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"The Zen Connection"

by Kip Brockett

     After reading my article, "Bruce Lee Said What?," David Connelly asked me to contribute to the Bruce Lee Central website, and particularly to the "Extracts and Interpretations" page. I am honored that he thought highly enough of my work to invite me here, and I hope that my investigations and observations are of interest to you as well.

     Taken in context, the Tao of Jeet Kune Do has much to offer the avid JKD practitioner, as well as other martial arts enthusiasts. The thing to keep in mind is that much of this work is comprised of notes from various sources and was simply used by Bruce Lee in his studies. Many people know this. Many do not. That is why there are numerous apparent inconsistencies throughout the text.

     For this month's installment, I'd like to look at one of the passages under the heading, "Jeet Kune Do," show the source, and examine the deeper meaning as it applies to the martial arts and Jeet Kune Do in particular.

     The passage that I'd like to look at appears on page 13 of the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, and is as follows:

The tools, your natural weapons, have a double purpose:
  1. To destroy the opponent in front of you – annihilation of things that stand in the way of peace, justice and humanity.
  2. To destroy your own impulses caused by the instincts of self- preservation. To destroy anything bothering the mind. Not to hurt anyone, but to overcome your own greed, anger and folly. Jeet Kune Do is directed toward oneself.

     First, let's look at the source. As mentioned in my article, there is much material in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do that came from the book Zen and Japanese Culture by D.T. Suzuki. In the section titled, "Zen and Swordsmanship," it is stated:

The sword has thus a double office to perform: to destroy anything that opposes the will of its owner and to sacrifice all the impulses that arise from the instinct of self-preservation.
    At first glance, the passages don't seem to have a great consistency between them, other than a few like terms.

    "Double purpose" and "double office" are similar.

    "To destroy the opponent…" and "to destroy anything that opposes the will of its owner…" are similar as well.

    "…impulses caused by the instincts of self-preservation" and "…impulses that arise from the instinct of self-preservation," I think, are too close to ignore.

    But after reading a little further in Suzuki's book, we see this sentence:

The sword comes to be identified with the annihilation of things that lie in the way of peace, justice, progress, and humanity.
    And then:
… but the sacred sword of Mañjusri is not to kill any sentient beings, but our own greed, anger, and folly. It is directed toward ourselves, …
    Now it becomes rather obvious that the passage in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do was pieced together from these fragments of text. But what significance does this have to the art of Jeet Kune Do?

    Of course, this is all conjecture on my part, because who really knew what was in the mind of Bruce Lee? But I believe that Bruce Lee wanted philosophy to be a deep part of the art of JKD. This is put forth through his many personal notes, writings, and through the testimonials of his students. As Suzuki makes the point that Zen was an inextricable component of Japanese swordsmanship, so do I believe Bruce Lee wanted these same elements to be intertwined with JKD.


    The idea that your weapons - either sword, hands, feet, etc. - serve a dual purpose, is to bring the art to a higher plane. They not only serve in a martial capacity to defeat one's opponent, but also to be used as a means of self-discovery and enlightenment.

    This type of thinking towards the martial disciplines is purely a "peace"-time derivative. In wartime, the luxury to develop the self is simply not practical or affordable.

    Nonetheless, Jeet Kune Do is much more than an art designed to overcome an opponent. It is most definitely designed to do this, but this is only one aspect.

    While the literal definition of "art" applies to the purely martial applications, artistic expression, in my opinion, is the domain of the development of self. As D.T. Suzuki states:

It is now the embodiment of life and not of death.
    JKD lends itself beautifully to the process of self-discovery. Simple in execution - being comprised of only a handful of techniques - it gives the practitioner the chance to minutely explore the facets of each technique while at the same time, the artistic expression needed to "see" into one's own self.

    This passage from the Tao of Jeet Kune Do may not be in Bruce Lee's own words, but he thought enough about the words to write them down and to adapt them to Jeet Kune Do. This says a lot, I think.

    If you haven't read D.T. Suzuki's book, I encourage you to do so. I believe it will help you to understand much of the topic discussed here, as well as many other passages in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

© Copyright 2003
Kip Brockett
All Rights Reserved