Fencing and Jeet Kune Do
A Commentary by Sifu Sidney G. Martin
June 23, 1998

Sifu Sidney G. Martin is a free-lance writer, a Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do enthusiast and a martial artist of over 24 years experience. He is a direct student of Grandmaster Philip T. Holder of the North American Wing Chun Association. He is based in Ceiba, Puerto Rico.

You may contact him by e-mail at: nawca-pr@navybase.net

"Jeet Kune Do favors formlessness so that it can assume all forms and since Jeet Kune Do has no style, it can fit in with all styles. As a result, Jeet Kune Do utilizes all ways and is bound by none and, likewise, uses any techniques or means which serve its end.--The Tao of Jeet Kune Do - Bruce Lee

His name was Jun Fan, but many of us knew of the man as the Legendary Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee started his Wing Chun training for the purpose of self-defense at the age of 13. Approximately 2 to 3 years later he started his studies in the art of fencing. Bruce Lee's kickboxing phase began in 1965. Prior to that time, he was Jun Fan/Wing Chun oriented. The arts influencing the kickboxing phase included, but were not limited to,Western Boxing, Thai boxing, Savate, Northern and Southern Gung-Fu Kicking, Sikaran, and modified Wing Chun. It is undeniable when I say that Bruce Lee has set the standard by which many other martial artists have been judged. I am sure that his memory and art will live forever.

I have come to realize that there are three sides to Jeet Kune Do (JKD). One of these sides is physiological, another side is mental and the latter is spiritual. Come to understand these aspects and the JKD mentality can be realized.


"The consciousness of 'self' is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action." -- The Tao of Jeet Kune Do - Bruce Lee

Commentary -

Once any athlete ( be it martial artist or fencer) can come to understand the true nature of this mentality, not observing your own movements during action could be more of a natural functioning of the mind. To force yourself to think, "I shall strike like a cobra," or "I'm going to prance like a tiger," would only constrict the flow and coherency of the conscious mind. This goes back to what Bruce Lee said about the consciousness of the 'self' being the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action. This would be no different from mentally observing one's self in a bout and not being in the present moment of the situation. It is apparent that Bruce Lee realized this through his studies in the philosophies of Zen, Confucius, Spinoza, Krishnamurti and others.

"Study of the 'Self' is the practice of fixing the conscious awareness on the 'Self'- with or without the eyes being closed, in or out of dynamic activity." -- Enlightenment - MSI

In Wing Chun, there is a principle that states do not use force against force. When applying this principle to meditation this is perfect. However, when referring this same principle to combat, I would like to modify this to say, "Do not use inappropriate force against force". It is my opinion that this can be considered a Jeet Kune Do mentality since one of the many objectives of JKD is to liberate the practitioner from conformity. Elimination of unnecessarily set boundaries and limitations becomes a by-product once you become consciously aware of the 'Self'- with or without the eyes being closed, in or out of action.


Bruce Lee applied many principles of fencing to unarmed combat, such as the "Stop-thrust" (which Bruce called the "Stop-Kick"). Stop-hitting and Stop-kicking provided the aspect of "intercepting" in "The way of the intercepting fist" or Jeet Kune Do.


"The success of a movement, defensive or offensive depends on whether we perform it at the right time or not. We must surprise our opponent and catch the moment of his helplessness." -- The Tao of Jeet Kune Do - Bruce Lee

Commentary -

I believe this principle can be applied to any sport. However, when referencing fencing and Wing Chun Kung-Fu, this is paramount. Fencers should be able to relate to this principle easily. As a fencer, you should be able to come up with training drills that will induce this combat principle so that it becomes more of a combat skill enhancing aid rather than the skill of the "chosen few" super athletes. In Wing Chun, one of the many skill enhancing drills we have is called Chi Sao. Chi Sao (Clinging Hands) is a drill used to enhance sensitivity by touch and close range usage of peripheral vision. The idea is not to force your opponent into a trap or a position of helplessness but to allow your opponent to move him/herself into his or her own traps (positions of helplessness). Thus, he or she gets trapped and hit (or touched). It is the endeavor for the Wing Chun practitioner to make this principle second nature in combat.


"A stop-hit is more often useful and successful against attacks that begin with a step forward where the margin of time allowing for success is greater than against attacks not preceded by a step. We can therefore say that generally the stop-hit is the stroke chosen to deal with the stepping preparation." -- The Tao of Jeet Kune Do - Bruce Lee

Commentary -

In relation to fencing, this principle sounds much like the 'Stop Thrust' technique. "Having no way as a way and having no limitation as a limitation". This phrase surrounds the Jeet Kune Do Yin and Yang symbol. If we are to hold true to this mentality, we can take the stop-hit principle and turn it into a concept. This will allow the practitioner to utilize this concept in any given situation; it becomes practical to use it in and not just a certain way that a particular system may dictate. We should be careful not to become 'bound' by any one 'way' of using this principle. Conformity of a certain usage of a principle can limit its usefulness in combat.

"Essentially, a stop-hit arrests the opponent in the development of his attack. It can be direct or indirect. It may be used as he steps forward with a kick or punch, when he is pre-occupied with feinting, or between two moves of a complicated combination." -- The Tao of Jeet Kune Do - Bruce Lee

Commentary -

In Wing Chun, there are principles such as interception, redirection, and deflection just to name a few. As mentioned before, the Chi Sao drill can help you to develop the sense to detect situations where you can execute your stop-hit. If we continue to think of the stop-hit as a concept, we can use it as an interception of incoming attacks as well as intercepting your opponent's intention to attack or even allow your opponent a false sense of control of the situation and then trap and immobilize him. I sometimes call this a destruction of intent (on your opponent's part that is). In any case, you can see that we can use this concept not only defensively but offensively as well.


"Counter-time is the strategy by which an opponent is induced or provoked to attack in tempo, with the object of counter-timing or alternatively taking possession of the opposing hand or detaching it and executing a subsequent attack or riposte. It lies not so much in drawing the stop-hit as in correctly timing the parry which deflects it. The speed of the opponent's reactions will have to be found and his cadence judged." -- The Tao of Jeet Kune Do - Bruce Lee

Commentary -

Counter-time, when applied to empty hand combat, would take precise timing, accuracy and above all, a vast amount of combat experience. Learning to judge proper cadence and the speed of your opponent's actions has a lot to do with how the practitioner practices his/her drills. Depending on how accurate the drill is constructed and practiced would determine how accurately the practitioner can judge proper cadence and speed of his/her opponent.

I will mention one type of training method one should avoid. In my opinion, I believe there is such a thing as an inferior or a superior training habit. If we train a certain way and this way induces undesirable combat habits, then all other aspects of your fighting mentality can conform to this way as well. For example: It would not be a good idea to tell your partner to throw a reverse punch and then your partner is still holding that same arm up in the air and waiting for you to finish your eight bone crushing moves. This is not realistic and therefore is considered an inferior training habit.

"Distance must be judged correctly to minimize the danger of being hit while within reach of the opponent in order to land the final movement of the counter-time sequence (the reposte)." -- The Tao of Jeet Kune Do - Bruce Lee

Commentary -

In the Ying Gi Ga method of Wing Chun, there are many distance drills, which force the practitioner to become fully aware of proper distancing at all times. Proper distance involves knowing when you are or are not within striking range of the lead hand or foot. One way to make sure that these drills will work is to understand completely the 'true' purpose of the drill in the first place. Be careful not to perform unrealistic transitions from one point to another.

Proper kinetics and body mechanics are very important in practice. It is one thing to be able to perform your defensive and or offensive moves in slow motion while the kinetics and body mechanics may be incorrect and still get away with it. However, if performed at full-speed and full power those same moves may feel uncomfortable to you and perhaps will restrain your movements, which may render your techniques useless in combat.

In fencing, there is a principle called absence of blade. I believe that this principle can be applied to any martial system once you have understood how it is to be applied. In Wing Chun, this principle is induced continuously during Chi Sao practice. I believe Bruce Lee called it "absence of hand". If we take this a little further we can apply this concept to the absence of any weapon of the body (i.e. hands, forearms, elbows, the head, knees, shins, feet, etc).

When in Chi Sao, the practitioners will try to determine his/her opponent's intentions by touch. The idea is to catch your Chi Sao partner off guard making an error in movement. You can respond to the error by hitting or trapping and hitting. This drill is not another type of fighting. It is simply a drill used to enhance your contact reflexes. Factors involved in this drill include, but are not limited to; the amount of offensive force applied, direction, pushing, pulling, angles, speed, absence of the hands, wrists, forearms, or elbows, leverage, usage of the center and central line, and the radial axis area, etc. So you can understand how the practice of Chi Sao can help anyone to understand how to respond to the absence of hand(blade). Imagine what this drill can do for a fencer!

"Unless there is a tactical reason for acting otherwise, gaining and breaking ground is executed by means of small and rapid steps. A correct distribution of weight on both legs will make for perfect balance, enabling the fighter to get off the mark quickly and easily whenever the measure is right for attacks." -- The Tao of Jeet Kune Do - Bruce Lee

Commentary -

I believe this to be a fundamental principle in the art of fencing. However, in most other forms of combat, the method of footwork may be different. The differences exist simply in order to accommodate the type of fighting art being practiced. Bruce Lee believed that where there were superior forms of footwork there were also inferior forms of footwork to avoid practicing. In knowing this, it is obvious that the fighter should study and come to understand the science of footwork so he/she can accurately choose the method of footwork that will best suite him/her.

Commentary -

One last JKD principle I wanted to mention is that the intention of the JKD practitioner is to understand and get to the root or source of the problem and then deal with it from there. This is, if not the best, one of the best combat mentalities any fencer, Wing Chun fighter, Boxer, grappler, etc., could take with him/her onto the mat, on the strip, in the field, in any combat situation.

"Clear perception includes direct and immediate experience. It implies that the windows of the senses have been cleansed, that previous experience and belief are not coloring the reality seen as it is Now." -- Enlightenment - MSI

Concerning ascension (a special form of meditation), the last quote made by MSI, the author of the book Enlightenment, goes much deeper than it appears. But I will give a very brief explanation. It is a by-product of how the mind functions when you ascend (meditate) repetitively and for a period of time. However, when applied to an athlete's frame of mind, if you could go into confrontation with a clear perception and the windows of your senses have been cleansed, and previous experiences and beliefs are not coloring the reality seen as it is Now, perhaps half the battle could already be won!

In Closing -

"The truth in combat is different for each individual in this style. Research your own experience, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is specifically your own". -- Bruce Lee

"It's better to be the one wave in a pond that has no circumference than it is to be the small rock that caused that wave. For sure the rock will hit bottom." -- Sifu Sidney G. Martin

Editor's note: If you are interested in finding out more about Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do, we suggest you browse the net. One very good site we found was located at: http://members.aol.com/jeetkunedo/index.html

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