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.

Slippery Socks

Last night in class, we had a case of slippery socks. A student was cold, after all it is raining in San Diego, a cold rain. Slippery socks can be used as a training tool. Use it to adjust to slippery conditions of an unknown combat situation.

She retorted that she would just pick where to fight or defend herself. Alas, that is not an option in self-defense. The situation picks you regardless of the suitability of the terrain.

So when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When training gives you difficulties, make it a learning experience.

Gaseous Expansion

“Gaseous Expansion is the concept of ‘filling the volume’ of the defensive situation at hand.” (Quoted from Advanced American Kenpo Concepts article on Gaseous Expansion)

It is the natural adaptations to the chain of events that occur once a defensive situation begins. By altering small aspects of your technique, you can adapt your reaction to the opponent’s reaction. You flow into the cavities of their reactions and counter-reactions to control them to your end goal. In our case, the end goal is immobilization, submission or destruction.

Your expanded awareness of the environment is just as important as understanding the biomechnical cause and effect of your techniques. In short, the gaseous expansion investigation is exploring many of the “what if”s of a confrontation. Having only read their explanation of the concept, I can not replicate their actual drills or methods for exploration. It would be best to seek out a seminar on American Kenpo Karate theories and application to learn more about this concept.

How does it adapt to our art? When we first learn a technique, it is done slowly, step by step. Then it evolves into a smoother version. Then the strikes and levers begin to make sense, making it run smoother on various body types. Then the uke moves “unconventionally” and we adapt. Then we expand the situation to engage and conquer, where we complete the technique by immobilization, submission or destruction — not just getting away. It is at this point that we investigate and flow further using “gaseous expansion”.

Kajukenbo’s Link to Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu and Shaolin Kempo Karate

Kajukenbo was found in 1947 combining western boxing, judo, jujutsu, kenpo karate, Tang Soo Do and kung fu. Brief histories of this art can be found here and here. Grandmaster Sonny Gascon trained in Kajukenbo and developed Karazenpo go Shinjutsu. Read about it here. This would eventually transform into Shaolin Kempo Karate.

Some would argue that the arts are so divergent that they are not just different arts but unrelated arts. I think the problem stems from a typical Shaolin Kempo Karate (SKK) practice, allowing lightly training Black Belts to run schools. Often times, these ambitious and enthusiastic students jump at the opportunity to run a school. The problem is they aren’t proficient enough in the art or do they know enough about the history. To be fair, I too didn’t know about our actual roots. I did however take the time to learn what I could.

My knowledge of Kajuenbo is not thorough but I feel I know enough to make comparisons. Like SKK, Kajukenbo’s curriculum is set up with katas, combinations (called punch counters), weapon defenses and escapes (called grab arts). Kajukenbo’s 21 punch counters (PCs) are the parent techniques of most Combinations and Kempos in SKK. Here’s a quick reference for you all.

  • PC1-4 and 17 are Combo 6 variants
  • PC6 is a Combo 4 variant
  • PC8 and 10 are Kempos I got at Black Belt
  • PC19 is Combo 7 done opposite (kick with left)
  • PC20 is Combo 8 without blocks
  • PC21 is Combo 30, the beginning only

The other PCs (5, 7, 9, and 11 through 18) are club and knife techniques or Kempo variants. Some rarer Kempos and higher-level Combinations are similar to or copy of Kenpo Karate. I don’t have a comparative list now but that would be a great benefit for the records. I assume this developed during the early 60s when Prof. Cerio met with GM Chow and other Kenpo practitioners. Or it could be a parallel development based on core concepts.

Kajukenbo also has 14 kata* called Pinans or Monkey Dances, depending on when you learned them. GM Gascon added six to eight new katas to this list during a formative stage at his school. The first five eventually evolved into Kata 1 to 5 in the Shaolin Kempo Karate system. I believe the rest were forgotten or lost to antiquity. This is the main reason many Kajuenbo artists don’t recognize the SKK kata — because they were late additions to Karazenpo Go Shinjustu.

Have opinions or other examples? Let me know in the comments below.

* There are some traditional schools of Kajukenbo that have 26 kata.

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.

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.

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.

7 Reasons why seminars are good for you

From time to time you see promotions, flyers and invites to various martial arts seminars around town or in nearby cities. Many feature famous celebrities while others feature little known but none the less great martial artists. Chances are, they do not teach YOUR style of martial arts. Is it worth it?

I think these seminars are worth the time and trouble. Here’s why:

  1. Different instructor — Experiencing how another person teaches is a great way to see diversity in instruction methods. Certain styles mesh well with different people but a single method doesn’t fit all people all of the time.
  2. New point of view — A new instructor and a new style will give you a new point of view on combat and philosophy. You already know how your style thinks about attacks, defense and training. Now you can compare it to something else.
  3. Theory – Generally, seminars don’t teach their normal curriculum. Rather they tend to focus on “theories” and “related techniques” so you can get maximize the usefulness of the education. The theories, concepts and ideas allow you to go back and tinker with your own material.
  4. Different emphasis — This benefit relates to the previous three. A new instructor and style places emphasis on different things. For instance, Kempo may focus on hand speed and strikes while a seminar on Tai Chi may focus on leg strength and balance. This helps you notice deficiencies in your own training due to a myopic training routine. This doesn’t mean your training is bad or wrong. It means you tend to repeat the things that you think are important and forget about the other stuff.
  5. New training partners — There is not comparison to training with a new partner or uke from a different system. They don’t fall “right” or attack “right”. You get to really work on your material with a new sense of effectiveness. Can you make it work on opponents who are resisting or don’t know what you are doing? Think of it as a new batch of test subjects for your laboratory.
  6. Expands the mind — All the points listed above will help you expand your mind. We don’t live in isolated pools where everyone does things the same way as we do. This is a plural society and opening up to new ideas and concepts helps us grow and become smarter. It may also unlock “hidden moves” in your own training. A few seminars did that for me.
  7. Learn cool techniques — Finally and arguably the best reason is you get a batch of new cool moves. My favorite part about martial arts is learning new things. My second favorite part is learning new things that look cool. This may be shallow and not very master -like but hey, I’m honest. These things keep me practicing, training, and inspired to do the real work of grinding out all the necessary drills.

So if you’re wondering if that interesting martial arts seminar is right for you, take a chance and go. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Got a seminar you want to promote, email me. If you have a story about a seminar that profoundly changed you, leave a comment below.