Sept. 1999 (I.)

The following interview with Matt Thornton was conducted September 8th 1999 by Derrick Cox for use in an upcoming video series:

Part 1

Matt, you talk a lot about “Aliveness” this seems to be your main theme or point whenever you are teaching. It was also the main theme of your last video series. Why do you place so much emphasis on this point as opposed to others?

Aliveness is everything. If an athlete grasps the principle and truly understands what I mean by it, then they can never be bullshitted again. (laughs) That’s why I emphasize it so much. I am also constantly being asked, “What’s better, this or that, this style or that style? Why don’t you do this drill anymore? Why do you say this doesn’t work?” The answer to all those questions is ALIVENESS. You see, so once they grasp what that means then about one thousand and one of their questions are answered for them. It’s everything.

Do you think most people get it? Do they understand Aliveness?

Depends. Most combat athletes get it right away. In fact, to them, it would be common sense. By combat athletes I mean Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guys, wrestlers, boxers, etc. I mean people who train for real, against real resistance and real opponents. Most “martial artists” don’t have a clue what it means. They think they know. They think “well what we do is for the street, not sport! Of course we are training with aliveness”. But then you see what they are doing and it’s all dead patterns, flash, one and two step sparring, reference points, and nonsense. In short, it’s all dead.

What about other JKD people? Don’t they understand the principle? It seems like they, above all others, would “get it”?

JKD people are some of the worst! (laughs) I have seen some articles and things on the internet where they discuss the word aliveness and it’s laughable. It’s big words, pseudo philosophy, didactic speech, but you can tell right away that the simple truth of it is lost on them. Look, all you have to do to see if someone understands aliveness is watch them train. 99% of the JKD people I run into, be they “concepts” or “original” guys, are still doing one dead pattern after another. No footwork, no timing, and always, always, always, patterns. NO, I know of only a few JKD people who really grasp what aliveness is all about.

I am still confused. Give me an example of where a JKD person might think what they are doing is alive but it’s not.

Alright, let’s take Jun Fan guys. Most still practice endless hours of reference point trapping. They dissect their “entries” against a static man who is standing with his lead arm in one or another “fixed” position. That’s about as dead as it gets. So many JKD people dog traditional martial artists, like Karate and Kung Fu guys, but then you watch their class and they are teaching people out of a high outside reference point! It’s nonsense.

Well, I understand what you are saying about the reference points, but what about someone who says that those are just training methods? That they are meant to teach options and reflexes to beginners, which will eventually lead them into a more alive energy drill, such as Chi Sao?

Consider their assumptions. First off, is the assumption that you need to begin a brand new student out with a dead pattern. That’s a false assumption. It’s not necessary! You can train people with aliveness on day one! There is no need to begin with planted feet, fixed positions, and contrived resistance. Second is the assumption that you COULD develop reflexes using a dead pattern. You cannot. Train with a dead pattern and get a dead response. There are no reflexes to be had there. No resistance. Nothing. It’s a waste of time. Third, you said leading into an energy drill such as Chi Sao, which essentially means going from one dead pattern to another. Most people who practice Chi-Sao do it with planted feet, no footwork or contrived silly footwork, footwork that’s rehearsed. It’s a pattern! Nobody fights like that! No fight on planet Earth will ever resemble a Chi Sao match. In a real fight, guys grab you, they grab for your head, they punch you, and not with perfect “centerline” punches either, but with giant Tank Abbott “I am gonna knock your friggin’ head off” punches. They tackle and hug and knee.. That’s a fight. A pigeon-toed dead pattern won’t help you much there.

Well, personally, I know some JKD concepts people who use these drills only as shells, to add things like you mentioned: knees, elbows, etc., as their student progresses. Don’t you think that would be a valid training method?
Perhaps…but certainly not the most efficient, realistic, or helpful training method. Why do you need the pattern? I don’t understand the reason for it. Why not just fight for control of the body while putting in punches, knees, and elbows; like a Greco Roman wrestler’s pummeling drill or Muay Thai’s neck control drill. You don’t say, “Alright, we are going to fight for control of the neck on every three and one half rotations through this cycle I am going to insert an elbow…ok, GO!”
That would be silly. There is no TIMING there. You see fights, real fights, are all about conditioning and timing. No…instead you simply wrestle for control of that neck and, as you go, you randomly put in your strike. No pattern…you FIND the place to put it in out of that mess that is real resistance. That’s Alive. I simply do not see the need for a pattern. Even a raw beginner, on day one, he can drill without the pattern and begin to develop real attributes, right away, without getting hurt. If an instructor says he needs those patterns for beginners so they don’t hurt each other, then he is just ignorant about coaching athletes. You know what, it’s probably not his fault. He was trained that way and he is just repeating. That’s what most humans do. You don’t need patterns and the JKD/Kali & Original JKD world are full of them.
Why? What you are saying seems like common sense…so why is it so prevalent, why would they do it that way for generations if, as you say, it’s “nonsense”?
I don’t know? Who knows. Why did it take a well publicized, no-holds-barred fight, an open challenge, and countless…countless challenge matches by a family from Brazil to teach people the obvious; that fights often hit the ground and you better know your shit down there when it does? Think about it, I have to give them all the credit in the world. Before the Gracies came to our Country everybody just said…”ah, you don’t want to be on the ground…you just hit him when he comes in, you just boink him in the eyes, or kick his balls…or bite him…they can’t take me down”. Why did it take the advent of full contact kickboxing in the late 60’s and early 70’s to show people that the best place to put their hands was near their face and not on their hip? People become enamored with the mystery that surrounds the Asian martial arts. People are often gullible. They so badly want to believe that their is some 75-year-old, 110 pound Chinese master who can throw people without touching them…or administer a death touch…whatever. It feeds the fantasies they have about beating up five football players at once in a parking lot in front of their girlfriend. It’s silly. It’s a fantasy but they seem to need it, as far as JKD goes. I think, long ago, a decision was made somewhere that looking “cool”, being able to do 75 knife disarms or some flashy compound trapping with crisp, snappy sounds, passed for having “good form”. And the pursuit of that “good form” and knowledge of endless variations from multiple dead patterns took precedence over the pursuit of what it is truly all about…increasing PERFORMANCE, but…I am just guessing. Who cares anyway? It’s what YOU can do and how YOU train that counts. Let the rest of the world do whatever they want.
You seem to care, otherwise why would you push the point of Aliveness so much?
I do that for the people out there who are honestly pursuing the truth in combat. Many of those people are drawn to JKD because of the brilliant philosophy borrowed by Bruce Lee, and either become disillusioned, or lost in a maze of dead patterns. For them, I preach Aliveness. If someone wants to collect a certificate from a well-known “Sifu”, or look cool teaching seminars, then their motive is skewed and they will not care or pay attention to the concept of Aliveness. They are not in it to enhance their performance; they are still tripping on the ego. You cannot do anything for people unless they are motivated to train for the right reason. For me it’s always about being true to myself. I can’t teach something that I know doesn’t work. I can’t praise something I think is false. I always have to be honest, otherwise I lose touch with who I am. I don’t try and offend anybody. For me it’s never, never personal, but if someone asks me a question then they can expect an honest reply, even if it’s going to make them mad.
Alright, well, your first tape series discussed Aliveness in depth. So, what are you planning on teaching in this next series? What is it you want people to get out of this now?
I base everything I do around five core principles. These five principles are what makes up the curriculum of the Straight Blast Gym. I talked about two of them on the last series: adaptability and, of course, Aliveness. This is our number one overriding principle. On this series I want to get into all five, as well as teaching a lot more detail as far as stand-up, clinch and ground goes. Much more detail than before.
This is interesting to me. Tell me what these five principles are.
Well, the first is, of course, Aliveness, and all of the principles are made up of three specific elements. I usually illustrate each principle with the figure of a triangle, mostly because this makes it easy for people to remember. For example, for something to be truly alive in what we do then it has have three key elements: movement, timing, and energy (resistance). If you are missing any one of these then it’s NOT alive. Movement is, of course, footwork…and that doesn’t mean shuffle step, or pendulum step, or anything like that. It means real footwork, not contrived, not in a pattern. On the ground it means exactly that also…movement. If the guy is just laying there, not moving, as you apply your lock or move, that is not alive. In the clinch it’s the same: pushing, pulling, moving! Timing is, of course, just that. If it’s in a predictable rhythm…a pattern…a repeatable series of sets, then you are not acquiring or developing timing. There is no timing there to be had. Of course, energy swing the stick like someone would really swing it. Don’t stop at centerline under the assumption that I smacked your hand so the motion freezes there; that’s a really bad assumption! (laughs). Punch with the energy of someone who wants to hit you…not like a dead fish…locking your arm out so your partner can look good doing the destruction, or trap, or silat sweep, or whatever. No, you must move, have a sense of timing, and progressive resistance that resembles what you would receive on the street. No patterns! That’s Aliveness: movement, timing, and motion. It’s a gauge. Is it real or dead? Will it transfer over when I spar or when I am attacked or not? It’s not that complicated to find out.
Okay. Well, list these for me. What’s the second principle?
Adaptability. Which means many things, but is represented on the triangle by stand-up game, clinch game, and ground game. Self explanatory I think. If you are missing any one of those things then you are going to be in trouble. You must have all three.
Isn’t that the same as the four ranges of JKD?
Sure, same concept. I just prefer to use different terms that I think are more indicative of what it really is. Clinching is what happens in real fights: grabbing, pulling, holding with one arm and striking with the other as opposed to trapping, which I have never seen in a real fight, at least not in the context in which is taught by JKD people. I think you can have a beautiful stand-up game without ever learning how to kick. Most of the time you would be better off to keep both feet on the ground in a streetfight, anyway. That’s not to say we don’t work with and against kicks here, it’s just that I feel the terms: stand-up, clinch, and ground present a more realistic portrait of what fights are. So often people want to make fighting look a certain way…to be a certain thing…instead of just dealing with it as it really exists. The “isness” of it, as Bruce Lee might say.
What is the third principle?
Coaching. Coaching is how we pass on the info here as opposed to teaching. Philosophically, it’s fundamentally different.
In what way?
Teachers have a curriculum. They are trying to pass on a certain amount of information. Coaches enhance performance. That’s a fundamental difference in approach. It may seem semantic… but it’s not. Not at all. It’s totally different.
Give me an example. I still don’t see that clear of a distinction.
Okay, when I visit with JKD people, they will often talk about “training”. Let’s get together and “train”, etc. Okay, cool. Then you get together and train and you discover that their version of training is learning more techniques. They want to hook up and learn a new trap, or a new lock, or a new flow drill. Then practice a little and go home. The “instructor” fosters this by teaching techniques every class at his “kwoon” or “dojo” or “academy”, demonstrating these with his most cooperative students, so he looks really good. There’s the quote un-quote good form, then having the students practice this new “move” in one or another dead pattern, and then they all write the stuff down in their burgeoning notebook, and go home. To me that’s NOT training… it may be instruction… poor instruction… but it is in no way training. Now compare that with heading into a “gym”, warming up, practicing whatever it is you are working on that day against a partner who offers progressive resistance in an alive manner, having a coach watch and participate with you, selectively offering pointers that will help your performance. Instead of going home with a giant notebook, you go home with clothes drenched in sweat and a tired body. That’s training. That environment is created and maintained by a coach, not an instructor.
I guess I see what you are saying. It’s a different idea about what training really is.
Exactly. To be a good coach here at the gym you need three core elements. By the way, this whole notion, and the three elements, were taken directly from a book titled Coaching for Performance by John Whitmore. Which has, more or less, been the Bible of teaching at the Straight Blast Gym since I first read it several years ago. The three key things are Experience, Awareness, and Responsibility. Experience is pretty self-explanatory. You have to have done what it is you are teaching. In other words, how could you ever teach someone to get an armlock out of the guard? If you had never gotten an armlock out of the guard sparring before, and yet you see so many JKD people teaching these complex locks that they have never pulled off in sparring on the mat before. In fact, many of them have probably not sparred much on the mat before. Maybe not at all! That’s how bad information gets transmitted. Well, if Sifu has been around forever, a guy said to do it this way, then this is how you do it. NO, you do it this way because this is how it’s done. I know that because I have done it. BAM that’s a whole other level of teaching and transmitting knowledge, first hand and not hearsay. We have a basic saying here, “test everything.” Try it yourself. Awareness means the ability to make the athlete aware of what he needs to do to increase his performance. Part of that is communication skills. Much of it is listening and observation skills. Anyone can teach a curriculum. One plus one equals two, but how many people can actually make another person aware of why one plus one equals two, and make sure that the pupil truly grasps what the hell it is you’re saying. The third is responsibility and that basically means being able to make the athlete aware that it is he who is responsible for his own growth, not you. He has to put in the time. You can do that in large part by creating a training environment that is more like a gym, like a wrestling or sports practice, as opposed to a series of demonstrations; just like we were talking about before. Those are the three elements of coaching. I think every athlete should read John Whitmore’s book. It’s almost the year 2000 and people are still using teaching methods that are outdated and slow by even 1965 standards.
Wow…okay…what about the fourth principle?
The fourth principle is Attitude and Philosophy. And that’s probably the one that’s the most important to me personally. Especially when I am looking to make someone a coach with our gym. I can teach almost anyone to fight and, if a person posses a certain level of intelligence, I can help them to be a good coach as well. If they don’t grasp the importance of the fourth principle then I believe they will eventually get lost along the path. Lost in the woods, so to speak. Some people just don’t get it.
Attitude & Philosophy…that’s a pretty broad topic. Can you be more specific?
I can be very specific. Again, this principle is illustrated with three key areas, or basic assertions. No ritual, no titles, and no terminology. In other words, reality without ritual leads to truth. All three are a must as far as I am concerned.
You’ve lost me again. No ritual. What exactly do you mean? Why would ritual, per se, be a bad thing at all?
Because it distracts from the truth. It distracts from the pursuit of better performance.
How so? Be specific.
Alright, let me think of an analogy…..Okay, let’s say a group of guys, who have been training together in martial arts, decide they want to see what reality in fighting is really all about. They want to experience it for real without hitting the bars, but real…very real…against each other. So they come up with a brilliant idea; simple, as most brilliant ideas are, but genius none the less. They decide to get together, outside the dojo, at a local park, put on as little equipment as possible, and just fight. Just fight. Just do it. See what its like, feel what it feels like. Work on what it is, not what it should be. Brilliant idea. So they meet for many months, fight many times, get a few injuries…but slowly, what is important, and what works in a real fight begins to reveal itself to them. One by one they begin to increase their own performances in that arena. They learn to really fight. Follow me so far?
Okay, then after a year or so one or two of them decides they need a name for what they do. What is it we do? Is it Kung Fu? Is it Karate? Is it wrestling? Is it boxing? What is it? You see, they want a name. So they decide on Park Fu. We do Park Fu. Then, some time passes and they decide, for whatever reason, that they should create some hierarchy, some pecking order. So they have Park Fu level one, and Park Fu level two, and a Park Fu apprentice guru, and a Park Fu guru, etc, etc. Then, they decide they need a salutation and a Park Fu handshake, and pretty soon this SIMPLE, BRILLIANT, TRUE idea becomes lost in a mire of ritual. New Park Fu initiates evaluate their standing within the Park Fu group by how close they are to the original Park Fu member, as opposed to their own personal performance. In other words, I am a first generation member because I trained directly under Park Fu founder “so and so”. They are measuring their worth by how close they are to the keeper of the magic book. The original Park Fu creator becomes a sacred cow of sorts. His Park Fu followers sheepishly interpret all their teachers weird behavior as being consciously designed to test them, and if that fails they take refuge in what they call “loyalty”, which really amounts to a sentimental failure to face certain facts. You know what you have after a generation or two?
Lord of the Flies. You have Lord of the Flies, man. That’s what it is. The truth is lost.
That’s a disturbing analogy.
I suppose…but only because it’s so common. Anyway, the second assertion is no terminology. Again, this is not just a semantic difference, it’s a very important rule. When you begin to give individual movements names, ESPECIALLY names from a foreign culture, people become silly.
Again… give me an example.
Okay… let’s say an O’ou Tek or hook kick. Let’s say that that person is working this kick and they want to know what a proper O’ou Tek should look like and when an O’ou Tek is properly used and what are some good O’ou Tek training methods, etc. You know what I want them to worry about instead? I want them to wonder two things about their kick: can I make it land, and can I make it hurt? Can I make it work when I spar and, if not, why not? Who cares what the hell you call it! You see, when you kick someone in the nuts they are not going to know the difference between an O’ou Tek, or a Foute, or a “Preying mantis raises its leg”. All they’re going to know is that you just kicked them in the balls. An elbow is an elbow, a knee is a knee, a punch is a punch, a kick is a kick. It doesn’t matter what part of the world it comes from! That’s why we allow no terminology at the gym.
No ritual, and no terminology. What was the third point?
No titles. Also, very important.
Don’t you think the use of terms like sifu and sensei in traditional martial arts teach humility to the students, and show proper respect?
Not at all. In fact, I think they can eventually lead to the opposite. The most obnoxious, ego maniacal people I have ever met have been traditional martial arts “masters”. Often cocky, overweight, scared inside, but very, very haughty on the outside. They possess the quintessential beggar’s humility.
What’s the beggar’s humility?

It’s a simple idea, that their are two different types of humility: a beggar’s humility and a fighter’s humility. A beggar will bow down and scrape the floor for any man he deems superior to himself, but, at the same time, he will demand that anyone he deems as inferior, bow down and scrape the floor for him. The fighter bows down to no man, and allows no man to bow down to him. You have to remember that most Asian cultures are cast societies. It’s common for them to refer to each other according to social status when born. I am an American and I personally don’t buy into that socioeconomic idea. We always want a fighter’s humility here. There are no sifus or gurus at the Straight Blast Gym. We all work out and train together.
What about the respect afforded an instructor?

What about it? I have never experienced a problem with respect. You see people here will respect the instructors because the instructors will get out into the class and wrestle or spar with any and every body at the gym. I will wrestle with anybody that walks into the gym. It’s not about winning or being a tough guy, or anything like that. No, it’s about not being afraid to train for real in front of, or with, your students; or as I would prefer to say, fellow athletes. That’s very different from a sifu. A sifu has a position to defend, “I am a Sifu, and as such I must remain aloof from my students, and I must not spar with them as I must preserve this illusion if Sifu-dom that I posses.” (laughs) You see, it’s all a big ego trip and, of course, eventually that “sifu” becomes very insecure because he knows in his heart, since he has not been training and sparring, that some of his own students can probably work him over now. This, of course, makes him even more insecure. It’s all a vicious cycle. Usually the sifu becomes a bitter, angry guy all because he was too scared to let go of his position and just be an athlete. Besides that, you know what? I train every day with Olympic level wrestlers, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guys, and boxers. I’d feel silly having anyone call me a sifu (laughs).
So attitude and philosophy…the fourth principle of your Gym is composed of no ritual, no terminology, and no titles.
You got it.
What’s the fifth principle? The last principle?

Yes, the last principle and one of the most important. The fifth principle is conditioning. Again, on the triangle this is shown as stamina, strength, and flexibility.
Simple enough.
Yes, simple but OH so important. Important enough to be one of the five pillars of our gym.
Because it makes you a better fighter.
Yes and no, because you can’t be much of a fighter without conditioning. Just to DO what we do at all you need to be in some kind of athletic shape…have some muscle tone, some cardio, and a certain flexibility. Otherwise, you will constantly be injured. Now, to do what we do and do it well, then you need to be in good, athletic shape. Finally, to do what we do, and reach your own personal, full potential, you need to be in, and stay in, great shape. I like to think that all of us want to reach our own full potential. Whatever that may be. As such, conditioning must be a priority.
What about people who aren’t in great shape? Maybe they are older.
Look, this is almost 2000, there is absolutely no reason that someone cannot get themselves in shape enough to be athletic to some degree, regardless of age. It doesn’t have to be just what we do, either. If someone came to me and said, “Matt, I want to start playing in pick-up basketball games three days a week at the park.” Then, I’d tell them that they should get in shape so they don’t get injured. No matter what you are doing, bike riding, basketball, tennis, swimming, whatever; you need to maintain a certain level of conditioning in order to keep your body injury-free, and to allow yourself to reach new levels of achievement. I don’t know why anyone would think what we do would be any different.
That’s great. So, those are the five principles of the gym.
Yes, aliveness, adaptability, coaching, attitude & philosophy, and conditioning. In a nutshell, that’s what we are about.
What about this constant debate over original or concepts JKD?
What about it?
Well, what do you think about it?
I don’t.
What do you mean you don’t think about it?
I mean, who really cares? What I do is coach fighters, attempt everyday to increase my own personal performance, and hopefully become a better human as a result. The equation of original JKD and conceptual JKD just doesn’t factor into any of that. Nobody here at a Straight Blast Gym would care about that, myself included.
Okay, I see your point. But aren’t you also dodging the question a little bit? You told me just a few minutes ago that if someone asked you a question you would give them an honest answer. I have to believe that at some time or another you had given this whole JKD debate some thought, and I would like to know your honest opinion on the whole issue.

Part two of an interview with Matt Thornton, conducted on September 8th, 1999 by Derrick Cox for use in an upcoming video series:
Okay Derrick, give me a specific question and I will give you a specific answer.
Alright, what do you think of the whole “Original JKD” movement?
Okay, first off I want to make this point: if you asked any of my students or members of the Straight Blast Gym this question they couldn’t give you an answer. They couldn’t give you an answer because they wouldn’t know what the hell you were talking about, and I am extremely proud of that.
What do you mean?
I mean that I am proud that the Straight Blast Gym is a gym in the truest sense of the word. People come here to train, to achieve new levels of performance, and to learn about themselves. Political discussions about JKD this or that, just do not enter into the equation, and they never will.
I see. Well, now that you have gotten that disclaimer out of the way, what is your opinion on all this?
No, no Derrick, it’s not just a disclaimer. You see, nobody ever asks me this at my gyms, ever. You see, thats an important point. It goes to the heart of a student’s true intentions; their motive. Straight Blast Gym people are here for the training and not because they are Bruce Lee groupies or because they want a certificate from a famous sifu. Nope. They are here to train. Do you understand the distinction?
Yes. I completely understand.
Now, my personal opinion on Original JKD is another matter. It is simply my personal opinion; an educated opinion. I have been in and around this stuff for awhile now. I attended the first Nucleus meeting just to check it out and see what it was all about. Myself and one of my friends from the gym, Steve Boyd, went.
So what did you think of all of it?
It was alright. It had absolutely nothing to do with fighting, that’s for damn sure. I have to honestly say it was like attending a Dungeons and Dragons convention, as far as the type of crowd that was there (laughs). For the most part, they were completely harmless. I guess it’s like going to a fan club or something like that. I don’t know.
That’s all you have to say about this? Come on Matt, you must have some opinion here.
Sure. Alright, look, how much clearer can I be? It has nothing to do with fighting. It’s not a discussion about the best ways to train athletes for top performance. It’s not a meeting about “how the hell do we deal with these monster giant wrestlers?” No. For the most part, it’s lots of talk about terminology, and what Bruce did at different points in his life. You know what, thats cool but it’s not my thing! But it’s fine. Who cares? Now, if you ask me, is that JKD? HELL NO! The most poignant thing I heard at that meeting was a two minute speech by Jesse Glover who basically said, to paraphrase, “Bruce was a very physical guy, and we should remember that”, which was a point well-taken when you were talking to the audience he was addressing. A beautiful, concise point about conditioning. Look, in my mind, the perfect JKD man as outlined, I think very clearly, by Bruce Lee in all his writings, and borrowed brilliantly from the great Krishnamurti, is a self actualized man. You know, a man beyond titles, terminology, and styles. A man that doesn’t follow any other men, or icons, and who doesn’t need any followers or affirmation from others outside himself. To me that’s a true JKD man. I have met a few men like that but they have always been athletes.
So, let me understand, you are saying that JKD cannot, or should not become a “style”, a way, right? Correct me if I am wrong, I am trying to understand here.
Let me use another example. I am going to describe a curriculum to you and you tell me what it is, okay?
Okay. The idea is to utilize western boxing, emphasizing a strong lead. Learning to develop what is called a “stop”, or the ability to intercept your opponents movements with that lead. If your opponent is well guarded or hesitates to lead, then you can draw his hands down with strong low kicks to the shin and legs. Alright, give me name now.
Okay, that’s obviously Jun Fan JKD; sounds similar, anyway.
Beautiful. Okay, now I am going to add a few things and then you tell me what we have got. Alright?
Alright. We are going to practice striking the inside of the bicep, and nerve center just under the arm. This, in case we are out boxed and need to create a good opening. Finally, we are going to add Jiu-Jitsu or ground fighting, in particular, the mount position and some basic self defense moves and armlocks. What do we have now?
Okay. JKD concepts. The Filipino destructions and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a concepts curriculum.

Would you say that all that put together would be fairly cutting edge?
Yes, I would say so. I think it is. Yes, it is.
Good. Now, here is my point. All the above mentioned curriculum was written down in detail by a guy named Professor Lewis. He wrote it in a book titled The New Science.
Okay, so what? He is a JKD guy or stole the JKD curriculum.
Actually, I would hesitate to say that. You see, the book was published in 1906.
Wow. Alright, so where are we at then?
Where we are at is the fact that as the wise King Solomon said, “there ain’t nothing new under the sun”. In fact, Bruce probably had this book in his library. Or maybe not. Maybe he came to the same conclusions as you logically will if what you do is based around reality. Point is, who cares how he came up with it? It’s not his, it’s not Professor Lewis’s, it’s not Chinese, it’s not Filipino. It is the property of whomever can make it work. It belongs to whomever has the balls and attributes to own it. To own it through training, sparring, thinking, and growing. NOT by following an icon. A “sifu” a “sijo”, a “guru”, be he a Jun Fan JKD icon, or a concepts icon, truth is truth. So you see, the very idea of an original Jeet Kune Do is a joke. It’s a myth. There is only what you can do. What can you do Derrick? It’s not what Bruce Lee could do. The idea that you would create yet another hierarchy, yet another set of rules, yet another “system” is an affront to everything Bruce Lee said, or more properly, what Krishnamurti said. I UNDERSTAND it in the sense that I understand why it happens. Most people are weak and need that affirmation of a style, a leader, a founder, and a sifu. Most people need it so it exists. I guess in much the same way as organized religion exists. The masses may need it but, NO, that’s not JKD, my friend. That’s certainly not it.
Okay then, I think you have probably made your point there (laughs). What about the concepts approach then?
To me, it’s all about motive. I look in the magazines and I see these adverts for these concepts instructors and the whole ad space. A friggin’ paragraph is devoted to certified by: instructor blah blah, sifu, blah blah, guru blah blah. I swear to you they list ten or eleven names! That’s their ad, that’s what, or who they are. This is me, I am this, certified by. It’s almost funny if it was not so truly sad. So pathetic and that’s a strong word but it really is pathetic and very sad.
I don’t follow.
They are receiving their self-worth, and advertising themselves through attachment to another. See, these are guys motivated by prestige, by a certificate and NOT performance. So, because their original motive is skewed, everything they do from there on out will be false, skewed, and wrong. It’s about collecting affiliations, making connections, talking gossip, controlling seminars, getting a new certificate. Everything but performance. These are guys that, I can almost promise you, enforce a “call me sifu” rule. They never spar with their own students or, if they do, they give them rules like, “Okay, you get a jab and I am all hands (laughs).” I know that sounds so weird, but it’s true! A strange, preppy culture. Strange, strange.
And you are saying that this is what Concepts JKD people are like?
Many. Not all but, sadly, a lot. It’s really a weird world, filled with many weird people. I cannot really put my finger on it but the best way I can explain it to you is to tell you that the motive of people like this is skewed from the start. They are not pursuing truth; just an image. I will give you a concrete example. About eight or nine years ago Paul Vunak showed some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to me at a seminar. I was hooked right away. I loved it! Only Paul and a gentleman named Hal Faulkner were involved with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at that time. Everybody else, as far as the JKD world I mean, was off doing more esoteric stuff, Silat and such. Paul…he knew. He knew the truth about it, you see. He knew because he’d gone down and actually trained with the Gracies. He knew first hand what they could do. All the JKD people would say “ahh, that’s just Judo or you just bait them, you don’t want to be rolling on the ground,” stuff like that. They’re excuses to stay ignorant. But Paul, he knew the truth. Then the UFC hit. Everyone saw Royce. Now everybody wanted to do Jits but, you know what? With the exception of Paul’s PFS people, and a few others like Chris Haeuter, the rest of the JKD guys were still pretty much avoiding the whole scene. Too much ego to show up and get their asses kicked by some bad ass Brazilian, I guess (laughs).
Anyway, now Dan Inosanto does it. Which, I think, is FANTASTIC, and a true testament to his character. Here he is, a legend, and an older man and yet he is on the mat nearly every day! In fact, Rigan (Rigan Machado) said that Dan was probably the most dedicated student he has ever had in the sense that he never misses a private lesson. That’s fantastic but here is my point. Now all those other JKD guys…guess what? Now they are getting on the mat. Or, more properly stated, many are bringing people to their schools to get on the mat for them (laughs). Not because they discovered the truth like Paul did, no, because they want to do what Dan Inosanto does. I can promise you that if Dan Inosanto decided, for whatever reason, to take up Shotokan, you would have a rush of clipit & wrestling shoe-wearing JKD concepts people on a mad hunt to get a Shotokan “certificate”. Preferably with whomever Dan Inosanto was studying with, that way they could say they learned from Dan’s teacher. It’s really sad and it’s disrespectful to both Dan Inosanto, and the memory of an innovator and maverick like Bruce Lee but it’s true. JKD Concepts is filled with so many sheep.
I see. Well, nobody is ever going to criticize you for mincing words!
I hope not. That would be cowardly, wouldn’t it?
Yes, I suppose so. So, tell me…it seems like you are critical of the whole JKD community at large. Are there any positive things or instructors you endorse at all?
Of course! In terms of JKD, I would say that my friend Burt Richardson has a curriculum very similar to ours. He has also helped me alot with our stick curriculum and many other things. Our weapons curriculum here at Straight Blast Gym is all Burt. There are also a lot of other great instructors that don’t get much press as “JKD guys”, but really are, like Chris Haueter, who is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but is also a well-rounded JKD guy. Egan Inoue is another one. In fact, I would classify Randy Couture as a true JKD man in the real sense of the word. He learns whatever he can to be a better fighter, adapts it to his game, and is capable of fighting well at all ranges; a true JKD man. You have to re-think what JKD means. If it doesn’t mean somebody that can actually fight at all ranges,not pretend to fight…not certified to fight,but who can actually fight…if it doesn’t mean at least that, then it’s meaningless.
What about those that say you can be a good teacher and a good technician without, necessarily, being a good fighter.
Thats nonsense. Think about it…how can you be a good technician if you can’t fight? It doesn’t make any sense! You don’t say, “Hey, that guy is a good boxing technician but when he spars he just gets mauled every time.” Or, “That wrestler is a good technician, but his takedowns suck.” Or, “That Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guy is a good technician, but he can’t fight on the ground at all. If you said that you would sound insane! People say that in JKD all the time. It’s nonsense. Another in a long line of myths. You can be a tough fighter without being technical, due to size or strength, etc., but you cannot be a good technician without being able to fight; it’s impossible. It’s similar to when people tell me they think I have taken the art out of martial arts; that it’s all about fighting only with us. I reply, art of what? If it doesn’t work, where the hell is the art! You see the art is in the performance, the doing, the well timed punch, the flawless takedown, the perfectly executed armbar, etc. Thats art. Like Tiger Woods’ swing, Michael Jordan’s lay up, etc. Thats real art. The rest? The rest is just looking fancy in front of people who don’t know any better. It’s not really art at all. Art is in the performance! There’s so many myths.
You don’t think you miss the spiritual part of all this when you take such a functional approach?
No, I think it’s the opposite. I think you miss the spiritual part of all this when you follow a Sifu and bow to ritual. The spiritual journey in all this exists in the DOING…the action of it. The actual doing, not the certificate, not the new techniques of it, not the talking about it, not the organization of it, not the certification of it, not the demonstration of it. NO. In the doing of it, that’s where the spiritual aspects are. It’s the hero’s journey as outlined by Joseph Campbell. You have to have the balls to stand on your own, and face your demons. We do that through the environment created by resisting opponents. The more functional, the more contact, the more likely you are to confront your own ego. When their are no Sifus, no one can remain aloof. Everybody must step on the mat in front of others and show what they can actually do. For real and not a demonstration, but for real. You must tap out, get hit in the face, get tackled and kicked. We all do. We all must. We all meet our own ego. That’s the beginning of the spiritual journey. You see? Do you understand? The rest is hippie bullshit. They may use semantics that sound spiritual but it’s all hypocrisy. You can’t fool yourself. They become bitter. Better to be honest and just train.
I am not sure what else to ask. Thanks much for the interview.
Any time.