You could spend a lifetime searching for information on the late great Sijo Bruce Lee. There is 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), and also did a lot of training under one of Yip Man's students Wong Sheung Leung, from the time he was about 13 years old until he came to America at age 19 in 1959. This laid the foundation for his 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. 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 and Hung Gar from Shiu Hon Sang. 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, 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 and Joe Luis. 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.
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.
When Bruce first began teaching Jun Fan Gong Fu, it really wasn't much more than a modified version of Wing Tsun with some boxing elements, and the fencing evolved into it as time went on. He continued learning a different version/lineage 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.
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 skillset. 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 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. Here's a list of some of the more notable practitioners and styles that had an influence on his 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.
"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.
"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 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 Sijo 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.
Our Chief instructor Jason Malik is certified under Sifu Paul Johnson and the Real Jeet Kune Do organization.
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.
*Grandmaster Kieth Kernspecht met up and trained with Jesse Glover, Bruce Lee's first student from his Jun Fan Gong Fu days. He was very impressed with Glover's skill level and amazing Chi Sao. After training and exchanging information, Kernspecht added some of the Jun Fan material 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 in the Wing Tsun program) in Lat Sao student grade 3.
*UFC fighter Luke Cummo has trained JKD, and UFC fighter Anderson Silva has trained both Wing Tsun & JKD.
*Contrary to popular belief, Sijo Bruce Lee did not write and publish the book the Tao of Jeet Kune Do. The book he wrote to be published was The Tao of Gung Fu. The Tao of Jeet Kune Do was compiled posthumously by his widow Linda Lee-Caldwell and the publisher, from years of Bruce's scattered personal notes, and borrowed heavily from the material of The Tao of Gung Fu. Bruce also was the technical editor of James Yimm Lee's book Wing Chun Kung Fu: Chinese Art of Self-Defense.
*In 1975 Dan Inosanto, Jerry Poteet, and Richard Bustillo collaborated to create a JKD technique poster.
Rest in Peace Grandmaster Yip Man, Sijo Bruce Lee, and Sifu Jerry Poteet.
Disclaimer: The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in this site are that of Texas Wing Tsun and its Chief Instructor, Jason Malik, who independently researched and compiled the information that is presented in his personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the official views of our WTA or RJKD affiliates. Allowance is made for fair use of copyrighted photos and other media material compiled and presented from outside sources and is protected under the federal Fair Use Act of 1976 (17 USC Section 107) for reporting/editorial, research, and educational/teaching purposes.
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