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Emerson Combatives: Bruce Lee’s 5 Ways Of Attack

Bruce Lee Shutterstock/Anton_Ivanov

Ernest Emerson Contributor
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My how things have changed, for the better.

In addition to everything I was exposed to over the years, it was the core principles of offensive fighting that I took away from Bruce Lee’s JKD that still influences me on a daily basis. It was the “hit fast, hit hard, hit first” mentality that I found myself looking for in any martial arts system I encountered. If that wasn’t part of the core of the system, then it wasn’t a combat martial arts system, no matter what the instructor was trying to sell.

Bruce Lee was many things to many people, but when he looked in the mirror, he saw Bruce Lee the fighter looking back. Bruce saw the supreme expression of his art as the point at which a practitioner would understand that the stripping away of all that was useless was the ultimate realization of the individual’s instinctive fighter. In this way, as opposed to the “cookie-cutter” product produced by so many other martial arts systems, every JKD fighter was different according to his own physical size, strengths, and weaknesses.

But like I said, one of the most important aspects to me was the first strike capabilities and philosophy espoused by Bruce Lee that I directly related to. As a witness to and participant in a good many bar fights and street fights, I knew from an early age that the guy that threw the first punch usually won the fight — as long as he kept on punching. I knew early on, before any formal fight teaching or training, that offense is not just the best defense. Offense is defense.

Inside of the JKD curriculum was the premise that Bruce defined as “The 5 Ways of Attack” as a basic strategy for JKD application. There have been entire books written about The 5 Ways of Attack, and I define them here as they relate to their offensive first strike applications.

  1. Simple Angular Attack – SAA
  2. Hand Immobility Attack – HIA
  3. Progressive Indirect Attack –PIA
  4. Attack By Combination – ABC
  5. Attack By Drawing — ABD

1. Simple Angular Attack – SAA

As we now know, the startle reflex and the universal fighting stance are the human’s natural instinctive response to a perceived threat. This squaring off places you directly in front of and directly facing the threat, in this case, an attacker. We all know that the same defensive stance places us in a position to use both of our hands and feet to defend against or ward off an attack. However, we all know that being directly in front of an attack or directly in the line of fire is also one of the worst places to be since the attacker can also use both of his hands and feet and merely has to fire away straight up the middle, whether it is with fists, knives, or bullets to do damage to the victim. But since we know, as did Bruce, for the purpose of an attack, it can work to your advantage to attack from an angle and not directly up in the middle. In the context of Jeet Kune Do (JKD), it could be a move from the frontal position by taking a step to the right and ahead with the right foot while delivering a left hook to the body then pivoting left and throwing a right cross to the jaw.

2. Hand Immobilization Attack – HIA

One of the unique assets of Jeet Kune Do, a direct result of its Wing Chun origin, is the skill called trapping. This is a principle or tactic where you tie up the opponent’s hands, or trap them, while leaving one of your hands free at all times to strike the opponent. This necessitates one of the other tactics well used in JKD known as the simultaneous block and strike. Just as in boxing, where you would duck, slip, and deflect an opponent’s jab while simultaneously delivering your own punch, there is a continuous loop of concurrent actions taking place all at once. In trapping, once you have connected to your opponent, meaning that once you are in direct physical contact with them, you never lose that contact with them while feeling and “sensing” his movements or openings and alternating your hands and forward pressure, which are obstructing or trapping and punching. In other words, if one hand is trapping, the other hand is striking in a continuous, alternating sequence.

3. Progressive Indirect Attack – PIA

The progressive indirect attack is just as the name implies: a progression of techniques or strikes not directly against the intended target but all leading up to the attack directly on the intended target. This could be the result of a weak or not fully committed action against a false target triggering a reaction in the opponent intended to create an opening or opportunity to strike the actual intended target. All fakes, feints, and distractions can be used in the execution of the progressive indirect attack. The importance of the fake is often overlooked yet it is one of your most valuable assets. Never underestimate the effectiveness and tactical value of a good fake. This tactic also lends itself to the classic high-low-high entry used in JKD to close the distance or close the gap and contact the enemy. Two examples of a progressive indirect action would be a high jab towards the face, a low kick to the shins, and a straight right to the jaw. Another would be a high feint to the head, and a shoot in for a double leg takedown.

4. Attack by Combination – ABC

This tactic is the same one I described earlier used by the street fighter who throws the first punch and unleashes a fury of follow up punches while pressing forward into the opponent. What this does is forces the opponent into the instinctual cover position and a completely reactive modality. Even the most experienced fighters will retreat to this cover position when facing a furious barrage of punches. In JKD, there is a tactic called the straight blast or forward blast. This is a series of chain punches delivered in non-stop succession while pressing or walking forward directly into the opponent all designed to strike the opponent while not allowing him time to evade or counter-attack. Also, borrowing from boxing, throwing a combination of various punches, such as the classic jab-cross-hook combination, mixed in with uppercuts and body shots called a flurry in boxing also causes this same reaction in the opponent. It does not allow the opponent to react to any particular side or angle of the attack since punches are being thrown at different targets from different angles in an unpredictable manner in a furious flurry of non-stop strikes.

5. Attack by Drawing – ABD

In this tactic, you are engaged in setting up or luring your opponent into launching a specific attack or attacking a specific target or angle that you have caused him to choose. In other words, you gave the opponent an opening or opportunity that he cannot pass up and he attacks it. At that time, since you know that a specific attack or a punch would be coming, you can either pre-empt the attack, remove or recover the target and counter-attack, or simply counter-attack directly since you “know” the opponent’s move seemingly before he does. This takes good timing and good “acting” on your part to convince the opponent to take the bait. This could be as simple as dropping your guard, for example, when a boxer in a left lead drops his left hand to his waist, offering the opponent a clean shot to his face in an effort to force the opponent into taking a shot, all the while knowing that’s exactly what the first boxer wanted his opponent to do. In MMA fighting, you could offer your lead leg by leaving it out there just a little further or a little longer than usual, drawing your opponent into attacking that leg with a kick or sweep, whereby you, on seeing him beginning to initiate his attack, close the gap, jam in, and attack with any number of choices, perhaps executing your own takedown or throw.

It is important to note that Bruce called these the 5 Ways of Attack, not the 5 Ways of Defense. Bruce recognized the power of being the attacker, the aggressor, and the tremendous tactical advantage of the first strike.

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Ernest Emerson is the owner of Emerson Knives, Inc. He is a tier one Combatives instructor, Master at Arms, noted author and lecturer, Black Belt Hall of Fame member and a connoisseur of fine whiskey.

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