The blend of martial arts techniques that has found its fullest expression in the octagon of the Ultimate Fighting Championships is the direct inheritor of a revolution in fighting systems dating back to the late 1960s when Bruce Lee unveiled an integrated combat science he called jeet kune do.
Certainly, there were events where different martial arts styles competed head-to-head prior to Bruce Lee. The Long Beach Nationals, created by Kenpo karate legend Ed Parker was the most famous of these, and it was this event Lee electrified in 1964 when he demonstrated his new art. The nationals were open to all comers, and karateka, kung fu practitioners, and judoka all attended, pitting their skills against each other in open tournament. But Bruce Lee created something new. He was the first to blend the strengths of all the arts of the day into an integrated, scientific fighting system.
"Absorb what is useful, reject the rest" is a Bruce Lee maxim that captures what he accomplished with the creation of jeet kune do. Focusing on results, on combat effectiveness as opposed to mystique or tradition – Lee conducted an in-depth survey of the entire suite of fighting systems. From the popular, like karate, to the obscure and brutal such as Filipino Kali or Indonesian Pentjak Silat, he dissected the styles and absorbed from them their most powerful 'secret weapons'. Brilliantly, he devised a method for combining the devastating close range punching technique of wing chun kung fu with the elbow strikes of Thai boxing. If this fusion of styles was all he accomplished, it would be a significant precursor to today's mixed martial arts tradition which sees wrestlers learning to strike and boxers learning to grapple. But in researching his new system, Lee hit upon a fundamental principle that is still not widely understood. He called it range control, and it involves understanding the range at which each 'tool' is useful, and even more importantly, how to move from one range to another.
To illustrate, let's consider the theoretical 'pure' JKD attack. The attacker moves through kicking range, from high to low kicks aimed at the knee, followed by hand range techniques: straight punch, jab, uppercut and hook. These strikes nicely flow into a closer-in mode of striking which involves wing chun punches, elbows and knees, coupled with hand trapping. From there, the flow goes directly to stand-up grappling -- arm, wrist and head locks, with strikes still being employed. Next comes a transitionary throw – the simplest example being the classic judo hip throw – that moves the action to the floor, where the grappling arts – jui jitsu, Filipino dumog, Greco-Roman wrestling – all come to the fore, with the finishing move being the finale. His new system – containing this revelation about the use of the various ranges and how to safely move from one to another – was what emboldened Lee enough to make his Long Beach challenge, during which he boasted that he could defeat anyone at the tourney in under a minute.
In making good on that boast, Lee became responsible for the birth of mixed martial arts that day in 1964.