Prime Principles Part 1

A JKD Private Lesson With Tim Tackett

Tim Tackett used to be a schoolteacher, but he should have been a principal. Why? Because he knows all about principles — as in, the foundational principles of jeet kune do. You can sense that within minutes of starting an interview with him about Bruce Lee's martial art. You can even sense it when you initiate a discussion about such an interview.

"Lots of articles are based on things like the five kicks of taekwondo," he said while brainstorming. "JKD is different because it's more principle-based. The kicks we do are similar to kicks everybody else does. It's the principles that guide us in the study of Bruce's art. Let's do an interview about the principles."

Your wish is my command, sir!

Principle No. 1:Know the Fighting Measure

"The basic principle of jeet kune do is called the fighting measure. It's the distance between you and your opponent. Unless he has a projectile weapon, to touch you, he will need to take a step forward with his lead leg. That gives you time to react to his attack. All this, of course, makes the fighting measure very important.

"To maintain the fighting measure, you must have as much mobility as possible, both for the ring and the street. You can think of the fighting measure as the optimum distance for attack and defense because, if you know what you're doing, you can attack efficiently from there and you can defend effectively.

"Footwork gives you that ability. It can be a boring thing to practice, but it forms the foundation of every good fighter. It allows you not only to dodge and enter for the attack, but also to have the ability to time your counterattacks and place your weight perfectly for the most powerful and well-timed strikes.

"To do this, you have to practice a lot — until you can do it without thinking. You have to be able to measure that distance against any opponent, whether it's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Billy Barty. The fighting measure is different for each person, so you have to train to automatically recognize it. You must be able to see somebody and basically determine your safe distance.

"Sometimes you might want to have a little more safe distance. For example, you see some JKD people who stand [with] their front hand a little bit low. If you're going to do that, you need to be farther away so the person can't finger-slice you before you can move or block. For those who don't know, the finger slice is an open-hand technique that targets the eyes. When you do it and twist your rear foot, you gain the extra distance you need to make contact."

Principle No. 2:Use Economy of Motion

"JKD always stresses economy of motion. Another way to think of this is being direct and using the fact that the shortest distance to the target is a straight line. As Bruce Lee used to tell Bob Bremer, one of my teachers, 'Always take your closest shot.' Wherever you are, the closest shot is the one that's most efficient.

"You can learn a bit about this principle by discussing the cleanest, shortest attacks possible in any given situation with your classmates and instructors, but the only real way to understand economy of motion is to spar. This is crucial for all martial artists, not just JKD people, because it can give you an advantage in any fight. The principles of jeet kune do are universal; Bruce just put them down in an organized way. Unfortunately, a lot of that has been lost because these days there's so much focus on technique."


From there, the opponent cannot reach Tackett unless he moves forward.

Principle No. 3:Train With Emotional Content

"In training, many people get into the habit of just punching at focus pads and heavy bags. What they should be doing is putting emotional content into it so it develops the skills needed in a fight. To prevail, you've got to let the beast loose. You have to turn on that attitude."

Bruce used to say it was like a light switch. You turn it on and then turn it off — it goes off that fast. You have to practice this in a way that works for you. When I do it, I visualize something that really pisses me off — like Hitler's face on that focus glove.

"It helps to imagine there's an opponent in front of you. Attack the pads as if you're defending your loved ones against that opponent. To maximize your versatility, don't practice this way just against martial artists who use attacks from your own art. That happens way too often — it amounts to practicing against yourself. It's fine until you run into a grappler and all your stand-up isn't working. You try to throw a jab, and he goes under it and takes you down.

"These days, it's easier to find training partners who have skill in other arts. It was much worse back in the 1960s. I had students who would go to tournaments where it was all karate versus karate. That can be limiting for anyone interested in realism. It was Ed Parker who opened it up to all the arts. Of course, we didn't have much in the way of the grappling arts back then, but we do now. What the Gracies did was a good thing because it added a whole new element that we needed to know about."

Principle No. 4:Train Realistically

"When I was studying to be a teacher in the 1960s, I had to go through a number of education courses. They never taught me anything useful — except for a lesson I learned from a man named Neil Postman. He said everyone needs to have a built-in BS detector. This applies as much to martial arts as it does to education.

"In JKD, we always went out of our way to find out if what we thought would work actually did work. If it didn't, why were we practicing it? You should do the same.

"I once gave a seminar in New York. I spent the first day teaching the progressive indirect attack and a bunch of other stuff. The students really got into it. I would throw a hand strike, and they would block it. Then I would throw another hand. If they moved, I would do a hook kick, and so on. They worked on it all and got good.

"Then, on the second day, I told them to do what they had learned. When they tried, I did a leg obstruction and blew the whole thing away. (laughs) I said, 'What you learned was good, but actually maybe it's not.' I was trying to teach them the concept that realistic training means being ready for anything."


Tim Tackett (left) credits the Gracies with having brought attention to grappling, both its potential for offense and the need for defense against it.

Principle No. 5:Follow a Realistic Training Progression

"I think it was Chris Kent who came up with the triangle as a symbol for this principle. Basically, you start at the bottom of the triangle with stance and footwork. Then in the second phase, you learn tool development. Let's say it's the lead-hand punch. You practice the punch, doing it on a focus glove. You learn three things: attack, counterattack and defense. How do you attack with the punch? How do you defend against the punch? How do you counterattack with the punch? The third part is focusing on tactics and strategy: when to use it and how to use it while sparring.

"So with one technique — in this case, the lead-hand punch — it might take a year to get through the training. Then you move on to the backfist, combinations and so on. What you should be dealing with is principles and training methods. It's not techniques; any art can do techniques.

"The thing is, this requires patience. That's why there are so few people who can do JKD well. But once you get it, it becomes really easy. But to get it, it's really difficult. (laughs)"Once you learn all the tactics and strategy, you have to start throwing things away. Think of a daily decrease instead of a daily increase. Your goal is to have a few things you can do very well.

"I've got all of Bruce's notes from when I was part of the Bruce Lee Educational Foundation. When he would work out, it was 500 finger jabs, 500 hook kicks, 500 this and 500 that — not too many techniques, but he wanted to do those things well. That's how you develop yourself.

"On the subject of throwing things away, some people wonder if you can throw away too much. Of course. If you leave yourself with just the finger jab, for instance, it probably won't be enough for you to use in self-defense all the time. If you're Bruce, it might be, but who has that skill level?

"For most people, you have to cover your bases. Let's say I want to learn something. The first thing I do is try to learn it. Then I learn what I'm leaving open when I do it and how I can defend against it. Do I even have a defense against it? This is what it means to look at something in a realistic manner. "You want to look for openings and weaknesses. I used to train with a great grappler named Lloyd Kennedy. He would say, 'Look, I'm going to show you some things. If there's anything that you can find a counter to or a weakness in, please let me know because I'd rather learn it here than on the street.'

"A big part of following a realistic progression is learning to take what's offered. If your opponent is offering you something — and [no one] can attack [another person] without leaving an opening — you should take it. That's the whole key to intercepting. Know that the body is always going to be open when somebody attacks you. He can't extend a limb to touch you without leaving an opening. So you intercept it. That's the meaning of jeet kune do.


This JKD teaching pertains to efficiency, directness and shortest distances. It also means assembling combinations that a here to the same guidelines.

In Jeet Kune Do, What Is a Technique?

Tim Tackett began training in the martial arts in 1962 when he was stationed in Taipei, Taiwan, while in the U.S. Air Force. When he returned to California several years later, he opened a kung fu school. After seeing Bruce Lee in 1967 at Ed Parker's Long Beach International Karate Championships, Tackett decided to take up jeet kune do. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to begin JKD training until after Lee's Chinatown school had closed. To fill the void, in 1971 he joined the class Dan Inosanto was running in his backyard. Tackett continued to refine his skills with first-generation JKD student Bob Bremer. He was named Black Belt's 2017 Instructor of the Year.

Introducing Martial Arts School Listings on Black Belt Mag!
Sign Up Now To Be One Of The First School Listed In Our Database.
Don't miss a single issue of the worlds largest magazine of martial arts.

Two-Time Black Belt Hall of Famer Hayward Nishioka has been campaigning for judo in the United States to harvest more shodans (1st degree black belts) Shodan literally means student. It's analogous to being a freshman in college. It's not the end but the beginning according to Jigoro Kano, the Founder of Judo.

A very dear friend and sensei of mine the late Allen Johnson, may he rest in peace made a home at Emerald City Judo. In Redmond, Washington.

Keep Reading Show less
ONE Winter Warriors ONE Championship

ONE Championship will begin the final month of 2021 with a stacked six-bout event entitled ONE: Winter Warriors. And helping bolster that card will be a heavyweight showdown between two top contenders.
Keep Reading Show less
Jackson Rudolph
Photo Courtesy: Century Martial Arts

Sport karate has been buzzing on the Black Belt Magazine platform recently with a live stream from the Pan American Internationals, a world tour event of the North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA), reaching over 6.3 million users on Facebook earlier this month. The millions of views and thousands of engagements show evident public appeal for the sport, but I have found that sport karate is heavily underrepresented in martial arts studios across America. Some of this is due to traditionalists who are set in their ways and never intend to accept sport karate, this article is not for those people. I believe that much of this issue is the result of martial arts instructors who have never heard of sport karate, don't think that they are capable of teaching it, or fear that tournaments could introduce a toxic environment for their students. However, I feel that the potential benefits of sport karate with regard to student retention far outweigh those concerns. I'll begin by describing these three key retention-boosting benefits, then provide some helpful resources for learning sport karate at the end of this article.

1. Meeting Student Expectations

Martial Arts Superhero

Photo Courtesy: HarperKids via

I started my journey in martial arts, in part, because I loved the cartoon series Samurai Jack. The generation before me may have started martial arts because of The Power Rangers, and before that it was the iconic martial arts movies of the 70's and 80's. Today, many students come to martial arts schools because they see their favorite super hero kicking and punching their way to victory in a Marvel or DC Comics film.

The funneling of super hero-loving kids to martial arts studios is great for the industry, but this source of inspiration presents the challenge of new students who expect to become the next Superman or Captain America through their training. Imagine if you were the eight-year-old girl who begged mom and dad for karate lessons after watching Black Widow, then you had to spend the first three months of your training learning how to do basic blocks, stances, and stand at attention. You would probably be pretty disappointed, and would decide to go play soccer or be a cheerleader with your friends from school.

I'm not saying that those foundational skills aren't important, they are essential to basic martial arts training. My point is that supplementing traditional curriculum with sport karate skills can be a valuable tool in meeting the expectations of those students who are anticipating superhero-level training. If they are already learning stances and punches, is there any harm in adding a leaping "superman punch" with a big kiai to make them feel like they just took down a big, bad villain?

The moves commonly used in extreme martial arts routines at sport karate tournaments for performance value, like the "superman punch", are often criticized by traditionalists in the comment section who proudly proclaim that it would never work on the streets. Maybe it won't, but it just might keep students coming back into your school so that they can learn the techniques that would actually be effective.

2. Curriculum Enrichment

Black Belt

Photo Courtesy:

Another period in which schools often lose students is right after they get their black belt. They may stick around for a little while so that they get to wear their new belt in class for a few months, but over time many of them fade away before climbing much higher in rank. I believe that this is frequently caused by a lack of satisfactory curriculum beyond first degree black belt. I have observed many martial arts schools that have a seemingly random black belt curriculum, in which the "black belt class" really just consists of whatever the head instructor feels like teaching that day. This lack of formatted curriculum quickly becomes repetitive and it is easy to see how students inevitably get bored.

Introducing a sport karate curriculum is an excellent way to provide a diverse program beyond the rank of black belt. This can be done in a variety of ways. Maybe your traditional style doesn't feature much weapons training, which would be a perfect opportunity to bring in sport karate-based training of the bo, nunchaku, kama, or sword. What if you don't want to steer away from traditional martial arts at all? Then maybe your students can have the opportunity to learn another style of martial arts (like Tae Kwon Do black belts learning a Goju-ryu style form) to use in tournaments. If you are more willing to try the extreme aspects of sport karate, those students could take their kicking skills to a new level by learning tricking. I haven't even mentioned point fighting yet, which introduces a multitude of new techniques and strategies for students to wrap their minds around.

Regardless of which element of sport karate is selected for your school, each of those examples could provide years of additional instructional content that will keep black belts intellectually and physically engaged in their training. We are taught as martial artists to always be students, forever seeking to learn as much as we can. Give your students the opportunity to keep learning through sport karate.

3. Prolonged Goal Setting

Jackson Rudolph Chuck Norris

Photo Courtesy: UFAF

The most common reason that students stop training in martial arts is because they achieved whatever goal they set out for in the beginning. Oftentimes this is obtaining a black belt, sometimes it is meeting a weight loss goal, and other times it might be gaining a baseline knowledge of self-defense. We try to combat this with the classic adage about "pursuing the unattainable goal of perfection" or preaching the "never give up attitude", but sometimes this just gets old. Some students need a clear, well-defined goal to continue sacrificing their time and money to come to class.

Once again, sport karate can solve this problem. Although a school does not have to participate in tournaments to use sport karate in their curriculum, much of the philosophy behind the techniques is designed to make a practical movement more visually appealing or optimize it for speed in a point fighting match. Therefore, it just makes sense to compete if you are teaching sport karate. The world of competition organically introduces a near-endless list of goals that could never be obtained within the walls of a single studio. Competitors can seek to win first place in their division, become ranked by some league or region, win a grand championship, get sponsored by a national team, become a world champion, compete on television, and so much more.

The two most common anti-tournament concerns I hear from school owners are fears that losing will make their students want to quit and the fear that if another school's students win, students might leave for the school across town. As for the worries about quitting after a loss, I believe this 100% comes down to culture. If students are appropriately taught to view losing as a source of motivation to train harder and improve their skills, it is hard to imagine a circumstance in which losing a tournament makes a student quit martial arts all together. Regarding the concern about losing students to another school, I have seen this extremely rarely in my fifteen years of competing in sport karate tournaments. The only times that I have seen this occur is when there is direct mistreatment of the student by the original instructor, such as the instructor threatening the student to only train with them and not seek private lessons. If the instructor handles the student and their parents professionally, I have never seen a student change schools simply because they lost a tournament.

In addition to the goal-setting benefits of competing in tournaments, I would be remiss to not mention the importance of the social relationships built through sport karate competition. Sharing the ring with other martial artists, going to dinner with them after the event, carpooling on the way home, and so many other aspects of competition are proven to foster lifelong friendships. These friendships will keep students coming back to continue their martial arts training even when times are tough, because they know that the next tournament is when they will get to see all of their best friends again.

Helpful Resources

Sport Karate University

Photo Courtesy: Black Belt Magazine

I could list dozens of more reasons that people should start training in sport karate. I firmly believe that this sport and style of martial arts has shaped me into the man that I am today, and I wish that every martial artist could experience the same blessings that I have. From a martial arts school owner's perspective, a sport karate curriculum could be your key to meeting students' expectations early on in their training, retaining those students after they achieve their black belt, and giving each of them a multitude of goals that will keep them in the martial arts for years to come. Here are some helpful links to start sport karate training or introduce it to your school:

Sport Karate University is probably the most diverse and cost-effective training tool to get started on the forms and weapons side of sport karate. I joined Sammy Smith in this project to provide world class training on bo, nunchaku, open forms, tricking, and more for as little as $29.99 for one program.

The Flow System is a more in-depth option that is a bit pricier for martial arts schools that want to go all-in on introducing a weapons program. I started the project with a complete bo curriculum, and Mackensi Emory was recruited to include a kama program as well.

Retention Based Sparring is an excellent program that was created by Team Paul Mitchell Executive Director and successful school owner Chris Rappold to help instructors teach sparring in a way that will keep students coming back. A world champion during his competitive career, he balances teaching techniques that really work in the ring with methods that make sparring a more inviting experience.

Adrenaline Action Design is a new product founded by Maguire and Jimmy Kane that directly introduces Hollywood stunt training into a martial arts curriculum. The featured instructors include actual stunt doubles who have performed in blockbuster movies, such as Caitlin Dechelle who doubled Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman. Their Adrenaline Worldwide website also has a membership that provides a ton of content for tricking and extreme weapons training.

There are plenty of other resources for learning sport karate and bringing it into your school, but these are some programs that I have intimate knowledge of and would recommend to anyone interested in this unique aspect of martial arts. I would also highly recommend hosting seminars with world champion competitors or taking private lessons to learn specific elements of sport karate. I encourage you to contact me personally on social media for recommendations. If you have already identified a notable competitor who you would like to train with, most of us are easily accessible via social media and are happy to spread sport karate to as many people as we can.