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.