Bruce Lee’s Five Ways of Attack

Many people know the late Bruce Lee, the world famous actor and master of martial arts. Arguably fewer people know him as a fencer or competitive dancer. He was all of those things and of course so much more. Bruce Lee was an innovator and lifelong learner who encouraged others to be free of the constraints of imitation. Prior to his death in 1973, Lee was developing five attack strategies as a framework to teach his fighting method in its latest state of evolution.

Readers should note that the use of the word “framework” is not meant to imply boundaries, restrictions, or any other kind of constraint that is normally associated with a martial art or given style. Bruce Lee did not want his students to be confined by a set pattern or traditional doctrine. After all, combat in the “real world” isn’t scripted. Hence, framework in this case simply refers to the guiding five principle attack methods upon which students can build and adopt according to their needs. One of Lee’s direct students, the late Joe Lewis, did exactly that when he constructed his “Five Angles of Attack.” To understand the direction that Lewis took, one must first understand Lee’s original five ways.

In Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do, the “Five Ways of Attack” are:

 

1. Simple Angle Attack (SAA).

2. Hand Immobilizing Attack (HIA).

3. Progressive Indirect Attack (PIA).

4. Attack by Combination (ABC).

5. Attack by Drawing (ABD).

 

Lee believed in the economy of motion. This was to make what he often called “small movements.” Be so elusive that the opponent has little or no idea of what’s coming until it’s too late. So, the Simple Angle Attack was meant to be simple and effective. This means to be direct, fast, powerful, and decisive in delivery of the weapon to the target. Yet, approach from an angle that the “bad guy” doesn’t expect. Bruce Lee even encouraged the use of a feint as set-up for the actual attack. It’s important to keep in mind that a feint + a Simple Angle Attack = two separate movements. The importance of this distinction will be made clearer with the third attack strategy.

Immobilizing an opponent’s weapon is a form of acute disruption in a fight. Whether trapping a hand, leg, or the head (arguably the most powerful weapon of all), the objective is to break your opponent’s rhythm and otherwise screw up his game plan. Lee described immobilization attacks as a set-up for strikes. Whether done alone or in combinations, trapping could of course be used in conjunction with any of the other four attack methods.

Bruce Lee’s third way of attack was called the Progressive Indirect Attack. Lee suggested that this method be used against opponents who could easily contend with the first attack method. PIAs leverage disengaged strikes and feints in tandem with committed weapons “…in a single, forward motion” to exploit an opening in the opponent’s defense. There is no withdrawal in this attack strategy.

To attack by combination, in Lee’s view, was to string together multiple blows against multiple targets. Consider a Western Boxing combination like: Jab/Cross/Upper Cut/Hook. They follow each other with the speed, force, and succession of a freight train with each car slamming into separate targets. The opponent, particularly if unconditioned, can be overwhelmed by the shock of multiple pain points.

In Attacks by Drawing, Bruce Lee’s tenet was to convince an opponent to unwittingly create an opening in his own defense and then take advantage of it. For example, one might lower his/her guard and tempt his opponent to respond with a kick to the head. All the while, this is a trap set to intercept the kick, drive the opponent backward, and then finish the fight with a submission hold. This strategy can be used in counter-attack scenarios as well. In either case, Lee emphasized the fundamental importance of hitting hard, at just the right time, in the right place(s), and with the right frame of mind. Beyond records of his notes and many other resources about his life and original teachings, there are examples of ways his students continued the evolution of Jeet Kune Do well after his untimely passing.

Enter the Joe Lewis System.

The summer of 1988 yielded a magazine article that Lewis co-authored covering his “Five Angles of Attack.” These were outlined as footwork strategies for approaching opponents offensively. By the way, the use of the word “angle” has little or no Geometric context. Lewis used the word in the same vein as Lee did with “way” when describing his attack methods. In examining the “Five Angles of Attack” by Joe Lewis however, close attention should be paid to a fundamental difference in body positioning from that of his teacher. The Lewis methodology in this case is executed with the “strong” side [dominant hand] back whereas Bruce Lee used “strong” side forward.

The first of these was called the “direct angular attack.” As with Lee’s SAA strategy, the Lewis principle makes use of a direct strike at the opponent. This blow could be delivered with a kick, punch, or elbow for example. If the weapon doesn’t connect, then one can make another attempt or change the direction of attack.

The next principle, developed by Joe Lewis, was the “indirect angular attack.” Like Bruce Lee’s PIA, the “indirect angular attack” employs usage of feints. Consider using a fake kick to the body as a set-up for a body punch.

The third angle of attack was called the “combination angular attack.” In contrast to Lee’s ABC, Lewis called for the use of any two of his angular attacks in sequence. These could be several of same principle or a combination of different ones.

Then came “immobilization” or the fourth strategy by Lewis. Following his late master’s lead, Lewis promoted the approach of seizing limbs stop an opponent’s offense. This could be done as an intercept or a proactive disruption to an adversary’s strategy.

Lastly, Joe Lewis devised what he called the “broken rhythm angular attack.” As evinced by its name, this method makes use of a change in speed and/or cadence when delivering techniques in sequence. It could entail changes in direction too…especially in mid-flight. It is both the practice of unpredictability and flexibility. With no discernible pattern to detect, the “bad guys” have a really hard time responding to what you deliver. Conversely, if the enemy makes a sudden change (in terms of position, speed, weapons, direction, etc.), then the “broken rhythm angular attack” can enable an effective counter-attack.

Joe Lewis did not try to replace Bruce Lee’s “Five Ways of Attack” with his “Five Angles of Attack.” Lewis listened to his teacher, trained hard, adopted what he could use, and made it work for him. Now, we must learn what we can from each of these late masters, leverage what can work for us, and share the knowledge.

Author Clay Worley