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.

It is important to know and prepare for self-defense

I. LAYING PLANS

The first chapter is called laying plans. It stresses building a foundation from which to rest all your skills and assets. I equate this with learning how to stand, punch, kick and move properly. There is no sense if rushing the process so you can be effective earlier. Rather it is better to build slowly and surely to get the most value and flexibility out of the process of learning.

Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.  Hence it is a subject of inquiry, which can on no account be neglected.

What Sun Tzu is explaining is the importance of knowing. In our case, one must not neglect training in self-defense hoping that it won’t be needed. As he states, it is a matter of life and death. Putting off the training is the road to ruin while investing in the training is the road to safety.

Not everyone is interested in a comprehensive self-defense course, the whole martial arts way of life. Some are content with a quick four-session course. That is fine but won’t serve you in all situations. Remember that life-long study of martial arts, such as Kempo-jutsu, prepares the body, mind and spirit for combat in all its forms. You never know when you’ll need it or how it will appear. Continuous study provides the renewal of physical and mental skills on a regular basis.

Remember that self-defense is a skill-based activity that requires constant maintenance to remain effective. That’s one thing self-defense experts often forget to mention. You spend a few hours honing some simple motor skills but in six months, you’ll loose the speed and skill. Although it make take a little longer to develop equal self-defense skills in a martial arts school, you put the material deep in the tissue so to speak. You really internalize the material allowing you to adapt and react even when you’re a out of practice.

In scouting, they have a motto of “be prepared”, that is true with your defense too. Take the time to learn a little. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to perform effectively.

System General Category Time to Use Self-Defense Skill Skill Retention
Self-Defense Self-Defense Short High Low
Kempo-jutsu Self-Defense Long High High
Olympic Style Sport Long Low High

What my overly generalized chart depicts is my view on the strengths and weaknesses of corporate self-defense, a self-defense-oriented martial art (like Golden Leopard’s Hawaiian Shaolin Kempo-jutsu) and a more sport-like martial art. They all their focus. If you like to compete in tournaments and look absolutely amazing when performing katas and weapon routines, seek out an olympic style art. If you hate spending more than a few hours on any task, join a corporate-level self-defense workshop. If you want long-term survivability, you need to seek out a solid, self-defense-focused martial art.

When you read, “Learn what your sensei didn’t teach you.” Remember there are things these self-defense experts are also leaving out. As Sun Tzu suggests, the subject of inquiry can not be neglected. Educate yourself and be your own expert.

Don’t agree? Tell me why in the comments.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

How to Control Fear

Fear is a cruel master. It can cause you to flee or react without planning. Fear just is a warning device. Do not let it control your actions and reactions. Accept the emotion of fear. Know that it is there for a reason and acknowledge it. Do not let it dictate irrational actions instead of rational actions.

“There is a time to take counsel of your fears, and there is a time to never listen to any fear.”  ~ George S. Patton

When you are walking somewhere minding your own business and you suddenly become afraid, that is your mind telling you of trouble. Take note of that and react accordingly by scanning the surround area for danger. Plan for an attack and determine the best way to get out of the dangerous situation. Often times when you do this, no attack will arrive. This is because you took appropriate action.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” ~ Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 12 (1894)

One way to manage your fear is to breathe. I often use ten short breaths to calm my inner self. It brings clarity to the situation. The biological effects of fear are an adrenaline surge and the shortness of breath. You stop breathing or hold your breath. This technique of taking ten short breaths will overcome this biological response. Training when you are tired and fatigued will help with the adrenaline surge and its after affects.

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.” ~ William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act II, sc. ii (1599)

You control fear by will. You take charge of your own mental facilities and actions. You just do it.

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?