IJKDC COMBATIVES: Complicating Simplicity

To this day, I still see plenty of unneeded personal politics plaguing the Jeet Kune Do community. It’s been this way immediately after its founder; Bruce Lee passed away. It began gaining momentum shortly after a few of his closest disciples began cleaning up his affairs, going through his private files, and splitting up his personal belongings.

Not long after his funeral, a degree of in-fighting broke out between known remaining JKD entities causing battle lines to be firmly drawn by in-trenched combatants, each staking claims to a legacy they felt a significant part of. In a sensible power play, widowed Linda Lee and her legal team reserved all legal rights to her husband’s business concerns, protecting his image and art from blatant abusers. At one point, Linda and her newly formed JKD Nucleus group laid out clear conditions to restrict flagrant usage of her deceased husband’s materials, which caused an uproar that’s left disagreements still stewing between some of the original 1st generation students. Without full cooperation across the board, the group later disbanded.

Over time lingering debates would persuade greater separation and even complete isolation in some cases. Backs coldly turned away from one another with hands thrown up in the air. With several of Bruce Lee’s highest-ranking followers taking opposing sides towards one another amid the aftermath, insiders might assume these internal debates were not strictly for personal gains, instead to ensure the honor of their beloved Sijo and that his unique art form would be forever upheld to its highest standards. But, it’s complicated and no one can be completely sure of their actual motives. With this unfortunate communication breakdown and a lack of firm management, Bruce Lee’s creation went on mostly unregulated and would eventually become highly diluted.

Some of Bruce Lee’s surviving original students managed to find respectful ways to continue teaching JKD on their own. Key instructors expanded into successful livelihoods while remaining partially aloof from direct criticisms and ever-increasing, sometimes unavoidable political slurs constantly being slung by disrespectful parties. Meanwhile, the perpetual strength of the internet has delivered a catastrophic flood of charlatans staking false claims as authentic JKD experts; each of them vying for their own piece of the Bruce Lee / JKD pie by whatever means possible.

Because of Bruce Lee’s fame and extreme influence on the worldwide martial arts community, his JKD will always be in demand throughout the world. Some seeking only to share knowledge remain humble and even fairly quiet about teaching while others jump aboard out of greed only seeking financial gains while riding the coattails of the Dragon. Many actually have earned legitimate certifications within approved lineage while others argue that it’s not needed. However, it seems that to be openly recognized and widely accepted by the JKD community at large, one would prefer complete legitimacy when seeking out an instructor.

Nearly five decades since its creators passing, ongoing disagreements over the rights to and methods of teaching (Jun Fan) Jeet Kune Do have ensued. And, volatile differing opinions between what is often referred to as “Original JKD” and what has sometimes been coined as “JKD Concepts” have widened the gap into a great political divide that widens ever further each passing year. Some camps strongly feel that no one should be allowed to add anything into the art that wasn’t already included by Bruce Lee himself during his lifetime, while others feel it’s ok to promote a degree of evolution. Perhaps the latter feel that JKD was always meant to be progressive by design? Many purists stand firmly against this. But, shouldn’t this be left to the personal choice of credible instructors?

With its resources seemingly exhausted by a war that cannot be won, the official Bruce Lee Foundation has wisely moved on from this existing issue; allowing the fight to continue running its course between the above mentioned parties. These days, the B.L.F. seems to be focused more on youth education, scholarships, child development and much less as a martial arts training resource. Nowadays, they’re using Bruce Lee’s image more as a branding tool.

As long as heated arguments over what is and what should never be, ongoing disagreements without suitable moderation or radically differing viewpoints fueled by enlarged egos and personal interests exist, no peace treaty will ever arise. Naturally, not all opinions will align themselves to ever bring complete order without the creator (Bruce Lee) here to set the guidelines straight. His legacy is left to sort itself out of, in some cases, uncompleted or fragmented documentations from a lifetime unexpectedly cut short. This may leave even his closest confidents with information based off partiality, individualized communications, private encounters, hearsay, and stories once related directly to his students that were then passed on over time to others that eventually became distorted in translation. Many of us seeking specific answers are left with questions that cannot be clearly answered.

Not all of us have not set out to become historians of Bruce Lee the person, but are mainly focused on JKD training itself. Rather than placing great focus on “what his daily diet was” or “how many miles he jogged every day” some focus more on learning the precise mechanics of well-documented techniques as they relate to actual fighting. Furthermore, a seemingly smaller percentage of serious martial artists interested in JKD training may be learning how to translate these physical and mental applications into greater accessibility beyond their own limitations. Thus, instead of mimicking Bruce Lee’s abilities to the tee, by individualizing your personal approach to JKD eventually one might discover greater potential from within. Is this the progressive path to learning to truly express oneself?

Is it not true that Bruce Lee intended to develop his individualized approach as fluid and adaptable? Did he not speak on constantly adding only useful aspects and discarding non-essentials? Didn’t he state that his JKD has a basis in simple and direct philosophy? With this in mind, why have so many JKD practitioners allowed themselves to become involved with such solidified personal politics that continue complicating its simplicity?

Arguably, outside of the tidbits Bruce Lee displayed in his films, there has never been a perfect public platform to effectively show the true beauty of Jeet Kune Do itself in action. So, in this modern era where MMA is a media King, too often JKD is being dismissed by younger generations of martial artists. Just as many young musicians have never heard of Elvis Presley; more and more young martial artists may have only a vague recognition of Bruce Lee’s image. While, new fans will certainly arise every year to discover its founder, will JKD remain relevant in the decades to follow? Perhaps it never will; especially not without greater unity amongst its ranks.

Sifu Paul S. Lewis www.ijkdc.com