Jeet Kune Do or ‘the Way of The Intercepting Fist’ is the brainchild of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, it is a precursor to modern mixed martial arts, much like Pankration from Ancient Greece. However Jeet Kune Do is not a hodgepodge mix of martial arts, it has become split in recent years, with some insisting that it is a martial art and others thinking that it is instead a martial arts concept, rather than a strict traditional martial art, after all Bruce Lee developed it after studying various martial arts of all shapes and sizes for years, for the purpose of this post, I’ll be talking about Jeet Kune Do as a martial art.
Bruce Lees idea for Jeet Kune Do came from not wanting to be limited by the boundaries of one martial art, with one of his lesser known maxims being “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own” meaning, every martial art has its limitations, so do not be limited, take what is useful, discard the rest and use what works for you to build your own style. Some however do train Jeet Kune Do as a martial art, it is particularly popular in America.
Principles of Jeet Kune Do
Jeet Kune Do, like other martial arts, is subject to core principles that guide the evolution and practice of the martial arts. By and large the biggest principle is that of interception, intercepting your opponent’s attacks by simultaneously attacking yourself, or more commonly known as “the best defence is a good offence”. This is core to Jeet Kune Do, moving in and attacking while your opponent is attacking, which is a core tenet of Bruce Lees first martial art Wing Chun. This means that those who practice Jeet Kune Do will use lots of counter-strikes.
Another principle of Jeet Kune Do is for the techniques being learnt have real world application or, they have to be useful in a fight. This means that sparring plays an important role in Jeet Kune Do, as it is the only way to test if the techniques you are learning are combat effective or not, as I have said before, if your training gym or dojo doesn’t spar, what you learn in there is probably not going to work in a fight.
As such Jeet Kune Do shies away from point systems, instead opting to focus on practicality and effectiveness. All that matters is that the techniques are effective, so you are less likely to see elements and techniques from dubious traditional martial arts like Ninjutsu and are more likely to see techniques from tried and tested martial arts like Judo, Boxing and Wrestling.
Jeet Kune Do also uses a principle of mixed martial arts, the principle of the three ranges of combat, close range, medium range and long range. These ranges are called the phases of combat in MMA and normally, MMA fighters have a preferred or dominant range to fight in, like Israel Adesanya’s long distance striking game or Brock Lesnar’s brutal effectiveness in ground and pound.
Jeet Kune Do practitioners are instead taught and encouraged to become equally effective in all 3 ranges. So instead of having a preferred range and becoming utterly dominant in that range you are instead expected to train all ranges equally.
This is a double edged sword, it gives you a multitude of tools to use at your disposal, giving you an option for every range, but it also means you may never become an expert at a range. this is currently an argument in the MMA community, with some arguing that being elite in one area beats being good in all 3 areas, but that’s an argument for another time.
Another important principle of Jeet Kune Do, is that of conditioning, Bruce Lee understood that to keep up with the rigours of hand to hand combat, ones body must be well conditioned to offer the best chance of success. This means that Jeet Kune Do practitioners must spend a significant amount of time conditioning their body, how they achieve this is often up to them, however many traditional martial arts conditioning techniques are used, such as isometric training, like horse stance, to iron bone training to regular old running.
What are Jeet Kune Do's Strengths
Jeet Kune Do allows the learner to practice every form of fighting, distant, mid range and close/grappling, which is something that most martial arts cannot claim. Its emphasis on being realistic and functional is also something that many traditional martial arts lack. However, there is a big elephant on the wall that I mentioned right at the start of this article, Jeet Kune Do was never meant to be a martial art.
The biggest problem with Jeet Kune Do
Unfortunately Bruce Lee himself regretted giving a name to the way he taught, as it was antithesis to what he was trying to achieve, as he even said himself that when you name something, you restrict it in what it can be, which surprisingly is exactly what happened with Jeet Kune Do.
As a philosophy for training martial arts, it is unparalleled, the success of modern MMA is proof of this, as Bruce predicted that the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do would eventually flourish in the world of martial arts and he was right. Martial artists have begun to understand that the best way to learn how to fight, is to learn as much as you can from as many sources as possible, and combine it into your own personal style.
Unfortunately many Jeet Kune Do gyms treat Bruce Lees words and techniques as gospel and as such have forgotten the main point of Jeet Kune Do, which is a shame, fortunately, for Bruce, the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do is alive and well, in mixed martial arts.
MMA has taken Bruce’s idea and ran with it and now we know that the most effective martial art, is all of them, proving Bruce right. The rise of MMA has even allowed us to see what Bruce was envisioning for Jeet Kune Do and its a true tragedy that he never got to see it.
Jeet Kune Do as a martial art, has strayed away from Bruce Lees original idea, with the idea of having no boundaries on what we train being what allows us to express ourselves through our bodies being lost to more regimented, formalised training.
That being said, there are much worse martial arts out there to study, and there are allegedly some Jeet Kune Do gyms that do stick closer to Bruce Lees teachings resembling more of a mixed martial arts gym than a regular ‘Dojo’. Like I said before, you could do a lot worse.