Bruce Lee’s wooden dummy training

Bruce detonated into the dummy. Although the wooden dummy now has become extremely popular with martial artists, I rarely see practitioners utilize the dummy the way Bruce did. Let’s examine why.

First and foremost, many people seem to have forgotten that the dummy arms are 12 inches long, with one arm overlapping another, because it forces you to tighten up your attack structure. Sure, you can stay at the end of the arms and slap and bang. You can even make the arms longer or wider apart. But that would be defeating the primary purpose of the dummy, which is to develop close- or short-range power. This is accomplished by being in the proper range or distance.

Used correctly, you can develop explosive power within a range of 12 inches. You can explode not only on the way in (forward), but also on the way out (dissolving). The most common mistake I see is that people stay out at the end of the arms, instead of moving into proper range. If you stay out at the end of the arms or work your way up to the primary target, you are merely playing patty cake on the dummy. Martial artists who train this way on the dummy are often surprised when their trapping does not work on opponents. Chances are, if you stay out at the end of a live opponents arms, you’ll get clocked.

Keep It Tight

This brings us back to the tight structure, the other feature of JKD dummy training. We already noted that the shortness and overlapping portion of the dummy arms compel a martial artist to be economical in his movements. Ideally, your arms should never retract past the length of the arms. The movement required is only what is necessary to clear the arms and hit. No matter how flashy it looks to fly the arms around in big motions, you are only reverting to shoulder power for striking. For example, I frequently see martial artists winding up or chambering the backfist before they strike the dummy. This leads not only to sloppy dummy training, but poor fighting habits as well. A live opponent may not be so dazzled by your wide, preparatory fighting movements. At this point, we should mention one of the most critical elements in jeet kune do dummy training. That is, the power is derived from the torque or twist of the waist. (Wing chun prefers to use the turning of the entire body). Bruce preferred to use the tearing motion of the waist in JKD, because it offered more speed and a shocking type of power.

In fact, Bruce took the body mechanics of the waist torque used on the dummy out to the longer ranges of hitting in JKD. This is why the leading front-hand punch in JKD derives most of its power from the waist. To feel the difference between the power with and without the waist, try this experiment: Stand between both arms of the dummy and lap sao with the elbow up (all shoulder and arm). Now, perform the same lap sao with the elbow in close to the body and torque the waist. Using the waist gives the pulling hand trap much greater shocking power, rather than just muscling an opponent. Bruce Lee’s power with this motion was so devastating that I witnessed him whiplash a non-believer with just his lap sao. He did not even need to hit!

Finally, the other key principle of JKD dummy training is the development of two energies: forward (striking of any kind) or dissolving (lap sao, jut sao, etc). Bruce explained that any other type of energ)’ or pressure, was, in his words, a waste of effort. He cautioned me against any side-to-side motions on the dummy. He felt that anything other than forward or dissolving energy constituted passive movements. This can best be illustrated by the use of boang sao. In JKD, the boang sao is forward or toward the opponent. This is in contrast to a common sideways energy used by many martial artists.

The wooden dummy never feels pain. And it never complains. Once you have perfected your short-range power, you can use the dummy to sharpen the tools. That way, a training partner is always on call. I used to get up in the middle of the night and work out a solution to a question on my dummy. Whatever strikes, traps, or punches you are employing, be confident that your JKD dummy training will enhance your fighting skills. After all, if you can explode within the length and confines of the dummy arms, you will have unstoppable short-range power on an opponent!

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