Bruce Lee, the creator of the martial art Jeet Kune Do, was renowned for his physical attributes – two of which were his extraordinary speed and explosive power.
This has led many to consequently think that in order to successfully score a hit or intercept the opponent, one has to be as fast and powerful.
Such a mentality is not entirely inaccurate – speed and power are indeed crucial factors when it comes to striking.
However, consider this – are they the primary factor?
Does being extremely fast and strong all the time equate to proper mastery of your craft?
Blinded by Attributes
During my younger years I too strove to be extremely fast and powerful, to the point of building up injuries that remain with me till this day.
Basically the whole time I was telling myself “be as fast as you can, build inexhaustible stamina and fight to the maximum”. Because of this attitude I was able to overwhelm most of my peers (they were more interested in understanding their techniques and progress than “winning”), and therefore my own pride blinded me from looking beyond the initial advantages of physical attributes.
My instructor noticed my injuries and advised, “Hopefully, this will lead you to understanding the importance of proper technique delivery.”
At that time, I merely understood that I should probably move somewhat more carefully instead of letting my adrenaline control me all the time.
I still could not intellectually comprehend what could possibly be beyond speed and power.
Some years later, I was extremely fortunate to meet a mentor who taught me how to “see” using a negative description.
Instead of telling me what it was, he gave me something like a koan: “If it is not speed and power, then what is it?”
It is important to understand that he mentioned this koan only after hitting me consecutively for fifteen minutes. He was calm, composed and having fun – I was perspiring heavily and moving at full speed, unable to touch him.
This mentor of mine was approaching his 50s and I was barely 21 at the time.
This time, I tried to tell myself “he has more experience” and did not bother to investigate my shortcomings.
I was gifted with advantageous attributes, but blinded by my desire to hit.
Distance, Timing and Entry
It was only until I picked up épée fencing when I was somewhat forced to finally admit that being fast and physically fit wasn’t everything.
Paradigm shifts like this can be a rather rude awakening, but it certainly was the greatest awakening for me.
When I joined the fencing club I was getting beaten easily by novices as well as female fencers who were younger than me.
I understood that if what they were holding were not a contact sport equipment (the fencing blade) but an actual knife, I would have been cut several times and most probably dead as well.
All those times I was getting hit in the duels, I could only wonder – Where was my Wing Chun? Where was my speed and power?
Some friends of mine tried to console me by arguing that épée was not my element, that it was a completely different ball game compared to what I naturally excelled in.
They explained that when holding the épée blade, point control, distance, timing and entry mattered a lot and I was demonstrating none of that.
At that precise moment my mind lit up.
Not only did I finally wake up from my blind obsession with being stronger and faster, I was certain that I had to immerse myself in fencing in order to undo my obsolete programming.
I wanted to understand how all these physically weaker and slower fencers were getting points off me so effortlessly.
What was their method?
There were new dimensions beyond speed and power, and it seemed that actually they had existed all along.
They had to, because they were science of it all. They were the laws of physics and therefore the laws of combat itself.
I was only too uninformed and inexperienced to see the invisible.
Learning épée was my chance at redemption; I saw it as a way of fixing a fatal flaw within my now bygone software.
This was the reason I took to fencing.
I respect and approach épée fencing as a competitive sport, and deep down I admire and appreciate it as a form of martial art.
With accomplished fencers I have immense respect for their fluidity, footwork, distancing, timing, strategy and above all, the ability to read and seize opportunity.
To successfully intercept, because of deliberate timing and optimized decisions – with the mental game of a chess master, instead of a brute with force but without skill.
Learning all these qualities through fencing made me question my early addiction to speed and power.
My mind stretched into new dimensions, I would never see martial arts through the same primitive lenses again.
It made me understand Sigung Dan Inosanto’s words:
“Speed is your friend only if you know what you are doing.”
As I progressed in fencing I finally began to comprehend why Bruce Lee incorporated so many of its elements — terms that I initially never could understand — into his writings as well as the Jeet Kune Do vehicle.
Conceptually and structurally, they require almost the same Game: Interception that is centered around clever Spacetime Mastery and not primarily dependent on speed and power.
In Sijo’s own words, Jeet Kune Do is indeed “fencing without the foil”!