What do you do when you can’t reach?

Technically correct targets are not immutable. Our curriculum is made up of techniques with prescribed movements and targets. Many students ask me the dreaded “what if” question. However, this time it is a relevant and necessary question.

“What if the opponent is much taller or smaller than you? Or you can’t reach the target I was taught?”

If the technique’s target is out of range for your attack, in other words, you can’t reach it, then pick another target. For instance, in Kempo H the first strike is to the temple area. An alternate target is the jaw joint, which are a few inches lower. You can continue moving down to find a new target is the attacker is big such as striking the neck or upper ribs.

The key to this concept is we don’t adjust to reach a target, rather we adjust the strike to hit something vital. It is important to remain balanced and in your position. Don’t sacrifice balance, angle and distance to get a “trophy” shot off. Add a few more strikes to cause the opponent’s body to adjust itself to accommodate the target of your attacks. (Kick the knees out so the head lowers.)

Every body shape is different just like every situation is different. Kempo flows with the course of action so let that flow redirect you to better targets. The techniques are not “laws” they are “principles” of combat.

Tell me about alternate targets that work better for your techniques.

Personal space and overcoming fear

Kempo or any martial arts practiced for the purpose of self-defense requires the violation of personal space and boundaries. This means someone will be very close to you during your training. Not just at arm’s length but pressed up against your body and pushing against you. For some people in today’s society, that is very uncomfortable. We have in America unspoken rules about personal space and how not to abridge them.

Crazy bulling waving his fist

Crazy bulling waving his fist

Personal space for this article is defined as the distance from the body trunk out to the full reach of the arm. Generally in normal daily life, strangers don’t intrude beyond this invisible boundary. However someone whose sole purpose is to rob or attack will step into this area for intimidation.

Get use to violating personal space through frequent practice with partners. Being stick shy or cringing when practicing with weapons can result in defeat in a real confrontation. Allow yourself time to acclimate to the sounds of sticks hitting or weapons brandished near you. Allow your partner to come in quickly into that personal space, but move quickly into some technique.

In this exercise, don’t let the violation of space go unanswered. You must move and defend against anything that comes in. For Americans, even close friends don’t habitually encroach upon that space. You can assume that anyone who does has nefarious intentions.

For example, if you are a woman in an office setting and someone touches your shoulders from behind you, react like it is an attack. Should you later learn that it is a coworker (usually by seeing their face after a throw), apologize. Tell them that you don’t like that sort of contact and it felt like an attack. Everyone will understand and respect that space. This will also help you distinguish friend from foe.

The comfort zone and personal space is where the enemy wants to be because you’ll stall or submit. If you react quickly and confidently, their advantage will evaporate and you will get the advantage. Don’t let someone intimidate you just by standing close and looking into your eyes. You should stare back and steady your stance. Look calm and speak with stern, calm tones.

Don’t let your personal space be your Kryptonite or Achilles’ Heel. Make it a non-issue and your defense ability will improve.

Grow a Little Bonsai

The bonsai tree was made famous in martial arts circles by the movie “The Karate Kid”. Mr. Miyagi had a room full of these tiny, beautiful trees. A bonsai tree is tiny tree cared for by the gardener. You must prune the tree everyday to maintain its size and shape. Part of the gardener’s job is to give the tree shape or an artist quality. This makes each bonsai tree a perfect tree.

“The purposes of bonsai are primarily contemplation (for the viewer) and the pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity (for the grower).” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonsai)

Do this same pruning and shaping with your Kempo techniques. Be your own coach by getting rid of your unneeded motions and habits. Also like the bonsai, train with effort and ingenuity. Find different ways to practicing your material. The bon or tray of bonsai contains the tree. This can be extended to training by practicing in different environments like sand, a building, forest and riverbed.

The steady and thoughtful practice of your martial arts material is essential to mastery. This mindset will transform you into a superior artist.

31 Flavors of Shaolin Kempo Karate

On the Shaolin Kempo message board (sponsored by Yahoo! Groups and moderated by Golden Leopard Kempo), an interesting question was brought up years ago. Below is an elaboration on my answer regarding the evolution of Kajukenbo into Shaolin Kempo Karate.

Fluid Thought in Kajukenbo

Most Kajukenbo practitioners are taught to learn what works and discard what doesn’t. Many continue to evolve their personal expression of the art as they advance, either by cross-training, exploration or both.

Sideblade kick

Sideblade kick

This led to the development of Kajukenbo offshoots. There are four officially recognized spin-offs of Kajukenbo created by first generation students. Namely Kenpo Karate, Tum Pai, Ch’uan Fa, and Wup Kuen Do.

My experience with Prof. Blue, a noted Kajukenbo and Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu master, has supported this philosophy. Prof. Blue told me you should always “roll your own” as he did — modifying his training to suit his needs.

Therefore, it is safe to say each school of Kajukenbo is different from others. Some have tried to standardize their methods like the Hard-style Emperado method or the Gaylord method. Other schools just go with the flow, Hawaiian style.

Evolution from Kajukenbo to Shaolin Kempo

Prof. John Leoning, who was constantly modifying his style of Kajukenbo, influenced Grandmaster Sonny Gascon. Charles Fisher writes on his website, “Sifu Leoning used to change the sets all the time, so if you were [gone] any length of time and when you returned to class, you had to learn the sets all over again.” I assume this philosophy transferred to the young Grandmaster Sonny Gascon, especially since Prof. Leoning inspired many of the modifications.

Grandmaster Pesare continued to learn other arts, which in turn influenced his personal expression of Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu. He was a student of Grandmaster Sonny Gascon when Prof. Leoning used to visit. Therefore, he was exposed to the fluid thought process of Kajukenbo masters.

Prof. Cerio continued to learn other arts, including a short study with Prof. Chow. Just like Grandmaster Pesare, his teacher, this fluid thought and functionality surely made its way into Prof. Cerio’s art.

These early masters “…liked using the term Shaolin Kempo to describe the new system. This was a term, which reflected upon the use by Professor Chow.” [J. Madriaga, History of Shaolin Kempo] On the East Coast, this name Shaolin Kempo fell into common usage.

Grandmaster Villari continued to learn from Master Su and Master Chu in Indonesia, where he earned his 3rd, 4th and 5th degree black belt in Chinese Boxing, respectively. [Black Belt Magazine, 1974] He added to the system, to his liking. A trait that he shared with the masters in his lineage. Grandmaster Villari opened a very large chain of schools across the country–thereby introducing his personal expression of Kempo to thousands of people. His contribution to the martial arts is extraordinary.

What are the common characteristics of Shaolin Kempo?
1. Katas (usually called 1 kata to 6 kata)
2. Punch counters or defense maneuvers (often-called Combinations)
3. Escapes or grab defenses
4. Club and knife defenses
5. Mat work and throws
6. Higher, more mobile stances

Which is the REAL Shaolin Kempo?

I don’t think there is a real Shaolin Kempo. Each master has introduced their own personality unto their teachings, which is carried on by their students who become instructors. No one master is the holder of all that is Shaolin Kempo. None of the masters that I have met have all had pieces of the art. Some have more than others do. This is not to diminish their skills or contributions; it’s just an observation.

Whether or not this is good or bad is a personal choice. These variations don’t make a school any more or less “true” Shaolin Kempo. The art is the fundamental-truths about combat, biomechanics and mental fortitude. Like its forefather, Kajukenbo, the art of Shaolin Kempo comes from the body, mind and spirit of its practitioners. Each person becomes the art, and the art is each person. Pick a flavor, and explore all possibilities.

Half Knowing is Not Knowing

Just knowing a bit of a technique or recognize it doesn’t mean you “know” it at a competent level. This is a key frustration for most instructors, the student who knows it all yet can’t perform the technique. Here are some of the complaints I hear from these students.

  • “Oh, I know that technique. Can’t we learn a new one? That one is too simple.”
  • “I know that one already. I just forgot how it starts.”
  • “Why do we have to go over this again. I already tested out of it.”

The common characteristic of this student is the inability to perform the technique upon request. This student also seems to rush the technique by not applying proper stances, positioning and intent. They rush through the technique like spaghetti monsters or robots in fast-forward mode. The student doesn’t know the technique they only recognize it.

Setting up for an arm lock

Setting up for an arm lock

Learn all your material, not most of it. The entire sequence of moves must be memorized AND recalled upon command. This is a sign of muscle memory. At later skill levels or belt ranks, you will be required to perform the technique on the left side, blind folded, or with a non-compliant uke. Other complications will be introduced forcing you to adapt the technique. If you only remember “bits” of the sequence, you won’t be able to accomplish these tasks.

Practice until you can demonstrate or teach it to someone else whom doesn’t know it. This doesn’t mean you are authorized to teach others, but the exercise of explaining it to someone else is valuable. It means it is clear in your mind, or it will reveal little details you forgot. Also, questions others bring up can be revealing. When I was in our dojo’s Leadership Team (of instructors-in-training) I was stuck several times when beginners asked me questions I didn’t know the answer.

A quick discussion with the chief instructor and I had the answers. Both the beginner and I were informed about the intricate nature of the martial arts. What this should demonstrate is you’re never advanced enough I the art to learn something basic. There is always something to learn.

To bring this digression back to the point, you must practice your moves a lot to understand them, perform them and know them. At each stage of “learning” the technique, you acquire more insight. Sometimes the insight is advanced concepts. Other times it is fundamental basics in a new light. Often a basic concept reiterated leads you to a core theory of Kempo in application — the links and threads of its effectiveness.

Here are three signs that you know your material:

  1. You can perform it correctly when the instructor calls for it
  2. You can talk or think about something else while performing it correctly
  3. You understand where to make changes to the technique to adjust for different ukes and reactions

So practice your new techniques a few more times and throw in a few “old” techniques. There is no such thing as doing a technique too many times. Knowing the technique is the journey not a destination.

Have you ever forgotten a technique you thought you knew? Or remembered a technique you thought you forgot? Tell us please.

The Bad Guy Weapon

In the modern day, you are rarely armed when attacked. Between gun control laws, air port security and knife limitations, we don’t have many options. Luckily in Kempo, we can use a bad guy as a weapon against multiple attackers. When faced with multiple opponents, you need all the advantages you can get. They have the advantage of superior numbers, so you need the advantage of superior training and using available resources.

Practicing throws

Practicing throws

Once you get a hold of an opponent, turn your waist and fling him into another attacker. Directing his fall into another thug or ruffian. If you have more control over the opponent through leverage or pain compliance, then use him as a shield or obstacle against the other assailants. Then throw him into an opponent when it’s most advantageous.

Don’t be afraid to use their clothes as weapons too. Jackie Chan movies are great for using improvised weapons and items lying around the combat zone. He’ll pull jackets around someone’s arms or put a bag over someone’s head. His characters make use of objects in the environment to gain advantage.

So the next time you find yourself facing off against multiple bad guys, take one as your weapon. Thinking creatively is the key to success.

Kempo in Action 5

Here is a real life example of how one of my students actually used a technique in an actual bully situation. “James” vs. the BB Gun.

Several weeks ago, one of my junior students (a nine-year old Brown Belt) said he performed a variant on Gun #7 on a neighbor. His opponent had a BB gun — not a real gun. According to him, that kind of gun still hurts and his friend was
Shoot the other kids on the block.

James said he zigzagged up to the guy, quickly disarmed the gun, backed up and aimed the gun at the guy. The kid said he was sorry to everyone.

James said “Sifu, it really works!” His mom (also a Brown Belt) was proud of him.

I thought to myself, “You shouldn’t be doing gun defenses in real life.” But ended up telling him, “Good job. Keep calm in those situations and train hard. By the way, beware of real guns, please.”

Our little student here, James was able to stop a confrontation without breaking bones or causing blood to spurt out of a nose. He disarmed and cooled the situation down. Hope this inspires you to train.

Do you have any stories about a marital art move that really worked as taught? Post it here in the comments.

3 Things to think about before you get mugged

There you are, at night, on a dark street with two thugs pointing a gun at you. They want your money and jewelry. Is that the time to think about the value of your items and your loved ones? Is this the ideal time to pause for a few moments so you can think about it?

Decide what is valuable before a mugger asks you. This can save you valuable time and potentially end the attack. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

  1. Are the contents of your wallet worth your life?
  2. Is giving the cash away better than getting shot?
  3. Is it worth giving up jewelry and watches to save my children or spouse?

If the muggers just want the cash and you believe they will run away once they have it, why not give it to them? This may not be the case in all situations. However, delaying the hand over while you consider whether to be indignant or compliant can lead to anger on the mugger’s part.

It would be a great time to talk calmly and create a sense of familiarity. Make them like you and tell them you understand their situation. This should diffuse their anger and de-escalate their aggressiveness.

You’ll also need to evaluate whether or not you can defeat the opponent with your skills. When the opportunity presents itself, are you willing to act? You’ll only have seconds to decide.

You “win” the confrontation if you survive unharmed. That’s all that matters in true self-defense.

Energy as a Visual Tool

The term “energy” has several meanings often conflicting. In terms of Kempo, we should consider the scientific notion defined as:

“In physics, energy is a scalar physical quantity that describes the amount of work that can be performed by a force, an attribute of objects and systems that is subject to a conservation law. Different forms of energy include kinetic, potential, thermal, gravitational, sound, light, elastic, and electromagnetic energy. The forms of energy are often named after a related force.” (wikipedia.org, 7/31/09)

This can be shorted to “Energy is a physical quantity that describes the amount of work that can be performed by a force.” In Kempo, we use kinetic energy since that is the physical interaction that we use.

“The kinetic energy of an object is the extra energy which it possesses due to its motion. It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its current velocity.” (wikipedia.org, 7/31/09)

Therefore, the more motion you generate on an object the more energy it has. This is why we use constant striking, letting one attack continue on its trajectory into another attack. We try not to start and stop a fist. Rather, we punch and let it flow into another punch. This maintains the energy of the strike without dissipating it.

Martial arts tend to have it fair share of spiritual terms that cross-pollinate its concepts. One is Chi or Mana defined as:

“In many cases “energy” is conceived of as a universal life force: to this extent ‘spiritual energy’ theories resemble vitalism and may even invoke the Luminiferous Ether of Victorian physics. Additionally, or alternatively, such notions are often aligned with or derived from conceptions found in other cultures, such as the Chinese idea of Qi and the Prana of the Upanishads.” (wikipedia.org, 7/31/09)

What we see here is several cultures have this concept of breath or life force. It is this force that Chi Gung and Dim Mak practitioners utilize for their secret, deadly techniques. Whether or not this hokum is true, the common trait of this force is its ability to flow.

This is the key to using “energy” as a visual tool. You imagine that it flows through the body. What do you imagine flowing? Their center of balance and momentum is the sloshing “fluid”. By seeing this as a thing (like water in a bathtub), you can imagine how to manipulate it. Push it. Pull it. Then it develops a momentum that can overtake the opponent. Their own balance becomes their weakness.

The opponent’s body reacts to strikes in a certain manner along biomechanical constraints. It is the flow of combat and it is easier to imagine it as fluid than a series of interconnected bones and muscle groups. Admittedly, this is a mental crutch but it can pay off in technique application when you’re in the heat of battle. It is easier for the brain to process this sort of calculations than thinking of the actual physics involved.

Wikipedia (English) under the topics Energy, Kinetic_energy and Energy_(esotericism).

Kempo in Action 4

Here is a real life example of how one of my students actually used a technique in an actual mugging attempt. “David” a man waiting for his car, approached by two assailants. The names are changed but the story is true.

David was waiting at a dealership for his car to be repaired. He paced the block on the main street of the area. This apparently attracted the attention of two thugs. They approached David quickly. He noticed one fellow taking off his headband and wrapping around his fist. So David took his hands out of his pockets.

They came up to him and started yelling. “Stop seeing my girlfriend. She’s mine. I’ll beat you up if you don’t stop.”

David replied in a calm voice, “I don’t know your girlfriend.”

The main ruffian stepped closer to get in David’s face while the other tried to get behind him. “Yes you do. I saw you with her the other day.”

David stepped in and to the side to keep the second thug away from his back. He stayed close to the primary thug, even inching a bit closer. This showed that he wasn’t intimidated. David also kept his cool and began to slow his speech down in a calming manner. “You are mistaken. I don’t know who she is or where she lives.”

The primary thug, feeling a bit to close to David backed up slightly. “She lives right over there on that street.” He pointed over at the other block.

David looked over at the second ruffian calmly then back to the first. “Look, I’m here to get my car fixed. I don’t know who your girlfriend is. I don’t know where she lives. I’m sure she is very pretty and you are a lucky guy. I have my own girlfriend and I don’t want someone else’s.”

The primary thug got flustered and stepped back a few steps. His friend stopped checking his bandana-covered fist. “Alright, just don’t come around here anymore or I’ll kick your butt. Stay away from my girlfriend. You understand?”

David replied, “Yes, I will stay away from her. However, I may need to fix my car again so I will come back here.”

The two thugs walked back the way they came. David continued to scan the area for more trouble until his car was fixed. What David did was diffuse a potentially dangerous situation. He assessed the men were out to start a fight, perhaps mug him. They began the confrontation with trumped up story to “justify” the fight they wanted to start.

Instead of being a victim, David showed courage without feeding into the hysteria of bravado talk. He calmly addressed their issue (whether fake or real) and stood his ground. He neither egged them on nor submitted to their intimidation. David didn’t feed their anger, which they were using to get the courage to attack him. So instead, they gave him a warning (to save face) and walked away.

Good self-defense doesn’t make it to a fistfight. Use the strategies and techniques to avoid fighting or to diffuse tense situations. This doesn’t always work but it does usually. You’ll know the difference because it’ll go from contact to actually physical contact right away. When fights start with verbal intimidation, you have a chance to use these tactics.

Do you have a self-defense story to share? Put it in the comments.