Learn the Most Important Martial Arts Lessons Bruce Lee Taught — From His Top Disciples! Part 4

Black Belt contacted 16 well-known martial artists who teach jeet kune do or were heavily influenced by it to get their thoughts on the most important part of Bruce Lee’s art. Part 1 features replies from Dan Inosanto, Tim Tackett, Kelly McCann and Joe Lewis. Part 2 offers the answers we got from Burton Richardson, Matthew J. Numrich, Teri Tom and Richard S. Bustillo. Part 3 includes Leo Fong, Bustillo (again), Paul Vunak and Gary Dill.

Here, we present the views of Lamar M. Davis II, Dr. Jerry Beasley, Matt Thornton and Thomas Cruise.

— Editors

Photo by Thomas Sanders

LAMAR M. DAVIS II
JKD Instructor Certified by Five First-Generation Bruce Lee Students
Star of the Jeet Kune Do for the Advanced Practitioner DVD Set

I would teach the principles, attributes and skills necessary to strike from wherever you happen to be without first having to reposition yourself. JKD means “way of the intercepting fist”; you must strike quickly and decisively to intercept the opponent’s intention to attack. JKD is all about self-defense on the street. You must always be aware and alert, ready for whatever may come. If you need time to get ready, as opposed to being ready, it’s already too late.

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We have a position that’s referred to as bai jong, or on-guard. It’s our primary fighting stance. However, you may not always have time to get into that position — or you might not want to because it shows signs of pre-aggression. If you can strike without telegraphing from wherever you are, you’ll have the time you need to assume a more appropriate posture for the threat.

Photo by Rick Hustead

JERRY BEASLEY, ED.D.
Jeet Kune Do Instructor
Founder of Karate College
Black Belt Hall of Famer
Author of Dojo Dynamics

Bruce Lee was clear about what he considered essential training in JKD. He wrote, “There is nothing better than free-style sparring,” and “Sparring lives from moment to moment.” Therefore, I would teach a student to spar. Hard-contact sparring with protective gear and the intent to do harm is beyond style. It levels the playing field so that using what works becomes essential. It’s the time you get to totally experience your skills, “uncluttered by classical form.”

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Lee often referred to robotic martial arts drills as “organized despair.” He thought it was common for the classical martial artist to break an alive, spontaneous encounter into neatly organized parts, a method he called “dissecting a corpse.” In full-contact sparring, as in JKD, you don’t succeed by knowing more techniques or more arts than the other guy. You gain the simplicity of JKD by stripping away the useless baggage associated with a desire to accumulate more skills and perform more drills.

In a fight, your opponent dictates your choice of responses. Using no one’s way but your own, you’re free to “float in the totality” of all that you’ve mastered. JKD is the only art that insists that you move to the next level only when you discard the art and its inherent limitations, in favor of personal expression. You seek not to constantly add but to constantly free yourself of that which is not essential to your survival. The only way to find out what works specifically for you is to test it under fire. Sparring is the fire that burns away the unessential. Without sparring, the art becomes a museum in which your collection of skills and drills is neatly displayed. Sparring becomes your battlefield, your trial by fire. When the basics have been mastered and the cardio conditioning accomplished, it’s time to get it on.

Photo Courtesy of Matt Thornton

MATT THORNTON
Founder of Functional Jeet Kune Do

Without a doubt, the one thing I’d want to get across is the principle of “aliveness.” It’s the training method that makes the distinction between what works and what doesn’t. It’s what differentiates traditional Japanese jujitsu from an art like Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Once understood, [aliveness] will prevent you from ever being fooled again regarding what is functional and what isn’t. Once fully grasped, it will allow you to go anywhere and work with anyone and still create an atmosphere of safe, functional training.

Photo by Robert Reiff

THOMAS CRUSE
Jeet Kune Do Instructor Under Paul Vunak

Bruce Lee advocated striking the eyes, so for me, the most important thing is attacking the eyes as naturally and efficiently as possible. The optimal technique isn’t an eye poke or an eye jab; rather, it’s a lightning-fast backhand strike. Because of the eyes’ proximity to the brain, we in Progressive Fighting Systems refer to them as “off buttons.” This means that when you hit one eye, it affects both and usually brings a sudden end to the altercation. The best way to accomplish that is as follows:

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1. Identify your weapon. In this case, it’s the back of your hand and the first two knuckles of your fingers. To test it, turn your hand so you can see your palm, then use it to strike the palm of your other hand. It’s a high-five type of motion that makes contact with the back of the hand instead of the front. The technique should follow a natural line of attack and resemble the traditional karate backfist.

2. Identify the target. It’s the eyeballs.

3. Practice it. Have a partner hold a focus pad while you hit a spot on it that’s the size of a quarter. That will teach you accuracy.

4. Test it. Instead of injuring your partner, try it on yourself lightly. Gently tap your own closed eye, then very gradually increase the impact until you feel how vicious it can be.

5. Polish it. Simulate striking while you’re grabbing, holding or wrestling with your partner — any time you lack the freedom of movement, you need to use a slightly different technique.

(To be continued.)

“Bruce Lee” is a registered trademark of Bruce Lee Enterprises LLC. The Bruce Lee name, image and likeness are intellectual property of Bruce Lee Enterprises LLC.

Read Part 1 of this article here.

Read Part 2 of this article here.

Read Part 3 of this article here.