Jeet Kune Do

Jeet Kune Do is the martial arts style invented by the late Bruce Lee.

Younger readers may not realize that, shortly before his untimely death, Bruce was actually the most popular movie actor in the world. To this day his name is still known by all martial enthusiasts and even by most of the general public world wide.

Bruce studied Wing Chun Kung Fu in Hong Kong as a teenager for almost 5 years under Grand Master Yip Man and famous Master Wong Shun Leung. During that time he was also an amateur boxer and won a championship amateur title for Hong Kong. His brother Peter was an expert fencer and taught Bruce some fencing. Bruce moved to California at age 18. Shortly thereafter he started teaching. Bruce only learned around half of the Wing Chun system and was not a Sifu or given authority to teach, but what he had learned he was very good at and he was charismatic to boot, so he immediately attracted students. Because he was not allowed to teach Wing Chun, he took the Wing Chun that he had learned and added some long range kicks from Northern Shaolin and called it “Jun Fan” Kung Fu. Jun Fan was his Chinese name.

Later on, Bruce created a brand new style, which was largely a combination of Wing Chun, Western Boxing, and Fencing. Bruce was a fanatic about footwork, so he combined footwork from Boxing and Fencing to create a very mobile fighting art. Because he liked the boxing stance, boxing movement, and the power of boxing punches, he incorporated a lot of Western Boxing into this new non-traditional Art. From Fencing, in addition to the footwork, Bruce took the idea of putting his lead hand forward and using it as a power punch instead of as a jab. Bruce also loved to kick, so he added all kinds of kicks from various Arts, including Tae Kwan Do, Northern Shaolin, and Savate.

During his life, Bruce’s Art was in continual evolution. The only other Traditional Martial Art that he formally studied was Southern Praying Mantis, which he learned from Master Mark for only one month, but as he became famous, many of the very best Karate fighters of the time sought him out to exchange techniques with him, including Chuck Norris, Bob Wall, Mike Stone, and Joe Lewis. Joe, who was the top full contact fighter of his time, had been a champion point fighter, and had earned his Black Belt in Okinawa in an amazing seven months, took private lessons from Bruce for about two years. Bruce was even Joe’s trainer and coach for part of his full contact career.

As a teacher Bruce was an exponent of training what he called “attributes”, such as speed, power, and conditioning, and not just techniques. He also practiced and taught weight training and isometric training. He invented full contact sparring with protective equipment as a safe way of practicing with full power.

Towards the end of his short life, Bruce started studying grappling arts and incorporating techniques from judo and wrestling. He also started to de-emphasize Wing Chun. Ultimately only the Wing Chun concepts and a few of the most basic techniques of Wing Chun remained. There have been various explanations proferred, but the one that makes the most sense to me is that Bruce, blessed with natural speed, through his intense training eventually became so fast that practically no one could stop his punches or kicks. Hence, for Bruce, sticking hands and trapping hands had become unnecessary, and indeed merely slowed him down.

After his death, the Jeet Kune world became fragmented. Bruce’s most influential student was Dan Inosanto. Dan had been a Filipino martial arts instructor before he became Bruce’s student, and after Bruce’s death, Dan combined various Filipino techniques with the jeet kune do he learned from Bruce. Dan and his many students believed that Bruce never meant his Art to be stagnant, and that his successors were not only permitted, but expected, to continue to modify the Art. This approach came to be called “jeet kune do concepts”.

Other teachers, such as Ted Wong, Jerry Poteet, and others, believed in teaching only techniques that Bruce Lee himself had used during his lifetime in order to preserve the Art. This approach became known as “jeet kune do original”.

The division between the “concept” and “original” schools culminated in a famous lawsuit brought by Bruce’s wife, Linda Lee.

Meanwhile, for various reasons, many questionable instructors set up shop, some of whom received most of their training and their certificates at short seminars, and opened schools by capitalizing on Bruce Lee’s name and fame. While other arts had similar problems, these seemed to be particularly prevalent in Jeet Kune Do.

Today most traditional martial arts are at a cross road due to the rise of MMA, and the UFC. What we now know as MMA started out in the very first UFC’s as contests of one traditional style against another traditional style. But over the years MMA became largely a mixture of Boxing, wrestling, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. All the other martial arts are rarely used or seen in MMA, so they have lost popularity, and perhaps even relevancy. While Bruce has been described (albeit inaccurately) as the inventor or “father” of MMA, his Jeet Kune Do has not been immune from this problem.

As a result, we now have “contemporary jeet Kune do”, a named coined by Paul Vunak, which is a claimed to be a combination of Jeet Kune Do and MMA. I have no opinion either way about contemporary jeet kune do, except that i am somewhat skeptical how much MMA is actually being taught. From what I have seen of Jeet Kune Do, many of the exponents’ wing chun is not that good, and their boxing is sometimes also not that good. In all too many cases the jeet kune do exponents seem to be more like “jacks of many trades but masters of none”. Notable exceptions shown in the videos above include Octavio Quintero and Yori Nakamura.

I have not yet trained or sparred with a jeet Kune do fighter, though I hope to, as one of my law clients is an instructor. I may want to take some lessons from him sometime in the near future.

Paul Matthews