What is Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do?
In one of Bruce Lee’s spots on the television show Longstreet, James Franciscus asks Bruce Lee, “What do you call this thing you do?” Bruce goes on to explain that the name he has given to his own approach to the martial arts is Jeet Kune Do. Translated from Cantonese, jeet means “intercepting” or “stopping. Kune means “fist“, and do is “the way.” In English then, Jeet Kune Do is “The Way of the Intercepting Fist.”
Over the years, there has been much debate over the name Jeet Kune Do. Is it a style or a philosophy? Is it based on Eastern or Western martial arts? Bruce Lee himself was quoted as saying “it’s only a name.” But, of course, he had to have some way of referring to the techniques and strategies he was using.
The story of how he came to develop those techniques starts in 1964 when Bruce was teaching the traditional Chinese martial art of wing chun at his school in Oakland, California. Bay Area kung fu instructors, unhappy that Bruce was teaching non-Chinese students, sent Wong J. Man from Hong Kong to Oakland with an ultimatum: close the school or throw down. The challenge, of course, was met right there on the spot, and the two faced off, but a fight that Bruce felt should have been over much sooner lasted an excruciating three minutes. He realized that even though he had successfully dispensed with the challenger, the traditional arts were not as effective as he’d wanted them to be in a real situation.
At this point, Bruce could’ve taken the easy way out and continued with the classical arts. He could have coasted on his reputation and his victory over Wong J. Man. Instead, he threw out years of wing chun study and dove into researching other martial arts. He read thousands of books on various fighting systems, but the majority of books in his personal library were either fencing or boxing titles. These are the volumes that were most heavily underlined and annotated by Bruce. These are the arts that were most subject to his scrutiny. And these western arts form the foundation of Jeet Kune Do.
While Bruce Lee analyzed many fighting styles, this does not mean he incorporated all of them into his arsenal. Which brings us back to the James Franciscus question: “What do you call this thing you do?” Arguments of whether or not JKD is a style aside, Jeet Kune Do is the name that Bruce Lee gave to the fighting techniques and strategies he was developing and employing. It was what he was doing—how he was most efficiently using arms, legs, body weight, tactics, and the laws of physics—to fight. True, there are philosophical principles that guide the physical side of JKD, but we must never forget that JKD is about doing, about action—very specific action.