20 minutes of Jeet Kune Do at Elite Defense Systems

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118229754228438.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of www.channel4.com‘, ‘Bruce Lee developed Jeet Kune Do, which inarguably transformed the way martial arts is studied and practiced in the modern world. ‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118235658523417.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of www.elitejkd.com‘, ‘Sifu Matt Numrich (left) with Sifu Paul Vunak‘);

People often leave legacies because some moment or some aspect of their life revolutionizes the way others view, think and feel about a belief, an idea or a concept.

One of the martial arts world’s finest legacies was created in the 1960s by one man—Bruce Lee—who developed one concept—Jeet Kune Do—that inarguably transformed the way martial arts is studied and practiced in the modern world.

At 5695 Strathmoor Drive, a Jeet Kune Do (JKD) school called Elite Defense Systems proves Bruce Lee’s legacy lives on through the instruction of Sifu Matt Numrich, student of Sifu Paul Vunak, who is a student of Guru Dan Inosanto, a student and training partner of the late Bruce Lee.

Numrich, 33, is one of 12 certified JKD instructors in the Midwest. He has 16 years of experience in Jeet Kune Do, which is a mixture of more than 30 martial arts styles and techniques.

“This is my livelihood,” Numrich explained. “This is what I built my life around and my family’s life around. I think that’s where the quality of our instruction shows. This is all I think about. This is all I do.”

Elite Defense Systems offers two weeks of free lessons for people who are interested in choosing a martial arts school to join.

When I called Elite Defense Systems, Numrich offered to teach me some basics of JKD, and also let me observe a class. I eagerly accepted.

I arrived about 10 minutes early for the 7 p.m. adult class, dressed appropriately in a blue Under Armour shirt and a pair of athletic shorts. I sat patiently in the waiting room and noticed instructional DVDs, pepper spray, JKD T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts encased in an approximately 4-foot tall glass container. I noticed other students, who were dressed in Elite Defense Systems T-shirts and either sweat pants or shorts, remove their shoes while they waited for the children’s class to finish.

Numrich not only instructs children in martial arts, but also teaches them character development, and has recently begun self-defense programs for the Kinder Care Learning Centers in Rockford.

At about 7 p.m., Numrich walked through the door, and we exchanged introductions. He then directed me past the suspended portrait of Bruce Lee through the farthest from the entrance of the two waiting room doors. I figured I’d be training in the adjacent room. But, to my surprise, he led me downstairs into a darker, basement-like room floored with mats. I looked around and noticed two jumbo Wavemaster kick bags against the wall to the left and mirrors covering the wall on the opposite end. The temperature was a little chilly, as if I were directly in front of a vent.

Numrich was quite helpful, friendly and personable. He has written several articles for Black Belt magazine, so he had a great deal of information about JKD and Elite Defense Systems readily available.

While stretching, I heard an intense pounding from the mats above. I wasn’t sure whether the students upstairs were jumping up and down, sparring, or working on sweeps and throws. I soon became curious about what I was going to learn.

Numrich began my mini-lesson with some information about Jeet Kune Do and what he described as the five areas of self-defense: kickboxing, close quarters, ground fighting, weapons and mass attack. Because of time constraints, Numrich decided to focus on close quarters.

Numrich held a Century Powerline pad and instructed me to strike it with my knees, then gradually had me add elbow strikes and head butts. He would then say a series of combinations, such as: elbow, knee, head butt, or elbow, elbow, knee, and I would have to strike the pad, accordingly.

Numrich congratulated me with a high-five after I finished the strikes.

Next, I got to learn some basic knife fighting. Numrich gave me a fake knife, and instead of teaching a series of complicated blocks as a defense, Numrich explained one basic concept—strike the attacking limb or “de-fang the snake.” I instinctively held the knife in my right hand with my left foot as my lead, like a classic boxing stance. Numrich explained that I was leaving the whole left side of my body open, so I was instructed to shift my lead foot. He then simulated a knife attack I had to defend by stepping back while I struck the attacking arm with the knife.

After about 20 minutes of training, my lesson was finished. I was sweating a bit around the forehead and felt like I had just completed a series of 40-yard sprints and eaten a handful of saltine crackers.

After 20 minutes?

“That’s why we keep it cold down here,” Numrich joked. I chuckled, although it probably sounded like I was choking.

Numrich brought me a small cup of water that I sipped on for a second while swishing the water around my mouth to re-hydrate before I chugged the rest. I had completed my short introduction to JKD, but I remained mystified by it.

The concepts seemed so simple. No set techniques or special moves. Just figuring out what the simplest, most effective tool to use is what’s important. As Bruce Lee said, be able to adapt and adjust. Be formless, shapeless like water. Know yourself, and accept no limitations.

I began wondering: How much more can there possibly be? How do you defend against multiple attackers? What other weapons styles are there? How do you develop and work on all these areas of fighting? What are these “unpublished” topics the advanced program offers? How long do those take to learn?

The Federal Air Marshals office at O’Hare also must have realized the efficiency and effectiveness of JKD. In 2003, they invited Numrich to train its instructors.

“Jeet Kune Do is by far the most street-fighting focused, realistic martial art,” Numrich said. “It really helps people accomplish three main things. First of all, they really get to know how to defend themselves out in the street. The second thing they get to do is get in shape very quickly because you’re working so many different areas. The third thing is they get to build confidence. When you know there is no situation that is going to catch you off guard, it brings a very high level of confidence.”

I went upstairs to watch the remainder of the class and observed six students display ground fighting proficiency through dominating positions, smooth transitions and brutal submissions, while furthering their training development by practicing striking and weapon techniques.

Kevin Gallagher, 42, has been training at Elite Defense Systems for two years. He trained Jeet Kune Do when he lived in Connecticut, and after moving to Rockford, decided to join when he found out about the school.

“I smoked two packs a day for 30 years,” Gallagher said. “I stopped smoking the day I started here. It’s amazing how it works out the lungs.”

Susan Mueller has also trained at the school for about two years and has a 6-year-old son who trains JKD, as well. She said she wanted to learn an art that was self-defense based, as opposed to a sport-based or traditional martial art.

“I just wanted to know how to protect myself and how to feel safe,” Mueller said. “Just to know what stuff to look out for, like how to be aware of my surroundings and avoid dangerous situations. I wanted something less flashy and more effective.”

Elite Defense Systems offers all types of training from one-hour private lessons to 36-month intensive programs. It also hosts a number of different types of seminars. Information about the school can be found at www.elitejkd.com.

Like Bruce Lee once said, “If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made of.”

from the June 20-26, 2007, issue

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