YOU ARE NOT BRUCE LEE: The identity crises of Jeet Kune Do

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If you are a true Jeet Kune Do practitioner, you are most likely a free thinker, a cerebral person, someone who seeks truth, a passive philosopher and a person who is in constant pursuit of personal and physical growth. Well if you are that pursuer of excellence then you are also pushing boundaries. When one pushes boundaries we often put ourselves in vulnerable positions to truly experience the bottom of the empty cup, so to speak. At least that’s what everyone keeps telling themselves. But do Jeet Kune Do practitioners put those philosophical precepts to work, or are they just imitating ideas and idols from a past time?

The first issue surrounding the identity crises of JKD, is the perception of it’s founder. The problem is that people have made a deity of Bruce Lee. JKD people continually speak on Bruce as if he were Jesus Christ himself. Not in terms of being the savior of the world of course, but rather, what Bruce said or did is considered “gospel”. And, just as the religious deity figures of the world; there are people who spend time dissecting and analyzing context and content in a argumentative and philosophical frenzy, when it comes to Bruce Lee.

The first generation Bruce Lee students were the curators and everyone else is building the museum, filling it with quotes and analyzing whether the lead foot should only have 30% body weight placed on it during stance or not. Bruce Lee expressly wrote about not doing any of this. It wasn’t about him or the name, according to him. Yet here we are looking at the messenger as if he himself was the message.

I often ask my “museum” JKD friends, “what was or when do you think Bruce Lee had his greatest epiphany/discovery?”. Much like kids who are excited to know more than the smaller kids, they immediately say with confidence, “The famous fight against Won Jak man!“. This is where the true insight to move Jun Fan to JKD came from, so they tell me. Now this is where it gets fun. Bruce was able to look into his training and that actual fight and analyze where he went wrong, make corrective actions, then train it. Sounds like the free thinker who pursues excellence we talked about earlier. And we know this because he left us his notes. Now, many people choose to view those notes and writings as instructions or commandments that were written in stone, however, I prefer to view them as reflections. (Re:The reflections of Marcus Aurelius)

  1. Research your own experiences

  2. Absorb what is useful

  3. Reject what is useless

  4. Add what is specifically your own

Perfect! So that’s what Bruce did after this fight, and subsequently after serious training. And out of this 1-4 process, (because that’s what it is, a process, not a product) he was able to construct a system by which he found worked on and through a progression of processes and principles, for him.

  • He categorically prescribed 5 methods of attacking someone.(What)

  • He then determined that hitting them during their preparation to hit him was the very best time to hit them. (When)

  • He then created a curriculum around these principles; consisting of tool development, attribute development and conditioning. (How)

No big secret here. If your reading this as a JKD person you may think that perhaps I have over simplified it or somehow I have not have spoken highly enough about Bruce Lee. But nothing could be further from the truth. I am merely showing you what you don’t know inside what you already do know and now only have one question. Where is your Jeet Kune Do?

So JKD is what Bruce came up with for himself. By his own words he said “research your experience”. Yet, what I have seen for so many years is everyone cheating. Copying off of Bruce’s homework, so to speak. Instead of everyone doing their own research, they are going off of what Bruce said about his experience. Your not adding what is yours.Your only doing what he did and not what he said. No doubt the writings of Bruce are elegant and prophetic in nature, but all of his writings were meant to be the finger pointing the way and not the destination itself.

A guy by the name of Dan Inosanto understood this and used “his” own research for “his” JKD. This is why you see elements and arts of Kali, Muay Tai, Silat and Jujitsu. So, now, just as with Bruce, there are many people doing JKD under Dan Inosanto who are copying his homework and stuffing their JKD bag with another’s research.

This gives rise to the second problem, context. Up to this point you are basing your fighting system or style off of someone else’s experience. And that experience was from 50 years ago. Oh, and that person only had one actual well known fight from which he pulled his research and data from. (Linda Lee claims he was in several altercations but we don’t see any great enlightenment from those.) Everyone seems to use Bruce Lee movie scenes and recreations of what he did in those movies to assess their own JKD. So, if you look like or move like Bruce did, then that somehow meant you were good at Jeet Kune Do. Some people still walk around in clothes from China circa early 1900’s. But the reality is, even for Bruce, the context was two martial art guys fighting in the 1960’s on technical differences surrounding fighting and ego’s. Today demands that we look at the context of self-defense in today’s world to find our own JKD.

What would my life have to look like that I found myself in a stick fight with someone else with the same type of weapon? Am I at home? Do I carry double sticks around with me? Context is important. It is the exact variable that drives today’s relevance to self-defense and martial arts. What violence means to a single mother is different than a 20 year old male at college. And what violence means to father of two working the weekends as a bouncer looks different than it does to any other person walking through your door for life saving lessons. All of these people, in today’s world, would need to be taught different tools, in different situations and should look nothing like Bruce or his movies. That is if they are doing their JKD correct.

“Jeet Kune Do can be taught, but you would be losing it when you start to standardize it, because everyone is individual. what Bruce Lee did, nobody, can do.” Dan Inosanto.

Now truth be told, this is how most of us learn. We are passed down generational information and experience. It’s the experiences of my predecessors that give me a better understanding of reference/context for my own journey. So yes we all use the experiences of others when we learn. But we should never stay there. Bruce wrote extensively about the freedom of the individual and the human expressions. But wait. “How do I move forward with my own experience?”, you ask. Simple, you just need an enemy.

The biggest issue concerning this identity crisis for JKD comes from having no “other”. The enemy is your other. It is your accountability, your purpose, your compass. And it can’t be another martial artist attempting to use Bruces JKD against yours. You can’t train to beat someone doing your style! That will only cancel you out and pull you further from the classification of “reality based”. Without an enemy you are not a warrior. Martial arts is about problem solving and another martial artists isn’t going to be your problem. You must find your other. For me and my company, we use violence as our other. I have participated in and studied violence from every possible aspect/angle, and then some. And just as any mma fighter or sports team, I continually research video and strategies of my opponent/enemy. Without an “other”, you will not be able to confirm that a move works or validate your own ability. The enemy should always pull you back into the changing and challenging world of reality. Without it, you will become just another comic book martial artist, who’s comfort zone is with other artists just like you stuck in Live Action Role Playing and not reality.

I feel that many think because they haven’t gone out and gotten into bar fights or had a life of crime that they have no experience to research. Paul Vunak had once told a group of us that the Navy Seals didn’t need to go to war to know whether or not they where one of the best resources for that kind of stuff because their training methods were the closest to reality that you could get (in the context for which they were needed for). You may have to go find a guy who has been locked up. You may have to go to a criminal or mentally unstable person. And of course the regular stable of boxers and sport folks.

You have to know your enemy to portray your enemy. Have your tribe be able to simulate the same energy, tools, strategies and tactics of that of your enemy. Now you have the other. Now, you must train that same material with aliveness, adaptability and emotional content! At this point you can go back and research your experience. Maybe because you didn’t tell that person to block, (and violence never gives you a parry/block) you became unable to trap? Maybe that person didn’t pull you into his/her guard, but choose to kick you in the head. Perhaps that person didn’t have a right lead. Whatever your conclusions are and whatever your adjustments may be, they are yours! You are now doing your JKD.

You must always be able to validate, confirm and affirm that what you do will actually work! This is just good training and it is accomplished through the absence of compliance, but at the same time, is not necessarily force on force. Either way, whether or not you use wing chun or introduce firearms into your JKD training shouldn’t be because of what Bruce said, but rather your own experience. If what Bruce Lee said led you to better understand and seek out your own experiences, then i’m sure, to such a legacy any man or woman would be honored.

Letting go is hard because being vulnerable is hard because uncertainty is hard. But in order to fortify your own skill you have to stand in front of someone without any foreknowledge of their actions, skill or intent. Train for life.

In my humble opinion, if we are to honor the contributions of Bruce Lee, who was iconic in every way possible, we aught to expand on his principles and explore them to their fullest. He believed that we would be smarter for learning on our own. That we would become a more developed individual and therefore a more conscious society if we had better knowledge of the processes that make us great and undertake them, with courage and in spite of fear. It is always easy to copy someone else and most of the times its needed as a reference. But only do it until it frees you! Golden chains are chains none the less. Your relationship with the other represents your relationship with your own limitations. Now, strive to express yourself and not be a copy.

Forward,

Michael VanBeek

Submission and Violence: Parting ways


When I was first exposed to Jujitsu (Gracie Jujitsu as it was known in the early 90’s) I was blown away, just like every other martial artist. I was fascinated by the jujitsu practitioners ability to avoid being hit while getting the opponent to “Say Uncle”. The manner in which they were able to contort themselves into positions of dominance was unlike anything else we had seen in the arts. But as a kid growing up with mental, physical and social disadvantages, I was not unfamiliar with being placed on my back on a weekly basis.

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If you ask anyone with any general knowledge of mixed martial arts, they will all tell you the same thing, you must have some knowledge of BJJ or wrestling. The common knowledge is that you can’t expect to win any fight without that specific ground fighting chink in your armor, and you can’t bypass it. And they may be right. And they may be very wrong! But why are they wrong? What is the problem? Why couldn’t BJJ, the fastest growing fighting method in decades win so convincingly? Why isn’t it the “one size fits all” answer to self-defense?

Violence, that’s why?

Violence is offensive! There is a linebacker like pressure driven by perpetual malice and a foreknowledge of the violent act. Since my childhood days of blacktop assaults on the playground to being kicked in the head during and assault as an adult, I have never seen a violent attacker use the tools of BJJ or submission fighting. Violence isn’t going to pull you into it’s guard! Violence isn’t going to attempt side control! Violence isn’t going for a heel hook! And while sitting on someones chest punching them in the face may be the the victims mental picture of victory, it is not the intention of violence.

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Every fighting/self-defense/martial art system is created to beat it’s own system. Every boxer learns how to beat another boxer, every wrestler learns how to beat a wrestler, every Jeet Kune Do, every Wing Chun, every Judo person and you get the point. The speculation is that if you are untrained in any of those arts then you will be beaten immediately. This is also not true. The new thing for instructors to say is that they have modified their BJJ for the “street”. This is done by adding an “illegal”move into the submission game, such as biting or adding strikes into the BJJ curriculum. But again there is a very real problem with this approach; violence.

Mass attack, weapons, size disparity and environmental factors are all characteristics displayed within the framework of violence. Therefore, you can’t attack someone with a submission based art, have them insert a bite or a strike and say you have solved the riddle. If violence isn’t going to use a submission frame work to attack you, then how are you solving that problem? You will have the highest chance of beating violence with a submission based system if; an inferior person has turned to a life of crime and is now attempting to rob you, rape you, kidnap your child, take your vehicle and do so while being alone, and with no weapons.

The first time I found myself fighting from my back, the other two kids kept kicking me saying, “get up…get up”. Another time, a skinny fellow had just hit me from behind and had acquired a rather large blunt weapon which he used rather feverishly on my torso. Yet when I fought a fine gentleman from the Carlson Gracie camp in Chicago, during a sanctioned sport/cage match, I felt comfortable as he took me down and fell nicely into my guard. He stayed in my guard while we both exchanged punches until the end of the round. Then the next round he took me down and the same happened. And so it went for the entire fight. And yet another time, I remember being literally circled by a group of men and immediately prayed that it didn’t go to the ground.

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Many say that submission methods are effective in reality based situations, were the variables are not fixed. And yes, there are cases where this is true; say at a Fraternity party, back yard BBQ disagreement or in a upscale bar fight. However, these types of fights are nothing more than altercations and deserve almost zero credit for being an appropriate reference for training reality based self-protection. Two old friends wrestling in a back yard over a girl is not violence. Some 23 year old drunk idiot attempting to fight a seasoned bouncer at closing time is not violence.

I was once coaching a group of twenty something lads who had come up watching the UFC and the sort, but who had also seen the rougher side of the tracks. When it came time for the ground portion of the seminar, I laid on my back and told one of the guys who was standing about 3 feet away, “OK lets go, come get me!”. As he got close to me he began to hesitate and make indecisive moves. Seeing his frustration I asked, “whats wrong?”. He said, “what do you want me to do? Are we doing submission? Are we wrestling? Or can I just hit you?”. “Yes!” I said loudly, capturing everyone’s attention, “the answer to his question is what should determine the context of your training!”. I followed up with, “why are you here? “Is it because you hope to be the next mma champ?” “Is it just for fitness and activity?” “Or are you here to learn how to save your life from the realities of violence?”

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Here is a visualization exercise. Imagine you are on vacation. You pull into a gas station and begin to pump your gas. Your wife and child get out and begin to walk in. As your telling them to grab you a large…BAM, you just got hit. You fall to your side between the pump and your car. The person who hit you is now standing over you hitting you and kicking you. The hose from the pump is laying on you leaking gas. As you begin to defend yourself by covering, you glance over to see your wife and child panicking. You then see another assailant begin to chase them and you can vaguely see an object sticking out of his back pocket…..STOP. Now ask yourself how to you want to train? Does your training tell you to attempt and arm bar or a choke? Is there room for a sweep? How long will that take? Does your training tell you to grab the gas hose and spray the assailant with gas? Does your training tell you to cover, draw your blade, pull his head down as you drive your blade under his chin?

You arrive home early to surprise your wife. You hear her screaming. You panic and run full speed into the house to find a man twice your size choking the life out of your wife while he is rapping her. You run at him and….STOP. Do you go for a heel hook? What does your training tell you to do.

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For years people have gotten rather upset with me for bringing out these types of exercises because they bring up emotions and make us look at things that are better left unsaid or in the realm of ignorant bliss. Or, I am immediately challenge by a whole stable of gorilla jits practitioners. But if you are doing martial arts/self-defense for the sake of one day using it to possibly save your life, you should take a good long look at what your training is tell you.

It is the principles that separate the two. For one type dominance is determined by position (or transitional dominance), yet for others, dominance is determined by impact. One may may see a position as primary for a submission, where another may see accessibility of weapons as the principle that is primary and would seek to avoid any position that would restrict access to weaponry. One principle may hold up wonderfully against one opponent but work against you if there is a possibility for multiple attackers. The golden ticket is found in the relationship. One is an opponent and the other an attacker. Both are adversarial in nature but the different relationship brings different principles to priority.

Brazilian Jujitsu and submission style fighting is brilliant and continues to be one of the best ways of conditioning, mental toughness and it allows you to train and never suffer from the damage done through impact training. I am not saying that it isn’t useful. As a matter of fact it is the most useful and productive way to win just about any match. And, on the other side, I have meet entire training groups who wrongly think they are just going to access their blade and cut the BJJ black belt while being choked out. The rigid rod of reality hits them just as hard. But we must always understand, self-protection/self-defense is an arena where context determines content. Train as you live and live as your train.

Onward

3 reasons people risk their lives. Which one is yours?

People purchase car insurance, health insurance and other insurance policies that do absolutely nothing to prevent that actual event from occurring. Car insurance doesn’t prevent the accident and health insurance doesn’t prevent the injury. So why wouldn’t people actually invest in something that could prevent actual injury or death? I have forever pondered why people don’t actively engage in their own self-protection and that of their family. I am aware, that being in the business of teaching self-protection, I may appear to have a bit of a bias, but come on! You would have to maintain an actual clinical deficiency to not be aware of the existence of violence in this or any society. Rape, home invasions, murder, beatings, domestic violence, gang violence, car jacking, kidnapping, molestation, robbery, trafficking and the list goes on and on and on and on. So why do so many continue to bury their head in the sand?

In my 30 plus years of experience I have come to some conclusions about this. “I don’t have the money for that right now.” Or, “Well, we just don’t have the time.” These are the normal brush offs we get in the industry. But that is just another way of saying it’s not a priority. So lets look a little closer at a few of the more honest reasons people fail to take stock in their own protection, essentially putting their lives at risk.

The first is that the majority of people feel exclusionary towards violence. For these people, geography and status keep them from being in the path of violence. For these people violence has always been packaged as a minority figure; a stranger who prowls on the weak and helpless. This figure is highlighted in news feeds and discussed second hand (so to speak), so there is no immediate threat. This group also assumes that the extra $20,000 they spent to live in an area with historically “low crime”, granted them immunity from violence. This group doesn’t feel that the creeper neighbor is anything to worry about. Or, they feel that pedophilia is somehow restricted to impoverished areas. They have not yet grasped the reality that their perfect little town is the best and most ripe garden for the pickings of human trafficking. This group is the same group that doesn’t see violence as anything other than the outwardly appearing thug! They don’t see the man in the suit using a “sales pitch” to gain trust or entry into the home. Or the friendly neighbor that has been getting closer and closer to gaining the trust of their daughter. This group is the perfect example of the biggest group of people with their “heads in the sand”, or in denial. This mindset/thinking is held by so many in suburban America. If you fall into this group ask yourself this; do people who live in places where there isn’t cold weather still get colds? Let that sink in for a moment, that’s the same logic.

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Another reason for peoples inactive nature towards their self-protection is image. Now I don’t hate golf, but I am the first to admit that I suck at it! I suck at working on cars, I suck at a lot of things. But i’m not concerned how sucking at those things make me look to others. And if you asked, most are honest and would say that there are things they suck at as well. This is of course what every experience is like when you first start it. The learning curve becomes harder to deal with as an adult, but most expect it. Yet when it comes to fighting or self-defense, very few people (men for the most part) want to go through that period of sucking. I have met so many that would rather look good loosing than look bad learning. Nobody wants to go through the learning curve. They just want to show up one day looking good and being immediately coordinated. The truth is, that if your going to be good at anything you will have to get over the initial period were that voice that says, “I know I look stupid”, “I feel so ridiculous”. The more you do this the more you realize that the voice is an illusion. Imagine your child learning to walk. He/she gets up and takes their first step, then while going to make the second step the child falls. Now imagine looking at your child and being able to hear their thoughts. “Man I bet the kid across the street is doing way better than I am, I feel so stupid!” “I can’t believe I just blew it, everyone is still looking at me… I am so done with this walking thing, who needs it anyway?” “Ill just spend the rest of my life in this walker thing.” Yep , if you could hear your internal voice, that is how ridiculous you would sound.

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Finally, the comfort zone. An embedded part of training Counter Violence is being comfortable being uncomfortable. Yet the routines of work, home, kids, sleep, repeat keep most stuck. We then tell ourselves that the sacrifice we are making for our kids…blah blah blah. The ego then kicks in and begins to tell us how such violent things could never happen to us and so on and so forth. Then its our favorite TV shows and routines that keep us in a pattern, and these patterns are generally not productive towards anything healthy. The comfort zone tells you that you have worked all day and deserve rest. Social media has become such a huge issue and contributes to the prison of comfort so much that we have only begun to uncover its effect. We do know that the time it takes to learn self-protection is just a fraction of the time most people spend on social media. Life begins to feel dull. People stuck in this zone begin to post spiritual memes, talk to friends about how they are going to get in shape with one another. They tell themselves that as soon as they get into shape they are going to join your self-protection course. (Let that sink in for a moment.) They make all of these grandiose plans to start feeling alive and yet do nothing and blame their schedule or somethings else. But talking about it and making broken plans every 6 months scratches some itch that makes them feel as though they are trying. Truth be told, most productive people have a self-storage unit filled to the top with excuses of why I shouldn’t do the things that are best for me and my family, yet I do them in spite of those excuses. The comfort zone is a prison and one needs to be broken out of it from the outside. Self-protection usually breaks this prison as a result of something tragic and personal happening to close friends or family. Or if a doctor says if you don’t get off your ass and exercise your children will find you in a pool of your own vomit. Much like those who wait until their house is in ashes before they get a fire extinguisher. Your comfort zone will be the end of you.

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There are a couple of other very serious reasons that fall square on the shoulders of the self-defense industry as a whole, but I will address in our next blog. Until then, ask yourself which one of these is your reason for risking your safety and the safety of your family.

Onward,

Michael VanBeek

Guns / self-protection

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There has never been more of a hotter topic than that of guns and gun control. I used to get a ton of questions regarding the usage of firearms within the realm of self-protection. But because of the political polarization of guns, over time, it became more of a political and less of a self-protection question. The political question is, would there be less murders if there were less guns? That is not a question we can answer. There are plenty of experts that get paid a ton of money to argue over the validity of those types of statements and claims, and at the end of the day an educated guess is still speculation.

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The 2nd amendment to the constitution guarantees the right of self-protection, specifically a firearm for the purpose of self-protection; including but not limited to, being able to remove tyrannical governments (This amendment works in concert with the 4th amendment). The first knee jerk response is usually, "come on, come back to the real world; our government isn't going to turn against it's own people!" I hear this and I immediately look at the testimonies of refugees from Syria, China, North Korea, Africa etc. How much of that treatment of those civilians started with the taking away a peoples right to self-protection. And if they had the ability to protect themselves would we see the humanitarian crisis in those countries that we see today? Did it start with a Government manipulating is own people to turn in their own guns or to turn against the ones that have them? Again, we can leave that up to speculation. But knowing that it is the natural course of power to corrupt ultimately, the 2nd amendment was installed as an accountability towards the governing body.

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The firearm and it's relevance for self-protection is something that is very clear and logical. Violence uses a system of attack that creates a negative position on the power curve for the victim (meaning the attacker is doing all the damage). The gun or firearm is a weapon. A weapon acts as a force multiplier in any violent engagement. The victim will remain the victim until he or she secures the superior position on the power cure. Logic then dictates that the victim needs a force multiplier to go from a negative position to a positive position on the power curve to survive this attack. The most reliable way would be to use a weapon as your force multiplier. It is possible to actually become a force multiplier in and of yourself, however it takes years to truly weaponize yourself (just your body). Therefore, one would use a force multiplier in form of a weapon. What that weapon is is a variable, not an ingredient. 

The key to all self-protection starts with understanding the threat disparity contained within the fabric of violence makes violence a-symmetrical. It is this a-symmetrical component of violence that creates the dynamic of attacker and victim. There are often times when a knife would be a better more attainable option for a self-protection weapon. There are other times a firearm is what is needed to stop the deaths of you and yours. One of those other times is if the attacker has a firearm to begin with. By being bigger and stronger, having more people, ambush style attack and the use of weapons is how violence creates dominance and threat disparity. It's what we call "Force Resistance". 

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Everything we know about violence tells us one thing. If you don't want to be a victim, weaponize yourself. Now what weapon you use is up to you, your state laws and a hand full of tactical principles. When looking at how to stop an attacker with weapons, specifically a gun, the principle shouldn't change because its a single shooting or a mass shooting; maintain equal or superior weaponry and the ability to use it. This is the physics of  countering violence. The bad guy, his intentions and the victims; those are the ingredients that need to be effected to foil the violent act. The means or weaponry is a variable and changing a variable doesn't effect the bad guy, his intentions or the fact that there will be victims.

I wish I could make it so no emotionally or psychologically displaced person could have access to weaponry of any type, especially a gun. However, if you are a well adjusted human being that is even somewhat cerebral and have a moral compass, you should obtain weaponry if you need to protect more than just yourself, and yes a gun is a good option for home invasion. It is both my  personal and professional opinion that anyone who owns a firearm should be extensively trained in safety, shooting, tactical acquisition, yearly check ups and maintain the ability of in-fight weapon access.

If you are concerned with being a victim of a shooting, a stabbing or any  other type of violent encounter then you should train! Now ask yourself this question, if while your mother, daughter or sister was being attacked, rapped and beaten, she had access to a gun, would you or would you not want her to use it?

 

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