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”.

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.

Why Chi Gung is good for you

Meditation develops the ability to listen to your body, not a physical hearing of talking arms or other silly notions. I’m talking sensing what your body is feeling. This manifests as knowing when you are tired, what types of foods you should eat or if you need to work out more. You should also sense when your body is starting to get sick or has an injury.

Recovering from illness and injuries is an important skill to acquire. Obviously you should consult your doctor and other qualified medical professionals. But you can also assist their work and advice by doing Chi Gung exercises. Chi Gung is primarily a preventative medicine but it also helps in recovery.

Here’s a way to imagine how it works. Chi Gung moves the body in various strenuous ways. This is wring out the body like a dirty, wet towel. The Chi Gung drills squeeze the dirty water out of your body. Then your body is open to receive new, fresh Chi.

Chi Gung is not like running a marathon or a heavy weight program. They are simple, normal movements that help keep the body limber and flexible. They are a great way to warm up in the morning. Chi Gung gets blood flowing into the muscles and joints, which can prevent some injuries. It’s also a great way to warm up–because Chi Gung will make you very warm.

Give it a try. I recommend doing the Five Organ Set that we call Taoist Five. The more you do the better you’ll feel and the clearer your body will speak to you.

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?

The Hidden Triangle

We all know that a tripod is more stable than a biped.

Black belt in stance

Black belt in stance

This is evident in how a tricycle and bicycle are parked. The tricycle, with its three wheels, can stand on its own while the bicycle needs a kickstand to stand on its own. That makes it a tripod structure. But how does this relate to martial arts and Kempo in particular?
Human beings are bipedal creatures. We use two legs to stand. In theory, that should make us tip over easily but we have joints, muscles and tendons to keep us upright. We can become a triped or quadruped by putting down one or both hands. This makes us stable but not very effective in a fight.

However, we can use this concept to help us become more effective. We have two feet, which equates to two vertices of a triangle’s three vertices. All we need is the third point to complete the tripod structure. Using a bit imagination and basic geometry, you can pick a place on the floor where the third point should go.

  • You can use that location to place your knee down for stability, especially for randori and jujutsu mat work.
  • If your opponent’s foot is there, you can push or pull his foot out of the stability spot to disrupt their balance.
  • You can use the spot as a target for your throw. Aiming at that spot will naturally create a stronger, more effective throw.
  • If you have a joint lock, move it towards that spot to create a soft throw.
  • You can also use that location by putting the opponent there to prop yourself up if you begin to loose your own balance.
  • If you believe in chi energy, create a pillar of force attaching you to that spot creating a tripod stance.

It is important to visualize and use your imagination while training or during a confrontation. The mind responds to those impulses faster than if it explicitly or discretely thinks about the problem. If you practice doing this during your training sessions, you will develop muscle memory thereby making it part of your repertoire.

Train hard. Train for real.