Ung Moon — the form of the Formless Art

Bruce Lee was anti form, didn’t like kata and thought anyone who did was a goofball, right?

Well, no.

According to Guro Dan Inosanto, Lee was the best forms-man he’d ever seen. Not only that but Lee, in the early days, put together a form himself called Ung Moon.

Meaning ‘five gates’, Ung Moon, illustrates what Jun Fan Gung Fu and later, Jeet Kune Do are fundamentally about.

Sure, Lee later decided he didn’t want to use Ung Moon and it wasn’t until later that Guro Dan began using it. Even today, few people in the JKD clan know Ung Moon and few practice it and even fewer utilize it to the point that they really understand it.

Invented by Lee somewhere in the 1964-1965 time period (a few years before the name Jeet Kune Do started being used), the form teaches students not only the core of Jun Fan Gung Fu vocabulary but also how to deal with attacks from five angles (or gates). And maybe even more importantly, how to do two things at once—block/hit.

‘WAIT A MINUTE! JKD is supposed to be formless. I’ve seen it on t-shirts so it has to be true?!’

First off, formless doesn’t necessarily mean without having a ‘form’ (what Japanese martial arts calls a kata) to learn and use. It means not being bound by it or anything. Ung Moon is a vehicle used by the student (and teacher) to learn proper structure, the dynamic relation of the block/hit and the lingo we use all at the same time.

Next, JKD as he did it was Bruce Lee’s expression of what was him just as your personal JKD needs to be an expression of you as an individual. Or in other words, you need to work hard, train hard, learn and then dissolve and just let yourself be you.

But first you need to learn to move properly and how to punch, kick and not get hit.

Ung Moon is brilliant for this—teaching students how to move.

When I first started teaching Jun Fan Gung Fu and Jeet Kune Do I very quickly realized that one thing that Classical Martial Arts had going for them in terms of beginning students, was the form. It allows students to:

1/ Learn how to move like you are expected to in the system

2/ Learn the vocabulary of the system.

3/ Practice on their own without their teacher around.

While I’d picked up Ung Moon myself, at first I have to admit I was a little leery of teaching it because of the perceived idea that ‘us JKD folks don’t go for that’. But then I realized that ‘us JKD folks’ are supposed to examine things, conduct research and development to find out what is best, what works and go from there.

What I’ve found, which is probably the same reason that Ung Moon is part of the Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do Curriculum of the Inosanto Academy, is that it works. When students actually put in the elbow grease to learn it, they walk away not only with a mouthful of terms that are used in the program but how to move like someone doing Jun Fan Gung Fu.

Add to this that if for no other reason, they are keeping a form alive that Bruce Lee himself invented. Sometimes historical reasons themselves are enough but in the case of Ung Moon, I think its only one piece.

Concerns

Lee very much believe that no only did he make a mistake ever starting to use the term Jeet Kune Do but really wanted his students to learn to express themselves and liberate themselves, realizing full well that once a stylized system is on your back, like a monkey clinging to you, its hard to shake.

He realized the huge potential in the martial arts not just for combat but for changing lives and when one doesn’t allow oneself to be bound by a strict boundary of what is ‘truth,’ there is no limit to how you can grow.

The valid concern is that Ung Moon, as a stylized form can be seen as the truth and the path instead of simply a vessel used to get you from point A to point B. This is why students need proper instruction on not only Ung Moon but on all aspects of their training.

Ung Moon is a tool, just like focus mitt drills and sparring. Simply put, it is just another tool to add to your toolbox to help you prepare yourself for whatever life throws your way.

What it is not is the ‘be all and end all’ but its pluses far outweigh its minuses and Ung Moon is very valid and useful if you train it hard and work through it.

What I found

When I started teaching JKD there was a good year that I taught students the sort of things that I myself trained and expected of myself in my training. But as a teacher we often find that what works for us doesn’t necessarily work for everyone and I found that my students would look at me with blank stares when I taught using Cantonese terms or if I showed, say a trapping drill, beginning students would move like their arms were in knots.

When I introduced Ung Moon all of this changed.

Now all beginning students learn the names of a good chunk of the things we do through Ung Moon, move two limbs at once (doing different things) and even something like the salutation (which is tough for the new student to get down at first) becomes second nature.

Its work to get through it and to actually get to a place where you feel like you’ve ‘got it’ but nothing in life that is worth anything comes easy.

Making it work

Ung Moon is a stylized pattern based on what Lee learned and modified from Wing Chun.

Students start with the Gin Lai or salutation, move into a neutral stance and then a right lead Bi Jong or fighting stance.

From there you move with the left side first doing the same thing you did on one side, the reverse on the other. So if you do a Tan Da and punch with your left and right you do it again but with your right and left.

When I teach Ung Moon I normally break it into sections so that it is easier for students to learn it but this depends on the student. Some students with martial arts experience can be taught the whole form within 30 minutes to an hour while others will take a handful of classes to get to the end.

The key with Ung Moon (as in anything is knuckling down and doing it or as one Sensei I trained with said about getting good at martial arts, “practice until it hurts”) is doing the work the way it is intended. It isn’t really something that you can ‘kind of learn’ but needs proper supervision so that the student is learning to do the moves correctly so that they can practice properly.

The next important thing is that when you do Ung Moon you should be saying what you are doing as you do it so, as in the example above, the student would do the move while saying “tan sao da, tan sao da” remembering that you’ll be doing the moves twice.

Put together, Ung Moon goes like this:

  • – Gin Lai
  • – Yee Gee Kim Yeung Ma
  • – Bi Jong
  • 1) Tan Sao, Da
  • 2) Biu Sao, Da
  • 3) Ha Woang Pac, Da
  • 4) Goang Sao, Da
  • 5) Ha Pac, Da
  • 6) Loy Woang Pac, Biu Gee
  • 7) Noy Woang Pac, Biu Gee
  • 8) Noy Biu Gee
  • 9) Loy Biu Gee
  • 10) Toy Sao, Biu Gee
  • 11) Go Lon Sao, Da
  • 12) Lon Sao, Da
  • 13) Lon Sao, Da (Go, Ha, Go)
  • 14) Pac Sao, Jik Dum Tek
  • 15) Kow Sao, Juk Tek
  • 16) Biu Gee – Boang Sao – Lop Sao:
  • a) Chung Choy
  • b) Gua Choy
  • c) Lau Sing Choy
  • d) Sut Sao
  • e) Sot Que
  • f) Gin Choy
  • g) Jik Gern
  • h) Juan Gern

In the end

So why should you learn and practice Ung Moon? One reason—it will make you better as a martial artist.

And at the end of the day, anything you can do to grease the wheel that will take you from where you are to where you want to go is worth it.

But don’t take my word for it. Learn Ung Moon, pick it apart and discover what Lee intended to convey. In the end, if it eludes you or just isn’t your cup of tea then you have lost nothing but on the other hand, it could be an invaluable tool for your JKD toolbox as you research and develop what it means to be you.

 

*Note: This was previously published on the Eke Academy of Martial Arts’ old blog Victoria JKD/Kali.

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