How to tie your Karate belt

The karate belt knot is a simple square knot. The tricky part is getting the belt around the waist. There are two methods of doing it, the “Twist” method and the “Narrow” method.

The Twist method is easy. Find the middle of the belt. Put it on or near your belly button. Wrap the ends around your waist until they come to the front again. Then tie the knot. This produces a twist in the back where the belt crosses over itself. Some people find this uncomfortable when they roll or slap out.

The Narrow method is trickier but makes a single belt line in the back. Start with an end and place it on the hipbone. Start wrapping the belt across the belly and around until you get to the end. The end should be in front of you otherwise make adjustments to get it there. Pull the initial end out slightly from underneath the wrap. Measure that they are nearly the same lengths.

If not, then slide the whole belt around until the ends are the same lengths. Then tie the knot.

Whichever end is on top is the first link. For this demonstration, it is the right end. Tuck the right end under BOTH layers of the belt and pull until snug. Then loop the left (the same one that was right a step before) inside the right. Pull both ends until the knot is secure.

If you started on the left hip then just reverse the left and right notations. The Karate belt knot should look like a square knot. Below is a demonstration of tying the belt so you can see how it works. Play it a few times until you get it.

Our school has a few customs for tying a belt. These are not universal rules since I’ve discovered most schools have similar or no rules regarding the belt. Breaking these rules won’t result in Manner Ninjas attacking you in the night. It won’t even get you kicked out of a respectable dojo. They’re here just to provide guidelines on proper behavior and etiquette. Respect the belt and you respect your accomplishments.

  1. Perform a belt blessing before putting it on. This involves two steps. First touch the folded belt to your forehead, lips and chest representing the uniting of mind, spirit and body. The next step is snapping the belt — holding two folded ends and pulling quickly to produce a snap.
  2. Don’t let the belt ends drag on the floor while wrapping or tying the belt. This is demonstrated in the video by holding the folded section until it is wrapped around the waist. It gets easier with practice.
  3. Kneel down when a Black Belt  (or higher-ranking Black Belt) dons their belt. Some schools require you to face away from the Kamiza (the portrait of the Grandmaster or front of the room).
  4. You should kneel down when tying your belt. (Although this is not observed much anymore.)
  5. Always fold your belt after use. Keep it clean and put away. This is a good practice for everything you own, fold it and put it away.

Does your school have any belt traditions or customs? I’d like to hear about them.

What is Checking?

Checking is maintaining contact on an opponent’s limb to limit or impede its use in a counter attack. The light contact allows you to sense when the limb is tensing for movement. At that time you can redirect it or jam it in place. It helps to limit the offensive capabilities of the opponent. Checking can therefore be defined as eliminating or diffusing counters.

Here are some definitions of “Check” from

“Checking in ice hockey is the act of physically keeping an opposing player in check.” (hockey)

“…a check is an immediate threat to capture the king (or general in xiangqi). A king so threatened is said to be in check.” (chess)

Both use the term “in check” as a way of describing attention to or awareness of an object, in our case a limb. The hockey quote demonstrates the impediment aspect while the chess quote demonstrates the limiting and strategic aspects. The concept of checking also involves other useful terms and concepts.

Centerline is an imaginary line down the middle of the human body. This line is a target line. It represents the easiest target on the body since it is the hardest to move away from an attack. For instance, if I aim toward a shoulder, it can easily be moved out of the way. However, if I aim for the center of the body, it takes longer for it to move out of the attack’s path. You can twist, slide, duck or move but it still takes time.

Safety zones are areas around the opponent’s body where their attacks are least effective. There is a different safety zone for each type of attack such as kick or punch. A simple example is standing behind an opponent creates a safe zone against their punches. Likewise, standing next to the left shoulder is a safety zone from a right punch since the punch will have very little power behind it.

Zero out the distance is maintaining your movements in the pockets or safety zones of the opponent’s attacks. If you continue to move quickly towards their back, the opponent must either attempt to turn and keep their defense us or sacrifice defense to quickly turn the other way. However this allows you to switch directions and move the other direction. It uses the predator pursuit characteristics in its application.

The use of checking is the strategic element of combat. It can be used to limit counter attacks (as mentioned before) and as a way to force counter attacks you wish to allow. In other words, actions that lead to defeat. For example, if I check an attack the opponent moves to disengage the check that allows me room to counter with a rippling push thereby uprooting the opponent.

Review you combinations and other techniques. Where are the checks in those routines? Post a few here and share it with the other readers.

How to shiko or knee walk

Shiko is a word I was taught for knee walking. I don’t know if that is the correct term but I’ll use it in this article and in class until I learn the proper term.

We use shiko to move around on the padded mat (the tatami) in the dojo. From the kneeling position (Fig. 0), often called seiza, you lift the left knee and slide the right foot behind the left foot. (Fig. 1) The right foot should be on the ball of the foot, not the instep. Keep the heels of both feet close to each other the entire time of the shiko. The feet are at right angles to each other. Place your hands on your thighs near the kneecap. If they slide up to mid-thigh to higher, move them back to this position.

Fig. 0: Seiza or kneeling position

Fig. 0: Seiza or kneeling position

Fig. 1: Left knee up

Fig. 1: Left knee up

To move forward, press down on your left knee with your left hand. When the knee contacts the mat, pivot your hips so your right knee is up and your left foot slides under the butt and next to the right foot. (Fig. 2) Again maintain the right angle and close proximity.

Fig. 2: Right knee up

Fig. 2: Right knee up

The body should not move or sway. Only the hips, knees and feet move. To move forward again (Fig. 3), press down on the right knee with your right hand. (Fig. 4) When the knee contacts the mat, pivot your hips so your left knee is up and your right foot slides under the butt and next to the left foot. Maintain the right angle and close proximity to the other foot.

Fig. 4: Front view with knee up

Fig. 3: Front view with knee up

Fig. 5: Pressing the knee down

Fig. 4: Pressing the knee down

Continue alternating these sequences until you get to where you want to go. It should be smooth and quiet. Don’t wobble or fall over. Take your time and maintain your balance throughout the entire process.

Turning around is easy. Assume your right knee is up. Fold it towards your left knee, which is on the ground. At this point you are almost in a kneeling position called seiza except you’re on the balls of your feet not the insteps. Lift the left knee out to a right angle. At this point, you are ready to continue your shiko walk.

We use this movement when others are kneeling in meditation, for receiving rank awards or when the instructor is discussing something and all the students are listening. When a visiting master instructor or other dignitary is sitting, it is rude to stand while they are seated. By keeping our profile low we can scoot off the mat and attend to the task at hand.

Why is Monkey Dance 14 Different?

As a derived style of Kajukenbo, we must look to their required kata to learn more about our syllabus. Traditional Emperado Method Kajukenbo uses Monkey Dance 13 and 14 as developmental kata. They teach moving footwork and stance work. They are simple yet vital foundational moves. In our style, we practice footwork with our Moving Blocking Sets – the Eight Point with half-moon steps for example. We practice stances in other drills and Kamuki kata too. There’s no need to add additional stance-only kata. We need to prune the unnecessary leaves to promote proper growth.

Low horse stance in a kata

Low horse stance in a kata

Secondly, Monkey Dance 11 is the Okinawan Kata Naihanchi 1. This kata was first taught by Grandmaster Mitose when he introduced Kenpo to the Hawai’i. It could be said that this is the first and only Kenpo kata. However, we can look to other systems and related styles to see what they do. Famous masters such as Chosei Motobu have two Naihanchi kata in their system. If it’s good enough for the Motobu family, it is good enough for us.

Therefore it seemed logical to include the second Naihanchi as Monkey Dance 14. It’s a beautiful kata and it teaches great techniques. This kata is very timely in the curriculum and challenging for Brown Belts. It also adds another kata with the traditional Mitose opening – something that I personally like and enjoy performing. Naihanchi 2 also acts as the capstone for the Monkey Dance or Palama kata series.

While we’re on the subject of Kata, I prefer to call the Kempo kata Kamuki. Calling something 1 Kata when all forms are kata is confusing for students and instructors alike. The Monkey Dances are called Palama by Kajukenbo in honor of the first YMCA program in Hawai’i. My inspiration for using Kamuki is it’s the second Kajukenbo YMCA location and its first initial is “K”. This helps me remember that it’s the equivalent of Kata. So Kamuki 1 is 1 Kata. Kamuki 2 is 2 Kata. Kamuki 3 is 3 Kata and so on. Less confusion once you get use to it.

Changes should not be made lightly but they are important. As the analogy previously mentioned, pruning is necessary to improve growth. Redundancy is important to emphasize key movements and techniques. More than that, it becomes a hindrance and leads the system to skew its character or effectiveness.

For instructors out there, what have you trimmed from the curriculum and why?

Don’t Dangle Your Arms

In kata and during drills, you can spot the dangling arm of a beginning student. After a decent punch, the arm just flounders next to the body. A beginner “forgets” about their left arm once their mind moves on to the right arm. They forget the most important element of striking – Chamber your punches.

Don’t dangle your arms about. Put them somewhere effective and useful. Successive punches require the piston action of recoil and strike from opposite arms. Think of the arms as a connected piece of rope. When one goes out, the other side must pull in. Don’t just pull in to a position close to the body. Make sure it is in the elbow position for maximum efficiency.

Kata practice reveals the untrained arm the most. You need to remember the next kick or punch, how to turn and where to strike. There are a lot of things to remember when you practice Kempo but each action has its place in the building blocks of an effective weapon. An arm left unattended is not effective. It is not in a position for use when needed.

It is normal to do this. The mind is attempting to coordinate a lot of moving parts, something it hasn’t done. This is the difference between a beginner and someone more experienced. The mind is capable of handling all the inputs. It just needs time to work out the procedure and the awareness of limbs when not the focus of a task.

When you are not aware of where each part of your body is, you are sacrificing your defenses and preparedness. Put things in a position for a reason. This mental awareness of your body helps keep the mind focused on what it needs to do. It also allows the mind to focus on where the opponent’s body is in relation to your own. You’re not just concerned about where your body parts are, you must also know where the opponent’s body parts are.

The mind is making thousands of calculations a second to process its place in three dimensions, moving and responding to an attack. All the limbs need to check in with central command and be prepared to deploy to a new front at a moment’s notice. I like to think of my body as an army, moving pieces where they are most effective.

Just like an army, the mind needs to train with the body to shake out any miscommunications. It needs to hone its ability to keep tabs on what every part is doing while moving it the environment. This follows the famous triad of martial arts thought – uniting the body, mind and spirit.

Dangling an arm allows your opponent to snatch it as a lever or as an opening for their next attack. I’ve talked about levers before and they are the keys to controlling an opponent. Don’t give your opponent that kind of gift to use against you. Shore up your defenses and maintain body awareness. And don’t dangle.

Kempo in Action 2

Here is a real life example of how one of my students actually used a technique in a schoolyard bully situation. “Rebecca” in Third Grade. The names are changed but the story is true.

Rebecca started at a new school filled with students she didn’t know. It wasn’t long for the other students to single her out as different. The boys started to bully her and push her around, perhaps as a way to demonstrate their machismo and bravado to the other boys. Each time a boy grabbed her arm, Rebecca performed the windmill escape.

They tried again and she escaped quickly. They couldn’t keep their hands on her arm. Finally, they resorted to verbal abuse instead since physical violence was stopped. After a while, they just left her alone.

In situations where fighting can get you in trouble such as the schoolyard, there are still options. You can defend yourself with blocks and escapes without counter strikes. You are not fighting only defending. Rebecca remembered a simple technique we practiced in class…a lot. She used the technique and disengaged the opponent. Luckily, that solved her situation.

Real Kempo in a real situation, share one of your Kempo in Action stories.

BTW, I’ll be out of touch for the next four days so no posts until Monday. Train hard! Train smart!

Generalist versus Specialist

There’s an old saying about Generalist, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” I’ve heard that used to disparage artist who like to train in a variety of styles (including non-Asian martial arts) to increase the breadth and depth of their knowledge. Specialist feel one must stick to a topic and excel at it. “It takes a lifetime to understand one kata.”

A Generalist has lots of skills but doesn’t put the time in to become great at one thing. No matter the situation, they can come up with something. However, they are not as proficient as an expert specialist and will be outmatched. Specialist is great at one thing but sacrifices flexibility to adapt to new input. Admittedly, you can pick a specialty that encompasses say 80% of the known cases. However, it’s not all the possible cases.

Kempo Karate is a generalist art. The Kempo artist feel comfortable in most situations – stand up, ground fighting, multiple assailants, versus weapons or in grappling. Yet it is not great at all of them. They apply principles of motion and reaction to each situation. They don’t make a technique fit the circumstances, they allow the circumstances to guide the technique. That’s a subtle difference.

Tae Kwon Do (TKD) artists (as an example) are great at kicking so they pull all situations into a kicking format. Likewise, Brazilian Jujutsu (as another example) excels at ground fighting so they pull all situations to the mat. They each figure that they can keep the combat game either at kicking range (for TKD) or bring it to the ground (for BJJ). By being specialist, they can usually solve their confrontation by doing just that. TKD artists finish the job with kicks and punches. Jujutsu artists bring the fight to the ground and finish it there.

These two examples are great strategies. Use what you do well to your greatest advantage.

Martial arts have a different spin on this concept. The artists often train for a lifetime, decades of devoted practice and experience. This transforms the Generalist and Specialist. A Generalist with lots of experience becomes “master of all.” Likewise, a Specialist with lots of experience becomes a “master of all” by virtue of shoehorning all into their specialty. The net result is the same destination – the perfect warrior.

Which is better? That’s for the student to decide. I enjoy flexibility and generalist training so I’m comfortable in most situations. However, for work I prefer Specialist and Teamwork. Each person in the team excels at one job so the team excels at the whole process. The take-away analysis is each situation or task is different, therefore the tactics and strategies you use depend on what it is.

Like a battle, you pick the strategy that works best for the field. Which do you think is better and why?

Bruce Lee passed 36 years ago

“Bruce Lee passed 36 years ago today in Hong Kong from an cerebral edema caused by an allergic reaction to pain medication. We pay homage to the awesomeness that was Bruce Lee! He lives on in our memories today!” (Facebook’s Bruce Lee group)

An inspiration to martial artist all across the world.

Kempo in Action 1

Here is a real life example of how one of my students actually used a technique in an actual mugging attempt. The names are changed but the story is true.

Mary, a mother on vacation with her family, was attacked in a casino. A strange man approached and distracted her while his accomplice sucker punched Mary. The accomplice lady pulled on Mary’s shoulder and turned her around. Then struck with a right cross. The surprise punch landed square between the eyes.

Mary quickly performed one of Kempo punch techniques that had a leg hock and a three-punch follow up. This busted up the assailant’s face. The strange man stood there in shock. While this happened, a casino security guard watched and approached just as the action occurred. The security guard took Mary away from the scene and calmed her down. The guard saw the whole thing and said she was in the right.

An innocent conversation with someone in a business can turn ugly fast. Nice people usually don’t know a fight is happening until they get hit. Make sure you can take a punch and dish out a counter quick like Mary.

Where’s the Shaolin in Shaolin Kempo?

The age-old myth that Shaolin Kempo Karate (SKK) is a modern derivation of the famed temple boxers is wrong. Sadly, visible and structural evidence is lacking in my humble opinion. The style has more in common with Karate than Kung Fu.

Time and distance dilutes the relationship. Kempo is not similar to what we know as “wu shu” or “kung fu”. The Kempo we have looks more like Karate and Jujutsu than anything akin to the Chinese arts. This may make my name a dirty word in the Shaolin Kempo Karate community but that’s what it looks like to me. We use a gi and call the instructor “sensei”. Yes we use poetic terms like “statue of the crane” and “1,000 buddhas” but many unrelated styles do that.

Train in a traditional Chinese art and you’ll find out that it is very different. I learned a Tiger and Leopard form from a headmaster of his family’s art – it wasn’t like Kempo or Karate at all. Stances are different. Punching is different. Kata are very different. The forms didn’t start and stop at the same spot. They started here and ended wherever you finished. They were also long…very long.

Long ago when working with a Karate teacher, he corrected my blocks. They were too vertical, he said. He wanted them slightly angled out. I accepted the advice and correction. Yet, I distinctly remember being told to be vertical, perpendicular to the floor by my Kempo instructor. Did I learn it wrong? Is Kempo so hackneyed that it lost some valuable information over the years?

During the 2005 seminar with Choki Sensei, he mentioned that his art of Karate keeps the block vertical unlike other styles of karate. It’s so he can stay closer to the opponent and attack swiftly. This subtle connection lends support to my belief that Shaolin Kempo Karate is closer to Okinawan Karate than Shaolin boxing. Kempoka like to be close to their opponents, real close.

The bottom line is this. Yes SKK has ancestral roots to the Shaolin Temple, as do many arts like Silat, Arnis, Tae Kwon Do, and Karate. No, SKK is not recently plucked from the line of Shaolin and the Temple. There’s no Shaolin in Shaolin Kempo Karate. Professor Chow named our art Shaolin without regard to actual practices.

Do you think Shaolin Kempo Karate has real, recognizable Shaolin Kung Fu moves in it?