What It is to Train in Kenpo Karate
Kenpo means "fist law" or "way of the fist", while karate means "empty hand". Kenpo karate is one of the most rapidly expanding schools of martial arts in the United States. Karate should not be confused with judo or jiu-jitsu, which are basically Oriental forms of wrestling. Karate (or Chinese boxing) employs strikes with the various natural weapons of the body, including the side of the hand, elbow, heel of the foot and more.
There is not now, nor was there ever, a pure art of karate. It is difficult to establish an accurate family tree for the many self-defense styles that are now spreading to the West because they were founded by individuals who borrowed, specialized and contributed ideas of their own. To an extent, a style is based on logic rather than tradition; it is neither Japanese nor Chinese, neither Oriental nor Western. It is what it is.
Kenpo karate demands that fighting be considered realistically, a feature frequently lacking in the self-defense arts today. The movements must be considered against the yardstick of modern day street fighting. Some styles are trying to pass off movements originally intended as exercises as self-defense techniques. It is one thing to play quick draw with blanks and quite another to use real bullets. Another item often not taken into account in most current schools is physiological differences. The art must be made to fit the individual, not the individual to fit the art.
Karate styles are sometimes criticized for not making contact in their sparring. It is true that pulling one's strikes is somewhat like playing flag football, but the experience of hitting and being hit is not worth the loss of practice time that would surely result from the increased injuries. Working on a heavy bag or focus gloves can partially offset the lack of making contact, and if this is not enough, there is no inherent reason why two colleagues cannot make contact if they agree on the rules. Some styles attempt to solve the problem by outfitting themselves in armor. The drawback here is that the armor is so cumbersome that their technique suffers; however it is beneficial to use sparring gear in order to experience harder contact both in giving and in receiving from time to time.
Considerable controversy exists among the fans of the various martial arts as to which is superior in an actual crisis. When faced with several attackers, the analysis is not so difficult. There seems to be little chance of consecutively choking five opponents, holding them down until they "tap out", or boxing fifteen three minuet rounds with each opponent while the others wait their turn to attack. Instead it becomes highly desirable to be able to dispense with an attacker immediately. The prescription: practical application of striking that emphasizes speed, power and accuracy.
In kenpo karate, this is achieved by relaxing the muscles and conserving motion. The arms and legs move much faster relaxed than tense. Just prior to contact the muscles will exert their entire force. When properly trained the body is capable of tremendous force over a short period of time.
Motion (time) is conserved in three ways. First, movements are direct. This means that unnecessary cocking or winding-up motions are eliminated. The fist does not draw back to gain greater striking distance -- it goes! Second, at the advanced stage the "ands" are eliminated from the response. Instead of blocking "and" hurting or grabbing "and" hurting, the defense and offense occur simultaneously. Third, by combining several strikes into one basic motion combination, they become much faster. For instance, the fingers might proceed to the eyes after a chop to the neck or an elbow might follow right behind the fist.
An important question to many is which style offers a better chance to the smaller person. Certainly, trading blows is not the answer since even if one develops equivalent power, the smaller person cannot withstand equal punishment. A superior strategy is to anticipate the possible use of a weapon and prevent it from being used. This is known as checking. Checking is accomplished in many ways, such as stepping on an opponent's foot to prevent a kick or stopping the motion at the shoulder, elbow or hip. Frequently, our offense is our check, often forcing the attacker into an awkward position and/or minimizing their leverage.
Kenpo karate constantly stresses flexibility. We require the freedom to hit any portion of the attacker's anatomy, from their skull to their toes. At the same time, our own weapons must be just as diverse. The natural weapons include the fingertips, side or heel of the hand, knuckles, elbows, knees, heel of the foot and more. Some are more limited than others, but it must be remembered that special situations sometimes call for special tools. A regular part of kenpo karate training attempts to develop the ability to use each weapon in all of its motions. It becomes a matter of logic, for example, as to how many ways there are to hit with an elbow. Something in the way of flexibility can be learned by watching the hands of an orchestra director. The rhythm changes, while the movements alternate between hard and soft. In a fight, a change of pace is harder to anticipate and allows one to blend with the opponent's reactions. To avoid wasted effort and maintain poise, soft movements should be combined with hard ones. By varying the amount of force, the weapon and the target, it is possible to vary the degree of damage. It is not necessary to kill to defend against the grab of some drunk, though self-defense against multiple attackers with weapons should be taken very seriously.
In Kenpo karate, considerable practice is given to pre-set sequences. This carries the student through the beginning stage and develops their coordination. At the advanced level, the student becomes able to express themselves extemporaneously, that is, to alter their sequence at will. Combinations can be only two moves or more than ten. They may be sequences of kicks and punches, high and low strikes, or minor blows setting up for major ones. Combinations are taught in class as counters to grabs, punches, kicks, etc. They also become useful to penetrate an attacker's defenses or to follow up a stunning blow and finish him off.