Jeet Kune Do - the literal translation is "way of the intercepting fist" - was conceived by Bruce Lee in 1967. Unlike many other martial arts, there are neither a series of rules nor a classification of techniques which constitute a distinct Jeet Kune Do (JKD) method of fighting. JKD is unbound; JKD is freedom. It possesses everything, yet in itself is possessed by nothing. Those who understand JKD are primarily interested in its powers of liberation when JKD is used as a mirror for self-examination.
In the past, many have tried to define JKD in terms of a distinct style: Bruce Lee's kung-fu; Bruce Lee's karate; Bruce Lee's kickboxing; Bruce Lee's system of street fighting. To label JKD "Bruce Lee's martial art" is to completely mistake Bruce Lee's - and JKD's-meaning. JKD's concepts simply cannot be confined within a single system. To understand this, a martial artist must transcend the duality of "for" and "against," reaching for that point of unity which is beyond mere distinction. The understanding of JKD is the direct intuition of this point of unity. According to Bruce Lee, knowledge in the martial arts ultimately means self-knowledge.
Jeet Kune Do is not a new style of kung-fu or karate. Bruce Lee did not invent a new or composite style, nor did he modify a style to set it apart from any existing method. His concept was to free his followers from clinging to any style, pattern, or mold.
It must be emphasized that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name, a mirror reflecting ourselves. There is a sort of progressive approach to JKD training, but as Lee observed: "To create a method of fighting is like putting a pound of water into wrapping paper and shaping it." Structurally, many people mistake JKD as a composite style of martial art because of its efficiency. At any given time Jeet Kune Do can resemble Thai boxing or wing Chun or wrestling or karate. Its weaponry resembles Filipino Escrima and kali; in long-range application it can resemble Northern Chinese kung-fu or Savate.
According to Lee, the efficiency of any style depends upon circumstances and the fighting range of distance: the soldier employs a hand grenade at 50 yards, but he chooses a dagger for close-quarters combat. A staff, to take another example, is the wrong weapon to take to a fight in a telephone booth; a knife would again be the most appropriate weapon.
Jeet Kune Do is neither opposed or unopposed to the concept of style. We can say that it is outside as well as inside of all particular structures. Because JKD makes no claim to existing as a style, some individuals conclude that it is neutral or indifferent to the question. Again, this is not the case, for JKD is at once "this" and "not this."
A good JKD practitioner rests his actions on direct intuition. According to Lee, a style should never be like the Bible in which the principles and laws can never be violated. There will always be differences between individuals in regard to the quality of training, physical make-up, level of understanding, environmental conditioning, and likes and dislikes. According to Bruce, truth is a "pathless road"; thus JKD is not an organization or an institution of which one can be a member. "Either you understand or you don't - and that is that," he said.
When Bruce taught a Chinese system of kung-fu (it was shortly after his arrival in the United States), he did operate an institute of learning; but after that early period he abandoned his belief in any particular system or style, Chinese or otherwise. Lee did say that to reach the masses one should probably form some type of organization; for his own part, he dismissed the notion as unnecessary to his own teaching. Still, to reach the ever growing numbers of students, some sort of preconceived sets had to be established. And as a result of such a move by martial arts organizations, many of their members would be conditioned to a prescribed system; many of their members would end up as prisoners of systematic drilling.
This is why Lee believed in teaching only a few students at any time. Such a method of instruction required the teacher to maintain an alert observation of each student in order to establish the necessary student-teacher relationship. As Lee so often observed, "A good instructor functions as a pointer of the truth, exposing the student's vulnerability, forcing him to explore himself both internally and externally, and finally integrating himself with his being."
Martial arts - like life itself - is in flux, in constant arrhythmic movements, in constant change. Flowing with this change is very important. And finally, any JKD man who says that JKD is exclusively JKD is simply not with it. He is still hung up on his own self-enclosing resistance, still anchored to reactionary patterns, still trapped within limitation. Such a person has not digested the simple fact that truth exists outside of all molds or patterns. Awareness is never exclusive. To quote Bruce: "Jeet Kune Do is just a name, a boat used to get one across the river. Once across it is discarded and not to be carried on one's back."
Students should be taught experiences as opposed to techniques, In other words, a karate practitioner who has never boxed before needs to experience sparring with a boxer. What he learns from that experience is up to him. According to Bruce, a teacher is not a giver of truth; he is merely a guide to the truth each student must find.
The total picture Lee wanted to present to his pupils was that above everything else, the pupils must find their own way to truth. He never hesitated to say, "Your truth is not my truth; my truth is not yours."
Bruce did not have a blueprint, but rather a series of guidelines to lead one to proficiency. In using training equipment, there was a systematic approach in which one could develop speed, distance, power, timing, coordination, endurance and footwork.
But Jeet Kune Do was not an end in itself for Bruce - nor was it a mere by-product of his martial studies; it was a means to self discovery. JKD was a prescription for personal growth; it is an investigation of freedom - freedom not only to act naturally and effectively in combat, but in life. In life, we absorb what is useful and reject what is useless, and add to experience what is specifically our own. Bruce Lee always wanted his students to experience judo, jiu-jutsu, aikido, Western boxing; he wanted his students to explore Chinese systems of sensitivity like Wing Chun, to explore the elements of kali, and elements of Pentjak Silat, Thai boxing, Savate. He wanted his students to come to an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each method.
No art is superior or inferior to any other. That is the object lesson of Jeet Kune Do, to be unbound, to be free: in combat to use no style as style, to use no way as the way, to have no limitation as the only limitation. Neither be for or against a particular style. In other words, Jeet Kune Do "just is.'
Or to use the words of a Zen maxim to describe Jeet Kune Do, "In the landscape of spring there is neither better nor worse. The flowering branches grow, some short, some long.