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

The concept was simple enough: We contacted 16 prominent martial artists who either teach jeet kune do or were inspired by it, then asked them to identify the single most important thing Bruce Lee taught. To liven it up a bit, we told them it didn’t have to be a punch or a kick; it could also be a concept or a philosophy.

The hardest part, most everyone reported, was picking only one thing. In fact, some people disregarded our instructions and selected two or three — and we’re kind of glad they did because all the answers are fascinating.

— Editors

Photo by Rick Hustead

DAN INOSANTO
First-Generation Bruce Lee Student
Founder of the Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts
Four-Time Black Belt Hall of Famer

Since my first meeting with sifu Bruce in 1964, throughout my years as head instructor at our Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute and the nearly 60 years since that day when we became friends, teacher-student and collaborators, I’ve continued to teach the lessons taught to me by my best friend and instructor. I’ve been asked this question countless times, and the answer is always the same: self-expression through self-discovery.

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Sifu Bruce had many “no fail” techniques and principles, and they changed on a regular basis. The one that never failed was his quest for self-expression through self-discovery. That’s because self-expression and self-discovery lead to self-perfection physically, mentally and emotionally.

The never-ending process of self-expression and the belief in oneself [determine whether] what students chose to execute at any give time will work. I could list an encyclopedia of techniques that Bruce used and favored from month to month and year to year, but that wouldn’t benefit anyone as much as the true lesson and meaning of his art.

Photo by Thomas Sanders

TIM TACKETT
Second-Generation Bruce Lee Student
Author of Chinatown Jeet Kune Do and Chinatown Jeet Kune Do, Volume 2
Star of Chinatown Jeet Kune Do: Essential Elements of Bruce Lee’s Martial Art DVD

Since jeet kune do means “way of the intercepting fist,” intercepting an opponent’s attack is what I would stress to a JKD student. With interception being the goal, I’d focus on the stop-hit or the stop-kick. While any punch can be used as a stop-hit and any kick can be used as a stop-kick, I prefer the straight lead and the shin/knee side kick, respectively. If I had to pick one, it would be the stop-kick. The reason: If you stay on the outside of your opponent’s attack (the fighting measure), he’ll have to step toward you to strike or kick. That leaves his front leg vulnerable to your shin/knee side stop-kick.

As far as concepts go, I’d focus on what Bruce Lee told his student Bob Bremer: Take what is offered to you. If your opponent steps toward you, he’s “offering” you his front leg to attack. It’s an important part of the basic idea of intercepting your opponent’s attack.

Photo by Robert Reiff

KELLY MCCANN
JKD Student
Author of Combatives for Street Survival
Star of Kelly McCann’s Combatives Self-Defense Online Course
Black Belt Hall of Famer

There are many characteristics of how I practice combatives that are similar to those of jeet kune do. It’s almost impossible to single out only two or three that are emblematic, but if pressed, I’d have to choose the simultaneity of attack and defense.

In combatives, blocking isn’t an isolated event. Using a well-developed guard, you only “block” in order to (or as you) attack. Blocking is a fractional movement that facilitates a strike. In JKD, it was Bruce Lee’s intention to acknowledge the necessity of blocking (or avoiding) strikes — but not to the extent that blocking distracted from attacking. This approach ensures that you quickly reverse roles with your attacker — you become the predator, and he becomes the prey. It also provides you with more opportunities to gain and maintain offensive momentum.

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Another essential is interception. In combatives, we call it “pre-emption.” Basically, Lee’s assertion that you should intercept aggression in stages (mentally, vocally and physically) is analogous to the combatives approach of first, being avoidant by using situational awareness; second, warning off by taking some type of early physical action to avoid an altercation; and finally, in the most threatening circumstances, launching your attack before your adversary’s attack is fully manifested. It’s pre-emptively attacking — essentially, stop-hitting.

Lee’s combative perspective remains as refreshing today as it was decades ago. His intensity, dedication to challenging convention and reductionist approach will always distinguish him as a martial arts innovator.

Photo by Rick Hustead

JOE LEWIS
First-Generation Bruce Lee Student
Former World Karate Champion
Two-Time Black Belt Hall of Famer

I would choose Bruce Lee’s way of firing the forward-hand straight punch, which when he did it was the fastest technique in the martial arts. His mind-set (use of appropriate preconsciousness) and his skill at using independent motion (a broken-rhythm trigger squeeze) made it impossible for any opponent to detect his well-timed punching attacks.

I’ve stood toe-to-toe with the fastest fighters in the world, and I can say that Bruce Lee, with his sharp mental attributes, executed the quickest lead-hand punch of all.

(Read Part 2 here.)

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