19 March 2009

What is Jeet Kune Do?

(Preface to the subject: I've been thinking a great deal about martial arts as they are envisioned beyond the sporting aspects of their practice. I practice Brazilian Jiu-jitsu avidly-BJJ hereafter- have for several years now. I enjoy competing in BJJ tournaments, and find its self-defense applications sound. However I was introduced to BJJ through a little approach to martial arts called Jeet Kune Do-JKD hereafter. I have an admission to make. I've never not considered myself a "JKD man." That is to say, when I think of martial art as self defense, I apply JKD principles to my training. Lately I have been retooling my own approach to the "totality," as Lee himself might have referred to it. In my researches I found the following.

It was this clip (which I would recommend that everyone view, and then follow the various links provided, suggested)that reminded me of the pointless fissure that originated, or at least manifested in a very public way, in JKD circles in the early to mid-90s. Two groups emerged. On one side we had the Jun Fan/Jeet Kune Do clan-most apparent in the form of the Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do Nucleus, and an amorphous group which practiced Jeet Kune Do concepts. Judging by the comments sections, and blogs and articles the argument appears to be ongoing.
I’ve decided to put my own thoughts down here on my blog.

If I don’t do this now, it is likely I will have to do it later. What makes me qualified to talk about this subject? Here is the martial CV. Tae Kwon Do, brown belt; Chan Style Wing Chun, brown sash; Taijitsu, a year of study among the Bujinkan; Jeet Kune Do ,full instructor through Indiana PFS; Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, purple belt; Judo yellow belt. In addition to this training, I’ve spent the entire time researching martial arts in an attempt to take some ownership of my own training. Certainly my copies of Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do and his Fighting Method series are deeply annotated, and colorfully highlighted. I will still hear about my lack of qualifications, but I had to try to head that obvious criticism off. Enough by way of introduction, here are my thoughts on the nature of JKD, and the mistakes most common to its adherents. )
The question that forms the title of this blog is a common and sensible question. Eminently sensible. There is no shortage of answers on offer. But it is there that we get into trouble. Most of the answers that you are going to get are unreflective, and victim to the very errors Bruce Lee first identified decades ago. So let me do the shocking thing and say I don’t know what your JKD is going to look like. I don’t have a clue as to what you, a JKD “man,” might look like in a fight. I could likely predict a few commonalities between you and I, but that will be all I can do. I may guess that you will try to be efficient, economical, and that you will try to flow with your opponent as best you can. You will observe the five methods of attack. As a JKD practitioner you will strive to have a functional eye toward the real . That is to say that your self-defense applications will be constantly reviewed through a reality based lens. Beyond that I cannot really say. While JKD has a few core principles you couldn’t really call JKD a style. Lee was beyond that. And so is JKD.

Jeet Kune Do favors formlessness so that it can assume all forms and since Jeet Kune Do has no style, it can fit in with all styles. As a result, Jeet Kune Do utilizes all ways and is bound by none and, likewise uses any techniques or means which serve its end.
Bruce Lee The Tao of Jeet Kune Do

The philosophy seemed the perfect tool to move martial arts into the modern era, while at the same time avoiding the decidedly sectarian nature of martial arts politics. Bruce favored simplicity, and accepting reality. Points to which we will shortly return. Before we can address what he favored however, we have to ask a question embedded in the aforementioned quote. Namely we have figure out the end for which JKD aims.

Luckily for our investigations this actually isn’t very difficult. He wrote it down for anyone interested. Bruce was interested in human combat in its totality.

Styles that focus on a particular aspect of combat are in bondage.

Combat is never fixed and is changing from moment to moment. Working in patterns is basically a practice of resistance.

The way of combat is not based on personal choice and fancies. Truth in the way of combat is perceived from moment to moment when there is awareness without condemnation, justification, or any form of identification.

Bruce Lee, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

From the quotes above we see Lee establishing this theme of reality, and totality. JKD is the philosophy designed to help a martial artist function in a real moment of combat. The philosophy does not, as some have argued, favor any technique, or style, or system. A JKD player is thus freed to use any and all techniques that enable them to prevail in a real, fluid, and dynamic combative moment. This perspective is not universally agreed upon.

Sifu Lamar Davis has suggested that JKD emphasizes, no less than the following to make authentic Jun Fan/Jeet Kune Do. You must have your strong side forward, no wasted motion in defense or attack, vertical fist punching structure, interception skills, the five ways of attack, light quick explosive type footwork, energy/sensitivity training, trapping hands. He has a few others but they can be viewed as subsets of the list above. Within this list I can find things both to admire, and place at which I might raise my eyebrows. Points involving principles I like, but points where he begins to suggest that JKD favors a particular style or set of specific techniques are where I think he (I am using Sifu Davis simply because he is one of the more articulate “original” JFJKD guys out there. He is by no means the only advocate for this position) goes awry. You have to see vertical punching structure? Really? This seems deeply at odds with history since Lee utilized and found vastly effective, the arsenal of western boxing. You have to have your strong side forward? Lee certainly favored placing his strong side forward as most of your attacks were carried out by the leading weapons. The rear weapons structurally more powerful could then be carried out by the weaker side. This is fine, but demanding that this be done seems unnecessarily restrictive of the personal freedom for which JKD is supposed to allow. Each practitioner must experiment with such particulars on her own and decide what is best for her. The point is that JKD isn’t bound by such things as technique, or style and it is here that I think that those adhering to the original material taught by Bruce Lee are making a mistake. They are becoming closed in a style and thinking that there is no need to look beyond that. This brings us to the next point.

Bruce Lee did invent a system, or style. And that style was Jun Fan Gung Fu. It has a definite progression, and suite of things you must learn as you progress. It has a stance, ideas about movement, and is clearly Lee’s first attempt to create a personal system reflecting his philosophical principles. Jun Fan is an incredibly good style, and according to Dan Inosanto is the place where one absolutely must begin when they explore the philosophy of JKD. Jun Fan is mostly concerned with the stand-up (punching, kicking, elbowing, kneeing headbutting) aspects of hand to hand combat. It isn’t sporty, but can be trained in real time, with contact using proper equipment which minimizes injury. It is focused on economy of motion, interception and brutality (eye jabs, groin strikes, attacks on the knees with strikes). As a stand up art of self defense, it has to be considered, when practiced with seriousness, one of more effective martial arts one could learn.

Some of its practitioners (most falling under banners that say Jun Fan/JKD) think Jun Fan represents the totality of which Bruce Lee so often spoke. This is simply not the case. We have no idea what it would look like in the year two thousand and nine, but we can bet it would not currently be frozen in nineteen sixty nine, or sixty four, or seventy one. The art of Jun Fan was still evolving, as was Lee’s understanding of his own expression of JKD. There is no weapon portion of Jun Fan. This surely would have changed as Lee’s focus on reality would have forced it to change. Most attacks in the US involve a weapon of some kind. And the grappling in Jun Fan was limited largely to a series of flowing drills that were done without much resistance. So in this area too Jun Fan was unsophisticated, and under developed. According to Dan Inosanto, Bruce Lee was only toward the end of his life exploring how grappling could be, or should be incorporated into his fighting. Lee may even have ushered in the new focus before the Gracies exploded on the scene, or their explosion might have been facilitated by his research. We will never know. Lee was always ahead of the curve on these things. He may have been here too. In any event Jun Fan, even as good as it is as an art of one-on-one self defense, it was, let us admit, in its infancy and incomplete.

The Jun Fan-only advocates scoff at the incorporation of other techniques, methods and approaches, and will point to the brutal efficiency of their Jun Fan, and wonder how a Muy Thai kick or BJJ approaches the kind of efficiency, and ecomony of which JKD demands. Or they will think that incorporting new techniques violates Lee's daily decrease, not daily increase maxim. Here they are at their most errant, and closed minded. Economy, and efficiency are not qualities that exist in a vaccum. They are utterly contextual. Your favorite method may not be available to you. Perhaps you were just tackled, perhaps you are a 120 lb woman and there is a 230lb man accosting you, where then is your JKD lead punch. Vanished in the ether and you have no time to lament you must react with the approaches that are most efficient and economical in the new moment. Daily decreases (that is Bruce's leanings toward simplicity and effeciency) can come in any number of ways. You can shed techniques you find no longer helpful or necessary. You can shorten steps, make more efficient your training. It isn't implied that the decrease is always on the number of techniques. (If this were so, I suspect that those calling themselves Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do would jettison almost all of their complex trapping drills as they are ineffective, and extremely low percentage.)

Here some examples of the ways in which efficency, economy are contextual and cannot be judged from the arm chair but only in the experience of combat. Maybe you are threatened with a knife (if you are attacked in the US this is not statistically unlikely) your focus on BJJ, or Jun Fan has likely just failed you. Pulling guard just got you stabbed a hundred times, or launching the dreaded Jun Fan side kick just cost you the mobility of your leg, perhaps for the rest of your life (perhaps not terribly long given the scenario). Jun Fan is a wonderful art but it isn't the totality, and it isn't something to which a JKD player should become overly attached, or limited. Think of the totality of fighting not your own conception of it. Let that be your guide to understanding how to apply JKD principles and concepts to your technical training.

Anyone saying that JKD is the practice of only the material taught by Bruce Lee have defacto admitted that they do not apply the philosophy of JKD to their martial arts. They have instead opted for the security of a system or style.

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At 3:13 PM , Anonymous Burton Richardson said...

Max wrote, "As a JKD practitioner you will strive to have a functional eye toward the real . That is to say that your self-defense applications will be constantly reviewed through a reality based lens."

That is correct. The problem is that many "JKD" people have never actually developed that lens. The only way to develop such a lens is to spar realistically, with few parameters, at a very vigorous intensity. (You don't have to do that all the time, but it is essential to understand fighting.)
Many "JKD" people just look at the Jun Fan structure, and then deem anything not fitting in that structure to be non-functional. Functionality can be tested empirically through hard sparring! In fact, that is the only way to test it, besides getting into a real fight, which is not condoned.
Bruce Lee evolved due to his fighting experience. He had challenge matches, then sparred very hard often. That is how he developed his JKD, and that is how you can find your own functional JKD!

At 3:34 PM , Blogger Jason C. said...

Bruce talks about seeking a daily decrease. I see this as having a duel meaning. The first meaning is straight forward. In the course of training, we seek a daily reduction as we seek to improve technique efficiency and economy almost irrespective of style.

The second meaning is more difficult. Often people see a daily decrease as a rejection of techniques without regard to its importance or necessity in a real fighting scenario. Moreover, I have often contemplated the notion that this level of close mindedness might leave one susceptible to techniques that are less than optimal in a street fight.

I often wonder if what Bruce also meant by daily decrease, reduction, or stripping down really applies more to the classical mess that he and everyone else was bogged down in during his time. Put another way by Bruce, "Accept what is useful. Reject what is useless." Bruce's advice or caution says to me that I or we should add to our arts, but we must be discerning enough to pluck techniques out of the classical mess that still exists today in all arts Muay Thai and BJJ included.

At 8:39 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool. Thank you for the invite to your blog. I really enjoyed this. It tells truth where so many are just plain Wrong. I like this and I enjoyed reading and the videos. Thank You again. Take Care.


At 8:48 AM , Blogger Max II said...

Thanks for stopping by and checking it out. Do be sure to post something on your you tube channel about how you testing goes.
Keep training!

At 3:33 PM , Blogger Jonathan said...

This post has been a very useful introduction to Jeet Kune Do, which I had barely heard of before. I'll have to read up on this, see how it might be applied to my TKD training.

At 8:40 AM , Anonymous Steve Smith said...

I enjoyed both articles, What is JKD, and your review of the book by Ms. Tom. Thanks for the thoughtful reviews.

I do not not JKD but trained with Fook Yueng a mentor to Bruce Lee for years in Seattle and much of what you say rings true to his teachings too. Bruce Lee was a liberator of himself and led by example to see his method being put into stone as this or that technique is to kill the work that he himself did, and as you have said has led to pointless splits in the JKD community.

At 4:52 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont think Bruce had a mentor in Seattle. I have never seen any evidence to prove this assertion.

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