Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do concept, which is philosophically rooted in Zen, was and still is outstanding. The central aspect of it is to have no style, to avoid being limited by the confines of particular styles and to maintain a fully open mind with respect to everything. It is only with an open or empty mind that one can see clearly, without being blocked by the boundaries of particular ideas and ways.
Are All Styles Bad?
It’s not that every style is all bad. There are great techniques, training methods, and strategies in many styles. But in order for a style to be a particular style, it must be defined. It must be limited to particular ways. And those limitations become your limitations.
If the style you practice only trains striking, then you won’t know what do to if someone gets you into a clinch or on the ground. If the style you practice only trains grappling, then you won’t know how to handle someone who tries to strike you. If the style you train only involves techniques to certain areas of your body, then you will be ill prepared if your opponent attacks you in an area that is off limits in your style.
Some styles only train stand up, and some only train ground. Some styles only train strikes, and some only train locks. Some styles don’t train with weapons at all, and some only train with weapons.
In order to train real “self defense”, no single style is enough. Additionally, being limited by any single style is detrimental both mentally and physically, limiting what you are able to see and what you think about what works and what doesn’t work. Whatever you train or think operates in two directions. Your training and thinking influences how you see the world.
Breaking Down The Walls
This concept is also very important outside of self defense and martial arts. Limiting yourself to particular ways of thinking or to particular ideas and ideologies blinds you to the truth outside of them. You literally become a prisoner of your own imaginary walls. Anything outside of your walls becomes either bad, wrong, or must be ignored in order to maintain the validity of your walls. If you break down your walls, refusing to attach yourself to any ideology or way of thinking, then you open your mind to the truth regardless of where it originates. Reality and the truth exist beyond any ideology or system of thought. The only way to see as clearly as possible is to break down your walls.
This is far harder than it may seem, and very few people are able to come close to accomplishing it. In Zen, breaking down the walls is “enlightenment”…100% freedom of thought, not limited by anything other than physics and biology. Complete freedom requires destroying ALL of the imaginary walls. It means destroying your conception of self, who you think you are, and therefore how you think you need to act. It means severing all attachment to everything you have learned.
This does not mean that you should or even can forget what you have learned and experienced. But if you want to be able to see whatever truth exists beyond what you already think you know, if you want to see where you are mistaken and what that you think is incorrect, then you must sever your attachments to any knowledge, group, or ideology. If you want to see as clearly as possible, your mind must be free to do so. It must be unattached to style, ideology, and doctrine. The truth is beyond them.
The way you think determines what and how you think about everything. Breaking down the walls will not only allow you to see beyond the limitations of various self defense and martial arts styles, but also to live your life as freely as possible in every moment.
What imaginary walls have you built for yourself? This is worth seriously thinking about and applying to both your self defense practice and your life. It will make you a better and more satisfied person in every way.
This is excellent advice on so many levels. Working to minimize my own walls of thought has made me a much better instructor. I’ve learned to meet my students where THEY are and proceed from there rather than forcing a system or technique. In hindsight I definitely see it informing other areas of my life and how I see the world. I do hope others are inspired to do this mental work — it is definitely worth the journey!!
Thank you Victoria. Your example about meeting students where they are rather than forcing a system on them is great. 🙂
Excellent article. Styles are a good way to organize techniques, and are not an absolute way to organize reality
Good way to put it Cecil!
I have found that to keep an open mind, one must adopt a “white belt” mind set. I disagree with your “severing all attachments”. The key is to learn with every opportunity we are presented with to evolve as a practitioner of the martial arts.
Hello Michael. If you are attached to an idea/ideology/style than you will have a difficult time seeing beyond it. The attachment is the problem. It creates resistance in seeing anything that conflicts with the idea(s) you are attached to.
“Styles” are an entry point to martial arts, but when one becomes truly skilled they learn there really is no such thing as style.
Humans have two arms and two legs (usually) and it can only be used in so many ways.
But that’s what the mind is for.
That’s true Philip. But unfortunately humans also tend to be “tribal”. By default we like to put ourselves and others in various groups. And once we form an identity as belonging to a certain group it becomes more and more difficult to see outside of it.
As always informative and thought provoking Bruce Lee said accept what is useful reject what is useless. Keep an open mind and absorb techniques from other styles into your skill set it will make you complete and stronger thanks for the article
If your mind is clearly perceiving “what IS” in a conflict situation, it is more likely you will respond appropriately, picking up nuances as the situation changes. Good article, thank you.
Very insightful. I agree with what Bruce Lee said. I am currently learning about different styles of martial arts and their philosophies. I apply what he said about absorbing what is useful and discarding what isn’t even with my own martial art. By refusing to be bound by principles and techniques, you allow yourself more freedom as a martial artist.
I do also agree that one must learn to look beyond a particular style rather than thinking that the style they learn covers all aspects of fighting and regard it as “perfect” or “the best”. In fact, if one is to be an expert in his favorite style, shouldn’t he not only see the style’s strengths but also acknowledge its limitations? Combat is multi-faceted, and most fighting systems cover some, but not all, of them, so it would make sense to keep an open mind and learn from different sources.
Hi David! Hope you are well.
I am about to launch an online course and would like to link to this post. After almost a year of research, I STILL think this states the point perfectly.
Also, If you have something YOU would like to promote within the link intro (a book, or yr website, etc, email me the specifics).
I launch in 2 weeks (YIKES) – let me know. THANKS for the work you do!!