The Annotated Tao of Jeet Kune Do

An Unauthorized Bibliography

The Tao of Jeet Kune Do

There’s nothing new within this book; there are no secrets. “It’s nothing special,” Bruce used to say. And so it wasn’t.

With over 750,000 copies sold in nine languages, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do is the bestselling martial arts book in modern history. Although Bruce Lee’s name and photo appear on the cover, dedicated fans know that he did not actually write Tao of Jeet Kune Do—at least not in its current form. (The book is a compilation of Bruce’s personal notes, organized and published posthumously by Dan Inosanto, Linda Lee and Gilbert Johnson.)

While credit for fighting methods expressed in Tao of JKD is rightfully given to boxer Edwin Haislet, fencers Hugo and James Castello, and others, we are left to infer that Jeet Kune Do’s philosophical underpinnings are Bruce’s unique contribution.

Quite the contrary, Jeet Kune Do is an orthodox expression of Taoist, Buddhist, and Western metaphysical principles. From the poem on the book’s opening page, to the passionate expressions of its final chapter, ideas in Tao of JKD can be traced directly to earlier written works. Here is a sampling of these sources.

Reflections on Bruce Lee’s Water: Does Skill Actually Matter?

Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

Bruce Lee said it*—but did he actually do it? Did he flow like water? Judging by his performances in Enter the Dragon, Chinese Connection and Fists of Fury, I’d say: no, not at all.

Bruce Lee in The Chinese Connection

Maybe Bruce didn’t show his real kung fu skills on the silver screen.

An Alternative to Traditional Bullshido Theory and Application

Rene Descartes

With his proclamation Cogito ergo sum, Descartes set the stage upon which most Western philosophers have played for the last four hundred years. Under his model, the human being is composed of two distinct entities: mind and body. Some thinkers agree, and others disagree, but few challenge the validity of the model itself, and its silent implication that nothing lies between.

Following George Orwell’s advice, I will begin by stating the obvious: East Asian martial arts training was never meant to be performed within this framework.

Although Descartes’ model allowed for each aspect to influence the other, he did not recognize the full breadth and depth of the mind-body relationship. So, like the atomic model of physics failed to explain observable and repeatable quantum phenomena, Descartes’ atomic metaphysics obscures the potential of high-level martial arts. When authentic traditional training is reformatted to fit into the duelistic model, the result is typically and predictably Bull-shido.

Theory and Application, and Nothing More

Two tragic outcomes result from the application of duelistic mind-body theory to martial training. First, the Complete Martial Art is defined as one containing both Theory and Application—and where Theory is given undue precedence.

The Twenty Best Martial Arts Quotes of All Time

Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Gandhi

Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.
~ Mohandas Gandhi

The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.
~ William Francis Butler

He who is taught only by himself has a fool for a master.
~ Ben Jonson

The weakest of all weak things is a virtue that has not been tested in the fire.
~ Mark Twain

Courage first; power second; technique third.
~ Author unknown

Sun Tzu: A Primer for Martial Artists

The same strategies used by a military commander to defend the nation can also be used to protect one’s self. Sun Tzu’s classic manual The Art of War is therefore required reading for all serious martial artists.

Here is a summary of Sun Tzu’s most important points (based on translations by Roger Ames):

On Assessments (計篇第一)
Warfare is the art of deceit. Therefore, when able, seem to be unable; when ready, seem unready; when nearby, seem far away; and when far away, seem near. If the enemy seeks some advantage, entice him with it. If he is in disorder, attack him and take him.

Attack where he is not prepared; go by way of places where it would never occur to him you should go. These are the military strategist’s calculations for victory—they cannot be settled in advance.