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.

There is No Try

In the movie Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, Master Yoda’s famous line is, “Do or do not. There is no try.” This quote is so applicable to martial arts training. If you’re going to do something, do it as well as you can. Excel at all your endeavors, even in practice.

There is no sense in practicing your material in a half-hearted manner–which means quickly or in a lazy fashion. Rather endeavor to practice each move and each step with clear intent. You don’t have to do each move at full speed but you do have to do it with a serious mind. Do a low stance. Punch with snap and power even if it is slow or half-strength. Use the proper steps when there is room. Make them proper when there is no room.

Two more quotes will help bring this concept home. “Perfect practice makes perfect” and “You do what you practice.”

Three Levels to Develop Great Techniques

How do you develop great Kempo techniques through contemplation and exploration? The dojo is your martial laboratory. Test the techniques, evaluate them and then improve them. But first you need to learn it well, and by well I don’t mean only rote memory.

You can distill the process of learning into categories or levels of learning. Traverse these three levels of learning to really digest and infuse your body with true martial prowess. The levels are:

Foundation level — At this level, you do things by the book. You’re at this level when you are White to Green Belt. You must learn things the exact way they are taught so you can develop the proper body mechanics and positioning. Don’t assume that you’re good enough to make changes at this stage. Compare this to thinking you knew how to make a better A when you were learning to write. You still couldn’t make a proper A yet. Learn each move the proper way then take on the next level when it is time.

Adaptation level – At this level, you are exploring variations and what-ifs. You enter this level about Green Belt and remain until Black Belt. In Kempo, you are not a “master” at Black Belt. You are merely very proficient. At this time, you start to appreciate the differences in the sizes and shapes of the uke (practice partner). It makes a difference with how you do each step of the technique. Also his bodily and defenses reactions may alter how you continue to perform each successive move. Learn to flow from move to move and make changes to adapt to the shifting targets.

Analysis level — At this level, you reduce the techniques to smaller pieces and explore how each one works on Kempo principles. Then rebuild the technique using Kempo theories to become a spontaneous fighter. You’re at this level when your reach advanced Black Belt. This is where you dissect what you are doing and see how the pieces fit together. Why are we doing this move? Why does the body do that? What are the additional attacks and targets for each technique? How would the target respond or counter? How does it relate to pressure points and acupuncture meridian lines? The list of potential questions goes on.

Dissecting the technique is a good strategy for really learning a move or technique. Teaching and analyzing it are two other methods for improving comprehension and understanding. This is why it behooves Black Belts to begin teaching or assisting in classes–where legally permitted by municipalities and local laws.

What is the net gain by doing this? You become a very good artist, an exemplar of Kempo. Don’t worry about what rank you are or if others respect your lineage. All that matters is if you can walk the talk–defend yourself using the Kempo you truly learned. Don’t settle for “knowing” techniques like a dance move. Know it on an unconscious level, a goal we’re all striving for.

Class Review for Wednesday

September and October have been very busy months for me. The children are back to school and the dojo has added several new students. This has developed into a lack of time to write my articles. Thank you for your patience during this busy time.

Gun defense

Gun defense

Wednesday’s class focused on applying wrist locks from the same side and cross hand grips. Just for the record, the same side grip uses both a wrist and finger lock to cause pain. I showed a follow up move and throw for advanced students. The cross hand grip uses the knife hand to cause pain in the wrist.

With all locks, remember to keep the 90° angle in one if not two joints. They will work better that way. Do each step in sequence. Apply pressure and get the full bend before moving on to the next step or a twist/rotation.

Feel free to send me questions about class or the martial arts. I’ll attempt to answer them.