Kenpo is a combination of Ryukyuan martial arts, Chinese martial arts, Japanese martial arts. There are different branches of this art depending on where you go in the United States; however the most common practice is from the origin of James Mitose and William Kwai Sun Chow. Ed Parker brought these teachings to the mainland US when he attended Brigham Young University. It was there he started perfecting his moves and refining the art to adopt his own American Kenpo. All the names of different sequences such as Thundering Hammers and Five Swords come from Parker. Kenpo is a very effective art that teaches you movement, linear and circular attacks, different locks and grabs, etc. Here are some principles to become familiar with when learning Kenpo:
1. Circle of Protection
This is a very effective method that utilizes a system of finding the best way to evade movement. Pretty much if your opponent charges in a linear way, you should move in a circular way such as pivotal in a circle to get out of harm’s way. Also, the same type of scenario applies when someone moves more in a circular way. When you go to attack/parry, these concepts apply as a great weapon. Your moves are best done in opposition to the actions done toward you. Here’s a good video tutorial showing you this in greater detail.
Striking is very important in Kenpo. It teaches you that you need to be offensively aggressive so you can quickly take advantage of the situation. The mantra is 70% hand strikes and 30% leg strikes. However, this is not set in stone because it relates to your body type and natural movement. Multiple Strikes is a method that encourages you to keep striking with follow ups.
If you find a way inside after someone attacks, stun your opponent then finish him off. It’s all about creating good setups and a follow through for your own offense. Also, kiai and shouts are not really done in succession of attacks because it exerts a lot of energy. You want to ensure that you have great stamina for your striking. Here’s a great video demonstrating multiple striking techniques.
A lot of the kicking is based on the lower level movement which makes things a lot more effective. You’ll find that this gives you a great element of surprise and you don’t exert so much of your energy. Also, high kicks leave you more vulnerable to attacks, which others can exploit such as targeting the groin. Also, these attacks require more focus and strength. You want to ensure you have spatial awareness and enough power to last the fight.
You still want to have good diversity in your arsenal so practice all kicks and use when the opportunity strikes. It wise to pick targets that will cause you the least amount of damage while inflicting the most pain towards your opponent. Striking the groin, the calves, or knees with a well placed kick will help bring the fight in your favor. This video shows a myriad of good low kicks to practice.
4. Blocking Systems
While Kenpo emphasizes a no-blocking system due to the effectiveness of parries and straight vs circular concepts, blocking is a good backup for very close encounters. For example, if you were stuck in a small area with no way to move, blocking would be a good resort. Moving out the way and learning how to adopt a great economy of motion to use your adversary’s attack against them is preferred.
Blocking should be more or less a last resort because even if you do block an attack that leaves you open or takes the focus off another incoming attack. However, if you have no place to move, blocking would be your option. With that being said, here are 8 different blocking systems to help you with your defense and trap setups.
5. Yielding and Redirecting
This is a very great tactic that encourages you to target softer areas when you are stopping attacks. For example if someone is trying to grab you, instead of grabbing or hitting the arm, why not grab a finger and pull it back. Get in close or redirect the energy so your opponent is off balance. The video tutorial below shows you great ways you can more effectively put your opponent at bay. You will always want to have an opening to strike. This is a great tactic for getting yourself out of difficult situations and redirecting your adversary’s movement to trap their strikes.
6. Flexibility and Weapons
We all have different body types which enables us to be great for different things. If you are a small person, you could very quick punches and good body blow type of style. If you are tall, obviously you have great range of motion with your legs which is useful in kicking. Grappling would be your domain if you are bit bulky because you can use your size and raw power to leverage take downs and holds. With your weapon usage, you’ll find that you need flexible weapons to create better movement and extend your attack range. Having a belt, rope, chain type of weapons will enable you to stop, grab, and get your opponent off balance a lot better. This will draw in a much more effective attack strategy.
As in all things regarding martial arts, movement is extremely important. A standing target is much easier to take down than one in motion. It’s imperative to create a diverse system that helps you close the gap, evade, and open things up if necessary. Movement is also good because you notice that your adversary has to keep up with you so you may find a mistake or opening you can exploit. The video below shows different drills such as Brushing The Storm, Flashing Wings, and Thundering Hammers are good mobility tactics leading into effective strikes.
As you can see, Kenpo is quite the well rounded and practical form of martial arts. It’s no wonder why it took off so well in the United States. What are some principles you apply to your own study of martial arts? Does an art such as Kenpo help you branch out your studies and keep in tune with your own beliefs? Drop a comment below!