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Ted Wong Fixes the Most Common Mistakes Jeet Kune Do Students Make

Like the people who run most magazines, we at Black Belt love to look at surveys--in particular, surveys that tell us what you want to read. Back in the 1970's those surveys told us you were interested in kung fu and jeet kune do. In the '80s, it was taekwondo, ninjitsu and jeet kune do. In the '90s, it was kenpo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and jeet kune do. In the 2000s, it's been the mixed martial arts and--you guessed it--jeet kune do.
 
To serve up a cover story about the one fighting art that has remained on everyone's radar ever since Bruce Lee began showcasing it in movies, we hooked up with Ted Wong, the man many claim was Lee's No. 1 disciple. In 2006 Wong was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Man of the Year for his ongoing efforts to propagate JKD around the world--who better to turn to for technical advice on fixing the mistakes students make? Below are the 14 he encounters most often.

Wrong Origins

Not all aspects of JKD punching stem from wing chun kung fu. Wong says, "Much of the JKD being taught today is based on wing chun structures. I have a lot of respect for wing chun, but it's not JKD. In fact, the majority of Bruce Lee's notes in Tao of Jeet Kune Do are from boxing and fencing.

Wrong Balance

Lee taught that the key to balance is having your head positioned vertically over the line that connects your feet, Wong says. "If it's not and your opponent forces you to move backward, you have nowhere to go while staying balanced."
 
Even worse, you can't follow up when your balance is off. You're basically limited to your initial technique, be it a punch or a kick, because you're not in a position to throw another one with any power, he says.
 
In some instances--specifically, when your opponent is backing up after your first strike--you'll need to pursue him with follow-up shots. That's when you really have to keep your head over the line between your feet so you can quickly close the distance.

Wrong Stance

Lee developed the JKD stance for a reason: It serves a fighter well in the greatest variety of situations. All the more reason not to abandon it as you face different opponents--a grappler, for instance.
 
"If you make your stance too wide, you cannot move," Wong says. "A grappler will pick you up and throw you to the floor. If you keep the proper stance while your opponent shoots for your front leg, however, you can quickly move back and hit him."
 
Remember to keep your balance forward for maximum power, he adds.
 
To construct the right stance, imagine a line between you and your opponent. The toe of your front foot should be on that line, as should the arch of your rear foot. An isosceles triangle is formed with your lead toe at the top and your rear heel and rear toe at the bottom vertexes.
 
"If you have an open stance like a boxer, that line will point away from your opponent, and you'll lose your power structure," Wong says. "One key part of JKD is, it's not how fast you hit or how much muscle you have; it's that you have that power structure. You have to keep it intact no matter how or where you move. When you're off, you lose power and mobility."

Wrong Understanding

In JKD, you can't rely on one or two forces. You need three, Wong says. "The first is vertical. Your stance is slightly down to begin with, and then you strike as you rise. It's normally used in the uppercut."
 
"The second force is linear, which means you're moving forward. It's what powers the lead-hand strike." Obviously, footwork is important to create that forward motion.
 
"The third is rotational," Wong says. It emanates from twisting your hips and is the force that powers the hook punch and hook kick.

Wrong Distance

"Perhaps the most common mistake people make when learning JKD is [related to] distance, Wong says. "If you have the wrong distance, you cannot get your technique or combination off, and you might get hit. So it's critical to be able to judge distance."
 
The philosophy, which derives from fencing, is simple: Stay far enough out of reach to prevent your foe from touching you with a punch or kick--and from being able to lean and touch you. If he wants to make contact, he'll have to take a step. Obviously, you'll have to do the same to reach him, but because you're trained to close the gap, it's easier for you.

Wrong Timing

"Nobody throws a punch like in JKD," Wong claims. And that's why it's so hard for the average martial artist to master. He advocates memorizing a motto from fencing: Hand before foot always.
 
"You can see reference to it in the Tao," he says. "Your hand moves before your feet move. It comes from Aldo Nadi, who was a four-time Olympic medallist in fencing. It enables you to bridge the gap and land the shot."

Wrong Defense

Too many students lean away from their opponent to avoid a punch. Wong calls the remedy to this mistake "half-half sharing." Instead of merely leaning, your upper body is angled backward to cover half the distance needed for your evasive movement, and your footwork covers the other half.
 
That gives you a margin of safety, and it doesn't leave you out of range or off balance, either of which could preclude a counterattack, he says.

Wrong Flow

Another mistake beginners make is separating their forward step from their lead-hand strike--in essence, they step, plant their foot on the ground and then punch. It's way too slow. Wong says.
 
The preferred way to punch is to make sure that when you land your blow, your front foot isn't on the ground yet, he says. "When you hit, it's one, two, three. One is your fist hitting his face, two is your front foot hitting the ground and three is your rear foot hitting the ground after the step."

Wrong Power Source

The power of your punches should come from your rear leg, not from your arms. "You channel the power from your back leg through your body and into your punch," Wong says.

Wrong Angles

JKD combat isn't just a back-and-forth exchange of blows. It's two-dimensional. That second dimension comes from moving off to the side when you're confronted by an attack.
 
"Angling can put you in a safer position to count from," Wong says. "For example, at the same time you move in for a punch to counter your opponent's punch, you angle to the outside of his arm so he can't hit you with his counterattack. It's a built-in safety."

Wrong Approach

In JKD, you shouldn't just step toward your opponent and try to score with a punch, Wong says. Even if you execute the attack correctly, success is hard to come by because he can react before you land the shot.
 
The right way to enter is with a stop-kick--for example, using your lead leg to attack his lead leg or body, whether he's moving forward or not. Then you launch your punch as your front foot comes down. Make sure to angle off to the outside as you strike, he adds.

Wrong Punching

Many martial artists throw the rear hand punch while their fist is vertical, but that creates less than optimal bone alignment, Wong says. The right way according to JKD is to turn your fist so your elbow is pointing slightly up--so your pinkie knuckle is higher than your index-finger knuckle. That orientation aligns the bones in your forearm with the ones in your hands for maximum structural integrity.
 
It also raises your upper arm, which protects your chin. In contrast, if you punch with your fist vertical, your upper arm will be lower, thus exposing your chin to a counterattack.

Wrong Kicking

One of the most serious mistakes Wong has identified involves practitioners who lean backward while kicking. It's bad for many reasons, he says. First, you sacrifice power whenever you lean backward. Second, you probably won't have a chance to land more than one technique because your arms can't reach him from your compromised position. "It's a one-shot deal for you," he says.
 
Third, you might fall--more than a few fighters have taken a tumble in the ring or on the street because they're off-balance after such a technique. Fourth, if you have to struggle to avoid falling, you could very well find yourself hopping backward to regain your balance, and that's no good.
 
In lieu of leaning, you should keep your balance forward as required by the JKD stance.

Wrong Reaching

Punching is a highly effective subset of Lee's art, but it's often sabotaged when beginners lean too far forward to hit. "In JKD, we start from farther back--just like in fencing--so if all you're going to do is lean, you won't make it," Wong says. "It's too far, which is why footwork is important to cover the distance."
 
"In boxing, it all takes place within arm's reach. I touch you and you touch me. But in fencing, if I touch you and you touch me, we both get killed. It's about who can bridge the gap and get in quicker to score. JKD students think the same way."

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