Jeet Kune Do’s - Trapping Range

Written by Arthur Ligopantis

The ability to intercept, then destroy your opponent’s intentions efficiently and ruthlessly can be achieved in trapping range. Although there is a distinct difference between theatrical and functional Jeet-Kune-Do, the reality is that functional Jeet-Kune-Do works within close-quarters, also called trapping range.

Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee realised very early in his quest for martial excellence that most Caucasians were much larger than most people from the east, and although Bruce would never shy away from a fight, the last thing he wanted to do was go toe-to-toe with someone bigger and stronger than himself. With that in mind, one of the biggest revelations Bruce had was that most martial artists in the 1960s and ’70s trained and fought in maybe one or two ranges of combat.; they specialised in either kicking and punching, trapping or grappling. At that time it was unheard of to cross-train in another martial art, let alone in multiple styles. Bruce realised that most arts consisted predominantly of kicking or punching while very few specialised in the lethal art of trapping.

Although there’s a fine line between the trapping and grappling ranges, a clear distinction needs to be made between trapping techniques and trapping range. When we say trapping, we’re generally talking about the momentary immobilisation of a limb in order to score with a hit. Trapping range, on the other hand, not only encompasses a whole series of traps but also the concept of fighting in very close quarters, terminating an opponent with some of the most vicious and brutal tools available to human beings–head-butts, knees, elbows and eye-gouges.

These are tools that put people out of commission very quickly. Size and strength become a mute point when we’re talking about thumbing someone’s eyes, slamming our head in their face, then kneeing their groin. By combining these tools, we’re creating a synergy of violent technique that is incomprehensible to most people.

Below is a comparison and breakdown of the various tools available to use in each range of combat.



Kicking Range


Boxing Range


Trapping Range

Head, Teeth, Chin, Shoulder, Elbows, Inner Forearm, Hand, Hip Butt, Knees, Shins, Feet.

Grappling Range

Teeth, Chin,
Arms, Legs

It’s quite obvious that trapping range not only possesses a superior and more varied arsenal, but it is also the range of combat that most martial arts are unfamiliar with.

Imagine you had to put money on the outcome of two world-class boxers, let’s say, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, and the fight went something like this:

First round, they are about even on points; the same in the second and third. In the fourth round, the referee walks up to Sugar Ray and says, "Any time you want to, just sneak an elbow in there, I won’t mind. In fact, anytime you want to, why don’t you even head-butt him in the face? I won’t care, I’ll pretend I didn’t even see it". Who would you put your money on?

Obviously, you’d bet on Sugar Ray. The point is, being able to thumb someone’s eyes then slam your head into their face will put you at a distinct advantage. It is a method of fighting which is very conducive to street self-defence and taking attackers out of the picture very quickly. The last thing you want to do is be involved in a slug-fest, trading punch for punch with someone much larger and stronger than yourself.

Understanding Energy

The ability to finish the fight in trapping range is not only predicated on the refinement of one’s tools in close range, but also on an underlying ingredient known as tactile awareness. Tactile awareness is the ability to read or feel your opponent’s intentions through touch and move ahead of his defence by either dissolving, redirecting or bouncing his energy to allow for your attack.

The differences between seeing and reacting, as opposed to feeling and reacting, is that with the former, the signal passes through the brain. With the latter, the stimulus bypasses the brain, minimising reaction time. So the concept behind energy is that you are not thinking, you are moving and hitting. Fighting in this range requires one to be very attuned to the slightest changes in your opponent’s energy direction and force.

According to Dan Inosanto, there are roughly 20 different types of energy, with each bringing out something unique. Energy training can be found in many disciplines and a J.K.D man might draw from Wing Chun, Filipino Kali, Hung-Gar, Penjak-Silat, Mi-Tsungi or Tai Chi.

A good J.K.D. man will not only train and understand the concept of energy, but also make the concept functional and combative. For example, two common drills used in J.K.D. are Wing Chun’s chi-sao drill and Kali’s hubud/lubud drill. Both drills teach a particular kind of energy, yet both stress different principles. In the chi-sao drill, the concept is to engage the arms and roll, maintaining the centre line. In Kali’s hubud drill, they like to give the centre line.

In the early stages of energy development, just the shell of the drill is taught, stressing certain principles. Once the basic drill is understood, the obvious progression is to add certain elements and have your partner counter or redirect the energy, with each phase of the drill becoming more and more combative, until both parties are virtually sparring out of the drills.

The main theme behind any drill, regardless of whether it’s an energy drill, is that drills are made to be broken. For example, when learning Wing Chun’s chi-sao drill, after countless hours have been clocked up learning the basic rotation, you should then be able to put any element into the drill, whether it be from boxing, silat, grappling, or whatever. The drill should be seen as the nucleus, into which any element or principle can be inserted, regardless of its origin. For one to achieve this, one must understand the underlying principles that make up the shell.

Fighting in trapping range is not only an equaliser against bigger and stronger opponents, it stems from a mentality bent on finishing the fight in a range that is unfamiliar to a lot of people. This mind-set is very conducive to what Bruce Lee’s art was all about: winning in the street.

This article is an edited excerpt from the up-coming book The Art & Science of Jeet-Kune-Do, by Arthur Ligopantis. Arthur is Head Instructor of Progressive Combat Systems and is certified under Jeet Kune Do instructors Walt Missingham, Dan Inosanto and Paul Vunak. He can be contacted on 0419 253 106