You Do What You Practice

Setting up for an arm lock

Setting up for an arm lock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monkey style block against street fighters

One of the key strengths of the monkey is its adaptability. Therefore it behooves the student to practice in street clothes, in their normal shoes and in common environments like doorways, small rooms, and so on. This type of training is also found in our Filipino Arnis and Japanese Ninjutsu traditions. By removing the shock of a new environmental situation, you can focus on the task at hand, namely your defense.

When defending against the hook punch, it is better to fight someone trained in pugilistic arts rather than a completely untrained fighter. Someone without training is very unorthodox because they don’t know any better. His reactions can run the gambit of possibilities, often times unknowingly thwarting your defense and counter attack. A trained fighter, boxer or karateka is predictable. They know the best attack opportunities and you know where to defend against them. Effectively defending very strong positions conserves energy while defending small-value areas can lead to wasted energy.

Learn to fight from a cold position when fighting an unorthodox fighter. Let them set the pace of the confrontation and “floor rules”. This requires you to have really good timing since you need to launch an effective defense after they strike. The defense must also open the opponent up to a great counter-attack.

Against a hook punch, the traditional outward blocks won’t stop it. The fist comes around the block, still finding purchase on your head or core body.

For instance, the hook punch from the right hand travels in an arc towards your left side. Catch it with your left arm whipping the hand over and grab the biceps area. This secures the elbow and neutralizes the power of the attack. Weight it down. You can use a monkey grip or seize various pressure points on the arm. I prefer just to keep it weighted for unbalancing in the counter offensive.

With this grip defense, even if he forces or powers through your lock, it will turn your whole body not just your arm. In other words, if the defense doesn’t stop the punch it moves you out of the way. That’s a great feature of this technique. From there you have options like leg-hocks, knee-stomps or reaps.

Using this grip doesn’t require you to seize, though that’s an option as mentioned before. It is more important to stay relaxed. Dropping your weight onto the arm may unbalance the opponent. Use that in conjunction with a right slap or strike. Stay relaxed and allow the force to upset his balance. Take advantage of his new state – usually falling over his arm.

Keep them distracted with a flurry of strikes to the face and vitals. The monkey is very deceptive and flurries to the unprotected eyes can cause frustration in your opponent. By changing his emotion, you can gain even more advantage in the fight if it’s not over by that time. Always move to keep or add to your strengths in a fight. The only fair fight is one you win.

Practice the difference between a superior fighter and a regular street fighter. These modes of condition will allow you to adapt to the unpredictable confrontation you may experience. You can’t prepare for each unique fight but you can prepare for the flavor of the fight.

How to Develop Blind Fighting

What do you do when it’s dark? How do you defend yourself when you can’t see? This condition can be caused either by an injury or by a hostile opponent who blindfolded you. There are ways to train and enhance your ability to fight under such circumstances. The natural evolution of the Sticky Hands Drill Set is blind fighting. There are three stages to developing this combative skill.

Step 1: Low Light
Practice light sparring in a dark room with low ambient light. This sparring session should be slow and deliberate. Gauging in low light makes judging distances difficult. Take your time and don’t try to “win” rather invest in conditioning yourself to the environmental constraints. This step reduces the visual input so you can get use to using other senses for targeting.

Step 2: Blindfolded
In a dark room with blindfolds on, perform pushing hands, sticky hands or rolling hands. If the partners disengage, they must reset themselves without help. This step has no visual input, but you maintain contact to sense your opponent’s balance and momentum. It develops sensitivity further.

Step 3: Blackout
In a dark room with blindfolds, start at opposite sides of the mat. Slowly engage in very light sparring with an emphasis on take down moves and grappling holds. In short, the partners are groping in the dark until they can snatch something, then it’s a race to a takedown. This step has no visual input and it develops blind engagement. It heightens the use of other senses to target.

I doubt you’ll be as good at fighting in the dark as Gung Fu masters or Ninjas as depicted in the movies. The realistic goal of this training is acclimatize you to the environment. Stressful conditions get adrenaline running, which can cause you to stall. Familiarity reduces stress and hopefully allows you to defend yourself adequately.

That’s all I have for now. Whether you practice American or Hawaiian Shaolin Kempo or Karazenpo go Shinjutsu, these drills will make you a better fighter. Take time to digest and embrace the skills you have. Make them adaptable to various situations, not just a “single arm punch in.”

Have questions or suggestions? Let me know in the comment section.

Three Forms of Pushing Hands

There are three forms of Pushing Hands drills that we practice in Shaolin Kempo. The first is similar to but not exactly like the Tai Chi version. The second form (or the one we teach first) is called Sticky Hands. Finally, there is Rolling Hands. This family of exercise drills teaches us how to relax and flow with the opponent’s energy and momentum. It forces us to relax and not force our attacks and defenses. In gentleness there is victory. In overbearing strength there is loss.

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

The Pushing Hands drill works on uprooting your partner through fluid motion of push and pull. Doing this drill develops the familiarity with the wave of force generated with pushing and pulling. It also helps you learn how to redirect that force into your opponent or cause your opponent to flow with it thereby uprooting himself.

The Sticky Hands drill works on uprooting your partner by striking and blocking from a set position. The wrists must stick together, hence the name. Sensitivity to the opponent’s center of gravity and their balance is achieved by working this drill with your eyes closed.

The Rolling Hands drill works with applying locks and traps within this flowing dynamic. The goal is to get a wrist or arm lock on your opponent before they do, while avoiding strikes and being uprooted. In this drill the feet can move, usually to help your own lock or to slip out of one being placed upon you.

All of these drills work with maintaining contact to the opponent and sensing the stability of your opponent’s balance. The goal to resolving conflicts is to uproot or unbalance your opponent. This allows you to control their actions and end the fight. This is the third step of conflict resolution — defend, distract, unbalance.

What are other benefits of these types of drills? Elaborate in the comment section.

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.

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?

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.

Many to one relationship

There are an infinite ways to be attacked. Learning a defense or two for each one of those way would is impossible. I’ve done a lot of computer programming and database design. There is a concept of relational links between data types. Is it one to many or many to one.

An example of one to many would be a customer identification number. The customer has one number but it links to all their orders. That’s one to many. In a way it is a method of sorting the information into smaller chunks or sets. This is what we apply to our martial arts.

Let’s chunk a range of attacks or an angle of the attack into a group. One particular attack or an infinite amount can come from that angle or range of angles. This allows us to reduce the infinite attacks to a set of perhaps 12 or so attack groups. This is a much more manageable number of things to learn and remember. You can actually get good at this reduced set of attack types. Then again anything is better than learning an infinite amount of something.

You can’t learn a technique for every situation you will encounter. Rather you learn pieces of defenses to apply to your situation. It is modifying on the fly that represents the best warrior not how many or how well they can do a technique in a sterile situation.

In your quest to be a good student, take concepts from other walks of life or fields. Can they be applied to your art? Can that way of thinking open up new ideas and concepts? Thought of one that you’d like to share? Well, put it in your comments and we’ll discuss.