Last year the Bruce Lee Educational Foundation held its annual meeting and seminar in Las Vegas. This meeting is our non-profit organization’s major fundraiser for the year, as the yearly membership fee is barely enough to print and mail our newsletter. During the autograph session in which the various members of the BLEF board of directors (The Nucleus) sign books and photos, a young man handed me a magazine opened to a full-page photo of myself on one page and a full-page photo of my teacher, Dan Inosanto, on the other. I didn’t remember ever seeing this photo before. The magazine was called Masters and Styles and had been published the year before. At first I was just surprised at being in a magazine for over a year and not being aware of it.
A while back Chris Kent was kind enough to send me a copy of the magazine. On the cover it says "13 Masters Reveal Their Secrets". I am of course honored to be included with such martial arts greats as Ralph Castro, Thomas Mitose, and others. Also included were my senior Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do brothers, Ted Wong and Richard Bustillo. I must admit though that I was at a loss to find any secrets in the basic techniques I was shown doing. I am also not sure that there are any secrets in Jeet Kune Do. If there are then they’ve been kept a secret from me for 30 years. I know that there were some things that were taught in the Los Angeles Chinatown School that Bruce Lee didn’t want shown to outsiders. For example, he didn’t want his students to show the double pak sao outside of class. This has confused people, and some have written that there were many techniques that were kept secret from all the Chinatown students.
Although some people believe this to be true, I have yet after almost 30 years of JKD training with my teacher Dan Inosanto and others, and after teaching it a various summer camps and at the non-profit Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do Wednesday Night Group for 25 years, and after 4 yearly BLEF seminars where I saw most of Bruce Lee’s students demonstrate, I have yet to come across any of these so called secret techniques. I can remember when working with Dan Inosanto as a part of his backyard group that he told me that he would not hold anything back from me, and I have always taken him at his word. The only possible exception might be the hammer principle, as Bob Bremer is the only person I’ve seen do it. I have also been unable to find any secrets in the copious notes of Bruce Lee that we have access to.
As I looked at this magazine I couldn’t help wondering what Bruce Lee would think about it all. I know from his writings that he was totality opposed to the use of the word master. He wrote that the term master denotes slave. We also wrote that as soon as you feel that you have "mastered" something that the lid of the coffin is starting to close. As he told my friend and fellow JFJKD Wed Night teacher, Bob Bremer, "In the end what have you really mastered?" I know that Bruce Lee would really be upset if any teacher professing to be a JKD instructor ever referred to himself as master. This is very clear from his notes as well as talking to his students. I can vividly remember my teacher, Dan Inosanto, who taught for Bruce at the Chinatown school, angrily crossing out the word "master" on a flyer that someone had sent him advertising a seminar he was going to do somewhere. He made it quite clear that he never wanted to be called Master Dan Inosanto. This comes from a man who knows more martial arts than any one I’ve ever seen.
You could become a master in the martial arts I learned in Taiwan, as they were linear in nature. That is, there were a certain number of forms to learn and a certain number of techniques to learn for each belt in the Taiwanese association. After you reached an 8th degree black, you could be considered a master. The same cannot be said for Jeet Kune Do.
JKD is by its very nature is circular rather than linear. Bruce Lee even described it as "a circle without a circumference". I think that this will be clear with an example of how we train a typical JKD technique. For our purposes we will use the hammer principle as an example.
The hammer principle is one of the best techniques that Bruce Lee taught. According to his lesson plans, which are published in volume 3 of Bruce Lee’s notes entitled Jeet Kune Do edited by John Little, it was also one of the first things that he taught. Bob Bremer seems to be the only one of Bruce Lee’s students who seems to remember it and teach it. He has been kind enough to share the finer points of the excellent technique.
The hammer principle is so great a technique that we spend part of each Wednesday night’s class working on it. After 3 years of working on it we have all come to the conclusion that we will never master it. This will become clear if I explain how we work on this technique.
First of all everybody gets a partner. The one doing the hammer principle measures off around 2 feet from his extended arm away from his partner who is taking on the role of trainer. He then attacks with a finger jab to the trainer’s forehead while dropping his arm as if he had a hammer in it. The trainer then tries to block the attack; the first thing we discovered was the major benefit seems to go to the trainer. It seems that more the man attacks; the easier it seems for the trainer to block it. The reason for this is that the trainer starts to pick up the attacker’s preparation. At first it will be an obvious preparation. For example, he’ll move his body first and then his hand, instead of hand first. The reason the blocker is called the trainer is that his job is to start pointing out the attacker’s preparation. At first he’ll only notice large body motions like dropping or raising the body a split second before the attack.
Once he rids his partner of these larger motions, he seems to be able to notice more subtle preparations. He may notice that the attacker’s elbow comes out first, or he may notice a slight facial expression before the attack. Once he points this out, and the attacker has gotten rid of all physical preparation, the trainer seems to be able to sense when the attack will occur. He will start to perceive the attacker’s physical tension, which will occur a split second before he attacks. Once the attacker has learned to hide his physical tension, he may be able to then work on what Bruce Lee called non-intention. This is the difficult stage where "you don’t hit. It hits". I’ve only been able to achieve this a couple of times. It is a very strange feeling to suddenly strike out with an attack, and not realize until afterward that you hit. When you are able to hit with the hammer principle without intention, it is impossible for the trainer to block you. If you strike without any preparation and without intention, your hit will land before it is seen.
If you practice the hammer principle for a long time, a special benefit will occur. The attacker will be able to notice when the defender/trainer’s concentration wavers. Bruce Lee told Bob Bremer that when he did the hammer principle on him he (Bruce) seemed to know when Bob lost his focus. As soon as Bruce noticed Bob’s focus waver, he would smack Bob hard on the forehead from about 3 feet away. Bruce Lee told Bob that at some point there would be a split second when his opponent was not with him. He said that he always seemed to know when that was.
In our Wednesday Night JFJKD class we even make it more difficult to master the hammer principle by switching partners. The advantage of this is that the trainer gets to analyze every member of the class for their preparation. By doing that, we have found that when sparring it becomes much easier to recognize an attack and therefore to intercept it.
Finally if the person attacking becomes too successful from 2 feet away, then we move him to 2 and half feet away. If you keep making it more and more difficult for the student, he will continue to keep growing and growing as a martial artist, but he will never master any part of Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do.
I hope that you can now understand why Bruce said, "In the end, what have you mastered?" JKD is indeed a circle without a circumference.
JKD Wednesday Night Group