Strike with the Elbow

The effectiveness of Kempo lies in its ability to produce effective power and accurate targeting in strikes. Those two elements are the basis for all martial arts training – how hard can you hit and where do you hit. Power in your punches is increased incrementally starting with proper posture and arm rotation. There are many components that make up a proper punch.

In fist guard position

In fist guard position

A key component of the punch is striking with the elbow. The chisel and hammer illustrate this point very well. The chisel doesn’t have any force by itself. It’s just the point of impact. The power is the hammer, which sends its power through the chisel. Likewise, the fist is just the point of impact. Use the power of the elbow to hammer the fist into the stone wall of the enemy’s defense.

The elbow is also a vessel for chi (ki or qi). It is kept bent so the chi can pool up, ready for use in the punch. Like a garden hose you bend to stop the flow of water. When you release the hose, the pent up pressure burst out.

When you practice on the makiwara board or on the bag, utilize these two components. Visualize the water pent up in your elbow, ready to burst out of your fist. And drive your chisel hand forward with the power of your elbow. Hammer the fist home. Rinse and repeat until the enemy is down or gives up.

And always strike with the strength of the elbow behind the fist. Thought it meant to actually strike with the elbow following Kenpo Joe’s elbow sets, eh?

The Elbow and Kenpo Joe

I stumbled upon this video of Kenpo Joe who demonstrates a few elbow sets from a few flavors of Kenpo and Kempo. See it here on YouTube.

What’s nice about these mini-sets is they focus on the most devastating weapon in our arsenal, the elbow. It is versatile and is great at close and really close range. My favorite part of Joe’s articles and videos is how he compares and contrasts the flavors of Kenpo. He doesn’t do it to discredit them, rather he does it to explore and understand. In my opinion, that’s the attitude you need in martial arts training.

Visit his web page at

That’s all for today.

Another Green Dojo

Read the full story about Boston Karate Students to Help Build “Black Belt Garden” in Local Green Space

What I like about this article is how it demonstrates the community focus of martial arts schools. Extending the dojo to the garden is a great idea on how to link the agricultural roots of Karate to the modern world in a way that improves the land. It also makes it useful to others without being selfish.

Kudos to the Boston Karate students and their instructor for a great job. Between this school and King Karate, from a previous post about gardening and karate, there seems to be a new, promising trend among martial arts teachers.

A Snake with No Fangs

Hands are the best primary targets. If there is a weapon, then the weapon or weapon hand is the best initial target. During the Persian Gulf War, surgical strikes to military anti-air silos were the first targets. The allies were destroying weapons and the enemy’s ability to counter strike. That is effective military thinking. Whether in an arena of war or in the alley defending your life, effective military thinking applies to both sizes of combat and confrontation.

“If you cut the fangs off of the snake, you don’t have to worry about the snake.” – Pilipino proverb

This old Eskrima saying relates to personal combat. Which would you choose to fight? Someone with guns and knives? Or someone who has no weapons and has their hands tied behind their back? The obvious answer, the unarmed defenseless man. He’s a snake with no fangs. You are safe to avoid or engage the enemy. You are in command, a position of power.

One caveat, don’t assume you can let down your guard if the enemy is obviously defenseless. You must always be in a defensive posture even if it’s an easy target. Always attack assuming they are fully able to mount a dangerous attack and counter attack. That is sound tactics.

Defeating an opponent without risk or injury is the ideal situation. This is how the Shaolin monks justified learning and developing martial arts. They were able to disarm and immobilize attackers without killing anyone or anything. Thus they kept to their religious beliefs, yet were able to deal with real world dangers.

Seek to disable the offensive and defensive weapons to maximize you combative advantage. Defang the snake and their bite won’t harm you.

Steal the Wind

Where do most people like to hit? What is the best target to hit first? What’s the second? Ask a hundred people and you may get a hundred different answers. The trained Kempo warrior has one of the best targets.

The body is the best secondary target. “What about the head?” you ask. The head is thick and boney. The skull is the thickest bone in the body. It’s mobile and agile. It’s naturally guarded as well by the other limbs and the brain. Still many people like to hit the head for dramatic and demoralizing effects.

Some systems train extensively on breaking the skull bone. Bricks and coconuts are examples of this type of break training. If you can break a brick or coconut, then you can crack the skull – so the theory goes.

The body is better because it has more organs to damage. It’s larger and easier to hit. Each hit impacts the vital organs and breathing system. It makes breathing difficult. That slows down response time creating more openings for your attacks.

Everything is based on breath. You need it to live. It keeps you calm. It’s critical for cardiovascular activity like fighting, thinking or running. If you take these activities away from the enemy, then you have won.

Each hit to the body and ribs takes some of the “air” out of the enemy. Do it enough, they start to fatigue from disrupted breathing. When he can’t breath properly, he’ll start to surrender or slow down to gain time to breathe. You have stolen his “wind” and now you own the confrontation.

Flow like Water

One of Sijo Bruce Lee’s famous quotes, “Be like water, my friend” is appropriate for Kempo. These are some of the qualities of water we want to emulate in our art.

  • Pent up action
  • Path of least resistance
  • Continuous flow
  • Drown the opponent

Pent up action
The waist is akin to a Kempo capacitor. That is where striking power is stored and discharged from. Turn the waist to build up momentum and power. Then turn the waist back into the attack to generate a powerful assault. The Chinese arts call this Jing, we call it percussive striking.

One of the early techniques, DM3, demonstrates this waist power. The first move is a #4 block and a waist turn. Then you settle back into a dragon stance with a right thrust punch. The right hip drives this punch. It can be quite powerful when performed correctly.

Path of least resistance
During the assault when sensing strong resistance, we must flow to an alternate zone of attack. Just like the Germans of World War II, we don’t attack the fortified French line. Rather, we quickly move up and around to an exposed, defenseless area. It’s a classic military concept of flanking the enemy. Water has the natural abilities to find weakness and flow towards that area.

For example, the theory around escapes from wrist grabs. The human body can’t defend all fronts. You’ll often encounter a partner that knows what’s coming and resists the lock. The proper response is not to force it, but to move to another lock. This is flanking the muscle.

Continuous flow
Kempo players should never stop their assault until the opponent is incapacitated, immobilized, in a submission or you choose to disengage. Ocean currents continuously push swimmers in single direction. It is difficult to compensate without extra effort. That is how our techniques should work. Constant control and flow into another move of our choosing. Kempo karenza or jiwaza allow the advanced student to sense the attack and bring it to competition.

Drown the opponent
The relentless, continuous assault of the Kempo player serves to overwhelm the opponent. You want to blanket the opponent to instill a sense of smothering. Like the big wave that smashes into swimmers, the water overwhelms.

Drowning the oppenent can be performed on two levels, physcial and psychological. Practice it like a karenza, but include mental intent designed to demoralize and mentally break the opponent. Sometimes called a game face or mental game, verbally harassing the opponent is a vital aspect of encounters. The goal of overwhelming the opponent is to force them to give up, submit or flee. They must loose their belief in surviving the assault.

Sticky hands and partner drills are good essential for developing the water theory. All of these sub-principles are interrelated. You use all of them in your techniques to some degree. Kempo is rushing water.

A Miss is a Miss

Avoiding strikes doesn’t require over compensation. The mistake most beginners make is fleeing from the attack. This flight instinct places them at a considerable distance from the attacker. In human-survival logic, being very far from danger is better than being very close. However, martial logic purposes the opposite reaction to danger.

Sideblade kick

Sideblade kick

Miss by an inch or miss by a mile, they are both the same. A “miss by an inch” keeps you in range for a counter attack and control over your opponent. You spend a lot of energy trying to move far away. Conserve your energy and just move what is required to avoid the attack (such as slips, redirects and absorbing). Don’t read this the wrong way, do proper defensive maneuvers. There is no shame in setting up redundant defenses and responses.

For example, the White Belt technique Combo (DM) 7 illustrates this concept. Pat the attack and redirect it. Move out of the way and get off the line. The final moves are sidekick and retreat defensively. The first “fade” creates a miss by bringing your body off the line of attack. The double pat is a redundant defensive shield to redirect the attack and check its countering potential.

When working with your partner, explore the ranges of movement. Try to step farther away from the opponent. Can you reach them with the pats or the kick? Now try to step closer, or don’t move off the line. Can you avoid the attack? Are you bulled over by the assault? Kempo is a nuance art. It’s full of subtle adjustments and biomechanical manipulations.

The best way to become a great Kempo player is to explore your movements. Use the partner drills as a time to fine-tune your movements. Also, change partners so you can do all of your techniques on different body types. Exploration and adaptation are the hallmarks of Kempo. Any technique, when combined with checking or shielding, can become a great neutralizer of an opponent’s ability to counter.

Intent, the Leopard’s Game Face

Have you ever watched a nature show that follows a big cat as it stalks its prey? I love watching leopards creep slowly towards their prey. Look at their face. You see intent. Not normal intent, they have intense intent. By looking into their eyes, you know they will kill something if given the slightest opportunity. There is little doubt in their mind and your what will happen next…if the gazelle is slow.

You control the situation through your intent. When you encounter an aggressive person on the street, a bully, you must turn your attention to the situation and form a deep, intense intent. I’ve personally gotten out of many fights by turning on my intent to defend myself without restraint. It sends vibes or something out into the conflict area. Once the bully feels, sees, or smells your intent, he knows. And he usually backs down. Intent is a powerful deterrent.

It is also a powerful way to execute your strikes. In breaking, you must think, “break” to break a brick. You must have intent. If you have doubts about your abilities or you are distracted, unfocused, you won’t be able to break the brick. The focus of intent is like a laser-guided missile. You can accomplish anything if you have unwavering-intent.

Be firm in your commitment. Intent is a commitment that you will do what you are thinking. You are focused on your task and you will succeed. Intent, focus and commitment are three ingredients to a successful conflict. That is how you achieve great things. Establish a goal and commit to it. Focus on it. Have the intent to reach the goal. You will be unstoppable.

The Punch Transformation

Inspired by the discuss on Martial Talk

In class, the uke (attacker) steps in with the right foot (using the C step or half-moon) and punches with the right hand. This is the classic straight in punch. Why do we do it like that? It doesn’t seem like a realistic attack.

On guard position

On guard position

Think back to Kindergarten class when you practiced making your letters. You needed lines on the paper to write straight. This is a very simplified attack so you can focus on the moves, not whether or not you’ll get hit. This is not a realistic attack. It is a “practice” attack. Just like the lines for writing letters, the “step in punch” is an easy attack for you to acclimate to an attack. When you get comfortable with the technique, move one to variations in the attack.

Transformation One
Slight variations to the attack include a street-fighter punch, hook punch and left-right combination. Start slow and progress until you can perform the technique well regardless of which attack they throw. Notice the slight changes you make to your stance and body position.

Don’t stick to arbitrary clock positions or cardinal directions when the live person is there. Those are simple orientation mechanics to help you move about three-dimensional space. Again, they are guidelines. Close is good enough with regards to footing placement. Get a feel for where the foot really needs to go for optimal leverage, attack-angle and balance.

Transformation Two
Most people don’t step in to punch you, rather they just swing from any position they are in. Change the step in to a boxer shuffle (akin to how CHA-3 and Kajukenbo students practice). The juicy right leg isn’t there for you to attack. It is now protected in the rear. What adjustments do you make to keep the technique working?

This transformation is more realistic than the initial one taught in class. Again, you need to work up to this situation, as it is more difficult to work against. By Green Belt, this should be the standard attack procedure after learning the technique in class. It makes Combination 11 difficult but not impossible. How do the other combinations and kempo techniques fair?

Transformation Three
This is my favorite. How about adding a weapon, the yawara, to the technique? The yawara is a pocket stick, an inch bigger than your hand. It is usually made of wood sanded down smooth. How does it change the moves? You’d be surprised how well the techniques all work with a yawara in your right hand.

I usually hold it like an ice pick for downward strikes. Hold it like a fork to punch. Remember to support the yawara with your thumb on top. It’s much like the Poison Thumb strike. Locks, traps and pinches become a factor in applying the technique. Pinch skin, joint or clothes between yawara and thumb. Seek pressure points when you strike too.

Also think of the possibilities with using other things like a pen, spoon or toothbrush. Don’t get stuck in Kindergarten when practicing your techniques — examine, experiment and explore.

Drills are the Keys to Success

What is Muscle Memory?
When you perform a series of movements over and over again, the muscles in your body begin to perform these movements smoother and faster. They start to do these movements without conscious instructions from your brain. The muscles can retain that “memory” for quite a long time. Learning how to pedal a bicycle is a great example of muscle memory. Thinking about pedaling slows the process down. The legs remember how to pedal so the brain can attend to other tasks like avoiding cars.

Students performing a punching drill

Students performing a punching drill

Reaction Conditioning

To capitalize on muscle memory, Kempo uses reaction conditioning. When you receive an attack movement, like a punch or kick, you perform a set movement. This is an optimal reaction, something your body will remember without need of the brain. You react. You react quickly without having to analyze the situation and other things that would slow down your protective defense.

Drills train the body to react to a particular stimulus in a defined manner. Some drills are simple blocking reflexes while others can be complex body movements and distance gauging. Regardless, they serve to disassociate the need for the brain’s instructions to perform a Kempo technique. The brain needs to think tactically in a confrontation. It doesn’t have time to remember the best defenses against a straight punch or a hook if it changes midstream.

Drills engage muscle memory and skill acquisition developing the ability to do without thinking, the Mushin principle. You’ll often read about Mushin – No Mind. This is one aspect of that concept, reacting without your mind. Not thoughtless actions like a street fighter or raging bull but a trained reaction to assault.

Condition the mind to allow the body to just “do”. Drills also get the brain familiar to the stimuli of an attack. Unless you are familiar with aggressive stimuli then you may freeze. In drills, you begin to get comfortable with close aggressive actions. You know longer have the “flight or fight” instinct kicking in. You have control over what you do.

Drills are used in sports, dance, academic schools, police training and the military. It’s a great method of learning. You have to prepare for success. Preparation is the key. Therefore, drills are the keys to success.