There is a lot of confusion over what Jeet Kune Do actually is. Is it a martial art or is it a philosophy? Some people watch Bruce Lee’s movies and think that his martial art, Jeet Kune Do, is some type of traditional Karate, Taekwondo or Aikido. Some see Bruce Lee’s vertical punch and trapping and assume Jeet Kune Do is basically Wing Chun with kicks. Some look at his movies and believe that Jeet Kune Do is a flashy martial art with a lot of flashy high kicks, jumping kicks, and spinning kicks; however, Bruce Lee was performing spectacular movements for the camera for dramatic effect. Bruce Lee’s true style and his Jeet Kune Do was a highly practical martial art – not full of spectacle. He used boxing and Wing Chun trapping with highly effective kicks taken from many different martial arts including Thai Boxing (Muay Thai) and Savate.
Some people believe that to practice Jeet Kune Do is to practice the Jeet Kune Do that Bruce Lee taught and performed before his death. This group tends to freeze frame Jeet Kune Do at the time of Bruce Lee’s death without any evolution or change. Another group of people focus on the philosophy of JKD being a personal expression: that you should use what works for you and throw out what does not work, and that you should mix different styles. This group tends to think that you can just mix Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and you have your own personalized self-expression and Jeet Kune Do.
In my opinion, both of these groups are wrong. There is; however, one more group and a third way of looking at Jeet Kune Do that I believe is correct. It is clear to me through Bruce Lee’s writings that he would not want his students to emulate him; Bruce Lee specifically said “always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.” He believed in a living art that evolves and changes: “man, the living creature, the creating individual, is always more important than any established system or style”. He believed in taking the best of what each art has to offer and discarding the rest: “adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add specifically your own” and “use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it”.
However, you cannot just mix any two or three styles you want and call it Jeet Kune Do. All the evolution and mixing of styles should add to Jeet Kune Do, not just directly copy two or more different styles. By only copying multiple styles, you have duplicated styles and not added your own, which is a violation of Bruce Lee’s philosophy. You should add wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, etc. to the Jeet Kune Do framework and state of mind (trapping to a throw, trapping to knees and elbows, pendulum round kick to a takedown, etc.). Jeet Kune Do principles and concepts should still exist, such as concepts of high-low-high, economy of motion, and the five methods of attack (single direct attack, attack by combination, progressive indirect attack, hand immobilization attack, and attack by drawing). By adding wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or Muay Thai to Jeet Kune Do techniques and concepts is what I think Bruce Lee meant when he said “obey the principles without being bound by them”.
Jeet Kune Do is an art and a concept. An art that should evolve, change, and take from other styles. However, it should do so while staying in a Jeet Kune Do framework and utilizing Jeet Kune Do techniques and concepts. Most importantly, all the techniques used from Jeet Kune Do or ones added from any other art should work for you and be your own personal expression and form.