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What Is Jeet Kune Do?

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Sifu B is a former US Marine, with almost 40 years of martial art training. He is ranked in 4 styles.

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Martial arts fans know Bruce Lee for his movies Enter the Dragon and Fists of Fury. What some might not know is that Lee was not just a practitioner of kung fu. He was also the founder of his own style.

Bruce Lee's Background

Lee Jun Fan (Bruce) was involved in theater and film since he was an infant. His father was famous in the Cantonese Opera Company. He was on tour in the U.S. when Lee was born in 1940. They returned to Hong Kong in 1941. At the age of 12, Lee was bullied and beaten in school. After this, he studied martial arts to be able to defend himself.

For five years, he studied Wing Chun under the tutelage of Yip Man. Lee was talented and coordinated. In fact, he won the Hong Kong cha cha dance competition at the age of 18. Lee also had a temper and could not stay out of trouble. After some street fights, his parents sent him to San Francisco to live with a relative.

He moved to Seattle to study philosophy at the University of Washington. He opened his first kung fu school. Lee’s school was unique in that race and background had no place. He taught anyone who wanted to learn. Teaching foreigners kung fu was frowned upon in the Chinese community.

Kung Fu to Jeet Kune Do

Various stories surround the creation of Jeet Kune Do. Lee was teaching a traditional form of kung fu when he hurt his back. Some say the damage was done by a Chinese practitioner who opposed him teaching foreigners. Either way, he used the time to analyze what he was teaching and its effectiveness. While in the U.S., he was exposed to other forms of kung fu, boxing, fencing, and Filipino martial arts.

He quickly realized that each style had its strengths and weaknesses. He also realized that not every style was suitable for every person. This was the starting point for Jeet Kune Do.

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In his analysis, Bruce thought that the upright and rigid stance of Wing Chun was not suited to protecting the body; it also limited movement. He eventually adopted a stance that was closer to boxing. Standing on the balls of the feet, one could move fast in any direction to evade or attack. The fists were aligned down the center of the body for fast attacks to the vitals. Elbows were down and protecting the ribs. This stance was effective, efficient, and very modern.

Lee explored more arts, and he was constantly refining himself. He said, "Adopt what is useful, reject what is not, add your own.” Lee also said that addition was not the way to mastery but that subtraction was. Rather than gather numerous techniques, the student should master the basics. He should be always refining and removing any superfluous motion or thought. Simplicity was the path to be a great fighter. “The art of Jeet Kune DO is simply to simplify.”

He named his art Jeet Kun Do. This is Cantonese for “Way of the Intercepting Fist.” Bruce believed that the most superior techniques were those which stopped an incoming attack with an attack. He emphasized simultaneous attack and defense (he also called this the “stop-hit”).

Two Paths

Today, JKD is taught in two different ways. There is the movement, started by Lee’s student Ted Wong, to preserve the art that Lee taught during his life. This school is called “Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do.” It traces the development of the art through phases of training in Lee’s life. The other school is often called “Jeet Kune Do Concepts.” This path strives to continue the trajectory set by Lee. The student is exposed to various styles and sports. Each student should adopt only what works for him and to add his own. In this way, every practitioner has his own personal style.

Modern Kung Fu

Walk into any JKD school today and you will not see students in kimonos or kung fu uniforms. There will be no colored belts. Everyone will probably be wearing shoes. JKD is a modern martial art. While Lee did appreciate the classical styles, he certainly was not bound by them. And this shows in the art he created. Tradition is good only if it is effective. By applying a scientific approach to fighting, Lee encouraged his students to experiment, adapt, refine, and to ever be growing and improving as a fighter.

According to Bruce, “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”

Lee is gone, but the style he created lives on—evolving and changing—to make people fighters who are striving to be better by being simple.

© 2022 Sifu B

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