The Kali/JKD Connection

Discussion in 'Jeet Kune Do' started by ap Oweyn, Aug 11, 2013.

  1. ap Oweyn

    ap Oweyn Ret. Supporter

    For as long as I can remember (and presumably long before that), there's been debate over the relationship between the Filipino martial arts (which I'll be calling "kali" in this article, in deference to Guro Dan Inosanto) and Bruce Lee's jeet kune do (JKD).

    On the one side, you have the group often labeled "Original JKD," who maintain that kali is NOT any part of JKD. On the other, you have those often referred to as "JKD Concepts," who frequently train in kali as a component of their JKD curriculum.

    What I'm NOT Going to do in This Article

    I'm not going to attempt to definitively answer the question of whether kali is rightfully a part of JKD. I'm not going to try and establish causality suggesting that JKD evolved, in part, from kali.

    What I AM Going to Attempt

    I am going to attempt to establish a correlation between kali and JKD, if only as siblings who get along quite well (versus intrinsic components of one another).

    It's been fairly well documented, in my view, that Bruce Lee was somewhat indifferent to kali. Guro Dan [Inosanto] recounts in one of his books that Lee demonstrated his take on double stick. Guro Dan exclaimed that he was doing largo mano (a component of kali). Lee reportedly responded that he didn't care what you called it. That was how he'd do it.

    That doesn't necessarily lay to rest the issue of whether Lee particularly cared about kali. Couple it with the fact that there's little to no mention of kali in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do (intended to be the distillation of Lee's personal training notes) and it becomes difficult to suggest that kali played prominently in Lee's thought process.

    Guro Dan

    So is that the end of it? To my mind, it isn't. If Bruce Lee is the birth father of JKD, then Guro Dan is one of its godfathers (along with first-generation JKDers Ted Wong, Taky Kimura, etc.). There are few people who have played as important a role in the upbringing of JKD as Guro Dan. Those who have do so have held radically different views of their roles, which has resulted in very different "takes" on JKD over the generations. Whichever side of that fence you fall, I think it's safe to say that Guro Dan has played a pivotal role in the development of JKD since the death of its founder.

    During Lee's lifetime, Guro Dan was one of his most frequent collaborators. It would be disingenuous to suggest that his influence completely failed to osmose into JKD's development, even if only in subtle ways.

    More importantly, after Lee's passing, the connection was made concrete for the next generation of JKDers thanks to the efforts of Guro Dan and another JKD great, Guro Richard Bustillo.

    In his lifetime, Bruce Lee stated that he didn't want "JKD schools." After his passing, his friends grappled with the balance between honouring his wishes and preventing his work from fading away. The compromise that they hit upon was to open a kali academy and invite a select group from that student population to carry JKD forward. In that way, there remained no JKD school, but there was still a venue for training a cadre of JKDers.

    Starting with that second generation, then, there was a clear connection by virtue of those individuals having been trained in both styles. The association was self-evident for those students coming from the kali academy. They presumably took that understanding forward in training subsequent generations.

    Outside of the Inosanto lineage, the connection becomes more abstract. That said, I think it's still evident in some important ways.

    Shared Ancestry

    In the bigger picture, kali and JKD share common influences; a shared parentage. The contributions of boxing and fencing are well documented in both methodologies.

    In the case of Bruce Lee, the role of fencing in the development of JKD came from his older brother, an accomplished competitive fencer. In the case of kali, it was the long-time Spanish occupation of the Philippines. The word eskrima is derived from the word esgrima (fencing in Spanish). Other terms associated with kali (e.g., espada y daga, Spanish for sword and dagger) reinforce the relationship between fencing and kali.

    This relationship has shaped some technical similarities as well. The primary weapon being held in (or simply being) the lead hand is common to Western fencing, kali, and JKD. The idea of the longest weapon being employed on the nearest target is also a point of commonality. In kali, it's known as largo mano (Spanish for long hand).

    Then there's boxing. Lee's fascination with boxing is clear. There is also a long Pinoy boxing tradition, stemming from notables such as "Flash" Elorde right up to current boxing favourite Manny "Pac Man" Pacquiao. Boxing is a frequent source of technical input in the empty hand approaches of many kali practitioners. These approaches are known by various names, including suntukan, panantukan, mano mano, and pangamot.

    Closing Thoughts

    Bruce Lee's direct teachings focus very clearly on empty hand. That said, one of the most philosophical underpinnings of JKD is the idea that someone needs to be prepared to defend themselves. Couple that with another of its precepts (that you shouldn't limit your thinking to JKD or NOT JKD), and it seems natural to include kali in the conversation.

    Kali addresses melee weapon combat using many of the same concepts, tactics, and techniques that Lee's JKD applied to empty hand combat. Whether they're genetically related is, ultimately, perhaps less important than the question of their compatibility. With its focuses on 1) direct, fluid responses to attack, 2) simple, easily improvised weaponry, and 3) adaptability to the environment and the individual, kali is (at the very least) an amiable colleague to JKD.

    That's it. Agree? Disagree? Let's hear it.
  2. am1t0

    am1t0 New Member

    I think you put it really well when you said that JKD and Kali are like siblings that get along well, rather than integral components of one and other.

    My feeling is that Lee was focussed on, and passionate about, developing his ideas of empty hand combat. Whilst Kali has empty hand application, one begins with the weapon(s). It was likely to be something that just wasn't part of Lee's focus. That is not the same thing as saying that he had disdain for it.

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