Are you wondering what Bruce Lee’s martial art style is?
In this article, we’ll examine Bruce Lee’s martial art style, the martial arts Bruce Lee knew and used, and some of the techniques he used and made famous.
What Is Bruce Lee’s Martial Art Style?
Bruce Lee’s martial art style is jeet kune do (JKD), which he founded and coined in 1967. Jeet kune do is a philosophy rather than a martial art, which promotes using the best fighting styles, techniques, and lessons from all martial arts for real-life self-defense situations (combat realism).
It’s about not limiting oneself to the confines of a single martial art, nor the rules or regulations many sports-based martial arts prohibit a martial artist from doing.
And while Bruce Lee adopted various techniques from many martial arts, Bruce Lee’s main martial art style was that of a wing chun practitioner as he felt it was most effective.
Wing chun focuses on self-defense by using quick striking and close-distance techniques in order to end fights as quickly and efficiently as possible – which can be seen in the majority of his movies.
Jeet kune do is credited with paving the way for modern MMA and was described by Bruce Lee as ‘casting off what is useless’ (complicated techniques) and having 3 main principles. They are:
JKD emphasizes simplicity in fighting by using whatever works to end a fight as quickly and efficiently as possible – with the least amount of complicated thinking. Its focus is on delivering speedy, powerful, and simple strikes and reducing the number of techniques used.
JKD promotes fighting techniques that come naturally, as a way to be simple and direct. The most essential technique in JKD is the jab as it can be thrown from various angles and levels, and it’s the quickest, simplest, most direct, and most accurate strike.
JKD translated from Cantonese means ‘the way of the intercepting fist’. The idea here is the best defense is offense and fighters should intercept and counter rather than block because intercepting is proactive and direct while blocking is reactive and defensive.
In terms of defensive techniques, JKD promotes stop hits, which refers to attacking an opponent during their attack preparation (intercept), simultaneous parrying and punching to maximize energy output and reduce the time taken, and low kicks directed to an opponent’s knees, thighs, shins, and stomach as they’re quick and hard to defend (reducing time taken).
Freedom comes in the form of using what works best for each individual in each situation. JKD promotes fighting fluidity and adaptability to changing combat situations, which is where the “be like water” Bruce Lee quote comes from.
JKD also promotes freedom from rigidity and telegraphed techniques. The idea is for the arms and body to be kept loose in order to hide striking techniques and reduce the time an opponent has to react, intercept, or block.
While Bruce Lee’s martial art style of jeet kune do promotes various techniques, its main purpose was to teach each person to keep their fighting simple, direct, and free when in self-defense situations, in order to survive an attack.
This means that while following the guiding principles, each person must use what works for them, which is different for each situation. As Bruce Lee once said, “Learn the way, then find your own way”.
So, while we know what Bruce Lee’s martial art style was, what martial arts did Bruce Lee know and apply jeet kune do to?
What Martial Arts Did Bruce Lee Know and Use?
While Bruce Lee knew and trained in several martial arts, Bruce Lee was primarily a wing chun practitioner. However, he applied his philosophy of jeet kune do to all of his martial arts training and took only what he deemed useful.
1. Tai Chi
Tai chi was the first martial art Bruce Lee was exposed to. His father Lee Hoi-chuen was a tai chi practitioner who taught Lee the ropes and took him to tai chi classes aged 7.
Tai chi is a Chinese martial art known for slow-motion techniques and is mostly trained for health benefits and as a meditation rather than self-defense.
When Bruce Lee became a young adult he considered tai chi useless and didn’t see how it could be used in self-defense, so he never used it.
2. Wing Chun
Wing chun is a Chinese striking martial art derived from southern kung fu and focused on self-defense and close-distance fighting.
As a lot of wing chun techniques are concept-based, Bruce Lee applied his philosophy of jeet kune do and learned and used only the moves he deemed useful.
Wing chun influenced Bruce Lee’s martial art style the most as he adopted its focus on speed and timing of striking and having quick reflexes. He also adopted wing chun’s teachings of redirecting an opponent’s attack and using techniques to knock them off-balance.
Bruce Lee was one of only 6 students to be taught by the grandmaster of wing chun, Ip Man, and took private lessons with him and one of his other top students, Wong Shun Leung.
They both invested in Bruce Lee because they could see his passion for wing chun and also wanted to stop him from street fighting.
While on his wing chun journey, Bruce Lee also started training in boxing with his high school sports teacher. Shortly after, Bruce Lee won a Hong Kong boxing tournament by beating the three-year-long champion.
This marked the one and only competitive boxing match Bruce Lee had, and he soon moved on to learning other martial arts.
However, Bruce Lee was well known to study the best boxers of his generation, such as Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, and more.
He studied their fights to understand and adopt their movements and stances, which he would later blend into his own martial arts style of jeet kune do.
Bruce Lee’s taekwondo training started in 1964 after meeting Jhoon Goo Rhee, a South Korean known as the ‘Father of American Taekwondo’ for introducing it in America in the 1950s.
Taekwondo is known for its powerful, flashy, and speedy kicking techniques, which Bruce Lee had a fascination with instantly.
Via sparring, Jhoon Goo Rhee taught Bruce Lee taekwondo techniques such as the roundhouse, spinning, hook, and back kicks, along with Bruce’s favorite move, the sidekick.
Jhoon Goo Rhee also taught Bruce Lee the AccuPunch, a punch known for its speed, difficulty blocking, and non-telegraphic (no giveaway).
5. Judo / Wrestling
Bruce Lee’s first introduction to judo and wrestling was with Gene LeBell when filming The Green Hornet in 1966. Gene LeBell was a champion judo and wrestling competitor who taught Bruce Lee both martial arts in return for striking training.
While learning, Bruce Lee thought judo was ineffective at getting a hold of an opponent in order to successfully use its techniques such as throws and sweeps, which is why he learned wrestling alongside it.
Combining the two, Bruce Lee eventually appreciated how judo throws, chokes, and locks could work in self-defense situations where two fighters engage in standing and ground grappling.
However, Bruce Lee believed the best form of self-defense was to strike in order to avoid grappling and ground fighting.
Bruce Lee went on to also train judo with Wally Jay, a jiu-jitsu and judo innovator, as well as various judo champions and experts such as Jesse Glover, Fred Sato, and Taky Kimura.
6. Kali (Escrima)
The first and only weapon-based martial art Bruce Lee learned was kali (escrima). Kali is the Philippines’ national martial art, focused on stick fighting but also teaching knives, bladed weapons, and some open-hand techniques.
Bruce Lee learned kali from one of his long-time friends and training partners, Dan Inosanto.
Not only Kali, but Dan Inosanto also taught Bruce Lee how to use nunchaku (nunchucks), which he later used in many of his most iconic movies such as Enter the Dragon, Fist of Fury, and Game of Death.
Bruce Lee’s brother, Peter Lee, was a fencing champion in epee and foil, and he taught Bruce how to fence. And while Bruce Lee never engaged deeply in learning how to fence, he applied many fencing techniques and styles to his fighting style of jeet kune do.
The fast-paced attacks, movements, footwork, stances, and sharp focus required in order to evade an opponent’s attack and strike them first are all things Bruce Lee adopted from fencing.
What Are Some Bruce Lee Moves/Techniques?
As jeet kune do was a philosophy for self-defense situations, here are some of the best Bruce Lee moves and techniques he used most and was known for.
1. Lop Sao – a wing chun trapping technique in which the opponent’s hand is pulled down to prevent him from striking and to create an opening to strike them with a back fist.
The idea behind Lop Sao is ‘the way of the intercepting fist’ in order to turn a fight from defensive to offensive in one swift motion.
2. Stamp kick – very similar to the modern oblique kicks used in MMA, the stamp-kick uses the bottom of the foot to stamp downward diagonally at a 45-degree angle to an opponent’s thigh, knee, or foot. The stamp kick can also be used against an opponent on the floor.
3. Sidekick – the taekwondo step-in sidekick is an iconic Bruce Lee move and one of the most powerful kicks. Stepping into it and adding momentum and body weight make the step-in sidekick powerful, direct, simple, and fast.
4. Scissor kick sweep – jump into an opponent with the lead leg going across the front and the rear leg going behind their back. The front leg pushes and the back leg sweeps in a scissor motion to sweep an opponent to the floor.
A more complicated technique, Bruce Lee made it work in certain situations because of how light he was and how fast he could execute it.
5. 1-inch punch – Bruce Lee’s most famous technique, the 1-inch punch is deceptive as the user can transfer their whole body weight into the punch with correct footing and technique. It represents simplicity, directness, and freedom.
6. Finger jab to the eye – another great Bruce Lee move for self-defense, it’s fast, direct, and very effective at the start of combinations.
The fingers should be tensed and braced and used in a jabbing and thrusting motion. This is only effective in self-defense as it’s dangerous and illegal in the UFC and MMA as a whole.
7. Straight groin kick – lift the knee up and flick the foot at the opponent’s groin. Great as a first strike before a combination of punches as it gets the opponent leaning forward and down into the close-distance danger zone.
Was Bruce Lee a Black Belt?
Bruce Lee wasn’t a black belt in any martial art. In fact, he never had a belt from any of the martial arts he studied and incorporated into his martial art style.
The reasons Bruce Lee never attained a black belt are twofold. First, Bruce Lee’s primary martial art of wing chun has never had a belt system.
Second, expressed in his philosophy of jeet kune do, Bruce Lee was against the rigidity of systems and having to learn the useless techniques found in most martial arts.
Bruce Lee only ever learned what he wanted and needed from each martial art, before moving on to another martial art to do the same and become more well-rounded.
The Bottom Line
So, ‘what is Bruce Lee’s martial art style?’
Bruce Lee’s martial art style of jeet kune do meant he used the useful techniques and lessons from many martial arts to be best equipped for self-defense situations.
For him, he mostly adopted the fighting style of a wing chun practitioner who fought close distance with speed, offensive techniques, and efficiency.
He disliked the rigidity and closed-mindedness of learning only one martial art in a curriculum format and advocated for people to learn and adopt their own martial art style.
However, he wanted each martial artist to keep their style simple, direct, free, and able to adapt to each differing situation.
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