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Legacy History: The language of 4D Combat by Guru Bob Breen

Ever wanted to get fluent in another language? Maybe you’ve got a couple under your belt already. One of life’s great skills. It opens doors and creates new friends and opportunities.

What about learning the language of combat. Not just a few phrases which can buy you a coke or in this case a punch on the nose but learn the language.

This is really what JKD was all about.

If you look at the two arts Bruce Lee developed they’re similar but very different. The first, Jun Fan, is really well designed, particularly if you were around in 1966 or thereabouts. It was way ahead of its time.

I was around then and Bruce was light years ahead of anyone. He had done some integration and had added a kickboxing part to it too to make up for the focus on wing chun based techniques and to enable him to handle big Americans.

It’s a great system and worthy of study. His JKD is more like a language. It uses many of the techniques of Jun Fan but it’s more alive. Bruce was all about aliveness. How to think, how to strategise.

If you look at Jun Fan, it’s an excellent phrase book. In this situation do this, if this happens do that. If you train really hard, you may be able to mix or improvise but in essence it’s a great mix of set pieces.

What you need is a language. What Dan Inosanto did when he introduced Kali into the martial arts scene was introduce an art that was more in line with JKD than Jun Fan.

There’s a big part (or used to be) of free play or playing within a framework. Sure there’s lots of drills and patterns and the modern world has loved watching these done faster and faster with more flash if possible. However, the original guys were fighters and games were about fighting. Sombrada or counter for counter shouldn’t be fixed; that’s just the place to start and there’s lots to do staying just there.

However, staying there won’t learn you the language. You’re just learning phrases. It’s a comfort blanket.

So you can see that the genius of Bruce Lee was he saw the deficiencies of a phrase book approach to combat and sought to create a much looser framework. Something with internal rigour and a huge emphasis on tool development and conditioning but that was about improvising.

Bruce, it can be seen, wasn’t against drilling but saw that it had to be both in equal measure. As the saying goes, ‘Using way as way-using no way as way’. You’ve got to do a mix of the both. Don’t get caught in thinking that a drill is reality or anywhere near. So Kali and JKD share the same combative model. Form then no form.

Many people say, 'Oh I need to get it correct first and stay with the form but this is like designing a product for years and developing it only to find there’s no market. Read Eric Reis’ book, The Lean Startup, or read a synopsis on the web. This problem is everywhere.

Also realise that drills are tools to get you to a place from which you can improvise. One Filipino Master said to me, ’Oh I’ve made up a drill for you to get that skill. Once you’ve got it we’ll never use it again.’ It was about getting me into the game.

Obviously, if you are going to France for the first time, or anywhere, you need a phrase book or to have memorised certain phrases otherwise you’ll starve or won’t be able to find a hotel, or have a pee. But if you want to really know about France - the food, the wine, the culture - then you have to start learning the language. Tim Ferriss has done some nice stuff on learning a language fast recently. He starts with phrases but also goes into immersion.

What we’ve done with 4D Combat was to go back to what the founders of these amazing arts were doing. Doing drills but as soon as possible getting you into the play of interaction. Sometimes with defined limits but free play nonetheless. Then when you go back to drills you know what really happens, you’ve got real data, real feedback.

What you soon realise is most of the drill stuff is too reactive, if they do that, I do this. Once you’ve played and sparred then you realise how simple your game has to be and that only then do you start learning the nuance of timing and distance and footwork and positioning that make the most simple stuff really deep and effective.

With 4D Combat, we’ve sought to do just that. It’s genius simplified, not a phrase book but a simpler word and phrase set of the things that come up the most often put into an improvising framework.

We’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re just doing JKD and Kali, two of the best systems on the planet. It’s genius simplified for us lesser mortals. A way in.

Bob Breen

Master instructor and martial arts pioneer


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