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The Bruce Lee Jeet Kune Do Philosophy of Simplicity and the Analogy of a Punch and a Kick

Updated on October 19, 2016

The old saying found in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do offers a helpful training insight that never becomes outdated.

In the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee twists an old Zen saying to reflect his sentiments about fighting. The words he borrowed and changed were:

"[As a beginner], a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick.
After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick.
Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick."

How can the final conclusion be the same as the first? The answer to that lies in understanding the approach to learning in relation to organic performance. In other words, a bridge between training drills and actual experience must be made.

The Bruce Lee Jeet Kune Do Philosophy

At its core, the Bruce Lee Jeet Kune Do Philosophy is one of simplicity. Lee was not one that promote complex solutions to simple self-defense concepts or fighting methods. Unfortunately, it is not always the nature of the student in martial arts classes to want to keep things simple. Students do enjoy learning and they confuse the concept of learning with accumulation. That is, they look to learn more and more techniques under the false assumption that learning a lot of material in a superficial manner will help them develop skills. There will also be a tendency to look for complex answers to very simple training questions. This is best illustrated in the assessment of a punch is just a punch.

The Beginning Notion

The notion that to someone without training in the martial arts that a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick is really not something born of the Bruce Lee Jeet Kune Do philosophy. Rather, it is an acknowledgment of the organic nature of how someone will try to defend him or herself when attacked.

For example, if someone were assaulted by someone seeking to do serious harm, the individual would likely thrash out in self-defense. Punching and kicking become an organic reaction designed for self-preservation. This does not mean you are actually proficient or successful in your actions. Learned skill in punching and kicking will deliver far better results than flailing about. This leads us to phase two.

Learning How to Make Punches and Kicks Efficient....for Better or for Worse

The Tao of Jeet Kune Do invests a lot of time discussing specific martial arts techniques. This is because there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. With punching and kicking, you will find proper body mechanics, accuracy, balance, timing, and structure all contribute to making punches and kicks effective. In fact, it can prove very surprising how much there is to learn when you are trying to perfect the best way to perform such techniques.

While the path to improvement and performance is certainly admirable and necessary, there does come a huge problem that can arise here: people try to over-analyze the best way to punch and kick in an antiseptic manner. In other words, constantly trying to attain perfect form on the heavy bag or trying to mimic each and every nuance of how a punch should be delivered can lead to paralysis by analysis. Simply put, the student is not really concerned with his or her performance as much as he is hung up on finding the right way to punch and kick from a clinical perspective. If you are doing this, then you are not really spending too a lot of time on the things that really matter.

The Final Stage

A person that commits the right amount of time to drilling, sparring and self-defense training will learn that the best way to punch and kick is to do so organically. Mental notes will be made of what went right and what went wrong in training. Incremental steps will be made to both correct flaws and constantly improve performance. Through live drilling, the student develops his or her own style of fighting with good technique and practical application. Such an approach returns us to the simplicity of the Bruce Lee Jeet Kune Do philosophy. A punch really is just a punch and a kick really is just a kick when you once again perform them naturally and organically. The key point of understanding the art means you can punch and kick in a technically sound manner tailored to your own unique skills and abilities.

Opinions May Vary

As there will be many differences in martial arts classes, there will be differences in opinion on this interpretation. That is fine because the main focus on training (be it boxing, fencing, and whatnot) should be actual training time. Nothing else will make you as skilled as the time you spend perfecting your craft. A little food for thought to fuel your training just might help nudge it along though.


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