The Will Smith Slap – A Teachable Moment
You may have heard about it…that is, unless you’re living under a rock someplace cold and miserable, a dark place where no meme can penetrate. I’m talking, of course, about Will Smith, on his way to winning an Academy Award, gansta-slapping Chris Rock. A few self-defense comments are in order. I mean, seriously, how could we pass such an opportunity? That would be like a gambler passing “the sure thing”, or an alcoholic rejecting a free drink, or a politician turning down a “donation.”
First, poor Chris Rock. He made a joke about Will Smith’s wife. It was a G.I. Jane joke, which was a movie starring Demi Moore back in the 90’s when she was at the peak of her fame for being, well, you know, Demi Moore. She didn’t really act so much as she was just good at being Demi Moore. Well, in that movie she played a woman breaking into the hyper masculine NAVY SEALS. And she had to wear a super-duper short buzz cut. That’s the joke. Jada Pinkett Smith has the same hairstyle now.
But here’s the rub: Jada’s hair style is because she has an auto-immune issue that’s causing her hair to fall out, so she cut it. Demi had to cut hers for the movie. The thing is, Rock’s joke, whether he knew about Jada’s medical issue or not, still presumes one thing that ought not to be missed: Demi was still quite a hottie in G.I. Jane. Yep, she rocked that hairstyle. So, insofar as insults go, being compared to Demi Moore (then or now) isn’t probably the worst thing one can do to a woman. (Much thanks to Jackie C. for alerting me to that angle, by the way).
But Will Smith obviously didn’t take it that way. After initially laughing at the joke, he saw his wife’s response – and she looked about as happy as any intelligent, well-adjusted person would at an Atlanta Falcons game – and he lost it. He walked up on stage, approached Rock, and then smacked him. Yep, as in slap. As in didn’t punch hm. I’ve never slapped anyone. It never occurred to me to ever slap someone. If I was going to defend my wife’s honor, it would be a punch to the beak, not a slap. Just saying.
Lesson for Rock: if you make a joke about a dude’s wifey, and that dude then starts walking up to you, prepare for impact. He’s probably not there to yuck it up with ya. He wants to give you a high-five…to your face.
The bedrock principle of self-defense is that one is only ever justified in using violence (morally speaking) if the event was unavoidable. If it’s avoidable, it’s not self-defense. Thus, Will Smith, who always plays a dude in his movies that’s as cool as the other side of the pillow, always in charge of events, was clearly wrong in losing his temper. Assaulting Chris Rock – and it was assault – was a cowardly thing to do. It was contemptible. We wonder if Will would have been so inclined if the joke had been made by the Rock (Dwayne Johnson) and not Chris Rock. Sucker-smacking the bejabbers out of a comedian hardly establishes one’s manliness.
Just like that, after three decades of goodwill and fame, Will Smith, blew a big fat steaming hole in his legacy. We should all be warned. A couple of points to ponder.
If we don’t put the time into life-management, we’re going to sail our boat too close to the iceberg.
Will Smith, it seems to me, is the latest man in history to learn something of what the mighty Samson learned the hard way. Why did Smith blow up and attack Rock and then scream at him from his seat? Methinks it was because he’s been so made a public fool of by the woman whose honor he said he was defending that he snapped. It was a classic case of misplaced rage. Will Smith, you see, is a cuckold. Not familiar with that word? It’s a dude whose wife is entertaining other dudes. Sexually.
And everyone knows it.
In his case, Jada talked all about it on some podcast or another. Imagine that. No matter what Will Smith says going forward, this looms large. He also admitted to his terrible jealousy over her relationship with Tupac and how that left him feeling horribly inadequate.
Does that sound like a stable marriage to you? Does that sound like a pleasant scenario?
And why air all this stuff anyway?
So, Will Smith smacking a little fella like Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife’s hair – even if Rock knew about the medical issue (and I had no idea until I looked it up) – considering her own admissions of adultery strikes me (sorry, couldn’t help it) as much ado about nothing. “Sure, my wife sleeps with other guys…but don’t you talk about her hair!” That’s a weird line to draw in the sand, don’t you think? You can protest that the Smiths have an “open marriage” all you want but it doesn’t seem that Will is fully onboard with that concept. And if she’s such a powerful woman and you’re all about anti-traditionalism in the first place, why not let her be the one to go up and smack Rock? See what happens when we eschew the basics in life? We can’t keep straight which rules still apply. Sexual faithfulness is a relic of the past, you say? Well, so is not making jokes about someone’s medical condition!
Ah, it’s madness. Moral rules aren’t like items on a buffet.
So that’s the point about Will. We’ve got to keep our stuff together, so to speak. When the dam breaks like it did the other night for him, it’s usually because so much pressure had built up in the first place. His were not the actions of a man who’s at peace with himself. And it’s not easy to be at peace with yourself when your personal life is so dysfunctional. A road rage incident doesn’t happen only because you were cut off, but because you feel so cut off everywhere else in life. The dude you start screaming at – or slap – is merely caught up in your little civil war.
In summary: if you make a bad joke (I don’t know what that’s like) guard your six. If your wife is publicly humiliating you, don’t take it out on the little guy with the jokes. Go for an extra run. Hit the bags more. Oh, and maybe divorce her. I highly doubt she’s happy with the other night anyway. And if someone offends you, either get up and leave (that would have been classy) or text him: “Hey, bro, that was super rude. The bride has really struggled with that, and you just humiliated her. I’m sure you didn’t mean to do that. Either way, make sure you apologize to her. I’m serious.”
Get My Free Pass
JKD & Boxing
The True and Practical Origins of JKD
Excerpt from the upcoming book, “JKD Infighting”
For all the hand-wringing and overly philosophical meanderings about what JKD is or is not, let’s get this out in the open. Let’s not meander and make a big deal out of what should be patently obvious to one and all – as obvious as the day of the week. Bruce Lee’s JKD is a self-defense/martial art offshoot of old-school boxing. His foundation was Wing Chun and he saw that as a practical system of combat but for two reasons he adapted a more boxing framework to his JKD.
First, he couldn’t finish his Wing Chun training. When Lee left Hong Kong in late 1958 he left behind the Ip Man school. Ip Man’s approach to teaching, we should note, was very much based on practicality. He encouraged his pupils to test the theories and training for themselves rather than blindly taking his word for it. This was – especially for a Chinese fighting method in the 1950’s where loyalty to the Sifu was paramount – a radical thing. I contend that it was this that was the central aspect of the Ip Man school and gave rise to men like Lee as well as his senior, Wong Shun Leung (who was also responsible for Lee’s training under Ip Man).
At that time in Wing Chun history, the method wasn’t considered a classical art. Ip Man was an upstart in the Hong Kong community. He’d been chased out of mainland China by Mao’s forces and left without his family and forced to scratch out a living in a city still recovering from the ravages of Japanese occupation in WW2. During that period from December of 1941 thru August 1945 food had been so scarce that hundreds of thousands perished. When the occupation began there were nearly 2 million people in Hong Kong. By the time they left there were only 700,000. It was a time that’s hard to imagine for the modern westerner when one of the greatest health threats facing the impoverished in America is obesity! In Hong Kong at that time, the people were literally starving to death. Please keep that in mind when you see old photos of that era.
At any rate, we can understand the toughness of a people who’ve survived such a war and such horrific deprivations. And it was to these survivors – men like Wong Shun Leung – that Ip Man broke from tradition and told to go test the stuff to see if it worked.
Which brings us to the second reason that Lee moved toward boxing in his later years.
Quite simply, in America, which had been, by comparison, untouched by the ravages of war, and was awash in material wealth, there wasn’t a culture of “trying things out” in the martial community like there had been back in Hong Kong. But driven by the philosophy of Ip Man, that being that a theory had to work in practice, Lee was hell-bent on practicality. Boxing offered this to him. It gave him the ability to test things out and, not only that, but a rich history of adaptation and change. In short, to Lee’s mind, boxing was the logical extension or, perhaps more accurately, the martial sibling to his foundation art of Wing Chun.
The proof of this is a letter that he sent to his senior and mentor in Wing Chun, Wong Shun Leung. Here’s the letter:
“Dear Shun-Leung, Jan. 11, 1970
“It has been a long time since I last wrote to you. How are you? Alan Shaw’s letter from Canada asks me to lend you my 8mm film. I’m sorry about that. It is because I have lost it when I moved my home. That film is already very old and I seldom use it, so I have lost it. I am sorry for it.
“Now I have bought a home in Bel-Air. It is about half an acre. There are many trees. It has the taste of a range. It is located on a hilltop near Beverly Hills. Moreover, besides my son Brandon, I have had a daughter, Shannon, who is seven months old now. Have you re-married? Please send my regard to your sisters. Recently, I have organized a film company. I have also written a story ‘The Silent Flute’. James Coburn and I will act in it. Stirling Silliphant is the screen-play writer. He is a famous screen-play writer (In the Heat of the Night). We plan to make the first fighting film in Hollywood. The prospect is good. About six months later, the filming work will begin. All who participate in this film are my followers. In the future, Steve McQueen may also work together with me.
“I am very excited about this plan. As to martial arts, I still practice daily. I meet my students and friends twice a week. No matter they are western boxer, Tae Kwon Do learner or wrestler, I will meet them as long as they are friendly and will not get angry.
“Since I started to practice realistically in 1966 (Protectors, gloves, etc.), I feel that I had many prejudices before, and they are wrong. So I change the name of the gist of my study to Jeet-kune-do. Jeet-kune-do is only a name. The most important thing is to avoid having bias in the training. Of course, I run everyday, I practice my instruments (punch, kick, throw, etc.). I have to raise the basic conditions daily.
“Although the principle of boxing is important, practicality is even more important. I thank you and Master for teaching me the ways of Wing Chun in Hong Kong. Actually, I have to thank you for leading me to walk on a practical road. Especially in the States, there are western boxers, I often practice with them too. There are many so-called masters in Wing Chun here, I really hope that they will not be so blind to fight with those western boxers may make a trip to Hong Kong. I hope that you will live in the same place.
“We are intimate friends, we need to meet more and chat about our past days. That will be a lot of fun? When you see Master Yip, please send my regard to him. Happiness be with you!
When we couple this letter with the fact that Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do, published posthumously and originally intended to be a manual for his personal students, was actually copied itself from old boxing and fencing manuals, we have settled the issue of JKD’s origins. Our contention that Lee’s JKD followed the principles of boxing and that he owed this to his instruction in Wing Chun from Ip Man isn’t speculation but, rather, the direct words and deeds of the man himself. In the famed Tao, often seen as evidence of Lee’s martial genius, he literally copied dozens of pages from old boxing and fencing manuals. Modern boxing had grown out of the fencing era, relying on straight hits, footwork, timing and deception. So, indeed, he was a genius but a different one than most of us are led to believe.
The infighting presented in this book, therefore, will have a greater streak of boxing running through it than the JKD Foundations book. At long range, JKD can resemble fencing a bit more but that’s all gone when you are fighting in the trenches. A thing to note, of course, is Lee’s own words in the letter to his mentor. He says that though boxing principles are important, practicality and realism are the key. What this means is that Lee built his JKD on the well vetted and tested principles of boxing. Modifications made for street-fighting – such as takedown defense, head-butting, eye jabs, low blows, etc. – while necessary and extremely helpful in the cause of personal defense, are still in orbit around the boxing principles. Those principles are what Lee liked to call aliveness. In particular, they’re evasion, powerful striking from any angle, and mobility.
If you were so inclined to say that JKD is simply boxing then, we would disagree. There’s a difference in building on the foundation of a thing and being that thing. A boxer can cheat but he would have to make a conscious effort to override his muscle and tactical memory in order to do so. The JKD approach is a scientific “cheating” – a highly organized, yet simple adaptation of the boxing methodology in order to help keep the self-defender as safe as possible in the event of a sudden and violent encounter. Thus, JKD is like boxing but isn’t boxing. On the other hand, those JKD variants that are less like boxing and more like something else – like say, Kali – are less like JKD too. To jettison the boxing roots of JKD – especially on the inside – is to cut oneself off from the scientific nature of the combat.
To prove my point, I’d like to offer this example.
Back in 1996 my school was very small. I had a 400 square foot place on Wade Hampton Boulevard in Taylors, South Carolina. (Talk about humble beginnings…the Lord has blessed my work mightily!). One evening a guy came in and asked why I wasn’t teaching BJJ. He went on to explain that unless I was teaching Gracie style BJJ that I’d be out of business in short order. The strength of his argument rested upon the small sample-size evidence of the recent UFC matches in which Royce Gracie was dominant.
Well, to this I replied that boxing was still the king in any universe where people throw punches at each other. As soon as the fighters adapted their tactics to account for BJJ – that is, learned to sprawl and punch properly, you’d see a radical reordering of the UFC. He laughed derisively at that and shook his head in a way a man shakes his head when someone tells him he was once abducted by aliens. Or that 9/11 was an inside job. Or that you can trust Congress.
Anyway, here we are over 20 years later and we know that a UFC fighter without boxing is an accident waiting to happen.
We must add, though, that the old-school boxing we present – and that being Jack Dempsey style predominantly – is better suited for all-out fighting than MMA. This is due to the variables like asphalt rather than mats, headbutts, eye, throat and groin strikes, multiple opponents and so on. We’ll cover all this in more detail as we go but we remember that Lee’s goal was realism and that he once remarked that boxing was “over-daring” due to its reliance on rules. It was his belief that a martial artist was training for war, not sport and that sport, while extremely helpful in regard to testing certain aspects of one’s game, if left unchecked, would dominate one’s understanding of self-defense and thus weaken it. We remind the reader that if you aren’t cheating in combat you aren’t trying to win insofar as we define cheating as the use of tactics and targets that are the most difficult to defend.
In closing, if you think that Dempsey or Tyson were destructive, and they certainly were, then you need to understand how and why that was the case. That’s what made Lee such an outstanding thinker. He saw people getting the results he wanted and began his research there. JKD infighting is, therefore, the extrapolations of close-quarter boxing applied to street-defense – all-out, life-or-death combat.
Get My Free Pass
Wing Chun A Close-Range Science of Self-defense
Excerpted from Jason’s upcoming book, Wing Chun for the Modern Warrior
It’s well noted from the writings of self-defense and dueling experts of the past few centuries that there were a particular group of fighters to be avoided. These less than esteemed, but highly feared men were called rough-and-tumble fighters. Indeed, the highly skilled and cultivated of the day, including the great Colonel Monstery, that renowned duelist and warrior of the 19th Century, were less than enamored with these fighters, considering them barely above the ranks of savages. But feared they were. Monstery himself advised against ever fighting these men.
This should draw our attention because the masters of the past, unlike today, were not dealing with sport rules for the most part. These were men that fought with bare fists, with knives, swords, and sticks. These were the type of men that make contemporary manly men look like sissies. Many of today’s so-called fighters are, for better or worse, sport fighters and they are conditioned to fight according to rules. These duelists, quite naturally, sometimes died from their competitions so it’s fair to say, in the very least, that they had a view of combative things that should speak truth to us across the decades and centuries as we face an ever more violent society.
So, what was it that engendered such fear amongst the highest and best of the warrior elite from these uncouth barbarians? Well, simply put, they were savage in-close fighters by all accounts. They were eye-gougers and head-butters; they were foul inside warriors that attacked the jaw, the eyes, the neck and throat. They held and hit. And they hit low. They had no regard for decency. They would even bite whenever and wherever they could. Yes…this was a class of fighters in that day. Ruthless, savage and in your face. As was noted, to win a fight against these men often still relegated the victor to some sort of serious injury. They were best to be left alone. Think of the famous fight between Bill “The Butcher” Poole and John Morrissey in New York in 1854. No one wanted to fight such men.
Well, my friends, as we seek to engage contemporary threats it’s best that we live in the real world. We should note that these past duelists were often concerned with honor in combat. Those men were living in a time when people had a code and that code effected even the way men behaved in combat. Incidentally, it was noted in newspaper accounts of the day that some Chinese immigrants, when fighting, fought a very “dirty” game too – much like the rough-and-tumble group. We can have a debate on the reasons for the West’s collapse of virtue and morality some other time, but it’s unthinkable for the modern warrior to insist it isn’t happening. When I was growing up in a poor town in Upstate New York where there were plenty of fights among the young men, myself included, it was unthinkable to hit a downed opponent or someone who said, “Uncle.” The witnesses were sure to intercede – they would police themselves, if you will – if one party continued to put it on a boy unable and/or unwilling to defend himself.
Those days are, sadly, regrettably, as gone as most of the vestiges of old America. Like I said, you can say what you want about the changes of this country in the last 20-30 years. You can say that we are stamping out injustices by eradicating the old moral codes. You are welcome to that opinion but there can be no denying that this is a more dangerous place than it was when I was a child. This isn’t the same land where an 8-year-old boy could go off from home for the entire day, come home only when the street lights came on, and the parents not worry. That would get most parents arrested today. It’s unthinkable. Because everyone is doing what’s right in their own eyes, pornography, violence, and lack of respect for authority rule the day. People seem to have confused liberty with anarchy and, thus, they’ve replaced rule of law with lawlessness. All of this, quite naturally, means that if you are in a fight, you are much less likely to be in a fair fight than in the past.
It’s in this world that we live and it’s in this world that a person must consider his or her self-defense method.
And it’s here that I wish to tell you that Wing Chun should be your choice. It should be your choice exactly because it’s a science of infighting, which is to say that it’s a logical and comprehensive system very much like what the rough-and-tumblers were doing a century ago. This alone should make any warrior stand up and consider Wing Chun over other systems.
A number of years ago a martial arts teacher from a nearby school paid me a visit. He identified himself as a grandmaster. This was because, as he explained, he had modified the original Karate system he’d learned so much that it was an entirely new system, thus granting him the coveted title grandmaster. For the next several days afterwards, incidentally, I identified myself, and expected to be addressed by one and all, as “Your Worshipfulness-ship.” That was, of course, something like what Hans Solo called Princess Leia in his first go-round with her on the big, bad Death Star. We all had lots of fun.
Sorry. I digress.
Anyway, aside from delusions of grandeur, my erstwhile visitor told me all about his vaunted system and how thorough it was in dispatching one and all. It was a complete system, he said. How complete? Well, he counted some 1200 techniques. But then, without any prompting at all from me, he declared, “But don’t get me wrong…in a real fight I wouldn’t mess around – I’d poke him in the eye and break his knee.”
Now, naturally, one wonders what all the other 1,198 techniques are that he won’t use or, in his own words, mess around with. One wonders how much free time a man has when he can devote his life to the mastery of 1,198 techniques that are “messing around”. Perhaps he could have devoted such time and energies to other endeavors more productive – like carpentry or landscaping or winning and holding Euro-Asia in Risk. Or, if he really wanted to waste time, he could have become a writer. But I digress again. Quite sorry.
This seems to be the majority report, however. Every conversation I have with martial artist, boxer, MMA dude, and civilian alike, there is the same refrain: “If I’m in a real fight…I’ll go after the eyes and all that stuff…” This seems, in my humble estimation, as ubiquitous as the proverbial, “the check’s in the mail” or, when I’d ask a girl for her phone number, “…just give me yours…I’ll call you.” (That only happened once or twice. Seriously.)
The truth of the matter is, though, that men and women hardly ever rise to the level of their challenge – especially in a violent encounter. You’re only as good as your practice. And if you never practice something, there’s little to no chance that you’ll pull it off effectively in a fight. And this is exactly where Wing Chun should interest everyone and anyone interested in seriously protecting themselves. I mean, if you want to break boards, go break boards. That’s fun. I get it. Plus, the school makes money from you having to buy all those innocent, never bothered anyone pieces of wood. And if you want to roll around on a mat (and streets and parking lots are full of nice padded mats, right?) then go do that too. It’s fun. I understand. But if you’re thinking of maximum self-protection then don’t kid yourself. What you master in practice is what you’ll do in a fight. Wing Chun is a science of the very stuff everyone else says they’re going to do. It’s that simple.
Some Basic Facts
When I’m asked about Wing Chun the first thing I tell people is that it’s a fighting science. Generally, I’m asked this in environments like the office at my school or at a convenience store where someone asks me about the shirt I’m wearing. You’ll note that you’re hardly ever in a nice, safe, padded environment; you’re generally surrounded by stuff – and hard stuff at that, like counters, tables, windows, cars and pavement. Besides, if you’re in a padded environment all the time, you’re either insane or a sport fighter. But I repeat myself again.
So, we have limited room to move. That’s very important to understand. And the room you have to move is wrought with potential dangers. For example, falling on a mat or getting slammed against a cage doesn’t quite compare to falling down a flight of stairs or striking your precious noggin on the edge of a table. Wing Chun, therefore, is a science of close-range footwork, pivoting and shifting. It’s a transportation system designed for the urban jungle, not the ring or cage. Imagine vintage Tyson moving, coming in fast and using angles – very aggressive but smart too. Wing Chun footwork is designed to take the fight to the enemy while not letting him face you directly. It’s a system of angle stepping, shifting and pivoting that seeks to nullify the other guy’s offense while setting up your own.
Next, it’s a system of attacking and defending the body’s center-mass and most vulnerable targets.
For example, I often explain Wing Chun to new students with a little demonstration. I tell them that I’m going to grab their eyes and that they should try and stop me. Well, this isn’t the garden-variety way most people think to start a fight. People are generally quite taken aback by this as it seems particularly barbaric. But to the Wing Chun fighter, dying or being maimed by a criminal is what’s barbaric. Therefore, any means at our disposal to avoid such is a rather good idea. Anyway, as I shoot forward, untrained people are rarely quick enough to block or get out of the way of the rapid and economical attack and, in short order, I have thumbs on both eyes (not hurting them, of course…we don’t do that until after they sign up). If they do manage to avoid the initial burst, they do so with poor mechanical structure. They lean back or pull to the side awkwardly, leaving them off balance – easily pushed or pulled in that unsafe environment of hard objects. Or they get an arm in the way. But this is momentary because Wing Chun’s unique in-fighting training drills teaches one to instinctively clear obstructions and move on to the target with minimal fuss. Perhaps at this point I don’t get the eyes, though. Maybe it’s the throat, or neck, or driving the jaw back. Whatever. Wing Chun teaches you to let them help you hit them. Indeed, by not fighting force with force, you go where the openings are.
Anyway, in short order you have an example of why Wing Chun is so effective. Unlike the rough-and-tumble guys of the past, where they often traded blows, and everyone was injured (kind of like a modern Presidential election) Wing Chun teaches you to control the enemy while hurting him, thus obliterating his ability to respond in kind. It’s simple, but not easy. There’s a clear system that’s more comprehensive than just gouging an eye. After all, if you think you’re just going to poke a guy in the eye, what happens if that’s his plan too? We remember that this seems to be everyone’s stated goal. That being the case, our system of self-defense should assist us in not only attacking the enemy’s weakest targets but also in simultaneously defending our own. This is no small point, incidentally. If we both walk away maimed and/or blind, I can hardly count that as a victory. An eye for an eye is hardly a good fighting tactic – in fact, it works once and only once.
Wing Chun, therefore, is a brilliant close-range system that teaches the simultaneous nullification of your enemy’s attack and the delivery of your own. It does this with an ingenious methodology that is logically structured and tactically brilliant. With all due respect to the great Wong Shun Leung, who once remarked that the best form of self-defense would be to become invisible, but if you can’t do that, learn Wing Chun – I’ve always preferred a more effective way of dealing with enemies if possible. Remember the first Terminator movie? Now that’s how you deal with an enemy! Send a life-like homicidal robot back in time to kill his mother. That’s the ticket! Of course, that’s rather hard to do considering that you need both a time machine and a homicidal robot. More still, that whole shebang would likely be rather cost prohibitive too and only rich people would have them (look out Bernie Sanders!!). Sadly, that being the case, I think Wing Chun is your go-to self-defense method.
Get My Free Pass
You Don’t Know Jack!
With all due respect to Ayn Rand, who was Jack Dempsey?
Frankly, it’s a JKD tragedy that more of us don’t know who he was and, more importantly, what impact he had on the Little Dragon and JKD.
If you watch footage of Lee pulverizing the heavy bag in his backyard – beating it like it owed him money – you’ll notice a very distinctive manner in the way he threw his punches. Well, that is, after you recover from the shock of seeing a man so small punch harder than many people can kick! How did he do that? That’s the question. He wasn’t always doing it that way. In fact, after his legendary and very frustrating fight with Wong Jak Man, Lee rightly reasoned that he needed more hitting power. That altercation with Wong, after all, went on for way too long though Lee threw something like a gazillion punches. Licking his tactical/technical wounds afterward, he knew he needed more power.
And that’s where our man comes in – Jack Dempsey.
First, it’s important to understand that Bruce Lee was both a man of ideas and action. He wanted results and he knew that the best way to get them was to find men that had already gotten them. So, do you want punching power? Who better to learn from than a fighter they called the man-killer? Seriously. You don’t get that moniker by slapping like a sissy. Especially in the heavyweight division.
So, how good was Dempsey? Well, he was the heavyweight champion from 1919-1926. In his career, he won 51 times by KO (records vary because of the shoddy nature of some of his early fights. Not only this, but he fought dozens of “exhibition” matches against top fighters of his day and dispatched one and all). The thing is, of those 51 KO’s, 25 were in the first round. He was a menacing, snarling, two-fisted, panther-quick destruction machine. But, lest you think he was all power and no skill, Dempsey was a master boxer – a scientific and intellectual destruction machine of historic proportions. No less a fighter than Mike Tyson tried to pattern himself after Dempsey.
Dempsey’s title winning performance against a giant of a man named Jess Willard is instructive as to his incredible offensive capacity. In the first round, after prowling along the rim of the fighting measure, staying outside of Willard’s daunting reach (he was 6’6 and 240lbs!), Jack connected with a thunderous barrage. Willard, who had previously killed a man in a boxing match, was sent to the canvas seven times. Seven. To his credit, he kept getting up only to get hammered back down again. By the end of the round Willard wasn’t the same man anymore. The soon to be former champion had a broken nose. A broken jaw. His orbital bone was obliterated. He lost hearing in one ear. He had multiple broken ribs and most of his teeth were gone.
This was a match – fought nearly 100 years ago on July 4, 1919 in a sweltering 100-degree heat because there were no stadium lights yet – that changed boxing history and kicked off what would be known as the Roaring 20’s. No one had ever seen such a pulverizing spectacle. Never. Especially in a title fight.
In all, Willard, the fallen giant from Kansas, appeared to be a casualty of one of the mighty guns from the recently ended World War. No. He was simply the latest victim of the most destructive fighter in boxing history. Dempsey later said he felt sick to his stomach looking at Willard, appalled at what his inner fury and skill could do to another human being. And not just any regular fellow, remember – but a man who had beaten Jack Johnson, a champion and a man who outweighed him by 50 pounds.
Due to the epic destruction of the reigning heavyweight champion, Dempsey became larger than life. In a time when the heavyweight champion had no parallel in sports, he was now the emperor of masculinity, as it was said. No one had ever seen anything like it and even today it’s virtually impossible to understand the heights Jack scaled in popularity. One story can give us a little perspective, though.
Eddie Sutherland was a powerful Hollywood director in the 20’s. He was convinced that his lover, the famous actress Clara Bow, was having an affair. So, he told Bow he had to go to New York on some business, check on some plays that might make good movies. They shared a limo ride to Union Station in Los Angeles, hugging, holding hands and even weeping as they parted. But Sutherland got off the train in Pasadena and took a taxi back home. When he went to Bow’s mansion, having a key, he let himself in. The bedroom door was locked. He began knocking and wouldn’t go away as Bow yelled at him to leave or else she’d call the police.
But who calls the police on their lover? She was stalling.
Finally, she opened the door. She was wearing a bathrobe.
“Where is he?”
“Who? It’s just me, Eddie,” she said and tried to usher him out of the room.
“There’s a man here! I smell a man.”
“What are you, a bloodhound?”
He looked under the bed. Then he checked the closets. Finally, he came to the bathroom door. It was locked.
“I know you’re in there,” he shouted. “C’mon out here so I can knock your teeth out, you yellow son-of-a-bitch!”
The door opened.
There stood Jack Dempsey.
Eddie Sutherland had just called Jack Dempsey a coward and threatened to knock out his teeth.
Quickly coming to his senses, Sutherland smiled and apologized. “Jack…I didn’t know it was you. Just kidding, Jack.”
Some reports have Sutherland getting Jack’s autograph before he left. Imagine that. Imagine finding a man in bed with your girl and you get his autograph. And then you tell all your friends. That’s how famous Dempsey was, and that fame was built upon those thundering fists.
Until Dempsey’s time, scientific punchers were unknown. Knockouts happened more from a fighter being worn down than blown away by a single punch or quick barrage. We now live on the other side of this history and, therefore, it’s easy to miss the significance of it all. When Babe Ruth his 59 homers in 1921, and then broke his own record with 60 bombs in 1927, other hitters in baseball were lucky to hit 10 or 15. But that was the 20’s. Jack’s fists inaugurated that golden era of sports and he wasn’t hitting baseballs; he was decimating professional fighters.
Sure, there were hordes of crude punchers – wild men that rushed forward swinging with all their might. Get this image out of your head. Those types of men were – and are – crude brawlers. They may have been heavy handed (if they were any good at all) but Jack was a surgeon, but his goal wasn’t to fix, but to destroy.
In the fight with Willard he was at his destructive best. The first half of Round 1 was what most people call a “feeling out” period. Great action and surreal damage followed in the second half of the round but it was the first half that’s important because it shows Jack’s patience. Dempsey stayed outside of Willard’s mammoth 83-inch reach. He was giving away nearly 50-pounds too and big Jess was looking to catch Jack with an uppercut on the inside, so Dempsey was careful, stalking, waiting, and expertly clinching on the inside when his attacks didn’t work.
No great knockout puncher can be impatient. What makes them dangerous is their controlled fury – their careful aggression. And this has to be the case because if they rush in foolishly they’ll catch a counter-punch coming in and that’s always bad because you give the punch more power by running into it. Aggression can and will be used against you and fighters that attack must be all the more vigilant against mistakes lest they end up taking damage on the way in.
Well, right around the half-point of the first round Jack caught big Jess with that falling-step jab – a punch that Bruce Lee would later adapt as his own. It caught Willard flush and opened him up for what the sports writers of the day called a barrage. Today we’re used to such language but it wasn’t popular then. It was a reference to Dempsey’s short and pulverizing hooks on the inside. He’d go to the body with both hands, hammering shots underneath a fighter’s guard and then he’d rip hooks at the head. It reminded the ringside writers of World War 1 artillery barrages.
Well, Dempsey let loose on Willard’s body and then crashed a hook home. It landed flush and big Jess slumped to the canvas in the Ohio summer heat. It was the perfect hook. It fractured the champion’s cheekbone in thirteen places. Willard sat there with what Grantland Rice called a dazed and foolish look, his face “twitching in pain and bewilderment.” He rose AT six and was met again by a Dempsey left-hook. Half of his face was already destroyed and now six teeth were dislodged. The teeth scattered, bloodied, onto the canvas as Willard went down again.
It remains to this day perhaps the worst beating ever administered in a title fight. The damage was so appalling that rumors developed over the years that Dempsey had used “loaded” gloves. But Dempsey didn’t need to cheat. He had mastered the skill of using all of his bodyweight in every punch. That was his secret. And he wanted every fight to be over in a hurry because he reasoned that the longer a match went on the more likelihood that he could be injured. “I never go in confident,” he once said. “Any sucker can get lucky and give you a crack in the chin. I go in, saying to myself, ‘kill ‘im, kill ‘im, kill ‘im. Otherwise, he’ll kill me.”
So, Jack, you see was the perfect fighting machine. Hard to hit but rabidly aggressive. Scientific yet with animal instincts. Ferociously aggressive but tempered by smart tactics and precision technique.
And that’s the odd part of it all. Scientific men – men of intellectual precision and careful thought are not thought to be aggressive. It’s naturally assumed that high aggression and intellect are antithetical. All throughout history this bias is in evidence; men of the mind think that men of action are beneath them. Victor Davis Hanson, the brilliant historian, points this out about Patton. The great war general was the best read and most probing intellectual of his day, but his aggressiveness made others think he wasn’t an intellectual. Patton swore a lot and spoke in ways that dripped with the fury of combat. He said, “son, it isn’t your job to die for you country…it’s to make sure the other son-of-a-bitch dies for his.” This isn’t how a professor talks. But both Patton and Dempsey – and later Bruce Lee – would ask us to check our premises. Ideas, to be true, must work in reality. That’s the test of an idea. Does it work? And Patton was a philosopher of war; Jack was a philosopher of the ring and of man-to-man fighting. They were men of the mind. Indeed, they were two of the most honest men to ever live because they put their own bodies on the line to see if their theories worked.
Interestingly, Dempsey, like Patton, hated war and fighting so much that they took no risks. They studied how they might end matters as quickly as possible. That’s the goal. For Dempsey, it was knocking his man out. When that happened, Jack knew he was safe. The best self-defense was KO power.
As evidenced in his book, Championship Fighting, of which Lee was a serious student, Jack was a highly scientific puncher who knew how to get every last bit of payload into every punch. Jack didn’t believe in light punches as set-ups – that’s what fakes were for! No. He was all-in on every shot and from him Lee learned what became essentials in the JKD system: the power-line, falling-step straight punch, and the four ways to get maximum power in every punch. This can’t be overstated: to watch Lee hammer the heavy bag is to see a Dempsey student.
There was a key in Dempsey’s approach that coincided with the Wing Chun Lee already knew. Jack, unlike other boxers, threw his straight jab (which he called the jolt) with a vertical fist. This allowed Lee to seamlessly integrate the new skills into his already existing framework. Jack taught in his book to throw the jolt with a step, hand before foot. Most people mistakenly believe that JKD’s non-telegraphic structure comes from fencing only. But there’s an enormous difference between striking someone with a blade and punching him. Dempsey provided the structure to punch with balance and power without telegraphing. And this revolutionized Lee’s game.
After the stepping jolt (the falling step), Dempsey taught that power punching came from not just springing forward (off the back foot) and falling forward (the gravity assist you get from the explosive step provided your punch lands before your front foot hits the floor) but also from upward surge and shoulder whirl. He said that in punching, the fist gets all the glory but it’s really only along for the ride. Every blow should have maximum body structure behind it. Bomb them, he said! And so he did – and so did Bruce Lee after him. Jack Dempsey made a heavy hitter out of Lee and Lee acknowledged this publicly by writing to his idol and mentor. That’s right! While so many JKD teachers obsess over every little detail of Lee’s life, seeking insight in the most asinine ways, they miss that Lee openly acknowledged Jack as his inspiration and teacher.
There has been this myth floating around in the JKD world that Lee, after abandoning Wing Chun (itself not entirely true) researched dozens of systems in order to find the truth. It’s not important why this myth abounds but it surely is a myth. Lee knew right where to look for his need of power. He looked at the greatest puncher of all-time. When we understand this, we avoid two critical errors.
First, we know the source and can avoid trying to reinvent the wheel as so many erroneously do. Thus, if you aren’t studying Dempsey’s footwork, evasion and punching structure, you aren’t studying JKD because that’s what Bruce did. Again, go back and watch Lee training in his backyard. The footage is all over the internet now, so it’s no mystery. And watch him sparring. You won’t see him practicing Kali or Muay Thai. The structure and goals of those disparate systems are contradictory to those of JKD. The evidence is clear that Lee, to gain more hitting power and freedom of footwork as well as aggressive tactical skill, studied the sweet science. In doing this, he transformed his method and developed JKD – the sweeter science.
Second, on the question of did Bruce Lee ever fight (read that: compete), you can rest assured that his sources certainly did. Dempsey was so formidable a fighter that he KO’d two armed muggers when he was in his 70’s! What’s the best way to deal with an armed assailant? Knock him out. That’s Dempsey. So, anyone who wishes to dismiss JKD because Lee didn’t have a competitive fighting career is ignorant of the fact that JKD’s sources – in this particular case Dempsey – knocked out world-class fighters with superlative skill. This is, therefore, the heritage of Jeet Kune Do. Real Jeet Kune Do stands as much, if not more, on the shoulders of Dempsey as it does on Ip Man and Wing Chun.
That Jack Dempsey isn’t known as a primary source of JKD is, as I said, a regrettable tragedy as it relegates students to trying to reinvent the wheel. People say, “man…Bruce could hit harder than anyone his size…he hit like a heavyweight.” They say this as though Lee was superhuman. No. He was a student of Dempsey – and you can/should be too. That’s where it started.
So, who was Jack Dempsey? The most fearsome puncher in boxing history and, believe it or not, one of the foundations upon which JKD was built. There is, simply, no JKD without him.
Get My Free Pass
The JKD Parry Scientific Defense at its Best
Many times, a student starts learning about the efficacy of the leading straight punch in JKD but runs into a serious problem. What’s the problem? Well, to put it bluntly – they get walloped by a shot as they’re throwing their vaunted punch, or directly after they throw it. Naturally, no one likes getting punched in the face. That’s less fun than paying taxes. But it also causes many people to spurn JKD altogether. They figure it doesn’t work. They threw the famous straight punch and got hammered for it. That’s it.
Or, instead of quitting JKD altogether, some people add a gazillion other things to it, making it all but indistinguishable from the methods they added.
Well, you can avoid this problem by understanding and properly training JKD’s helping hands – that is, the parry. As far as defense goes, footwork is the king. Nothing is better than simply not being there. After all, no tough guy can do the physically impossible: he can’t hit what isn’t there. But as important as footwork is, no matter how good you are, there are instances when you need a little extra help. And that’s exactly what the parry gives you.
Of course, the stop-hit is the key to the whole shebang. Everything in JKD is a set-up for it. And the straight hit from the forward (preferably power) side is integral to the counter-attack. But you can’t just stand there and throw your shots. That’s called over-simplification and results in the aforementioned wallop you receive from mindlessly throwing the stop-hit because, hey, it’s the backbone of JKD. Yes, it is, but the backbone, last time I checked, isn’t the only part of the body. Footwork and timing are critical too. And so is the parry.
The parry is important to JKD because it’s a precision move, not like a block. It’s a quick deflection against a weapon that beat your stop-hit and footwork, which doesn’t require a disruption of your balance. This is critical because it allows you to instantly counter with one of those rapier-like straight hits. A block is a blast of power on power and shouldn’t ever be confused with a parry. In fact, a block is to a parry what a man screaming is to a great vocalist.
Watch Bruce Lee use the parry in the Chuck Norris fight in Way of the Dragon and notice how he’s able to move, parry and counter. It’s all integrated. If you abandon one element of this tactical/technical mix, you invariably kick the others to the curb too. Imagine Mike Tyson without the quick head-movement. You can’t. The peek-a-boo style of Tyson is built around it just like Lee’s JKD is built around the long, straight counter-hits from the leading side.
Some critics have opined that most people can’t do JKD because they aren’t as fast as Bruce was. They say, “he was fast enough to stop-hit…you’re too slow so you’ll have to do something else…something more complicated…and, quick, buy my new video series on how complexity is the new simplicity.” But this is a false dilemma built around the mistaken notion that the stop-hit is supposed to work every single time. That would be nice but it’s unlikely, which is why we have the footwork, head-movement and the parry too.
So, if you aren’t as fast as Bruce don’t worry about it. You can still do JKD – you just probably need to parry and move more than he did. You don’t – repeat don’t – solve a speed deficit by doing more complicated stuff. That’s like not having money so you borrow more – it only increases the problem (unless you’re the government…governments are immune to the laws of basic economics).
Think of the rear-hand as the goalie and defense on your soccer team. If your goalie is really good, the other team is going to have a rough time beating you and that’s the whole point. This is a critical thing to understand: in JKD, the back hand’s primary responsibility is to play goalie, not try and score. It can get in on the offensive action but most often only when it comes in as a coup-de-grace. Jim Driscoll wrote at length about this use of the rear-hand in his small but masterful book The Straight Left and How to Cultivate It. That book, you should know, was a huge influence on Lee and JKD. Driscoll reasons that it’s a grave mistake to throw the rear-hand into the offense until there was a clear opening. He likens it to fencing but acknowledges, of course, that the rear-hand must be used in fighting. Nevertheless, the whole structure of JKD is set up to “keep the line” – that is, keep the front (power-side) weaponry between you and the opponent. They (the lead hand and foot) do most of the hitting, which gives you distinct advantages both offensively and defensively. On offense, you have greater range than if you’re squared up, and you’re more mobile too. On defense, critically, you’re a smaller target and that lightning-fast lead hand is ready to make a mess of the bad dude’s face.
The parry works when one of the enemy’s blows gets past your primary defenses – your lead punch/kick and footwork. Blocking or covering up breaks this tactical/technical structure and should, therefore, be abandoned unless absolutely necessary. Parrying works better than either of those two because it keeps the counter-attacking lead side in play. The rear-hand can guard either flank easily, using either pak-sao or tan/bui sao. To protect the lower gate, the rear hand can again execute a low pak or a guan. These movements are directly integrated from Lee’s Wing Chun training. They’re simply modified – just like the straight lead punch is – to work from slightly longer range.
Now, a goalie isn’t good if he’s wandering the field, trying to score and neither is your rear-hand much good if it’s too far forward when you’re at long range. Close range fighting, naturally, calls for a different approach. But at long-range, the lead-side weaponry needs support, that’s all. If you aren’t fast enough to score stop-hits, move and then counter. Or, more to our point, parry and counter. Don’t throw away your whole system because you aren’t as fast as Bruce, just understand that the system has back-up plans.
The lead-hand can be used to parry just like the rear-hand can (and should) be used in attack. The issue is one of generalship. The lead-hand is better deployed on attack and the rear (when at long-range) is best kept near the goal – which is your beautiful face! Understanding this will keep you from running into counter-shots and is a key point in properly understanding and, importantly, applying JKD under pressure.