Much has been written about Jeet Kune Do, what it is, and what it is not. Frankly, I’ve yet to find one book or article that clearly defines Jeet Kune Do. The most anyone can really say about Jeet Kune Do is that it’s what Bruce Lee did. Yes, Jeet Kune Do is the art and philosophy of Bruce Lee, but is that all it is?
Jeet Kune Do is that which emphasizes both continuous practice and continuous discovery. It is a life long discovery. So, this article seeks not to define Jeet Kune Do because to do so would put limits on that which is limitless and forge a way where there is no way. Ultimately, truth has to be discovered by us all.
Jeet Kune Do is centered on the writings and teachings of Bruce Lee. Not to be blindly followed, but experimented with and tested for your own discovery. It is not meant for everyone. Bruce has been quoted as saying, “Of my art – Gung Fu and Jeet Kune Do – only one of 10,000 can handle it. It is martial art. Complete offensive attack. It is silly to think almost anyone can learn it.” (Bruce Lee Jeet Kune Do: Bruce Lee’s Commentaries on the Martial Way. Lee, Little. 1997) Therefore, we must understand that regardless of how many words we use to describe it, most will never grasp it.
Perhaps prophetically, Bruce wrote, “If people say Jeet Kune Do is different from ‘this’ or from ‘that,’ then let the name of Jeet Kune Do be wiped out, for that is what it is, just a name. Please don’t fuss over it.” (Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Lee. 1975.) Since Bruce’s death, various Jeet Kune Do movements sprung up with the largest of the movements being Original Jeet Kune Do and Jeet Kune Do Concepts. Jeet Kune Do is not divided; it is not black and white, good versus bad, truth versus false. It is not composed of numerous elements separated, but rather is all of these elements at once: Philosophy, Concepts and Principles, Physical Techniques, Understanding of Bruce Lee’s writings and teachings, and ultimately Self-Liberation. If you encounter a so-called JKD school or Instructor that lacks one of these elements, then ultimately you will reach a point of limitation as you progress within that school. Jeet Kune Do is a whole.
There isn’t enough time to discuss the depth of Jeet Kune Do’s philosophy here. For the purposes of this commentary, it’s enough to know Jeet Kune Do’s philosophy is heavily based on Eastern thought, Zen, Taoism, the work of Krishnamurti, and of course, Bruce’s own thoughts and experiences. To some, Jeet Kune Do is just a philosophy that can be applied to any martial art. While Jeet Kune Do is a philosophy and a way of life, it is not limited to that. Depending on the application, it is sometimes hard, sometimes soft, sometimes a philosophy, or sometimes a combative expression of the human body.
Concepts and Principles- Without a doubt, Jeet Kune Do is comprised of certain concepts and principles. These concepts include, for example: economy of motion, directness, simplicity, longest weapon to nearest target, always think hit, centerline theory, use of the lead hand/foot, and stop hitting or intercepting. While some of the concepts can be applied to combative sports like mixed martial arts (MMA) or Kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do is again without rules, judges, or referees. If what we’re practicing conflicts with the concepts and principles of Jeet Kune Do, then there’s nothing wrong with saying, “It’s not Jeet Kune Do.” It can still be useful and good, but not be Jeet Kune Do.
Based on his own research, Bruce developed concepts and theories from which manifested physical techniques. Some of these include: the JKD straight lead punch, bai jong ready stance, side kick, stop kicks, finger jab, simplified trapping with pak sao/lop sao, and various movements from Boxing, Fencing, Wing Chun Kung Fu, and perhaps other arts. So, why are the physical techniques so important? Can’t one simply take the philosophy, concepts and principles, invent their own Jeet Kune Do, and then teach it? The reason the physical techniques are indispensable from Jeet Kune Do is that they yield an understanding of the aforementioned elements of philosophy and concepts/principles. In the execution of the straight lead, one learns proper body alignment, efficiency, economy of motion, how to generate power, emotional content, and how to express one’s self in combative form. This is Jeet Kune Do.
This does not mean blindly following with no thought or analysis. Understanding here means commitment to examining, testing, and experimenting in search of truth. This truth you know to be true not because someone wrote it or taught it, but because you tested it for yourself. Through understanding Bruce’s path, we come to understand our own. Lastly and most importantly, Bruce’s work is the foundation of Jeet Kune Do. Without his writings and teachings, there would be no Jeet Kune Do. Therefore when seeking to study Jeet Kune Do, look for those with a dedication to preserving the foundation of JKD, Bruce’s own work.
Lastly, Bruce never intended for his students to become stagnant only studying what he laid out as the foundation, his philosophy, his concepts, and his techniques. No, Jeet Kune Do was intended to be formed and shaped to the individual. So, self-liberation is about personalizing the art of Jeet Kune Do, applying it both to your life and to combat. It is about exploring, researching, studying, and yes, “absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own”
Jeet Kune Do is not just a blending of whole styles of martial arts. It is not a matter of mastering Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai Boxing, Kali, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and any number of styles. Styles are limited. Hence one must master so many just to resemble the totality of combat. It’s important to note, while most individual techniques have some usefulness, the accumulation of too many of these techniques does not. Bruce described JKD as "not daily increase, but daily decrease, hack away the unessential."
Self-Liberation is therefore the ultimate goal realized through the practice and discovery of Jeet Kune Do. I hope this commentary has been enlightening and helpful in your own journey into Jeet Kune Do and martial arts. If you’ve received any value from these words, please share this post with others as ultimately we’re all on the same path toward self-liberation.