What is Jeet Kune do?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Jeet Kune Do, or the Art of the Intercepting Fist, is a style or concept of martial arts originally conceived of by famous actor and fighter Bruce Lee. It is based on a philosophy of simplicity, directness and freedom, and is frequently referred to as having no particular style. Lee’s creation relies on strong offensive action to succeed, and is considered by many to be a predecessor of mixed martial arts forms.

Woman reaching upward
Woman reaching upward

Bruce Lee, best known for his spectacular fighting abilities in many martial arts films, trained in a variety of fighting disciplines throughout his life. In addition to his early training in Wing Chun fighting, he was also an accomplished fencer and boxer. Lee began developing his own martial arts style in the 1960s that combined elements of many martial arts forms and his own training in other sports. The result of his background became Jeet Kune Do, which stresses doing the most effective thing in any situation regardless of form or tradition.

Jeet Kune Do was initially looked at with considerable disdain by masters of traditional martial arts forms. As Lee began training others in his forms, he stressed individuality in movement, practice through matches rather than memorization of solo forms, and above all, simplicity of movement. In essence, the purpose of the form is to win a fight, not to prove you’re a well-trained fighter.

The name refers to Lee’s practice of intercepting attacks and turning them back on the attacker rather than dodging or simply blocking. Common moves in Jeet Kune Do include low kicks, moves that combine a punch with a parried blow, and trapping the opponents limbs with your own, to maintain control. Students are trained in four areas of movement: punching, trapping, grappling and kicks. The style contains many fencing and boxing techniques, often incorporated with martial arts moves.

Lee remained adamant that Jeet Kune Do was not a martial arts style but rather a freedom from style. While it trained fighters in specific combat techniques, it stressed using what works over using what you’ve been trained to do. In many ways, the practice is close to the theory of fight choreography in films, where style and legitimacy of movement is less important than success. Training constantly insisted that there was no sole correct way to fight, and if a move worked, then it was worth inclusion.

After Lee’s death, training in Jeet Kune Do was continued by highest ranked students and friends. Considerable controversy arose, as the Lee Estate wanted to maintain control of Jeet Kune Do training, while Lee’s students wished to continue their own programs. Today, the situation remains murky, with some schools run by Lee’s students and a new attempt by the Bruce Lee Foundation to create an “official” school for the form.

As a philosophy, Lee’s form utilized the principle that training should be done with no preconceptions of right, wrong, or tradition. It prizes the individuality of fighters, suggestion that the eclecticism of the individual can provide the greatest surprise to opponents. While the form has some detractors irritated by its indefinable style, Jeet Kune Do has many followers in both principle and practice, and is a popular style of fighting in the 21st century.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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