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Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do: How It Became The Ultimate American Martial Art

A popular mural of Bruce Lee can be found in Chinatown, San Francisco. This was done in memory of one of the greatest Californians who ever lived. Yes, Bruce Lee was a true-blue, red-blooded American male. He was born in November 27, 1940 in San Francisco Chinatown. And he loved America and being American, even after all the prejudice and discrimination he endured as an Asian-American. And as an American, Lee's martial art of Jeet Kune Do is a perfect reflection of the United States as a nation in the lates sixties and early seventies. Because of this, I consider Jeet Kune Do the ultimate American martial art and this article will explain why.

Birthplace of Jeet Kune Do

When most people hear the name Jeet Kune Do, their first impression is that it's foreign. It sounds very similar to other martial arts like Taekwondo, Judo, or Aikido because of the do ending in its name. Taekwondo came from Korea. Judo and Aikido came from Japan. But Jeet Kune Do came from California. Not China. Not Hong Kong. Not Asia. It was created and developed here. In fact, when I went to Asia many years ago and taught Jeet Kune Do seminars there, they thought Jeet Kune Do as an American martial art because they have no familiarity with it at all. They also thought of Bruce Lee as an American martial artist, not a Chinese martial artist. Funny how that is!

The origin story of Jeet Kune Do goes something like this. It was the summer of 1967. Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto were driving down Pacific Coast Highway One, traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Bruce and Dan, who were best friends, were going back home from Bruce doing demonstrations in Los Angeles. While on the road, Bruce got into a conversation with Dan about what to call Bruce's new martial art. Bruce had changed and evolved his original fighting system so much that it no longer looked like Chinese Gung Fu. Not to mention, Bruce incorporated several other martial arts into it, so now it was completely different from original Wing Chun. Here's how that conversation may have sounded like:

Dan: Bruce, what do you think is the most efficient technique to stop an attack?

Bruce: The stop-hit from Fencing, of course. The moment he attacks, you intercept his movement with your hit.

Dan: Well, what it is interception in Cantonese?

Bruce: The word is Jeet.

Dan: What do you intercept with?

Bruce: Your fist. That word in Cantonese is Kune.

Dan: Let's add a finishing word.

Bruce: How about do?As in Tae Kwon Do? Do means way, but that's not a Chinese word.

Dan: No one will care.

Bruce: So let's call it Jeet Kune Do. Way of Intercepting Fist. It's catchy. Let's keep it.

And thus, Bruce Lee's new martial art of Jeet Kune Do was born. So although it sounds foreign and exotic, it was created in California, right on Pacific Coast Highway One. Just like fortune cookies, chop suey, and General Tso's Chicken, Jeet Kune Do is an American creation.

East Meets West

Bruce Lee was influenced by Western and Eastern culture all through his life, and his Jeet Kune Do reflects that. Bruce, although born in San Francisco, grew up in Hong Kong. This country was a British Crown Colony then, and was directly influenced by British culture and attitudes. Bruce grew up in British-style private schools and learned to speak English at a young age. His first martial arts was actually Boxing, which he did during his elementary school years. Later on in his teen years, Bruce studied Wing Chun to protect himself from the teenage street gangs who fought him on a daily basis. Bruce studied under Ip Man, but with difficulty. Ip Man's Wing Chun students found out that Bruce wasn't pure-blooded Chinese, so they refused to train with him. Bruce had to train with Ip Man's assistant instructors during private lessons because Bruce couldn't attend classes.

TRUTH: Bruce Lee was part British, Jewish, and Dutch on his mother's side. In fact, his mother was listed as Caucasian on her birth certificate.

As you can see, the blending of East and West was deeply rooted in Bruce Lee's own blood. He would be classified today as a Mixed Race American. That's why when we examine what is contained in Jeet Kune Do, you can see where this identity blending is played out.

The First International Mixed Martial Arts

Bruce Lee studied, researched and selected what he considered to be The Best of the Best Martial Arts in the World for his Jeet Kune Do. His criteria was, Will this art or style work for a real, no-rules street fight? Bruce Lee was focused only on real combat, never sport. Keep in mind, the greatest martial artist who ever lived never competed in a tournament or match. He feel he didn't need to prove anything. He knew he was the best.

When you see the list below, you might think, Most of these arts were designed for competition - what are you talking about? These arts were modified by Bruce to fit into the context of a no-rules fight. He got rid of the rules. He also focused on how these arts and styles FLOWED TOGETHER SMOOTHLY.

Here are the martial arts that Bruce Lee chose for his system:

  1. Western Boxing

  2. Wing Chun Gung Fu

  3. Fencing (Concepts)

  4. Muay Thai

  5. Savate (French Kickboxing)

  6. American Kickboxing

  7. Judo

  8. Small-Circle Jujitsu

  9. Wrestling

  10. Chin Na (Chinese Wrestling)

As you can see, Bruce combined fighting styles from the United States (boxing and wrestling), Europe (savate), and Asia. Even his Asian martial arts were mixed. At the time, it was a crime to combine martial arts from different countries. Japanese didn't mix with Chinese, and Chinese didn't mix with Thai etc. It was intense national pride that caused this, where one country felt their martial arts were superior to their rivals. Nowadays, we know this is ridiculous, but back then there was no mixing. Bruce Lee was the first who said, It doesn't matter where the martial art comes from. What matters is, does it work for my objectives?

How does this tie into being American? Because the United States is the very true definition of a mixed society, where people from different cultures and regions come together. It doesn't matter where you're from, you're thrown into the melting pot that is America. And Jeet Kune Do is a reflection of that American mixed society, that melting pot culture. Jeet Kune Do is a blend of different cultures' martial arts, not just one. Where almost every martial art represents only one culture, Jeet Kune Do represents many from the East and West, but under the umbrella of being American.

Jeet Kune Do is American Mixed Martial Arts - For the Street

Bruce Lee is often considered the Father of Mixed Martial Arts, and justly so. He pioneered a lot of the concepts and principles of MMA. If Bruce didn't exist, MMA wouldn't exist. The most important contribution he made was promoting the concept of mixing together the best martial arts, regardless of source, in order to create a complete and well-rounded fighter. You had to be really good at striking, clinching, grappling, and ground fighting. Believe it or not, Bruce Lee came up with these concepts in the late sixties, way before Dana White and the UFC even existed. In fact, he incorporated all these things in his Jeet Kune Do.

Here's another fact:

Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do IS Mixed Martial Arts, but with no rules, no refs, and for real fighting. In other words, self-defense. Jeet Kune Do is MMA for self-defense. That's what Bruce Lee created it for.

Thanks to the United States for allowing the kind of atmosphere for a great innovator and thinker like Bruce Lee to exist. Only in America could Jeet Kune Do have been created. In other countries, where freedom of expression and liberty doesn't exist, Bruce Lee would've been stopped. But here in our great nation, we take pride in our freedom and in our advancements. God bless America!

If you want to learn Jeet Kune Do, then come to the Tandez Academy. We offer group classes, private instruction, and seminars. Contact us at 408 373 0204.

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