Focus Mitts in JKD

November 12, 20150 Comments

The Focus Mitts – Jeet Kune Do’s most versatile weapon.

Jun Fan JKD uses focus mitts as a training device that encompasses every range and fighting style.

Article originally published in the March 2000 issue of “Martial Arts Presents: Jeet Kune Do” magazine. You can reach Sifu Ron Balicki through his website at:

Focus mitts develop many powerful skills in today’s fighters. With focus mitt training you become more proficient with timing, speed, power and accuracy. You also develop better hitting and kicking skills along with rhythm, mobility and balance.

The focus mitt is an amazing tool. Unlike sparring, you can unload your heaviest blows without risk of injury to your training partner. This also helps keep you healthy during those final crucial days before your next fight. Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do is famous for its use of focus mitts in its training program. Bruce Lee’s top student, Dan Inosanto (revered by most to be the leader of JKD today), considers the focus mitts to be one of the most valuable tools in the JKD training arsenal.

Bruce Lee introduced the focus mitts to Dan Inosanto in the 1960s. Never befor ehad anyone used training devices in the fashion of Bruce Lee. Although many other arts have some focus mitt training in their system, most have not taken it to JKD’s level. Most people will use the focus mitt at one or two ranges, where Jun Fan has employed the focus mitt into all ranges (long, medium, close range and groundfighting).

While holding the mitts during training, Bruce Lee broke away from static poses and would “attack” the student, forcing him to work in and out of different ranges. A JKD man is also taught to go from range-to-range using different martial art systems.

This was unheard of back in the 1960s. Another innovation JKD brought to focus mitt training was the use of “hand trapping” with the focus mitts.

This area alone separates JKD from the rest of the arts.

Ron Balicki Focus Mitt Series 1

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Hand Trapping

Hand trapping is a stylized method of fighting found in arts such as Wing Chun gung-fu, penchak silat, and the Filipino martial art of Kali, to name a few. What Bruce Lee did was compile different techniques and philosophies of various systems that he felt would work for him. Many of these systems were trapping-based systems such as Wing Chun. Other martial arts systems that were not trapping-based were also incorporated into Bruce Lee’s JKD.

Many of these systems contrasted each other so much that people in the martial arts world were outraged that they were being blended. The thinking in that was that one should never mix styles. Although some schools still believe this, the majority of schools out there today do incorporate different styles.

Most ring styles today use Western boxing techniques. In the 1960s and 1970s, most systems taught their fighters to have their hands on their hips; today most fighters keep their hands up, covering their faces in boxer fashion. This transformation has given the martial artist added protection to compete with the modern, freestyle fighters of today. Many “traditional” schools have also incorporated modern training products into their teaching – making them not so traditional.



Trapping’s Centerline Theory

A confusing element for the student is the centerline theory. The centerline is an imaginary line between you and your opponent that always connects the two. Imagine a nail sticking out of the top of your and your opponent’s head. Now imagine a string connected to each of the protruding nails. No matter how you move in a circle, you and your opponent will always have that line between you. That is the centerline. Again, imagine your opponent facing you and blocking your punch like a boxer would, slightly pawing at the blow, not really passing the center of his own face with his hand while moving his head just enough to avoid the blow. This would be considered by a JKD man to be inside the centerline.

Now, think of a hard block like you might find in karate, where the blocker uses his forearm or hand to block the blow by pushing past his face. The JKD man would consider this block to be past the centerline. An experienced JKD man would not be stopped by either a soft or a hard block. One defense is not better than the other by a JKD man – it would only send him down a different path.

The Controversy Over Trapping

There is some controversy today in the martial arts world over trapping. Some people in the JKD field say that trapping is not effective in a real altercation. This is a moot issue. One argument stats, “Why haven’t we seen trapping in the UFC?” The answer… we have. We’re not talking about a fighter who strictly uses trapping as his sole fighting style, but if you were to examine almost any bout in a UFC match, you will see some form of trapping, regardless of how crude. Perhaps this is a problem of semantics.

What is trapping? According to the book entitled, “Wing Chun Kung-Fu: Chinese Art of Self-Defense”, written by James Yimm Lee (Bruce Lee being the technical editor), under the chapter, “Trapping Hands”, it is described thusly: “Immobilizing an opponent’s hands (in Wing Chun) is called ‘Phon Sao’. Literally translated ‘phon’ means to seal or to close off an object or area… the English word, immobilize, is probably the best translation of ‘phon’.”

Trapping is essential in martial arts; sport or real-life combat. However, one can agree with those who claim trapping cannot be used solely in a fight with much success. It is only one of myriad tools that can be used in the martial arts arsenal.

Others have said it takes too long to become effective using trapping in a real fight. In today’s society, we want everything fast. We are accustomed to fast food and the Internet, where the wait is short. Like anything worthwhile, trapping does not come easy; it requires time and dedication. If trapping is not for you, then maybe there is an art out there that will give you quicker success.

After all, the JKD way is to “…use what works for you and discard what doesn’t, and what doesn’t work for you may work for another.” As for the majority of the JKD world, we will always enjoy the benefits of trapping.

Using focus mitts while trapping may feel clumsy at first. However, like riding a bike, the more you do it, the better you will become. Keep it simple at first. As you begin to master the basic motions you’ll soon begin adding to it, creating a detailed workout that is tailor-made for you. Although trapping can be at times intricate and complex, it does have its place in focus mitt training.


Historically, trapping comes from many sources. One source, not so readily known, is “fencing”. Peter Lee (Bruce lee’s brother) was a champion fencer in Hong Kong. Peter taught Bruce fencing at an early age. Bruce and Peter often used to practice “hand fencing”, a playful training drill performed with empty hands. Bruce eventually incorporated this “playful drill” into JKD training. If you look at Bruce Lee’s book, ‘The Tao of Jeet Kune Do’, you will find many references to fencing such as progressive indirect attack (PIA), attack by draw (ABD), attack by combination (ABC), envelopment or croise. These are all fencing terms and are believed by many experts to be the foundation of JKD.

Focus mitt training remains a must in boxing and boxing-style martial art systems, Focus mitts and trapping are essential elements to the JKD fighter. The use of JKD focus mitt training will bring back some of the legitimacy in effective trapping for you.


Original Article:

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About the video: A short clip from the JKD segment of the old BBC documentary, “Way of the Warrior”. This clip shows some old-school mitt work by Sifu Chris Kent and Sifu Cass Magda and other students of Sifu Dan Inosanto. 

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