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)
Defender:
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

Attacker:
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)
Salutation
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
Close

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.

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.

Old Style Kata

Doing kata in the traditional manner requires a calm mind and steady stance. There is a difference between the glitzy, acrobatic extreme kata and the older more sedate kata of old. The older kata do not require Olympic level flexibility and gymnastic ability. Rather, they require the elements that make an artist a warrior. Here are some tips to keep your kata looking more traditional.

  • Stay relaxed in the motions and movements.
  • Look before you move into the next step.
  • Keep your movements crisp and sharp.
  • Maintain great stances according to the kata’s requirements. Usually these are low and stable.
  • Breathing should be smooth and even.
  • Show power and fluid grace but do not strike too hard or else you’ll loose the essential flow
  • Be balanced through your stance transitions
  • Kiai at the right time with intensity
  • Single leg stances should be held slightly longer than two-legged stances to demonstrate control

Two other elements for tournament competitors:

  • Begin the kata before you step into the ring
  • The kata doesn’t end until you’re dismissed

Do you have other tips for performing a traditional kata? Add them to the comments.

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.

5 Ways to Improve Your Karate Moves

I mention in my previous article on Ghestalting (such as Remember Your Kempos) that the mind uses chunks of information when accessing or encoding memories. These five steps build upon that practice structure of grouping and ghestalting. Try these before testing or tournaments. It will really help.

  1. Practice it at least five times in a row before moving on. Do this once a day.
  2. Practice it with a partner so you can get the timing, distancing and gauging right.
  3. Practice it on different sized partners so you can understand the adjustment points.
  4. Practice it with a partner who is resisting or countering so you can adapt to a struggling opponent
  5. Practice it on the left side, on the ground, in a chair and in other environments. Then repeat these five steps.

You’ll notice from the list that the key component of improving your Combination routines is practice.

Have you tried this in your training? Tell me how it worked out for you. Or include other effective training strategies that work for you.

Do Your Homework

Practice routines and techniques at home. Yes Kempo has homework! The best method of acquiring new skills is to practice daily. This helps on three fronts.

  • Practice helps you retain the information
  • Continual review of material helps you understand the information
  • Repetitive movements become smoother and ingrained in the body — muscle memory

In short, there is no fast way of gain great skills in Kempo without practicing a lot. Just like in school, homework is a form of practice for math, writing and science. You need to do it so you can learning, know it and apply it. Don’t shirk your obligation to do homework whether it is assigned (or not) from school or martial arts. It just helps.

Take some time to reprogram yourself. Pop culture via television shows constantly bombards you with false information such as “home work is boring”. When you reprogram your thoughts, you teach yourself that homework is enjoyable. Fake it until you make it. If you don’t like it, continue to do it until you do see the value and thus enjoy the work.

The path to success requires effort. My favorite quote is from Thomas Edison.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Divide the material up into sections that are doable each day. For instance, you can assign Monday as Kata day, Tuesday becomes Weapon Defense day and Wednesday can be Combination day. Just rotate the schedule and keep working.

That’s all I have today.

Five Levels of Implementation

I’m often criticized for teaching students in a simplified format. That is having an uke (attacker) punch in and remain static while the tori (defender) executes his or her technique. It seems that they miss the idea that you teach more effectively by isolating the problem from miscellaneous things. For instance, when teaching a child how to speak, you use simple words and sentence structure. Likewise when you teach a child how to read and write, you use lined paper and simple words. You never throw them the Scientific Journal and let them work it out.

This leads to another aspect of Kempo training that is often forgotten or misunderstood — the levels of implementation of a technique and how to control an opponent. When we begin to teach “take-down” moves and simple throws, the goal is to get the uke on the mat. We as instructors are not looking for all the subtle yet vital nuances that make the technique devastating. Rather we just want the gross (or basic) move to work. This provides confidence and develops a feel for the technique.

Approach and deliveryAs the student develops skill with the technique, we introduce other things that are going on. “Turn the arm like that” or “Displace their weight here by moving the hip” are phrases you may here me say. So the crux of this article is there are levels of each technique. It does no one any good to teach all of the levels on the first day. It takes time to move from one to the next.

I also enjoying hearing intermediate students tell me that I forgot to show the white belt the rest of the technique. These well meaning students forget that I taught them the same way. Later when they were much better at the movements, I added more to keep them working towards a better technique. Often times, the instructor does know what he or she is doing when they only teach part of a technique.

Here are some of the levels I’m talking about:

1. Throw onto the ground — as mentioned earlier, this is the basic move. Just get the bad guy on the mat and step back. You have the advantage and hopefully the bad guy gives up.

2. Accelerate to the ground to disrupt brake-fall — at the point where the student can perform the throw well, we introduce them to adding “juice” or accelerating their fall. The intention is to disrupt or stop the opponent from countering the fall with a brake-fall or roll out.

3. Control the fall and position opponent — the next step is to not only accelerating their fall but to guide the fall into a useful position on the mat. Then snatch the opponent and put them in position where you can continue to attack. Usually this is called “seating” or “pinning” at the shoulders and hips. The opponent is pinned and can’t use all their limbs for attack.

4. Apply pressure point strikes and control with locks — once the opponent is pinned it is time to dissuade them from trying to get out. At this level, we teach the application of pressure points and joint locking to control the opponent and gain compliance.

5. Submission – this last step is forcing the opponent to submit to our control and domination of the fight. This is the severe use of joint locks and chokeholds. This is the level that is popularized by Mixed Martial Arts competitions and tournaments.

Training in martial arts is not an instant gratification activity. It takes time and effort to develop the mental and physical skills to perform the techniques. Some moves may seem difficult to execute or perform. This usually means you haven’t trained enough in the art to get it to work. Let the art soak into your muscles and bones. Let the partner training teach you about body weight and how individuals react.

Sometimes these are called the hidden or secret moves of the art. But really they are just the rewards of perseverance and dedication. There are no mysteries to someone who is skilled and devoted to the arts. It all naturally evolves out of practice and application. Explore and apply concepts from one technique that you do well to others. See how the “levels” show themselves in your technique.

There are other layers or levels. Do you have one you’d like to share? Put it in the comment section below.

Why Slow is Actually Fast

The slowness of Tai Chi is the fastest way to develop proper waist power, correct weight shifts, smooth movement and muscle memory. You see it in the park or on TV, lots of elderly people moving very slowly in a fluid motion that resembles some sort of martial art. Well, it is a martial art but the emphasis is on physical development.

Going that slow is actually very difficult especially for beginners. The thighs, knees and ankles burn with fatigue. It doesn’t seem like you are making any sort of progress. This is absolutely wrong. Sore muscle is a sign that you are working them out. It also means you are performing the techniques correctly.

Waist Power
There is a saying in Tai Chi, “the waist drives”. This means each movement initiates by a waist movement. The waist moves the feet and the arms. Nothing is done without the waist directing the power. The waist thrusts punches forward. Arms are put into defensive position by a twist of the waist and subtle weight shifts.

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

In all martial arts, the waist is key to generating power and force. Yet in Tai Chi, it is so isolated as the main mechanism for all movement that it becomes the focus of training. This is a good thing if you want to develop proper power.

Weight Shifts
Tai Chi has a rule that no leg is lifted or moved unless it is un-weighted. That means all your weight needs to be in the other leg. Normally, we stumble around and make quick footwork shuffles to compensate for our lack of balance. Some artists are so good at it that they appear to be stable and balanced the whole time. This is only true for Tai Chi artist.

The key is to shift your weight without wobbling side to side. The center of balance must be maintained inside one’s own body. This shifting of weight back and forth is much like the ebb and flow of waves. It is exactly how the Tai Chi artist develops tremendous force when they actually touch you with their strike or push.

It should be so smooth that it isn’t visible from the outsider’s perspective.

Smooth Movements
Smooth and fluid movements are key to uproot the opponent and stay balanced. This trait is a result of proper waist movement and weight shifts. The Tai Chi artist becomes hard to push up against because they “go with the flow”. The exercise of push hands develops sensitivity to force either pushing or pulling. It keeps their attacks and defense in harmony like one fluid stream.

Not only is it hard to press or pull the Tai Chi artist, it is also difficult to locate an opening for attack. Imagine trying to find a dry spot on the beach with the waves ebbing and flowing. At some point, the water covers it up without warning. The key characteristic of all martial artists is to remain smooth and fluid with their movements. Tai Chi is a perfect style to develop that trait.

Muscle Memory
The slow movement and counts develops wonderfully ingrained movement habits. The short 12-step Tai Chi form has, as the name would imply, twelve steps. Yet each of those steps has four to eight sections. By practicing these steps over and over, you learn the exact way to do a movement. It gets ingrained in your muscles to move that way. The Tai Chi artist invests in proper movement first, then technique application second.

Did you know you could perform Tai Chi forms at normal speed? It requires you to be very good at doing it very slow so each movement is exact. At that speed you can see the martial application of each technique. Tai Chi is a sophisticated martial art and combat style. It just hides itself as a simple way for the elderly to exercise and stay fit.

If you want to understand your martial art better, consider taking a Tai Chi class for at least a year. It takes that long to really appreciate the subtle changes affecting your movement. It’ll be the best use of your time and comprehension of the biomechanics of Kempo.

Has another art helped you understand your base art? Tell me how.