LIBERATE YOURSELF FROM CLASSICAL KARATE from the Black Belt Magazine Archives.
by Bruce Lee
HE TEACHES AND EXPLAINS WHAT IS JEET KUNE DO
I am the first to admit that any attempt to crystallise Jeet Kune Do into a written article is no easy task. Perhaps to avoid making a ‘thing’ out of a ‘process’. I have not until now personally written an article on JKD. Indeed, it is difficult to explain what Jeet Kune Do is, although it may be easier to explain what it is not.
Let me begin with a Zen story. The story might be familiar to some, but I repeat it for it’s appropriateness. Look upon this story as a means of limbering up one’s senses, one’s attitude and one’s mind to make them pliable and receptive. You need that to understand this article, otherwise you might as well forget reading any further.
A learned man once went to a Zen teacher to inquire about Zen. As the Zen teacher explained, the learned man would frequently interrupt him with remarks like, “Oh, yes, we have that too….” and so on.
Finally the Zen teacher stopped talking and began to serve tea to the learned man. He poured the cup full, and then kept pouring until the cup overflowed.
“Enough!” the learned man once more interrupted. “No more can go into the cup!”
“Indeed, I see,” answered the Zen teacher. “If you do not first empty the cup, how can you taste my cup of tea?”
I hope my comrades in the martial arts will read the following paragraphs with open-mindedness leaving all the burdens of preconceived opinions and conclusions behind. This act, by the way, has in itself liberating power. After all, the usefulness of the cup is in it’s emptiness.
Make this article relate to yourself, because though it is on JKD, it is primarily concerned with the blossoming of a martial artist—not a “Chinese” martial artist, a “Japanese” martial artist, etc. A martial artist is a human being first. Just as nationalities have nothing to do with one’s humanity, so they have nothing to do with martial arts. Leave your protective shell of isolation and relate ‘directly’ to what is being said. Return to your senses by ceasing all the intervening intellectual mumbo jumbo. Remember that life is a constant process of relating. Remember too, that I seek neither your approval nor to influence you towards my way of thinking. I will be more than satisfied if, as a result of this article, you begin to investigate everything for yourself and cease to uncritically accept prescribed formulas that dictate “this is this” and “that is that”.
ON CHOICELESS OBSERVATION
Suppose several persons who are trained in different styles of combative arts witness an all out street fight. I am sure that we would hear different versions from each of these stylists. This is quite understandable for one cannot see a fight (or anything else) “as is” as long as he is blinded by his chosen point of view, i.e. style, and he will view the fight through the lens of his particular conditioning. Fighting, “as is,” is simple and total. It is not limited to your perspective conditioning as a Chinese martial artist. True observation begins when one sheds set patterns and true freedom of expression occurs when one is beyond systems.
Before we examine Jeet Kune Do, let’s consider exactly what a “classical” martial art style really is. To begin with, we must recognize the incontrovertible fact that regardless of their many colourful origins (by a wise, mysterious monk, by a special messenger in a dream, in a holy revelation, etc.) styles are created by men. A style should never be considered gospel truth, the laws and principles of which can never be violated. Man, the living, creating individual, is always more important than any established style.
It is conceivable that a long time ago a certain martial artist discovered some partial truth. During his lifetime, the man resisted the temptation to organize this partial truth, although this is a common tendency in a man’s search for security and certainty in life. After his death, his students took “his” hypotheses, “his” postulates, “his” method and turned them into law. Impressive creeds were then invented, solemn reinforcing ceremonies prescribed, rigid philosophy and patterns formulated, and so on, until finally an institution was erected. So, what originated as one man’s intuition of some sort of personal fluidity has been transformed into solidified, fixed knowledge, complete with organized classified responses presented in a logical order. In so doing, the well-meaning, loyal followers have not only made this knowledge a holy shrine, but also a tomb in which they have buried the founder’s wisdom.
But distortion does not necessarily end here. In reaction to “the other truth,” another martial artist, or possible a dissatisfied disciple, organizes an opposite approach–such as the “soft” style versus the “hard” style, the “internal” school versus the “external” school, and all these separate nonsenses. Soon this opposite faction also becomes a large organization, with its own laws and patterns. A rivalry begins, with each style claiming to possess the “truth” to the exclusions of all others.
At best, styles are merely parts dissected from a unitary whole. All styles require adjustment, partiality, denials, condemnation and a lot of self- justification. The solutions they purport to provide are the very cause of the problem, because they limit and interfere with our natural growth and obstruct the way to genuine understanding. Divisive by nature, styles keep men ‘apart’ from each other rather than ‘unite’ them.
TRUTH CANNOT BE STRUCTURED OR DEFINED
One cannot express himself fully when imprisoned by a confining style. Combat “as is” is total, and it includes all the “is” as well as “is not,” without favourite lines or angles. Lacking boundaries, combat is always fresh, alive and constantly changing. Your particular style, your personal inclinations and your physical make-up are all ‘parts’ of combat, but they do not constitute the ‘whole’ of combat. Should your responses become dependent upon any single part, you will react in terms of what “should be” rather than to the reality of the ever-changing “what is.” Remember that while the whole is evidenced in all its parts, an isolated part, efficient or not, does not constitute the whole.
Prolonged repetitious drilling’s will certainly yield mechanical precision and security of that kind comes from any routine. However, it is exactly this kind of “selective” security or “crutch” which limits or blocks the total growth of a martial artist. In fact, quite a few practitioners develop such a liking for and dependence on their “crutch” that they can no longer walk without it. Thus, anyone special technique, however cleverly designed is actually a hindrance.
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.
What, then, is Jeet Kune Do? Literally, “jeet” means to intercept or to stop; “kune” is the fist; and “do” is the way, the ultimate reality—the way of the intercepting fist. Do remember, however, that “Jeet Kune Do” is merely a convenient name. I am not interested with the term itself; I am interested in its effect of liberation when JKD is used as a mirror for self-examination.
Unlike a “classical” martial art, there is no series of rules or classification of technique that constitutes a distinct “Jeet Kune Do” method of fighting. JKD is not a form of special conditioning with its own rigid philosophy. It looks at combat not from a single angle, but from all possible angles. While JKD utilizes all the ways and means to serve its end (after all, efficiency is anything that scores), it is bound by none and is therefore free. In other words, JKD possesses everything, but is in itself possessed by nothing.
Therefore, to try and define JKD in terms of a distinct style—be it gung-fu, karate, street fighting, Bruce Lee’s martial art, etc.—is to completely miss its meaning. It’s teaching simply cannot be confined with a system. Since JKD is at once “this” and “not this”, it neither opposes nor adheres to any style. To understand this fully, one must transcend from the duality of “for” and “against” into one organic unity which is without distinctions. Understanding of JKD is direct intuition of this unity.
There are no prearranged sets or “kata” in the teaching of JKD, nor are they necessary. Consider the subtle difference between “having no form” and having “no form”; the first is ignorance, the second is transcendence. Through instinctive body feeling, each of us ‘knows’ our own most efficient and dynamic manner of achieving effective leverage, balance in motion, economical use of energy, etc. Patterns, techniques or forms touch only the fringe of genuine understanding. The core of understanding lies in the individual mind, and until that is touched, everything is uncertain and superficial. Truth cannot be perceived until we come to fully understand ourselves and our potentials. After all, ‘knowledge in the martial arts ultimately means self-knowledge.’
At this point you may ask, “How do I gain this knowledge?” That you will have to find out all by yourself. You must accept the fact that there is in help but self-help. For the same reason I cannot tell you how to “gain” freedom, since freedom exists within you. I cannot tell you what ‘not’ to do, I cannot tell you what you ‘should’ do, since that would be confining you to a particular approach. Formulas can only inhibit freedom, externally dictated prescriptions only squelch creativity and assure mediocrity. Bear in mind that the freedom that accrues from self-knowledge cannot be acquired through strict adherence to a formula; we do not suddenly “become” free, we simply “are” free.
Learning is definitely not mere imitation, nor is it the ability to accumulate and regurgitate fixed knowledge. Learning is a constant process of discovery, a process without end. In JKD we begin not by accumulation but by discovering the cause of our ignorance, a discovery that involves a shedding process.
Unfortunately, most students in the martial arts are conformists. Instead of learning to depend on themselves for expression, they blindly follow their instructors, no longer feeling alone, and finding security in mass imitation. The product of this imitation is a dependent mind. Independent inquiry, which is essential to genuine understanding, is sacrificed. Look around the martial arts and witness the assortment of routine performers, trick artists, desensitized robots, glorifiers of the past and so on—- all followers or exponents of organized despair.
How often are we told by different “sensei” of “masters” that the martial arts are life itself? But how many of them truly understand what they are saying? Life is a constant movement—rhythmic as well as random; life is a constant change and not stagnation. Instead of choicelessly flowing with this process of change, many of these “masters”, past and present, have built an illusion of fixed forms, rigidly subscribing to traditional concepts and techniques of the art, solidifying the ever-flowing, dissecting the totality.
The most pitiful sight is to see sincere students earnestly repeating those imitative drills, listening to their own screams and spiritual yells. In most cases, the means these “sensei” offer their students are so elaborate that the student must give tremendous attention to them, until gradually he loses sight of the end. The students end up performing their methodical routines as a mere conditioned response, rather than ‘responding to’ “what is.” They no longer “listen” to circumstances; they “recite” their circumstances. These pour souls have unwittingly become trapped in the miasma of classical martial arts training.
A teacher, a really good sensei, is never a ‘giver’ of “truth”; he is a guide, a ‘pointer’ to the truth that the student must discover for himself. A good teacher, therefore, studies each student individually and encourages the student to explore himself, both internally and externally, until, ultimately, the student is integrated with his being. For example, a skillful teacher might spur his student’s growth by confronting him with certain frustrations. A good teacher is a catalyst. Besides possessing a deep understanding, he must also have a responsive mind with great flexibility and sensitivity.
A FINGER POINTING TO THE MOON
There is no standard in total combat, and expression must be free. this liberating truth is a reality only in so far as it is ‘experienced and lived’ by the individual himself; it is a truth that transcends styles or disciplines. Remember, too, that Jeet Kune Do is merely a term, a label to be used as a boat to get one across; once across, it is to be discarded and not carried on one’s back.
These few paragraphs are, at best, a “finger pointing to the moon.” Please do not take the finger to be the moon or fix your gaze so intently on the finger as to miss all the beautiful sights of heaven. After all, the usefulness of the finger is in pointing away from itself to the light which illumines finger and all. —
Bruce Lee’s responses to letters about his article
FORGET ORGANIZED DESPAIR
It has been over two years since I began taking classical Kung Fu. After reading your two articles in Black Belt, especially the second part, I started to really think.
Our practice at the school consists of standing on the horse stance, practising classical forms and doing the two men set—or what your jeet kune do would call prearranged rhythmic sparring. The stress is on good posture, good energy utilization and good (classical) form. Having read your realistic articles, I begin to ask myself, “good for what?”
I can see now that all the cramming postures, swinging punches and pretty kicks are too classically involved. There is a world of difference between applying these movements with an obedient partner who cooperates and an actual opponent who is bent on destroying you. Without consistent practice in sparring, I find it practically impossible to adjust proper distance or exact timing with a live, non-classical opponent. I know this because I took some boxing a long time ago.
The reason I still continue to practice kung fu is because I figured our instructor was testing our patience. Though none of us ever saw him spar or engage in any fast exchange, I know my instructor must be good. After all, he is a professional and I appreciate the saying, “He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know.” What do you think?
T.Y. Whang, of San Francisco, Calif.
Lao-Tzu is supposed to have said, “He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know.” However, he himself wrote five thousand words to explain his doctrine.
Does the word “sailor” mean that a person can swim? And speaking of swimming, can you learn it by grinding your horse stance and performing idealistic land exercises?
What do I think? Forget about this “organized despair” you have accumulated and go back to your boxing. Hang a heavy bag in your basement and use your legs as you would your hands. Of course, practice as much sparring as you can. You have to get wet in order to learn to swim.
DOES NOT UNDERSTAND KATA
I’m sure I’m not alone in having “likes” and “dislikes” regarding some of your articles. Usually I simply grunt to myself at the articles I particularly dislike or don’t agree with. This time, however, I just couldn’t let an issue go by without comment. I’m speaking of “Kato’s Gung Fu.”
First the comment Bruce Lee made: “…to me a lot of this fancy stuff is not functional.” …is a line I’ve heard by ‘phonies’ who “studied” karate 5 or 6 months then, because they didn’t have the patience or the intelligence, quit, opened their own dojo, put on a black belt and attempted to teach “karate.”
Bruce Lee obviously does not understand kata. …There are a hundred comments I’d like to make but these 6 will do for a start.
1. The dime and penny trick is just that! A trick that anyone after a little practice, can do. They don’t have to have fast or slow reflexes, just practice.
2. The “powerfull punch” demonstration, where he punches his volunteer into a chair is a farce! Take the chair away and he’ll only ‘be pushed’ a few feet (with or without the protection of the 2 inch glove). I’ve done this in demonstration…not to prove the power of it but to prove that a man standing in a “non-classical” stance is easily “punched” off balance. Had the man in the photos been standing in a classical karate stance, Mr. Lee wouldn’t have been able to budge him! And…yes! I’ll volunteer any time!!
3. Bruce Lee goes on … “When someone grabs you, punch him!…” Apparently Mr. Lee thinks a karateist would perform a kata in response. I know what I’d do. But I’m wondering about Bruce Lee…would he leave a penny in the grabber’s hand?
4. As for practising with “robots” the article states that Bruce Lee “works” on stuffed dummies…I wonder how fast and how varied their counter attacks are, and if they move around him quickly???
5. Karate’s ultimate goal for techniques of self defence has always been simultaneous strikes or kicks with blocks. It is nothing new to karate. Anyone who has studied karate for awhile is well aware of this common fact.
6. As I see it, Bruce Lee is saying (and proving) that he doesn’t like, believe in or understand…karate!!
Paul Arel, of the Glastonbury Karate club
I am commenting on classical Chinese Gung Gu and not Karate. If your particular style is not of the “fancy stuff” or crammed with “deadly” (in the sense of a corpse) techniques, you need not grunt and be upset.
I am not even a phony who studied karate for five or six months. In fact, I never did take karate. However, my assistants and I do have quite a few students from your circle taking with us.
Whatever you like is your privilege, but I do not teach classical forms because of my understanding of them. As I have pointed out, Jeet Kune Do is interested in feeling what IS and not “doing what was or what might be”…in other words, the here and now, the direct experience with one’s opponent, the two halves of the whole.
Forms create situations which do not yet exist, while what IS is a constantly moving, constantly undergoing a transformation…never fixed and always alive.
Take, for example, learning to slip a punch. Is there a classical form for that? Isn’t slipping a punch a matter of relationship? It’s a different relationship every time as some opponents are fast, some slow, some deceptive, and some awkward.
It’s too bad that out of 100 comments you could make, you come up with only six.
1. That is exactly what is supposed to be, a stunt-of speed.
2. I have demonstrated my punch, with or without a chair, and many reputable gentlemen among your circle will tell you it is not a push. If one stands in a classical stance, he will not be thrown back as far…but it will definitely hurt more.
3. I don’t know what you will do, but whatever you do, do it quick.
4. There is a difference between BEING a robot and pounding on a robot. If you read carefully, you know Jeet Kune Do values sparring with a live opponent. However, when one does not have a live partner, he can use these dummies to acquaint himself with the correct distance and exact timing of his punches and kicks. This is realistic synchronization of the self.
5. So it is a common fact that there are no passive blocks in your particular art too. That’s good. I, too, am like you. I do not like to block passively with one hand, with the other on the hip, and then…and then…and then…
I am training with a Chinese instructor who drills us again and again on basics—like side kicks, straight punching, etc. When we spar, we are to use only the chosen basic techniques, though sometimes we can use combinations and everything. Do you not think we need variety?
R.T. Smith of Oakland, California
The best techniques are the simple ones done correctly, and in Martial Arts, it is not how much you have learned, but how much you have absorbed in what you have learned.
As long as the basics are on meaningful means that will lead to the ultimate end of actual application in broken rhythm, they are never wasted. Efficient basics are like the strong foundation of a house. Of course, one must avoid basics that have the “aliveness” taken out of them and are “performed” in “rhythmic routines.”
Have patience, my friend, I am sure your teacher knows what he is doing.
BEAT BRUCE LEE?
The reason for this letter is that there are rumours that a man in Connecticut by the name of Bruce Fleetwood is spreading around. He claims to have defeated Bruce Lee twice in public and many times in private sparring. I have never seen this person before, but I feel it would not be that easy to beat Bruce Lee. Also, I don’t recall ever hearing of Bruce Lee competing in public.
Please give me your opinion about this this so I can set things straight with the karate people in Connecticut.
William J. Chung New York City
JEET KUNE DO AND WING CHUN
I enjoyed reading your articles on Bruce Lee. It is interesting to find out the achievements of one of my Wing Chun “brothers.”
Today, Mr. Lee is the founder of a new style. Just a few years ago, he was only one of us. I am interested in finding out just how much Wing Chun he still remembers and how much of it is included in his style. From your second article on Mr. Lee I recognized the “sticking hands” exercise and the “tucked in elbow.” Some of Mr. Lee’s moves also remind me of a northern style I practices when I was small. If BLACK BELT is willing to find out some answers to my curiosity, I am sure that many other readers will come up with more interesting questions and comments. This is one way of finding out the nature of Gung Fu.
I wish to make a comment on Mr. Lee’s philosophy. Zen is very old and many an aggressive style has faded away in it. (If, having learned the art, a punch is no longer a punch, I would prefer to stay as a student.)
I do not recall you as being one of us just a few years ago, for I left Hong Kong in the early part of 1959…nearly nine years ago. At any rate, “Brother Ling,” since you are interested in my Jeet Kune Do, I shall venture to tell you about it.
First, however, I should like to comment on the last paragraph of your letter. I do not really care what your preference is, but I would like you to re-read the second article. It reads, “Now that I’ve understood the art, a punch is just like a punch…” You don’t have to understand it, but read it carefully and, “Brother Ling,” do empty your tea cup first so you can taste my tea. After all, the usefulness of a cup is in it’s emptiness.
The foundation of Jeet Kune Do is very much like Wing Chun in that it advocates elbows in position, the center line and straight punching. Now there are three stages in the cultivation of Jeet Kune Do, each of them interrelated. The first stage is “sticking to the nucleus”; the second stage, “liberation from the nucleus”; the third stage, “returning to the original freedom.”
Classically speaking, sticking to the nucleus is merely based on the interior/exterior straight line and rejects the curved line on the idea that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. True, the straight line is very efficient (depending on the circumstances, that is), but rejection of the curve will lead to separation from the whole and the totality will not be achieved when men stubbornly cling to one partial view of things. After all, a good martial artist should be able to strike and kick from all angles and, with either hands or legs, take advantage of the moment.
Therefore, straight punching in Wing Chun becomes a means to an end, but not the end itself, and it should be reinforced and supported by other compact angle punches and kicks as well, thus, as a whole, making one’s style more flexible without confinement or limitation. Like western boxing, Jeet Kune Do is most fluid and the fluidity of movements lies in their interchangeability.
By combining the first and second stages we have the natural returning to original freedom, and that is, the absence of a standardized style, the notion of attaching to a method, or the idea of rejecting the straight or the curve. Any action that is based on a set, conditioned course is the action of choice and such action is not liberating and will create conflict and resistance. After all, you can straight-punch a swinger and curve a straight puncher; sometimes the straight is useful, sometimes the curve, depending on the circumstances.
In the eyes of combat, there is no set course, but the totality of action, and in this totality there is nothing to choose and nothing better or worse. One can say that pivot of Jeet Kune Do passes through the centre where the curve and straight converge and, in the ultimate Jeet Kune Do is a circle without a circumference.
“In the landscape of spring, there is neither better nor worse.
The flowering branches grow naturally; some long, some short.”
– A Zen saying.
STUNTS ARE NOT SKILL
Mr. Lee, Kung Fu is really something! Recently I witnessed with my own eyes a Chinese master break a chopstick by jamming it on his own throat. Furthermore, he picked up a hammer and hit himself all over. Later he told the audience this is Ch’i (Ki in Japanese). How long does it take to learn it?
Roland Lee San Francisco
What is this? Superman giving a demonstration? If so, why did he break the chopstick with his chin (excuse me, I mean his throat) himself? Why didn’t he invite someone else to jam the chopstick on his throat? Again, why did this “performer” not invite someone to come out and smash him with the hammer—if the object is to show he can withstand pain(?)
If Gung Fu consists of the above, the end of this art is arriving. All the stunts and gimmicks the performer did in no way suggested his actual skill in this combative art. If I were you, I would concentrate on efficient techniques and their application in sparring.