Understanding the Philosophy of JKD

July 18th, 2017

Absorb what is useful

“The idea of absorbing what is useful does not mean choosing, collecting, compiling, accumulating or assembling techniques from different styles of martial arts thinking to yourself, “I’ll take the best from all the styles and put it together to form a new style.” To do this is to miss the point. We are not saying “collect what you like” or, put together the best,” but “ABSORB” what is “USEFUL”. It is an individual investigation. To “ABSORB” means to “get into” the technique, training method and art you are interested in until you develop a “feel” for it. Until you experience “being” in it and “becoming” it you don’t really understand it. For example, looking at the Malaysian art of Bersilat, trying out a few of their techniques, then saying to yourself, “I like their elbow technique, I think I’ll add it to my style” is a step that is self-delusional. To understand those techniques you need to go into the Malaysian art and train like they do, feel it, experience it for awhile, both in the doing and the receiving, until you’ve got a grasp on it. You must become a Bersilat man in order to truly understand Bersilat techniques, attitudes, training methods, etc.. Once you have “absorbed “; that experience and knowledge gained is yours, not just something you’ve parroted from another style. Only now can you start throwing away what doesn’t suit you personally, so you can reject what is useless.

Reject What is Useless

How do we know what is useless? What we think we see is sometimes not what we really see. For example, a karate man, kickboxer, kungfu man and Savate man were watching for the first time, a Thai boxer throw a roundhouse kick against a heavy bag. They might immediately dismiss the idea that the kick had anything to offer them because they already feel they know that kick, but do they? If they investigated further, they might be in for a rude awakening. Anyone who has spent some time training in Muay Thai would realize that although it may look like the same kick, it is in fact not the same and it takes a great deal of training to perfect and maintain it. Not being able to perform a technique successfully is another reason for rejecting what you think is useful when it might not be. We should question ourselves. Why does that technique from that style work for them? Why doesn’t it work sometimes? The important thing about rejecting what is useless is that you don’t reject anything until you know why you are rejecting it! You could be throwing away a real jewel because of your own lack of understanding. Possibly your timing or distance is off; or your coordination needs improvement. Would you reject batting in baseball just because the times you tried it you struck out? Most of the time it’s your own fault that the technique doesn’t work, so before you reject anything make sure you’ve investigated why it doesn’t work for you.

Add What is Specifically Your Own

To “add what is specifically your own” doesn’t mean to add anything for the sake of being different or to make ourselves or style unique and different from everyone else. It is understanding the principle at the core that really counts. By knowing ourselves and understanding the root motions we can then modify to our personal preferences. For example, how many of us still drive the way we were taught in driving school? It is because of our experience in driving that we can add our personal modifications or cheat (as the case may be); like driving with one hand while operating the radio buttons with the other, or turning the wheel by palming it instead of using both hands in the accepted driving school manner! How do we know ourselves? We must experience a great deal before we can decide what our personal preferences are in technique. We must look at martial arts with eyes that can see what is functional from the perspective of combative structure. Economy of motion, simplicity, directness are some indicators here. To be able to discern what is functional requires understanding the principle in practical application-action. Sparring helps in this regard and no wonder Lee referred to it as the “lifeblood” of JKD.

Man the Creating Individual is more Important than any Established Style or System

Man, the creating individual is more important than any established style or system. Does this mean you should create your own style? In order to understand this we must distinguish between style and “personal style” All boxers basically use the same methods and “style” but the personal style of Ali is quite different from Frazier. European boxers have a different movement look than American boxers. When we are creating our own style it is an investigation into what is the best way to get more power, more speed, more efficiency for ourselves as individuals. Who created style, then? An individual or group, did. So what becomes more important, the style or the individual? This last statement in this saying is about freedom, the freedom not to be bound by any method, style or philosophy that limits our personal growth outside of that entity. The key to all this boils down to the common denominator called experience. The JKD man actively seeks experience because only by experiencing can he arrive at any sort of self-knowledge, self-understanding, or self- realization. It is good to seek knowledge of techniques and training methods, but if you stop here then you become just a collector creating a mosaic of techniques and methods that do not function or fit together in a fighting structure. Knowledge of itself has no understanding. Understanding comes from individual experience with that knowledge.

I think Trevarian best sums it up by saying, “Do not fall into the error of the artisan who boasts of 20 years in experience in his craft while in fact he has had only one year of experience…….20 times.”


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