Bruce Lee and the evolution of Jeet Kune Do.
The following historical details were put together through research on various Bruce Lee websites and lengthy discussions with Tommy Carruthers. Not to forget Tommy’s generous sharing from his conversations with Jesse Glover.
Bruce Lee was 16 years old when he first started formal training in a traditional kung fu martial art. This martial art was called "Wing Chun" and he trained under Wing Chun Grandmaster, Yip Man.
At that time, it was thought that Senior Wong Shun Leung trained Bruce Lee more than Yip Man. In his lifetime, Wong Shun Leung had won numerous street fights against various styles, earning himself the title "King of Talking Hands". While it is historical debate on whether Yip Man or Yip Man’s senior students taught Bruce more, it is generally agreed that Bruce Lee was a rather competent fighter. It is also because of the number of fights that he was involved in that Bruce Lee's parents decided to send him away to San Francisco.
Jesse Glover, one of Bruce Lee’s closest friend, mentioned that even after Bruce Lee created Jeet Kune Do, Bruce still practiced Wing Chun’s First Form quite regularly.
Jun Fan Kung Fu
Bruce starting spreading Wing Chun in San Francisco. At that time, he called his martial art "Kung Fu", as a generalised term of all Chinese martial arts. This was where he met Jesse Glover and Taky Kimura. After much thought, he gave the martial art he teach a name, Jun Fan Kung Fu.
In the television serial The Legend of Bruce Lee, Taky Kimura sold his restaurant to raise money for Bruce Lee to open Lee Jun Fan Kung Fu Institute in Seattle.
Lee Jun Fan was Bruce Lee's name, and Jun Fan Gung Fu represented the martial art that Bruce Lee was teaching during that era.
Birth of Jeet Kune Do
In 1964, Oakland, Bruce Lee had a private fight with Wong Jack Man. The chinese associations were dissatisfied with Bruce Lee for breaking chinese culture by teaching foreigners chinese Kung Fu. Since Kung Fu was used to drive out the westerners from China, the associations felt that Bruce Lee was giving away their secrets to the "enemy".
Wong Jack Man was selected to have a duel with Bruce Lee. If Bruce Lee lost in the fight, he was to shut down his school and stopped teaching foreigners chinese martial arts.
While the outcome was controversial based on different accounts, the fact was that Bruce Lee continued teaching foreigners.
According to his wife Linda Lee, Bruce took 3 minutes to take down Wong but it consisted of chasing him around the room. Bruce was not satisfied with the fight. He felt that traditional arts was not as effective as he wanted them to be in a real situation. He threw out his study of Wing Chun, and began to intensively and scientifically study other martial arts.
Extract from The Bruce Lee Foundation
"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."
Development of Jeet Kune Do
Although movie fights are choreographed, Bruce Lee still adopted JKD principles to his movements. The evolution of Jeet Kune Do was evident in the fight scenes in Bruce Lee's movies. Bruce Lee's movements were different in every single movie he did. There was no question that he was still refining JKD to be simpler and more direct.
Bruce Lee's Death
Bruce Lee died on 20th July 1973. His death not only marked the end of the greatest influence of chinese martial arts in the western world, but also the start of confusion in Jeet Kune Do.
Bruce Lee did not expect to die. Hence his work was not documented properly. Different people who trained with Bruce Lee emerged to teach "authentic" JKD as they had trained directly with Bruce Lee. But the problem was they trained with Bruce Lee at different stages of his development of JKD. Bruce Lee did not update everyone on his developments, neither did he diary them in a chronological order.
Jeet Kune Do was definitely in progression and development. Bruce Lee was still trying to find simpler and more direct ways of finishing a fight. However, without a leading authority in it, Jeet Kune Do started to evolve in different directions under different instructors.
Below are 4 videos of first generation Bruce Lee students.*
Despite having contact with the same source (Bruce Lee), each of them are quite different in their expression and teaching methods. Often this is because instructors choose to emphasize on different principles, to achieve different purposes. Sometimes it is due to the period whereby they were in contact with Bruce Lee, and also how updated they were with Bruce Lee's developments.
If it is so varied, how should I choose an instructor?
There are many reasons for learning a martial art. If you are looking for a functional self defense martial art, make sure your instructor is clear about their training philosophy and training principles.