order to understand where Thai boxing fits into the puzzle that is
known as jeet kune do, we must first understand a little about the
process by which JKD evolved. The operative word here is "process."
To quote Dan Inosanto, "JKD is not about the product, but about
the process." When Bruce Lee first came to America, he quickly
observed how much larger and stronger the average American was
compared to the average Chinese. This was the original impetus that
caused Lee to start the process of modifying his mother art of wing
chun. Between 1964 and 1973 Lee, with the assistance of Dan Inosanto,
dissected every fighting art that the two could discover and selected
elements that formed the foundation of what would eventually be
called jeet kune do. Not every aspect of every art was included, of
In certain cases, only training methods or combat theory were extracted. This is the case with Western foil fencing, which lent its concept of the "stop hit" (or interception) to JKD's combat philosophy and, indeed, to JKD's very name (Way of the Intercepting Fist). All systems of martial art have their strong and weak points. Bruce Lee observed that, "There is a range in which Western boxing will counter any kicking art; there is a range in which wing chun will counter boxing; there is a range where tai chi will counter wing chun; and there is a range where grappling will counter tai chi." In short, Lee chose elements from the selected arts to give his students an integrated framework that would prepare them to fight any opponent at any range. Those who witnessed Lee at any of his closed-door sparring sessions saw this principle in action. Limited by the vocabulary of their time, these witnesses were never able to find a label for Lee. Sometimes he would dance and shuffle at long range – boxing with his lead foot and hitting the opponent at previously unknown angles, like an experienced savate man. But if the opponent countered, Lee would bob and weave and throw body shots like a professional boxer. Upon being blocked by the opponent, he would shift into wing chun's chun choy (straight blast), trapping any obstruction, pummeling with a flurry of elbows, knees, or head butts, and ending the encounter with a foot sweep or throw. All of these difficult elements would appear in a "match" that lasted just ten seconds! Before his death, Lee, along with Inosanto, had been investigating muay Thai extensively. After Lee's death, Dan continued the research with the help of Chai Sirisute. We currently find three elements of Thai boxing to be most useful in JKD.
The thigh kick used by Thai boxers is perhaps the most formidable kick on the planet. Thai boxers rely on their thigh kick much like a Western boxer relies on his jab. One might say that this kick is the hub of their wheel.
Back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, low stances were very common – martial artists of the time strongly favored stability over agility. This facilitated Bruce Lee's use of the jeet tek (sidekick) to the knee to intercept his opponent. Nowadays, we see boxing footwork more often than low stances. This makes the knee a much more difficult target to hit with a side kick. Therefore, many modern JKD practitioners also use the thigh kick as a tool to intercept.
As we look at 90 percent of today's no-holds-barred contests, we see that the thigh kick is predominant among winning fighters. For example, one of the most highly acclaimed fights in the Ultimate Fighting Championship's history was the bout between Maurice Smith and Mark Coleman. Maurice Smith literally controlled the fight using the thigh kick. Another example of the use of the thigh kick was the fight between Marco Ruas and Paul "Polar Bear" Varelans. Again, the thigh kick was the pivotal weapon, allowing Ruas to control the distance and cadence of the entire match. These are just two examples (of many) of how potent this weapon really is. To truly appreciate the power of the muay Thai thigh kick, you simply must be on the receiving end of one! Many good Thai boxers double up their kicks, executing two in a row. Landing multiple thigh kicks in quick succession on the same area of the body is nauseatingly painful. In short, if you have not already incorporated this kick into your arsenal, start now!
Thai Boxing Mindset
When I think of a Thai boxer, one thing comes to mind immediately: hard core! These are some of the toughest people on Earth. Bruce Lee incorporated the very same mentality into his trapping. Any martial artist can take any aspect of his or her art and use the Thai boxer's mindset to "hardcore" their particular art. For example, anyone can put on a set of boxing gloves, poke shots at a partner, and call that boxing. But if one truly wanted to "hardcore" his punches, he would find a boxing gym and get in with an actual pro. The training regimen of a pro (i.e. stamina, heavy-bag workouts, weight training, and sparring sessions) is completely different from that of an amateur boxer.
It's one thing to roll around on the mat and practice arm locks, triangles, and chokes. However, if you were to go to Brazil and train for the Pan Am Games, then you'd be able to experience the hardcore side of jiu-jitsu and appreciate it at an entirely different level! Many people like to practice various trapping techniques working from reference points only (or training exclusively on the wooden dummy). If these very same people go to a professional boxing gym and recruit a pro boxer, put a motorcycle helmet on him, and then spar full-contact while they try to apply their trapping techniques, this would be an example of a wing chun person applying the muay Thai hardcore mentality. In the world of stick fighting, many people train themselves only – singly doing various drills and disarms. These people could use the Thai boxing mentality to "hardcore" their training by incorporating the use of lead pipes or heavy sticks in their drills, and by sparring full contact.
To a jeet kune do practitioner, the Thai boxing mindset provides a way to inject realism into his or her training. It is not enough to simply practice the same drills day-after-day. When a martial artist knows that he can go all out, take some punishment, and keep going, it does a lot for his survival mentality. Anyone can benefit immensely from watching a good Thai boxing match; however, this mentality is one attribute that is best learned by experience. There are many great Thai boxers in the world – I highly recommend investing the time, money, and courage to go and actually train at one of the many Thai camps. If you think boot camp was tough, try a Thai camp!
Being on the receiving end of a flurry of savate kicks is a very intimidating prospect. Having a barrage of punches thrown at you by a professional boxer is equally intimidating. Being stuck on the ground, in the guard of a black belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylist, knowing that you are seconds away from being put into an arm lock, triangle choke, or sweep, is downright humiliating. However, being in the grasp of a professional Thai boxer in clinch position is nothing less than sickening! You can't go forward, you can't go backward, you have no balance or base; and to make matters worse, you are being assaulted by two of the most barbaric tools on Earth – elbows and knees. For the truly masochistic martial artist, this is the coup de grace. It is not recommended for the faint of heart! For a JKD stylist, the Thai boxing clinch is the most natural position to end up in following the infamous straight blast. From the clinch, he can execute tactics such as elbows, head butts, and knees, or take an opponent to the ground if desired.
In closing, as we look back some 30 years, it is obvious that Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto were the pioneers of modern martial arts. They understood then, what the world is seeing now – no one art, theology, or philosophy has it all. No race or culture has a monopoly on the truth. We can truly see that today's martial artists are harvesting knowledge from seeds that were planted by Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto. As each year passes, people are becoming more open-minded and more eclectic; more willing to live by the concept of "Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own." In following this adage, it's quite apparent that Thai boxing offers a wealth of techniques both for JKD stylists, and martial artists of all systems, to absorb and benefit from.