Jeet Kune Do, also Jeet Kun Do, and abbreviated JKD, is an eclectic and hybrid martial art system and philosophy of life founded by the martial artist Bruce Lee (1940–1973) in 1967 with simple and direct, or straightforward, movements and non-classical style.
Jeet Kune Do practitioners believe in minimal movements with maximum effects and extreme speed.
The system works by using different “tools” for different situations, where the situations are divided into ranges, which is kicking, punching, clinching, and grappling, where martial artists use techniques to flow smoothly between them.
It is referred to as “a style without style” or “the art of fighting without fighting” as said by Lee himself. Unlike more traditional martial arts, Jeet Kune Do is not fixed or patterned, and is a philosophy with guiding thoughts.
It was named for the Wing Chun concept of interception or attacking while one’s opponent is about to attack.
However, the name Jeet Kune Do was often said by Lee to be just a name.
He himself often referred it as “the art of expressing the human body” in his writings and in interviews.
Through his studies Lee came to believe that styles had become too rigid and unrealistic.
He called martial art competitions of the day “dry land swimming”.
He believed that combat was spontaneous, and that a martial artist cannot predict it, only react to it, and that a good martial artist should “be like water” and move fluidly without hesitation.
In 2004, the Bruce Lee Foundation decided to use the name Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do (振藩截拳道) to refer to the martial arts system that Lee founded; “Jun Fan” was Lee’s Chinese given name.
System and philosophy
Bruce Lee and his teacher Yip Man
Originally, when Lee began researching various fighting styles, he called it Jun Fan Gung Fu. Not wanting to create another style which would share the limitations that all styles had, he instead described the process which he used to create it:
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
JKD as it survives since then—if one views it “refined” as a product, not a process—is what was left at the time of Lee’s death. It is the result of the lifelong martial arts development process Lee went through. Lee stated his concept does not add more and more things on top of each other to form a system, but rather selects the best thereof. The metaphor Lee borrowed from Chan Buddhism was of constantly filling a cup with water, and then emptying it, used for describing Lee’s philosophy of “casting off what is useless”. He used the sculptor’s mentality of beginning with a lump of clay and removing the material which constituted the “unessentials”; the end result was what he considered to be the bare combat essentials, or JKD. The dominant or strongest hand should be in the lead because it would perform a greater percentage of the work. Lee minimized the use of other stances except when circumstances warranted such actions.
Although the On-Guard position is a formidable overall stance, it is by no means the only one. He acknowledged there were times when other positions should be used. Lee felt the dynamic property of JKD was what enabled its practitioners to adapt to the constant changes and fluctuations of live combat. He believed these decisions should be made within the context of “real combat” and/or “all out sparring” and that it was only in this environment that a practitioner could actually deem a technique worthy of adoption. Lee believed that real combat was alive and dynamic. Circumstances in a fight change from millisecond to millisecond. Thus, pre-arranged patterns and techniques are not adequate in dealing with such a changing situation. As an antidote to this line of thought, Lee once wrote an epitaph which read: ‘In memory of a once fluid man, crammed and distorted by the classical mess.’ The “classical mess” in this instance was what Lee thought of the “not too alive way of the classical kung fu styles”.
The following are principles that Lee incorporated into Jeet Kune Do. Lee felt these were universal combat truths that were self-evident, and would lead to combat success if followed. Familiarity with each of the “Four ranges of combat”, in particular, is thought to be instrumental in becoming a “total” martial artist. JKD teaches that the best defense is a strong offense, hence the principle of an “intercepting fist”. For someone to attack another hand-to-hand, the attacker must approach the target. This provides an opportunity for the attacked person to “intercept” the attacking movement. The principle of interception may be applied to more than intercepting physical attacks; non-verbal cues (subtle movements that an opponent may be unaware of) may also be perceived or “intercepted”, and thus be used to one’s advantage. The “Five ways of attack”, categories which help JKD practitioners organize their fighting repertoire, comprise the offensive teachings of JKD. The concepts of “Stop hits & stop kicks”, and “Simultaneous parrying & punching”, based on the concept of single fluid motions which attack while defending (in systems such as Épée fencing and Wing Chun), compose the defensive teachings of JKD. These concepts were modified for unarmed combat and implemented into the JKD framework by Lee to complement the principle of interception.
Lee felt that the straight lead was the most integral part of Jeet Kune Do punching, as he stated, “The leading straight punch is the backbone of all punching in Jeet Kune Do.” The straight lead is not a power strike but a strike formulated for speed. The straight lead should always be held loosely with a slight motion, as this adds to its speed and makes it more difficult to see and block. The strike is not only the fastest punch in JKD, but also the most accurate. The speed is attributed to the fact that the fist is held out slightly making it closer to the target and its accuracy is gained from the punch being thrown straight forward from one’s centerline. The straight lead should be held and thrown loosely and easily, tightening only upon impact, adding to one’s punch. The straight lead punch can be thrown from multiple angles and levels.
Lee felt that explosive attacks with no telegraphing signs of intention were best. He argued that the attacks should catch the opponent off-guard, throwing them off their balance and leaving them unable to defend against further attacks. “The concept behind this is that when you initiate your punch without any forewarning, such as tensing your shoulders or moving your foot or body, the opponent will not have enough time to react,” Lee wrote. The key is that one must keep one’s body and arms loose, weaving one’s arms slightly and only becoming tense upon impact. Lee wanted no wind-up movements or “get ready poses” to prelude any JKD attacks. Lee explained that any twitches or slight movements before striking should be avoided as they will give the opponent signs or hints as to what is being planned and then they will be able to strike first while one is preparing an attack. Consequently, non-telegraphed movement is an essential part of Jeet Kune Do philosophy.
“Be Like Water”
Lee emphasized that every situation, in fighting or in everyday life, is varied. To obtain victory, therefore, it is essential not to be rigid, but to be fluid and able to adapt to any situation. He compared it to being like water: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. That water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” Lee’s theory behind this was that one must be able to function in any scenario one is thrown into and should react accordingly. One should know when to speed up or slow down, when to expand and when to contract, and when to remain flowing and when to crash. It is the awareness that both life and fighting can be shapeless and ever changing that allows one to be able to adapt to those changes instantaneously and bring forth the appropriate solution. Lee did not believe in “styles” and felt that every person and every situation is different and not everyone fits into a mold; one must remain flexible in order to obtain new knowledge and victory in both life and combat. One must never become stagnant in the mind or method, always evolving and moving towards improving oneself.
Economy of motion 
Jeet Kune Do seeks to waste no time or movement, teaching that the simplest things work best, as in Wing Chun. Economy of motion is the principle by which JKD practitioners achieve:
Efficiency: An attack which reaches its target in the least amount of time, with maximum force.
Directness: Doing what comes naturally in a disciplined way.
Simplicity: Thinking in an uncomplicated manner; without ornamentation.
This is meant to help a practitioner conserve both energy and time, two crucial components in a physical confrontation. Maximized force seeks to end the battle quickly due to the amount of damage inflicted upon the opponent. Rapidity aims to reach the target before the opponent can react, which is half-beat faster timing, as taught in Wing Chun and Western boxing. Learned techniques are utilized in JKD to apply these principles to a variety of situations.
“When the distance is wide, the attacking opponent requires some sort of preparation. Therefore, attack him on his preparation of attack.” “To reach me, you must move to me. Your attack offers me an opportunity to intercept you.” This means intercepting an opponent’s attack with an attack of one’s own instead of simply blocking it. It is for this concept Jeet Kune Do is named. JKD practitioners believe that this is the most difficult defensive skill to develop. This strategy is a feature of some traditional Chinese martial arts as Wing Chun, as well as an essential component of European Épée Fencing. Stop hits and kicks utilize the principle of economy of motion by combining attack and defense into one movement, thus minimizing the “time” element.
Simultaneous parrying and punching
When confronting an incoming attack, the attack is parried or deflected, and a counterattack is delivered at the same time. This is not as advanced as a stop hit but more effective than blocking and counterattacking in sequence. This is practiced by some Chinese martial arts such as Wing Chun, and it is also known in Krav Maga as “bursting”. Simultaneous parrying & punching utilizes the principle of economy of motion by combining attack and defense into one movement, thus minimizing the “time” element and maximising the “energy” element. Efficiency is gained by utilizing a parry rather than a block. By definition a “block” stops an attack, whereas a parry merely re-directs it. Redirection has two advantages, first that it requires less energy to execute and second that it utilizes the opponent’s energy against them by creating an imbalance. Efficiency is gained in that the opponent has less time to react to an incoming attack, since they are still nullifying the original attack.
JKD practitioners believe they should direct their kicks to their opponent’s shins, knees, thighs, and midsection, as in Wing Chun. These targets are the closest to the foot, provide more stability and are more difficult to defend against. Maintaining low kicks utilizes the principle of economy of motion by reducing the distance a kick must travel, thus minimizing the “time” element. However, as with all other JKD principles nothing is “written in stone”. If a target of opportunity presents itself, even a target above the waist, one could take advantage and not be hampered by this principle.
Four ranges of combat
Jeet Kune Do students train in each of the aforementioned ranges equally. According to Lee, this range of training serves to differentiate JKD from other martial arts. Lee stated that most but not all traditional martial arts systems specialize in training at one or two ranges. Lee’s theories have been especially influential and substantiated in the field of mixed martial arts, as the MMA Phases of Combat are essentially the same concept as the JKD combat ranges. As a historic note, the ranges in JKD have evolved over time. Initially the ranges were categorized as short or close, medium, and long range. These terms proved ambiguous and eventually evolved into their more descriptive forms, although some may still prefer the original three categories.
Five ways of attack
The original five ways of attack are:
Simple Direct Attack (SDA)
Attack By Combination (ABC)
Progressive Indirect Attack (PIA)
(Hand) Immobilization Attack (HIA)
Attack By Drawing (ABD)
The Wing Chun centerline.
Punching from the Wing Chun centerline.
The centerline can be expressed as the height of a triangle.
An animation of mechanical linkage to the shoulders of the triangle illustrates the importance of guarding the centerline.
The centerline is an imaginary line drawn vertically along the center of a standing human body, and refers to the space directly in front of that body. If one draws an isosceles triangle on the floor, for which one’s body forms the base, and one’s arms form the equal legs of the triangle, then h (the height of the triangle) is the centerline. The Wing Chun concept is to exploit, control and dominate an opponent’s centerline. All attacks, defenses, and footwork are designed to guard one’s own centerline while entering the opponent’s centerline space. Lee incorporated this theory into JKD from his Sifu Yip Man’s Wing Chun.
The three guidelines for centerline are:
The one who controls the centerline will control the fight.
Protect and maintain your own centerline while you control and exploit your opponent’s.
Control the centerline by occupying it.
This notion is closely related to maintaining control of the center squares in the strategic game chess. The concept is naturally present in xiangqi (Chinese chess), where an “X” is drawn on the game board, in front of both players’ general and advisors.
One of the premises that Lee incorporated in Jeet Kune Do was “combat realism”. He insisted that martial arts techniques should be incorporated based upon their effectiveness in real combat situations. This would differentiate JKD from other systems where there was an emphasis on “flowery technique”, as Lee would put it. Lee claimed that flashy “flowery techniques” would arguably “look good” but were often not practical or would prove ineffective in street survival and self-defense situations. This premise would differentiate JKD from other “sport”-oriented martial arts systems that were geared towards “tournament” or “point systems”. Lee felt that these systems were “artificial” and fooled their practitioners into a false sense of true martial skill. Lee felt that because these systems favored a “sports” approach they incorporated too many rule sets that would ultimately handicap a practitioner in self-defense situations. He felt that this approach to martial arts became a “game of tag” which would lead to bad habits such as pulling punches and other attacks; this would again lead to disastrous consequences in real world situations.
Another aspect of realistic martial arts training fundamental to JKD is what Lee referred to as “aliveness”. This is the concept of training techniques with an unwilling assistant who offers resistance. Lee made a reference to this concept in his famous quote “Boards don’t hit back!” Because of this perspective of realism and aliveness, Lee utilized safety gear from various other contact sports to allow him to spar with opponents “full out”. This approach to training allowed practitioners to come as close as possible to real combat situations with a high degree of safety.
Country of Origin
Jeet Kune Do is and was founded in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. in 1964 (Jun Fan Gung Fu), until July 9, 1967 the term Jeet Kune Do was formed by both Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto
Jeet Kune Do practitioners and appearances in popular culture
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from Game of Death.
Bruce’s son Brandon Lee was a student of Jeet Kune Do and used it in his fight scenes in his films.
Danny Chan Kwok-kwan from The Legend of Bruce Lee.
Many video games characters that utilize Jeet Kune Do or a style based on it:
Maxi— Soulcalibur series
Hong Kong Fei Long—Street Fighter series
South Korea Kim Dragon—World Heroes series
China Jann Lee—Dead or Alive series
United States Marshall Law—Tekken series
China Liu Kang—Mortal Kombat series
Kenshiro—Fist of the North Star series
Rock Lee—Naruto series
Kamen Rider Meteor—Kamen Rider Series
Lee Sin—League of Legends
United States Jacky Bryant—Virtua Fighter series
Spike Spiegel—Cowboy Bebop series