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.” because, 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 accepted.
In early 1965 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 turned away from the confinement of tradition and dove into researching how to be most effective in combat. He read thousands of books on various fighting systems, he began weight training, cardio and nutritional programs, and he began to implement science and philosophy with the physical Little by little he began to 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.?? That action is comprised of the JKD techniques developed by Bruce Lee himself. And these actions are about simplicity, directness and nontelegraphic motion.
Jeet Kune Do is the name we use to describe those techniques and strategies that Bruce Lee developed and more important, employed, over his lifetime. Of course, he would have continued to improve on the JKD arsenal, modifying certain things, discarding others. But that is not for us to decide. Bruce Lee IS jeet kune do. It was not only his art; it was a way of life.