Bruce Lee and jeet kune do historian Tommy Gong, author of Bruce Lee: The Evolution of a Martial Artist, explores the importance of Lee's legacy as a resource for martial artists who seek to continue their own evolution.

Editor's Note: This text is adapted for Web presentation from Tommy Gong's acclaimed book Bruce Lee: The Evolution of a Martial Artist. The term Jun Fan jeet kune do was adopted in January 1996, during a landmark summit meeting in Seattle with Linda Lee Cadwell and Shannon Lee, along with many of Bruce's first-generation students. This meeting served as the precursor to the formation of the JFJKD Nucleus/Bruce Lee Educational Foundation. Actually, it was Shannon Lee's suggestion to merge the two terms (Jun Fan gung fu and jeet kune do) to describe her father’s complete journey in martial arts, and everyone in attendance unanimously agreed. Jun Fan jeet kune do serves as the definitive case study for Jun Fan gung fu and jeet kune do because it endeavors to give a clear and accurate picture of Bruce Lee’s legacy to martial arts — physically, scientifically and philosophically.

BRUCE LEE® and the Bruce Lee signature are registered trademarks of Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC. The Bruce Lee name, image, likeness and all related indicia are intellectual property of Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC. All Rights Reserved. www.brucelee.com.


I remember Linda Lee Cadwell paraphrasing a statement made by Pete Jacobs (a student of Bruce Lee’s in Los Angeles) during the Inaugural JFJKD Seminar held in 1997 in San Francisco: “We can’t possibly predict in what direction he may have gone, most certainly we can predict that he would have continued to grow, evolve, change, but we can’t say what that was [or would have been]." In this way, JFJKD serves as both the historical reference for what Bruce Lee practiced, trained and taught during his lifetime, and also the inspiration or catalyst encouraging followers not to follow blindly their sifu (teacher) and/or style, and to discover the truth for themselves. Although Bruce Lee’s message prescribed having no boundaries when looking to improve one’s martial arts, it becomes increasingly important to document what he taught and practiced so future generations will have a chance to experience what the first-generation students did during their time with him. As a result, the art of Jun Fan jeet kune do showcases the common ground that first-generation students share so the historical reference and context of his evolution in the martial arts during his lifetime could be preserved. When examining Lee’s personal notes and letters, and hearing the recollections from his students, one can discover the building blocks of jeet kune do. In this way, Lee’s body of work is basic source material, providing the beginning student some initial steps to study and explore, and a path to understanding JKD.

Get inside the mind of Bruce Lee with this FREE download!
Bruce Lee Quotes on Philosophy: An Excerpt From the NEW Bruce Lee Biography and Your Guide to Four More Bruce Lee Books

An interesting viewpoint is that — while some differences may exist between Bruce Lee’s martial arts when it comes to his time in Seattle, Oakland and Los Angeles — little delineation occurred in his evolutionary development toward jeet kune do. Bruce Lee developed JKD throughout his time in America. It was, by no means, a smooth, gradual process — but for him, change happened out of necessity. His process was akin to the modern evolution theory of “punctuated equilibrium,” which proposes over thousands or millions of years that species maintain a relatively stable existence — but when evolutionary changes occur, they are rapid and abrupt, not smooth and gradual. Punctuated equilibrium appears to describe perfectly Bruce Lee’s methods because he was known to be inspired by something early on, only to drop it or even criticize it later. As he became enlightened through investigating various topics such as kinesiology (the science of movement), he came to fully understand how to use a certain fighting principle and then modified his methods accordingly. Furthermore, events such as an altercation in Oakland, wherein Lee was challenged by a Chinese martial artist, resulted in an abrupt change in Lee’s approach to the martial arts. Although he bested his opponent, Lee concluded the match lasted entirely too long due to his strict adherence to his previous training, and he immediately sought out more efficient combat methods. In many ways, the exact timing of these inspirations is difficult to pin down, because much of what was happening to Lee was occurring simultaneously. For instance, he was already influenced by Western boxing and fencing in his early years in Hong Kong. The question is: When did certain elements come to full fruition in his development as a martial artist? Similar techniques were taught in all three schools, yet certain discoveries he found useful during his evolution were reflected in his private practice and training. Although it is convenient to chronicle Lee’s development by dividing it between his Seattle, Oakland and Los Angeles periods, much overlap exists between “eras” since he continued to have contact with students from all three. In fact, each era could be equally served by referencing the many students he had. Nevertheless, the three eras provide the reader points of reference for placing dates, events and Lee’s development into context so that each school provides a glimpse along the evolutionary path.

Related Martial Arts Books, E-Books,
DVDs and Video Downloads

Bruce Lee: The Evolution of a Martial Artist

Black Belt Magazine: The Bruce Lee Collection

Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense — Revised and Updated

One must realize that Lee studied physics, biomechanics, nutrition and training theory, and he used scientific methodology to validate what he was doing. He researched what he did not know, developed hypotheses, tested his theories using himself as the test subject and then concluded whether or not they worked. One could say that Lee used the science of combat when formulating his style of “no style.” It was not simply choosing what he liked or preferred, but rather what was proven to be the most effective. In this way, not only the “what” and “how” were learned, but also the “why.” Perhaps the need to understand “why” is the most important lesson he left us. We can use JFJKD as an invaluable tool because it provides a point of reference when discussing Lee’s evolution and various interpretations of it presented through the years since his passing, whether we’re talking about wing chun, Jun Fan gung fu, jeet kune do, JKD concepts, original JKD, etc. During the mid-80s, there was dissension within the JKD family over the purity of the art versus the infusion of different martial arts based on one’s personal journey. Today the focus has shifted to how much wing chun was done in Seattle, Oakland or Los Angeles, but the same negative criticism still continues, despite its pointlessness. The book Bruce Lee: The Evolution of a Martial Artist places the various elements of Lee’s earlier and later training in context on the JFJKD timeline. Although trapping techniques had less to do with JKD later on, it was a central theme in Lee’s martial art during the earlier and even middle period of his development, serving as a valuable foundation for Lee, and it deserves respect as a valid part of JKD history. Placing techniques such as the pak sao (block), the straight lead, and the side kick with its accompanying footwork along the JFJKD timeline should help the reader see things in better context. Since Bruce Lee’s passing in 1973, we have been fortunate that so many of his students — those he taught early on as well as those he taught later — shared his teachings with students around the world. During the past few years, their teachings have become even more precious because many of them have passed on. In just the past couple of years since work on this book began, some of Lee’s closest students have left us, including Jesse Glover, Lee’s very first student in Seattle, and Ted Wong, one of Lee’s last students in Los Angeles. These students have left us with a rich history that allows us to better understand Bruce Lee and jeet kune do. The first-generation students of Bruce Lee shared a lot in common, so where there were differences, maybe they were more like two halves of one whole that is the formless form. Although Lee did not like to refer to jeet kune do as a style or system, his martial arts movements had a distinct character or flavor. Hence, the balancing act is not to forget his message of liberation and freedom, while being sure to recognize his many other contributions, large and small, so the complete picture of his life can be fully appreciated. In the spirit of being neither “for” nor “against” what JKD is, Jun Fan jeet kune do serves as the two halves of one whole, just like yin and yang, in joining together Lee’s legacies in martial arts, from the physical, technical and scientific to the philosophical principles eliminating the notion of self and ego, being like water, and adapting to “what is.” For unfettered access to a Bruce Lee time capsule containing what Tommy Gong called in the preceding text "a rich history that allows us to better understand Bruce Lee and jeet kune do," be sure to check out the NEW epic collection of downloadable PDFs — Black Belt Magazine: The Bruce Lee Collection — containing 29 issues (3,500+ pages!) spanning 45 years of martial arts history.
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

To Master the Supreme Philosophy of Enshin Karate, Look to Musashi's Book of Five Rings for Guidance!

In the martial arts, we voluntarily subject ourselves to conflict in a training environment so we can transcend conflict in the real world. After all, we wouldn't knowingly train in a style that makes us weaker or worsens our position. The irony of all this is that we don't want to fight our opponent. We prefer to work with what an opponent gives us to turn the tide in our favor, to resolve the situation effectively and efficiently.The Japanese have a word for this: sabaki. It means to work with energy efficiently. When we train with the sabaki mindset, we receive our opponent's attack, almost as a gift. Doing so requires less physical effort and frees up our mental operating system so it can determine the most efficient solution to the conflict.In this essay, I will present a brief history of sabaki, as well as break down the sabaki method using Miyamoto Musashi's five elements

Keep Reading Show less

Enter our partner's current Sweepstakes. They are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe'.

TAKE NOTICE!

FIVE KNUCKLE BULLET 'Wardrobe' Sweepstakes

Feeling Lucky? Enter our current Sweepstakes Now! We are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe' which consists of our most popular sportswear items. Prize includes the following:

Keep Reading Show less

"Unlike karate training outside a combat zone," Cpt. Yoon explained, "it is important here that the troops be able to turn their techniques into devastating, bone-crushing blows. There is no place for mild strikes in combat when a VC is trying to push a bayonet into your stomach."

For that reason, the compound is peppered with makiwara punching boards, and the Korean Tigers spend much time conditioning the weapons of taekwondo. Also, throughout Vietnam there are plenty of sandbags, which are used to protect all kinds of constructions. They make excellent striking bags for a karateman.

The next unit in the schedule is to display free fighting. The commander again explains that this form of fighting is used to test the Tigers' skills against one another rather than to demonstrate the actual methods of close-quarters combat, as a fight on the battlefield is nearly always over in an instant.

The sparring matches are exhibitions of technique and control. Perhaps the only recognizable difference between these and matches held in tournaments is the consistent power the soldiers put behind their blows and their concentration on hard taekwondo techniques rather than elusive ones.

Against Weapons

At last, a final group prepares to show what happens when an unarmed Tiger meets a VC with a knife or a bayonet fixed to his AK-47 rifle. Two pairs of soldiers stride to the center of the hard-dirt arena, face the commander and render a snappy salute. Then they fall into a four-man square and await orders.

Sgt. Lee barks a command, and the best of the best explode into action. One gladiator leaps for a knife that has been thrown into the arena. He jams it, hard, at another, who violently kicks the striking hand and jumps shoulder height, scissoring the attacker's neck and tumbling him forward onto the unyielding ground with a crash. The knife spins away.

Meanwhile, another black belt catches a rifle with a fixed bayonet that is thrown to him from the sidelines. With a guttural shout, he lunges for his opponent. The defender spins to the left, brings his knee sharply inward against the weapon and rolls the attacker onto his own shoulder while tearing at his windpipe. It's over in seconds.

The couples repeat the performance again and again, smashing full tilt against each other. Every time, the attacker thrusts hard with his weapon. It's just less than miraculous that the practice doesn't turn into a blood bath.

Korean Budomen

Initiated as the Capital Infantry Division, the Tiger Division was activated on June 20, 1949, in Seoul with the mission of providing security for the capital. It was charged with additional security of the 38th parallel in Ongjin in September of the same year. When the Korean War began on June 25, 1950, the division began to prove itself in heavy fighting during battles at Ahn-kang and Kyung-joo along the defense line of the Nakdong River in the southeastern part of the country.

Following the successful Inchon landing by Gen. Douglas MacArthur's forces, the division penetrated deep into the North across the 38th parallel, overrunning enemy strongholds and advancing close to the Korea-Manchuria border. As their ability became recognized, the division was committed repeatedly and saw the armistice signed while fighting at the front in the spring of 1952. They captured more than 9,920 enemy, killed more than 91,000 and seized more than 31,000 weapons. As a result of their valor, the division was awarded five ROK Presidential Citations and a U.S. Presidential Citation, an ROK National Assembly award and 42 other plaudits.

After the armistice, the division had already been dubbed with the Tiger laurel and was deployed along the front line of the central part of the Korea DMZ. They remained under continued training and constant combat readiness.

Upon approval of the National Assembly, the division was directed to combat in the Republic of Vietnam on August 20, 1965. Three separate elements arrived at Qui Nhon on November 1 after four weeks of preliminary training. That month, it received its tactical area of responsibility, which consisted of 1,400 square kilometers in Binh Dinh Province in central Vietnam. The division's general mission objectives are to protect travel routes, military installations and facilities within its TAOR and to assist the Republic of Vietnam in its pacification plan by eliminating Viet Cong in the area and helping the people rebuild their destroyed homes.

Since 1965, the Tiger Division has stabilized security within their area to an impressive degree. The TAOR itself has expanded from 1,400 to 3,800 square kilometers. As of mid-June, the Tigers had killed more than 9,000 enemy, captured nearly 3,000 and counted 4,500 defectors, as well as seizing nearly 4,000 weapons.

All this leaves little room for doubt about whom historians will count as the true elite of Vietnam combat. In the ranks of the VC and the NVA, mention of these ferocious Koreans brings shudders to the comrades. Even as he fights those from North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, the Tigerman knows that he has full command of his body and his mind. When he's faced with hand-to-hand combat, he need not rely only on the ferocity of his rifle to equalize the score. He can hammer out punches with machine-gun rapidity or swing a full-flogging kick with sufficient force to gain the advantage. When a man is trained in karate, or to be more specific, taekwondo, he's ahead of the game and the Viet Cong, that crap-shooting armada of insurgent forces, and the crack North Vietnamese troops who come to do battle. They know full well that the Tigers with their taekwondo as well as armaments are tough to beat.

Kelly McCann's best-selling Combatives for Street Survival is available here!

The roots of taekwondo are in Korea, and for the ROK GIs who enter the Tiger ranks, the intensive routine of training in the martial art is strictly par for the course. No doubt every Tigerman hopes to use his martial arts training sometime in a tournament as well as he does in combat. That's the dream of every GI in the ROK division.

The Tigers, under Maj. Gen. Lew Pyong Hyon and with taekwondo's Capt. Yoon, have been making headlines throughout the world. They are the only troops, it's been said, who fight fire with fire, who use guerrilla techniques and ambush techniques in much the same manner as the Viet Cong. In a war such as this — where the boundary lines are questionable, where there is no front line and where your neighbor can turn into your enemy — such techniques are indispensable. Thanks to the hand-to-hand techniques and the combat-karate emphasis of this militia, the odds are clearly shaping up in the Tiger Division's ledger. Thanks to taekwondo, the Tigers are smashing the enemy with no holds barred and, if anyone doubts it, plenty of contact!

Read Part 1 of this article here.

text by Jack E. Swift

(This article first appeared in the November 1968 issue of Black Belt.)

Scene: A group of soldiers is gathered for a bull session. The subject under discussion is the Tiger Division of the Korean army. The soldiers are engrossed. One, a lean, tanned GI, pushes back his beret, squints into the darkness and looks out to see a mountain of burning embers.

"We were on recon operations in southern Binh Dinh Province," he explains. "One night, we caught the sounds of a skirmish. My squad leader held up his hand and when he smiled, we knew we were in for some action. As we approached the area, we were a little surprised that there was no small-arms fire, but we could hear a lot of guys yelling.

"When we got there, it was an unbelievable sight. Here were those Korean troops in close-quarters combat with what must have been superior forces, as there were [Viet Cong soldiers] all over the place. I've never seen so many broken necks and caved-in ribs in my life. We helped clean up what was left."

So goes the legend, and just in case you're casting a cynical eye as to the Tiger Division's aptitude in the use of martial arts, the record speaks for itself. If there was ever a primer on combat karate, these troops would write it. In two grueling periods daily, every troop in the Tiger Division trains in the taekwondo method, the official karate of Korea.

At one time, there were many factions, but in the past year or so, they've all been absorbed by the International Taekwon-Do Federation, with its headquarters in Seoul. In fact, with the Koreans, and even in many areas in Vietnam, taekwondo is synonymous with karate. Numerous Vietnamese do not even understand the word "karate" — but mention taekwondo and their faces light up with recognition.

Way of Life

At Qui Nhon, division headquarters, visitors are surprised to see sparkling white uniforms — and a sea of black belts — virtually in the middle of a combat zone. While on actual operations away from their base, the Tigers work out in field gear, but at the training center, everyone wears a gi and keeps it as immaculate as any other military uniform.

On the left side of the gi, each person wears the proud division emblem of a roaring tiger. On the other side, if he's an instructor, the soldier wears a black insignia of a fist with white dots above indicating how many degrees of black-belt rank he holds.

Commander of the massive taekwondo corps of the Tiger Division is Capt. Yoon Dong Ho, himself a third dan. But the rugged, intelligent captain is no armchair commander. He's on hand daily at the dirt arena, watching the troops go through their paces and often teaching a special class of officers.

Capt. Yoon is responsible for the official taekwondo training of more than 15,000 Tiger troops in Vietnam. Although popular belief holds otherwise, there are actually more than 200 black-belt holders in the Tiger ranks. Of them, three are fourth dan, 29 are third dan, 57 are second dan and 115 are first dan. There are roughly 600 red belts and 2,300 blue belts, as well as 9,000 troops holding degrees of white belt. Approximately 2,900 men recently began their training in Vietnam. Many of these, of course, already hold rank they won in Korea.

Deployment

Each element of the Tiger infantry arriving in Vietnam goes through intensive schooling at Qui Nhon. The 26th of these classes began in July, to run just over a month. The sessions lead off with classical techniques under the direct supervision of Sgt. Jun Jae Gun, head taekwondo instructor for the Meng Ho in Vietnam. Sgt. Jun, one of the division's tough trio of fourth degrees, displays a certificate signed by Gen. Choi Hong Hi, International Taekwon-Do Federation president.

When a trooper is promoted in Vietnam, however, he's awarded a military certificate of training by his supplement company commander, who acts as a representative of Lt. Col. Jai Chun Ko, division field commander. All promotions are recognized by the federation. In cases of promotion to the higher grades, however, special recognition is often meted out. For example, Sgt. Kim Duk Ki was recently awarded his third dan by Lt. Gen. Chae Myung Shin, field headquarters commander for all ROK Forces in Vietnam.

"The major objective of our formal taekwondo classes," asserted Cpt. Yoon, "is to take the minds of our troops and replace civilian thinking with military spirit and fierceness. 'Tiger' is the nickname the division has been tagged with because of the fierce nature we have demonstrated in combat. We intend to live up to it."

Click here to check out Combat Hapkido, a book by John Pellegrini and Black Belt mag!

Cpt. Yoon reinforced that statement with an impromptu demonstration of his own favorite techniques. Choosing a brawny trooper with a bayonet, the captain rushed him, parrying the weapon with an onslaught of power strikes with the elbow, palm, heel and fist. He ended with a forearm strike to the windpipe, which he explained is effective when one wants to silence the enemy quickly.

Key elements in hand-to-hand combat, the commander explained, are attacking the weapon directly or the hand that holds it while simultaneously attacking the most vulnerable spot within reach, then pressing the assault to keep the enemy off-balance while finishing him.

Field Testing

Stressing physical fitness in preparation for the application of these techniques, Cpt. Yoon said his troops rely heavily on powerful, smashing blows against the smaller Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Communists. He explained that the enemies are often undernourished because of their long treks from the North and therefore may fall easily under a strong attack.

"One particular situation where we encounter hand-to-hand fighting," Cpt. Yoon said, "is when the VC hide in bunkers and Tiger patrols do not have heavy weapons available to blow [the bunkers] apart. In such a case, the troops simply go in after them. The VC stand little chance against my men in close-quarters fighting."

In addition to the training of their own infantry, Tiger taekwondo instructors teach U.S. and Republic of Vietnam soldiers, as well as other Allied Forces infantry soldiers. Presently, some 1,250 Vietnamese and 150 U.S. soldiers are being taught by the Tigers at Qui Nhon alone. At other installations throughout South Vietnam, the Koreans teach their art to Allied Forces and Vietnamese civilians of both sexes and all ages.

There are scores of Korean black belts who are not members of the Tiger Division but who teach taekwondo to the local troopers and civilians. Many of these men belong to the larger White Horse Division. Especially in populated places such as the Tan Son Nhut Air Base–Saigon area, taekwondo has become as popular as baseball is to Americans. Today, self-defense is serious business to the Vietnamese, as no one knows when a VC terrorist squad will break into his home.

The Tiger Lair

Several miles away from the main training area on the Qui Nhon Air Base where the new arrivals hold classes, the Tiger instructors have their own compound, carved out of the verdant Vietnam countryside. Bordered on two sides by mountains and banked by the South China Sea, the encampment nestles into a serene and clean-smelling natural cradle, somehow out of place amidst the turmoil of war. The site has never been successfully attacked, and no one remembers the last time even a single mortar landed within the perimeter.

The perimeter itself is defined by roll upon roll of barbed wire, machine-gun posts and sandbag-reinforced bunkers. When not actually leading class, the instructors perform most of their military duties wearing their gi, often barebacked in the all-pervading heat. Somehow it doesn't seem quite right to see a fierce fighting man carting pails of water for the makeshift shower or spreading rolls of concertina wire — until you recall how budo masters of ancient times made their charges perform menial tasks before they would be accepted. Perhaps this accounts in part for their dedication and the respectful attitude the troops invariably display.

Get the scoop on military martial arts with The Complete Michael D. Echanis Collection!

Cpt. Yoon decides to review the instructors' training methods, so he has the select corps organize into a squadron to demonstrate their prowess. Sgt. Lee Jin Ho, whose official title is post instructor, leads the formation. They fall swiftly into ranks. The commander steps forward and receives the squadron's salute, then turns the command over to Sgt. Ho.

At a signal, the Tigers break ranks and rush into new formations with precision reminiscent of the Roman legions. The first squad is directed to show taekwondo forms. They snap through the kata in coordinated pairs, demonstrating the adroitness that can only come from military discipline. The forms are technically the same as classical Korean karate but are executed with the confident power of soldiers who have seen what their stuff can do to a man.

The next group forms behind a line of boards, bricks and tiles. Stacks of four and five bricks, up to 15 tiles and four 1-inch boards lie before them. The unit is called to attention, salutes again and assumes a ready posture. Sgt. Lee barks a command, and a dozen heads, hands and fists smash into the solid objects. Not a single one remains unbroken.

Read Part 2 here.

text by Jack E. Swift

(This article first appeared in the November 1968 issue of Black Belt.)

Free Bruce Lee Guide
Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee’s boxing influenced his jeet kune do techniques? Read all about it in this free guide.
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter