Step and Punch

During class last night, we worked on a knife defense. Normally, we practice in the simplified format (beginner method) of right step forward and a right hand attack. As you noticed in class, even if they step in with the left foot — a more common form of attack — the technique works. You might say it works more effectively than the beginner method.

This brings up a point to remember when practicing your techniques. Attempt them with alternate forms of strikes and feet stepping in. I mentioned this before in previous articles but it bares repeating. We get stuck in our “dojo mindset”. A person can only attack in the authorized format. Counter attacks and combination techniques are orchestrated and pre-defined. That is not reality.

Take a lesson from “live” styles like Arnis. Practice blocking drills or any drills really with randomness. Let your partner through various attacks from various angles. Block them effectively and counter. These drills build up the ability to feed off your attacker to defend and deliver another attack. It is “live” by virtue of being undefined, flowing and moving. You don’t stand in static poses. You don’t move in predefined patterns. You are alive and move as you would normally. This develops a natural flow.

So that this lesson as a chance to try your techniques and see how they adapt to different targets than those presented in class. Go with the flow.

Kicking Notes

Great side kick.Just a few notes from class in regards to kicking. Crane before and after each kick for snap and to prevent someone catching the strike. If you let your leg dangle out near the opponent, eventually he will snatch it and apply a leg lock or counter strike. Keep the foot moving quickly and with balance. Ensure that your foot is properly positioned so the striking surface is furthest out. The pinky toe is not a kicking surface, the blade of the foot or the heel is.

Another way to help your kicks besides stretching is to strengthen the stomach muscles. The body core helps move the legs up and down. The stomach takes the brunt of that action, therefore a strong stomach will make stronger, faster kicks.

Please remember to practice your Kicking Sets 1, 2 and 3. They are simple moves but help so much.

Additionally, practice your Kicking Kempo 1, 2 and 3. KK1 is for a front kick. KK2 is for a roundhouse kick. KK3 is for a sidekick. They are not on the required list of techniques but they are invaluable in your training. Shaolin Kempo has more defenses against hand strikes than kicks.

Train hard and train often. Remember that perfect practice makes perfect.

Kempo Karate for Toddlers

The PeeWee group consists of toddlers (three and four years old) and young children (five and six years old). Their class is a simplified version of regular children’s classes. It runs for 35 minutes: 15 minutes of warm ups, 15 minutes of drills, and 5 minutes of “splash” time. Splash is a word I use to mean a bump of time for sections that run over time.

Black belt teacher helping a yellow belt child

Black belt teacher helping a yellow belt child

The very short attention span of this age group makes anything longer either useless or detrimental to their learning. In fact, for the first few months, the student may not “pay attention” to the full class. We allow them to develop this ability on their own time. They aren’t disrupting the others. It helps them focus on their objectives. When other kids are listening to the instructor, they begin to listen too.

A Special Class
Each session works on developing physical skills they’ll need for Kempo and school. These mini-skill development drills are couched in the form of games. We segment individual skills out of “regular” techniques and have the children work on one skill at a time. Some of the favorite activities (or games) are jumping and rolling.

Jumping develops strong legs. We also teach proper landing to prevent shin splints. This will give them a “leg up” when they must learn jumping kicks in the older children’s class. Rolling is just a small part of the ukemi (groundwork) regiment. Groundwork is the most challenging for adults to learn. When small children learn how to do it properly, they don’t fear falling.

He’s no Jet Li
The PeeWee group isn’t going to be “excellent” at Kempo. That’s not the objective of this class. In fact, their requirements are lower than that of other students. The goal is to develop physical coordination skills and listening skills. At this young age, getting her arm to do what she wants is a challenge. Secondly, listening to the instructor and following directions is also a valuable skill.

It bears reiterating this class teaches skills disguised as games and a limited amount of techniques. They rarely work out with partners because that leads to distractions or minor injuries. This age group loves to perform movements in sync with the large group. Everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. To a child, this is fun.Correcting a child's body position

Will they ever be good?
This is a valid question in response to the class described above. What we have found over the years is, yes the children do become excellent martial artists. These primary skills of coordination and listening skills translate well to the more advanced Children’s program.

When they promote out of the PeeWee group, what we call Little Leopards, they do not have all the required material for advancement. However, they learn at twice the pace of children who begin class later in life. These highly trained ex-PeeWees pick up information very quickly. They know how to practice, their basic movements are honed, and they want to practice.

It is my experience that graduated PeeWee children move quickly into the accelerated Children’s Program and the Junior Leadership Team “STORM”. They built a foundation of valuable abilities that they exploit when their minds and bodies mature.

Children and Training
You must remember these are small children in a very malleable period of their life. We want them to enjoy exercise, enjoy learning and able to follow directions. They should feel good about what they’re doing and want to do it again. These are life skills, which will benefit them for decades.

Let them have fun. Small children aren’t physically or mentally able to defend themselves from adults. If others tell you otherwise, they’re lying.

So enroll them in the Little Leopards program today. The classes start as young as 3 and 4 years old in addition to the 5 and 6 years old students. Each age group is in its own class. We divide them by theme: Little Dragons, Little Ninjas, Tiny Tigers and Little Pandas.

While you’re at it, Kempo makes a great activity for parents too. Join our class designed for Moms — stay physically active, learn self-defense and learn what your kids are learning.

Veterans’ Day 2009

On this Veterans Day, let us honor the brave men and women who have served (and are serving) honorably and protected (and are protecting) our country from harm.  Some of those who served were wounded or made the ultimate sacrifice.  Some are no longer with us. Remember them always. May these sacrifices be honored today and never forgotten.

Please join me on this special day in remembering all of the fine people who have contributed to the freedoms we now enjoy. Those who are warrior in peace and warriors in peril, we salute you.

Why do we have so many wrist grabs?

Why do we have so many wrist grabs, escapes and counters? They were primarily used as a valid attack against a swordsman. They also work for unarmed assailants too. Wouldn’t it be easier just to have one really good grab and counter for the wrist?

We have many wrist escapes. We expect you to learn as many well as possible. Different opponents can defend or resist against some of these grabs or counters but not all of them. You need to move from one escape counter to the next quickly once you realize that one you initiated won’t work. Remember not to force your counter to work. It is better to slide into a different one than change the counter with force.

As discussed in our classes, someone grabbing you can only secure two of the three directions with strength. Recall your elementary school math class with X-axis, Y-axis and Z-axis. These are the directions of countering. Most counters move along one of these lines. Use that visual to help you counter.

Another reason to have several solid grab escapes in your repertoire is the ending position or result of the counter. Some end with an arm or wristlock. Others end with a devastating blow or submission. The needs of your unique confrontation may require a certain ending from the counter to put you in a better position. This is where the strategy and planning pays off — move and counter move.

These wrist counters can be used against opponents wielding pipes, sticks, or guns. They vary slightly to include the object but really, wrist locks (or any locks) are very similar in application. You can also be armed when executing a wrist counter or lock. The yawara stick (hand stick) is ideal to amplify and strengthen locks.

Though we often stress limiting the number of techniques you need to learn, having a variety is very important too. After a while, you will notice that all your hundreds of techniques compress into just a few. This is a sign that you are moving into a very advanced state of understanding.

Until then, just learn, practice and perfect those that you know. Let time and training make it effective and useful.

How to Control Fear

Fear is a cruel master. It can cause you to flee or react without planning. Fear just is a warning device. Do not let it control your actions and reactions. Accept the emotion of fear. Know that it is there for a reason and acknowledge it. Do not let it dictate irrational actions instead of rational actions.

“There is a time to take counsel of your fears, and there is a time to never listen to any fear.”  ~ George S. Patton

When you are walking somewhere minding your own business and you suddenly become afraid, that is your mind telling you of trouble. Take note of that and react accordingly by scanning the surround area for danger. Plan for an attack and determine the best way to get out of the dangerous situation. Often times when you do this, no attack will arrive. This is because you took appropriate action.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” ~ Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 12 (1894)

One way to manage your fear is to breathe. I often use ten short breaths to calm my inner self. It brings clarity to the situation. The biological effects of fear are an adrenaline surge and the shortness of breath. You stop breathing or hold your breath. This technique of taking ten short breaths will overcome this biological response. Training when you are tired and fatigued will help with the adrenaline surge and its after affects.

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.” ~ William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act II, sc. ii (1599)

You control fear by will. You take charge of your own mental facilities and actions. You just do it.

Class Review for Wednesday

Just to recap what we went over. Practice your Monkey Dance 5 and Monkey Dance 3. Common mistakes included:

  • Turning the hips too much while in your half-moon stance
  • Not snapping the hands back in elbow position while punching
  • Dangling hands and arms
  • Looking before moving
  • Taking steps that are too big or stepping backwards with small, narrow steps

These are typical mistakes. Review them when you perform and practice the kata. The best way to improve kata is to take the mistakes you make and fix it one at a time. Do it five times then fix the next problem. Do it five times and repeat. This provides you with the repetition needed to make the form stick in your mind. It also allows the mind to focus on one problem at a time.

Do things purposefully and systematically. This makes all the difference in the world when you learn something or attempt to improve a skill. Remember the old phrase, “Step by step. Inch by inch.”

Train hard. Practice precisely.

5 Ways to Distract Your Opponent

The best way to overcome your opponent’s guard and defenses is not to overpower or out run them. Rather it is better to defeat them through deception, distraction and confusion. Distraction is a key technique to disrupt the enemy’s defenses. Your opponent will lower his guard allowing you to attack with impunity. The next question is, “how can I distract my opponent?”

  1. Use a forceful puff of air blown into their eyes or face. Try it on a dog and see what happens–just kidding. The puff of air in the eyes will force them shut for a second or two. This is the art of distraction and mental confusion. You can’t defend what you don’t see.
  2. Blowing in his face is not the only thing you can do. Toss something small at his face. Aim for the eyes. This has the same desired effect with a bonus. If he doesn’t block it, then the object hits him.
  3. Slide a chair in front of him. This is best illustrated by Jackie Chan movies where the fighters use the local furniture as improvised weapons. If a chair is moving in your direction, you must get out of the way or get hit. Either way, you created an opening for your attack.
  4. Pull his shirt over his head. First invented by an older brother in prehistory, this little technique can still work in the modern age. The shirt or jacket not only disrupts their attack arms, it can also blind them to the environment. If your opponent can’t see, they make a better target for your attacks.
  5. Finally, use two or more of the above to really confound your opponent. They may accuse you of cheating but there are no rules in self-defense or combat.

The key is to irritate you opponent so they think of something else rather than effectively fighting you. This may also cause them to get angry and forget proper strategy. An angry, raging opponent doesn’t think. Remain calm and calculating to win the confrontation. When you control the mental game, you will win.

Self-defense is 90% mental and 10% physical. Think and avoid.

Training with Music and Drums

“One, Two, Cha Cha Punch” In class, you move from one step to the next in a rhythmic fashion–step, block, punch, and punch. In kata practice, you develop or learn the pacing of the form–fast, fast, slow. The same conditions exist in sparring. Feel the rhythm of fighting and attack on the off beats.

Some arts like Arnis or Capoeira use drumbeats to develop this rhythm. Your footwork and arm movements flow with the beats of the drum. Your attacks and defenses meet on the steady drumbeats. Even if your root style doesn’t use music in training, try it. Use the rhythm to create flow and smoothness in your movements. Then you can attack on off beats to disrupt your opponent’s internal rhythm and break their attack.

Drumbeats also force you to match the speed of the rhythm, which reflects the pace of an attack. The opponent will dictate the pace of the encounter by the mere fact they started it. You step into the rhythm and take charge–lead the dance. Don’t let yourself get over-confident by practicing at your own, comfortable pace. Let someone else establish the speed and join in. It’ll help you get your footwork and maintain balance under stress.

Dancing, music and martial arts are not very different. In Arnis, the word for martial arts form, sayaw, means dance. This is true for the Japanese word kata too. Many times in history, oppressed people would disguise their martial arts moves as folk dances. They did this because it was simple to do and provided benefits to training.

So turn on your favorite dance music and work on your forms or sparring. What songs do you like to listen to during training?

The Hidden Triangle

We all know that a tripod is more stable than a biped.

Black belt in stance

Black belt in stance

This is evident in how a tricycle and bicycle are parked. The tricycle, with its three wheels, can stand on its own while the bicycle needs a kickstand to stand on its own. That makes it a tripod structure. But how does this relate to martial arts and Kempo in particular?
Human beings are bipedal creatures. We use two legs to stand. In theory, that should make us tip over easily but we have joints, muscles and tendons to keep us upright. We can become a triped or quadruped by putting down one or both hands. This makes us stable but not very effective in a fight.

However, we can use this concept to help us become more effective. We have two feet, which equates to two vertices of a triangle’s three vertices. All we need is the third point to complete the tripod structure. Using a bit imagination and basic geometry, you can pick a place on the floor where the third point should go.

  • You can use that location to place your knee down for stability, especially for randori and jujutsu mat work.
  • If your opponent’s foot is there, you can push or pull his foot out of the stability spot to disrupt their balance.
  • You can use the spot as a target for your throw. Aiming at that spot will naturally create a stronger, more effective throw.
  • If you have a joint lock, move it towards that spot to create a soft throw.
  • You can also use that location by putting the opponent there to prop yourself up if you begin to loose your own balance.
  • If you believe in chi energy, create a pillar of force attaching you to that spot creating a tripod stance.

It is important to visualize and use your imagination while training or during a confrontation. The mind responds to those impulses faster than if it explicitly or discretely thinks about the problem. If you practice doing this during your training sessions, you will develop muscle memory thereby making it part of your repertoire.

Train hard. Train for real.