Bruce Lee and the Invention of Jeet Kune Do: The Theory of Martial Creation
Cardiff Metropolitan University, GB
George Jennings teaches sport studies at Cardiff Metropolitan University, UK, and is the academic consultant for DojoTV. He studies martial arts cultures, pedagogies and philosophies from an anthropological and a sociological perspective using a variety of qualitative methods. Most recently, he has researched subcultures of wing chun kung fu, Xilam, and the invention of other new Mexican martial arts. He is currently interested in the development of specific theories of creation in martial arts, and is undertaking a dual linguistic ethnography of HEMA and taijiquan.
This article argues that creativity in martial arts can be linked to moments of crisis. It does so on the basis of a comparative analysis of Bruce Lee’s martial artistry (specifically his creation of Jeet Kune Do) in relation to the earlier development of Bartitsu and the more recent example of Xilam. All three of these arts were founded by experienced practitioners who took personal and social crises as stimulus for creativity. Lee’s own crises can be understood as: (i) separation, in terms of his geographical distance from his wing chun kung fu school; (ii) fitness, in terms of his dissatisfaction with his physical condition following a now (in)famous duel, and (iii) injury, in terms of his later chronic back injury, which allowed for the technical, supplementary and philosophical basis for his personal way towards combative excellence and overall human development. On the basis of comparing these three cases, I propose a theory of martial creation, which I invite other martial arts scholars to test and explore further.