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.

Step and Punch

During class last night, we worked on a knife defense. Normally, we practice in the simplified format (beginner method) of right step forward and a right hand attack. As you noticed in class, even if they step in with the left foot — a more common form of attack — the technique works. You might say it works more effectively than the beginner method.

This brings up a point to remember when practicing your techniques. Attempt them with alternate forms of strikes and feet stepping in. I mentioned this before in previous articles but it bares repeating. We get stuck in our “dojo mindset”. A person can only attack in the authorized format. Counter attacks and combination techniques are orchestrated and pre-defined. That is not reality.

Take a lesson from “live” styles like Arnis. Practice blocking drills or any drills really with randomness. Let your partner through various attacks from various angles. Block them effectively and counter. These drills build up the ability to feed off your attacker to defend and deliver another attack. It is “live” by virtue of being undefined, flowing and moving. You don’t stand in static poses. You don’t move in predefined patterns. You are alive and move as you would normally. This develops a natural flow.

So that this lesson as a chance to try your techniques and see how they adapt to different targets than those presented in class. Go with the flow.

Kicking Notes

Great side kick.Just a few notes from class in regards to kicking. Crane before and after each kick for snap and to prevent someone catching the strike. If you let your leg dangle out near the opponent, eventually he will snatch it and apply a leg lock or counter strike. Keep the foot moving quickly and with balance. Ensure that your foot is properly positioned so the striking surface is furthest out. The pinky toe is not a kicking surface, the blade of the foot or the heel is.

Another way to help your kicks besides stretching is to strengthen the stomach muscles. The body core helps move the legs up and down. The stomach takes the brunt of that action, therefore a strong stomach will make stronger, faster kicks.

Please remember to practice your Kicking Sets 1, 2 and 3. They are simple moves but help so much.

Additionally, practice your Kicking Kempo 1, 2 and 3. KK1 is for a front kick. KK2 is for a roundhouse kick. KK3 is for a sidekick. They are not on the required list of techniques but they are invaluable in your training. Shaolin Kempo has more defenses against hand strikes than kicks.

Train hard and train often. Remember that perfect practice makes perfect.

There is No Try

In the movie Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, Master Yoda’s famous line is, “Do or do not. There is no try.” This quote is so applicable to martial arts training. If you’re going to do something, do it as well as you can. Excel at all your endeavors, even in practice.

There is no sense in practicing your material in a half-hearted manner–which means quickly or in a lazy fashion. Rather endeavor to practice each move and each step with clear intent. You don’t have to do each move at full speed but you do have to do it with a serious mind. Do a low stance. Punch with snap and power even if it is slow or half-strength. Use the proper steps when there is room. Make them proper when there is no room.

Two more quotes will help bring this concept home. “Perfect practice makes perfect” and “You do what you practice.”

Three Levels to Develop Great Techniques

How do you develop great Kempo techniques through contemplation and exploration? The dojo is your martial laboratory. Test the techniques, evaluate them and then improve them. But first you need to learn it well, and by well I don’t mean only rote memory.

You can distill the process of learning into categories or levels of learning. Traverse these three levels of learning to really digest and infuse your body with true martial prowess. The levels are:

Foundation level — At this level, you do things by the book. You’re at this level when you are White to Green Belt. You must learn things the exact way they are taught so you can develop the proper body mechanics and positioning. Don’t assume that you’re good enough to make changes at this stage. Compare this to thinking you knew how to make a better A when you were learning to write. You still couldn’t make a proper A yet. Learn each move the proper way then take on the next level when it is time.

Adaptation level — At this level, you are exploring variations and what-ifs. You enter this level about Green Belt and remain until Black Belt. In Kempo, you are not a “master” at Black Belt. You are merely very proficient. At this time, you start to appreciate the differences in the sizes and shapes of the uke (practice partner). It makes a difference with how you do each step of the technique. Also his bodily and defenses reactions may alter how you continue to perform each successive move. Learn to flow from move to move and make changes to adapt to the shifting targets.

Analysis level — At this level, you reduce the techniques to smaller pieces and explore how each one works on Kempo principles. Then rebuild the technique using Kempo theories to become a spontaneous fighter. You’re at this level when your reach advanced Black Belt. This is where you dissect what you are doing and see how the pieces fit together. Why are we doing this move? Why does the body do that? What are the additional attacks and targets for each technique? How would the target respond or counter? How does it relate to pressure points and acupuncture meridian lines? The list of potential questions goes on.

Dissecting the technique is a good strategy for really learning a move or technique. Teaching and analyzing it are two other methods for improving comprehension and understanding. This is why it behooves Black Belts to begin teaching or assisting in classes–where legally permitted by municipalities and local laws.

What is the net gain by doing this? You become a very good artist, an exemplar of Kempo. Don’t worry about what rank you are or if others respect your lineage. All that matters is if you can walk the talk–defend yourself using the Kempo you truly learned. Don’t settle for “knowing” techniques like a dance move. Know it on an unconscious level, a goal we’re all striving for.

7 Reasons why seminars are good for you

From time to time you see promotions, flyers and invites to various martial arts seminars around town or in nearby cities. Many feature famous celebrities while others feature little known but none the less great martial artists. Chances are, they do not teach YOUR style of martial arts. Is it worth it?

I think these seminars are worth the time and trouble. Here’s why:

  1. Different instructor — Experiencing how another person teaches is a great way to see diversity in instruction methods. Certain styles mesh well with different people but a single method doesn’t fit all people all of the time.
  2. New point of view — A new instructor and a new style will give you a new point of view on combat and philosophy. You already know how your style thinks about attacks, defense and training. Now you can compare it to something else.
  3. Theory — Generally, seminars don’t teach their normal curriculum. Rather they tend to focus on “theories” and “related techniques” so you can get maximize the usefulness of the education. The theories, concepts and ideas allow you to go back and tinker with your own material.
  4. Different emphasis — This benefit relates to the previous three. A new instructor and style places emphasis on different things. For instance, Kempo may focus on hand speed and strikes while a seminar on Tai Chi may focus on leg strength and balance. This helps you notice deficiencies in your own training due to a myopic training routine. This doesn’t mean your training is bad or wrong. It means you tend to repeat the things that you think are important and forget about the other stuff.
  5. New training partners — There is not comparison to training with a new partner or uke from a different system. They don’t fall “right” or attack “right”. You get to really work on your material with a new sense of effectiveness. Can you make it work on opponents who are resisting or don’t know what you are doing? Think of it as a new batch of test subjects for your laboratory.
  6. Expands the mind — All the points listed above will help you expand your mind. We don’t live in isolated pools where everyone does things the same way as we do. This is a plural society and opening up to new ideas and concepts helps us grow and become smarter. It may also unlock “hidden moves” in your own training. A few seminars did that for me.
  7. Learn cool techniques — Finally and arguably the best reason is you get a batch of new cool moves. My favorite part about martial arts is learning new things. My second favorite part is learning new things that look cool. This may be shallow and not very master -like but hey, I’m honest. These things keep me practicing, training, and inspired to do the real work of grinding out all the necessary drills.

So if you’re wondering if that interesting martial arts seminar is right for you, take a chance and go. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Got a seminar you want to promote, email me. If you have a story about a seminar that profoundly changed you, leave a comment below.

Many to one relationship

There are an infinite ways to be attacked. Learning a defense or two for each one of those way would is impossible. I’ve done a lot of computer programming and database design. There is a concept of relational links between data types. Is it one to many or many to one.

An example of one to many would be a customer identification number. The customer has one number but it links to all their orders. That’s one to many. In a way it is a method of sorting the information into smaller chunks or sets. This is what we apply to our martial arts.

Let’s chunk a range of attacks or an angle of the attack into a group. One particular attack or an infinite amount can come from that angle or range of angles. This allows us to reduce the infinite attacks to a set of perhaps 12 or so attack groups. This is a much more manageable number of things to learn and remember. You can actually get good at this reduced set of attack types. Then again anything is better than learning an infinite amount of something.

You can’t learn a technique for every situation you will encounter. Rather you learn pieces of defenses to apply to your situation. It is modifying on the fly that represents the best warrior not how many or how well they can do a technique in a sterile situation.

In your quest to be a good student, take concepts from other walks of life or fields. Can they be applied to your art? Can that way of thinking open up new ideas and concepts? Thought of one that you’d like to share? Well, put it in your comments and we’ll discuss.

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.

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.