10 Laws of Kempo

karate blogIn an ongoing effort to provide I don’t know everything, let me highlight the excellent albeit short descriptions (posts) of the Ten Laws of Kempo. Mark (the author) has done a great job making these fundamental principles into concise list. Here they are:

  • Law of the Circle and the Line – This idea is also found in the art of Hsing Yi (linear) and Bagua (circular). Focus on attacking the opponent’s weakness, not their strength.
  • Law of the First Strike – No sense in wasting time if you “won initiative”, take the opportunity to end the fight before it gets going.
  • Law of Multiple Strikes – As I say in class, keep hitting until the fight is obviously over.
  • Law of Targets – The strike should match the vulnerability of the target.
  • Law of Kicking – Grandmaster Gascon has told me this several times, kick below the belt line and punch above it.
  • Law of No Block – Another gem, the best block is not being where the attack lands.

The last four are found on his general information Kempo FAQ site.

  • Law of Yielding & Redirecting – This idea is found in Tai Chi and Jujutsu.
  • Law of Mobility (the heading is missing in this article but the content is there.) – Be a moving target and keep your target moving so he will be off balance.
  • Law of Flexibility – This is not being as supple as a gymnast but rather being flexible in your thinking and defense.
  • Law of The Warrior Spirit – If you don’t think you will win and have the will to do what you must, no sense in fighting because you’ve already lost.

Mark has a few other good posts. Be sure to check this site occasionally. Have you found another great Internet source for American or Hawaiian Shaolin Kempo? Let me know. If it’s really good, I’ll put it in the blog-roll.

BTW, his Kempo FAQ page was the first site to link to my Golden Leopard Kempo Online site back in the 90s. He also started the very comprehensive Kempo/Kenpo family tree.

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. 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.

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.

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?

Kempo Glossary of Terms

What do all those strange words mean? The other day while writing my next entry for the blog, I realized that someone might say that very thing. I was using jargon in my blog without ever explaining what the terms mean. Hopefully this will answer questions and help to identify what I mean. If I use other terms that aren’t listed here, let me know and I’ll add the definitions to the blog.

Keep notes to enhance your memory

Keep notes to enhance your memory

Kempo (or Kenpo) – Law of the fist. But I like to understand it as Principles of the Fist. Law speaks to rules of people while principles speak to the cause and effect of actions. Ed Parker understood this as the physics of Kenpo.

Kata – Kata is a prearranged pattern of movements that link various moves together. It develops timing, breathing, stances, movements and techniques. It is also a way for illiterate societies to pass down martial arts knowledge to other generations.

Monkey Dance (or Palama) – Monkey Dance is the name of the core Karazenpo kata. It is a set of 14 kata (or 22 in the 60s). Many of them are similar to Kajukenbo’s Pinans. These kata are also called Palama, after the first YMCA Kajukenbo school in Hawai’i.

Kata (or Kamuki) – Kata is the name of a set of katas. Since this is like calling a brand of automobiles “car”, I try to refer to them with another name – Kamuki. Kamuki is the name of the second YMCA Kajukenbo school in Hawai’i. There are 14 kata in this set. Most students will recognize them as 1 Kata, 2 Kata and so on.

Pinan (or Pinion) – The correct term is Pinan and it means “Peaceful mind”. These are based on five Okinawan katas called Pinan One through Five. In Karate, they are called Heinan. They are taught in the Shaolin Kempo track.

Kumite – Kumite is practice fighting in a free form method or manner. Though it can be structured with pre-arranged attacks and defenses, it usually refers to each fighter doing their best to strike the other. It comes in two main flavors. “Point sparring” awards points to touching vital targets and is very controlled. That means no one gets knocked out on purpose. The other version allows for more contact with the kicks and punches. It also allows takedowns and ground submissions. We just called this version “Sparring.”

One-Step Kumite – As mentioned above, kumite can be structured. In this version, each student takes turns striking. The left student attacks, the right student blocks. Then the right student attacks and the left student blocks. Attacks can be punches, chops, or kicks. This drill exercise is designed to get the student comfortable with defending against an unknown attack. Though it seems simple, it is very difficult to do without training.

Two-Step Kumite – The next step from One-Step is Two-Step. As one can surmise, each student takes turns striking twice. The left student attacks twice, the right student blocks twice. Likewise, the right student attacks twice and the left student defends twice. The trick is to go slow enough so that each student can defend properly. This builds the attackers ability to link attacks together in an effective manner. This also builds the defenders ability to block and defend multiple attacks. Usually at this point, the students begin Point Sparring kumite.

Waza – Waza is a Japanese term for technique such as a combination or “kempo”. These are series of blocks, punches, kicks and locks used against a particular attack.

Bunkai – Bunkai is often called applications of kata moves. Each move in a kata should have an application, if not two or three.

Combination – Combinations are also called Defense Maneuvers. They are techniques (see waza above) designed to defend against an attack. Additionally, Combinations represent required techniques needed for advancement in belt rank. They are the core techniques that impart key Kempo concepts.

Kempo Technique – Kempo Techniques are Combinations or waza that are not from the core set. The name is unoriginal and easily confuses students with the name of the art. Some schools of Shaolin Kempo Karate name these techniques. Others do not name them, number them, or assign letters to identify them.

Ukemi – Ukemi represents the floor work (mat work) a student needs to be an effective Kempo artist. It involves rolling, slapping out and brake falls.

Roll – Sometimes called the Judo Roll, it is forward or backward roll that protects the head by using the back.

Slap Out – A slap out is a technique to fall to the ground safely.

Crane Stance – Crane Stance is lifting a single leg up so the knee is parallel to the floor and the foot under the hips.

Front Position – Front position is the attention stance for Kempo. Feet are together, knees bent and hands in a Kempo salute.

Bow – The bow is an Asian handshake, salute or acknowledgement of someone’s rank. It is not a form of worship or submission.

What terms do you need defined? Let me know in the comments.