Getting To The Roots of JKD

By Cass Magda
In the Tao of JKD Bruce Lee said, "I hope that martial artists are more interested in the root of martial arts and not the different decorative branches, flowers or leaves. It is futile to argue as to which single leaf, which design or branches or which attractive flower you like; when you understand the root, you understand all its blossoming."
In JKD we do not seek to accommodate more and accumulate more. That is not the goal. The goal is to become a master of the root principles behind the techniques. Someone might say that there are many styles of punching and they are all good and they all work under certain conditions, so you should learn and practice them all. But a JKD man would say that the various root principles of what punching is all about is what's important. The JKD lead punch is an interesting example of this because it does not behave like a classical boxing jab, but acts like it can't decide if it's a hook, uppercut, curved or straight punch, and just a flicker or a solid hard hit.
In JKD a punch is just a punch. Understanding the root principle with the different angles of delivery, non-telegraphic movement, changes in rhythm or timing, and differences in destructive power is where it's at. When you increase your understanding of the root, then you cease to define your techniques as separate from each other. All techniques interrelate and are seen as variations of the root principles to be used without thinking, when the moment appears.
The root principles are the basis of JKD. Mobility is one such root because you don't want to get hit! This means good footwork to keep changing the range. Another is body elusiveness when fighting at medium and close range by slipping, ducking, bobbing and weaving. The mastery of the basic tools is another root. This includes the highly developed performance of punching and kicking so there is good form for ease of movement. Proper relaxation and body mechanics is also of paramount importance.
Deception is another root principle of JKD. To become deceptive we work on non-telegraphic movement from the on-guard position. Bruce Lee said you want to be felt before you are seen. To be non-telegraphic we work on eliminating all preparatory movement such as drawing back the punch or shifting the shoulder, which are the tiny clues to what is coming. The on-guard position is a root because all attacks begin from there, and all defensive postures and moves end there. Broken rhythm is also a part of being deceptive and is one of the most important roots of JKD. Original Bruce Lee student Dan Lee says to make broken rhythm your fighting rhythm. Become broken rhythm and your opponent will never know when you strike! Each principle affects the other and all are interrelated.
Adding more and more techniques from other styles can mover the focus away from improving the root principles. Instead, the focus becomes finding more and more techniques to solve the problems: Once in awhile adding a technique or theory is OK, but more often than not, you do not have to learn another technique to solve the problem. As Bruce Lee said, "We must discover the cause of our own ignorance." Examine the root of the problem. This is not easy. We must stay open to new ideas for improvement from any source, yet not get carried away and forget the combative roots. An endless battle indeed!

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