• Exploring the FMA-JKD connection


    The writer (right) practices FMA-JKD trapping drill with Sonny Sison. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

    Most Jeet Kune Do (JKD) practitioners that I know have backgrounds or understanding of The Filipino Martial Arts (FMA).

    And many FMA practitioners adopted most of the principles of JKD. Is there a technical relationship between these two fighting arts? Yes, indeed.

    The evolution of both arts began with the two martial arts legends namely Bruce Lee and Daniel Inosanto. Both men’s hunger for learning and their “forever student” attitude powered their endeavor to investigate what techniques work in a real physical confrontation. To understand more of the technical relationship between FMA and JKD, I consulted my good friend Sonny Sison. Sonny lives in Los Angeles and Hawaii depending on where a film project he’s working on is located. He’s a Hollywood fight choreographer, a professional stuntman/actor, a former member of the Michael Jackson dance team, and the guy inside the Red Ranger of The Power Rangers. Sonny is a credible guy with sufficient background on both FMA and JKD. He shared to me the following information on the subject.

    Many principles of JKD and FMA share common theories. Perhaps the most prominent among them is practicality—what works, what doesn’t work. This is more complex than it sounds. Too many martial arts practitioners jump from style to style without having a foundation. People have to remember that Bruce Lee’s foundation was wing chun.

    Through his own understanding, he was able to fill in the gaps by researching and practicing those techniques from other systems he felt were usable in his own expression of martial arts. In this sense, FMA works along the same thought because history has proven that it is a battle-tested art.

    Bruce was an advocate of fighting strong side forward, meaning the dominant hand and foot was placed in front for more power. Most FMA systems employ this also with the weapon hand forward. In both instances, it is a matter of pre-emptive striking, hitting your opponent before he hits you or stopping his technique by countering with your own. When one looks at FMA and JKD as a whole, there are more commonalities than there are differences. The differences are noticeable mainly in a teacher’s individuality of expression which is carried in the material passed on to his student. That was something Bruce put heavy emphasis on. Be your own person.

    Feinting, direct/indirect attacks, range (long, medium, short) techniques are principles employed by both JKD and FMA.

    To the uneducated, a lot of FMA empty hand techniques look like wing chun. Both have slapping, sensitivity, and trapping movements. The main distinction of the wing chun structure is positioning one’s centerline (an imaginary line drawn from the top of one’s head to the ground from a frontal posture) against an opponent. Most FMA styles use much more angling when taught. But I’ll be honest, even that didn’t work in a lot of FMA sparring tournaments I’ve witnessed. Such realization brings the question: “Do I practice what I preach?” Do the moves of JKD and FMA work in real life as opposed to what is used on film? Absolutely. The JKD seen on film is vastly different from what is taught to practitioners. Bruce knew that the tight, compact movements of JKD wouldn’t translate well to film. So he exagerated them, making the movement bigger, wider and flashier. Take for instance his pak sao (slap hit) he would use to clear an opponent’s hand so he could punch with his other hand. He used it in a rhythmic sense for film, breaking up his “straight blast” (wing chun repetition of vertical fist punches typically directed at one target) by targeting other parts of his opponent’s body with a “stop and go” emphasis on particular strikes or blocks as opposed to continually hitting without stopping. Jeff Imada, a top Hollywood fight choreographer and a JKD-FMA teacher under Dan Inosanto, did the same thing in many films he choreographed. He’s also employed trapping and rhythmic fighting with telegraphed moves so the audience can follow what’s happening.

    JKD and FMA—who influenced who? From my understanding, Guro Dan Inosanto, Bruce’s protégé, showed him FMA moves from various styles. Bruce was most influenced by the long-range techniques of stick fighting Guro Dan learned from Leo Giron. Bruce would also rather spar rather than learn patterns so he and Guro Dan would actually move and hit each other rather than be stationery and strike thin air. Had he lived longer, I’m sure Bruce would have employed much more FMA in his own expression of martial arts. But let’s not forget, it was Guro Dan who introduced Bruce Lee to the nunchaku, presenting it not by how it was used by a Japanese karateka, but by FMA practitioners who used the tabak toyok.

    Sonny shared to me his personal experience regarding templates and patterns in martial arts, particularly FMA. “When I have been on set with other martial artists, we get to trade a lot of thoughts and theories on different styles. Many of my friends are JKD practitioners so I learned a lot from them. One funny incident happened while rehearsing for a movie.

    Two of my JKD friends where doing chi sao (sticky hands drill) in which they face each other and try to hit and counter with various blocks and strikes. I stepped in for a short time but was much less experienced than they were at this drill. But because I wasn’t used to this ‘game,’ I did rather unorthodox things they weren’t used to and I was able to hit them. That’s not a criticism of the drill but rather a reminder to not get stuck in patterns and be spontaneous.”

    Currently, Sonny Sison is in the country to choreograph the fight scenes of Robin Padilla’s’ movie Bonifacio, which is his entry in the upcoming 2014 Manila Film Festival. Sonny used a lot of FMA techniques in the fight scenes so expect to see the uniqueness of Filipino fighting arts to shine once more in Philippine cinema.


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