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The Major Role of Muay Thai in Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do

When most people think of Bruce Lee, the first thing they think of is what they've seen him do in his movies. It's inevitable. They think Chinese kung fu must be his thing. They think that since Bruce Lee was of Chinese descent, the only thing he's trained in and incorporated into his martial arts must be Chinese kung fu. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this blog, I will share with you the little-known truth of how Bruce Lee utilized Muay Thai and Western Boxing to form the foundation of his incredible fighting system called Jeet Kune Do.

Bruce Lee was a Boxer First

Bruce Lee's very first martial art was Western Boxing, and not kung fu as most movies depict. As a young boy growing up in Hong Kong, Lee got into a lot of trouble. He was hyperactive, mischievous, and aggressive. He enjoyed getting into fights. By today's standards, I'd expect he would have been diagnosed with ADD. While a student at St. Francis Xavier's College, an exclusive boy's prep school in Hong Kong, he was discovered by Brother Edward Muss, the coach of the school's boxing team. He trained Bruce in boxing from 1956 to 1958. Lee went on to win the Hong Kong Schools Boxing Tournament in 1958, scoring knockdowns against the previous year's champion. Bruce Lee already had knockout power as a young man.

Did you know that Bruce Lee idolized Muhammad Ali? In fact, whenever you see Bruce Lee dancing and floating effortlessly on the ground in his movies, he was emulating Ali. His Jeet Kune Do was, in part, a direct tribute to the late great boxing champion. Jeet Kune Do actually moves and feels a lot more like boxing than it does kung fu, which tends to be flat-footed and stationary. In contrast to traditional martial arts, JKD emphasizes agility, lightning-fast mobility, and foot speed. Most don't know that Muhammad Ali directly influenced Jeet Kune Do.

Bruce Lee Loved Muay Thai

According to my teacher, Guro Dan Inosanto, Bruce Lee loved Muay Thai. He was very fond of it's kicks, especially the Thai Round Kick. He loved the power and damage that a solid Thai round kick can produce. Bruce also loved the Thai use of elbows and knees. It is well documented that the most powerful kick in martial arts is the Thai Round Kick. The most powerful elbows and knees in martial arts also belong to Muay Thai. So it's not a surprise then that Bruce Lee added Muay Thai to his original mixed martial arts, Jeet Kune Do.

The Influence of Muay Thai in Jeet Kune Do

Muay Thai influences Jeet Kune Do in five areas: physical conditioning, kicking range, clinching range, clinch grappling, and mental training.

The physical conditioning benefits of Muay Thai training are incorporated into Jeet Kune Do classes on a regular basis. We use Jump Roping to train stamina, coordination, and timing. We use shadowboxing to perfect form and technique, as well as develop speed and imagination. We often use target equipment such as Thai Pads, Focus Mitts, and Kicking Shields to provide solid objects that students can train against. Hitting pads are great for developing power, toughness, speed, and stamina. We use the Heavy Bags for power development and endurance. We spar with light and full contact on a regular basis to develop timing, speed, technique, and toughness.

In kicking range, Jeet Kune Do uses the Thai kicks such as the Round Kick and the Foot Jab to set up an entry, block and attack, or finish an opponent.

In clinch range, Jeet Kune Do uses Thai elbows and knees to finish off an opponent quickly. Add to these tools the headbutt, and you have an effective and devastating cocktail we call H.K.E., or headbutts, knees, and elbows. We use H.K.E. to end the fight in seconds and we take these techniques from Muay Thai.

In clinch grappling, Jeet Kune Do uses throws and sweeps from Muay Thai to off-balance and send the opponent crashing to the ground. Most people don't know that Muay Thai throws opponents, but they absolutely do. From the neck clinch, Muay Thai will throw you into any direction.

Above all, the mentality of Muay Thai is what I love about it and why I use it in my teachings. Muay Thai training is super hardcore. It produces fighters who are tough, mean, and will break an enemy in half. There're no going half-assed in Muay Thai. It's all or nothing. It's all about going through a target, especially their Round Kicks. Then again, all their techniques are brutally effective. If you've ever seen a Thai boxer kick a banana tree or baseball bat in half without feeling pain in their shins, then you know what I mean. This hardcore mentality is borrowed by Jeet Kune Do and incorporated into the system. Jeet Kune Do training is just as tough and hardcore as Muay Thai because it uses Muay Thai.

New Muay Thai Classes @ Tandez Academy

If you want to learn Muay Thai, come to my school, the Tandez Academy. We're proud to announce that the Tandez Academy has revamped it's martial arts program and will be adding a new Muay Thai class for Wednesdays at 7PM. That means we will be offering Muay Thai classes three days a week. Beginners welcome.

The Muay Thai classes will offer you:

  1. Physical Conditioning Exercises

  2. Authentic Muay Thai training

  3. Boxing training

  4. Self-Defense

New Muay Thai Classes

on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7PM

at Tandez Academy

For more information on training, contact us at Phone 408 373 0204 / Email:

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