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Living Legacy: The Ever-Changing World of Jeet Kune Do Instruction

Updated: May 15

Jeet Kune Do Instruction

A surefire way to start a controversy is to create a top-10 list — in any field. Similarly, if you want to start an argument in the martial arts community, try telling a Bruce Lee follower who is and isn’t qualified to teach jeet kune do. You can relax. This article doesn’t attempt to do any of that. Rather, my intent is simply to identify individuals who have contributed and are still contributing to the ever-changing world of JKD instruction.

Early Days

Lee considered himself a “scientific street fighter.” He spent countless hours researching other arts, not to replicate their moves but to discover the best ways to counter any form of aggression offered by those styles. He also understood the importance of strength and conditioning and proceeded to build his body to maximize his abilities. Most important, he tested each technique in full-contact fighting to determine which ones to keep and which ones to discard.

The end result of Lee’s research was JKD, a martial art that really isn’t a style. It’s meant to be a personal expression of the individual’s ability. The more he engaged in R&D, the more confident he became that the art of fighting was best taught one-on-one or in small groups. Although he once envisioned owning a chain of schools, he came to realize that JKD was not meant for the masses. In January 1970, he closed his schools and, in his own words, “disbanded the teaching of jeet kune do.” Regarding his reason for stopping, he said he feared that “students would take the agenda for the truth and the program as the way.”

Lee continued to move forward, however — so much so that the JKD of the 1970s didn’t mirror the JKD of 1967, when the term was coined. One of his personal students, legendary screenwriter Sterling Silliphant, recalled that Lee was constantly developing his system, “which he continued to evolve right up to the time he died.” Because Lee taught different things to different people at different times, interpretations of JKD can and do vary. Those who like the jeet kune do/kali/silat blend tend to favor the Inosanto method.

Those who prefer the strong wing chun influence often trace their lineage to the likes of Jerry Poteet and Steve Golden. Those who follow in the footsteps of Ted Wong or Joe Lewis typically have less association with wing chun and focus on the latter-stage kickboxing approach with an emphasis on testing via full-contact sparring. Now let’s look at those lineages and the people who propagate them.

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