by William Edgeworth
The Eastern martial arts and their influences have been stated and analyzed throughout the past two decades in the examination of jeet kune do.
Since the propositions exist that JKD is American, yet borrows heavily from other Eastern arts, where and how does Western fencing enter into the equation?
In the original synopsis that he was drawing up while attending the University of Washington, JKD founder Bruce Lee stated he was working on a new martial arts program or concept. This idea was to merge the mind and body into one cohesive unit. One of the first physical arts mentioned was Western fencing.
Fencing is an art which requires more than just the physical attributes of quickness, athletic prowess, cunning and lightning hand/eye coordination. It is both a Western (and Olympic) sport that is attractive and alien due to the unavailability of both instructors and salons (training facilities) in the United States.
It’s In The Bible
The analogies bonding the influences both directly and indirectly between fencing and JKD are quoted in the fractured, yet absorbing thesis known as the Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
This formidable treatise on Lee’s concepts of the complete fighting art directly observes the similarities between the two. And makes note of it throughout its rendering. One of the first analogies is that of the fencer’s foil. Equated to that of the lead (right) hand of the JKD practitioner, it is the single most important tool in both arts. Fast, evasive, and able to hit both high and low lines. The lead hand in JKD is Western sword fencing without the sword.
This lead hand must be mobile and able to penetrate deep within the opponent’s lines, sometimes obscuring his vision so as to enter into a combination sequence.
In foil competition, the foil is used as a probing tool, engaging and disengaging the opponent’s blade, using the sensitivity or energy of the opponent’s blade as a reference point. This includes moving inside, outside or feinting an attack to gain a committal action based on these probing nuances.
Everything in JKD can and does work off the integrity of the lead hand. The jab. The cross. The hooks, counters, stop hits and traps. This is similar to the fashion in which the foil allows the fencer to counter or stop hit based on its initial probing with the blade. In context, both the eye jab in JKD and the blade in general are said to be felt and not seen. Each illustratrates the lightning swiftness needed to execute lead hand movements.
Best Foot Forward
Further examination yields the following relationship dealing with footwork. The on-guard stance or by jong in JKD is a modified variation of wing chun and Western boxing basic foot positions. However, more elemental is the stance itself. Often controversial, Lee believed in the strong side forward position. Critics argue that conventional boxing and some, if not most, fighting arts utilize an orthodox or left-side forward position. This saves your strong punch or right hand to be used after the setting up of your opponent.
In relation to fencing, Lee realized the dominant hand is the one cradling the foil. It would be fruitless for a fencer to switch the foil during a match; switching leads would yield little impact in the way of scoring on an opponent without your fastest, most economical tool.
However, when dealing with empty-hand fighting Lee believed this should not be written in stone. In JKD the ability to adapt and change leads within the course of an engagement may be beneficial to outwitting a clever foe. Thus, matching unlike or like leads can open lines or gates not previously available.
The basic footwork patterns such as the step and slide, slide and step, and even the JKD straight blast (jit chung chuie) reflect the extend advance, quick advance and Flesche (running attack) in fencing.
We also have seen an exchange between the two arts in the way of terminology. However, if true to the premise that more than a subtle relationship exists between JKD and fencing. What attributes are gained through this association?
Let us first examine the methodology of “getting to” an opponent. By discovering the proper angle of attack through correct timing and line (high or low) choice, you can bridge the gap to close-range fighting.
As previously mentioned, basic step and slide or slide and step footwork will advance you toward your opponent. Utilizing the footwork from fencing entails utilizing the attributes of pushing off the rear foot. Thus, the rear foot in JKD acts as an accelerator or piston in which to propel you smoothly and rapidly forward. This footwork is supplemented with one of the most basic elements in fencing feints.