7 Ways to Retreat

Somehow we are pre-built with the instinct to back up when something dangerous approaches. In Kempo this translates to retreating straight back when the opponent attacks. Though effective in the most basic and primitive of confrontations, it isn’t the ideal way to retreat.

As the title of this post suggests, one should retreat forward. Now I don’t necessarily mean directly forward, though that is a valid and often useful way to jam an attack, I mean going forward to either side. Step forward and to the left side or step forward and to the right side. An example of this is Combination 3 and Kempo H. They both step off the line and past the opponent. The mirror technique can be done to the right and past the opponent.

Here are the seven directions you should retreat and why they are helpful. This assumes a right punch so adapt it to left punches as homework.

  1. Left and 45° forward — Not great for a hooking punch, this direction is ideal for straight punches and lunges. It gets you off the line and near the rear of the opponent. A great position for counter attacks to their weak side.
  2. Right and 45° forward — Great for getting into the weak zone of the punch but it puts you in range for a left punch. Like the previous one, you are off the line and near the rear of the opponent.
  3. Directly left — Great for getting off the attack line but now you’re not in great position for counter attacks other than legs.
  4. Directly right — Again, this is great for getting of the line of attack. It opens up the opponent, exposing the vital targets of the trunk but it also puts you in range of the left-sided weapons.
  5. Left and 45° backward — We often call this a fade to the left. This direction is ideal for large, lunging opponents. It gets you off the line and away from their loping arms. A little outside the optimal range for counters but it allows for springing attacks.
  6. Right and 45° backward — This is a fade to the right. This direction is also idea for large, lunging opponents. It gets you off the line and sets up targets for spinning kicks towards the trunk.
  7. Finally, the trickiest and often most effective direction is straight in. The advantage of coming straight in is you jam the strike by beating it to its optimal zone of power. (See my article on that) Secondly, you actually strike after they start but before they land their attack. This is a great demoralizer. Finally, it breaks the understood personal space rule and makes them uncomfortable. If the attack is coming fast, you might add a duck or a slip to the movement forward. This direction is only for the brave and cocky.

Retreating is just a fancy word for getting out of the way. I like to think of it as defending the space not under attack. Imagine you own a castle that is coming under siege by your enemy. The enemy gets all set up with his forces. They’re dug in, the heavy ladders are all built. The catapults and breach towers are all set. Just as he’s ready to begin the assault, you move the castle to the other side of a big river. The weapons are now useless and your defenses remain intact.

Now I know that is impossible situation. It was an analogy to make the point — a story to make the concept clearer. Move to a position that provides more defensive value and allows you to attack.

Defense vs. attacking the offensive attack

In the modern American mindset, we classify or think of defense as different from offense. In American football, the defensive lineup is different from the offensive lineup. When you think of defense, you picture of taking the hit on a metal shield and hoping you survive the attack. When you think of attack, you picture a large weapon and a devastating hit. These are not wrong images but they due influence how you “think” about Kempo.

Don’t block instead strike the attack! This subtle distinction in the mind can change the way your react and the power you bring to bear in defensive situations. You want the vision of a devastating attack upon the wrist, elbow or leg. The opponent who offered you this tasty target deserves to get it whacked. Leave a mark or take limb out of commission. Make that weapon ineffectual.

Setting up for an arm lock

Setting up for an arm lock

In class either during drills or in sparring, the block is a lackluster attempt to stop a strong strike. Often times, the rote memorization of the block and the strike get “stuck” in practice mode. Do you the block but there’s no real strength in it. You unconsciously assume your partner will allow his strike to be blocked. This is wrong, bad erroneous thinking leads to bad technique.

This is why I advocate hitting the strike. You put the force, momentum and (most importantly) the intent behind the action. Just adjusting your mindset can produce a much better martial artist and better techniques. Take the time to think about what you are doing and what you are thinking when you do it. Visualize, analyze and poke’m in the eyes.

Have a good story about blocking an attack and still getting hit with it, tell me in the comments. Even I have done it. Learn from your mistakes.

Zone defense versus infinite what if situations

There are an infinite ways to be attacked. You can’t handle all the possible situations with a single set of techniques for each instance. This is the source of the “What if” questions that plague instructors across the country. How do you apply your techniques from the required moves you are forced to learn? That’s easy, you apply the principles of the technique and simplify the attacks.

Pin the attacker

Pin the attacker

As mentioned before, you can use ghestalting to learn techniques and kata. You can also use it to analyze attacks. Chunk attacks into zones of similar attack qualities. Filipino Martial Art (FMA) use this concept and calls it Angles of attack. We can use it as zones. Zone one is slashing attacks. Zone six is straight in attacks. How you group them isn’t really important. Just be consistent.

Deal with like attacks in a similar fashion. Combination 5 is really good against attacks from Zone one, which can be circular or hooking attacks. This is a simple application of the concept.

As mentioned in the Kali’s Angles post, one of the hallmarks of FMA is angles of attack or zones of defense. Attack travel along 12 paths, regardless of the weapon or lack thereof. You defend along those same paths. This reduces your necessary defense responses to a few – at least 12. You only have to worry about each zone. By reducing the selection of a defense to defending the zone, you reduce the mental work necessary to react. Use the zone of defense in practice and drills. It will increase your reaction time.

If you are in our school, we have a set list of zones. If you train somewhere else, you can develop your own zones and pick the techniques that handle the most forms of attacks. This follows the business 80/20 Rule, 80% of the attacks can be dealt with by a single technique while the other 20% requires adaptation on the fly.

Good luck with your training.

5 Ways to Improve Your Karate Moves

I mention in my previous article on Ghestalting (such as Remember Your Kempos) that the mind uses chunks of information when accessing or encoding memories. These five steps build upon that practice structure of grouping and ghestalting. Try these before testing or tournaments. It will really help.

  1. Practice it at least five times in a row before moving on. Do this once a day.
  2. Practice it with a partner so you can get the timing, distancing and gauging right.
  3. Practice it on different sized partners so you can understand the adjustment points.
  4. Practice it with a partner who is resisting or countering so you can adapt to a struggling opponent
  5. Practice it on the left side, on the ground, in a chair and in other environments. Then repeat these five steps.

You’ll notice from the list that the key component of improving your Combination routines is practice.

Have you tried this in your training? Tell me how it worked out for you. Or include other effective training strategies that work for you.

Five Levels of Implementation

I’m often criticized for teaching students in a simplified format. That is having an uke (attacker) punch in and remain static while the tori (defender) executes his or her technique. It seems that they miss the idea that you teach more effectively by isolating the problem from miscellaneous things. For instance, when teaching a child how to speak, you use simple words and sentence structure. Likewise when you teach a child how to read and write, you use lined paper and simple words. You never throw them the Scientific Journal and let them work it out.

This leads to another aspect of Kempo training that is often forgotten or misunderstood — the levels of implementation of a technique and how to control an opponent. When we begin to teach “take-down” moves and simple throws, the goal is to get the uke on the mat. We as instructors are not looking for all the subtle yet vital nuances that make the technique devastating. Rather we just want the gross (or basic) move to work. This provides confidence and develops a feel for the technique.

Approach and deliveryAs the student develops skill with the technique, we introduce other things that are going on. “Turn the arm like that” or “Displace their weight here by moving the hip” are phrases you may here me say. So the crux of this article is there are levels of each technique. It does no one any good to teach all of the levels on the first day. It takes time to move from one to the next.

I also enjoying hearing intermediate students tell me that I forgot to show the white belt the rest of the technique. These well meaning students forget that I taught them the same way. Later when they were much better at the movements, I added more to keep them working towards a better technique. Often times, the instructor does know what he or she is doing when they only teach part of a technique.

Here are some of the levels I’m talking about:

1. Throw onto the ground — as mentioned earlier, this is the basic move. Just get the bad guy on the mat and step back. You have the advantage and hopefully the bad guy gives up.

2. Accelerate to the ground to disrupt brake-fall — at the point where the student can perform the throw well, we introduce them to adding “juice” or accelerating their fall. The intention is to disrupt or stop the opponent from countering the fall with a brake-fall or roll out.

3. Control the fall and position opponent — the next step is to not only accelerating their fall but to guide the fall into a useful position on the mat. Then snatch the opponent and put them in position where you can continue to attack. Usually this is called “seating” or “pinning” at the shoulders and hips. The opponent is pinned and can’t use all their limbs for attack.

4. Apply pressure point strikes and control with locks — once the opponent is pinned it is time to dissuade them from trying to get out. At this level, we teach the application of pressure points and joint locking to control the opponent and gain compliance.

5. Submission — this last step is forcing the opponent to submit to our control and domination of the fight. This is the severe use of joint locks and chokeholds. This is the level that is popularized by Mixed Martial Arts competitions and tournaments.

Training in martial arts is not an instant gratification activity. It takes time and effort to develop the mental and physical skills to perform the techniques. Some moves may seem difficult to execute or perform. This usually means you haven’t trained enough in the art to get it to work. Let the art soak into your muscles and bones. Let the partner training teach you about body weight and how individuals react.

Sometimes these are called the hidden or secret moves of the art. But really they are just the rewards of perseverance and dedication. There are no mysteries to someone who is skilled and devoted to the arts. It all naturally evolves out of practice and application. Explore and apply concepts from one technique that you do well to others. See how the “levels” show themselves in your technique.

There are other layers or levels. Do you have one you’d like to share? Put it in the comment section below.

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.

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.

Why Slow is Actually Fast

The slowness of Tai Chi is the fastest way to develop proper waist power, correct weight shifts, smooth movement and muscle memory. You see it in the park or on TV, lots of elderly people moving very slowly in a fluid motion that resembles some sort of martial art. Well, it is a martial art but the emphasis is on physical development.

Going that slow is actually very difficult especially for beginners. The thighs, knees and ankles burn with fatigue. It doesn’t seem like you are making any sort of progress. This is absolutely wrong. Sore muscle is a sign that you are working them out. It also means you are performing the techniques correctly.

Waist Power
There is a saying in Tai Chi, “the waist drives”. This means each movement initiates by a waist movement. The waist moves the feet and the arms. Nothing is done without the waist directing the power. The waist thrusts punches forward. Arms are put into defensive position by a twist of the waist and subtle weight shifts.

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

In all martial arts, the waist is key to generating power and force. Yet in Tai Chi, it is so isolated as the main mechanism for all movement that it becomes the focus of training. This is a good thing if you want to develop proper power.

Weight Shifts
Tai Chi has a rule that no leg is lifted or moved unless it is un-weighted. That means all your weight needs to be in the other leg. Normally, we stumble around and make quick footwork shuffles to compensate for our lack of balance. Some artists are so good at it that they appear to be stable and balanced the whole time. This is only true for Tai Chi artist.

The key is to shift your weight without wobbling side to side. The center of balance must be maintained inside one’s own body. This shifting of weight back and forth is much like the ebb and flow of waves. It is exactly how the Tai Chi artist develops tremendous force when they actually touch you with their strike or push.

It should be so smooth that it isn’t visible from the outsider’s perspective.

Smooth Movements
Smooth and fluid movements are key to uproot the opponent and stay balanced. This trait is a result of proper waist movement and weight shifts. The Tai Chi artist becomes hard to push up against because they “go with the flow”. The exercise of push hands develops sensitivity to force either pushing or pulling. It keeps their attacks and defense in harmony like one fluid stream.

Not only is it hard to press or pull the Tai Chi artist, it is also difficult to locate an opening for attack. Imagine trying to find a dry spot on the beach with the waves ebbing and flowing. At some point, the water covers it up without warning. The key characteristic of all martial artists is to remain smooth and fluid with their movements. Tai Chi is a perfect style to develop that trait.

Muscle Memory
The slow movement and counts develops wonderfully ingrained movement habits. The short 12-step Tai Chi form has, as the name would imply, twelve steps. Yet each of those steps has four to eight sections. By practicing these steps over and over, you learn the exact way to do a movement. It gets ingrained in your muscles to move that way. The Tai Chi artist invests in proper movement first, then technique application second.

Did you know you could perform Tai Chi forms at normal speed? It requires you to be very good at doing it very slow so each movement is exact. At that speed you can see the martial application of each technique. Tai Chi is a sophisticated martial art and combat style. It just hides itself as a simple way for the elderly to exercise and stay fit.

If you want to understand your martial art better, consider taking a Tai Chi class for at least a year. It takes that long to really appreciate the subtle changes affecting your movement. It’ll be the best use of your time and comprehension of the biomechanics of Kempo.

Has another art helped you understand your base art? Tell me how.

Why Learn Other Arts?

Learning a new martial arts style (or one that is upstream or cousin to your current art) is like learning a new language. It opens up your mind and allows you to think differently. You view the world different. You see different vantagepoints of a set of moves. You have other mental models to compare and contrast things. In short, it makes you smarter.

Gun defense

Gun defense

Cross-Train Other Arts

There’s a myth around that states, “My martial arts style is COMPLETE. Therefore I don’t need any thing else.” However styles get a false sense of authority and security. They should continue to explore, analyze and evolve to new conditions and new technology.

Seminars and workshops are great for this type of cross training. They provide key theories and concepts that can be adapted or aligned with one’s own style. It may also explain things that you either forgot or didn’t understand fully. If an art is complete, how can someone know something equally effective?

Style Bigotry and Lineage Myopia
Don’t become fixated on a single style for all things. Just like all tools, they are good for their specific purpose but not all purposes. Everyone is influenced or descended from something else. The whole notion of styles is born of modification and cross-pollination among other masters.

“What is your lineage? That master is no good! Only my lineage is correct and pure.” These lines may not be exact quotes but the sentiment is there. History tells us many Okinawan masters went village to village collecting katas and training from the locals. They assembled these arts into kara-te. If you notice, they cross-trained with others.

Another example is the founder of Judo who went from Jujutsu school to school learning what he could. He distilled his knowledge into a new art. Now there is a lineage from that source and anything different is “watered down” or “not true” judo.

We are just repeating the cycle. It must be done with caution and purpose though. To gain the most benefits from other arts, one should be well versed in their own arts—a black belt or equivalent. You need some point of reference from which to understand the new material.

Totally Complete Art
In my opinion, there are very, very few arts that are ‘complete’ in the true sense of the word. I believe all these complete martial arts are from China. They included martial, healing and spiritual development of the practitioner. They include single and two person forms. They have oral traditions, herbs, weapon crafting and so on. A complete art does not limit itself to kicking, punching, grappling or breaking hard materials.

Use leverage to unbalance your opponent

Use leverage to unbalance your opponent

It is also my belief that an intact style of this volume rarely continues unchanged for very long. It either synthesizes into a streamlined system, looses pieces to faulty human memory, or begins to focus on what the lineage holder finds the most interesting. Using this analogy, styles become similar to religious traditions and practices. In fact, the vehemence with which some people argue the truth of their style often reminds me of religious fanatics doing the same on street corners and on cable TV.

Open up, examine and test. Explore indigenous arts of other areas. Martial arts need to work all the time not only when it is the “true” art. Don’t wander the playground crying, “My style is better than your style” because it is the training of the artist that proves an art’s worth.

Disagree? Tell me why?