By Morne Swanepoel
South Africa is known as the land of sunshine and scenic majesty. The world’s strangest and most dramatic landscapes…nature’s richest treasure chest of gold and diamonds…a unique wealth of animal and plant life…a kaleidoscope of exotic, sun-blessed people…can there be a land anywhere on earth more enticing than Southern Africa?
Southern Africa is still home to the mysterious San people, whose legends seem to go back to the beginning of life itself and to the descendants of the Iron Age people who wandered down from the far North. Here too are the people’s ancestors who journeyed from the East and the West, bringing with them influences good and bad, innumerable subtitles of thought and ideas and a complex range of life-styles, foods and customs.
On the East coast of Southern Africa lies a small province called KwaZulu Natal and has long been described as the “garden province” of South Africa. Here the Zulu’s became the most formidable military power ever to grow from any indigenous African people. Battles and Wars stain the rich soil with blood and many a maize field of today has been fertilized by the charred ruins of destroyed huts and the calcium of human bones.
The great Natural harbour of Port Natal on who’s shores the city of Durban now stands was founded by Vasco da Gama and became a great trade point for pirates and slave traders, merchants and shipwrecked crews and thus the start of European invasion to the Zulu land began. It was during that time and in that land that there lived an African Martial Warrior named King Shaka. It was he who founded the unique fighting style of the Zulu’s that took the Zulus from a tribe of a few hundred to a nation of millions.
Even to this day the Zulu nation is revered as strong, powerful fighters. Shaka Zulu had made such an impact on the lives of the Zulu’s that the “ripple-effect” has been carried through to every tribe living on South African soils from generation to generation. The story of Shaka lives in the hearts of many and has been told for over 2 centuries and has made him the most famous Southern African in history. Shaka implemented a new system of military organization that incorporated regiments from defeated tribes. When a chiefdom was conquered it became a territorial segment of Shaka’s kingdom-at-large.
The warriors became a part of his royal army and were drilled and fought beside combatants from other chiefdoms. Shaka’s Zulu warriors or ‘amabutho’ were truly legendary and stories of the grueling and often cruel training are innumerable. However, Shaka never expected his men to do anything he couldn’t or wouldn’t do himself and he set the example. Forced marches of up to 70km per day carrying weapons and surviving on what they could find in the bush, proficiency in handling their weapons and the methods of dispatching the enemy were the order of the day.
Shaka discovered that the crude sandals traditionally worn by Zulu men hampered his speed and agility and as a result the army marched, ran and fought bare foot – on sharp stones, through thorn bushes, in deep sand, rivers and every type of terrain possible. Another innovation of Shaka was the short stabbing spear (assegai) a great improvement on the longer handled throwing assegai’s that broke when used against the enemy at close range.
The forging of his spear is a story in itself, involving magic, secrecy and tradition. Coupled with the large hide covered shields, the stabbing spears were wielded with deadly effect on the enemy, accompanied by the terrifying war cry Si-gi-di! Perhaps the most successful of Shaka’s great battle tactics was the fighting formation he devised. Known as the “horns of the buffalo”, it was supremely simple. The warriors would form the horns and encircle the enemy, while the chest took on the main weight of the attack. Reinforcements were held in reserve behind the safety of the chest. Total warfare became King Shaka’s policy, causing a ripple effect, which affected a vast area of Southern Africa for years afterwards.
It should be remembered that life in Shaka’s time was not like ours today. A harsh land called for harsh measures, and Shaka was quick to use them. He ruled his kingdom fairly and with compassion, but those who disobeyed him met with harsh punishment. Change has been a constant in South Africa, and a huge change happened with the overthrow of apartheid. Political violence was at an all-time high as many were ruthlessly killed for not boycotting certain shops. Killers waited outside while a mother went in to buy oil and soap-powder and then was forced to drink and eat that as she came out as punishment – never returning to her home and family.
Even fathers who belonged to the “wrong” political party would be stoned to death with rocks and boulders, their skulls crushed in front of their children. The apartheid stigma was abolished with the release of President Nelson Mandela from prison where he was serving his sentence on Robben Island. South Africa became known as the rainbow nation, it was Mr Mandela’s wish that everyone should live as one in one country, with criminals shedding the blood of innocent victims on a daily basis. As you may guess, martial arts training has become very popular in South Africa. South Africa consists of many different cultures and within these cultures stem many different martial arts systems.
South Africans are known as a very competitive nation even within the martial arts circles. The variety of martial arts systems found in South Africa is very wide, matching the different races and personal preferences of the people. From Zulu to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Filipino, almost every type of martial art is practiced here. Now, though, people are re-examining their training and out of necessity are opting for a more practical approach For many years the African Warrior has been asleep but with violence on the increase, it is time to arouse the African Warrior within each South African – Zulu or not.
The concept of Jeet Kune Do has allowed even it’s African practitioners to explore and absorb what is useful and reject what is useless. The need for functional training has grown positively in South Africa and thus Jeet Kune Do has been the one to awaken the sleeping African Warrior! Bruce Lee said: “The ultimate achievement in Jeet Kune Do is not the wholesale destruction of one’s foes but rather the annihilation of things that stand in the way of peace, justice and humanity.
The art thus becomes the embodiment of life and not of death. A punch or a kick is not to knock the hell out of the guy in front but to knock the hell out of your ego, your fear, or your hang-ups.” The fact is JKD for him was not an end in itself, nor was it merely a by-product. It was a means of self-discovery. JKD is a prescription for personal growth, or to put it another way, it is investigations of freedom – freedom to act naturally and effectively, not only in combat but also in life.
Although Shaka’s methods of fighting were revolutionary at their time, they are certainly not applicable for today’s situations. In a confrontational situation in Shaka’s time, the solution would have been to go to war with the whole tribe and killing would have been the answer to any situation to be able to win and get what you wanted. In this same regard, the methods taught by Bruce Lee during his lifetime were and still are effective, but JKD would not be the functional art it is today without constant improvement by it’s innovators striving for better and higher.
Jeet Kune Do was introduced to South African Martial Arts practitioners in the mid 1990’s by Burton Richardson who heads Jeet Kune Do Unlimited association. Burton is one of JKD’s leading innovators, keeping the training progressing towards an evermore functional and efficient approach. After years of visiting South Africa, Richardson has recently appointed and certified South Africa’s own Jeet Kune Do Unlimited instructor and role model in Morné Swanepoel. “I chose Mr. Swanepoel because of his willingness to train hard, his skill, and his dedication to teaching JKDU. We spar every time I visit South Africa, and Morné has progressed to such a degree that he is now the only instructor in my organization to be given full credentials of heading the only fully licensed Jeet Kune Do branch outside our International headquarters in Honolulu, Hawaii.
He has the physical and mental talents that I am looking for in a representative of JKDU.” Morné with more than 25 years experience in Martial Arts has found since being exposed to JKD that it is vitally important to recognize what you are looking for in your training and to train what is functional and realistic in today’s times. Since introducing Jeet Kune Do to his students, he has been amazed to see how eager and enthusiastic the students became to learn more, how keen they were to attend their classes and that the whole attitude toward their Martial Arts training changed.
The training was in a more fun-filled, relaxed environment which proved to be the right training environment to learn in. Morné found that more and more people were also moving away from the competitive ‘Karate’ scenes as point scoring and political arguments were no longer what they were looking for in their training. Students were now coming to class where they were given positive input and encouragement not just with respect to their training but towards life itself. Self defense is knowing how to minimize the risk of violence by using observation, commonsense, assertiveness and escape. Jeet Kune Do Unlimited is a total concept of self-improvement. The idea is for the individual to take responsibility and develop themselves toward their unlimited potential.
The goal of Jeet Kune Do Unlimited is to develop complete martial artists. A complete martial artist is one who strives to become a great person, a great fighter, a great technician and a great teacher. Fighting wise means training to be proficient in each range of combat, with or without weapons, against one or multiple armed or unarmed opponents in a variety of environments. Combat takes place in different ranges. In each range there are different postures. For each posture in each range you have a multitude of techniques. The qualities the fighter possesses to bring the techniques to life and make them functional are called attributes. Merely being aware of the ranges, postures, techniques and attributes is not enough. Regardless of style, there are various combat ranges: weapons, kicking, punching, trapping, clinching and grappling.
Most Martial Artists spend time learning techniques that only fit one or two ranges of combat. Regardless of their range specialization, most martial artists assume they can fight and finish an encounter at their chosen range. Such an assumption can prove fatal. The essential point to remember is that there is no superior art! All systems of martial arts have strong and weak points. Bruce Lee observed: “There is a range in which Western boxing will counter any kicking art. There is a range in which Wing Chun will counter boxing. There is a range where Tai Chi Chuan will counter Wing Chun.” The end result in JKD training is the production of a man who possesses no structure or form. Hence, he possesses all structures and all forms. He is able to adapt to any situation, like water adjusting to the shape of any container.
“Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo” – Bruce Lee
Jeet Kune Do Unlimited offers the functional and realistic training methods that South Africans have been looking for. It is important to spar and to put on protective gear and to spar with progressive resistance so that you can become familiar and comfortable in an environment with resistance that occurs during an all out street. You do not want to find out what it is like for the first time in the street. JKDU instructors undergo a strenuous test to check their abilities as functional practitioners in all the ranges of combat. They partake in several rounds of full contact sparring in a high-pressure situation with a non-cooperative opponent. This is where you quickly find out what is functional and what is not! This is the basis of JKDU: to experience the truth in combat, and be able to handle that truth through proper training.
Self defense begins with awareness of the nature of violence and the circumstances in which it is likely to occur – forewarned is forearmed. But there is no substitute for knowing how to deal physically with an assailant. Training the mind to assess dangerous situations accurately, to avoid confrontations and to stay alert and positive is an integral to successful self-defense. This positive mental outlook, combined with knowledge of self-defense techniques, will reduce the risk of being attacked and becoming a victim. The people of South Africa will see the benefit of Jeet Kune Do Unlimited training with daily improvement in themselves and in every aspect of life. “Don’t just think positive, act positive. When in doubt, remember that you are unlimited!” Don’t be a spectator, experience life. Live to the fullest, go where you want to go, do what you want to do and most importantly, do whatever it takes to become the person you want to be.” – Burton Richardson.
These are the concepts which I would like to see brought, taught and nurtured in our JKDU schools in South Africa,” says Morné Swanepoel who heads Jeet Kune Do Unlimited South Africa under the guidance of his teacher Burton Richardson. “JKD teaches us about subduing a violent opponent through various methods under the most stressful conditions when our very life is at risk, most people will go through a lifetime without facing death at the hands of another. However, to gain that attribute known as experience, we need to train our students with the most realistic training methods.
As Morné has seen the benefits of teaching JKD to the South African students, he believes that it would not only be beneficial to them, but also to anyone in the rest of Africa who is wanting to train in a more functional and realistic training program. South Africa has seen great changes over the years, and now the functional JKD revolution is sweeping the country. Our hope is that as JKDU students develop personal confidence and peace of mind, that our embattled country will also develop the confidence to live in peace.