Jeet Kune Do vs Krav Maga

Perhaps the most famous martial artist of all time was Bruce Lee.   A skilled martial artist, an instructor, and movie star, perhaps his most significant contribution was Jeet Kune Do (‘Way of the Intercepting Fist’). This recommended the incorporation of techniques from other martial arts into a fighter’s repertoire.  Another martial art that also promoted this idea was Krav Maga.  In this article , I look at Jeet Kune Do vs Krav Maga: what are the similarities and differences?

The History of Kav Maga

Krav Maga was created by Imre Lichtenfeld, a Jewish man raised  in what was Czechoslovakia.

He was a skilled fighter who won a number of wrestling, boxing, and even gymnastics championships.  As well as fighting, he was also a professional coach.

During the 1930s, anti-Semites began a campaign of hate against the Jewish communities in Czechoslovakia, which often involved violent attacks.  Wanting to support his community,  Lichtenfeld began to train people how to defend themselves.  It wasn’t long before he concluded that his traditional wrestling and boxing moves were largely unsuitable for street fighting.

He began to incorporate moves and techniques from other martial arts and included methods to counter attacks with weapons such as knives and sticks. These later became the foundation for Krav Maga, which literally means “close combat.”

Lichtenfield taught the moves to other members of the community, much to the annoyance of the local authorities, who supported the anti-Semitic movement. As a result, he fled to Palestine in the 1940s and was recruited by the Haganah paramilitary organization to train soldiers in face-to-face combat techniques.

Later Lichtenfield became the head instructor of the Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF School of Combat Fitness in Israel. For the next 20 years, he developed his fighting system, continuing to incorporate more techniques from other martial arts like judo. His students, including Eli Avikzar, helped spread Krav Maga’s popularity around the world.

The History of Jeet Kune Do

Jeet Kune Do was devised by Bruce Lee.  Bruce had originally trained in Wing Chun kung fu, a fighting system consisting mainly of punches, kicks and associated blocks.  He taught this system to his students during the 1960s, including to non-Chinese individuals.  This particularly annoyed the Chinese community in Oakland’s Chinatown who, in 1964,  issued an ultimatum for him to stop.  When he refused he was challenged to a fight with Wong Jack Man – an expert in Xing Yi Quan, Northern Shaolin and Tai Chi.

Whilst who actually won this fight is unclear, Lee came away from it believing his Wing Chun techniques had, in some way, fallen short.

He began to form the view that the traditional martial arts had become too rigid and structured to be of real use in the chaos of a  street fight.  He felt that many techniques had become overly ornate and  flowery.  This might make them aesthetically pleasing, but they had become of no real practical value.  He began to explore other martial arts outside of Wing Chun and in 1965, announced his new fighting concept of Jeet Kune Do.

This wasn’t a new style of fighting, but a philosophy as to how an individual should develop their own their style of fighting.

Jeet Kune Do was not a system of distinct moves or techniques that separated it from other styles.  In the words of Bruce Lee:

“I have not invented a “new style,” composite, modified or otherwise that is set within distinct form as apart from “this” method or “that” method. On the contrary, I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds.”

This is what Bruce Lee,himself, has to say on the subject:


The principle notion behind JKD was to examine different fighting styles and…

Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own”.

Some techniques might be suitable for some individuals but not others. This might be because of their height, build or physical ability. The idea was that you found the techniques that worked for you and you tested them in all out sparring sessions.

Bruce himself adopted slipping and rolling movements from Western boxing to dodge punches;  kicks were aimed at targets below the waist as in Wing Chun; he even even incorporated  the interception concept from fencing – attacking your opponent when they were about to attack.

Similarities between Jeet Kune Do and Krav Maga

Despite their different histories, the two fighting concepts do have a lot in common:

Parrying an attack and punching at the same time 

In Karate, an oncoming punch is forcibly blocked and once the attack has been neutralised, a counter punch is delivered. 

In contrast, in both JKD and Krav Maga , an attack is parried or redirected and a counter punch is delivered at the same time.  This makes the counter much quicker and gives the opponent less time to react.  They are still withdrawing their original attack at the same time the counter strike comes.  

In Krav Maga, this is known as ‘bursting’:

Lack of grappling techniques

Krav Maga purposefully doesn’t believe you should spend any time on the ground grappling.  Indeed, you should try and do everything you can to prevent yourself getting into this scenario.  Whilst there may be some rudimentary grappling techniques taught, it doesn’t form a extensive part of the syllabus.

Bruce Lee was only just beginning to study wrestling in depth before he sadly passed away.  Consequently, in much of he writings, such as the Tao of Jeet Kune Do (link to Amazon), there is limited discussion on ground fighting.  

Blend of martial arts

Both the originators of Krav Maga saw that their root fighting styles, Wrestling and boxing in the case of Imre Lichtenfeld and Kung Fu for Bruce Lee, when used in isolation were not up to the task of handling a violent street confrontation.

Both are focussed on incorporating techniques from other martial arts – Kicks from Muay Thai, blocks from Karate, slipping and weaving techniques from boxing, throws from Judo etc.

Indeed, for Jeet Kune Do, this was how you were to develop as a fighter – absorbing useful techniques from other fighting styles and incorporating them into your own repertoire.

Both focussed on fighting effectiveness

Bruce Lee was concerned that many of the techniques in more traditional martial arts had become overly ornate and concerned with aesthetic appeal.  They had lost their practical application.  He wanted to stripe away all of this fluff and incorporate simple, effective techniques.

Similarly, Krav Maga is only concerned with those techniques that have a self-defense application.  Imre Lichtenfeld borrowed techniques from a range of styles in order to become an effective fighter.

Both believe in testing their techniques in hard sparring sessions where any weaknesses can be identified and addressed.

Differences between Jeet Kune Do and Krav Maga

There are also some key differences between these martial arts concepts.

Perhaps the most obvious one is that Jeet Kune Do is not a style or branch of martial art.  It doesn’t have it’s own syllabus.  It is rather a way of studying martial arts in order to improve.  It essentially says that you should experiment with different techniques from different martial arts before selecting those that are best suited to you.

Krav Maga does have a syllabus and will teach striking, throwing and defensive techniques. In some ways, this fighting style has done some of the hard work for you.  Instead of having to experiment with a range of techniques from different styles in order to select the more effective and the ones that suit you, Krav Maga has already done the work of selecting the techniques that work in a street setting.

Is Krav Maga better than Jeet Kune Do?

This is an impossible question to answer, since Jeet Kune Do is not a style of martial art in itself but a philosophy of how to get better as a fighter – experiment with a range of techniques from various martial arts, test them in all out sparring sessions before deciding which to incorporate in your fighting arsenal.

This is perhaps one of the criticisms of jeet kune do – it leaves the fighter with the job of finding the most useful techniques for themselves. This is a daunting task as there are just so many martial arts.

For this reason, Krav Maga is an excellent martial art to start with since it incorporates powerful techniques from a range of martial arts that actually work.  

Summary: Jeet Kune Do vs Krav Maga

Hopefully, this article has outlined some of the key similarities and differences between Krav Maga and Jeet June Do.  

Krav Maga represents a great choice for anyone looking to be able to defend themselves in a violent street confrontation.  As you get more experienced, you should keep in mind the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do and experiment with other techniques to improve your fighting ability.


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Photo by Jose Espinoza on Unsplash