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Jeet Kune Do And MMA

Jeet Kune Do, or the Way of the Intercepting Fist, was a martial arts philosophy developed by Bruce Lee. You’d call it a martial arts philosophy rather than a martial art, because Jeet Kune Do is not really a martial art with its own unique techniques. Instead, Jeet Kune Do is more of a way of looking at things. The idea is to throw out all your assumptions about what is and is not correct and focus on using only what works. Jeet Kune Do is more of a philosophy. Bruce Lee said the idea was to “use no way as way,” meaning that the whole point of Jeet Kune Do was pure pragmatism and there are no hard and fast rules, beside doing what works.

Mixed martial arts, or MMA, is a sport. It’s important to understand the difference between a sport and a promotion. UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, is a promotion; MMA is the actual sport. It’s like the difference between football and the NFL. Football is the sport; the NFL is the promotion. A lot of people refer to MMA as “UFC”, which is sort of similar to that thing people do where they refer to all tissues as “Kleenex” or all sodas as “Coke”. So we’re not asking whether the promotion, the UFC, is similar to Jeet Kune Do. We’re asking whether MMA fighters are doing Jeet Kune Do in their way of practice.

The similarity between Jeet Kune Do and mixed martial arts is in the mixing. Proponents of mixed martial arts view cage fighting as a kind of laboratory, where different techniques can be tested out. The idea is that mixed martial arts has very few rules, so techniques that work in mixed martial arts ought to work in a street fight. Since you’re fighting in an environment where there are almost no rules, the fight is very similar to what would happen on the street. This creates a situation where what works in the cage, hopefully, would also work in a real fight. Jeet Kune Do is similar in that it’s ultimately a pragmatic philosophy that uses whatever works.

The place where Jeet Kune Do and mixed martial arts part ways is that Jeet Kune Do is much more focused on technique and the perfection of technique, whereas mixed martial arts has a stronger athletic component. You could almost say that mixed martial artists consider athleticism to be a part of fighting ability, whereas Jeet Kune do is more “artistic” in that it’s focused on technicality even at the expense of athleticism. Mixed martial artists are fundamentally athletes more than anything, whereas Jeet Kune Do practitioners are fundamentally artists. Art versus athleticism is the real demarcator between sport martial arts and traditional martial arts. It's why you don't always see MMA guys in Bruce Lee T shirts.

And that’s ultimately the crux of the issue. A traditional martial art is just what its name says: an art. A painter is more focused on perfecting her technique than she is on making something photorealistic, because ultimately, art is not about realism. A martial artist who does jiujitsu for its own sake just wants to make his technique perfect, without a care for whether or not it really works in a street fight. It’s about refinement of an art form, not practicality.


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