What is Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do?
In one of Bruce Lee’s spots on the television show Longstreet, James Franciscus asks Bruce Lee, “What do you call this thing you do?” Bruce goes on to explain that the name he has given to his own approach to the martial arts is Jeet Kune Do. Translated from Cantonese, jeet means “intercepting” or “stopping. Kune means “fist“, and do is “the way.” In English then, Jeet Kune Do is “The Way of the Intercepting Fist.”
Over the years, there has been much debate over the name Jeet Kune Do. Is it a style or a philosophy? Is it based on Eastern or Western martial arts? Bruce Lee himself was quoted as saying “it’s only a name.” But, of course, he had to have some way of referring to the techniques and strategies he was using.
The story of how he came to develop those techniques starts in 1964 when Bruce was teaching the traditional Chinese martial art of wing chun at his school in Oakland, California. Bay Area kung fu instructors, unhappy that Bruce was teaching non-Chinese students, sent Wong J. Man from Hong Kong to Oakland with an ultimatum: close the school or throw down. The challenge, of course, was met right there on the spot, and the two faced off, but a fight that Bruce felt should have been over much sooner lasted an excruciating three minutes. He realized that even though he had successfully dispensed with the challenger, the traditional arts were not as effective as he’d wanted them to be in a real situation.
At this point, Bruce could’ve taken the easy way out and continued with the classical arts. He could have coasted on his reputation and his victory over Wong J. Man. Instead, he threw out years of wing chun study and dove into researching other martial arts. He read thousands of books on various fighting systems, but the majority of books in his personal library were either fencing or boxing titles. These are the volumes that were most heavily underlined and annotated by Bruce. These are the arts that were most subject to his scrutiny. And these western arts form the foundation of Jeet Kune Do.
While Bruce Lee analyzed many fighting styles, this does not mean he incorporated all of them into his arsenal. Which brings us back to the James Franciscus question: “What do you call this thing you do?” Arguments of whether or not JKD is a style aside, Jeet Kune Do is the name that Bruce Lee gave to the fighting techniques and strategies he was developing and employing. It was what he was doing—how he was most efficiently using arms, legs, body weight, tactics, and the laws of physics—to fight. True, there are philosophical principles that guide the physical side of JKD, but we must never forget that JKD is about doing, about action—very specific action.
That action is comprised of the JKD techniques developed by Bruce Lee himself. Contrary to common misconception, Bruce Lee did not merely take techniques from various arts and throw them together. He studied and tested very specific elements, and essentially, these were elements from only two arts—Western fencing and boxing. Jeet Kune Do’s stance, footwork, and major strategic points come from fencing. A key principle in fencing, the stop-hit, is essentially the JKD namesake—the way of the intercepting fist. The idea that you can set up your opponent so that you will be able to intercept him in his most vulnerable state—on the attack—is central to the work of fencing authors Aldo Nadi and Julio Martinez Castello, both of whom are quoted heavily in Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
For body mechanics and maximum generation of power, Bruce turned to boxers Edwin Haislet, Jack Dempsey, and Jim Dricsoll. Again, all three are heavily quoted in Bruce’s writings. JKD’s vertical-fist jab, proper alignment, striking surface, hip rotation, and kinetic chain sequence all come from boxing.
Even with the heavy influence of both sports, however, it’s important to note that JKD is neither fencing nor boxing. To technically explain this would be beyond the scope of this article, but it’s important to remember that Bruce never lifted techniques wholesale from other arts for the sake of accumulating new techniques. Each weapon was subject to scientific analysis, modified, and tested in fighting situations.
For our modern day purposes, Jeet Kune Do is the name we now use to describe those techniques and strategies that Bruce Lee developed and more important, employed, over his lifetime. Of course, he would have continued to improve on the JKD arsenal, modifying certain things, discarding others. But that is not for us to decide. As a further delineation and for historical purposes, to preserve Bruce Lee’s art and the contributions he made to the fighting arts, those techniques that originated from the source—Bruce Lee—now fall under the Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do name.
© 2009 Bruce Lee Foundation.