In the 1960’s Bruce Lee’s big break where the world would be introduced to Jeet Kune Do came by way of a Karate tournament put together by Ed Parker. Sijo (founder) Bruce Lee was invited to rattle the world, because at the time no one had ever seen mixed martial arts. At the time, styles ruled everything, you were a boxer, a wrestler, a kick boxer, a kung fu artist, a karate practitioner, but these worlds didn’t mix. Myself, growing up in the 80’s there was still as stigma that students shouldn’t cross train in methodologies, leading to a false battle of style vs. style. You can see the acknowledgement of this at the early days of the UFC with bouts built around things like “the grappler vs. Tae Kwon Do.”
Sijo Lee being a special kind of legend was ready to take on the world and wowed crowds at the Long Beach tournament in California with his blend of Wing Chun Kung Fu, Boxing, Kickboxing and Grappling. It was the early roots to JKD and it promoted the principle that students shouldn’t adhere to styles but keep what is useful for them and discard the rest. As many people that were turned off by Bruce Lee’s brash attitude and confidence it was a magnet for many others. One of those attractors would become Lee’s lifelong friend, his tour guide during his trip to California, Dan Inosanto. Going on to become a legend in his own right Inosanto would dedicate his life to the pursuit of knowledge and skill in Martial Arts, and he has succeeded. At the age of 82 he continues to train and research a variety of methods in depth, and spends countless hours a day training. It is not a stretch to say a man half his age could not keep up with Inosanto’s schedule.
At the time of their meeting, Inosanto was already a Guro (teacher) in the Filipino arts of Kali. Studying since childhood, Guro Dan was already an expert in many areas of Kali such as knife fighting, single and double stick, sword, sword and shield, boxing, and much more by 1959. As their friendship culminated Guro Dan was always at the forefront of the official JKD school in Oakland California, running it in Lee’s absence. He was also diligently working Kali and other areas into the curriculum, and after Bruce Lee’s passing, he would seek out countless mentors to define his craft. Today our JKD comes directly from Inosanto and includes the Kali curriculum along with further elements of Silat (Indonesian grappling.) People often decry Inosanto for making “changes” to JKD but as he tells it “Bruce was constantly making changes, and in fact, he bought my first Silat book as a gift and told me to study it.” They were constantly researching, even finding reel to reel footage of arts like Savate and Muay Thai that you’d struggle to find even in the 90’s or early 2000’s.
While Sigung Bruce and his protege admit that JKD is a concept, it also has a firm grasp on a fundamental curriculum and that’s where most schools miss the boat. Maybe they haven’t taken enough classes, or studied with the right mentors, or maybe they subscribe to Bruce Lee’s quote too literally and believe it to be gospel: “Using no way as a way, and having no limitations as the only limitation.” It doesn’t mean Bruce Lee and Guro Dan did a bunch of random material and self subscribed themselves masters of a fictional art form. Contrarily they are just as good at Wing Chun as dedicated practitioners, just as solid at boxing and on and on. In fact, in the old days JKD was held to the highest standards, an invitation only course at the academy, because people had to not only prove themselves of good character, but also that they could handle cross training multiple hours per week in order to absorb the information.
At River City Warrior in Tigard we pride ourselves on working close to the sources of every subject we offer. Our head coaches have aspired for over 20 years with this ambition and it’s represented currently in our JKD. Just like our students we’re a work in progress, but lucky for them, we’ve also attained the highest level of coaching. It wasn’t always the case as back in those early days I mentioned you had to sift through a lot of trash to find the diamonds in the rough. We partner with great mentors whenever we can, in JKD we work closely with Guro Chris Clarke who’s been certified by Guro Inosanto since 1983. Under his guidance our team has made several trips to Los Angeles to train at the Inosanto Academy directly. Thanks to this solid connection we’re able to pass on the information and material in JKD the way it is meant to be taught, with total authenticity. Unfortunately JKD is a dying art ironically because of it’s popularity. That wave of JKD and Bruce Lee fever brought with it all kinds of hacks that would open up an academy, put their name on Youtube and make a claim to fame. It’s no wonder that people think it doesn’t work, or that there isn’t any curriculum, that’s the tragic result of frauds in martial arts and it’s common across every style.
We urge you to check out the Jeet Kune Do at RCW so you can see it, feel it, and experience it for yourself. We’re always giving away FREE trials because we know that after you check out one class you’ll be hooked on the real deal. Thanks for reading our first post on our brand new website, and stay tuned for further videos, instructional, events and all things River City Warriors. Welcome to the Tribe!
- By Guro Joe Heller
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