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, Paul Vunak and Gary Dill. Part 4 focuses on the thoughts expressed by Lamar M. Davis II, Dr. Jerry Beasley, Matt Thornton and Thomas Cruise. In this conclusion, we highlight Lewis, Fong, William Cheung and Richardson.
Photo Courtesy of Black Belt
The top three principles Bruce Lee emphasized for fighters were distancing, relaxed explosiveness and movement (rhythm). Although many of his students talked about broken rhythm, few understood what it really meant and almost no one could execute it. His indirect-angular-attack theory (progressive indirect attack) was primarily used to level the playing field when two equal combatants were engaged. As in the sport of boxing, this faking-type movement pattern is a last resort to disrupt the other person’s timing. Again, the problem was that few students developed the faking skills necessary to use this principle.
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Head, body and foot rhythm have always been a major weakness for martial arts practitioners. This rhythm principle (usually called movement) is used in all tactics. It’s the most important attribute of any strategy, both defensively and offensively. The two principles that are most useful in combat are distancing and controlling the set-point. Each requires the effective use of movement. Movement skills are the best way to control an opponent — to take away his best technique or challenge his will to fight. Bruce and I used to study the movement skills of Willie Pep, Sugar Ray Robinson and, of course, Muhammad Ali.
Photo by Peter Lueders
First-Generation Bruce Lee Student
Black Belt Hall of Famer
Author of Beyond Kung Fu
The most important principle is one that goes with the jab: progressive indirect attack. I used it to deceive my opponents. I never jabbed straight in; rather, I would shift slightly to the left or right before snapping out the straight front-hand lead. In other words, I would strike at an angle. Using this principle, I developed an entire repertoire of deceptive moves.
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The most important concept is using no way as way. When Lee shared this with us back in the mid-1960s, I didn’t quite understand what he was talking about. Today, I see it as meaning that once the technique is mastered, there are no boundaries or deliberation. It’s much like the relationship between a sound and an echo. In the elementary stage, you just do the technique and remain conscious of every detail. As you practice the technique over and over, it finds depth and becomes an expression and an emotional response to what is. You’re no longer self-conscious about whether you’re doing the technique correctly. You become the technique, so to speak.
Photo by Robert Reiff
If I were to teach only one thing, it would be the wing chun vertical punch. The fundamental prerequisites in combat are keeping calm, using the eyes effectively, and achieving static and dynamic balance.
Why the vertical punch instead of the horizontal punch? The horizontal punch has only the elbow behind it. That doesn’t generate much power unless the whole arm is fully extended or you use your momentum by pushing your shoulder forward and putting your body behind it. Even then, if your opponent steps away or deflects your arm, you’ll be off-balance.
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Before wing chun was developed, all punches were horizontal and the elbow was never fully extended to avoid jarring the elbow. While wing chun was being created, the first technique developed was the vertical punch. It’s more powerful because the elbow, shoulder, hip, knee and stance are behind it all the way. When the elbow is at the centerline of the body, the distance the punch must travel is only one-third the distance the horizontal punch travels. Furthermore, the vertical punch doesn’t require any preparation. The wing chun vertical punch is just like jeet kune do — simple, effective and dynamic.
Photo by Robert Reiff
Jeet Kune Do and Silat Instructor
Founder of Jeet Kune Do Unlimited
Black Belt Hall of Famer
Star of Burton Richardson’s Silat for the Street Online Course
An important reason for the emphasis on sparring [in self-defense training] is that it gives empirical feedback that helps the student follow one of Bruce Lee’s most famous quotes: “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”
To know what is useful and what isn’t, you must test each technique yourself. JKD is a personal experience, which means that you must experience combat (hard sparring). Just copying techniques from an instructor and doing light drills won’t create a fighting experience. If you merely look at a technique from afar or test ideas against cooperative partners, you aren’t conducting a scientific test.
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You must test your techniques and tactics under conditions that are similar to the combat environment. Since it’s unethical and unadvisable to purposefully get into street fights, sparring in all the ranges becomes the best means to develop complete, functional fighting skill. If you don’t believe me, consider Lee’s own words: “There is nothing better than free-style sparring in the practice of any combative art.”
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