Combination 70 from Tigon Karate

Here’s another combination that I found on YouTube. It’s just like the one I teach at my school. He adds more crane blocking to the technique but provides the base technique before adding extensions. I don’t like his extension with the single knuckle punch but I do like the adhesion to the striking arm. I’d say stick to the original and ignore the extra fluff. Enjoy the video.

Americanization of the Martial Arts

On guard position

On guard position

It is no secret that Asian martial arts are incredibly popular in the United States. Any given town may have two or three Korean Tae Kwon Do schools, a few Okinawan karate schools, a Chinese kung fu school or two, and a handful of Judo, Aikido, Jiu Jitsu, and other schools scattered about. The prospective martial arts student can pick and choose which style appeals to him or her most and is even free to combine elements from multiple styles. Such was not the case in the founding days of the martial arts, when arts were passed on from student to teacher in a direct lineage. It was not always easy to find a teacher, and the student had to spend a lifetime mastering the art. There was no “picking and choosing”, no shopping for styles and masters. So how have the martial arts integrated into western consumer culture? Quite well, actually. The freedom to pick and choose has allowed the blending of styles that have been separated for centuries. In the end, we are seeing the emergence of a truly American class of fighting styles. This conglomeration of fighting arts is a melting pot, much as America itself is.

It should be pointed out early on that this article makes many sweeping generalizations that are not true of many particular martial arts schools and styles. Some schools proved to be adaptable to local influences almost immediately, while others have retained their traditional characteristics for decades. This article is not intended to say that one way is better than another. It is just an observation of how the martial arts scene, overall, in America is changing.

The first wave of the martial arts boom in the United States occurred in the years directly following World War II. American servicemen stationed in the east discovered the strange, effective fighting arts of Japan while based in the region as part of the post war occupational force. The primary martial art that was introduced at this time was Judo, which was popular in mainland Japan, along with some forms of empty hand martial arts from the island of Okinawa. These Okinawan arts are collectively known by their Japanese name–the words “kara” meaning “empty” and “te” meaning “hand” combine to form the now common word “karate” or “empty hand.” The second wave was an interest in Chinese forms of martial arts (kung fu), largely popularized by the demonstrations and movie and TV roles of Bruce Lee in the nineteen-sixties. The martial arts enthusiasts of generation X can largely trace their martial arts influences to the Karate Kid movies.

Yet, through all of the decades of martial arts practice in America, martial arts remained firmly rooted in its oriental culture and tradition. Classes began with salutations in Japanese or Chinese, and the same languages were used to count out punches and kicks during drills. The more closely the American martial arts schools held to the traditions of their forbearers, the more the art was respected. Schools that integrated oriental martial arts with American boxing and wrestling were often viewed as having somehow “watered down” the traditional nature of their art.

Those views have been slowly changing over time, and mixed martial arts (MMA), which combines striking arts with wrestling and grappling arts, has become an accepted class of martial arts in its own right. This has been particularly highlighted by the success of the Ultimate Fighting circuit, which is as close to no holds barred fighting as you’ll find in modern sports. The early Ultimate Fighting Championships featured competitors who were essentially one dimensional. Someone might be a boxer, a grappler, a karate practitioner, or something else, but rarely did you see true mixed martial artists. However, the one dimensional fighters soon found themselves outmatched by the more versatile MMA competitors. This was most stunningly highlighted recently when Royce Gracie, Jiu Jitsu master and the winner of three of the first four Ultimate Fighting Championships, was defeated soundly in his return match by Matt Hughes, a modern MMA fighter.

Does this mean that traditional martial arts have been supplanted by the new breed of MMA styles? Absolutely not. Rather, it just goes to show that, even in the martial arts, there is not one size that fits all. Clearly, if you are fighting three five minute rounds in a chain link octagon, then MMA might be the way to go. However, who can say what would work best in a real world confrontation? Besides, as any true martial arts practitioner knows, the true value of studying the martial arts comes not in finding ways to beat your opponent–rather, the real challenge is to face down your own failings and become the best person you can be.

Guest Writer bio: Gary Russell is a freelance writer, martial arts practitioner, and software engineer. He is the founder of TopSearch Consulting, a full service web content and keyword article provider.

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Yes, you too could be a guest writer on my blog. Email me your article idea and we’ll talk. I’ve used guest writers for my monthly newsletter years ago and I’ll do it again.

Blocks from Canada

I got an email regarding my last post on Blocking Sets from my friend and fellow instructor Marlon Anthony Wilson. Here’s what he had to say:

Interestingly I added a “blocking set” to my white belt curriculum.

  1. Advance block 1
  2. Advance block 2
  3. Go back block 3
  4. Go back block 4
  5. Turn block 5 (turn to 6:00)
  6. Advance block 6
  7. Turn block 7 (turn to 12:00)
  8. Advance block 8
  9. close

I use it to help emphasize stepping heel to toe when moving forward and toe to heel when stepping back. As well as “everything moves together – everything stops together.”

Nice to see your write up.

Thanks for your response. Stay warm up north during this harsh winter.

Moving Blocking Set 1

Moving sets allows the students to practice blocking techniques while moving and against a prearranged, predictable attack. We use these for white and yellow belts after they learn how to move (Half-moon steps) and how to block (blocking set 1). Now the student needs to do both at the same time — a real challenge at first.

Moving Set #1a (Two person)
Half moon backward, perform block 1
Half moon backward, perform block 2
Half moon backward, perform block 3
Half moon backward, perform block 4
Half moon backward, perform block 5
Half moon backward, perform block 6
Half moon backward, perform block 7
Half moon backward, perform block 8

Half moon forward, perform a punch
Half moon forward, perform a punch
Half moon forward, perform a shuto
Half moon forward, perform a shuto
Half moon forward, perform a hammer
Half moon forward, perform a hammer
Half moon forward, perform a low punch or front kick
Half moon forward, perform a low punch or front kick

Moving Set #1b (Solo)
Half moon forward, perform block 1
Half moon forward, perform block 2
Half moon backward, perform block 3
Half moon backward, perform block 4
Pivot to the right, perform block 5
Half moon turn 180, perform block 6
Half moon in a horse stance facing front, perform blocks 7 and 8

The last set is much like a mini-kata and should be thought of as a practice technique to synchronize moving and hitting. Remember that blocks are strikes towards an offensive strike. Do you have another way of practicing blocks? Let me know.

You Do What You Practice

Setting up for an arm lock

Setting up for an arm lock

The most important aspect of martial arts practice, especially for Kempo, is actually working the techniques on human bodies. Partner work is very important because you develop the muscle memory in this type of training. Partner training also provides visual feedback about where the opponent is hit and how does the opponent reacts. By working with various body sizes, weights and abilities, you get a sense for how different people will react and how you can adjust for variations.

Often times when classmates work together, they go soft on each other. They don’t want to hit the sensitive or vital points. Aim for the target you wish to hit. Don’t practice missing on purpose just to be nice to your fellow student. It develops bad habits and faulty muscle memory. Rather, stop before you hit the target. It is easier to add more power and distance to your strike than it is to redirect bad muscle memory.

But what about the dreaded horse stance? How is that useful?

It teaches you proper knee orientation and weight distribution. The horse stance conditions the knees, legs, and hips for what is expected of them during Kempo techniques and kata. But it is not a fighting stance.

A master from another art once asked me why we practice from a horse stance. I gave him my patent answer, the one I give my students and accept as an instructor. But he didn’t buy it. He felt it was more important to practice the stances you are going to use from the beginning. Going through phases in stance work is not good for the student and slows down active defense skill.

Now I have to re-evaluate how I teach others. I still haven’t changed the method of instruction yet but this conversation still lingers in my mind. It speaks to a truth about training that can not be rejected just because our methods work too. His insight is very telling about the effectiveness of Kyu-ranked students — they are lacking in adequate fighting skills due to our training crutches.

The focus of all our drilling and memorization is to hone our physical skills. This feeds into something that isn’t done nearly enough in most schools and definitely needs more repetition in our schools — doing drills. These are important to develop timing, gauging, and balance when working with another person. In Arnis, the drills “picking” and “sinawali” are great examples of this.

Have you ever worked on a drill that you thought were great? Let us know in the comments. Also, if you ever did something you practiced in class but it didn’t work right in the field, I’d love to hear about it too.

Kicking Sets

Great side kick.Kempo is known for its fast hand work, wrist locks, and rapid-fire punches. We aren’t known for our kicking skills. Though it may be due to Kempo masters’ belly size, I rather attribute it to a lack of focus in class. Kempo emphasizes keeping the left and right hand balanced. This concept should also apply to hands and feet. Below are four of our kicking routines.

Kicking Set #1
Half moon forward with a front ball kick (4 times)
Half moon backward with front ball kick (4 times)
Repeat with different kick

Kicking Set #2
Half moon forward with a front ball kick
While still in a crane stance, pivot and side blade kick to the front
Set the foot down in a half moon stance to new direction (the kicking leg is the rear leg)
Repeat until you’re facing the front
Repeat with the other leg
Repeat with lead leg

Kicking Set #3
Perform series of kicks down a straight line.
Alternate legs.
Turn in a fighting stance and repeat down the line again.

Kick series:

  • Roundhouse, spinning back and front ball kick.
  • Crescent, spinning reverse crescent and roundhouse.
  • Crescent, spinning wheel, roundhouse.
  • Roundhouse, spinning hook, spinning axe.
  • Dragon tail sweep, dragon tail sweep, front two knuckle punch.

Note that each series should require you to repeat the same kicks using the other leg. Keep both legs balanced.

Kicking Set #4
Attacker kicks
Defender slap blocks and returns kick
Defender becomes new Attacker and kicks with the other leg
Repeat at brisk pace

GM Gascon told me that we rarely kick above the belt because the hands are better forms of attack for that area. Likewise, the kick is an excellent attack for the legs and pelvis. However, we should practice our kicks high and fast to develop flexibility, speed, and accuracy.

I hope you enjoy these insights into our curriculum. If you have kicking exercises you’d like to share, email them to me. I turned off comment section recently because nothing but spam appears in the comments. I’d love to add some other examples from other schools, especially Kempo schools.

5 Ways to Practice Your Combinations

Pinning the attacker

Pin the attacker

Martial arts training is filled with repetition. It is an instructors job to disguise repetition and to enhance students’ abilities. In our style of Kempo, we have a set of predefined techniques that we practice. Kata is made up of these Combinations, which is the bunkai or application of the kata. These techniques are used for grading and testing. Class is filled with performing these combinations to the air and with partners. How can we mix up this stale system and breath new life into our repetitious rut? Try these new ways of practicing your combinations.

  1. Kata style: Start with the first technique and do each on right after the finishing the previous technique. Do not adjust your facing. The goal is to have as little time between the performance of each technique as possible.
  2. Five by Five: To engrain the combinations into your mind, practice smaller groups of techniques. I suggest doing five combinations in a row, and repeating that set five times. Then move on to the next set of five techniques. This will help improve your memory and provide enough practice of the combinations to provide improvement.
  3.  Left sided: As a student, we began training our combinations against a left-handed attacker at Black Belt. At my school, we start earlier because it provides so much benefit to the student. About Green Belt, practice the easiest five combinations reversing the sides, add another five combinations at Brown Belt. This method is a mirror of the right sided technique. In other words, a left punch becomes a right punch and a right block becomes a left block.
  4. On your back: Lay on your back and attempt to perform your combinations from the floor. This method requires a lot of visualization, imagination, and adaptation. The techniques will not be the same rather they will be essentially the same. For example, Combination 12 starts with a left kick and then spinning back kick. From the floor, you spin into a donkey kick (hands on the floor supporting your back kick), and continue to spin up to a fighting stance.
  5. Armed: My favorite way of practicing combinations is with a pocket stick or yawara. Hold the stick in your hand with a bit protruding from both sides of your fist. Perform your combinations as normal but utilize the stick to hook, strike and poke the opponent anytime you would normally use your hand for a strike. Like before, it requires visualization, imagination, and adaptation.

Though our combinations are set and predefined, that is not their real application. Kempo techniques are tools in your tool belt. You use them in any order and adapt them to the reactions of the attacker. You must flow with the attack, adapting and adjusting as needed. Real fights do not go as scripted in kata or in the combinations. When these variations are combined with the Triple I training, your techniques will become very effective.

Perfect practice prevents piss-poor performance. Train hard, train often, and train repetitiously.

Bo Staff course

I was looking through my notes and decided to post the Bo Staff course for my students to review.

Push ups
Sit ups
Side-to-side walk

Required Kata
1. Shu-shi no kon
2. Chu-on no kon
3. Saku-gawa no kon
4. Tsuken no kon

Hojo Undo (Basic drills)
Set 1: Strikes
1. Jo dan uchi
2. Kubi uchi
3. Chudan uchi
4. Gedan uchi
5. Nodo zuki

Set 2: Blocks
1. Jo dan uke
2. Kubi uke
3. Yoko uke
4. Gedan uke
5. Nodo kake uke

Set 3: Grip changing
1. Jo dan uchi
2. Kubi uchi
3. Yoko uchi
4. Gedan uchi
5. Kake uke tsuki (zen kutsu dachi/neko ashi dachi)

Set 4: Partner Drills
1. Head defense
2. Temple defense
3. Rib defense
4. Knee defense
5. Throat defense

Set 5: Shu-shi Complex
8 steps of the routine

Set 6: Block and counter
1. Gedan yoko uke, kubi uchi
2. Gedan yoko harai uke, nuki
3. Suna kake
4. Osa-e
5. Shitte, gyaku zuki

Perform the sets first, then you learn the kata. The partner drills are key in developing good timing and accuracy with the bo. It’s a lot like stick fighting (arnis) with a six foot stick. Also note that you can think of the staff as a spear too. Become flexible with how you think of bunkai and the weapons you use.

I hope you enjoy this and I’ll look for other notes.