You could spend a lifetime searching for information on the late great Si-Jo Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940 - July 20, 1973). There are tons of facts, fiction, legends, myths, and otherwise conflicting and confusing information floating around concerning his life. I'm not going to attempt to hash out the details of his life story; the information presented here is only what pertains to his creation of Jeet Kune Do, the Way of the Intercepting Fist. So let's see if we can shed some light on the JKD system that was founded by Bruce Lee...
It's pretty common knowledge that Bruce Lee was a Wing Tsun (Wing Chun/Ving Tsun) practitioner and student of Yip Man (Ip Man). It was William Cheung who introduced Bruce to Yip Man in the fall of 1953, when Bruce began his Wing Tsun training. It's also well known that a lot of his training, especially in the last couple years in Hong Kong, was under one of Yip Man's senior students Wong Sheung Leung. Bruce's Wing Tsun training lasted from the time he was about 13 years old until he came to America at age 18 in 1959. This was the golden era of Yip Man's Wing Tsun, as the ranks of Yip Man's class from this period was churning out many legendary practitioners who would go on to become Grandmasters of their own sub-lineages under the Yip Man branch. This laid the foundation for Bruce's own fighting method, first named Jun Fan Gong Fu (his Cantonese name being Lee Jun Fan; the name of the style literally being Bruce Lee's Kung Fu), and later evolving into Jeet Kune Do (the Way of the Intercepting Fist). At the time when Bruce left Hong Kong, he was only an intermediate level student in Wing Tsun, having up to the Chum Kiu form and a few sections of the Wooden Dummy form that he picked up unofficially from some of the senior students (most likely WSL). When he came to America and no longer had access to his Sifu, he was smart enough to know that there was still a lot missing from his Kung Fu, so he began filling in the blanks with other material the best way he could. Many people consider him as the father of Mixed Martial Arts because of this. Aside from Wing Tsun, he learned Tai Chi along with his younger brother Robert from their father Lee Hoi-Chuen, who was a very skilled martial artist and a member of the Red Boat Opera. Before leaving Hong Kong, he also learned some Northern Shaolin Praying Mantis, Jing Wu, and Hung Gar from Shiu Hon Sang, as well as Choy Li Fut with Chen Nian Bo and Yiquan with Liang Zi Peng. Another element that helped him immensely was, oddly enough, his dancing skills. He was named the Hong Kong Cha-Cha dance champion in 1958, and this was evident in how nimble he was on his feet, with superior footwork, precision timing, speed, balance, and control.
"I'm having a Gung Fu system drawn up-this system is a combination of chiefly Wing Tsun, Fencing, & Boxing. Boy, it will be IT!" -Bruce Lee, July 1965 (from a letter to James Yimm Lee)
But let's take a look at the 2 main elements other than Wing Tsun that made up the majority of Jun Fan Gong Fu and later Jeet Kune Do...
1. Boxing: Anyone who knew Bruce knew that he was a real boxing fanatic, with quite the collection of footage. He used to study and mimic Muhammad Ali, Joe Luis, Jim Driscoll, and Jack Dempsey almost religiously, and that is where quite a bit of his JKD foundation came from. But his boxing roots started much earlier than that, when he was just a school boy. Bruce was on the high school boxing team, and became the boxing champion in 1958, defeating the current three time champion Gary Elms. Much of the mechanics of boxing, and the style of realistic training and sparring was adopted into JKD. Specialty techniques, such as Ali's footwork, and Jack Dempsey's vertical fist knockout punch mechanics we assimilated into his Jun Fan, and subsequently developed into JKD. One of the core JKD techniques, the straight lead, was based around what Bruce learned from the book on Jim Driscoll's straight left.
2. Fencing: The mechanics of fencing also play a very large role in the creation of JKD. Bruce learned fencing from his older brother Peter, who was the Hong Kong Colony champion in fencing and represented Hong Kong at the 1958 British Empire & Commonwealth Games in Wales. Fencing concepts, footwork, and side stance was blended in, and like Wing Tsun, fencing favors a power forward position.
When Bruce first began teaching Jun Fan Gong Fu, it really wasn't much more than a modified version of basic Wing Tsun with some boxing elements, and the fencing evolved into it as time went on. He continued learning a different version/branch of Wing Tsun (Hung Suen) from Fook Yueng, a friend of his father from the Red Boat Opera who was looking out for Bruce when he arrived in America. His intermittent training with Sifu Fook over the course of several years was kept secret at the time, and many speculations have been made as to why. Some say it was out of respect for his Sifu, Yip Man. Others say it was at the request of Fook Yueng himself, as he was very private and did not want the attention. Others say his training was very informal, and it's even been said that Bruce actually did not like this version of the system. Whatever the case may be, Bruce did spend years continuing his Wing Tsun training in America. He also spent a great deal of time back in Hong Kong, continuing to train with Yip Man and WSL while his movie career was taking off, and once he achieved stardom and was situated in America again, he made frequent trips back and forth to Hong Kong. While he was staying in Hong Kong making films, he learned Biu Tze from Leung Sheung, who was Yip Man's first student (and first to teach) in his Hong Kong era. Leung Sheung was also the Sifu that Leung Ting began training under, before finishing his training directly under the private instruction of his Si-Gung Yip Man.
Bruce was constantly finding other high level practitioners from different styles to train with, and even learning new techniques from some of his students who had previous martial arts backgrounds. Rather than learning a whole new style or system, he would analyze it, pick the things he liked, and add those to his skill set. He would find its strong points and learn it, find its weakness and exploit it, and find ways to make what he knew work against it. For instance, when he wanted to improve his kicking, he went and trained with Jhoon Rhee. He looked at many arts, from Muay Thai, to Savate, to Kali, and everything in between. He was constantly refining and fine tuning his fighting method, always testing his skills every chance he got to make sure it was practical and effective in real combat under pressure.
It is often said that this style and that style went into JKD, and that Bruce studied and mastered dozens of styles (26-29 different arts, depending on who you ask), and that is just not accurate. He wasn't some sort of super human demigod, and he wasn't Batman. Bruce was 18 years old when he came to America; he was only 32 years old when he died in 1973. In that brief time period of 14 years, he worked, went to college, opened a handful of martial arts schools, got married, had two children, had an amazing acting career doing television and big screen movies in both America and Hong Kong, continued studying Wing Tsun, developed Jeet Kune Do, and continued teaching private students at his house. Anyone who has tried to balance real life in the modern American era and studied martial arts knows very well that you can spend a lifetime mastering a style, maybe becoming proficient in one or two more, but it is just not possible that in the midst of all of this, Bruce Lee studied and mastered 29 styles in those 14 years. However, here's a list of some of the more notable practitioners and styles that had an overall influence to some degree on his continued evolution of Jeet Kune Do:
Dan Inosanto - Kali/Escrima, Kenpo, Japanese Jujitsu, Karate, Judo
Jesse Glover - Judo
Tim Tackett - Xing Yi Quan, Shaolin White Crane, Monkey Style
Leo Fong - Boxing
James Yimm Lee - Northern Sil Lum/Shaolin, Hung Gar, Iron Palm
Jhoon Rhee - Karate (Tang Soo Do/Tae Kwon Do)
Jerry Poteet - Kenpo
Gene LeBell - Judo, Wrestling
Wally Jay - Judo, Jujitsu
Taky Kimura - Karate
Chuck Norris - Karate, Kickboxing
It's been said that Jun Fan Gong Fu was 85% Wing Tsun and 15% other stuff, and JKD is 60% Wing Tsun, 15% Boxing, 15% Fencing, and 10% other stuff (Quote from Sifu Lamar Davis). This is a very difficult thing to gauge, but I feel like this is a pretty accurate statement, give or take. Bruce's JKD was constantly evolving. These days, people add all kinds of things together in their JKD. But the core engine that drives it is Wing Tsun. That is the foundation for JKD. If you look at the Wing Tsun Principles, they parallel the JKD principles almost to the letter. Even the name "Intercepting Fist" is a basic fundamental concept of Wing Tsun.
Bruce had a very unique way of looking at things. Being a philosophy and drama major in college, his views were often complex and esoteric. He hated the way most traditional martial arts were taught at the time, focusing too much on flashy forms and inefficient movements instead of fighting, and wasting time with years of useless stance training and ritualistic traditions that weren't very practical just for the sake of being traditional. He felt that in this way, practitioners were being trapped within the confines of the style, prisoners to ineffective techniques that were often not pressure tested or even understood. He often criticized martial artists of the day as "swimming on dry land", too caught up in their "classical mess" and trying to look good in useless point-sparring competitions. Classical martial arts, he felt, had too much extra baggage and lost the focus of actual combat, and Bruce wished to liberate himself and his students from this. When he developed JKD, his vision was for it to be "not a style, but a concept" that could be tailored to each individual practitioner and their strengths and weaknesses. "Be formless", not pressed into the mold of a style. Originally he didn't even want his system to be named, because then it would be quantified and "boxed in" as a "style". His training differed from most traditional martial arts in the sense that looking in on his class would look more like watching modern day boxers and MMA fighters train, as opposed to a Monk in a temple spending hours in his horse stance with incense burning and a bamboo flute playing in the background. With his idea of "retain what is useful, discard what is not", he streamlined his system to be able to train effective fighters very quickly. Since he customized his fighting method for himself, he stressed the fact that his students needed to use the tools and concepts he gave them to develop their own unique method and not try to mimic what he does, because what works for one won't work for all. JKD was designed to give the practitioner freedom to grow and become an expression of themselves. It wasn't until 1967 that Bruce actually gave his new system a name: Jeet Kune Do, the Way of the Intercepting Fist.
While many people like to mention all of the other styles Bruce trained and the things he was adding into JKD, the fact of the matter was that his mindset was to slim it down. At one point, after having his friend and former Yip Man classmate Hawkins Cheung over to help with his students, Hawkins noted that while the students were gaining skill, they lacked some of the basic underlying skill sets to make their Wing Tsun more effective. These fundamental skills were something that was built up over years of training, and while Bruce himself owned these skills, his students were not picking up these finer details of power generation, structure, and sensitivity. Later on (the Los Angeles era), Bruce actually decided to not focus so much on Chi Sao in the curriculum because it was so time consuming to properly develop, and he wanted to put more effort into making his students effective and efficient fighters very quickly.
While Bruce was a very smart practitioner, he was a bit of a selfish teacher, in the sense that he had ulterior motives. If Bruce wanted to train against punches, he would select a student that was a good boxer, teach him what he needed him to know, and then then Bruce could get quality training against punches. Same with kicks, grappling, etc. This was especially the case in both the early years, and towards the end of his life. He wasn't training people to be instructors, he was training them to be fighters. And more importantly, he was training them to be good training partners for himself so that he could continue to make personal progress and further refine his own fighting method. This is why there is so much deviation between the lineages of Bruce's private students; they did not all receive the same instruction, and what he taught privately often varied from the set curriculum he established for his schools.
"My mind is made up to start a system of my own - I mean a system of totality, embracing all but yet guided with simplicity. It will concentrate on the root of things - rhythm, timing, distance, and embrace the five ways of attack. This is by far the most effective method I've encountered or will encounter. Anything beyond this has to be super-fantastic. Wing Tsun is the starting point, Chi Sao is the nucleus and they are supplemented by the FIVE WAYS. The whole system will concentrate on irregular rhythm and how to disturb and intercept the opponent's rhythm the fastest and most efficient way. Above all, this system is not confined to straight line or curved line but is content to stand in the middle of the circle without attachment. This way one can meet any lines without being familiar with them." -Bruce Lee, February 1967 (From a letter to Taky Kimura)
There was a tipping point in his development that lead to the evolution from Jun Fan to Jeet Kune Do, and the catalyst for that was his fight with Wong Jack Man in 1964. This battle is shrouded in mystery and has been elevated to legendary proportions, so much so that we will most likely never know the real details surrounding it accurately. What we do know though, is that Bruce won the fight, but he felt like it took him too long and things weren't necessarily going the way he wanted. This sent him back to the drawing board for further refinement of his system. Right up until his untimely death, he was constantly revising his curriculum and fighting method. Eventually, Bruce even went so far as to close down all of his schools, saying that he no longer believed in "schools", and only taught a handful of select students privately at his home.
Another monumental milestone for Bruce in early 1964 was the upset victory of underdog Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay), whom Bruce Lee idolized, over World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Sonny Listen. Muhammad Ali, who Bruce had been so fascinated with for years had, at 22 years old, just become the youngest boxer in history to take the world heavyweight title from a reigning champ.
"Add what is useful, discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own." -Bruce Lee
Our Jeet Kune Do lineage
Our lineage of JKD is that of Sifu Jerry Poteet, who was a direct first generation student of Bruce Lee who was selected to be a part of a small private "closed door" group of five people that he trained at his home. Jerry, who was a Kenpo blackbelt, met Bruce Lee at James Yimm Lee's house in Oakland and was the second student accepted by Bruce at his Chinatown school in Los Angeles after Dan Lee, and selected for the twice weekly private "backyard" training sessions.
Sifu Paul Johnson is Jason's Jeet Kune Do Sifu, and oversees the new JKD program being implemented at Texas Wing Tsun. Sifu Paul is a career martial artist and competitor, his passion beginning when his father took him to a boxing gym in his youth. He continued on from there, and progressed with amateur boxing with a record of 38-4, and full contact kickboxing (4-2). He has studied Muay Thai for almost 15 years and holds a 3rd Dan black belt in Japanese Jujitsu. With over 30 years in Jeet Kune Do, Sifu Paul formed the Real Jeet Kune Do organization in 1999, and in 2006 became a certified Sifu under Sifu Jerry Poteet, a direct student of Si-Jo Bruce Lee. He has also trained under many top notch JKD Sifu's, including Richard Bustillo, Lamar Davis, and Dave Carnell, who have helped him to excel in every aspect of the system.
Since the passing of Sifu Poteet, Paul Johnson and the RJKD organization has continued their growth and development under the guidance of Sifu Leo Fong, who is a first generation direct student of Si-Jo Bruce Lee, and Sifu Lamar Davis, who is a certified instructor under 5 original first generation Bruce Lee students.
Our Chief instructor Jason Malik is certified under Sifu Paul Johnson and the Real Jeet Kune Do organization, and has also trained in JKD Concepts under the Dan Inosanto and Paul Vunak lineages, and the early Jun Fan/Jesse Glover material that was integrated into the EWTO Wing Tsun curriculum.
Random JKD Facts
*Sifu Fran Poteet-Joseph, wife of the late Sifu Jerry Poteet, is also a 1st Technician level and a certified instructor of Wing Tsun under Sifu Emin Boztepe.
*To this very day, Sifu Dan Inosanto still takes Wing Tsun lessons, and encourages his students to do the same. Many great JKD Sifu's, including Sifu Lamar Davis, agree that Wing Tsun is the nucleus of JKD and advocate learning Wing Tsun to build a strong foundation for your JKD and greatly improve your skill level.
*Sifu Jerry Poteet was brought on as a technical advisor to train Jason Scott Lee for his role in the biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Jason Scott Lee later went on to become an instructor under Jerry Poteet.
*Wing Tsun Grandmaster Kieth Kernspecht met up and trained with Jesse Glover, Bruce Lee's first American student from his Jun Fan Gong Fu days. He was very impressed with Glover's skill level and amazing Chi Sao. After a few years of training and exchanging information, Kernspecht added some of the Jun Fan material from Jesse Glover into the first four student grades of his Lat Sao program. This also lead him to devise several effective counters for Bruce Lee's notorious backfist (also a native technique to Wing Tsun) in Lat Sao student grade 3.
*UFC fighter Luke Cummo has trained JKD, and UFC fighter Anderson Silva has trained both Wing Tsun & JKD. Many other UFC fighters like Jon Jones and Tony Ferguson have employed Wing Tsun and/or JKD in the octagon as well.
*Contrary to popular belief, Si-Jo Bruce Lee did not write and publish the book the Tao of Jeet Kune Do. The book was compiled, arranged, and published posthumously by his widow Linda Lee-Caldwell, Dan Inosanto, and the publisher/editor Gilbert Johnson, from years of Bruce's scattered personal notes, and borrowed heavily from the material of The Tao of Gung Fu (which was the book that Bruce actually did write, also published posthumously), and years and years of his personal notes and research from literally hundreds of notebooks that contained his analysis of dozens of various martial arts, his deep philosophical thoughts on the art of combat, and various stages of the incomplete his evolution of his own personal art. To put his research into perspective, Bruce's personal library contained over 2,500 books ranging from Yoga to psychoanalysis, and hundreds of handwritten notebooks, scattered notes and drawings on napkins, and metaphorical poetic ramblings. Dan Inosanto is mostly responsible for the duration of the information, cherry-picking what he wanted the book to contain. Not to say that it's not a good book, because it is, but it's not the secret blueprint Bruce left behind. As far as Bruce Lee is concerned, that book never existed, and does not necessarily reflect his final personal thoughts, views, and opinions overall of what JKD is or was to him at the time of his death. Bruce also was the technical editor of James Yimm Lee's book Wing Chun Kung Fu: Chinese Art of Self-Defense.
*In a 2001 interview with Jose Fraguas in Inside Kung Fu magazine, Taky Kimura cleared up the misquote that Bruce said "Chi Sao is out". This stems from an interview with Ted Wong, who stated "Taky (Kimura) told me that Bruce had called him (in 1969) and told him that 'Chi Sao is out'". This statement cause quite a controversial divide amongst JKD practitioners and the theory they followed.
In that interview, Jose Fraguas asked Taky, "Is it true that Bruce called you and told you 'Chi Sao was out'?" To which Taky corrected him: "He called me and said that Chi Sao was not the focal point anymore, as we had thought earlier. I was shocked... I have to say that at that time I didn't understand what Bruce meant, but now I do... He didn't mean Chi Sao was useless, but only that it was not the nucleus of what he was teaching in Los Angeles. He realized that it was an important part of the totality in combat, but not the only part of it as he emphasized during his days in Seattle where he taught Wing Tsun."
*In a 1995 interview with Black Belt Magazine, Dan Inosanto admitted that while Wing Tsun was the foundation of JKD, Bruce chose to keep a lot of it to himself to give himself an edge or advantage over everyone else. Bruce didn't abandon Wing Tsun; he chose to keep it to himself to be his secret weapon. He didn't stop teaching it because it was ineffective; he stopped because he wanted to keep it to himself.
BB: Were there certain topics you learned from Bruce, but couldn't impart to the other students?
Inosanto: There were 13 things I could teach on the classical list, and that was it. He (Bruce) used to say that under no circumstances could I teach double Pak Sao (slap block). Pak Sao Bil Gee (slap block/finger jab) and Pak Sao Lap Sao (slap block/grabbing hand) were big big secrets. He was the head man, so I kept it exactly the way he wanted me to teach it.
*In 1975 Dan Inosanto, Jerry Poteet, and Richard Bustillo collaborated to create a JKD technique poster.
Rest in Peace Grandmaster Yip Man, Si-Jo Bruce Lee, and Si-Gung Jerry Poteet.
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