Bruce Lee was more than a legendary martial artist that left his mark in cinematic history as a great fighter. He was, what many may not know, a philosopher at heart and stemming from those deep beliefs blossomed a formless form of Chinese Kung-fu now famously known as Jeet Kune Do (JKD) – the way of the intercepting fist – or as the icon called it, “the art of fighting without fighting.”
The Way of the Legend
It is difficult to pinpoint an exact beginning to where JKD all began. Throughout most of his life, Lee aimed to create another style of martial arts far different than anything that existed. More than anything, he hoped to manifest a way of doing without being confined to one set way of doing.
And in that long journey for something unseen, tentatively calling it Jun Fan Gung Fu (named after himself), he eventually unravelled the legacy of what we now know as JKD – providing the process more than the practice. As he notes in 1971 in regards to his style,
“I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds. Remember that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name used, a mirror in which to see “ourselves”… Jeet Kune Do is not an organized institution that one can be a member of. Either you understand or you don’t, and that is that.”
These words define exactly what Lee thought of JKD – a mere label more than any actual system to follow and abide by. By providing the thoughts and ideas that went into materializing this philosophy, he passed down an understanding, rather than a set of rules.
The Way of the Intercepting Fist
In Jeet Kune Do, Lee teaches that in order to be a great fighter, one must be a total fighter. What this means is that you must familiarize yourself with what he considered to be the utmost importance in being a complete martial artist: the four ranges of combat. These four consisted of punching, kicking, trapping, and grappling.
What made Jeet Kune Do different than other styles was the focus in all training in all four, rather than the standard two that most other branches taught.
Although Lee did not concern himself with the actual term and thought of it as nothing more than a label to call his philosophy, Jeet Kune Do, when broken down by each individual word, literally means “the way of the intercepting fist”.
Put into action, the one being attacked should approach, rather than avoid, the attacker and in turn, intercept the striking movement. Lee also believed this act of interception could be applied to non-verbal cues as well, by identifying the subtle unintentional tells of the body.
A learned man once went to a Zen teacher to inquire about Zen. As the Zen teacher explained, the learned man would frequently interrupt him with remarks like, “Oh, yes, we have that too…” and so on. Finally the Zen teacher stopped talking about began to serve tea to the learned man. He poured the cup full, then kept pouring until the cup overflowed. “Enough!” the learned man once more interrupted. “No more can go into the cup!”. “Indeed, I see” answered the Zen teacher. “If you do not first empty your cup, how can you taste my cup of tea?”
(Bruce Lee, Artist of Life)
Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do
To Lee, martial arts was nothing more than a way to express himself. He believed, that exploring the answers on your own, and figuring out what it meant to discover yourself was the core values of his philosophy. Life was believed to be an ongoing process of relating to one thing or another, and in that, developing your own way.
With JKD being primarily focused on the idea of having no distinct style or confined way of doing, anyone who looked into this teaching expecting to follow a guideline of how to do things the way Lee did would be missing the point entirely.
In the end, Jeet Kune Do was something Lee created for the sake of letting the learner discover more about herself. It was a way to challenge the practitioner’s mind and examine a place beyond the physical. In Lee’s own words,
“The core of understanding lies in the individual mind, and until that is touched, everything is uncertain and superficial. Truth cannot be perceived until we come to fully understand ourselves and our potentials. After all, knowledge in the martial arts ultimately means self-knowledge.”