About Bryan Bagnas

Head instructor of Golden Leopard Kempo, illustrator, and martial arts writer.

How Does Rotating Curriculum Work?

As an instructor with a large class, I came across problems teaching so many people of different ranks. The prototypical solution is to divide the class into ranks and have each rank group work on different lessons. This division requires lots of room and very little time correcting the students. Also, I’m teaching four to five different things in the class. There is no consistency or connection to previous courses. Each rank group gets a portion of the period. For a half-hour section and three rank groups, that’s ten minutes for the sub-group. Breaking up the class is inefficient.

Another solution I learned was to get assistants to help teach. Now the rank groups get a full 30 minutes of instruction but not with the lead instructor. The rank group gets a senior student or a junior instructor, often volunteering. When do the assistants get their class? The problem with this method is the assistant instructors may not show up (because they volunteer), or the costs of hiring additional staff are high.

About Phases, Cycles, and Levels

I went to a training seminar for professional martial arts instructors and learned about a better method of teaching classes for large groups. It’s called a rotating curriculum. I teach the same material to the whole class at the same time. There is no need to break up the class by rank. How is this possible?

  • Divide the belt ranks into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.
  • Different belts ranks will be at each level. For instance, White, Yellow, and Gold belts are at the beginner level.
  • Divided classes into beginner, intermediate, and advanced level classes at different times or days of the week.
  • The material for each belt rank is a Phase. A Phase ends in a rank test.
  • Colored belt ranks are divorced from particular techniques. For instance, the Yellow Belt material is now Phase 2 material.

What do I review at the test for different ranks? I evaluate the Phase material taught at that cycle. The limited format means the test is shorter, and the class performs together, synchronized as a team, and I can test a larger group of students. Since everyone is doing the same material, it is easier to score the test. The benefits to the instructor (me) are better student quality and retention.

What happens to new students after the first cycle? The new student starts learning the next Phase with the rest of the class. For my students, I have them organized into three groups, A, B, and C. New students are in one of those groups based on when they join the school. Below is the table detailing how it works.

Table 1: Phase Progression Order in a Rotating Curriculum

The student cycle is the cycle number of the student’s career. They generally move from I to IX through their journey to Black Belt. However, they may not start with Phase 1. They could begin with Phase 2 or Phase 3. The table shows which Phase they advance to after the test.

By the end of the beginner level, the student will know all of the material from all three ranks. The same thing occurs at the intermediate and advanced levels. Testing for Black Belt, all the students will have the same content.

The only issue that this method of teaching causes is the change in class times. Once you test out of the beginner level, the intermediate class is at a different time or day. The same thing happens when a student promotes out of intermediate and enters the advanced classes. However, I did do something like this anyway. During my La Mesa dojo days, I had a special White-Yellow belt class and a Brown Belt class in addition to the regular class. So the difference in my school is negligible.

An Example Students Training Life

Using the table above, let’s use a new student’s life as an example. Maria joins Golden Leopard Kempo during the third cycle, so she is in group C. In her beginner class, she learns the old Gold Belt material first. After her first test, her class will learn the old White Belt material. And her next Phase, she learns the old Yellow Belt material. Using the table above, we see she learned Phase 3, then Phase 1, and then Phase 2. Maria has absorbed all the basic curriculum (kata, counters, and drills) and is ready for the next level.

When she promotes to the intermediate class, Maria learns the old Purple belt material first. After her test, the class will learn the old Orange belt material. Finally, in the sixth cycle, she’ll learn the old Red Belt material. To summarize, Maria learned Phase 6, then Phase 4, and then Phase 5 material. Maria has absorbed all the intermediate curriculum (kata, counters, and drills) and is ready for the next level.

At last, Maria enters the advance class and is a model student at her school. The first Phase she learns is 9, which is the old Brown Belt material. After the test, Maria learns the old Blue Belt material. In her last advance cycle, she learns the old Green Belt material and is now ready to test for Black Belt.

What happens is this, Maria is a Blue Belt knowing Brown Belt material. At any level, the difference between the technical content is not that different. There is a difference between content at the beginner and advanced level, which is why I divide these classes. When Maria is a Green Belt, she’ll know Brown and Blue Belt material. And at Brown Belt, Maria will know all the content for all three Phases of advanced level.

Benefits of Rotating Curriculum

Now, this may seem not very easy for you in this explanation, but I promise you it is effortless to understand in implementation. It flows naturally from Phase to Phase, and through cycles. The benefits are immense. Classes are better because I instruct all three ranks in the same class at the same time teaching the same material. The rotating curriculum brings high energy classes, organization, manageability, excitement, teamwork, and unity to the student program and students’ learning.

The rotating curriculum also requires less staff for maximum results. I don’t need a ton of assistants when two or one will do. The class can handle more students to teacher ratios because of the simplified curriculum. Tests are more comfortable to run because I can maintain high energy and unison during the session, and the test can be huge. Also, the examiners are only looking at a smaller set of curriculum.

Our cycles run ten weeks, with five cycles per year. That’s 50 weeks of class per year, including our standard two weeks off for the holidays. 

That’s a quick explanation of the rotating curriculum and how we implement this method in our school. At Golden Leopard Kempo, we are always looking for ways to improve our teaching methods. We practice the Constant and Never-ending Improvement philosophy in our school. The commitment to improvement led me to implement a rotating curriculum, and I am pleased with the results.

‟There are no bad students, just bad teachers.” – Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid.

What Rank is My Child When She Promotes or Ages Out of Her Program?

Our Children’s Curriculum runs differently than our Adult Curriculum. First, we divide the curriculum into age group programs: 3-4 years old, 5-6 years old, 8-10 years old, and 11-14 years old. This helps all the students learn because they are with their peers, not younger or older kids.

  • During the enrollment session, each child goes through an evaluation to see if they are mature enough to begin training at our school and at which program she should start.
  • Our programs are organized by maturity level. We use a student’s age range as a starting point for the evaluation.
  • We educate and teach Kempo through skill-based games.
  • There are three levels, beginner, intermediate, and advanced, each with three ranks for a total of nine belts.
  • Students gain a skill stripe on the second or third exposure to the skill after they pass the skill requirement for that stripe.
  • Once a student gets all the stripes, the student can test out of the belt rank.
  • The program teaches martial arts skills, not techniques found in the Adult program. See my article on Kempo Karate for Toddlers about how skills are better than techniques for younger Peewee students.

Each program has nine belt ranks that they learn in order, three beginner ranks, three intermediate ranks, and three advanced ranks. There are two issues with this structure. First, a student completes all nine ranks before being old enough to graduate to the next program. Or, a student gets older because of a birthday or growth spurt and is now ages out of the program.

Let’s tackle the first issue. The student graduates from the final belt rank in their current program. The new belt rank is the first intermediate rank of the new program. In our school, that’s Orange Belt. The first three ranks in the program are the entire curriculum of the previous program. This is how all four programs are set up. The student now learns new material because the student has demonstrated competence during the last course.

The next issue is a bit more complicated. If a student has a birthday or has a maturity growth spurt, she may be ready for another program. In this aging out situation, the Enrollment Advisor re-evaluates the student for the next program, just as if they were new students. Two things will happen. If the student passes the evaluation, she will move to the next program after her next belt rank test.

Current Rank New Program Rank
White, Yellow White
Gold, Orange, Red Yellow
Purple, Blue, Green Gold
Brown Orange

If the student doesn’t pass the evaluation for the new program, she stays in the current program. She will get a further assessment after the next test, as directed by her instructor.

We found this system works the best for all children involved. Remember, the age range is a guideline, not a rule. Children mature at different times. The maturity of the student’s emotional capability, coordination, and following-directions ability can, and often are, at different stages. We want the best fit for all our students. Trust in our system of placement.

No student is behind if they are at a different age program than their age. Our entire breath of children’s programs is our way of developing the best student martial artist. It’s not a race through the ranks. We want excellent martial arts skills, and we want these skills to build carefully and deliberately. There are no short cuts. We find that once the students hit middle school age, their previous training in our programs will catapult their technical skills in the following programs. Patience pays off.

The transition from program to program is consistent and fair for everyone involved. Our age-based classes also have a different teacher to student ratios. The younger children have a smaller ratio, while the older children have a higher ratio. This focus on each student’s ability and instructor’s attention is what makes our dojo school extraordinary.

If you have any questions, please contact your Enrollment Advisor.

What are Kata Segments?

A kata is a traditional floor routine of kicks, punches, and body movements in a pre-defined order. The moves represent martial techniques. In my article, Forms in Practice, I discuss why kata or forms are essential and how to improve your performance. I also talk about the effectiveness of kata practice for the student.

At Golden Leopard Kempo, kata are between 18 to 26 moves. We clump sets of kata together to form a long kata. Learning kata is the most common difficulty in learning Kempo. To make it easier, using ghestalting, we chunk the moves into small segments of the kata. Think of it as chopping up the kata into small sections. I have heard this called Line Drills, but I use the term drills when it involves two or more students.

We practice a chunk, the segment, of the kata in unison as a class so each student can see each other. By doing the exercise in unison, the student can practice the correct movement. Teaching forms in this manner helps the absolute beginner grasp the flavor of a particular kata.

It is easier if every student works on the same material at the same time. There are slight differences between the segment and the kata. The segments may have additional moves to make it practical for class and student management. For example, the segment may have a 180° turn and repeat the step while the kata doesn’t. ‛Turn and repeat’ facilitates class instruction.

This method of teaching kata helps in memorization and muscle memory. The kata segment aids memory retention and taps into group memory—more mental references provided by other students to support memory encoding and recall.

Once the kata segments are sufficiently memorized and practiced, learning the full kata sequence becomes easier. The student now has to remember section A, then section B, then section C, rather than 15 separate moves. We are using ghestalting to chunk our material into rememberable parts. The student recalls three items, not 15 items. Chunking reduces memory overload. We do this to remember our punch defenses, kick defenses, and kempos. Now, we use the same method for recalling kata.

It may seem strange that so a modern Kempo instructor would place so much emphasis on kata practice. Kata are not en vogue in contemporary arts. However, I have found that kata provides better body movement, transitions, and rootedness in my kata-practicing students. It is a fast way to get the nuanced qualities I seek in a student from the student. I implore you to consider keeping kata practice a focus of your training. And use our kata segments as a way to learn the kata efficiently.

What is the difference between Kickboxing and Muay Thai?

In the last twenty years, the distinction between Kickboxing and Muay Thai have blurred with the proliferation of sanctioning organizations, sponsored sporting events, and fighting rule sets. Previously, I described the origins of Kickboxing and Muay Thai. These are fighting sports that appear very similar to the uninformed or novice. I’ll discuss what is the main difference and then similarities between these two sporting arts.

Both martial arts produce outstanding fighters because the practitioners punch and kick at full-power. They employ fakes and feints to a live opponent who is actively avoiding hits and reading feints. They highlight training and conditioning are very important in fighting ability. These bouts are the closest one can get to an actual combat or self-defense situation.

The conditioning of the fighters is vital. A fighter with a lack of cardio will gas out or fail in the bout. If the fighter is not good at strategies, the fighter will get hit hard in the face. If the fighter has bad footwork, the fighter will trip herself up and not have adequate power in strikes. Physical fitness is crucial to being an impressive combatant.

Differences Between Kickboxing and Muay Thai

 Kickboxing Muay Thai
A varied number of rounds and time of rounds Five three-minute rounds
Sweeps and takedowns are not allowed Sweeps are allowed
Elbows and knee strikes are not allowed Elbow and knee strikes allowed
The referee breaks up clinches Clinch is allowed
A mixture of Western Boxing and Asian martial arts Developed from Thai culture and Thai warrior history
Wear pants or shorts Wear shorts to fight
Fighters are from different arts like Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Kenpo Fighters all study Muay Thai
Fighters wear boxing gloves and foot gloves Fighters wear gloves only, wraps on feet

Similarities Between Kickboxing and Muay Thai

  • Cardio conditioning, strength training, bag work, and mitt-glove work are essential to prepare for bouts
  • Full contact so fighters can get knocked out, bloody cuts, bruises, cracked/broken bones
  • They are both sporting events with sponsors, lights, and an audience
  • Fights occur in a raised ring
  • Both use rounds to track the bout. There are time limits and other rules
  • Sanctioned fighters compete and have rankings within the sanctioning organization
  • The sanctioning organization sets the rules for the bout

Tired of the same old Zumba or Cardio Dance?

Kickboxing fighters must have excellent physical fitness. This aspect of art is something everyday people can enjoy. The practice of Kickboxing to music is cardio-intensive, intense strength building, and sweat-inducing. When combined with the heavy bag, padded mitt work, and shield striking, the fitness student can get the same great results all while having fun.

I’m a registered Cardio Karate Kickboxing instructor and led classes for students interested in something new and different. We drill fighting combinations to music, get good at striking flow, and kicking power. The workouts are tough. We get sweaty, and our muscles are sore. After a few months, you’ll notice a difference in your body and how your clothes fit. The best part of this cardio fitness program is you learn real punching and kicking, usable in self-defense. However, you’ll still need to learn self-defense techniques, but you’ll have the power punch to back up the move.

Conclusion: The Two Arts are Un-identical Twins

What used to be an apparent distinction between Kickboxing and Muay Thai has muddled over the years. For example, many fighters compete in both types of matches (Kickboxing and Muay Thai), thereby confusing the distinction further. The arts appear to be the same to the casual observer. While both Kickboxing and Muay Thai are separate, distinct arts, they share a considerable amount of features characteristics that make them similar sports. Another issue with the confusion is the advent of Mixed Martial Arts fighting, which combines Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Jui-Jitsu, and Shoot Wrestling.

Martial arts styles are training styles with unique customs and fighting strategies. A student finds and studies arts that suit them. (link to choosing a martial arts style for you) Martial arts styles like Kickboxing and Muay Thai appeal to different people. Don’t think of differences or characteristics as making one style better than another. The martial art makes the fighter effective for that martial art’s focus or specialty. I suggest finding a style that you will enjoy because getting proficient takes a lot of time and effort.

I hope this helps you understand these two amazing fighting styles. If you are interested, consider finding an instructor near you.

What is Kickboxing

The art and sport of Kickboxing began in 1970 with the exhibition bout featuring Joe Lewis. Lewis was a Black Belt in traditional Karate and a student of Bruce Lee. He grew frustrated with point-fighting. Lewis felt point-fighting didn’t reflect a real fight, so he proposed a full contact bout using a karate and western boxing blend where a fighter could get knocked out.[1]

‟Lewis faced Kenpo stylist Greg ‛Om’ Baines… Lewis won the fight by knockout in the second round.[2]” At this exhibition full-contact bout, the announcers coined the term Kickboxing. Joe Lewis went on to defend his title ten times. The rules for fighting were still embryonically lacking weight classes, and most fights continued until only one boxer remained standing.

The sport continued to refine with the formation of two sanctioning bodies, the Professional Karate Association (PKA) and of the World Kickboxing Association (WKA). These two bodies developed a ranking system and sanctioned bouts worldwide. Several other organizations have come and gone since the mid-70s. The fighters also improved their art by including western boxing techniques and better physical stamina training.[3]

Kickboxing blending with Muay Thai during the 80s, eventually branching into the Mixed Martial Arts sport fighting. There are still Kickboxing bouts, but the field of options has expanded into various forms and governing associations. The most popular one is the UFC.

Legendary Kickboxing Fighters

A few of the early fighters became legends in the sport. Here is a brief list of the most popular and my favorite.

Joe Lewis

Joe Lewis was a Marine and former high school wrestler who studied Shorin-Ryu Karate in Okinawa between 1954-1955. Lewis earned his Black Belt in seven months. After his return to the United States, he entered many point sparring tournaments taking first place in many bouts. Through his continued training with various instructors and his experience in the ring, Lewis developed an influential full-contact fighting art.[5] His art continues through his website Joe Lewis Fighting System. If you are interested in learning his system, join their online training and access to regional seminars.

Bill ‛Superfoot’ Wallace

Bill Wallace is an Airman who studied Shorin-Ryu in 1967. Wallace began to enter point-fighting tournaments and achieved some success. He switched to full-contact fighting with the PKA and dominated the middleweight division. Wallace acquired his moniker Superfoot because of his swift left foot, notably the round-house kick and hook-kick.[6] After retiring from Kickboxing, Wallace began teaching seminars across the country. These seminars were very popular, leading Wallace to produce instructional videos with Panther Productions. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Bill Wallace’s seminar. If you want to learn more about Wallace’s fighting system, visit his website, and join the classes.

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith is a Tae Kwon Do artist (taught by Jhun Rhee) who is a seven-time PKA World Champion. He is now a 10th-degree Grand Master and teaches at his Tae Kwon Do school in Virginia.[7] During his fighting career, Smith defeated many of the famous fighters in the era. His most memorable bout was the lead-in match for the worldwide broadcast of the 1975 ‛Thrilla in Manila’ featuring Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.[8] Learn more about Smith at his website.

John Natividad

John Natividad is a champion fighter who fought on the Chuck Norris team. Natividad earned the moniker Giant Killer by defeating the top 5 National ranked competitors. His most famous bout was with Benny Urquidez, which Natividad won in overtime 13-12.[9] Natividad is now a 10th-degree Black Belt in Chuck Norris’ United Fighting Arts Federation. Learn more about Natividad and his school.

Grandmasters Natividad, Olivier, Wilson, and Gabriel

The early 1970s brought about an interest in full-contact Karate in the form of Kickboxing. This testing of martial arts skills in a real fight has led to many innovative changes and a flood of modified styles. With the influence of Bruce Lee and Kajukenbo, martial arts began to move towards realistic versus traditional evaluation of their effectiveness. And this progression percolated in the 1990s with the advent of thoroughly mixed martial arts, full-contact fights.

[1] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kickboxing

[2] Ibid.

[3] ATA Kick, https://atakick.com/the-history-of-kickboxing/

[4] Prokick, http://archive.prokick.com/kickboxing/article/history-of-kickboxing/

[5] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Lewis_(martial_artist)

[6] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Wallace_(martial_artist)

[7] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Smith_(martial_arts)

[8] IKF, http://ikfkickboxing.com/JeffSmith.htm

[9] John Natividad, https://www.johnnatividad.com/

What is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai is a full-contact sport similar to boxing, except these fighters can use fist, feet, shins, elbows, knees, and lots of clinching. It is a swift sport featuring powerful blows, in-close elbows, and lots of fantastic athleticism.[1] Muay Thai is the national close-combat martial art of Thailand developed hundreds of years ago. Thailand’s history includes stories of great Muay Thai fighters and their heroic battles.[2] Just as Japan is known for Karate and China for Kung Fu, so is Thailand known for Muay Thai.

A Brief History of Muay Thai

“The ascension of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to the throne in 1868 ushered in a golden age not only for muay but for the whole country of Thailand. Muay progressed greatly during the reign of Rama V as a direct result of the king’s personal interest in the sport.[1]” Muay Thai continued to gain popularity during the early 1900s with the infusion of Westerners and their interest in the sport.

The 1990s saw Muay Thai gain worldwide popularity, and the governing federation of fights grew to international proportions. Muay Thai is now a mainstay in the fighting sports watched by enthusiasts across the United States. I enjoy watching the skill and power of these fighters and their distinctive style.

Tiger Muay Thai has a much more in-depth history of the art.

Famous Muay Thai Fighters

Want to know who the best Muay Thai fighters are? Check out Muay Thai Citizen’s list of the Top Ten Thai Fighters.

Many UFC and MMA fighters cross-train in Muay Thai to improve their standing game. Others use a combination of Karate, Kickboxing, or Savate. The combo of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jui-Jitsu is trendy among MMA fighters.

Current Information about Muay Thai

“The World Muaythai Council (WMC) is one of the oldest and the largest professional sanctioning organizations of Muaythai in the world for the sport. The organization was set up in 1995 by parliament resolution, and is incorporated by the Royal Thai Government and sanctioned by the Sports Authority of Thailand, …[6]” This is the organization that approves professional fights for Muay Thai fighters all over the world. Look for their logo on a sanctioned fighter. Head over to their website to find out more.

Are you interested in the amateur fighters? There is an amateur body to sanction these fighters too. “In 1993, the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur, or IFMA, was inaugurated. It became the governing body of amateur Muay Thai consisting of 128 member countries worldwide and is recognized by Olympic Council of Asia.[6]” If you want to be knowledgeable about the rising stars of Muay Thai, this is a great resource.

I want to learn more Muay Thai

Though I don’t teach Muay Thai at my school, it is an incredible art. If this article stirs interest in the art of Muay Thai, take a look at Budo Videos for at-home training. This won’t take the place of a qualified instructor, but it will get you moving in the right direction.

If you want to add this to your school’s curriculum as a new program, consider enrolling at KRU Muay Thai for their instructor training.


Many nations and areas across the world have their indigenous martial arts, developed through history in countless battles. These arts are national treasures and should be preserved by those willing to put in the work and dedication to acquire the skills. What other art forms do you know of from other countries?

[1] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muay_Thai

[2] Tiger Muay Thai, https://www.tigermuaythai.com/about-muay-thai/history

[3] Best Muay Thai Boxing, https://bestmuaythaiboxing.com/what-is-muay-thai

[4] Muay Thai Citizen, http://www.muaythaicitizen.com/beginners-guide-to-muay-thai/

[5] World Muay Thai Council, http://www.wmcmuaythai.org/

[6] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Muaythai_Council

[7] International Federation of Muaythai Amateur, http://www.ifmamuaythai.org/

We Remember Black Heritage in Kenpo Karate

This month, we remember the inspirational life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His words and deed inspire men and women across the nation. He saw the good in every person. He saw a way to undo the injustice found in our great nation, to make it a greater nation. Dr. King’s message inspired those in the early Kenpo community too.

Steve Muhammed (formerly Steve Sanders): A talented athlete and Vietnam Veteran, Muhammed knew about effective combat measures. Mr. Muhammed earned his Black Belt under Dan Inosanto and Chuck Sullivan in Ed Parker’s American Kenpo. Muhammed ‟…established a reputation early on as one of the fiercest competitors ever.[1]” In 1969, he co-founded the Black Karate Federation (BKF) which is ‟…dedicated to promoting fairness on the martial arts tournament circuit.[2]”

Donnie Williams: Originally began training in Karate, later after his tour in the Marine Corp, Williams took up Tae Kwon Do. In the tournament circuit, he was known for high superior kicking and aggressive fighting. Williams met up with Muhammed and began training with the Kenpo artist’s deceptive fighting style. After retiring from competition, he began a film career.[3]

Grandmasters Steve Muhammad and Donnie Williams

Jim Kelly: A talented athlete and Shorin-Ryu Karate practitioner, Kelly had an illustrious career in the tournament circuit. Kelly then opened a Karate school in Los Angeles and starred in numerous films including Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee. Kelly was an inspiration for many Black martial artist through his films and fights.[4]

In the movie Enter the Dragon, starring Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly played the role of Williams. After Bruce Lee, Williams was my next favorite character. Williams was confident, talented, and honorable. Williams didn’t take any guff. He was a very good fighter. I was sad to see his character die in the movie, but it did mean I was a fan of Jim Kelly.

Goldie Mack, 10th degree Black Belt in Kenpo Karate

Goldie Mack: He began his martial arts career in the late 1960s. Mack was an avid tournament competitor, instructor, and stunt double for Walker Texas Ranger. “Mack has served as a Police Officer in Texas and as a Deputy Sheriff in Kansas. He has conducted over 200-300 anti-rape seminars across the nation annually for the past 20 plus years. He is the author of The Technical training Instructor’s Course, a methods text for martial arts, and…a number of training courses.[5]” I had the great pleasure of working with Grandmaster Mack in 2018.

These individuals worked hard to improve their martial arts and pass the character development qualities of martial arts training to the young men and women of their community. They helped their neighborhoods, inspired the youth to be strong dedicated, fierce, and hardworking. They knew the benefits of Kenpo transcend the harsh realities of everyday life of the 1950s and 1960s.

During this holiday, take a moment to remember that all Americans contribute to this tapestry we call the United States of America. We are strong because of our diversity. We are strong because of our education. We are strong because we are free.

[1] Sanders, Steve and Williams, Donnie; Championship Kenpo; Ohara Publications; 1983; Book.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Kelly_(martial_artist)

[5] http://universalmartialartsacademyandtrainingcenter.org

Why is There a New Animal Every Lunar New Year?

Year of the Pig? Year of the Rat? Year of the Ox? Why is there a new animal every lunar new year? It has to do with Chinese astrology. In China and many other countries share similar calendars assign an animal to each year. There are 12 animals, and they have characteristics and traits that people born in those years display.[1] Western Astrology is similar, where your birth month links to a zodiac sign and signals particular characteristics. Instead of assigning an animal to a specific month, the Lunar system assigns the animal to a year.[2] What is the origin of animal years?

The Great Race

It all began many, many years ago, when the Jade Emperor of the Celestial Kingdom (Heaven) held a contest. The Emperor declared the winners of the Great Race would have years named after them. Cat and Rat were friends. Cat asked Rat to wake him up in the morning so they could run together. Unfortunately, in the morning, Rat was so eager to get started, he forgot to wake up the Cat. When Rat reached the end of the race, he found a wide river blocking his path. ‟How will I get across such a wide river?” though the Rat.

Luckily, Ox was also in the race and came upon the river too. Rat asked Ox if he could ride on ox’s back across the river. Ox agreed, and together they swam across the river. As Ox approached the far shore, Rat quickly ran across Ox and jumped to the shore. Rat continued running and won the race. Thus the first year is named for Rat. Ox climbed out of the river and finished second.[3]

Tiger arrived next. Though Tiger was a strong swimmer, the tide had fought his progress and delayed his arrival. Rabbit soon followed, hopping from rock to rock across the wide river. Rabbit did falter when he slipped off a rock. Luckily, a log floated by, and Rabbit rode it to the shore. The Jade Emperor named the third and fourth year after Tiger and Rabbit.

When Dragon arrived at the finish line, the Jade Emperor asked why Dragon took so long to race. After all, the Dragon can fly. Dragon explained that as he flew by, a small village suffered from a drought, so Dragon gave them rain. Then Dragon spotted a rabbit drowning in the river, so Dragon sent a log to aid him. The Emperor was impressed by Dragon’s good nature and named him the fifth year.

A wet horse galloped towards the finish line, fresh from swimming across the river. Unbeknownst to the Horse, Snake attached himself to Horse’s leg. Once Horse noticed the rider, he reared up in shock. Snake jumped off the leg and crossed the finish line. The Horse followed across to become the seventh winner.

Sometime later, Goat, Monkey, and Rooster arrived at the finish line. They teamed up to overcome the challenges of the race. Rooster found a raft so all three could ride on the raft. Monkey and Goat paddled to the far side. The Jade Emperor was impressed by the teamwork of these three animals and assigned them to the next years – eight, nine, and ten.

In eleventh place was Dog. Though a good swimmer and fast runner, Dog got distracted in the river. Dog played and swam for quite some time before remembering he was in a race. The Jade Emperor decided to end the event and was starting to close down. ‟Oink.”

The Jade Emperor looked down and saw that Pig had crossed the finish line. ‟Why did you take so long to arrive?” asked the Emperor. Pig was hungry and stopped to eat. After eating, Pig grew sleepy and took a nap. Pig woke up and hurried to the finish.[4]

Sadly much later, Cat woke up and missed the whole race. Furious, Cat hates Rat and will chase him any chance he gets.

Here’s the recap of the story. ‟The 12 animals in order are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep (Goat), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.” [5] This cycle repeats every twelve years.

What’s Your Zodiac Animal

Zodiac Animal Recent Years Personality Traits
Rat 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020 Quick-witted, resourceful, versatile, kind
Ox 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021 Diligent, dependable, strong, determined
Tiger 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022 Brave, confident, competitive
Rabbit 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023 Quiet, elegant, kind, responsible
Dragon 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024 Confident, intelligent, enthusiastic
Snake 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025 Enigmatic, intelligent, wise
Horse 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026 Animated, active, energetic
Goat 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027 Calm, gentle, sympathetic
Monkey 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028 Sharp, smart, curiosity
Rooster 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029 Observant, hardworking, courageous
Dog 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030 Lovely, honest, prudent
Pig 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031 Compassionate, generous, diligent

(Table is taken from China Highlight [6])

Chinese Alchemy Has Five Elements

In Europe, Greek Philosophy gave us four elements. They are fire, water, earth, and wind. Chinese alchemy has five elements. These elements describe how things interact and relate to each other. They are ‟…wood, fire, earth, metal, and water — are believed to be the fundamental elements of everything in the universe between which interactions occur.”[7]

Often you’ll hear someone say Metal Pig or Earth Rooster. Each year has an elemental yang aspect, the next year, an elemental yin aspect. This pattern repeats six times in a 60-year cycle. Each animal has an elemental aspect of both yin and yang versions. These aspects color the trait for the animal during the year. Again, this mirrors how Western Zodiac behaves with the Greek elements.

What is Your Birth Year and Element?

Confused? Here’s the Wikipedia table to clear up the confusion. Use it to find your Animal and Element. [8]

 1924–1983  1984–2043
1Feb 05 1924–Jan 23 1925Yang WoodRatFeb 02 1984–Feb 19 1985
2Jan 24 1925–Feb 12 1926Yin WoodOxFeb 20 1985–Feb 08 1986
3Feb 13 1926–Feb 01 1927Yang FireTigerFeb 09 1986–Jan 28 1987
4Feb 02 1927–Jan 22 1928Yin FireRabbitJan 29 1987–Feb 16 1988
5Jan 23 1928–Feb 09 1929Yang EarthDragonFeb 17 1988–Feb 05 1989
6Feb 10 1929–Jan 29 1930Yin EarthSnakeFeb 06 1989–Jan 26 1990
7Jan 30 1930–Feb 16 1931Yang MetalHorseJan 27 1990–Feb 14 1991
8Feb 17 1931–Feb 05 1932Yin MetalGoatFeb 15 1991–Feb 03 1992
9Feb 06 1932–Jan 25 1933Yang WaterMonkeyFeb 04 1992–Jan 22 1993
10Jan 26 1933–Feb 13 1934Yin WaterRoosterJan 23 1993– Feb 09 1994
11Feb 14 1934–Feb 03 1935Yang WoodDogFeb 10 1994–Jan 30 1995
12Feb 04 1935–Jan 23 1936Yin WoodPigJan 31 1995–Feb 18 1996
13Jan 24 1936–Feb 10 1937Yang FireRatFeb 19 1996–Feb 06 1997
14Feb 11 1937–Jan 30 1938Yin FireOxFeb 07 1997–Jan 27 1998
15Jan 31 1938–Feb 18 1939Yang EarthTigerJan 28 1998–Feb 15 1999
16Feb 19 1939–Feb 07 1940Yin EarthRabbitFeb 16 1999–Feb 04 2000
17Feb 08 1940–Jan 26 1941Yang MetalDragonFeb 05 2000–Jan 23 2001
18Jan 27 1941–Feb 14 1942Yin MetalSnakeJan 24 2001–Feb 11 2002
19Feb 15 1942–Feb 04 1943Yang WaterHorseFeb 12 2002–Jan 31 2003
20Feb 05 1943–Jan 24 1944Yin WaterGoatFeb 01 2003–Jan 21 2004
21Jan 25 1944–Feb 12 1945Yang WoodMonkeyJan 22 2004–Feb 08 2005
22Feb 13 1945–Feb 01 1946Yin WoodRoosterFeb 09 2005–Jan 28 2006
23Feb 02 1946–Jan 21 1947Yang FireDogJan 29 2006–Feb 17 2007
24Jan 22 1947–Feb 09 1948Yin FirePigFeb 18 2007–Feb 06 2008
25Feb 10 1948–Jan 28 1949Yang EarthRatFeb 07 2008–Jan 25 2009
26Jan 29 1949–Feb 16 1950Yin EarthOxJan 26 2009–Feb 13 2010
27Feb 17 1950–Feb 05 1951Yang MetalTigerFeb 14 2010–Feb 02 2011
28Feb 06 1951–Jan 26 1952Yin MetalRabbitFeb 03 2011–Jan 22 2012
29Jan 27 1952–Feb 13 1953Yang WaterDragonJan 23 2012–Feb 09 2013
30Feb 14 1953–Feb 02 1954Yin WaterSnakeFeb 10 2013–Jan 30 2014
31Feb 03 1954–Jan 23 1955Yang WoodHorseJan 31 2014–Feb 18 2015
32Jan 24 1955–Feb 11 1956Yin WoodGoatFeb 19 2015–Feb 07 2016
33Feb 12 1956–Jan 30 1957Yang FireMonkeyFeb 08 2016–Jan 27 2017
34Jan 31 1957–Feb 17 1958Yin FireRoosterJan 28 2017–Feb 15 2018
35Feb 18 1958–Feb 07 1959Yang EarthDogFeb 16 2018–Feb 04 2019
36Feb 08 1959–Jan 27 1960Yin EarthPigFeb 05 2019–Jan 24 2020
37Jan 28 1960–Feb 14 1961Yang MetalRatJan 25 2020–Feb. 11 2021
38Feb 15 1961–Feb 04 1962Yin MetalOxFeb 12 2021–Jan 31 2022
39Feb 05 1962–Jan 24 1963Yang WaterTigerFeb 01 2022–Jan 21 2023
40Jan 25 1963–Feb 12 1964Yin WaterRabbitJan 22 2023–Feb 09 2024
41Feb 13 1964–Feb 01 1965Yang WoodDragonFeb 10 2024–Jan 28 2025
42Feb 02 1965–Jan 20 1966Yin WoodSnakeJan 29 2025–Feb 16 2026
43Jan 21 1966–Feb 08 1967Yang FireHorseFeb 17 2026–Feb 05 2027
44Feb 09 1967–Jan 29 1968Yin FireGoatFeb 06 2027–Jan 25 2028
45Jan 30 1968–Feb 16 1969Yang EarthMonkeyJan 26 2028–Feb 12 2029
46Feb 17 1969–Feb 05 1970Yin EarthRoosterFeb 13 2029–Feb 02 2030
47Feb 06 1970–Jan 26 1971Yang MetalDogFeb 03 2030–Jan 22 2031
48Jan 27 1971–Feb 14 1972Yin MetalPigJan 23 2031–Feb 10 2032
49Feb 15 1972–Feb 02 1973Yang WaterRatFeb 11 2032–Jan 30 2033
50Feb 03 1973–Jan 22 1974Yin WaterOxJan 31 2033–Feb 18 2034
51Jan 23 1974–Feb 10 1975Yang WoodTigerFeb 19 2034–Feb 07 2035
52Feb 11 1975–Jan 30 1976Yin WoodRabbitFeb 08 2035–Jan 27 2036
53Jan 31 1976–Feb 17 1977Yang FireDragonJan 28 2036–Feb 14 2037
54Feb 18 1977–Feb 06 1978Yin FireSnakeFeb 15 2037–Feb 03 2038
55Feb 07 1978–Jan 27 1979Yang EarthHorseFeb 04 2038–Jan 23 2039
56Jan 28 1979–Feb 15 1980Yin EarthGoatJan 24 2039–Feb 11 2040
57Feb 16 1980–Feb 04 1981Yang MetalMonkeyFeb 12 2040–Jan 31 2041
58Feb 05 1981–Jan 24 1982Yin MetalRoosterFeb 01 2041–Jan 21 2042
59Jan 25 1982–Feb 12 1983Yang WaterDogJan 22 2042–Feb 09 2043
60Feb 13 1983–Feb 01 1984Yin WaterPigFeb 10 2043–Jan 29 2044

What does it all mean?

Once you know what your zodiac animal is and your yin or yang element, you can look up the traits you possess and display to others. For instance, if you were a Rat, you would be intelligent and ambitious. You are good at socializing and keep your personal life private. You may have difficulty trusting others, and you are very bright. If you were a Water Rat, you would express wisdom and display an agile mind. If you were an Earth Rat, you would show nurturing traits and honesty.[9] The possible combinations are immense. Layer in the theory that months have assigned animals, solar terms (two-week segments), and hours.[10] This quagmire of influences is just as obscure as Western Zodiac, which does the same thing with zodiac houses and hours.

By now, you can fully appreciate the Lunar New Year. In my previous article, I explain what the Lunar New Year is and what to expect. My other article discusses the Lantern Festival, which caps the Lunar New Year celebration, dragon and lion dance. These festive activities are the highlight of young and old alike. Until next time, Gong Hay Fat Choi.

[1] China Highlights, https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/
[2] Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_zodiac
[3] China Highlights, https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/
[4] Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_zodiac
[5] Your Chinese Astrology, https://www.yourchineseastrology.com/zodiac/
[6] China Highlights, https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/
[7] China Highlights, https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/china-five-elements-philosophy.htm
[8] Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_zodiac
[9] Zodiac Signs, https://www.zodiacsigns-horoscope.com/chinese-zodiac/
[10] Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_zodiac

The Difference Between the Dragon Dance and the Lion Dance

The Lunar New Year ends with the lantern festival, signaled by the arrival of dancers. The most impressive is the Dragon Dance featuring a long serpentine dragon hoisted by many people. The other dance featured at the Lunar New Year is the Lion Dance, in which two acrobatic or martial arts trained people to delight the audience with their antics. These beasts, the dragon, and the lion are representations of the creatures. To an untrained eye, they are difficult to distinguish apart.

What is the difference? I’m here to help you know the difference.

The Dragon Dance ‟…is performed by a team of experienced dancers who manipulate a long flexible figure of a dragon using poles positioned at regular intervals along the length of the dragon. The dance team simulates the imagined movements of this river spirit in a sinuous, undulating manner.[1]” The dragon must be very long and have an odd number of poles or segments for good luck. The fabricated dragon body is very long, writhing up, down, left, and right by the dancers. This is the most distinguishing feature of the two creatures. If there are many dancers hoisting poles, it’s a dragon.

Dragons represent wisdom, wealth, and power. They also drive away evil spirits and bad luck. Other performers play instruments such as drums, gongs, and horns. Colors are generally green or gold representing the harvest or the Chinese Empire respectively. Sometimes, the dragon will follow a man with a ball representing the pearl of wisdom.[2] I’ve been told it is very auspicious to watch a dragon dance, so take every opportunity to observe its presentation.

The Lion Dance is a much shorter animal. ‟[L]ions have two performers inside a costume (one controlling the front legs, head, and mouth and the other controlling the hindquarters)[4]” These performers must be even more acrobatic and playful because the lion is ‟…curious creatures with a penchant for mischief…[5]” and should be very playful in its dance. The lion performers are hidden by the costume while the dragon performers are visible beneath the dragon’s body.

When the Lion bats its large eyes at your, that signals your participation in the dance. Feed the lion’s mouth a red envelope for good luck. The lion chases away evil spirits and acts as a guardian of the local community.[6] Martial arts schools gain prestige by providing dancers for the Lion Dance. We should create a team in our school to dance around town.

I hope you enjoyed our second article about the Lunar New Year and the Dances. The next article will cover the Chinese Zodiac Animals and how they play into the cycles of the years.

[1] Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_dance

[2] The Chinese Dragon Dance, https://www.china-family-adventure.com/dragon-dance.html

[3] China Highlights, https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/special-report/chinese-new-year/new-year-dragon-dance.htm

[4] Trip Savvy, https://www.tripsavvy.com/chinese-lion-dance-or-dragon-dance-1458310

[5] Ibid.

[6] Quick Concepts, http://quickconcepts.org/

What is the Lunar New Year?

launching a balloon

What is the Lunar New Year? It is the start of the year for calendars that use the lunar cycle, from new moon to dark moon, as their months which form a year. Some countries such as China use a combination of lunar months and solar cycles known as the lunisolar calendar[1]. In Vietnamese communities, the new year is known as Tet. For Korean communities, it is Seollal. In Chinese cultures, it is often called the Spring Festival.

The Lunar New Year is‟… [the] festival typically celebrated in China and other Asian countries that begins with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends on the first full moon of the lunar calendar, 15 days later.[2]” In San Diego, where we have many people from various Asian cultures, it is a big city-wide event celebrated over the weekend. From my experience with corporate life, in China and elsewhere, the whole community shuts down for the 15 days to celebrate. This is akin to how the US shuts down for two weeks between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

It is traditional to clean your house before the Spring Festival to ensure good luck for the coming year by sweeping out the bad luck. ‟Also on New Year’s day, family members receive red envelopes (lai see) containing small amounts of money. Dragon dances and fireworks are prevalent throughout the holidays, culminating in the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated on the last day of the New Year’s celebrations.[2]”

The red envelopes contain money, usually in the form of coins. This represents having a prosperous new year when you start with money in hand. The envelopes are given you children from their parents and other family members. The festival is filled with sweets and favorite foods, which means you’ll have sweetness in the new year. The celebration is about starting off the new year on the right step, setting up your luck and prosperity.

The tradition of celebrating the New Year on the lunar cycle is thousands of years old. There is a story told of a monstrous beast who eats humans every New Year’s Day. People figured out that the beast feared the color red, fire, and loud noises. This is the mythical reason for the firecrackers, red decorations, and lanterns. They drive off evil spirits and bad luck.[2]

Here are some things you should know about the Lunar New Year celebration.

  • It’s not called Chinese New Year, even in China.
  • It’s not one day. It lasts for 15 days.
  • It’s the season for superstitions.
  • There are words to avoid because they sound like things which are bad luck.
  • Firecrackers scare away monsters.
  • Wear red for good luck.
  • It’s time for sweets, so take a break from your diet or no-sweets resolution.
  • It has its own movie genre in China and Hong Kong.
  • The customs and traditions vary from country to country, and region to region.
  • Enjoy the celebration!

Look for your local celebration of Lunar New Year. In San Diego, there is a big celebration in the City Heights area every year. As they say in Cantonese, ‟Gong Hay Fat Choi” or Happy New Year!

[1] Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_New_Year
[2] Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Lunar-New-Year
[3] CNN, https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/lunar-new-year-things-to-know/index.html