Yudansha Units System

japan staircase greenI haven’t written in a while so I thought I’d post something I give my Brown Belts, an article from our first issue of the Black Belt Bulletin — a newsletter for members of the Black Belt Club. I hope it inspires other Black Belts to continue their training.  Enjoy.

Level progression in the Black Belt ranks works a little differently than earlier ranks. You still must complete the requirements of kata, techniques, defenses, and kihon. However, the field of material that must be covered is vast, and not taught in a linear fashion. This is why Master Bagnas developed the Yudansha Units System (YUS). You can earn points for various activities, specialized training programs, tournament participation, and instruction duties. However, there are minimum time-in-grade requirements that must be met.

Time-in-Grade Chart:

Rank Minimum Time-in-Grade Units Needed
2nd Degree 1.5 years 50
3rd Degree 2 years 75
4th Degree 3 years 100
5th Degree 5 years 125
6th Degree 5 years 150
7th Degree 5 years 175
8th Degree 5 years 200
9th Degree 5 years 225
10th Degree 10 years 250

What is the Yudansha Unit System?
Traditional Japanese dojos call the body of Black Belt members the Yudansha. This term is excellent for what the YUS represents, a tracking and training system for Black Belt members. As part of the Golden Leopard Kempo Yudansha, you are offered a variety of training paths. This system helps the GLKO track your training so the Testing Board knows what to expect from you during the Black Belt test.

How does the System work?
You can earn points by participating in various activities, including seminars, tournaments, and special classes. Since Black Belt material is taught on a rotating cycle, everyone may acquire different knowledge yet still be eligible for promotion. This allows you to choose your emphasis in the arts, whether you prefer the gentle training of Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) or the ancient weapon arts of Okinawan Kobudo.

By the master level, you must know all these sub-arts however you get to choose what you start first or what is offered. The amount of work you put into your training will produce the best results and the fastest promotion cycle. Some of the options allow for personal study and research, in addition to life-skills improvement.

An instructor must record all points gained on your permanent record to count. If you feel there is any discrepancies or errors, please contact your Chief Instructor to get it resolved. Once you believe you qualify for the next test, your instructor will verify your units and put you on the next Black Belt test.

If there is interest, I’ll post the ways to earn points. All you have to do is write a comment below. When I get enough interest, I’ll post it as a new article.

How to Become a Martial Arts Instructor

Have you ever thought about being an instructor? Do you often ask, “How do I become a Kempo instructor?” My answer is quite simple. First become a member of the GOLD Leadership Team, which teaches you leadership skills, teaching skills and coaching or interpersonal skills. You need some experience and training in the martial arts. Knowing Kempo is different from teaching Kempo. Teaching others how to do a technique or move is quite a bit different from knowing it yourself.

Black Belt in meditation

Black Belt in meditation

Being an instructor takes leadership qualities to inspire others to continue training when they become frustrated. It takes patience as you explain moves in detail. It also takes knowledge on how different people learn. No two people are the same but they can be lumped into general learning-style groups such as visual learner, auditory learner or tactile learner.

These skills and plenty of practice with real people are what programs like GOLD Team provide. Many schools have some sort of leadership team often using the name SWAT or STORM. They all let you practice your mentoring and teaching style with fellow students under the watchful eye of a qualified instructor–who will help you improve by providing pointers and feedback.

Ask your instructor how to get ready. They will surely provide good advice and training tips to you. You can eventually teach full or part time if the school is hiring or expanding. Once you complete the GOLD Team program, you will be able to join the staff as a part time or full time instructor — if the school is hiring or expanding.

Maybe you have what it takes to be a sifu, sensei or instructor? Ask your instructor how he or she can help you on that path.

The Hawaiian Blessing and Other Customs

In traditional Karazenpo go Shinjutsu  (KGS), you bring your new belt and new uniform to the ocean. Soak them in the ocean water. Let the water saturate the belt and uniform. This blesses them with the spirit of the ocean and provides you with the strength of the seas. This is called the Hawaiian Blessing. It’s a wonderful custom that was forgotten by many schools and instructors.

Black belt takes time

Black belt takes time

Another custom of KGS is twisting the belt. Twisting of the newly awarded belt takes some of the newness out of it. Usually, they come out of the wrapper and into the hands of the recently advanced student. The belts are stiff and nearly untieable. The twisting or breaking-in of the belt signifies the efforts you put into training. It also represents the fact that you are not new even though you have a new rank.

During Black Belt ceremonies, there is a custom of breathing into belts. Breathing into the belt transmits the spirit of the Testing Board into the new belt. The master or grandmaster put a bit of their knowledge into your belt. The belt (also known as obi) represents your knowledge of the art and loyalty to the school. This custom links you spiritually to the lineage of your ancestral teachers.

Black Belts also have another custom issued by the master. Getting hit by the belt signifies the combat element of the art. It demonstrates you can take punishment and hardship. The ceremonial hit also symbolically tempers the spirit, forging your perseverance and reminding you of humility.

Finally, newly ranked Black Belts drink a shot of saki when the Testing Board presents it. This ceremonial drink represents camaraderie–sharing a drink with your fellow students. You are now a member of the Yudansha, the Black Belts of the school. You have earned the right to represent the school because of your diligence in training and skill in techniques.

These are some of the more interesting customs found in Karazenpo go Shinjutsu. There are undoubtedly more. Does your school have a custom? Tell us about it in the comments.

Kempo Karate for Toddlers

The PeeWee group consists of toddlers (three and four years old) and young children (five and six years old). Their class is a simplified version of regular children’s classes. It runs for 35 minutes: 15 minutes of warm-ups, 15 minutes of drills, and 5 minutes of “splash” time. Splash is a word I use to mean a bump of time for sections that run overtime.

Black belt teacher helping a yellow belt child

Black belt teacher helping a yellow belt child

The short attention span of this age group makes anything longer, either useless or detrimental to their learning. For the first few months, the student may not “pay attention” to the full class. We allow the kids to develop attention on their own time since they aren’t disrupting the other students. This flexibility helps the kids focus on their class objectives. When other kids are listening to the instructor, they begin to learn too.

A Special Class for Young Children

Each session works on developing physical skills they’ll need for Kempo and school. These mini-skill development drills take the form of games. We segment individual skills out of “regular” techniques and have the children work on one skill at a time. Some of the favorite activities (or games) are jumping and rolling.

Jumping develops strong legs. We also teach proper landing to prevent shin splints. The skills will give them a “leg up” when they must learn jumping kicks in the older children’s class. Rolling is just a small part of the ukemi (groundwork) regiment. Ground-work is the most challenging for adults to learn. When little children learn how to do roll properly, they don’t fear to fall.

He’s no Jet Li

The PeeWee group isn’t going to be “excellent” at Kempo. That’s not the objective of this class. Their requirements are lower than those of other students. The goal is to develop physical coordination skills and listening skills. At this young age, getting her arm to do what she wants is a challenge. Secondly, listening to the instructor and following directions is also a valuable skill.

It bears reiterating this class teaches skills disguised as games and a limited amount of techniques. They rarely work out with partners because that leads to distractions or minor injuries. This age group loves to perform movements in sync with the large group. Everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. To a child, this is fun.

Correcting a child's body position

Will they ever be great?

This question is valid in response to the class described above. What we have found over the years is, yes, the children do become excellent martial artists. These primary skills of coordination and listening skills translate well to the more advanced Children’s program.

When they promote out of the PeeWee group, what we call Little Leopards, they do not have all the necessary material for advancement. However, they learn at twice the pace of children who begin class later in life. These highly trained ex-PeeWees pick up information very quickly. They know how to practice, their basic movements are honed, and they want to practice.

It is my experience that graduated PeeWee children move quickly into the accelerated Children’s Program and the Junior Leadership Team “STORM.” They built a foundation of valuable abilities that they exploit when their minds and bodies mature.

Children and Training

You must remember these are small children in a very malleable period of their life. We want them to enjoy exercise, enjoy learning, and able to follow directions. They should feel good about what they’re doing and want to do it again. These are life skills, which will benefit them for decades.

Let them have fun. Small children aren’t physically or mentally able to defend themselves from adults. If others tell you otherwise, they’re lying.

So enroll them in the Little Leopards program today. The PeeWee classes start as young as 3 and 4 years old in addition to the 5 and 6 years old students. Each age group is in its class. We divide them by theme: Little Dragons, Little Ninjas, Tiny Tigers, and Little Pandas.

While you’re at it, Kempo makes an excellent activity for parents too. Join our class designed for Moms — stay physically active, learn self-defense, and learn what your kids are learning.

Kempo Marinate and Black Belt Stew

Or what black belts don’t understand about advanced training, time in grade, seeping in.

Black belt takes time

Black belt takes time

There’s lots of disgruntled whispering at the Black Belt ranks when they see the long times between ranks and testing. Why is it so long? And what value does it have when compared to the four-month average at the lower ranks? It doesn’t seem to translate well at these advanced levels of training. What’s more frustrating is the work includes a lot of the same material in a new light. It seems like starting from scratch. That’s an accurate statement. Black Belts need to relearn their early material with new insights. This is all valuable.

The time between ranks is something I like to call Kempo Marinate. Just like a nice steak or Carne Asada, you need to let the juices soak into the meat. One of the key elements of becoming very good at martial arts is doing repetitions a lot. By the Black Belt level, you need to do it much more than at the lower ranks. In the kyu ranks, a little change is quite noticeable. At the higher levels, change takes longer. It takes thousands of times to work it in deeper into muscle memory. The time in grade requirement reflects this marinating time.

One of the benefits of this level of dedication is you work on the material in different lights, angles and situations. You work on the variations and the no-mind principle. Work continues with different types of attack styles, adapting it on the fly, and spontaneous work.

This age-old tradition works better than most students think. Don’t fight the tradition just because it doesn’t reflect our society’s “instant gratification” syndrome. Let the material soak to the very marrow of your bones. Great ways of doing this is to become a part time or full time instructor. Teaching opens many little doors in the mind and really improves your art. Thinking about why you do things, explaining it to others and then doing them again is a great way to practice.

How Phases Work

Teaching a room full of student at different skill levels has vexed instructors for years. What is the best way to keep everyone progressing towards their next rank yet have the least number of instructors on the deck? How do you adjust your lesson when key student levels don’t show up thus sending your plan into a tailspin? Over the last decade, there has been a movement towards Phase Curriculum. Implementation of this concept has been perfected over the years and it helps the instructor plan his class better.

Black belt teacher helping a yellow belt child

Black belt teacher helping a yellow belt child

First, you must understand the concept. Phase Curriculum is a new paradigm for teaching and ranking. It disassociates material from the rank. So Technique 4 is no longer a Purple Belt technique. It is a technique in Phase 2. It also requires each rank to have the same amount of material. Phases don’t work in an increasing curve of material. Each rank must be teachable in the same time block – usually four months. In a sense, it remakes each Phase a college class.

Next you must understand how the concept is implemented. Each Phase is a block of time, say summer or fall. This block of time is assigned a Phase, like Phase 1 or Phase 4. These Phases are snippets of material that are the focus of instruction during that time period. When the time period or block ends, there is a rank test. Then the next Phase begins. If Phase 2 completes, then the next Phase is 3.

How does it equate to rank colors? This is where the concept gets tricky. Our first three ranks are Candidate ranks. These allow the new student to get comfortable with balance, terms and punching. They are very simple ranks – lower than beginner is – they are introductory sessions. For us, these classes remain the same, outside the Phase circuit.

We start the Phase Curriculum at Purple belt. The former Second Purple material is now Phase 1. First Purple material is now Phase 2, and so on. After you graduate from the introductory cycle, thus you are Purple Belt; you join the Beginner class. Most likely, they are not on Phase 1. Regardless, you join the class and learn say Phase 4 material. Normally, that’s Blue belt material. However, at the end of the cycle, you get promoted to your next rank. You still need Phases 1-3 before you can change classes. The next Phase is 1, and now you learn that material. Other students who finished all the Phases at this level are now Green Belt and move to the Intermediate class.

The classes are divided into ability ranges, namely Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. This equates to Purple-Blue belts, Green-Brown belts, and Black belts. This prevents a new Purple belt from learning difficult Brown belt material. The difference between Purple and Blue belt material is minimal so learning that material “out of order” shouldn’t be an issue. And “out of order” is really a subjective decision anyway. Someone long ago decided to do it that way and poof, it’s “traditional”.

By the time you reach your Black Belt test, you still have all the same material as if you went “in order”. But it has tremendous benefits for the instructor. Now, he only has to prepare for one “level” of material. Everyone in the same class is learning exactly the same thing. The three higher-ranking folks aren’t learning a different kata from the lower ranking folks. Everyone can work together on the same thing at the same time. Now the instructor doesn’t have to split his or her time between two or three groups in the same class. The instructor devotes their full time to all the students at the same time. This is much more efficient.

Here are the highlights of Phase Curriculum. First, classes are divided by similar skill-levels and everyone learns the same material at the same time. Next, those that complete each segment can advanced to the next skill level class, or stay in the class for the next phase. Rank is measured by time and material, but the material is not bound to a particular rank. Finally, by Black Belt, all material is covered.

That’s Phase Curriculum in a nutshell. Its benefits to you are more instructor time and regular advancement dates …and a less stressed instructor.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Or why we must untrain bad habits and replace with new good habits

The first three ranks of our school (white, yellow and orange belt) are not called beginner ranks. They are called candidate ranks because new students are a little below beginner-level curriculum. Some may walk in an awkward, unbalanced fashion, others may have a limp posture or roll over their own feet. The first thing our training does is correct these idiosyncrasies and mold the student into a coordinated Kempo artist.

White belt boy punching

White belt boy punching

In addition to learning the jargon of Kempo training, the new student, the neophyte candidate, must learn how to stand and move in a balanced way. Front position, horse stance and crane stances teach these fundamental postures.

Kata, and all Kempo techniques, require proper movement at all times. We don’t hunch over, we don’t lock our knees, we don’t fall over our feet, nor do we plop at the will of gravity. Kempo artists control all their body movements. They keep their knees bent, they maintain a straight back, they turn their feet so their toes line up with the direction of their movement, and they gently place their foot down.

The most difficult task for instructors of the candidate ranks is convincing these new students that they must give up the bad movements and learn the new ones. Coordination can be learned, but must be embraced and practiced often. Once they gain a familiarity with martial biomechanics and Kempo terminology, they can advance to the beginner levels. Enter the formal Shaolin Temple for regular, intense training. This proper motion is how one can spot an excellent proponent of the arts.

When left to their own devices, people learn bad habits with regards to biomechanical motion. Kempo training helps you learn proper biomechanical movement, but first the training must untrain the bad habits and instill good habits. As the saying goes, “Out with the old and in with the new.”

Distance Training

Over the years I seen lots of students leave the school. Many of these long time students were also family members. Most of them still wish to train in Kempo with me yet the shear distance involved doesn’t facilitate the desire. To solve this dilemma I’ve decided to do something anathema to “true” martial arts teachers. I’ve decided to work with them through a remote training program.Golden Leopard Kempo logo

The reason why this is method of training brings up such scorn is the art is physical. It needs other humans to act as partner, uke and visual reference. Teachers need to adjust the rising horse stance. Teachers need to remind students about the foot position and the power in the strike. These things require someone actually there to move the elbow, to strike the pressure point and to demonstrate the key element misunderstood by the student.

It is also seen as selling out by a certain segment. However, the sense of selling out is often the cry of instructors with limited business sense who bemoan the fact they can’t afford to do it full time. I on the other hand don’t teach as my career. I have a job that I enjoy. I teach because I love teaching and it is rewarding.

Modern age requires adaptation to the new technologies. We use notebooks. We video to record our practice as a mental reminder. Why not use the Internet and its wonderful tools to help teach. At work, we use the Internet to train others all the time. I’ve taken online classes that were tough and really taught me the information I needed. The same can be done with Kempo. After all, many other Masters already do too.

How to bridge the gap between the good and the bad? You need to actually test and see me during the course so I can correct problems. I can see most of them via video but some just need hands on adjusting. Over the years, I noticed that there are problems that all students have. I say the same things over and over again. If I can record it and play it, I’ll save my voice.

So the point of this mental exercise is I’m working on something now. Extending the dojo into cyberspace with online videos, forums and my lectures in blog form. You’re already reading the first segment of this concept. If you’re a former SKK student with no school near by and want to continue your training, volunteer to be a guinea pig. If you’re interested in learning more now that you’re a Black Belt (and not in a school with your instructor), sign up too.

The point is, you are only limited by the limits you place upon yourself. I choose to think outside the box and learn in a limitless fashion. Join me.

Who Can Test Anyway?

NOTE: This article is only for students of the Golden Leopard lineage. It does not apply to other arts or other schools of Kempo.

Who’s authorized to perform tests? What ranks can they grant? These are questions I use to ask myself. What I discovered is there isn’t a standard. It’s all made up. Each style, system and organization has his or her preferences and procedures. To insure the propagation of our Kempo style and the need for consistency, I decided to pen my own “standard” that applies to all students under my lineage. (1)

The Certificates

I issue several certificates. The last award will not be available until I attain those levels myself. They are listed for the sake of completeness.

  1. Member of the school – denotes an active member of GLK.
  2. Rank Advancement – an award for the completion of a rank.
  3. Dan Rank Advancement – an award for the rank of Black Belt and confers the rank of Sibak.
  4. Provisional Instructor – authorizes to teach on a limited basis. There is no title awarded.
  5. Instructor – authorizes to teach as a certified GLK instructor and confer the title of Sifu.
  6. Tester – authorizes to rank up to (and including) 1st Brown Belt. There is no title awarded.
  7. Master – authorizes to rank up to 4th Degree Black Belt and confers the title of Master.
  8. Grandmaster – authorizes to rank up to (and including) their grade of Black Belt and it confers the title of Grandmaster

How It Works
A roving testing board that visits each school does all testing. Other approved masters or I train this testing board. Not only will they be verifying the abilities of the students; they are also evaluating the quality of the instructor. The instructor will get a review by the testing board on his strengths and weaknesses (teaching skills, adherence to curriculum, martial skills). (2)
Colored belts
At the mandatory weekly instructor class, weaknesses will be addressed and strengths will be examined and duplicated.(3)

This means an authorized “Tester” goes to the school and performs the kyu rank advancement test with the help of the resident chief instructor. The “Tester” and their “Sifu” will approve each test candidate.

After the test, usually at the next regional meeting, the “Tester” will give the “Sifu” an evaluation of his students and teaching. This is designed to be a positive and constructive evaluation to ensure quality.

We don’t allow an instructor to rank his own students because inconsistencies arise between schools when this happens. This system has worked well for other “schools” and it works well for us.(4)

What Ranks can be given?

As mentioned above, someone with the “Tester” award can to rank up to (and including) 1st Brown Belt. That’s all the ranks below Black Belt. A Testers rank can range from 3rd Degree to 4th Degree.

Someone with the “Master” award can rank up to 4th Degree Black Belt. This authorizes them to run “Black Belt Tests” on their own without the Headmaster. However, this is frowned upon since I like to be involved in all Black Belt Tests. The Master ranks are 5th (Jr. Master), 6th (Master) and 7th (Sr. Master).

The award of “Professor” can rank up to (and including) their grade of Black Belt. Basically, they can rank anybody anything. I prefer to award the “Professor” title myself, but it isn’t exclusive. The Professor ranks are 8th (Associate Professor) and 9th (Professor). Just to note, I really can’t rank anyone this high because I’m not this good yet. This section is just here for completeness.

What about 10th Degree Black Belt? That’s for Grandmaster Gascon or his heir to decide. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever be a 10th degree. I feel a system should only have one leader. Our system is Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu—the original Shaolin Kempo. We have the good fortune of having the founder (Grandmaster Gascon) available for questions and training.

Quality Assurance
Another quick note to add is the concept of re-qualification.  Currently, every two years both Instructors and Testers need to retest for their award to keep it current. We don’t want folks with teaching credentials sitting around for years getting rusty then popping up to teach again. The same is true for Testers.

Prior to the retest, we hold a seminar or training intensive to make sure all the Instructors and Testers are still up to standards. If there is new procedures, we want them to know. If there was a particular drift from standard style, we want to discuss it and clear up that topic before it divides the organization. If there are new, better ways of teaching something, we want the Instructors to know about it.

Conversely, if the Instructors or Testers have some problems or suggestions, the senior Instructors want to know. It’s a bilateral discussion and sharing. We explore the art together, not hand down judgements from an Ivory Tower. None of us are that good, especially me.

If in doubt, ask to see the Head Tester’s certificate. He (or she) should have a copy of it when they visit the dojo for testing. Don’t feel awkward about questioning their authority. You’re just interested in preserving the art and following the rules. These rules are designed to help all of us stay on track. Without guidance, some people start to do their own thing. This results in inconsistency and bad feelings.

Just remember to train hard and give your best effort at all tests. It’s your time to shine and show your progress.

(1) There is an exception. Anyone under Grandmaster Fugate should follow his guidelines.

(2) Taken from the interim _Rules and Regulations of the Golden Leopard Kempo Organization_, 1999.

(3) Ibid.

(4) This system is borrowed from the United Studios of Self Defense, East Coast. It’s a solid way of ensuring quality of black belts within a system. Often times, different masters are softer or harder than others, which begins to skew results and cause friction.

Gi Color Myth Revealed

During the 70s and 80s, it became fashionable for some Kempo instructors to propagate the myth of white and black gi. That myth will be discussed below. Prior to judo, there was no gi. With the wide spread interest in Karate-do, the bleached white karate-gi became very common.

The Hawaiians developed use of the black gi to distinguish them from karateka. One of the primary arts using the black gi was Kosho Ryu Kempo (Mitose’s art), which later was popularized as Kajukenbo. The karate-gi has no relation to the robes of Shaolin monks. They are two different cultures with two different modes of dress.

If you take the TV series “Kung Fu” as a credible source, the young boys wore black clothes. The older initiates wore white and black clothes. Once they passed the 108 Chamber Room, they could wear the orange robes of the monk. But I warn you that it may not be credible. A better source would be a book on the actual Shaolin Temples. Just remember, a Chinese-artist doesn’t wear a karate-gi.

The modern Kempo myth says the first few ranks are representative of being outside the Temple walls. The new student is trying to earn membership into the actual Temple. Once they enter into the “Temple” for real training, they can don the “black” gi. It’s quite a cute tale, but it’s not accurate.

The school’s chief instructor gets to choose what color uniform (or style) the students wear based solely on their preferences. Some prefer the “gung fu” uniform with turtle buttons. Others may opt for the XMA sleeveless uniform. Most prefer karate-gi colored black. A few enterprising schools use army battle dress uniforms or specialized uniforms custom-made.

Why Do We Wear Black
We use black gi to show our heritage from Hawai’i and it shows less dirt. Black gi has a mystique. It looks “cool”. The karate-gi is handy to use in class. It is more durable than cotton sweats. Not as confining as “biker shorts”. And they distinguish us as martial artist.

The color has a little to do with the Chuck Norris movie, “Good Guys Wear Black”. I’m one of his fans but good guys can wear whatever color they like. Keep a modicum of fashion sense before you introduce odd ball uniforms. In short, don’t get worked up over false traditions.

Tracy’s Chinese Kenpo’s website has a great article or two on the origins of Kenpo gi colors and styles. Take a minute or two and read them. This style also introduced the eye-boggling checkerboard-swirl pattern that was popular in the 70s and early 80s. Our industry is now large enough to support all sorts of interesting uniforms and colors so enjoy the selection. In another 30 years, I’ll be writing about why lightning stripes on the pant legs are traditional.

I’m still holding out for leopard print uniforms.