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.

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.

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.

Do Your Homework

Practice routines and techniques at home. Yes Kempo has homework! The best method of acquiring new skills is to practice daily. This helps on three fronts.

  • Practice helps you retain the information
  • Continual review of material helps you understand the information
  • Repetitive movements become smoother and ingrained in the body — muscle memory

In short, there is no fast way of gain great skills in Kempo without practicing a lot. Just like in school, homework is a form of practice for math, writing and science. You need to do it so you can learning, know it and apply it. Don’t shirk your obligation to do homework whether it is assigned (or not) from school or martial arts. It just helps.

Take some time to reprogram yourself. Pop culture via television shows constantly bombards you with false information such as “home work is boring”. When you reprogram your thoughts, you teach yourself that homework is enjoyable. Fake it until you make it. If you don’t like it, continue to do it until you do see the value and thus enjoy the work.

The path to success requires effort. My favorite quote is from Thomas Edison.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Divide the material up into sections that are doable each day. For instance, you can assign Monday as Kata day, Tuesday becomes Weapon Defense day and Wednesday can be Combination day. Just rotate the schedule and keep working.

That’s all I have today.

My Neighbor the Grandmaster

Martial arts come in many, many styles. In turn, there are millions of practitioners of the warrior arts. This means there are all sorts of people who study. It lends itself well to this quote:

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

With the variety of people who practice and the fact that will and perseverance are the key ingredients to be successful, anyone can be a good fighter. Therefore anyone can be a grandmaster of a particular art. You’d never know based on height, weight, clothing or name.

We should all show respect to everyone because that little old woman in the store could be a grandmaster. Never assume you are better than someone else is. Treat others like you wish to be treated. It is better to be kind, humble and hospitable than self-absorbed and elitist. True martial artists don’t pick fights with random strangers. We use our hard-earned skills for defense of life, liberty, family and country.

Besides would you like to attack someone who is highly skilled in a martial art? The fight could go badly for you. I’ve met some amazing instructors that didn’t look like skilled masters at first glance. Have you ever met someone who didn’t look like a master but actually was? Tell us in the comment section.

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.

Complementary Actions

The notion of absolute opposites is a crude and unsophisticated concept. A better and older concept is that of complementary items. In this case, the focus is on complementary actions. For every action there is a complementary action or target.

For instance, hard targets are ideally hit with a soft strike like a palm heel. Soft targets are ideally hit with hard strikes like a front punch or elbow. Likewise, a linear attack is suited for a circular defense. Since complementary doesn’t imply direct opposite you can also use twist or torque motion as a defense. These too are complementary actions. A circular attack is suited for a linear defense.

Another complementary action against a forceful attack is to move the target, in this case you. The best defense is often times moving the target to a safe place where there are no attackers. To extend the train of thought, you could also attack the attack thereby nullify its power before the power arc is achieved. We call this jamming or stalling.

A compliment to defending an attack is to allow the blow’s momentum to accelerate the block into an attack. This ricochet effect adds extra force to the counter attack without the expenditure of additional resources on your part. The next gain is stronger strike for less energy — you sap it away from your opponent.

In Jujutsu and Kempo, you pull when pushed. You also push when pulled. These compliment each other beautifully. Resisting the action causes friction and struggles. It is more elegant to go with the flow of momentum and direct it. I often describe Kempo as a style that adds momentum to the fight and directs it. It’s like spinning the prayer wheels at a Shrine or using a hula-hoop.

By thinking outside the box and using a conceptual model, you can peer into your martial material with a new perspective. Examine, experiment and evolve your Kempo, otherwise it will stagnate and wither.