Understanding JKD as a Process
For those of you who do not already know, Jeet Kune Do represents the process of Bruce Lee. It was never meant to be a finished product, but rather an ongoing journey of constant improvement, research and breakthrough for the founder of JKD.
Unfortunately, with Lee’s untimely death, JKD as a process stopped abruptly and as later generations of practitioners we are only able to analyze that growth in stages.
The purpose of this article is to help us discern the difference between the following three:
- Traditional Wing Chun
- Early Stage JKD, more popularly known as Jun Fan Gung Fu
- Latter Stage JKD
Wing Chun — “Nucleus”
Many will know that Bruce Lee started his martial arts career with Wing Chun.
During the five years that he practiced with Ip Man and his students, he was able to acquire practical proficiency in the system but was never able to truly complete his learning of the art.
Even then, the soft but unyielding principles, intelligent fighting structure and graceful techniques formed the foundation for what was to be built on it for the next few years.
Some therefore understand Wing Chun to be the core and basis for JKD.
So how did the evolution of Bruce Lee’s development proceed?
Jun Fan Gung Fu / Early Stage JKD
After leaving Hong Kong and upon arriving at the States, Lee began his gradual departure from the traditional arts.
Based on his own research and extrapolation, he modified his expression of classical Wing Chun and began working on what he initally termed Jun Fan Gung Fu.
The key modifications include:
- Increased emphasis on forward weight placement — for added reach and forward pressure
- Stripping away of what Lee believed to not be practical at the time, or did not manage to properly learn
- Reliance on touch reference
- Reliance on center-line dominance
- Reliance on closed range
See Through Labels
A surprising majority of Jeet Kune Do practitioners slant towards this “Early Stage” variant of JKD. The most obvious way to discern this would be to observe the reliance on touch reference. Usually, these practitioners/instructors appear rather “Wing Chun-esque”.
The basic understanding is that if a JKD practitioner is predominantly “Wing Chunnish”, for instance if he is significantly limited to closed-ranged touch reference-based Wing Chun techniques i.e. Pak, Lap, Bong, forward pressure, etc. perhaps only the label of what he is doing has changed — he is essentially a Jun Fan or even a Wing Chun practitioner in the skin of a JKD man.
As such, it is imperative that we learn how to discern authentic “Latter Stage” JKD from Early JKD/Jun Fan and traditional Wing Chun.
What makes “Latter Stage” JKD unique?
Fencing without the Blade
As taught to me by my mentor, Sigung Mark Stewart, the final stage in the evolution of Bruce Lee’s martial art were based on physics and the laws of combat.
Having turned to science, Western Fencing and Western Boxing, Lee no longer concerned himself with the separation/division between styles and systems.
Instead, he focused on how to optimize his physical and mental tools to achieve the best results possible for himself.
Just think of how a fencer or boxer tries to score on their opponents with the least chance of being hit back — as well as the simplicity — and subsequent sophistication that follows.
How does “Latter Stage” JKD work?
A common misconception is that one can do “anything” and/or “everything” and term it JKD.
JKD has a method that is unique to its own.
This is a method that can easily be identified by observing the practitioner carefully.
The signature nuances of “Latter Stage” JKD:
- A strong distance control “game”, that is very much like how a trained fencer acutely manipulates the space between him and his opponent
- A strong timing control “game”, that is very much like how a trained fencer acutely manipulates the time between him and his opponent
- Achieving the above two points equate to Space/Time Mastery
- Mass Acceleration along the Kinectic Chain and Power Lines
- Rapid Recovery from movement to movement
- Dynamic and multi-directional footwork
- Proactive emphasis on hitting (first) and as much as possible — “without touch”
- Versatility and the ability to flow throughout ALL ranges, including long, middle and close.
- Versatility and the ability to fluently express the tactics: punching, kicking, grappling and not just trapping.
- Versatility with regards to timing and variation — Morphing
- Disengaged Trapping — this is a HUGE one. Many instructors are famous because they are speedy, but only with my mentor have I seen the ability to strike like a fencer. For me to describe this way is very difficult. Think of a fencer who engages/touches the opponent’s blade ONLY when there is a need to — otherwise their primary focus is on Interception.
- Non-reliance on touch reference
- Blocking as the last resort, or for an element of surprise
- The ability to rapidly adapt, evolve and overcome as the interaction progresses
Rethink the Philosophy
As you can probably see by now, “Latter Stage” JKD is specialized niche that probably isn’t for everybody.
A sound comprehension of all the preceding stages — their respective purposes, functions and implications — is required, and that takes consistent hard work and dedication.
It is only by knowing how one stage connects to the next can we finally achieve a operational (and not just philosophical) understanding of the words Bruce Lee so frequently used:
- Hack away at the unessential
- Absorb what is useful
- Discard what is useless