Frequently Asked Questions About JKD

Authored by Chris Kent

Q: You call what you teach “Jeet Kune Do,” whereas other people I have seen say that what they are doing is “Jun Fan Gung Fu” and yet oftentimes they look like they are doing the same things you do. It confuses me. Can you help me with this?

A: I think so.  A lot of confusion exists today with regard to the terms Jun Fan Gung Fu and Jeet Kune Do. The names do not refer to two different arts, but rather simply indicate two developmental stages of Bruce Lee’s overall martial evolution.  Jun Fan Gung Fu is the name identified with Bruce Lee’s developments in the martial arts from 1959 -1967. People who were with Bruce Lee during earlier stages of his martial evolution, such as those who trained at his Seattle school, refer to what they do as Jun Fan Gung Fu because that was the name given to his art at the time. The name Jeet Kune Do came into existence in Los Angeles 1967, and it should be noted that from the moment Lee changed the name of what he was doing to “Jeet Kune Do,” in every magazine article, audiotape and television interview, Bruce referred to his martial art by that name, and that name only. When asked by one interviewer if he was teaching his private students such as Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Stirling Silliphant  Jeet Kune Do, his answer is “Yes.” 

With regard to myself, when I began my training under Dan Inosanto in his backyard in June of 1973, I was told that I was learning Jeet Kune Do at the Jun Fan Gung fu Institute. In the Institute rules and regulations which I was given, the very first rule states, “Any member, instructors and students alike, will be immediately expelled for teaching Jeet Kune Do without permission from the head of the school.” The Institute training notes we were given in our student handbook included such things as “The Jeet Kune Do ready Position” and “Beginning Jeet Kune Do Hand techniques.” There were even several “Non-classical Sets of Jeet Kune Do” listed, which dealt with various methods of shadow boxing (such as “all hand strikes” or “all kicks combined with footwork”).

Basically it comes down to a matter of wording. To help you get a clearer picture of what I mean by this, let me create a scenario for you –

Let’s say that you and I are both students training in Jun Fan Gung Fu under Bruce Lee in his class on Monday evening, and we’re working on a specific technical combination such as bridging the gap with a low line foot obstruction, followed by a lead hand backfist which leads into a hand-trapping combination such as a lead hand pak sao, lop sao. So we’re drilling on this action over and over. Then at the end of the class, Bruce Lee calls all of the students together and tells us, “Okay, from now on, we’re going to call what we do “Jeet Kune Do”.” So you and I get together on Tuesday evening and we practice the exact same combination we worked on Monday evening. I mean the identical thing.  Are we doing Jeet Kune Do or are we doing Jun Fan Gung Fu? Do you see what I mean?

Sifu Dan Inosanto has said on numerous occasions that he prefers to use the name Jun Fan Gung Fu to represent the physical/technical curriculum, and Jeet  Kune Do to represent the overarching philosophy. And those people who are instructors under him have followed suit and now repeat the same party line. However, it’s important (and necessary) to remember that it is Dan Inosanto who made the change in wording, not Bruce Lee. Other individuals, such as the late Ted Wong, always referred to what they practiced and taught simply as Jeet Kune Do.

I choose to refer to what I practice and teach as Jeet Kune Do based upon my understanding of what it is. To me it is not merely a philosophy of martial arts and life; it’s an art, a science, and a philosophy. In closing I’d like to offer up the following note Bruce Lee wrote concerning Jeet Kune Do -- “The title is not important. It’s only a symbol for the kind of martial art we study. The emphasis should not be put on its title.” In the end, what a person chooses to call Bruce Lee’s art is less important than whether or not they truly understand what it’s truly all about.

Q - When I read articles or watch video material regarding  Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do, I often see or hear comments such as, “Only Bruce Lee could do that” - “None of us are Bruce Lee” - “We don’t have Bruce Lee’s speed,” etc. Why do people make these comments?

A: Very often the people who make such statements are simply repeating what they themselves have been told by someone else, or what someone else has written. I have heard and read these kinds of statements since shortly after Bruce Lee passed away. I’ve heard some people say that Bruce Lee was one in a million and his attributes were one in a million, or that they were unique to himself. Therefore they put forth the idea that what Bruce Lee taught or did himself either won’t work for you, or you will not be able to do it because you’re not one in a million. What they fail to take into account is that while Bruce Lee may well have made himself into such a one in a million type person, he wasn’t born that way. He wasn’t born being as fast as he was and he wasn’t born being as powerful as he was. Quite the contrary, he trained very diligently and very, very hard to develop his attributes and attain the level of proficiency he achieved.

The fact of the matter is the only way you can find out what your personal attributes are and cultivate or develop them is through dedicated work and training. It’s also important to keep in mind that you can only see your attributes in retrospect. That is, after you have developed or cultivated them. How can you (or anyone else for that matter) know how fast you are, how strong you are, how coordinated you have the ability to be, etc. until you have put in the work necessary to actualize your potential in each of these areas?


Personally, I believe it’s high time that these comments ceased, because they are self-defeating and a total waste of time and energy. They don’t accomplish anything. Even worse, they may end up stifling or killing the enthusiasm of individuals who may, as a result of continually hearing such things, never actualize their true potential.  If you are continually being told that what worked for the individual who developed Jeet Kune Do will not work for you because you are not blessed with the same physical attributes as that person, then why should you even bother to study the art at all? 


Q - Does Jeet Kune Do utilize any formal system of ranking such as colored belts or sashes?

​A: No, it does not. Originally Lee did establish what he referred to as a ranking system of “no ranking” for Jun Fan Gung Fu which he also used in the early stages of Jeet Kune Do. The first rank was an empty circle which signified original freedom (it was also known as “unranked without sophistication”). This was followed by his school’s emblem in 6 different colours, finishing in red and gold. The eighth level, the highest, was again an empty circle, which symbolized the return to the original freedom (also referred to as “unranked with sophistication”). Later, as Bruce Lee moved along his martial evolution path he discarded it because he felt that belts and other forms of ranking were non-essential to martial art training, and that they should not be the goal of why a person studies JKD (or any martial art for that matter). Lee believed that the motivation for meaningful improvement lies within the will of each individual as opposed to chasing after external accessories such as colored belts. (Supposedly, at one time this ranking system was going to be re-established by Taky Kimura and Dan Inosanto, however it never came about).


There are, however, some schools around the world today that may teach aspects of JKD as part of their overall training curriculum who award their students colored belts or sashes. But the ranking is usually in the school system or curriculum and not Jeet Kune Do, per se. 


Q - Why do you refer to Jeet Kune Do as "the next step beyond mixed martial arts"?

A: It's basically a matter of perspective. JKD has often been described as a mixture or amalgamation of several different combative arts (Wing Chun Gung Fu, Western Boxing, Western Fencing, etc.), much like MMA is described as being a combination of boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. JKD is referred to by many to be the "original mixed martial art" because it seeks totality in personal combat considering all ranges and aspects of fighting, something which is part of the makeup of MMA. However, MMA is a combative "sport" with very clear-cut rules and regulations. JKD, on the other hand, is concerned with self-defense and combat without regard to any such rules or regulations. In MMA there are numerous techniques or actions which are not permitted, such as poking an opponent in the eyes or kicking them in the groin, all of which are utilized in JKD. 

I do not consider JKD to be a form of "mixed martial arts" because of my understanding of its true nature. I view martial art as a single unitary whole, in it's "totality," as opposed to various separated segments such as kicking, striking, grappling, etc., or 'this' art and 'that' art combined. The idea behind JKD is not to create a melting pot of different arts such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and Western Boxing, or put a bunch of techniques from various arts together and call it "mixed martial arts." One of the fundamental principles underlying JKD is to do away with the whole notion of styles entirely. It is about being free from styles or even combinations of styles. JKD is about cultivating your body as a martial instrument and then being able to express yourself with maximum efficiency and effectiveness, and without any restrictions or limitations. This is why I refer to it as "the next step beyond mixed martial arts."

Q: Do all JKD practitioners fight out of a right lead stance?
A: No. Many people mistakenly think that JKD people only function out of a right lead. However, in Volume 7 of Lee’s notes “Commentaries on the Martial Way” he lists both (a) JKD Right lead Ready Position and (b) JKD Left lead Ready Position. The fighting stance is based on the principle of placing your strongest side forward. For example, if you're right handed, your right side will usually be stronger, faster, and more coordinated than your left side. This being the case, you would place your right arm and leg forward. The opposite would apply if you're left-handed.