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History and description of Jeet Kun Do

Jeet Kune Do. "Way of the Intercepting Fist"), also Jeet Kun Do or JKD, is a martial art philosophy developed by martial artist and actor Bruce Lee.

In 2004, the Bruce Lee Foundation adopted the name Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do to refer to the martial art that Lee founded. "Jun Fan" was Lee's Chinese given name, so the literal translation is "Bruce Lee's Way of the Intercepting Fist."

 Bruce Lee

As an adolescent, Bruce Lee studied the martial arts style of Wing Chun and was a student of Yip Man in Hong Kong. Later, he learned other arts as well as the sports of western boxing and European fencing. The term Jeet Kune Do occurred in 1968 while Dan Inosanto and Bruce Lee were driving around in his car. The conversation involved European fencing and Lee commented that; "the most efficient means of countering in fencing was the stop-hit....When the opponent attacks, you intercept his move with a thrust or hit of your own...." Lee then said "We should call our method the 'stop-hitting fist style, or the 'intercepting fist style". Dan Inosanto then said; "What would that be in Chinese?" in which Lee replied "That would be Jeet Kune Do".

A television episode of Bruce Lee discussing his Jeet Kune Do appeared in the series Longstreet. The episode was aptly titled "The Way of the Intercepting Fist". The episode was written specifically for Lee by his friend and long-time supporter Stirling Silliphant.

Bruce Lee's vision for Jeet Kune Do is reflected in some of his writings:

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[


Some martial arts are very popular, real crowd pleasers, because they look good, have smooth techniques. But beware. They are like a wine that has been watered. A diluted wine is not a real wine, not a good wine, hardly the genuine article. Some martial arts don't look so good, but you know that they have a kick, a tang, a genuine taste. They are like olives. The taste may be strong and bittersweet. The flavor lasts. You cultivate a taste for them. No one ever developed a taste for diluted wine.

Bruce Lee, in Tao of Jeet Kune Do

The formless form

Jeet Kune Do (JKD) is the name Bruce Lee gave to his combat philosophy in 1967. Originally, when Lee began researching various fighting styles, he gave his martial art his own name of Jun Fan Gung Fu. However not wanting to create another style that would share the limitations that all styles have, he instead gave us the process that created it.

JKD as it survives today—if one wants to view it "refined" as a product, not a process—is what was left at the time of Bruce Lee's death. It is the result of the life-long martial arts development process Lee went through. Bruce Lee stated that his ideals are not an "adding to" of more and more things on top of each other to form a system, but rather, a winnowing out. 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 also used the sculptor's mentality of beginning with a lump of clay and hacking away at the "unessentials"; the end result was what he considered to be the bare combat essentials, or JKD.

Bruce Lee, and thus JKD, was heavily influenced by European boxing and fencing. Although the backbone concepts (such as centerline, vertical punching, and forward pressure) come from Wing Chun, Lee stopped using the Wing Chun stances in favor of what he considered to be more fluid/flexible fencing and boxing stances. Lee stated that they allowed him to "flow" rather than being stuck in stances. For instance, instead of using footwork to position the body for maximum fighting position vis-a-vis the opponent, JKD uses flowing "entries" that do not require "bridges" from Wing Chun. Bruce Lee wanted to create a martial art that was unbounded and free. Later during the development of Jeet Kune Do, he would expand that notion and include the art for personal development, not just to become a better fighter. To illustrate Lee's views, in a 1971 Black Belt Magazine article, Lee said "Let it be understood once and for all that I have NOT invented a new style, composite or modification. I have in no way set Jeet Kune Do within a distinct form governed by laws that distinguish it from 'this' style or 'that' method. On the contrary, I hope to free my comrades from bondage to styles, patterns and doctrines." He took a lot of theories and principles and made them applicable to the martial arts. He mixed them together and showed people that they had no need of style—only to take what works and find their own path with it.

While practicing European wrestling, Lee was once pinned by an opponent, who asked what Lee would do if he found himself in the situation in a real fight. Lee replied, "Well, I'd bite you, of course". One of the theories of JKD is that a fighter should do whatever is necessary to defend himself, regardless of where the techniques used come from. Lee's goal in Jeet Kune Do was to break down what he claimed were limiting factors in the training of the traditional styles, and seek a fighting thesis which he believed could only be found within the event of a fight. Jeet Kune Do is currently seen as the genesis of the modern state of hybrid martial arts.

Jeet Kune Do not only advocates the combination of aspects of different styles, it also can change many of those aspects that it adopts to suit the abilities of the practitioner. Additionally, JKD advocates that any practitioner be allowed to interpret techniques for themselves, and change them for their own purposes. For example, Lee almost always chose to put his power hand in the "lead," with his weaker hand back. Within this stance he used elements of Boxing, Fencing and Wing Chun. Just like fencing, he labeled this position the "On Guard" position. Lee incorporated this position into his JKD as he felt it provided the best overall mobility. Lee felt that 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 good overall stance, it is by no means the only one. Lee acknowledged that there were times when other positions should be utilized.

Lee felt the dynamic property of JKD was what enabled its practitioners to adapt to the constant changes and fluctuations of live combat. Lee believed that these decisions should be done within the context of "real combat" and/or "all out sparring". He believed that it was only in this environment that a person could actually deem a technique worthy of adoption.

Bruce Lee did not stress the memorization of solo training forms or "Kata", as most traditional styles do in their beginning-level training. Lee often compared doing forms without an opponent to attempting to learn to swim on dry land. Lee believed that real combat was alive and dynamic. Circumstances in a fight change from millisecond to millisecond, and thus pre-arranged patterns and techniques are not adequate in dealing with such a changing situation. As an anecdote to this thinking, 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 classical martial arts.

Bruce Lee's comments and methods were seen as controversial by many in his time, and still are today. Many teachers from traditional schools disagreed with his opinions on these issues.

The notion of cross-training in Jeet Kune Do is similar to the practice of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in modern times -- Bruce Lee has been considered by UFC president Dana White as the "father of mixed martial arts".Many consider Jeet Kune Do to be the precursor of MMA because of its syncretic nature. This is particularly the case with respect to the JKD "Combat Ranges". A JKD student is expected to learn various combat systems within each combat range, and thus to be effective in all of them, just as in MMA.

Bruce Lee performs at the Long Beach International Karate Chanpionships 1964

 Combat principles

The following are principles that Lee incorporated into Jeet Kune Do. He felt these were universal combat truths that were self evident and would lead to combat success if followed. The "4 Combat Ranges" in particular are what he felt were instrumental in becoming a "total" martial artist. This is also the principle most related to mixed martial arts.

JKD practitioners also subscribe to the notion that the best defense is a strong offense, hence the principle of intercepting. Lee believed that in order for an opponent to attack someone they had to move towards them. This provided an opportunity to "intercept" that attack or movement. The principle of interception covers more than just intercepting physical attacks. Lee believed that many non-verbals and telegraphs (subtle movements that an opponent is unaware of) could be perceived or "intercepted" and thus be used to one's advantage. The "5 Ways of Attack" are attacking categories that help Jeet Kune Do practitioners organize their fighting repertoire and comprise the offensive portion of JKD. The concepts of stop hits & stop kicks and simultaneous parrying & punching were borrowed from European Fencing and Wing Chun's theory of simultaneous defending and attacking, and comprise the defensive portion of JKD. These concepts were modified for unarmed combat and implemented into the JKD framework by Lee. These concepts also complement the other principle of interception.

 Economy of motion

JKD students are told to waste no time or movement. When it comes to combat JKD practitioners believe the simplest things work best.

 Stop hits & stop kicks

This means intercepting an opponent's attack with an attack of your own instead of a simple block. 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 well as an essential component of European épée fencing (known in fencing terminology as the "counter-attack").

 Simultaneous parrying & punching

When confronting an incoming attack, the attack is parried or deflected and a counter attack is delivered at the same time. Not as advanced as a stop hit but more effective than blocking and counter attacking in sequence. This is also practiced by some Chinese martial arts.

 No high kicks

JKD practitioners believe they should target their kicks to their opponent's shins, knees, thighs, and mid section. These targets are the closest to the foot, provide more stability and are more difficult to defend against. 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 of the situation without feeling hampered by this principle.

 Four ranges of combat

  • Kicking
  • Punching
  • Trapping
  • Grappling

Jeet Kune Do students train in each of these 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 systems specialize in training at one or two ranges. Bruce 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 historical 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 there may still be others who prefer the three categories.

 Five Ways Of Attack

  • Simple Angular Attack (SAA) and its converse Simple Direct Attack (SDA).
  • Hand Immobilization Attack (HIA) and its counterpart Foot Immobilization attack, which make use of trapping to limit the opponent's function with that appendage.
  • Progressive Indirect Attack (PIA). Attacking one part of the opponent's body followed by attacking another part as a means of creating an opening.
  • Attack By Combinations (ABC). This is using multiple rapid attacks, with volume of attack as a means of overcoming the opponent.
  • Attack By Drawing (ABD). This is creating an opening with positioning as a means of counter attacking.

 Three Parts of JKD

JKD practitioners believe that techniques should contain the following properties:

  • Efficiency - An attack that reaches its mark.
  • Directness - The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
  • Simplicity - Thinking in an uncomplicated manner; without ornamentation.


The centerline refers to an imaginary line running down the center of one's body. The theory is to exploit, control and dominate your opponent's centerline. All attacks, defenses and footwork are designed to preserve your own centerline and open your opponent's. Lee incorporated this theory into JKD from Wing Chun. This notion is closely related to maintaining control of the center squares in the strategic game chess.

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.



The idea that there exist branches or different interpretations of Jeet Kune Do comes from a complete breakdown of the overall lineage and a dispute over who shall inherit the system and become the official de-facto authority on continuing it's teaching. There are really no "branches" but rather groups of individuals who strive to promote their authenticity as Jeet Kune Do instructors based on a claimed training lineage and what they view as the correct essence of the art. To understand how the divisions originated, it's important to understand the history of the training lineage from the beginning.

Lee directly certified only 3 instructors. Taky Kimura, James Yimm Lee (no relation to Bruce Lee), and Dan Inosanto, are the only instructors certified personally by Lee. Inosanto holds the 3rd rank (Instructor) directly from Bruce Lee in Jeet Kune Do, Jun Fan Gung Fu, and Bruce Lee's Tao of Chinese Gung Fu. Taky Kimura holds a 5th rank in Jun Fan Gung Fu. James Yimm Lee (died in 1972) held a 3rd rank in Jun Fan Gung Fu. James Yimm Lee and Taky Kimura hold ranks in Jun Fan Gung Fu, not Jeet Kune Do; Taky received his 5th rank in Jun Fan Gung Fu after the term Jeet Kune Do existed. All other instructors since Lee's death have been certified directly by Dan Inosanto, calling the art "Jun Fan Gung Fu/Jeet Kune Do Concepts". Prior to his death, Lee told his then only two living instructors Inosanto and Kimura to dismantle his schools. Both Taky Kimura and Dan Inosanto were allowed to teach small classes thereafter, under the guideline "keep the numbers low, but the quality high". James Yimm Lee, a close friend of Lee, died without certifying additional students. Taky Kimura, to date, has certified only one person in Jun Fan Gung Fu: his son Andy Kimura. Dan Inosanto continued to teach and certify select students in Jeet Kune Do Concepts even though the actual material being passed on may not be what Bruce Lee was originally actually working on before his death.

As a result of a lawsuit between the Lee's estate (also known as the "Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do Nucleus") against the Inosanto Academy, the name "Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do" was legally trademarked, and the rights to Bruce Lee's name, likeness, and personal martial arts legacy (including personal photos and countless personal effects and memorabilia) were given solely to the Lee estate for copyrighted commercial use, as evidenced by the resurgence of the popularity of Bruce Lee related merchandise. The Inosanto Academy now refers to the system as "The Legacy of the Intercepting Fist", and is not the de-facto heir to the system of Jeet Kune Do.

 JKD as a philosophy

Like many Asian martial arts, Jeet Kune Do was founded as both a martial art and a philsophy. Although Lee is best known as a martial artist and actor, he studied philosophy at the University of Washington. He was well-read and had an extensive library. His own books on martial arts and fighting philosophy are known for their philosophical assertions both inside and outside of martial arts circles. His eclectic philosophy often mirrored his fighting beliefs, though he was quick to claim that his martial arts were solely a metaphor for such teachings. His influences include Lao Tzu, Taoism, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and Buddhism.

The following principles are some of the fundamental pillars of the philosophy:

  • The usefulness of a cup is its emptiness. - Be prepared to accept new knowledge and not be hindered or biased by old knowledge. This quote originates from the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism.
  • Using no way as way. - Don't have preconceived notions about anything. This statement is embedded in the Jeet Kune Do logo. It was also used by Bruce Lee often to describe JKD.
  • Having no limitation as limitation. - Don't be confined by anything, achieve true freedom. This statement is embedded in the Jeet Kune Do logo.
  • From form to formless and from finite to infinite. - Don't be confined by limitations and forms. By not having specific form all forms can be included.
  • If people say Jeet Kune Do is different from "this" or from "that," then let the name of Jeet Kune Do be wiped out, for that is what it is, just a name. Please don't fuss over it. - Don't get hung up on labels. The goal is to understand the ideas in JKD, and apply those ideas to your life.
  • Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow, or it can crash! Be water, my friend. - Lee explaining the principle of being like water to Pierre Berton in the so-called Lost Interview. The concept means to be fluid and adaptable to any situation you are in, not to be confined to just one style (bottle, teapot, etc.), but instead to use whatever works in the given set of circumstances. In martial arts, maybe Wing Chun would work best in one situation, maybe Jujitsu in another context. In philosophy, maybe libertarianism would work best in one situation, socialism might have the answer in another, and conservatism might work best in a third situation. The idea is to be adaptable and changeable as the context demands for greatest effectiveness.
  • Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it. - Effectiveness and eclectism, rather than tradition and nationalism, are the core values.
  • Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there. - Jeet Kune Do is not opposed to the classical tradition, in and of itself, as an irrational or blind reaction; rather, the idea is to find what is true and effective regardless of its origin, and to exist outside of any one fixed or rigid philosophy. Jiddu Krishnamurti was the inspiration for this idea.
  • Circumstances must dictate what you do. - There is no fixed teaching in Jeet Kune Do. Each student must ultimately teach himself, flow like water, adapt to his situation, change with change, and find answers and solutions for his particular situation.
  • Jeet Kune Do favors formlessness so that it can assume all forms and since Jeet Kune Do has no style, it can fit in with all styles. As a result, Jeet Kune Do utilizes all ways and is bound by none and, likewise, uses any techniques which serve its end. - The ultimate goal is effectiveness; and eclectism is the means to achieve that goal.
  • You don't grow unless you go out of the confines of your own system. It is from the old we get security, and the new that we get growth. - Individual growth and individual development are important values in Jeet Kune Do; they are achieved in part by exploring, learning, and experiencing. They goal is not to agree or disagree, but to grow.
  • Circle with no circumference. - If one philosophy or martial art is represented by a circle, then the goal is to increase the diameter until reaching infinity, including all systems around you. If you are bounded by a circumference, then you are limited to only one system. To be trapped by a boundary is to be enslaved. In Jeet Kune Do, breaking outside of the circumference is liberation.