What is Jeet Kune Do?
By Sifu Dan Inosanto

People are still trying to define JKD in terms of a distinct style, i.e. Bruce Lee's Gung-Fu, Bruce Lee's Karate, Bruce Lee's Kick-Boxing or Bruce Lee's Street Fighting. To label JKD as Bruce Lee's martial art is to miss completely its meaning; its concepts simply cannot be confined within a system. To understand this, a martial artist must transcend the duality of the "for" and "against" and reach one unity which is without distinction. The understanding of JKD is a direct intuition of this unity. Truth cannot be perceived until we have come to full understanding of ourselves and our potential. According to Lee, knowledge in the martial arts ultimately means self-knowledge.

 

Jeet Kune Do is not a new style of Karate or Kung Fu. Bruce Lee did not invent a new style, or a composite, or modify any style to set it apart from any existing method. His main concept was to free his followers from clinging to style, pattern or mold.

 

It must be emphasized that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name - a mirror in which we see ourselves. There is some sort of progressive approach to its training but, as Si Gung Lee said, "To create a method of fighting is pretty much like putting a pound of water into wrapping paper and shaping it." Structurally, many people tend to mistake JKD for a composite style, because of its efficiency.  At any given time, JKD can resemble Thai boxing, or Wing Chun, or wrestling or Karate or any Kung Fu system.

 

According to Si Gung Lee, the efficiency of style depends upon circumstances and range of distance.  The important factor is not technique, but the range of its effectiveness. Just as a grenade is used at 50 yards, a dagger is used in close. A staff for example, would be the wrong weapon to bring into a telephone booth to fight, whereas a knife would be appropriate.

Jeet Kune Do is neither opposed to style, nor is it not opposed to style. We can say it is outside as well as inside of all particular structures. Because JKD makes no claim to being a style, some people conclude that perhaps it is being neutral or simply indifferent. Again, this is not the case, for JKD is at once "this" and "not this."

 

A good JKD practitioner rests in direct intuition. According to Si Gung Lee, a style should be like a Bible with principles and laws which can never be violated. There will always be a difference with regard to quality of training, physical make up, level of understanding, environment, conditioning, and likes and dislikes. According to Si Gung Lee, truth is a "pathless road"; thus JKD is not an organization or an institution of which one can be a member. "Either you understand or you don't, and that is that," he said.

 

Martial arts, like life itself, are a constant, non-rhythmic movement, as well as constant change. Flowing with this change is very important. Finally, a Jeet Kune Do man who says JKD is exclusively JKD is simply "not with it." He is still "hung up" on his own self-closing resistance, anchored down to reactionary pattern and, naturally, is still bound by another modified pattern and can move only within its limits. He has not digested the simple fact that the truth exists outside of all molds and patterns. An awareness is never exclusive. To quote Si Gung Lee, "Jeet Kune Do is just a name, a boat to get one across the river. Once across, it is to be discarded and not to be carried on ones back." I feel that students should be taught experiences as well as technique. In other words, a Karate practitioner who has never boxed before needs to experience sparring with a boxer. What he learns from this experience is strictly up to him. According to Si Gung Lee, a teacher is not the giver of truth; he is merely a guide to the truth and the student must discover the truth for himself.

 

The total picture Si Gung Lee wanted to present to his pupil was that, above everything else, he must find his own way. He always said, "Your truth is not my truth and my truth is not yours." Si Gung Lee did not have a blueprint, but rather a series of guidelines to lead you to proficiency. Using equipment, there was a systematic approach in which you could develop speed, distance, power, timing, coordination, endurance and footwork.

 

Jeet Kune Do, for Si Gung Lee, was not an end in itself, nor was it merely a byproduct; it was a means of self-discovery. In other words, it was a prescription for personal growth; it was an investigation of freedom - freedom to act naturally and effectively not only in combat but in life. In life, it means to absorb what is useful, to reject what is useless and to add specifically what is your own. I believe to better understand JKD you must observe and better yet, experience Judo, Jujitsu, Aikido, Western boxing, some kicking styles, Chinese systems of sensitivity such as Wing Chun, the elements of Kali and Eskrima, with the elements of Pentjak Silat, Thai boxing, French Savate and Bando, and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each. It is nor necessary to study all of these arts, only to understand the high and low points of each, as well as the range, distance and effectiveness of each. It would be impossible to study every style in detail, but if you can get the essence, you can capture the style. Or, as Bruce used to say, "I hope martial artists are more interested in the root of martial arts and not the different decorative branches, flowers or leaves. It is futile in argue as to which single leaf, which designs of branches, or which attractive flower you like; when you understand the root, you understand all it blossoming."

 

 

 


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