Fallacy of Jeet Kune Do

When I was a boy, I read with great interest Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Right after I read that, I read Dan Inosanto’s Absorb What Is Useful and Guide to Martial Arts Training Equipment. Being young and easily influenced, I was immediately drawn in and sold on the philosophy. As I matured, I slowly removed myself from many of Bruce Lee’s ideas until I nearly rejected all of them. Today, I am a combination of admirer and critic of Lee’s JKD. My methodology was born of my experiences and observations as well as tested theories.

My philosophy is all over the internet, and hopefully we can bring all of those writings to this blog. I am not interested in arguing point-for-point every detail, because much of what I wrote 10 years ago is no longer my position today. This is a vast subject, and being a “nobody” (since Jeet Kune Do people like to point out that I am a nobody) my martial arts career will neither be broken nor made because of this position. I would like to share some of these things in this article, and I hope that at least some of you will find what is in this article helpful.

The Paradox of Bruce Lee’s Philosophy

Bruce Lee’s JKD is a style that claims not to be a style. It has a curriculum, a philosophy, teachers, schools, a TRADEMARK, students arguing about lineage and authenticity (just like every traditional legacy I’ve seen) and even “forms”. Although these “forms” are combinations and drills, what is a form but a series of blocks, attacks and counters that have been prearranged? Do JKD practitioners not do the same thing? You strike me here, and then I do this and that? One person holds out an arm while the defender blocks and counters with X, Y, and Z? Looks like Kenpo from here. Bruce Lee himself came from the traditional system (Wing Chun), which is apparent in his system. Yeah, call it Jun Fan Kickboxing, whatever… but his system of no systems sure looks like a system to me. From what I hear, he even tried to dismantle the art shortly before he died because he saw it going down the same road the traditional styles travelled. Did Lee practice forms? Sure. Those of you who know Ying Jow Pai may recognize the first few moves of “Jeet Kune” an Eagle Claw FORM, being performed by Lee in “Return of the Dragon” in the alley before he whips up the Italian guy–and in the Game of Death, he does the end of the form while in his room the first day on Han’s Island (ironically, Shek Kin is an Eagle Claw Sifu–he is my kung fu Uncle). Surely, he practiced the 4 forms of Wing Chun:  Siu Lum Tao, Chum Kiu, Biu Jee, and the Mook Yan Jong form. But he didn’t teach them to his students… or did he? Ever seen any of the students from his early days? They do those forms. In my opinion, they seemed to be more fighters than the ones who came along in later years. The truth is, Bruce Lee benefitted from traditional martial arts training, but he preached against it. It was his traditional training that encouraged his search for “non-traditional” martial arts. I believe in fighters with a strong foundation creating their own methods–but only after they have a base of knowledge to grow from. Bruce Lee’s ideas were good, but in my opinion not well thought out and tested. We love him because of his movies and his profoundness as a martial arts philosopher. But keep in mind that he was a young man without a master, without a lot of actual learning (he learned mostly by books, except for limited exchanges with others and his short time with Yip Man). He was a talented specimen who trained full time in a young martial arts community without a lot of exposure to martial arts masters. Was he in great shape? Yes. Was he a skilled fighter? I don’t know, no one really questioned or tested him. And that was the problem.

The Process of Development

Where was Bruce Lee’s laboratory? Who did he test his theories on? How long did he test those theories? How was his art tempered?

Let me answer those questions with a question:  Who taught Bruce Lee how to box?

The answer:  no one. Create your own path, remember? Bruce Lee studied boxing the same way most of you do. Not by going into the gym and boxing, but by looking at youtube clips and HBO. Oh, he didn’t have youtube and HBO, so he really had less exposure than many of you have. Bruce Lee learned to box by observation, and came up with his own theories. This is the common method of young men who thought they knew everything. Hey, I was the same way myself at one time… but I was given the opportunity to get older and I had the humility to go and learn from those who know more than me. Imagine where his JKD had been if Lee had walked into a boxing gym instead of looking at Muhammad Ali fights. (By the way, Ali was one of the worst people to learn how to fight by observing. He only used a portion of boxing basics, and relied more on his natural talents and hard work than by boxing basics)

Bottom line, Bruce Lee was a fine physical specimen among a community of martial artists who were in awe of him. I believe many men who admired him could actually have beaten him–Jim Kelly, Joe Lewis, Chuck Norris, among others. This was one of Bruce Lee’s main flaws (keep in mind, he was young and human):  that he believed he was not in need of a master and that he could teach himself better than if he had gone to the masters personally. Mostly everything he incorporated was self-taught…. Fencing, boxing, wrestling, judo. What would you say if a man appeared today and announced that this was how he learned, and today he is introducing his own art? Be honest! His celebrity status and his strength and prowess prevented him from improving his art because he lacked the two things that every master needs to forge his art:  doubters and humility. He needs the doubters to fine tune his art and prove his theories on. And he needs the humility to seek the information and foundation that his art would be built on.

The Double Standard

Bruce Lee said you cannot swim on dry land; that a fighter needed to fight to test himself out. But Lee tested himself out on students and friends, if at all. He did not meet Jim Kelly and fight him to see where he stood. He trained alone, and showcased his abilities before a camera and his students. He did not care for fighting with rules, but he did not fight without rules. Every fight has rules. If this was the case, when he sparred with Chuck Norris, one of them would be dead, now wouldn’t they?

I am going to end this article here, but would like to close with a few statements. Bruce Lee did revolutionize the martia arts generation he lived in and the one that followed because he made them think. Yet his ideas were not the absolute truth, and included many inaccuracies. We admired the man and his encouragement to test and question, but no one wanted to test and question his art. Today, nearly 40 years after his death, martial artists quote Bruce Lee sayings as one quotes the Bible. His theories are considered to be the most valid of philosophies and anything contrary to be foolish. Despite that in his last years, Bruce Lee wished to alter his art and ideas. His followers are stuck in the “Original JKD” vs. “Concepts”  and Seattle vs. Oakland vs. LA feuds, as if the version they received was better than another.

I would like to suggest several things to consider:

  1. Making one’s own path is useless with no sense of direction. You need a structure and foundation to build from; otherwise you are guilty of building a home on sand
  2. Every style or system is one man’s “path”. If he has tested his art, proven it on opponents and fine-tuned it, the art is valid. You cannot skip the testing of an art by saying he chose his own “path”. Contrary to popular belief, there is a such thing as “bad” or “weak” martial arts styles–regardless of how tough the student of that style is
  3. Teachers who point students down a path that he did not travel is either not confident in the path he took, or sending his student down an unfamiliar road
  4. You cannot confuse admiration, respect, or love with confirmation of your teacher’s theory. You must prove everything, and to accept a dogma without testing is nothing more than “blindly following”. Failing to question a man’s theories because you like his movies, his ideas or his body is foolish
  5. An inexperienced martial artist teaching himself is always foolish. Just as a 6 year old cannot raise himself, a man cannot teach himself an art and expect to be taken seriously. It doesn’t matter how ripped his abs are, how good his movies are, or how many thumb-push-ups he can do
  6. I am a great admirer of both Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto. They are heroes and highly significant characters in martial arts history. However, no man is above reproach or criticism

Thank you for reading my blog… please come back and visit again!

Slow Down to Move Faster

When I was 18 years old, I read a book by one of my boyhood heroes, Master Chuck Norris.  It was called Secret of Inner Strength. This book really changed how I viewed Master Norris, and how I developed as a martial artist.

I just realized something. I picked up a copy of Secret Power Within a few weeks ago, thinking it was the same book. As I read it a few days ago, I remember thinking, “this book must have been edited heavily!” It really talked a lot about Zen, and the book I read 20-something years ago did not. Now I know why. Well, I heavily recommend these two books to anyone who wants to improve himself as a martial artist and a teacher. Norris overcame great odds to become the man he is today, and I admire him greatly. I’ll leave it at that; get the books. Inner Strength is out of print, but you can find copies on the internet. I will have to buy a copy, because my copy is sitting on my bookshelf at my home in Rizal, Philippines! Both books have many valuable lessons.

Anyway, my best friend lost his vision last year, and I have been travelling to the East Coast to visit him and my elderly father every month. When I find good books, I get him the audio version so that he can hear them. When I’m not doing that, I read him what I can over the phone. I have been telling him about Inner Strength since we were boys, and I decided to read him this one (remember, I was reading Secret Power Within by mistake). So last night, I read pages 68 – 72 (it took a long time, I do better reading silently than I do audibly, lol! Chris was educated at Georgetown U. but not me!), where Norris is talking about training with Bruce Lee at his house.


I was sparring with Bruce one day and scored on him repeatedly. No matter how much he tried, he had problems blocking my kicks. When we were done, we picked some oranges, and sat under a tree to peel them. I noticed that the bark on one side of the tree was gone, and commented on that fact. Bruce laughed and said that he used the tree to train his kicks and punches (wow!). He then got down to perform one-handed push ups. After around 50 of them, he asked me, “No matter how I tried, I couldn’t stop your kicks. What did I do wrong?”

“You were moving too fast, and your timing was off. Sometimes, you have to slow down to be able to see what’s going on and then move faster.”

Bruce commented that it was a Zen saying, and that he liked it…. 

After I read this passage to Chris and my wife, we talked about it for a few minutes, then I had to get to the children (I’ve got 8 of them!) because they were fighting with each other and knocking on our door telling on each other… you know children. My wife and I talked about it for a few hours afterwards.

This was great advice.

See, sometimes we move so fast, we have no time to observe what’s going on, and to be able to see every move our opponent makes and every move WE make. This is where mistakes are made, and when mistakes can be capitalized upon by opponents. This is one of the main reasons emotions must be controlled while fighting:  fear, anger, etc. When your emotions are out of control, you do not have all your senses, and your physical skills are now slowed. Remaining calm while in combat will allow you to fully observe your surroundings and understand what is happening. Of course, the drawback to controlling emotions is that you will feel pain–fighting while on an adrenaline rush can remove the feeling of pain and injury–but what you lose may be less important than what you will gain.

Back to the Bruce Lee example, the biggest thing was that Lee’s timing was off, and if what I have read about him is correct, he had little control over his anger. When I read his words “what did I do wrong?” what I heard underneath that question was “I know I’m better than you, how could I not stop you?”  There’s nothing strange about that, we often lose to opponents we believe we are superior to. But understand this, that Bruce Lee was not a fighter in the sense that Chuck Norris was at that time (I believe this was in the 60s). Bruce Lee may have been in great shape, he may have had plenty of exposure to various styles and arts, he may train 8 hours a day. But Chuck Norris was a fighter who fought all the time (look at wikipedia’s entry on his fight record), and his timing was better suited for fighting. Lee’s knowledge was mostly in concept, and may have been tested on his students and friends, if tested at all. Norris tested all his theories on opponents. In my opinion, there isn’t much Lee could have done to stop a more experienced fighter.

By the way, this is where your definition of “experienced” may be different than mine. Experience is a word that is often misused and overused in the martial arts. People seem to think that time in grade and how many arts you learned makes one “experienced”. I consider a man “experienced” when he has been in front of many more opponents than the average martial artist. Chuck Norris, as a competitor, has fought far more men–and it can be verified–than Bruce Lee. This is why his timing, his eye-hand coordination, his knowledge about fighting and opponents is superior to most martial artists, even the great Bruce Lee.

But the advice he gave Master Lee would have helped him use his advantages more effectively, his speed and his tenacity. By treating Norris’ attacks individually, he might have been able to counter them easier. Instead, I am sure he was busy thinking about the next move, or his counter to Norris’ attacks, instead of dealing with the issues at hand–whatever kick was coming at him at that time. Many good martial artists have been done in by their failure to treat each opponent’s attacks, one at a time. Also, by doing so, he could have saved some frustration by having mini successes:  successful blocks and counters. These mini successes help you grow confident in the match, and will improve your own timing because you are able to remain calm and in control of your emotions and thinking. Often, fighting can be a blur. You are nervous. You may be trying to focus on a specific strategy and the opponent simply isn’t complying with what you thought he’d do. There are many variables involved, and although you do not have control over the external things, you do have control over what you feel, think and do. Step back from the match, move around, send out a few “feeler” techniques and fake attacks. This will open your opponent up and show you what he may be planning to do. It may even throw off his concentration. Calm yourself down, plan a strategy, then act on it. This is much better than the chaos of just jumping at the opponent and licking your wounds while reflecting on what happened later.

Another thing. When learning a new technique, do you move at top speed while practicing, or do you practice slowly until you “get it” and speed it up later?

When trying to come up with a set of counters for a specific attack, do you have your feeder come at you full speed? Or do you have him come at you medium speed until you know what you want to work on?

If you have projects around the house for the wife, do you start cutting the grass, and stop after a minute, then move two items of furniture, and then take two or three boxes into the attic, and then back to the grass? Or do you finish one project, then move on to the next, and do the third when the second is complete?

When training for strength, do you lift the weights quickly, or do you lift them slowly?

Get the point?

Sometimes, it is better to move a little slower so that you can really do a good job. It’s even important when the opponent is moving at top speed.  Mostly because you may be able to uncover mistakes and flaws in his technique that you would not have noticed had you rushed to counter what you thought was coming right away. The old people use to say “slower is faster”. There’s a lot of wisdom in that.

A young warrior tells the old warrior, “I see the enemy at the beach, let’s run over there and take out a couple!”

The old warrior said, “No, let’s creep over there, hide, and take them all out… one at at time.”

Thanks for reading my blog, I hope this post was helpful to you…. Look out for my new book, coming soon!  Mustafa Gatdula’s Build a Dominant Fighter in 12 Months!

Why the forums are good practice for the FMAist (and Why Dan is a better fighter)

The online forums are sometimes considered a waste of time by many in the FMA world. I believe this is because we are human and do not want to hear views that conflict with our own, or worse… to hear someone say that our way of training, our style, sometimes our teachers–are wrong. Emotions can run high when these discussions occur, and feelings are hurt, reputations can be ruined, etc. And to make matters worse, many schools, masters and teachers are openly ridiculed by nobodies and other teachers alike.

So how can you call this a good thing, Mustafa?

One of the things a fighter must have is toughness. How tough can a man be if his skin is fragile? If his feelings are hurt easily? If his anger cannot be controlled? The forums are a place where people can face opposition without having to fight. Isn’t that great? You won’t get called all the way onto the carpet? I understand that many martial artists will not fight. That’s okay, you have your way, and we have ours. But one must at least be willing to hear a dissenting view…

Let’s look back to 1999, when I was arguing that Kinomutai does not exist in the Philippines, Kali is not the Mother Art, and the way most FMA people practice their art will get them killed. Guess what? I was ridiculed, folks thought I didn’t know anything about “real” FMA, and most FMA people with experience who looked for schools bypassed my place. Today, in 2009, a decade later, most of the FMA world knows that Kali is no Mother Art, and that Dan Inosanto’s terms and stories are most likely not accurate.

So, who was the prophet where most of you first heard the news?

And where did you hear it?

I had many of those moments, but through it all, I still look at the 30 or so teachers I often had feuds with online as my brothers. Though many of them would like to nail me to a cross with their “karambit”, I don’t hold grudges and still grew within the art. My point of this is that too often, the FMA person hides from the dissenting voice, and is really afraid to hear someone question their art. Want to really piss off a Filipino Martial Artist? Tell him that you don’t think his art will work.

This is one of the secrets of the Filipino arts. That your art does not grow by having a bunch of nut-huggers. This is what happened to Jeet Kune Do. People swallowed it whole because Bruce Lee created it, and Dan Inosanto’s skill made it look so good. Remind me to tell you something I haven’t said much in public, btw.

Jeet Kune Do had 30 something years to get marketed and develop WITHOUT having people question and put it down. See, each time someone tells you to your face that your art doesn’t look effective, you have just received a chance to grow your art. Prove it works. Test it out to see how it does. One of the best things to happen to Emin Botzepe and William Cheung is that Emin went to a seminar and kicked his ass… not with kung fu, but very bad streetfighting. What it did to Emin was to give him the confidence to do it again, and make sure that no one ambushes him in a seminar. For William, I’m sure it made him go back to the drawing board and revise his comfy Wing Chun and how he promotes it. While some of the momma-boys-turned-martial-artists saw it as a black eye, it was actually a wake-up call. That you can’t hide behind seminars, popularity and surrounding yourself with friends. That even though you have hundreds, maybe thousands of people, call you “Master”, you are a man like everyone else and will have to keep your blade sharpened. That if you’re going to be out there teaching, you better be ready to back up your reputation anytime, anywhere.

Now, if you are so closed-minded that you can’t bear to hear another person question your credentials or skills or ideas, you won’t be able to focus when someone wants to see your skills… right now. Forums, for this reason, helps you prepare to defend yourself–at least verbally. Learn to face contradicting voices and ideas. You’ll never grow if you can’t.

Reason #2 that forums are a good idea: You will hear about training methods, styles, techniques, stories about other masters and histories, and many, many other things that you may not have heard before (nor will you hear them in your own school)! Not everything will be true, but your martial education will be enhanced by what you will read. Sure, there will be the occasional Angela Blancia (or whatever her name is), but many historical facts, stories and new training ideas are discussed there. Many of these are news to even your teachers! You can always benefit from more education, and the discussion forums–MartialTalk, Defend.net, Eskrima Digest, Dragonslist, and others–are a great place to supplement your martial education.

Now, about Dan Inosanto. I have always thought, that as a fighter, I thought Dan was better than Bruce. Even when I was in high school, I had a lot of non-martial art friends as well as martial artist friends who thought I was crazy for thinking that (even saying I thought so because he was Filipino.) Here are some of the reasons:

  • Inosanto fought in tournaments, and it’s documented. Yeah, so Bruce Lee fought on the streets, whatever. I’m sorry, but from what I read, he didn’t handle doubters very well. Anyone who is this way is not secure enough to know without a doubt that his art works. Bruce Lee may have been in tremendous shape, blah blah blah, but skill isn’t always packaged nicely.
  • Inosanto exchanged with many more fighters, than Bruce Lee, who spent a lot of time with his “laboratory” ALONE. Having a lot of partners who were not in awe of you will make you work harder. When Inosanto earned his black belt in Brazilian Jujitsu, I am sure he earned it. No offense, but Bruce Lee learned from books, we all know this. If he had stepped into the Kronk Gym instead of studying Ali videos, JKD would have had a completely different set of hand techniques. If he had gone to a Muay Thai gym JKD would have been different. In my opinion, Dan improved JKD. Dan humbly chased arts, Bruce arrogantly tried to “make his own path”, possibly because he thought no one could teach him, and that he could teach (and train himself).
  • Bruce Lee tested himself on students. This is why we always heard how much of a bad-ass he was. If you talked to my students, they’d say the same thing about me that people say about Bruce Lee. But talk to competitors I fought with, or other instructors I sparred with. That’s convincing. Like I said, Dan is the one with the record.

Now, if I had put this on the forums, I’d probably get flamed more than Bruno. But this is my blog, and I felt like writing it, and hopefully Mike doesn’t edit it out (like he does everything else!)…