Jeet Kune Do
Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

In 1965, the elders of San Francisco's martial arts community decided to teach Bruce Lee a lesson. They didn't like the fact that Lee had been teaching kung fu to Westerners, so they challenged him to a fight. Naturally, Lee accepted, went up against their best man, and took him out in just three minutes. But for Lee, that wasn't fast enough. He set about deconstructing everything he knew. The result was Jeet Kune Do, or "way of the intercepting fist" – now widely considered the world's most complete fighting system.

In constructing his new style, Lee was shameless about stealing the best moves from other disciplines. Today, a JKD student might learn a wrestling move from Brazilian jujitsu or footwork reminiscent of fencing. But Lee did more than merely put together a martial arts grab bag – everything he borrowed he also stripped to its most essential elements and reassembled in the most effective way possible. At Dino Orfanos's street-fighting JKD class at the New York Health & Racquet Club, for example, one of the first things you learn is how to punch.

Instead of the classic Western-boxing stance, in which you lead with your weak hand, Lee decided that you should lead with your strong hand, to shorten the distance between your strongest weapon and the target. He also realized that while most other systems step and then punch, a person could deliver more power if his punch landed before his feet hit the ground such that the whole force of his body is moving forward into his opponent. And that's just one of the hundreds of moves Lee Bruce invented before he died.

Indeed, many upper-level JKD classes are like graduate seminars in which advanced students from other disciplines come together to relearn everything they know through the Tao of the master. Of course, if you've never set foot in a martial arts class before, there's also an argument to be made for learning the most brutally efficient means of doing things right from the start.

When to use it: Late one night, as you walk alone through a garage to your car, two muggers pick you out as an easy mark. Man, are they in for a surprise.

How to use it: After positioning yourself so both are in front of you, you stop the first guy midrush with a leading right stop-kick to the knee. That guy collapses, and the second attacks with a wide right hand. Before the punch even lands, you step in and crush the guy's face with an intercepting fist, and follow with the opposite elbow, leaving your attackers simply to wonder: I thought Bruce Lee was dead?!