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Eliminating Nonessential Movement in Jeet Kune Do.....The Hard Way

Updated on October 4, 2016

Simplicity is a Process, Not a Product

Simplicity is a core tenent of Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do. While somewhat lost due to the over-commercialization of martial training, a primary governing philosophy behind the art is to use as few moves as possible to achieve a desire outcome. Accumulating techniques and merely gaining superficial knowledge are the bane of true JKD as the goal should always be refinement. Intercepting attacks reflects the highest level of skill since an aggressive offense eliminating the need for preface offensive moves with defensive ones.

What practitioner of the art sometimes miss when discussing the theoretical side of the art is training is not the same as actual performance. The goal of learning JKD or any other martial art should be to make it work against an opponent.

Emphasizing simplicity against training equipment is really to, well, simple. Streamlining one's fighting ability and performance really only be achieved when training and drilling against partners who are not performed preset or choreographed moves.

To only develop a skill based on compliant drills is really the illusion of skill if your training cannot bridge to actual performance. If its not doing this, what value does the training present?

Author's Note: The last two paragraphs are, of course, restatements of the late 1990's/early 2000's "Aliveness meme" that has somewhat fallen by the wayside (ignored really) in recent years.

A Rule for Hacking Away at Nonessentials

If the word "rule" is too strong, perhaps better word would be "sound advice" since following this suggestion is going to be helpful. The only way to seriously and effectively delineate something unessential is through live resistance training.

It is pretty easy to eliminate moves from a sequence involving hitting focus mitts. Far more difficult is eliminating your moves against resistance that has not been choreographed.

Circumstances dictate how you will be hacking away at nonessentials or eliminating any moves. Hacking moves when hitting a target (be it training equipment or human) is easy. A person standing with focus mitts in his hand is just standing. Why wouldn't you be able to do something in one move? After all, you are presuming a "one punch kill" knockout.

If you were to place someone in front of you and tell the person to swing an overhand right, you can respond by

1.) Blocking with a boxing cover and returning the cross

2.) The other person parries the cross so you bong sao/lop sao/backfist

3.) Finish with a cross/hook/cross

Someone comes along and opts to hack away the nonessentials. In this case, the "passive" move of a block and replace it with a finger jab. The finger jab lands on target, the opponent is stunned, so you immediately throw a cross/hook/cross. The eye jab replaces steps one and two.

Then, someone comes along and says to use a straight lead and knock the person out with one shot. One move instead of a sequence of moves definitely cuts down on unessential movements.

The problem here is when we are only talking about a focus mitt drill, virtually everything is based on a response that was decided upon in advance. Scoring a one punch straight lead knockout is easy, when "scoring" refers to the presumption of an outcome you have decided upon. Theoretically, there is nothing wrong with a one punch knockout and they do happen. Many street altercations have ended with one shot knockouts. Even MMA fights have ended this way.

The trouble is you cannot rely on a "one punch equals immediate finish" result because the other person might not go with the script.

You also have to be really honest about your toughness level.

Are you really someone who is capable of knocking someone out with one punch if the situation merited it?


The answer to that question is based on the life you lived.

If you really have to think about the answer, you have to rely on good training to increase your chances of success.

Processes and Products and No Results

Bruce Lee often mentioned there is a difference between a product and a process. Selling karate lessons offered a product and this was not the same thing as slowly learning a martial art and honing skills. The delivered product is often a component of a marketing scheme. The fact that you have made a purchase of the product is enough. You do not engage in a process of learning as much as you go through the motions.

The notion of a "product" in the martial arts can be extended to refer to any end result that does not follow a legitimate process of learning. Someone who figures he has almighty knockout power from doing little more than hitting a wall bag has engaged in a conditioning exercise. The knuckles may become tougher and the bag is definitely better designed for developing better close range vertical fist punches than other training tools. The trouble here is conditioning exercises and working out on a training device is focused on at the exclusion of other ways of developing how to use a short range punch in its proper context.

The process of training on the wall bag becomes a product by default.

Boxing, Fencing, and Simplicity

For those whose focus is on self-defense (or, for that matter, competitive sports) equipment training is designed to hone skills and refine them in order to perform better. No boxer can just shadow box, spar, and then walk into the ring for a Golden Gloves event. Bag work, hitting focus mitts, double end bag training, isolation sparring, and more are used to develop the skills designed to make his sparring better and this, in turn, makes him a better fighter.

A better fighter is definitely someone who can get the most out of doing the least.

Every boxer wishes he could put away every opponent in 30 seconds. Mike Tyson made $300 million with this approach. Yet, many boxing matches go the distance and are decided by judges. Why go through all that when a first round knockout is a far better outcome? Because boxing matches are not scripted.

Fencing is no different.

No fencer wants to do more than is absolutely necessary to score on target. Fencers, whether they be hobbyists or Olympians, are not trained to showboat. Their goal is to score as quickly and as accurately as possible with as few moves as possible.

What boxers and fencers run into that keeps them from winning within a few moves is the opponent.

You cannot guarantee an outcome. All you can do is train as hard as possible to achieve the most desirable outcome in your favor.

A Most Unfortunate (Striking) Occurrence

No serious JKD instructor would advocate unnecessarily using three boxing covers to defend three punches prior to returning a punch. Performing three passive moves unnecessarily before returning fire is not good. Not only would this be very "un-JKD" it is not exactly a great strategy for boxing either.

Yet, if the other person is faster than you, a lot more powerful, and you cannot pick up on a hook/cross/hook combo until the punches are three-quarters of the way towards your head, three covers might be the only automatic response your body offers. The reaction of three covers is an automatic response designed to keep you from being knocked out.

Timing plays a very important role in how you respond. Trying to mistime an ill-advisable interception can mean a knockout. In the future, with more training, the continuation of the process of skill development could mean you can read punches based on twitches of the shoulder. Instead of not being able to see a punch until the fist has traveled 75% on its path, you know what is coming just based on initial body twitches.

The Thug Analysis

Boxing is used as an example because most are probably familiar with basic boxing terms and training methods. Self-defense scenarios sometimes can be a little varied and chaotic. Not every person you might get into an altercation with is going to challenge you head on, face to face. They are not going to present themselves right in front of you and throw and overhand left.

Sucker punches and sneak attacks are common. Hitting someone cowardly from behind might be loathsome but, for a thug, it makes tactical sense. When you are hit behind the head without warning, your brain is going to be rattled...literally.

Upon turning around, you might not even have an idea what exactly happened and who hit you. A flurry of punches could be directed to your head forcing you to use elbow covers to protect yourself for a brief respite while you gain back your senses. Not a very Zen moment.

Things do not always work out very cleanly and easily when you are dealing with real world violence.

Prescribing a Simple Solution for Simplicity

The best way to simplify your performance is to make this your focus in training.

For self-defense, a very basic drill would be to have your partner shove and push you repeatedly and at some point throw the overhand. As he does this, you maintain a natural posture with your hands in front of you in a natural "fence" position. Once the overhand is launched, you respond.

Your goal is to intercept, but this cannot occur 100% of the time unless your training partner is going to slow. You are likely to have a mix of interceptions, simultaneous blocks and attacks, defensive motions followed by offensive motions, disengagements, and so on. The goal here is not immediate results. Rather, the purpose should be to train to enhance your skill level a little bit each time you take part in the drill.

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