Enforcer of Northeast Anti-Silliness Department Inc.
Posted On:5/13/2006 11:55pm
Style: Kaju, BJJ, Judo, Kempo
This is an article that is intended to help one truly understand the general concepts, ideas, and value of Kempo martial arts in its entirety. I will soon be posting this up for my students to see with minor adjustments in terms of using instructors names to elaborate my points that I don't feel is necessary here.
Kempo as per this piece describes the branches of martial arts schools of Hawaiian lineage through the styles started by Professor K.S. Chow and James Mitose. This is not a sure-fire critique of every one of these schools as I have not visited them all and cannot accurately comment on their training methods, but rather an overall description of what underlying theories and concepts can be found in most. I have split this article up into three parts; General Kempo theory and technique, flaws in the conventional wisdom of the average Kempoist, and how myself as well as the other instructors at my dojo have worked to rectify and overcome the flaws of what I'll describe as "Classical" Kempo (I will not use the term "traditional" for reasons I will later address). If you are a Kempo practicioner and open-minded about your training then this article is for you, if you are a Kempo practicioner and NOT open-minded then this article is definately for you! Anyway, I hope this helps put things into better perspective for anyone who is interested.
I. General Kempo Theory & Technique
1) What is Kempo?
Kempo quite simply translates into the words "fist law" and comes as a Japanese translation of the Chinese words "Ch'uan Fa. Most forms of Kempo that I am describing are derived from some form of Kajukenbo lineage, as per Sijo Adriano Emperado, and have since branched off from there. Emperado originally trained in and taught Kempo under William Chow, but left him to train with other martial artists in the area, which eventually brought about the creation of Kajukenbo. Kajukenbo is formed of 5 different traditional Japanese and Chinese martial arts; KArate, JUjitsu, JUdo, KENpo, and Chinese BOxing (aka Kung Fu). Most Kempo schools that have branched from this base also have come to incorporate basic pinans from prominent Japanese styles such as Shotokan. With this kind of mix of heritage, it's no wonder that Kempo has so many varying opinions and theories on how to fight. Which brings me to my next section...
2) Kempo Theory
Kempo Karate has many martial theories that it has quite simply taken from many other prominent arts that came before it. This in itself is the greatest underlying theory that Kempo posesses; taking the best from other styles and becoming a more well rounded and effective ecclectic martial art. With this in mind we will now look at the concepts that come to the forefront of Kempo training, and address the typical rhetoric that you will hear no matter which branch of Kempo you train in.
a) "Flurrying" punches: This is often the thing that immediately comes to mind when one hears the word "Kempo." The idea is to not just to try and land one solid punch as more traditional Japanese systems advocate, but rather to overcome and overwhelm your opponent with a barrage of strikes.
b) Simultaneous striking: Kempo practicioners are notorious for promoting striking with multiple limbs simultaneously to decrease their opponent's chances of defending.
c) Overkill: Many techniques involve what instructors would call "overkill" in the sense that not only will the Kempo fighter block and counterstrike to gain control, but rather they will continue to strike and break their opponent until there is little chance for them to continue to fight. Detractors of the ideology claim that such a concept is brutal and unnecessary because it involves further harming an already beaten opponent.
d) Atemi strikes: Kempoists often cite their use of "atemi" strikes, also known as striking to vital points of the body. As the saying goes, "take a hard part of your body and strike to a soft part of theirs." Alongside this idea came with it a broad array of unique strikes each intended for a very specific purpose. Everything from the front-two knuckle punch ala traditional karate, to the mantis grab of numerous Kung Fu styles can be found in Kempo. If you were to ask me, I think if there's a way you can think of to position your hand to hit someone, you can be sure it's in Kempo!
e) Circular/Linear motion: This approach to combat runs along the lines of, "against a linear attack, use a circular motion, and against a circular motion, use a linear attack." If you ask me, people who preach this saw Jet Li's THE ONE a few too many times, but nonetheless it's still another point you will often hear made in your average Kempo class.
f) Sequence fighting: This is from what I have seen and heard to be most prevalent in American Kenpo schools, but it can be said for most others as well if you ask me. The idea here is to practice numerous drawn out sequences of techniques that can later be made interchangeable to help the Kempoist adapt to his opponents movements. Which brings me to...
g) Adaptation: One thing that you will hear from nearly any Kempo practicioner is that adaptation is key. Every fight calls for a different approach, and staying stuck in one mindset is only going to lead to your defeat.
II. Percieved flaws in conventional wisdom of the average Kempoist
1) Ideology over Reality: The greatest flaw in my personal opinion in most classically training Kempo schools is the reliance on pre-choreographed techniques to train the body to react. Compliant drilling off of lunging front-two-knuckle punches only gets you so far as the initial stage of training where you understand the basic mechanics of a technique. Resistance must be added as a vital part of training or the student never grows. When resistance is added, it becomes astonishingly clear that the techniques were not based off of a real opponent or attackers reactions, but rather based off of an ideology over what one might "expect" to happen.
2) Practicality of sequence training: As said above, sequence fighting is the use of pre-choreographed techniques that "flow" into each other to help you adapt to the situation at hand. The problem with this is a combination of many techniques not being practical when put into a live situation (as taught), as well as fights being more chaotic than any pre-arranged technique could probably prepare you for. Watch any sport fight, or any street fight and you will never see anyone moving through the graceful stances of a technique or kata. More than likely it will be alot of jabbing, haymakering, and hugging till someone falls on the ground which then brings us to the ground and pound. Learning how to fight and defend from these situations is key for anyone attempting to learn self defense.
3) 0 ground-fighting: Unless your school has just begun cross-training and making additions to their curriculum, Kempo contains no legitimate ground-fighting whatsoever. This is not surprising considering before the first few UFC's, not many martial arts schools, nor the general public (or even sports kickboxing schools) considered grappling or ground-fighting something worth knowing. The respect it has since gained proves it is nothing short of a requirement for self defense in this day and age.
4) Over-intellectualization of combat: After reading the first part of this article, you must be saying to yourself, "WOW, these Kempo guys sure do think alot about fighting." And if you did say that, you are 100% right. The problem being they think quite a bit about it, but never seem willing to put their theories to the test and will instead engage you in a game of mental sparring, which brings us back to the foundation of problem #1.
5) Bodhidharma taught Kempo: Just to set the record straight...NO HE DIDN'T! He was just a monk from India that taught the Shaolin monks breathing exercises and brought with him a branch of the Buddhist religion. All the legends about him being a martial arts master and being able to burn holes in walls and all that is just that....Legend! Even if he did teach some form of martial art, it certainly wouldn't look like anything a current Kempoist would be practicing. Sorry...just a pet peeve of mine.
6) Lack of body movement: 90% of Kempo techniques are designed to help counter the initial strike of an assault (note* assault, NOT fight...there's a difference) and with that idea of finishing the fight that early comes with it the idea that you don't need to move. The majority of techniques employ the concept of hip movement to generate power while you block/parry/slap the attack away while simultaneously counter-striking and dominating your opponent. This works great if the fight never gets out of the 2nd stage of combat, but more than likely it will and then something more substantial is needed. This brings me to point 7...
7) Rejection of proven training methods: Many Kempoists reject proven training and fighting methods that work well for sports fighters because, they don't train for that..."we train to save our life on the street." The problem with this mentality is that no proper foundation is ever set. I believe Luis Gutierrez said it better than I ever could...
Street technique versus Sport Techniques or "Just add dirt" I can hear it now from all the street fighters... "But Luis, what about eye gauges, hair pulling, biting, ripping, pinching, scrotum striking, yanking and smashing, scratching, spitting, foaming at the mouth, growling, breaking bottles, wearing boots, colon control and crapping at will?" Well, what about all that? If you can't even hit a guy with a 16oz. glove how the hell are you going to eye jab him? If you can't keep a guy from putting you on the ground and proceeding to do his best rendition of River Dance on your cranium, how the hell are you going to just kick him in the balls or bite him? And if you indeed are getting punched, kicked, and out grappled by a superior martial artist and you get the bright idea to bite him, what's to stop him then from doing the same if not worse to you…and from a much better vantage point to boot? (Pun intended.) Bottom line…if you build a foundation on movement (timing and awareness in motion) and the attributes necessary to deliver and apply efficient strikes, controls and finishes, you just need to add the foul or dirty tactics. It doesn't work the other way around.
"Be like water…then just add dirt."
Without proper reflexes/muscle memory and expereince that can be gained only from rolling/sparring all the technique in the world becomes useless, and all the foul/dirty tactics in the world won't save you from even a slightly experienced fighter.
III. Solutions to the problems
From here I will now take every point I made in the last section, and describe how myself as well as the other instructors at our dojo have worked to ensure that our students gain a more well rounded as well as realistic training experience that better prepares them for any encounter that they may endure.
1&2) Ideology over Reality: Fortunately for me I never fully encountered the concept of techniques not working, simply because I was never really taught them as full techniques intended to be done verbatim. Instead my instructor taught them using the analogy that I still use today, as a "puzzle." Each technique, contains numerous pieces that can be used in various situations. For example, in green stripe belt Kempo 2 you would parry the punch with a palm, then following up into the nose driving him backwards. You then wrap the outstretched arm and elbow to the kidney. Then you bring your arm around and choke the neck with a ridgehand, flowing into another choke moving around the body, then finishing with a downwards chop dropping the opponent down. Now all togethor this move is completely ridiculous, and anyone who's ever been in a real fight or even a hard sparring match will tell you. But when broken down into pieces, the initiation, the slipping of the body into a choke, all can be worked into more practical drills. By breaking the technique down, you are now left with practical pieces that can be utilized in various scenarios, which can be drilled at varying belt/skill levels.
3) 0 Ground-fighting: This we have overcome by cross-training ourselves. I personally have taken up formal training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, and we all train with others on our free time to get outside ideas, opinions, and training. Training only within your school leads to technique and ego in-breeding regardless of your style of martial arts. A healthy dose of seeing what's out there is always best. Although none of us are at nearly the skill level to have a formal grappling class or incorporate the techniques into the system, we still have our students get on the ground and work the positions to get to a more advantageous position. Working all ranges of combat is key, and if you can at least escape the bottom, and get the mount for a GnP then you're looking alot more prepared than alot of people out there.
4) Over-intellectualization of combat: Put up or Shut up
5) Bodhidharma: Already explained above...
6) Lack of body movement: This we've set out on fixing by incorporating alot of boxing/kickboxing theory and footwork. Keeping your hands up, protecting your chin are key. Using focus mitt work in conjunction with resistance drill training and free-form sparring seems to be the way to go.
7) Rejection of proven training methods: Need I explain?
~ Now in conclusion I will say that there is one thing to always keep in mind. When you follow a tradition, make sure that the tradition is one that is proven and good for you. In the case of Kempo, I feel that I am living up to its tradition to the fullest extent. To me, to allow complacency, and stagnation of technique and theory is not only doing a disservice to yourself, but also insulting the history and tradition of innovators and pioneers in the art of Kempo. This is why in my opening words I refused to use the word "tradition." Because to me tradition in Kempo IS change, IS progress, and IS what I am advocating. We must always be looking to adapt and change to keep up with the times. Believe it or not, empty-hand combat is still an evolving science, and attempting to utilize outdated knowledge in such an environment...well it's just bad science. Look at even secure environments such as MMA fighting with specific rulesets. Judging before those matches you'd think boxing to be the most superior fighting art. After UFC 1 and 2, you'd think grappling. Now, how many grappling submissions do you see in PRIDE fighting bouts compared to 10 years ago? If what works there can still evolve, how can one argue that what works in a street fight with no rules at all can't evolve?
Last edited by Ke?poFist; 5/14/2006 12:37am at .
Posted On:5/14/2006 12:01am
Ya know, I probably could have elaborated a bit more and made this an article instead of just a post....oh well...
Posted On:5/14/2006 12:08am
Style: BJJ, TKD, Boxing
pretty interesting read though.
Posted On:5/14/2006 12:11am
Style: Kung fu, Jiu-jitsu
Currently reading through it, it looks good so far. I can see many points that parallel my experience (it was kempo, though, so duh). Definitely and interesting read.
Posted On:5/14/2006 12:16am
I've always wanted to do that.
Now, seriously, I'll read it in detail and comment (seriously) later.
Posted On:5/14/2006 12:49am
what does tl; dr mean again?
(too long to read, or something like that?)
Posted On:5/14/2006 12:53am
too long, didn't read.
Posted On:5/14/2006 11:22am
Allright, finished reading it.
Nice article, good critical thinking on your art.
Posted On:5/14/2006 12:20pm
Definately article material.
Posted On:5/14/2006 12:35pm
Nice article. Reads like Kempo rebooted by Thornton Enterprises. That can only be a good thing. I had no idea you were an instructor...guess I should check people's profiles more often.
Who knows. maybe 10-12 years from now, the Alive Fists of Haiwaian Kempo Association will be born...:icon_comp
He who attains his ideal by that very fact transcends it- Nietzsche
I like my Te like I like my tea- from Fujian province and without any bullshit in it. Oh, and green. And scented with jasmine blossoms...
Originally Posted by A Better American Than You
In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot.
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