The Problem with Bruce Lee’s JKD

Jeet Kune Do—a Humble View, Inside Looking… Inside?

From a basic philosophical perspective of education and information, I have always believed in questioning, testing, and testing some more. Now, as an experienced coach, I impel everyone to question what I say and test it. Bruce Lee was my earliest martial arts idol. He had moves with an aesthetic outdoing my sensei and smoother than other karate or kung fu men on Saturday mornings. Bruce Lee almost singlehandedly inspired me to learn boxing and supplement my experience with various styles of martial arts. I have grown to learn how Bruce Lee lent martial arts, on a grand scale, so many invaluable concepts that have helped the evolution of fighting.

My query on JKD is about what it inspires besides boxers to learn different defenses or Greco-Roman grapplers to learn Thai kicks or any other melding of styles. Does it cause a delusion of the artist? Is there a hero-worship that transcends the simple purpose of JKD? When has Bruce Lee ever proved that he existed as an “ultimate,” be-all and end-all of fighters? Hypothetically speaking, if Bruce Lee wanted to be worshipped or even if he wanted his disciples to blindly follow him through the wrong path, should they? Does one grievous Bruce Lee mistake mean uncorrectable, perpetual doom for its new practitioners? Was Bruce Lee’s death the most regressive thing for JKD, causing people to deify him rather than improve upon the gift he gave all of martial arts?

After reading – for the third time in the last 15 years – the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, I was again convinced that Lee was a genius, a legend before his time, indeed. He theoretically understood combat like Cus D’Amato understood boxing combat. He carefully detailed almost everything he had believed, his truths about the art of fighting. Of course, so many of his moves correspond with what we, in today’s fighting world, consider practical.

I notice too many JKD men, however, making the primary faux pas of not questioning. Bruce Lee did Wing Chun Gung-Fu, some western boxing, and Muay Thai, so JKD men believe they should do exactly those. Dan Inosanto, the top JKD man under Lee, incorporated Filipino martial arts, so the flock followed suit. It seems that every JKD man makes this his “way.” JKD guys even go to the extent to say, “ ‘We’ do martial arts [this] way, as opposed to [that] way.” With wide scale questioning – real, genuine inquiry and skepticism – individuals grow and come to find truths that can be so specific to each of the persons. And questioning could only strengthen the concept of JKD.

Bruce Lee regrets naming JKD, so why don’t JKD men absorb this idea: Giving it a concrete property, even in a name, takes away from its proposed water-like property. Being “like water, my friend” becomes mere rhetoric. If one JKD man speculates about his art, he will find answers and for all intents and purposes, he will test it. The JKD school half-testing techniques with assortments of drills only lends to a myth of JKD. When I was 16, JKD was my passion, and I practiced it everyday in my brother’s backyard sessions. But we were bamboozled in many ways; we wore too much gear and we choreograph-role-played too much. We pondered over the straight blast to how to properly perform a stop-kick. Some argued that a straight blast should be softer and made to stun the opponent. Others in our group wanted to swing harder and freer. Some guys wanted to cock the stop-kick for more force. Others wanted to just stop the opponent’s forward movement. We would copy the reference point square-off from Enter the Dragon and Pak Sao to one backfist. We were brainwashed to think one measly backfist predicted a fight’s outcome. Sometimes we would train a sequence of moves and finish it with the first damn strike. The moves lend the subconscious notion that one strike was the science to win a fight. JKD books even illustrate moves to set up these quasi-jabs or backfists. Where was the science of exchanges and reactions to the impact of power punches, set-ups, and boxing traps? Where was the pain factor? We all were so infatuated with finding one truth that we disregarded each other’s truths. We disregarded the whole idea of JKD; if we follow it, we miss it. It was just a concept and we ran with it to the point of killing it. The training was all-in-all worthwhile to a certain extent, but for all the hits we took and time wasted, we didn’t truly test the techniques with the ONLY thing that works, free fighting.

“Formlessness”… “No style as style”… “No way as way”…”Simple movements”… “Non-classical.” It sounds like some high-handed mumbo-jumbo, especially when Lee said what he does is a style. “There is no mystery to my style.” Well of course it is, it’s not a spirit or energy; it is as tangible as words on paper. Hence, it is “style.” JKD men seem to take some of Lee’s philosophies too literally except for the part of JKD that implores people not to follow it. It reminds me of Eddie Murphy in Coming to America when his bride will do anything he wishes except for when he wishes that she would do the opposite of what he wishes. JKD men think they can take whatever they want and throw out anything they don’t want from martial arts. That is naïve, even ignorant. I’ve met JKD men who think they can box for 3 months, do Muay Thai for 4, and play with Escrima sticks before bed without any true sacrifice and commitment to any single art and think they are efficient JKD practitioners. They wrongly assume they can borrow tidbits from arts without thoroughly consuming themselves in one art for many years. This is the current problem with MMA – they have “jack-asses of all trades, masters of jack-asses.” It pains me to watch some JKD men who fancy themselves as martial artists who know boxing. Much of the time, they have dumpy footwork but they could do the little butterfly shuffle from Return of the Dragon. They could snap a backfist, but do they understand a semblance of the science of boxing – an art that has been tested over and over again and continually evolves? How about the popular Brazilian Jujitsu? I challenge anyone to find a JKD school that exhibits proper technique in the fundamentals of boxing or Muay Thai, in which a seasoned western boxer or Thai boxer can witness a JKD school coaching and not say facetiously, “You gotta be kidding me…” JKD is almost irrevocably watered down martial arts with an assortment of flawed fundamentals. Too many of these guys pass as hacks deluded by blind dedication to an antiquated JKD. But, perhaps, the best JKD men (perhaps Eric Paulson and Burton Richardson, I wonder) have moved on and do not affiliate themselves with the eternalized cult that has become of JKD today.

There is a spiritual characteristic to JKD causing us to romanticize it. JKD practitioners sometimes delude themselves with a competitive nature that seems to rank “who is most like Bruce Lee.” There is no solid fight footage, so the myth is exacerbated by the movie fight scenes that we like to imagine were reenactments of real Bruce Lee fights. JKD men cling to every recorded word like the Branch Dravidians did to David Koresh. A JKD man may dispute the David Koresh example, saying, “more like Jesus.” Haha, it’s what I’m saying exactly. But is JKD “so lethal that we can’t practice it like sport?” That is such an easy cop out of a claim, but kicking groins, biting limbs, and the death touch are not the only things I ask to be tested. The one-to-three inch punch, for one, I’d like to be examined. Anyone with a boxer’s jab can pretty much answer the one-incher claim with a sarcastic “Big f-ing deal.” It is simply a display of moving one’s hips and generating short power. Still, when I first slow-motioned Bruce Lee doing it one of the many times, I felt embarrassed for him after noticing… Lee actually pulled back about 3 or 4 inches. See for yourself. Many probably won’t, because it’s so much cooler to believe the hype. Still, I would have been more impressed if he exhibited a top boxer’s power or speed in a full punch, rather than what seemed like super power in showbiz thaumaturgy. If he could hit as hard as a top boxer from 1 inch away, how would he fare from a full punch’s distance? Lee criticized katas, but held his own exhibitions of indulgence. He even broke boards though he was known to say, “The board doesn’t hit back.”

It is my humble opinion that JKD should be, as it was meant to be, a vehicle “to be discarded.” JKD guys, as they proudly seem to call themselves, “just don’t get it.” They mimic “stylelessness” and cling to every contradiction. I wonder, is Floyd Mayweather more JKD man than Sifu is? Was Cus D’Amato a teacher of an unwritten JKD?

I am not questioning JKD ad hominem. Contrarily, I am supporting what JKD stands for despite the historical myth of Bruce Lee. I believe Bruce Lee to have been the greatest martial artist to have ever been known. But I doubt that he was as good of a fighter. I look at Bruce Lee as being akin to a Malcolm X; he always meant well, but made a mistake, then he tried to rescind on that mistake, unsuccessfully. Many people of this ‘occult’ still believe the mistake, and no one can ever take it back. They believe they should dance like Bruce Lee and that they all, seemingly without exception, should put their strong side first. But Lee was explicit in letting everyone know that his way would not necessarily be anyone else’s way.

Why couldn’t he just have named it MMA? Instead, he accommodated each worshipper to hop on one leg and bark like a dog?



“I have not invented a “new style,” composite, modified or otherwise that is set within distinct form as apart from “this” method or “that” method. On the contrary, 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. There is no mystery about my style. My movements are simple, direct and non-classical. The extraordinary part of it lies in its simplicity. Every movement in Jeet Kune-Do is being so of itself. There is nothing artificial about it. I always believe that the easy way is the right way. Jeet Kune-Do is simply the direct expression of one’s feelings with the minimum of movements and energy. The closer to the true way of Kung Fu, the less wastage of expression there is. Finally, a Jeet Kune Do man who says Jeet Kune Do is exclusively Jeet Kune Do is simply not with it. He is still hung up on his self-closing resistance, in this case anchored down to reactionary pattern, and naturally is still bound by another modified pattern and can move within its limits. He has not digested the simple fact that truth exists outside all molds; pattern and awareness is never exclusive. Again let me remind you Jeet Kune Do is just a name used, a boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one’s back.”
– Bruce Lee

13 responses to “The Problem with Bruce Lee’s JKD

  1. Yea thats why Bruce Lee was always being challenged and had many fights because people always tested him. To say Bruce Lee wasn’t a good fighter is crazy .. only if he was still alive .. i wonder what he would of come up with . We might be looking at him as the god of martail arts .. using no way as way .. with those words says all you need to know about him .. he was always adapting.. and if he was alive today who know what he would of created .. he was truly a pioneer

  2. Fabio Flenghi

    Dan inosanto don’t teach JKD. He studying with Bruce when he haven’t improved yet the JKD and after the Bruce’s death he use the JKD brand inproperly. The true Bruce Lee’s art was teaching by Ted Wong last of his students.

  3. And no, the basic of Jkd is certainly not wing chun… Bruce Lee discarded this, but mainly boxing and fencing concepts. I look at ufc fighters like Stephen Thompson , Gsp or Mc Gregor, and I see “jkd-like movements”, because its just effective body mechanics and flawlessness… thats what Bruce Lee meant when he said that if you call jkd a style you miss it, because it’s not a style it’s just effective application of obvious and flawless fighting movements.

  4. Hi, sadly, there is a lot of misunderstanding about JKD. What you see on youtube is not JKD. 99% of the “jkd instructors” don’t teach JKD. When you dig about Bruce Lee, and become close to real people that trained with him and were authentic, you get frustrated about all diluted stuff like Inosanto stuff and “trapping techniques”… The one and only man who really perpetuated what Bruce Lee did (well diluted, because Bruce Lee was a training freak) is Ted Wong. And sadly there is no videos showing him in his prime. Jkd is “simply” the developpement of timing, distance, balance, footwork, power, obvious body mechanics, and 5 ways of attack. (There is a great video on youtube who shows five ways of attack in boxing.) A very few people train it well and effectively. It is completely understandable why competent people are thinking Bruce Lee was not a real fighter etc. Learning to fight and training to fight is a process that takes dedication and a lot of hard work, and too much people want to invent and be happy with pseudo techniques that works only in unreal situations and repetitive drills

  5. this is well written, articulated and a lot of points are made. Yes you are right in some ways. JKD is a philosophy more than a -structured- style. (i.e. karate, bjj, tkd, muaytai, etc) but, each style does have its own strengths and weaknesses. there is a way to punch correctly, and incorrectly. and once you see the difference, the flimsy flailing punches just look hilarious. but most people don’t understand the concept. most people think there isn’t any rigorous effort. people think the “form” will do it all. no. there is no “secret way of fighting” that just decimates. whoever believes there is some secret form is delusional. anyone who’s been in many fights, whether street or professional, know that all fights are situational. but you say you studied JKD for soo long, but didn’t even touch up on the mental aspect of his training, which to me discredits everything you’ve said, for the most part. whether or not you want to believe it, life is a battle of the mind. being able to admit your strengths and weaknesses. your “idol” even says this. it’s not easy to accept. I just think you feel let down. but that’s your flaw. not his. you have to be strong minded and strong willed to achieve anything great. and please, new age hipsets. don’t confuse great with “popular” and “rich”. many have tried to discredit lee. his precision was unparalleled. if you think an mma fighter trying to take him down wouldn’t get a knee or a kick to the face, I’m sorry but you’re being biased. most fighters today whom practice this idea, don’t have the coordination from rigorous training. they train form, style, and all the arts as you mentioned but none of the fundamentals. precision is SO important. if I hit some muscular bicep with flailed swing, yeah, I’m gonna eat it. but if I hit your throat, nose, solar plex, neck, knee, elbow, spine, groin, chin, or eyes, it will hurt. emmensly. and as soon as the pain sinks in, another will be on its way if you continue to attempt what already didn’t work. people paint pictures and compare this to that. apples to oranges. it’s hypocrisy at its finest. martial arts has evolved, to an mma standard. but show me an mma fighter than can fuck with a monk? any of the monks. you cannot. Bruce just happened to be very physically capable with a vast understanding of those concepts. think I’m wrong? I dare you to travel to tibet, find a real monk sanctuary, and if you’re lucky, get a demonstration of their capabilility. you will be equally as astonished. mind over matter is very real. but so is mind body and soul. balance. yin/yang heaven/hell gos/satan. it’s all the same. I’m not going to get into that other than. God said there was no evil on earth until eve ate the apple, but then says the devil tricked her into eating it. makes sense. you can’t have one without the other. so back to the lecture at hand, if you’re in a cage, you cannot fight like you can’t be boxed in. you can’t keep creating space and manipulating situations. but that doesn’t mean you can’t create opportunity or capitalize. let me put it like this. every “move” has a counter. so if you’re doing this philosophy correctly, in a one on one fight, those bum rush wild distracting swings take downs would be dodged, and countered. parry the simple swing, juke the side before you’re grabbed by the setting hand ( the second) and go for the legs. use his momentum. derp. if I had to fight someone much larger than myself, in a non cage environment, I would take my damn time. I’m not near as flexible as bruce, nor as fast. but if I get those knees just right. I win. patience is huge.
    another concept people greatly overlook, as you did as well. to know your enemy is to know yourself. you know what your body shouldn’t do, and can. what bends which way and what doesn’t, and how easily it hurts. the thing is, you cannot hold back. you have to try to do damage to be successful in a situation when you’re fighting a style that relies on overpowering. otherwise, you will be over powered. once this idea is fully understood, and not what I just said, all of it, you won’t have the desire to fight anymore. what’s the point? people who just want to hurt others and destroy the world rarely get these concepts. it sounds like some fairy tale bullshit. that’s fine. the reason you won’t see an up and coming JKD fighter win in an octagon is because they’re not being trained to fight under those conditions. lethality is smothered when you wear padded gloves. the puncture is lost. force still hurts. speed is effective of done correctly because of whiplash effect and power corresponding to. pressure points are most utilized by force, like the pinning techniques. but with bare hands you can cripple a man temporarily by hitting him in the right spot with your technique. you lose this factor with gloves, it requires much more force, which goes against many “techniques”. mma is entertaining and also very effective as well as being much more comprehensible. in the octagon technique is used primarily for defense. basic technique for striking. most of conflicts when not trying to get those strong punches in, will be based on leverage, and positioning. some might over look what I said and say “that’s offensive technique”. yes. it is. it is not “striking” technique. elaborate striking techniques used in mma are kicks, not punches. but if you see a true master of striking capability, he’s not gonna go for your traditional spots you see in boxing techniques, again, gloves. “face and sides” instead they will place knuckles between ribs, joints, and try to break your arm without a grapple, but like your board demonstrations. disabling your opponent this way. it is LETHAL. Thus illegal in the MMA. The primary influence was wing chun. the original being a woman’s defense vs corrupt authorities and military outfits pillaging farming villages. these women quickly became able to not only fend off armed, TRAINED soldiers, (and in this time, martial arts was a thing like computers, or sports. or both combined.) but actually defeat them. unarm them and win. and they had to do it quickly. otherwise, overpowering will happen. obviously.

    ninjas were built from the same problem. do you see those fuckers in the mma? No. Who would you rather have royally pissed off at you? a ninja? or an mma fighter? k. Making sense yet?

    so. stfu about your mma vs bruce or JKD in general. hope this was enlightening for the people who actually read this.

  6. Bruce lee never taught a lot of people . His students were to pay his rent while he was trying to make it in Hollywood. Once he got a movie deal, he closed them. He knew his students were C level guys at best , and did not care. Dan inosanto created a generation of silly vally white boys that can’t fight without sticks or knives (that’s why he gave them weapons) and it created a wave of fan boys that haven’t produced any good students at all. JKD became MMA is the great ending to this story .

  7. It depends who your coming up against. Someone who is trained not trained ? Fighting a group or 1 on 1 ? Is there alcohol involved ? The technique can only be as effective or not as the person doing it; their talent ? Aggression ? Etc. MMA/UFC is very different to street fighting street fights are often won before the loser realized they are in a fight. Bruce Lee tried to popularise systems which normally takes years of dedication and ‘sacrifice’ for whatever reason.

  8. Wrong! JKD is very much battle tested, but not on some pathetic matt in a tournament against some lame karate practitioner, but in the streets and in bars and jungles, by me. I have molded 56 years of wing chun, chin-na, muay tai, aikido, and Japanese jiu-jitsu ( which is superior to the flop on your back Gracie crap) into the philosophical frame-work which is JKD. You consider some punk tournament battle testing? Try 5 five 6′-4″ 280 Lb thugs with guns and knives who want to kill you!

  9. It should be clear that the individual is the one who finds what is useful to them and throws away what is useless simple you should know what works and what dosen’t by simply practicing with people in real time on the streets and if you don’t think that Bruce Lee didn’t test anything out read all of his books and watch a couple of his clips on youtube. Plus jeet kune do obsorbs from different styles so everything is already battle or street tested

    • I’ve done jkd training and the author is on the money and knows jkd’s greatness and its practitioners’ shortcomings. He talks about faith-training and that’s his point. So many of us go by the idea that some techniques have been battle tested, but we don’t see for ourselves. And as much as we swear by bruce lee and his training footage, the trapping and real world skills have no resounding proof. The techniques are not Alvir’s beef, it’s the people who tend to not test themselves and be true with themselves. All the boxing, trapping, etc. has no proof but books and drill clips. Of all the fight videos across the internet, have you ever seen trapping successfully done to the effect of a Paul Vunak soft sparring or role-play video? Few and far between, if any. He is so right. Bottom line: every single martial artist has to test his moves against a 100% live opponent. Otherwise, we can arbitrarily make up what testing is, and that’s a slippery-slope. Even in the military, soldiers blindly trust (redundancy, Al may say) lethal hand to hand combat moves because they can’t practice it, but there is hardly enough self-evident proof that some moves will work for anyone, let alone ever having worked for anyone before. Is there footage proof? Or is it conceptually proven? And just because JKD borrows from different styles, it does not at all mean it is battle tested. And if it worked once, was it just luck? If there was a real clip of Daniel-son crane-kicking someone, would it be a functional technique for everyone? There is so much bs in combat arts. Even keeping it simple can be stupid, just as much as anything else. There has to be profound and prolific proof, witnessed first hand, and then practiced in dangerous conditions personally for anyone to adopt something as his truth. JKD guys are driveway shooters. They can hit shots on their driveway hoop, but can’t perform in a real game.

  10. You hit it right on the nail. JKD is very philosphical. The only problem is its not battled tested. Gracie jiu-jitsu, karate, kick-boxing, boxing, wrestling, and judo have all been battled tested. Lets not forget that bruce was and is forever a gung-fu man nothing more or less. It is impossible to gauge a fighting art that is not battled tested for actual combat at a high level. The JKD student is stuck on trying to explain the unexplainable. I feel sorry for those who consider themselves JKD ppl.

  11. finally in writing! JKD could have been great

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