The philosophy of Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee - Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee – Jeet Kune Do

By Adam Weiss ·

If you want to grasp the revolutionary philosophy of Jeet Kune Do then you’ll want to read this article. JkD teaches its student to free from styles, patterns or molds. Places special emphasis in mastering the four ranges of combat. Real combat is alive and dynamic and the martial artist must get rid of useless techniques. After reading this article you should be able to use the Jeet Kune Do philosophy principles to grow as a martial artist and most important as a person. These principles apply not only to martial arts but to real life also.

Freedom from styles restrictions

Jeet Kune Do philosophy advocates the liberation from styles, patterns or molds. It states that the martial artist movements should be direct and simple. Bruce Lee was a firm practitioner of the kiss principle. He believed that the easy way is the right way. Placed special emphasis in the economic of movement and energy.

Concepts of Jeet Kune Do Real fight philosophy

Jeet Kune Do student should be trained in what Lee called the “Four ranges of combat” or the four fighting distances. Kicking, punching, trapping and grappling. One of the premises that Bruce Lee incorporated was combat realism. Only useful techniques in real fight situations should be learned. It is a must to get rid off the unnecessary.

Bruce Lee believed that real fights were alive and dynamic. Real Fights don’t follow and established pattern. Jeet Kune Do practitioner must train to adapt to any real life situation.

Philosophy of Jeet Kune Do fighting fundamentals

After studying many martial arts styles and the mechanics of real combat. Bruce Lee stated a series of principles that the Jeet Kune Do student must follow:

The dominant and stronger hand should be the leading hand. Place your stronger side up front. Because the leading hand will perform a greater percentage of the work.

The best defense is a strong offense. Combine defense and attack into one action.

Avoid telegraphing your punches. Your attack should be unexpected surprising your opponent.

JKD student must be fluid like water. Follow Bruce Lee famous words “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless. Like water. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend!”

These are the fundamental principles of Jeet Kune Do philosophy. Liberation from styles and forms. The mastering of all the fighting distances to be a complete martial artist. And the observation that real fights don’t follow any established pattern. Take these principles and use them to express like and free individual, immune to the limitations imposed from martial arts styles.

Bruce Lee took the world of martial arts by storm. The philosophy of Jeet Kune Do was a revolution in its time. It was the next stepping stone in martial arts evolution. Its’ ideas and concepts have been adopted by the greatest martial artist of our time and gave birth to the new generation. Lets finish with the words of the great master ” Jeet Kune Do is just a name used, a boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one’s back”


The following are principles that Lee incorporated into Jeet Kune Do. He felt these were universal combat truths that were self evident and would lead to combat success if followed. The “4 Combat Ranges”in particular are what he felt were instrumental in becoming a “total” martial artist. This is also the principle most related to mixed martial arts.

JKD practitioners also subscribe to the notion that the best defence is a strong offence, hence the principle of “Intercepting”. Lee believed that in order for an opponent to attack someone they had to move towards them. This provided an opportunity to “intercept” that attack or movement.

The principle of interception covers more than just intercepting physical attacks. Lee believed that many non-verbals and telegraphs (subtle movements that an opponent is unaware of) could be perceived or “intercepted” and thus be used to one’s advantage. The “5 Ways of Attack” are attacking categories that help Jeet Kune Do practitioners organize their fighting repertoire and comprise the offensive portion of JKD. The concepts of Stop hits & stop kicks and simultaneous parrying & punching were borrowed from European Fencing and Wing Chun’s theory of simultaneous defending and attacking, and comprise the defensive portion of JKD. These concepts were modified for unarmed combat and implemented into the JKD framework by Lee. These concepts also complement the other principle of interception.

Be like water

Lee believed that martial systems should be as flexible as possible. He often used water as an analogy for describing why flexibility is a desired trait in martial arts. Water is infinitely flexible. It can be seen through, and yet at other times it can obscure things from sight. It can split and go around things, rejoining on the other side, or it can crash through things. It can erode the hardest rocks by gently lapping away at them or it can flow past the tiniest pebble. Lee believed that a martial system should have these attributes. JKD students reject traditional systems of training, fighting styles and the Confucian pedagogy used in traditional kung fu schools because of this lack of flexibility. JKD is claimed to be a dynamic concept that is forever changing, thus being extremely flexible. “Absorb what is useful; Disregard that which is useless” is an often quoted Bruce Lee maxim. JKD students are encouraged to study every form of combat possible. This is believed to expand one’s knowledge of other fighting systems; to both add to one’s arsenal as well as to know how to defend against such tactics.

Economy of motion

JKD students are told to waste no time or movement. When it comes to combat JKD practitioners believe the simplest things work best. Economy of motion is the principle by which JKD practitioners achieve “efficiency” describe in the three parts of JKD. Utilizing this principle conserves both energy and time. Energy and time are two crucial components in a physical confrontation that often leads to success if employed efficiently. In combat situations maximizing one’s energy is beneficial in maintaining physical activity. Likewise minimizing the time to execute techniques because of travelling less distance is beneficial in that the opponent has less time to react.

Stop hits & stop kicks

This means intercepting an opponent’s attack with an attack of your own instead of a simple block. JKD practitioners believe that this is the most difficult defensive skill to develop. This strategy is a feature of some traditional Chinese martial arts, as well as an essential component of European epée fencing. Stop hits & kicks utilize the principle of economy of motion by combining attack and defence into one movement thus minimizing the “time” element.

Simultaneous parrying & punching

When confronting an incoming attack, the attack is parried or deflected and a counter attack is delivered at the same time. Not as advanced as a stop hit but more effective than blocking and counter attacking in sequence. This is also practiced by some Chinese martial arts. Simultaneous parrying & punching utilizes the principle of economy of motion by combining attack and defence into two movements thus minimizing the “time” element and maximizing the “energy” element. Efficiency is gained by utilizing a parry rather than a block. By definition a “block” stops an attack whereas a parry merely re-directs an attack. Redirection has two advantages: It requires less energy to execute. It utilizes the opponents energy against them by creating an imbalance. Efficiency is also gained in that the opponent has less time to react to the nullification of their attack while having to worry about defending an incoming attack.

High kicks

JKD practitioners believe they should target their kicks to their opponent’s shins, knees, thighs, and mid section. These targets are the closest to the foot, provide more stability and are more difficult to defend against. However, as with all other JKD principles nothing is “written in stone”. If a target of opportunity presents itself, even a target above the waist, one could take advantage of the situation without feeling hampered by this principle. Maintaining low kicks utilizes the principle of economy of motion by reducing the distance a kick must travel thus minimizing the “time” element. Low kicks are also more difficult to detect and thus guard against.

The four ranges of combat

1        Kicking

2        Punching

3        Trapping

4        Grappling

Jeet Kune Do students train in each of these ranges equally. According to Lee, this range of training serves to differentiate JKD from other martial arts. Lee stated that most but not all traditional martial systems specialize in training at one or two ranges. Bruce Lee’s theories have been especially influential and substantiated in the field of Mixed Martial Arts, as the MMA Phases of Combat are essentially the same concept as the JKD combat ranges. As a historical note, the ranges in JKD have evolved over time. Initially the ranges were categorized as short or close, medium, and long range. These terms proved ambiguous and eventually evolved into their more descriptive forms although there may still be others who prefer the three categories.

Five Ways of Attack

Single Angle Attack (SAA)/Single Direct Attack (SDA). Is a single motion (Punch or Kick) which moves with no effort to conceal it, directly to the target on the most economical route. It can also be indirect, beginning on one line and ending on another. Such as a punch that starts to the stomach (mid line) and ends on the chin (high line). SAA is an attack that is launched from an unanticipated angle that is achieved by moving in such a way as to create an open line into which to strike.

Hand Immobilization Attack (HIA) and its counterpart Foot Immobilization attack, which make use of trapping/parrying to limit the opponent’s function with that appendage.

Progressive Indirect Attack (PIA). Simulating an attack to one part of the opponent’s body followed by attacking another part as a means of creating an opening.

Attack By Combinations (ABC). This is using multiple rapid attacks, with volume of attack as a means of overcoming the opponent.

Attack By Drawing (ABD). The goal when using attack by draw is to “draw” the opponent into a committed attack by baiting him into what looks like an exposed target, then intercepting his/her motion. One can execute a motion that invites a counter, then counter attack them as he takes the bait.


Three Parts of JKD

JKD practitioners believe that techniques should contain the following properties:

Efficiency – An attack that reaches its mark using the maximum amount of energy and applying it to a single point in the least amount of time.

Directness – Doing what comes naturally in a learned way.

Simplicity – Thinking in an uncomplicated manner; without ornamentation.



The centerline refers to an imaginary line running down the center of one’s body. The theory is to exploit, control and dominate your opponent’s centerline. All attacks, defense and footwork are designed to preserve your own centerline and open your opponent’s. Lee incorporated this theory into JKD from Wing Chun. This notion is closely related to maintaining control of the center squares in the strategic game chess.

The three guidelines for centerline are:

The one who controls the centerline will control the fight.

Protect and maintain your own centerline while you control and exploit your opponent’s.

Control the centerline by occupying it.


Combat realism

One of the premises that Bruce Lee incorporated in Jeet Kune Do was “combat realism”. He insisted that martial arts techniques should be incorporated based upon its effectiveness in real combat situations. This would differentiate JKD from other systems where there was an emphasis on “flowery technique” as Lee would put it. Lee claimed that flashy “flowery techniques” would arguably “look good” but were often not practical or prove ineffective in street survival and self-defense situations. This premise would also differentiate JKD from other “sport” oriented martial arts systems that where geared towards “tournament” or “point systems”.

Lee felt that these systems were “artificial” and fooled its practitioners into a false sense of true martial skill. Lee felt that because these systems favoured a “sports” approach they incorporated too many rule sets that would ultimately handicap a practitioner in self-defense situations. He also felt that this approach to martial arts became a “game of tag” which would lead to bad habits such as pulling punches and other attacks; this would again lead to disastrous consequences in real world situations. Because of this perspective Lee utilized safety gear from various other contact sports to allow him to spar with opponents “full out”. This approach to training allowed practitioners to come as close as possible to real combat situations with a high degree of safety.

Donn Draeger world renown martial arts pioneer was the first Westerner to bring widespread attention to the often citedœ-do versus œ-jutsu controversy. Historically the “do” or way arts were based on the “jutsu” or technique arts without what was deemed “dangerous techniques”. The “do” arts such as Judo were thus seen as a “watered down” version of their “jutsu” counterparts such as Ju-jitsu, a combat-tested martial art, and thus considered a sport. Lee objected to these “sport” versions of martial arts because of this emphasis on combat realism.