Single Direct Attack: JKD’s One-Punch KO

October 26, 20150 Comments

Bruce Lee believed if one perfect punch can end a violent encounter, why fool with more.

Jerry Poteet SDAMany martial artists have studied Bruce Lee’s analysis of combat, into five ways, or methods, of attack. Many practitioners utilize most of these five ways: ABC (attack by combination); ABD (attack by drawing); PIA (progressive indirect attack); and HIA (attack by trapping / hand immobilization attack). However, very few martial artists avail themselves of SDA, or Single Direct Attack, considered the easiest of the five methods to perfect. What, then, accounts for the neglect of this seemingly simple combat method?

To better answer this question, let’s define just what constitutes SDA, or single direct attack. “Single,” as the word implies, means one motion only. “Direct” refers to any straight-line (as opposed to curved) movement, while “attack” indicates that the practitioner is taking the initiative with an aggressive assault. Since th most common misunderstanding regarding SDA is the precise meaning of “direct” attacks, it may be helpful to cntrast and compare them to indirect strikes. The following are some examples of SDA: the JKD lead punch, eye jab, rear cross, low shin kick, and rear oblique kick.

Jerry Poteet JKD Single Direct Attack-500

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These weapons, regardless of whether they are front or rear hand or leg, travel in a straight line to the target and possess enough “smoke” behind them to end an encounter. These particular blows are in sharp contrast to indirect strikes such as the hook, uppercut, backfist, or hook kick, that erquire wind-up motions, and which most martial artists rely upon as their power strikes.

Generally speaking, martial art systems use direct or straight-line blows as “feelers” or “probes” to set up an indirect power punch or kick. For example, Western boxers use the lead jab as a feeler to set up a hook, while Thai boxers use the front ball-kick to set up their opponents for their low rear hooking kick. In Jeet Kune Do, however, the straight-line or direct blows are used to generate stopping power. Thus the JKD lead jab does not “sting like a bee,” but rather strikes “like a cobra,” to use Bruce Lee’s description.

Unlike other arts, the JKD lead jab (or shin kick) is not used to set up the power blows; instead, the JKD lead jab is the power punch, and is therefore the ultimate in SDA, a single direct attack.

In developing straight-line direct strikes, punches and kicks, Bruce Lee maintained that they had several advantages:

  • Unlike curved or indirect, there is no need to wind up to deliver the strike;
  • Curved motions are generally slower than direct strikes because they have a longer distance to travel. In contrast, straight-line strikes follow the most economical path to the target;
  • Direct attacks extend the reach of your weapons, although they can be used at very close range (i.e. Wing Chun’s three-inch punch);
  • Indirect, curved motions leave your body unprotected compared to what Bruce called the “crisp” direct-line attacks. (Compare shooting a lead finger jab to throwing a wide hook)

Of course, as with all methods of attack, there are some drawbacks to the single direct attack. In one sense, direct-line punches are “unnatural” to use. If you have ever observed children fighting, you will note they exclusively use curved motions. This is also true of the untrained brawler or streetfighter, whose natural response in a fight is to wind up and hit with curved blows. Even the so-called sucker punch is not a straight rear cross, but more of an angular looping motion.

Direct attacks demand a great deal of cultivation and require much more training than indirect attacks. These attacks are a sophisticated method of attack in combat, which accounts for martial arts systems that emphasize SDA, such as Western fencing and Wing Chun Kung-Fu – two arts greatly influenced by Bruce’s development of Jeet Kune Do – to stress body mechanics and economy of motion.

Now that we better understand what is meant by “direct” attack, let’s discuss ‘single direct attack’, and what it takes to make SDA successful. Once again, it will help to contrast SDA as utilized in other martial arts methods as opposed to SDA in Jeet Kune Do. When sparring, many kung-fu and karate stylists use SDA as a rear (step-through) straight kick. If their opponent reacts to the kick by blocking, they can close the range and strike with another weapon (e.g. a reverse punch). In contrast to this use of SDA, the JKD single direct attack is not launched until the possibility of connecting with the strike is at the optimum, or until actual contact can be made with the attacking weapon.


This use of SDA is in accordance with one of the main concepts of Jeet Kune Do; the JKD practitioner is attempting to hit with punishing impact on the first move. This is why the lead JKD jab is the ultimate in single direct attack. Unlike the boxer’s jab, the lead JKD jab is capable of taking out an opponent with one hit, which is similar in intent to the fencer’s straight thrust of the blade or foil.

Obviously, body mechanics must be close to perfect to make the single direct leading jab a punishing blow. All the weight and momentum of the body must be coordinated into the lead punch, or, a full body commitment behind a single strike. Of all the attributes a single direct attack must possess, non-telegraphic motion is perhaps the most important. If there is any detectable wind-up motion or preparation on the part of the practitioner, SDA will not succeed. Non-telegraphic motion can be achieved by moving the arm before the body when punching, so that the body sway cannot be seen until the punch has almost landed. Also, by adding the mass of the body at the last moment, great impact is attained.

As Bruce used to say about SDA, your opponent should feel it before he sees it. (On many occasions, Bruce’s training partners never asw it!) Another attribute that makes SDA successful is broken rhythm. This entails using a stutter-motion, or pause, in your punch after it is launched, then continuing the strike after your opponent has opened this defense.

As we have seen, single direct attack, or SDA, represents the pinnacle of Jeet Kune Do attacking methods because it helps the practitioner dominate a physical encounter from the initial contact. While other martial arts rely primarily on combination of attacks (ABC), JKD aims for ending a fight with one precise, economical strike. (One usually associates this kind of singular “stopping-power” with a high-caliber bullet).

One facet of SDA not yet discussed is its usage in JKD as a “stop hit,” or an attack on the opponent’s body or extremities as he is preparing his attack. Like the other uses of SDA, this direct-line stop-hit is a taught response (it is much more “natural” to block or avoid the incoming punch or kick and then retun with a counter of your own, rather than “interrupt” an incoming attack as it is being launched.

SDA, or single direct attack, demands great precision in timing, distance, and accuracy. Although it takes time to perfect, it is well worth the effort. At its best, SDA adheres to another Jeet Kune Do concept – simplicity. After all, if it only takes one movement to end a violent encounter, why use more?

This article was written by the late Sifu Jerry Poteet and originally published in the November 1991 issue of IKF. You can learn more about Sifu Poteet’s JKD at

About the video: Sifu Jerry Poteet teaching the “Biu Jee” – the finger jab (a sample from their eAcademy at

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