Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do's Later Developments

by Ted Wong and Tommy Gong
From the Bruce Lee Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do Magazine, December 1997.

The later developments of Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do, prior to his untimely death, are some of the least understood. Most people separate Lee's stages of development by the places where he resided, acknowledging that he initially practiced Wing Chun Gung Fu and modified it into Jun Fan Gung Fu in Seattle, further developed Jun Fan in Oakland, and later created Jeet Kune Do in Los Angeles. Others notice changes in Lee's development by understanding what martial arts influenced him such as Wing Chun, Boxing, and Fencing. We must understand, however, that these stages are not this clearly delineated. Specific developments in JFJKD gradually occurred over time, and distinct phases overlap each other considerably. In addition, mere technique cannot explain these stages; one must also study Bruce Lee's mental approach in fighting and philosophy of life to better understand Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do.

Bruce Lee's Evolution:
One may assume that Lee taught each student differently, giving something quite unique to each disciple, since each individual he taught had varying needs. But it is not this clear cut. Upon analyzing Bruce Lee's private notes, one discovers that Lee essentially taught the same things to all his students with the exception of some slight modifications to fit the individual student or to emphasize certain points or ideas that the student needed help with. From Joe Lewis to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Stirling Silliphant to all the members of the Nucleus who trained under him, Lee taught essentially the same techniques during the same time period (1967-70). What Lee probably discovered was that certain students excelled at executing certain techniques while other students performed other things better, and the idea was how to optimize their strengths and cover or protect their weaknesses. We must understand Lee concluded that since we only have two hands and two feet, the objective was how to use them to the maximum. However, one must also consider that Lee's students most likely received what he was emphasizing in combat at the time. As Lee was developing as a martial artist, he was discovering more truths in combat for himself, so what he found to be important when he resided in Seattle would not necessarily be important to him when he lived in Los Angeles. To qualify this, there were certain principles that Lee maintained throughout his lifetime. Moreover, what was taught in a class setting sometimes varied from what Lee practiced at his home with a few students. At the school, a class curriculum was followed to develop a student into a well-rounded fighter. But when training privately with Lee, the student learned what Bruce Lee was personally working on at the time. Does this mean that the Chinatown School students practiced radically different things than that of Lee¡¦s private students at home? No, but the level of expectation and refinement were probably higher (that is, when working with Bruce) and more experimentation was performed.

Moreover, students in the same class will often pick up on different key points, principles, and/or thoughts. Often students will concentrate harder on things they perform better or understand more deeply. For instance, Dan Lee excels with explaining the Yin and Yang aspects of Jeet Kune Do while Ted Wong emphasizes the importance of footwork. Furthermore, who better than his own students who knew Lee and were familiar with his circumstances to explain his art of JFJKD. This is why it is important for Lee's students to contribute what they learned from their great teacher, Bruce Lee. It is this collection of information that needs to be preserved for future generations. To summarize, although Bruce Lee had quite a few students in his lifetime, they had all learned something different from him based on their individual needs, what Bruce Lee was concentrating on at the time, and what each student perceived to be important. Most of Bruce Lee's changes and developments were not taught to his students, but one could observe him during training sessions and sense changes in his movements. A slightly different angle of delivery here, a little more penetration in the sidekick there, a small difference in the timing of the punch, etc. In addition, a lot could be learned from Lee by sparring with him. His tactics, strategies, and movements improved over time toward more combat effectiveness and efficiency. As a result, it became increasingly difficult to spar him. Even the videos of Bruce Lee sparring during the 1964 and 1967 Long Beach Internationals Tournament were not representative of how he would spar just a few years later (1969-71). Furthermore, the improvements were actually slight, subtle changes that accumulated over time. It is the sum of these changes that makes it more apparent. If someone could observe Bruce Lee throughout this transformation, he would notice a gradually changing system; but if only observing Lee's beginning and end products in the martial arts, he or she would note two different fighting systems. For instance, without any prior knowledge in JFJKD, one would think that Lee¡¦s students in Seattle were taught by a different teacher or even studied a different martial art from his students in Los Angeles.

Bruce Lee's Revolution:
The most dramatic difference, however, was Bruce Lee's approach to fighting and way of critical analysis about fighting. It was not so much his techniques that changed, but rather how Lee analyzed them and as a result, would improve and use them. Sciences such as physics, biomechanics, kinesiology, and psychology were put to use so that a scientific basis was used to optimize the structure of techniques, human performance, as well as validating the effectiveness of JFJKD techniques. For instance, Lee applied such principles as speed, power, broken rhythm, psychological warfare, strategy, and tactics to his fighting so that he could maximize his ability in combat. As early as 1969(?), Lee was scientifically comparing his techniques to those from other arts: an article that year documented the comparison of the Straight Lead Punch from JFJKD to the Rear Punch from Karate with quantifiable results. Lee's liberation from the classical martial arts had already begun in Seattle with modifying Wing Chun to adapt to his different environment. He emphasized adaptability while basically remaining within the framework of the Wing Chun system. This process continued in Oakland, but his altercation with a Gung Fu man forced Bruce Lee to look more often outside of the system towards more efficiency and a more open view towards combat.

In Los Angeles, since he was developing in directions where Wing Chun would not fit him anymore, he eventually discarded many of its techniques and approaches, forcing him to be outside of the system. Wing Chun was no longer a part of Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do at this point in Bruce Lee's life (1969-73). But in defining Bruce Lee's evolution in the martial arts, Wing Chun is a large and important part of its development. JFJKD could possibly be incomplete without it, as Bruce Lee stated, "I owe my achievement to my previous training in the Wing Chun style." Nevertheless, in his later stages, Lee discarded Wing Chun as well as all other forms of martial arts because they became less important to him. No boundaries or limitations of any particular system would be imposed on him and he could truly look at combat objectively. Bruce Lee's development of Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do was not the mere modification or abandonment of a system, nor to necessarily study or research all different forms of martial arts, but a whole new thought process and approach to the martial arts. The philosophical notion of freedom allowed Lee to be truly free from the restrictions of any art, thereby being empowered to fully actualize his potential as a martial artist. It is with this liberating quality that the JFJKD practitioner really flourishes, and this is why Lee emphasized it so much. He found that being outside of any system allowed him to more quickly improve his martial arts.

Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do:
This leads one to define the JFJKD fighting arsenal and JFJKD philosophy. It is the JFJKD fighting arsenal that actually has its own physical character or flavor, comprising of the techniques and movements that Bruce Lee actually performed. It is directed at adaptability, combat effectiveness and efficiency, a fighting system stripped down to its essentials comprising of elements from Wing Chun, Boxing, Fencing, etc. But JFJKD philosophy is more universal and can be applied to just about any martial art. For instance, one precept is to merely look at combat or life objectively, not through the lens of one's previous conditioning. This is very significant because most people observe things according to their past experiences. For example, a person with judo experience may associate throwing techniques from another martial art to those in judo. But this limits his scope of objectivity and analysis, because he already has preconceived notions about the mechanics, tactics, and usage of the technique. With JKD, one attempts to look at the art "as is", not what it reminds one of. The JKD practitioner must open up his mind and eventually be free from any particular martial art. Another important notion in JFJKD philosophy is to be like water. In terms of fighting, being like water means to have the adaptability to fit in with any confrontation or combative situation so that you can handle yourself and defeat your opponent. The idea of being soft, yielding, and sensitive also empowers one as a human being to deal with life's problems more effectively by becoming more open-minded with finding creative solutions. In fact, one would be able to apply much of Bruce Lee's philosophy, which is deeply rooted in Taoism, to live a more positive and rewarding life. However, there is a lot more to JFJKD than simply Bruce Lee's philosophy, and one may lose sight of Bruce Lee's total contribution to the martial arts. The JFJKD Nucleus wants to preserve the basic foundations of JFJKD, including its philosophy, so essential for future generations in fully understanding Bruce Lee and his art. If it is there inclination, students are encouraged to study other martial arts and add their own personal developments once they have the experience and intellectual sophistication to do so. Nevertheless, we simply want JFJKD teachers to concentrate and focus on JFJKD, that is Bruce Lee's personal expression in the martial arts, when they claim to teach it. In this way, JFJKD can be spread out in a much more consistent way with less confusion.

Lee said that one had to continually evolve to improve and keep pace with this changing world. Lee viewed this as a continual, gradual improvement and advancement of one's martial art instead of fundamentally changing and adding to it. In addition, Lee meant that each individual would have to improve himself for his own personal growth. Lee stands alone as the greatest martial arts of all time. He certainly does not need his students or future generations to "keep him or his art up with the Jones." Furthermore, liberating himself from any particular martial art contributed to Lee's accelerated development. In a sense, Jeet Kune Do had been occurring to Bruce Lee all his life, he just decided to give it a name in 1967. By following Lee's example, the JKD student would eventually liberate himself from as well as his identification with JKD and Bruce Lee. That's what Bruce Lee wanted.

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