhappy with his performance. Even though he won the fight, he felt tired and winded. Lee also found that the close-range fighting techniques of his modified Wing Chun were too limiting, because they did not allow him to end a fight quickly, particularly when his opponent fled from him. Lee realized that he needed to greatly improve his conditioning and that he needed to include other weapons in his art, to deal with opponents when they were farther away.

As a result, Lee started to incorporate more aerobic training, such as running, into his personal program, to strengthen his conditioning. Also, he added intermediate-range kicks from French Savate and Northern gung fu, as well as medium-range punches from Western boxing. He modified the stance so that his strong side, the right lead, was placed forward. Moreover, he made the stance more mobile by incorporating boxing- and fencing-style footwork. While Lee kept some of the trapping techniques and principles that he inherited from Wing Chun, he discarded others. In order to be incorporated into his approach, a particular technique, whatever its source, had to fit in with the other techniques and represent an efficient way of accomplishing its purpose.

In his research into ultimate combat, Lee also realized that it was best not to defend passively. He concluded that striking as an opponent prepared to attack represented a more efficient and effective way to defend. This idea of intercepting one’s opponent became the most significant change in Lee’s thinking during this time.

In the latter part of his life, Lee’s ideas on combat and martial arts training proved to be controversial. Many traditional martial artists felt upset and offended at some of his pronouncements. Over time, however, many martial artists have accepted his ideas.

In 1966 Lee and his family moved to Los Angeles after he signed a contract to appear in a television series that never got off the ground. While on retainer to the studio, Lee had freedom to continue researching and training in martial arts. He spent time teaching Dan Inosanto, a Kempo black belt, who had studied with him ever since he served as Lee’s escort a few years earlier, when Lee gave a demonstration at Ed Parker’s Long Beach International Tournament. During a discussion with Inosanto about his approach to combat, Lee came up with a new name, “Jeet Kune Do”—“the way of the intercepting fist”— which he thought best characterized the essence of his art at this time.

After Lee had been teaching Inosanto and a couple of others for a while in the back of a pharmacy in Chinatown, Lee and Inosanto launched the third Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, in February 1967, in a nondescript building in the nearby area. Inosanto became Lee’s assistant instructor at the Institute. Lee himself taught at the school, and in addition, he took on private students, some recruited from the school. These private sessions gave Lee a chance to experiment with new ideas that he researched, with his students acting as willing guinea pigs. Lee also began to study grappling and wrestling with some of the best practitioners of the day.

As the 1960s drew to a close, Lee’s skill in speed, power, and closing in on an opponent increased so much that no one could stop him, even when he told opponents what he intended to do. Because no one could stop his strikes, he found it unnecessary to use his trapping skills, although trapping contin make friends with the young man so he could learn from him. Lee began to share some of his knowledge with Glover. Glover introduced other friends to Lee, and it was not long before Lee had gathered a small group of followers, eager to learn this little-known and intriguing art. With no kwoon (school, or training place) readily available, Lee taught his students wherever there was space, including parking lots and outdoor parks.

 

At first, Lee faithfully taught Wing Chun as he had learned it. However, as he worked out with different students, he discovered that some of the classical techniques did not work as well in his new circumstances, particularly against the larger American students. This situation compelled Lee to make modifications to his techniques. The changes he made were extensive enough that he no longer felt comfortable calling his art “Wing Chun.” Instead, he eventually renamed it Jun Fan, using his own Cantonese name.

Lee graduated from Edison Technical School and enrolled at the University of Washington, where he majored in philosophy. He was deeply fascinated with Chinese philosophy, especially as it related to gung fu. Some of Lee’s students—now including Taky Kimura, who later became his best friend and assistant instructor—encouraged him to start a school and to charge for lessons, so that he would not have to continue doing menial work. As a result, Lee established what would be the first Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute at the University of Washington, where he taught his modified form of Wing Chun.

In 1964, after getting married, Lee and his new bride moved to Oakland, California, to live with James Lee, an active gung fu practitioner whom he had met several years earlier. Over the years Lee and James developed a strong friendship. James became fascinated with Lee’s incredible speed and power, and endeavored to learn his system of gung fu. At the same time Lee was impressed with James’s accomplishments in weight training, and James introduced him to many of the concepts that Lee later incorporated into his own development. Together, Lee and James decided to establish a second Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Oakland. Admission to the Institute was highly selective, and only the most serious candidates were allowed to train in Jun Fan.

Some members of the gung fu community in nearby San Francisco became aware that Lee was teaching non-Chinese students. Both Lee and James disagreed with the traditional idea of teaching gung fu only to persons of Chinese descent, and this upset the traditionalists. They sent a newly arrived Chinese gung fu teacher to Lee’s school to present an ultimatum: either stop teaching non-Chinese or fight the teacher.

Not one to back off, Lee refused to budge on the issue of teaching non-Chinese, and he accepted the challenge. At first, the representative and his entourage wanted to set up rules, such as no hits to the groin. However, Lee insisted on having no restrictions. The fight occurred behind closed doors.

Lee adhered primarily to his modified Wing Chun style during the confrontation, which he eventually won by chasing the challenger all over the room, then keeping him subdued until he gave up.

While there is some dispute as to how long the fight lasted, there is no question that Lee was unhappy with his performance. Even though he won the fight, he felt tired and winded. Lee also found that the close-range fighting techniques of his modified Wing Chun were too limiting, because they did not allow him to end a fight quickly, particularly when his opponent fled from him. Lee realized that he needed to greatly improve his conditioning and that he needed to include other weapons in his art, to deal with opponents when they were farther away.

As a result, Lee started to incorporate more aerobic training, such as running, into his personal program, to strengthen his conditioning. Also, he added intermediate-range kicks from French Savate and Northern gung fu, as well as medium-range punches from Western boxing. He modified the stance so that his strong side, the right lead, was placed forward. Moreover, he made the stance more mobile by incorporating boxing- and fencing-style footwork. While Lee kept some of the trapping techniques and principles that he inherited from Wing Chun, he discarded others. In order to be incorporated into his approach, a particular technique, whatever its source, had to fit in with the other techniques and represent an efficient way of accomplishing its purpose.

In his research into ultimate combat, Lee also realized that it was best not to defend passively. He concluded that striking as an opponent prepared to attack represented a more efficient and effective way to defend. This idea of intercepting one’s opponent became the most significant change in Lee’s thinking during this time.

In 1966 Lee and his family moved to Los Angeles after he signed a contract to appear in a television series that never got off the ground. While on retainer to the studio, Lee had freedom to continue researching and training in martial arts. He spent time teaching Dan Inosanto, a Kempo black belt, who had studied with him ever since he served as Lee’s escort a few years earlier, when Lee gave a demonstration at Ed Parker’s Long Beach International Tournament. During a discussion with Inosanto about his approach to combat, Lee came up with a new name, “Jeet Kune Do”—“the way of the intercepting fist”— which he thought best characterized the essence of his art at this time.

After Lee had been teaching Inosanto and a couple of others for a while in the back of a pharmacy in Chinatown, Lee and Inosanto launched the third Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, in February 1967, in a nondescript building in the nearby area. Inosanto became Lee’s assistant instructor at the Institute. Lee himself taught at the school, and in addition, he took on private students, some recruited from the school. These private sessions gave Lee a chance to experiment with new ideas that he researched, with his students acting as willing guinea pigs. Lee also began to study grappling and wrestling with some of the best practitioners of the day.

As the 1960s drew to a close, Lee’s skill in speed, power, and closing in on an opponent increased so much that no one could stop him, even when he told opponents what he intended to do. Because no one could stop his strikes, he found it unnecessary to use his trapping skills, although trapping continued to be part of the curriculum at all three Institutes. In 1970, while recuperating from a back injury, Lee recorded many notes and observations on combat, and on Jeet Kune Do in particular. That same year, Lee decided to close all three of his Jun Fan Gung Fu Institutes because he was concerned that it was too easy for a member to take the agenda as “the truth” and the schedule as “the way.”

In 1971, dissatisfied with the lack of progress in his acting career in the United States, Lee traveled to Hong Kong in hopes of establishing himself as a martial arts film star. Also, he believed that the best way to showcase his combative philosophy to a wide audience was through motion pictures.

His own thinking about martial arts continued to evolve as well. He saw that interception, while important, was not necessarily the answer for all situations or for all students. Lee began to look at Jeet Kune Do as the “way of no way,” in which a martial artist was not bound by any particular style or method, but could use all ways and all methods to adapt to any kind of opponent.

Nowhere was this view more graphically displayed than in the fighting scenes he managed to film for the unfinished movie Game of Death . In that film Lee had to fight a Filipino Escrima master, a Hapkido stylist, and a seven-foot freestyle fighter in the form of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He had to adapt his own fighting methods and tactics to deal with the particular challenges presented by each opponent. Lee showed how one must be proficient in all ranges of combat and with all kinds of tools. The few sequences that he filmed showed a martial artist who was equally adept at kicking, punching, trapping, grappling, and weaponry. This was perhaps the highest evolution of Jeet Kune Do that Lee achieved before his untimely death in July 1973.When Lee passed away, the world lost one of the century’s greatest martial artists. Moreover, some thought, and still believe, that his art of Jeet Kune Do died with him. Although undoubtedly Lee took some of what he knew with him to the grave, much of what is now regarded as Jeet Kune Do has, fortunately, been preserved through a combination of several sources. Lee’s surviving assistant instructors, Taky Kimura and Dan Inosanto, continue to pass on the knowledge that Lee gave them. Other first-generation and later students are also active, to different degrees, in propagating Lee’s art as they learned it. Lee’s notes, in which he documented many of his thoughts about combat, also provide important knowledge about Jeet Kune Do. Finally, Lee’s martial arts films show different aspects of his fighting philosophy in action, providing further insight into his art. The compilation of this knowledge will allow future generations to learn about, and to perpetuate, Jeet Kune Do.

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