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Two Man Training for striking arts – Two step sparring and beyond

After people have spent time training “one step sparring”, they can move on to other methods of training with a partner. This doesn’t mean you ever out grow, or stop doing “one step sparring”.

“Two step sparring” is the next move. With “two step sparring” the first level is to have one person attack with the technique or principle they are working on, and the other person defends using the defensive move or principle they are working on. You can go back and forth occasionally switching roles. Again you can get feedback from each other as you progress.

After working back and forth in a linear fashion you can start moving around in more of a free sparring environment. Have one person work on their technique either for offense or defense. The other person either only attacks or only defends, depending on what their partner is working on.

After that you then can progress to moving freely while one person works their offense, and the other person works their defensive counter. You switch roles from time to time.

The next level is “free sparring”. I strongly recommend going through all the steps from “one step sparring” through “two step sparring” before engaging in “free sparring”. The reason for this is that if you start sparring prematurely without developing proper technique, strategy, etc. you may limit your eventual level of attainable skill.

 

Mike Murphy

https://murphymartialarts.wordpress.com

Two Man training for striking arts – 1 step sparring

Systems that focus on striking arts normally start with “one step sparring” techniques. As a rule each system has a preferred method of punching in.

Traditional karate, TKD, kempo systems, etc. normally have someone half moon in and punch in a traditional karate stance, with a lead hand punch. They stop their punch just short of the target.

The pro’s to this type of training are that you can work on timing and basic defensive techniques, as well as techniques using a far more complex flow as you see with many kempo systems. Since your attacker isn’t really trying to hit you, it is safer for beginners, with less risk of accidental injury.

The con’s to this type or training are that your distancing is off. In a real fight someone is going to punch through you, not stop just short/out of range. Some talk of punching six inches through their opponent. Others say punch elbow deep, and kick knee deep through your opponent. As you can see your distancing and positioning would be much different under those circumstances. Another issue is that no one in the western world attacks anyone with that type of strike. Training against an unrealistic attack, can be a waste of good practice time.

Aikido practitioners tend to have the attacker throw a downward hammer fist from overhead. They over commit throwing themselves off balance as the go through where their opponent was at the beginning of the attack. This is because Aikido originally had the attacker simulate a sword attack. People fighting with swords fight from a further distance apart then empty hand people. The other method they tend to work with, is having someone come in and grab them, and continue to hold on while they execute their technique.

Pro’s to this method are that the attacker does commit and strikes through their opponent. Timing, distancing, and positioning need to be correct training this way. So not only do they develop these skills, but if you’re incorrect you get immediate feedback in the form of being hit.

Con’s are that people don’t attack using that kind of strike very often, nor do they generally throw a completely over committed off balance attack (at least not trained people). People that grab a hold of you probably won’t really hold on without releasing before letting you just completely off balance and throw them. This can lead to practicing and developing techniques that may not work against most attackers in the real world.

There are also some kempo people, and perhaps others that use a similar method of punching in as Aikido people. The difference is the tend to use punches from an on guard position as they charge through the defender.

Always have your attacker really try to hit you, never have them pull their punch.

A good approach to “one step sparring” is to have your opponent throw a right hand, while you practice your technique. Then have them throw a left hand and practice your technique. After that do the same with right, then left kicks. Once you’ve worked these have your attacker throw anything they want (anyway they want, and from any on guard position) as you respond with your technique. After all to my mind any legitimate technique should work against anything thrown at you. The worst case scenario if you are following good principles, is that you don’t get hit. Most of the time you should achieve the desired outcome. The more you practice, the more often that correct outcome should happen.

Another good thing you can do in “one step sparring” is develop a stronger attack.

A method do this is have the defender stand on guard at the distance you want to attack from. They can either block or move out of the way as you attack. Untrained or unskilled fighters telegraph their movements when they attack. You can have the defender look for the first thing they see move as you start your attack each time, and give you feedback. Telegraphs could be anything. Examples are tensing all or part of your body, changing any facial expression, shifting weight, holding or exhaling your breath, etc. You want them to look for anything that gives you away.

After this you can move on to “two step sparring”, etc.. I’ll cover more in another blog.

 

Mike Murphy

https://murphymartialarts.wordpress.com

Defending yourself against a Dog

February 11, 2010 1 comment

Having to defend yourself against a dog, or pack of dogs is a real possibility. When assessing the situation with a single dog, you need to consider whether the dog is a trained attack dog, defense dog, semi-trained, untrained, and the breed.

One thing you never want to do is run from a dog. It can cause the dog to attack you as it would prey in the wild. Another thing you never want to do is, never turn your back on it. You don’t want to look an aggressive dog in the eyes. So avoid eye contact. You don’t want to start yelling at the owner of the dog. Dog’s tend to be a reflection of the personality of their owners.

If a dog runs up to you barking and growling, you need to slowly brace yourself, and give commands as if it was your dog. Sit, no, down, etc. Do not get in a fighting stance or raise your hands while going through this stage. It could cause the dog to ignore commands.

If the above fails and you have to defend yourself, using a weapon to defend yourself, is always better then defending yourself empty handed. Things you can use are a cane, umbrella, rocks, or anything else you can pick up and throw at the animal to chase it off. I think using a cane is pretty self explanatory. Using an umbrella is done by opening the umbrella and pointing it at the dog as a shield. The idea is that the dog can’t see you to attack. So keep the umbrella between you and the dog. Using projectiles like rocks is a good choice, but again try to keep something between you and the dog if possible. You might try to stay on the other side of a car, or climb on top of it, or anything else you can climb on the dog can’t climb. Of course a knife can also be used.

The best choice if it is a legal option where you are, is pepper spray. It will allow you to disable the dog at a short distance, without any permanent harm to the animal.

Facing a trained attack dog is very dangerous. Some are trained to attack different parts of the body. This could be arm, throat, or groin. If the dog is well trained it will recognize some signals, that will stop it from attacking. Don’t move. If you raise your hands above your head, or lay down on the ground with your hands behind your head (I don’t like this option since if it fails you’re pretty much defenseless), a well trained dog will stop. A semi-trained dog is more dangerous, because it might know how to attack you, and not know when to stop. So if you raised your hands and stopped moving, and the animal attacks anyway, you need to defend yourself with other measures.

If you’re facing an untrained animal without a weapon, depending on size and breed you have different options. Presuming it is a good sized dog, you could wrap a coat, or anything else around your arm. Make sure you keep you hand closed. Fingers can easily be bitten off if your hand is open. Hold the protected arm out in front of you. The idea is to try and get the dog to attack that arm. If you can get them to bit onto the arm, you want grab and fall on top of the dog, pinning it down. At this point you need to eliminate the dogs ability to attack you, before you can get up and let go. The easiest way would be to take it’s eyes out. The dog is likely to take the arm more then 50% of the time.

Some dogs will not go for an arm but attack more vital areas. An option is to use closed fists, punching it in the face as hard, fast and often as you can. The same as you might treat a man attacking you. Try to avoid kicking unless the dog is attacking your legs, or is small enough that it isn’t a threat to your throat. Punching a dog in the mouth is going to end up with you getting your hands cut up, but the dog isn’t going to like getting punched in the mouth either.

The reason I say avoid kicking if possible is that the dog can bite your leg and take you off your feet, putting you in a much worse position. Or the dog could attack your groin. However if you are facing a dog that is attacking your legs you’ll have to kick it. Again if it is a small animal, that will be the best option anyway.

Fighting a pack of dogs is extremely dangerous. They will hunt in a pack the same as wolves or coyotes in the wild. One or more will confront you while the rest, will circle looking for a chance to take you down from behind, like any other prey. If you can climb up on something they can’t, and throw anything you can down on them, it may be your best option. If you can’t climb out of harms way you need to get your back to a wall so they can attack you from behind. At this point it is hitting with any weapon you have. You don’t want them to latch onto you, preventing you from hitting, and you certainly don’t want them dragging you to the ground.

What is the meaning of Internal Arts and External, is there a difference?

November 11, 2009 2 comments

There is a lot out there on the subject of internal and external martial arts. A lot of it is very good information, some is pitched as a marketing approach, other information could be attributed in either ignorance, or arrogance. There may be more then one truth here. I think that the meaning of internal and external martial arts has changed over many years.

The original distinction between external and internal martial arts comes from Huang Zongxi’s 1669 Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan. The identification of the internal martial arts with the Taoism indigenous to China, and its identification of the external martial arts with the foreign Buddhism of Shaolin, and the Manchu Qing Dynasty to which Huang Zongxi was opposed. This may have been an act of political defiance rather than one of technical classification.

What people speak of today as differences in internal and external, tend to refer to principles, and interpretation of such principles. I think this line of thinking may have started being promoted around the mid 1800’s with Yang Lu Chan, and became widely accepted in the 1920’s-1930’s.

I think the reason that the three sisters (Hsing-I, Bagua, and Tai Chi) are generally thought of as the only internal systems, is due to Sun Lu Tang who practiced and taught, these three systems. Sun Lu Tang lived from 1860 yo 1933, and taught until 1928. He was a very prominent practitioner of his day.

Regardless of the origin of this classification scheme, Chinese martial art styles have external and internal components. Classification is only where the initial emphasis of a particular style is, and should not be considered an absolute division.

While I practice one system commonly associated with Shaolin (Tzu Men Chuan), it is every bit as internal as Taijiquan, Bagua, and Hsing-I (I also practice these systems). I also practice Hsiao Chiu Tien Chuan, and Liu Ho Pa Fa which are also internal systems. All three of these are internal by either definition of what an internal art is. I’m sure there are still many others out there. However practitioners of these styles aren’t as opposed to external conditioning, as are some of the modern practitioners of some of the internal arts.

Another thing to keep in mind is that all external martial arts are not the same, in interpretation of principles or complexity, anymore then are the internal systems. While I focus on Chinese martial arts, I did spend many years training Japanese, Korean, and other external systems. The different systems of external alone are night and day apart. I would say that Karate would be more dissimilar to any Shaolin Kung Fu system, then any of the internal systems would be from a Shaolin system. Of course this is just my opinion based on my experience. Others may disagree.

Today there may be more of a difference in the internal systems and external, then there was 100 years ago, when people still fought for real, without today’s sport rules.

I believe most of the systems referred to as Shaolin today are really family systems. All through history many people have exaggerated the origins of their systems. It is as true today as it was hundreds of years ago. If someone could attribute their system to coming from Shaolin, it sounded better, then saying they created it themselves.

This has nothing to do with the validity of the systems as systems, but has always been a marketing ploy. You’d have to look at each system individually to really find it’s origin, if it is important to you. Then the question is are there any written records to provide proof? I mean something more then a creation myth.

So was there martial arts practiced widely in the Shaolin temples? If so who brought them there? Was there ever any martial arts taught at a temple on Mount Wudang at all? I’d suggest reading all the articles written by Stanley Henning who is an independent scholar, who has spent a great deal of time and effort to uncover the truth. http://seinenkai.com/articles/henning/ . There are many other sources out there, you should do your own research to discover truth.

http://seinenkai.com/articles/henning/
http://www.egreenway.com/taichichuan/sun1.htm
http://www.martialdevelopment.com/blog/defining-the-internal-martial-arts/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%C3%A8iji%C4%81
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaolin_kung_fu

Understand the Mindset of a weapons wheeling attacker

October 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Many people wonder whether they should carry a weapon for self defense. Perhaps if they understand the mind set of someone that attacks them with a weapon, it will help them make up their mind.

My experience is that anyone that uses a knife will try to hide it from you until you are cut if they can. The only exception I’ve run across is when they think they have you in a situation you can’t escape, where they want to look you in the eye as they cut you. Someone with knowledge, skill, and the will to use a knife is extremely dangerous. Perhaps more dangerous then someone with a gun inside of 15 feet or so. especially if the weapons are holstered. A knife can cut in any direction, while a gun can only shoot you if the barrel is pointed at you. Of course you can still be hit with the gun.

Here is a situation that comes to mind to show how sneaky a knife man can be. This is the first face-to-face situation I ran into, and was lucky enough to have survived.

Many years ago I was in an establishment having an adult beverage when a young lady that was a friend of someone I knew came up to say hi. Her boy friend was on the other side of the room watching. He had just gotten out of prison, and thought she had been cheating on him while he was away. Of course I didn’t really know her except to say hi, so had no idea of the situation at first. Anyway he somehow got it in his head I had some involvement, and decided to resolve the issue.

He came up to me and started talking, and I tried to explain to him he was wrong, as did she. After a while of talking and keeping him at a distance, he said “OK” lets shake. I stood there for what felt like several minutes saying that was ok, lets move on….He wouldn’t withdraw his hand. So I eventually reached out and shook his hand to get him to go away.

He seized my hand in a vise grip. I tried to make him let go, pushing all the nerve points etc.. I was told would make him do so to no avail. Being a right handed person myself, I was shocked as he reached under his coat and pulled a knife to stick me with his left hand. I managed to deal with the situation and survived, but what would you do?

I’ve been involved in several other situations with knifes, and guns, and will tell you I don’t like being the man in the room that is unarmed. Just say Baa…Baa…kill me please…I deserve it for being stupid.

Look, anyone that carry’s a weapon Wants to do so legally(if possible), and have it look like something they happen to have on hand at the time. You don’t want to go to jail for using a weapon in a premeditated manor.

So with that in mind the most common knife is a screw driver. It is nastier then the common knife, because it pokes a hole that can’t be sewn together, similar to Kris knife. It also is a common household utensil. So proving intent is far more difficult.

I know folks that carry a screw driver, a claw hammer, or a ball ping hammer for the same reasons. All they have to do is come up with a reason for having it on them, at the time of the event. You don’t want hit with any of these things. Of course a heavy flash light is extremely common, even the cops like to use this as a weapon.

Bikers like to take a pad lock, and tie a bandanna to it, stick it in their back pocket. Pull it out in an emergency and you have one heck of a black jack.

Remember if someone is willing to attack you, they are willing to kill you. Your life means nothing to them.

Escaping Patterns Using the Octagon

October 16, 2009 Leave a comment

While Most Martial Arts are by nature very aggressive (including most Kempo systems), and look to engage the opponent, there are a few that appear not to be on the surface.  For example practitioners of Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo believe that the highest level of self defense, is to have no contact with your opponent. In true self defense they believe not only should you not be harmed, but neither should your attacker. Therefore the approach is not to engage if possible. They accomplish this by using escaping, and evading techniques.

Kosho is very much about preparatory arts, timing, and positioning.  So to understand escaping patterns please read  my posts on eye training, and positioning/ octagon Theory, etc..  You need to understand those things first.

This is one of many escaping patterns, that practitioners practice.  To understand how it works think of yourself as starting in the center of the octagon. You then move to each of the eight directions and back to center in order. You can continue the pattern as long as necessary.

Kosho folks always move twice. The first move is intended to put them at a 90 degree angle on their opponent, the second move can do the same, or be used to go through the opponent. For the purposes of escaping you would always be looking to end up 90 degrees on your opponent or possibly behind him. They always move twice because they assume there attacker will attack with all their weapons. Two arms means two punches. So for example the first move would be to position 1, and then move back to where they started. The next moves would be to position 2, then back to center, etc..

Now if you had an attacker start at position 7 or 4  and attacks you in the center, you could move to position 1 ( I used those two directions because moving to direction 1 would be appropriate only with the right combination of eye training and distance). Assuming the attacker continues his attack following you to where you move, you know where is is going to move one move before he does. This allows you too always escape, and end up at a 90 degree angle to your opponent. If he doesn’t follow you in the expected manor and you move, you’ll still just end up further away from each other. In this case neither of you would be harmed again.

If you determine that striking is necessary, by knowing where you’re opponent will move next. If you put your strike out on his line of travel, he will run into the strike adding his power, and momentum to your power  on the strike. You will also catch him in transition this way, compounding the damage done.

Ocagon

Methods of Attacking

October 8, 2009 Leave a comment

In reality, whether it is an army, an individual in a bar, or on the street. The most common, and most successful attack is the surprise attack.  Let’s face it the hardest attack to defend is one you don’t know is coming. You need to understand that fighting is about winning and destroying your your enemy. You also want to reduce your chances of injury, or losing. Anyone that doesn’t have this mind set (or is at least aware of it), doesn’t survive long in the real world. If anyone thinks that cowboys actually went out in the street at high noon and faced off in a fair fight, they would be wrong.

Examples of armies using this approach would be the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US attacking Iraq. In the latter case even if a declaration of war happens first, you don’t warn the enemy where and when you’re going to attack them. Think of sentry removal techniques as part of an operation. You sneak up on, and kill the sentry before they know you’re their. I can’t think of any military operation in history where they didn’t try to use the element of surprise in their attack if it was possible.

The police certainly use the same approach when they go to arrest someone. Surprise, using overwhelming force are the only ways they attack people they are trying to arrest. I’ve never heard of any cop since the invention of the FBI, and J. Edgar Hoover who warned people, fought one-on- one, or used anything resembling a fair fight. At least not by choice.

Individuals using this approach would be said to sucker punch their opponent.  While in many cases they just come up and strike, in other cases they come up from behind and attack, in other cases there is a verbal confrontation first. As a general rule in the last case once words have been exchanged, and one person thinks the issue is resolved (The other person wants them to think it is resolved). If one person makes the mistake of turning and taking their eyes off the other guy, before they have backed off out of reach, they are easily attacked. These attacks are extremely common. In my experience all of these attacks are far more common then two guys facing off after a verbal exchange, going outside and engaging in mutual combat.

Moral and ethical issues aside Martial Artists/ Martial Arts Schools don’t teach the above approaches for many reasons. First we are generally teaching civilians. Civilians are subject to the rule of law. Governments/ Current Societies don’t tolerate their citizens going around attacking each other. Win lose or draw, if you use the above approaches you could end up in jail and/or civil court with a lawsuit. I will say though, that anyone willing to engage you in a fight isn’t particularly concerned about the law at that point.

Sometimes people are warned before the attack, and have time to prepare. This is true of armies as well as individuals.  With two armies, or two individuals lined up facing each other with all weapons ready, and out of each others reach, successful attacking with minimal risk can be a challenge. To attack you have to cross the distance between yourself, and your enemy. This puts you in transition, and makes you vulnerable.

If martial arts is about anything, it is about deception, and being able to predict your opponents reactions. With that in mind the first two things I want to talk about are fakes and feints.

A fake is something that you do, to make them think you’re doing something. Examples of this could be a head fake, to make them think your moving in a direction, it could be a look, or a sound. You are looking for a reaction from your opponent that you can capitalize on.

A feint is something you do that they must defend against.  The idea with a feint is to attack a target that they have to move their defenses to protect against, which exposes another opening for you to attack. The feint doesn’t have to be particularly strong, it just has to make them defend. For example if I really wanted to hit them in the head I might feint at the legs or midsection. As they drop their hands to defend the feint, I hit my intended target. Their are many variations of this, both for individuals, and for armies.

Another benefit of using a fake or feint, is that it can tell you what your opponents subconscious tendency is for defense. If you can predict how your opponent will react to an attack, you can plan the right type of attack to be successful. This is especially helpful in sport competition.

For example if you throw a fake/feint a time or so, and every time your opponent charges you up the middle, or zig-zags to where you were, jamming/attacking you as his counter to your technique,  it tells you how and where to hit him. In this instance you would throw the fake/feint and immediately step back at an angle to one side or the other, while throwing you real technique to the spot you just vacated, knowing your opponent is going to occupy it. He’ll run right into the technique, adding to your power.

If on the other hand every time you feint/fake he holds his ground looking to block and counter, your approach to attacking must be different.  You don’t want to come straight up the middle because you’d be playing into his strength.  Two methods of closing the gap would be to use an angular attack, or a broken rhythm attack.

Angular attacks are just that, you want to set him up so that your attack comes in from an angle, and you aren’t directly in front of him.

Broken rhythm attacks make use of timing, and syncopation.  People all have two arms and two legs. So they move in a rhythm. One and Two, and One and Two, etc..  So the idea behind a broken rhythm attack is to set up a rhythm, and then catch them on the half beat with your attack.

Now if you notice that every time you throw a feint/fake your opponent backs off or runs away, you need a different approach. In this case you need to charge straight up the middle until you overwhelm them.

Another approach to minimize your risk, and improve your chances of success is to catch them in transition. Catching someone in transition is a very good method of closing the gap. Catching them in transition gives you a split second advantage during your attack where they have to adjust before they can counter. You can use any kind of transition.

For example if you are lined up in front of your opponent move to either the left or right a step. Your opponent will step to adjust, because they will feel uncomfortable not facing you.  Move a few times and watch as they move to keep facing you.  Then move again, and quickly attack while they are trying to adjust their position. They will need to finish setting before they can defend. this gives you an edge on your attack.

You can use virtually any kind of transition. You can use their breathing. Time it so when they exhale you attack. They will have to inhale first to move with power. You could use the blinking of their eye. I really like guys that bounce up an down, mimicking a boxer. As they bounce and are going up off their feet into the air, they can’t move until they come back down and their feet are on the ground. Any form of movement, including thoughts are transitions that can give you a split second before they can effectively defend.

There are other forms of attacks, but you can and should combine as many of the above methods of attack as you can. For example combing an angular attack with catching someone in transition is better then using just one or the other method.

Now here is my disclaimer I do not advocate attacking anyone for any reason other then in a sport competition following the established rules of that competition. With that said I think there is a lot to think about on the topic.

Conditioning and Resistance Training

October 6, 2009 7 comments

Martial Arts practitioners, all have different opinions on this topic. However as a general rule. every teacher I’ve had, has said not to weight lift/Body Build. This includes external, as well as internal martial artists.  Yet to a man they all do some form of resistance training.

I think the reason not to lift weights is that weight lifting/ Body building, focus on isolating muscles to develop maximum growth, and sculpt the body for appearances sake. This is not the best for functionality. What you need is for everything to work together in a synergistic manor. Not to mention that while body building you are constantly tearing down the body, and each time it recovers strength and coordination change a bit. I also noticed while lifting in this manor, while I felt a lot stronger, I was also a bit slower. You certainly need to spend more time stretching to keep from tightening up, or becoming muscle bound.

Of course being hard headed I’ve had to test this theory out myself in my youth.  I used to weight lift/body build through High School. I went into the military after High School. My first duty station was Japan, where I learned judo. While in Japan I did very little weight training.  Judo classes were two hours long. The first half hour was calisthenics, stretching, and break falls. The second half hour was Newaza (grappling techniques). This was basically paring off and wrestling, switching partners every so often. The second hour was all tachiwaza (standing techniques) we spent the first half hour doing uchikome (fitting in for practice throws, or working on a new throw). The last half hour was randori (free sparring standing). I believe I was in the best shape of my life then. On days not in class I ran3-5 miles, did my push-ups and sit-ups, and trained practice throws using a bicycle inner tube.

In 80 I PCS’d to Germany. I had been given a letter of introduction to Franz Fisher by the Kodokan, to help me go train there.  Unfortunately I was stationed on a one acre site on a mountain top. I had a six mile walk to the bottom, where I could get a train to take into Frankfurt. So I spent a lot of time on the mountain lifting weights, and training with another guy that was a TKD Black Belt (we were teaching each other).  Anyway after about a year, I managed to get to town to train. I thought I was going to be much better since I was a lot bigger, and stronger then before.  Boy was I wrong. The warm-ups about killed me for a few weeks, then I was slow, stiff, and my timing was off. that took a few months to fix. Another guy in the class was also body building, and practicing karate. The instructor was always trying to talk him into giving up the weights, since he was displaying the same speed, timing issues, etc..

After I got back to the states I started training Judo twice a week with Charlie Hooks in northern Indiana, and training Juko Ryu Aiki Jujitsu with Randy Harvell six days a week. Randy had a full nautilus machine gym. We did circuit training three times a week, which did work well, and help our progress. We did high reps, and low sets.

Later I moved and learned/taught a couple different kempo systems. I tried to keep the same approach to conditioning, but if you couldn’t lift doing exercises like push-ups, and sit-ups, anything using your own body weight worked well.

When I started training the internal systems, I notice a different attitude about conditioning.

My first Internal instructor was Wai Lun Choi in Chicago. His approach to training was to do push-ups, sit-ups, leg-lifts, and stretching. The only weight training he did was to use a dumbbell, and he only did a few exercises which simulated things like throwing a hook punch.  His belief was that you should only do exercises like this that developed power for a specific martial application.

My Next teacher was Jim McNeil. He also did push-ups, sit-ups, leg-lifts, hand conditioning exercises, and Shih Shui which you swing weights with.   The beater that I have for use as part of your training weighs in at just under 5 pounds. Swinging that hundreds of times with each hand is a bit of exercise in itself.  We also used to start each morning off with a 1-3 mile run depending on how folks felt that day.

I next started training Taijiquan. The Taiji folks leave me scratching my head the most on the subject of conditioning. They seem to be the most set against physical conditioning, out side of doing their basics, and forms. I was at a seminar, and a couple of us were stretching a little, one guy did a few push-ups before the class started. The Master running the seminar came up to us, and told us not to do that stuff, we should loosen up by only doing our jibengong. Now of course this group does do some resistance training with rubberbands/Bungee cords, but seem to not think of it as a conditioning exercise.  The mind set seems to be against anything that isn’t taiji, because physical conditioning supposedly won’t help your taiji.  While I can understand there is some truth to that on some level, purposely avoiding normal exercise doesn’t make sense to me.

Here are my reasons for that. First I think that the approach to not waste time on exercise, and devote your time to fundamentals, and your training worked very well up through the 1800’s.  This is because people did manual labor all day. They were in great shape, and didn’t eat the junk food we get in the modern western world. For example the Chen villagers were farmers. I don’t know about you, but I grew up around farmers, and they were the strongest people I knew. Most of the people I see drawn to taiji today have desk jobs. The most exercise they get during the day is typing on a keyboard. So we’re certainly not talking about the same animal, as far as practitioners go.

Another reason I think you need some type of resistance training is that, as we age we lose muscle mass, and bone density. It becomes a bigger problem the older we get. The speed with which we lose muscle mass and bone density increases significantly over the age of 50. While losing muscle mass we tend to replace it with fat. So we might not really notice this slow process, as quickly as we should. As you loss muscle mass and replace it with fat, your metabolism slows down.  You may stay about the same weight. This turns into a vicious downward spiral. So add some resistance training in, and some cardio. To me this is common sense.

I tend to change up what, and how I do things from time to time. Right now I’m using kettlebells a few times a week, along with a few push-ups, and hand conditioning. I want to slow down the deterioration as much, and as long as I can. I certainly don’t want to have a heart attack, shoveling snow, or pushing a car out of it, because I refused to take basic care of my health.

Should You Only Learn One System, a.k.a. To Know Your Own Art, You Must Know All Others

October 3, 2009 Leave a comment

We’ve all heard of that unbeatable master, that only ever learned one art.  They are few and far between, not to mention long gone from this world. All through history the greatest fighters have all learned more then one system. If anyone does their research, I believe it will bare this out.

I certainly think you need a primary system which you focus on, but need training in other systems to augment it. Back in the 70’s when I started my training, the approach many of us took, was to learn a grappling art, striking art, and a weapons art at a minimum to consider yourself complete.   Different folks might add in a locking art, a kicking centric, and a hand centric system as well, or do them as subsets of each section.  Weapons system of choice could be traditional martial arts weapons, as well as modern firearms. I think you need both. After all men/warriors fight with weapons, and only fight without when they don’t have one, can’t get away with using one, or just find them inconvenient for the circumstances.

The approach I was told, and believe to be best was to get to at least Black Belt level in an art, before adding another system. Many people don’t have the patience to do this, and are convinced to try systems that claim to have taken the best parts of many systems and combined them in a synergistic manor. Many arts have been created using this concept.  In some cases it could be true, or at least true for the founder of the system.

Then again if your a student of this system, how could you ever have the depth of understanding the founder supposedly did, without the complete training he did? Then again what if the founder of the system, didn’t really have the depth of knowledge in each/or any of the systems he claimed to be incorporating into his new system? You could end up going down a misguided path, and never really learn what you thought you did.

Of course from an instructors view point, you want a student to empty his cup and only train what you teach. My experience with that has been that students that are trying to train in multiple schools/systems at once tend not to make progress as quickly, if at all.  At least without getting to a Black Belt level in one, before beginning the other.  In any case the instructor will always feel that they have so much more to teach the student, and if they would only focus on learning what they are trying to teach, they’d make much more progress. I would certainly not try to learn more then two new systems at any time.

I took over an existing Kempo school as owner/instructor in 91.  The previous owners never taught sparring, because they didn’t know how, and couldn’t do it themselves.  I felt that sparring was a necessary part of training. Many of the students wanted to go compete in open tournaments. They lacked the tools when I took over, and had limited skills.  My first approach to teaching them how to spar was to one step, two step sparring drills, etc.. Most of their previous training was all hand technique, though during basics in each class they threw as many kicks as they did punches.  While trying to teach them sparring techniques, I found that none of them really could kick. So I tried to teach them strategies/techniques they could use against an accomplished kicker with their existing skill sets.

After months of training folks this way, they just never seemed to get it. So I changed my approach. I started teaching them to kick like a Tae Kwon Do practitioner. Once they developed better kicking basics, I then moved them on to” Bill Wallace “style kicking routines, and strategies. Later I taught them kicking methods ” Bennie the Jet” taught.  I found that once they actually became proficient at kicking and truly understood, they could now learn to counter it.  When they could kick better, they not only made a better/more realistic Uke (attacker) during practice, but when we went back to the techniques and drills I had originally taught, they could understand and do them.

After that I took the same approach to everything else. If I was teaching knife defense, I would teach them some knife fighting first. I would go through some fundamental Philippine, Indonesian, and/or Japanese knife techniques/drills with them for a some time, before teaching empty hand defense against a knife.  At least with this approach they had a realistic idea of what they were up against. I’m sure we’re all seen many a McDojo teaching techniques of question. Some teach techniques building false self-confidence that will get their students killed, should they ever try to use them against a trained attacker. When teaching to defend against grapplers, I taught some basic Judo, etc..

Today MMA could be considered an evolution of the same approach.  I say throw in a weapon system at some point to be complete. There is one other thing to consider, and that would be internal styles and external styles.

I personally believe you need to start with external systems first. There will be a time when transitioning, or at least learning an internal system will need to happen. This is for many reasons. One is continued learning to deeper levels of understanding of how the body can be used, once you have attained the level of knowledge/proficiency you can with your external systems of choice. Another reason is that we all age.  As we age our bodies deteriorate. The internal styles rely far less on strength, quickness, and size.  You can continue to get better in an internal system into old age. Not only that but while training external styles you see a tendency for injuries over time that accumulate. People tend to modify their technique around their old injuries. The internal systems tend to help you heal your old injuries, and improve you health.

I train several systems religiously today, and still go play with others from time to time, because I like them, and they are fun. Each of us have to make our own decisions on what and how to train. Keep the things I’ve mentioned in mind when making your own decisions. After all it is a life long journey, and there are many paths to the top of the mountain.

You Should Always Attack High and Low Together

September 25, 2009 Leave a comment

This is a pretty common concept amongst martial artists.  Let’s face it, if your being attacked in more then one place at a time, it is harder to defend then just a single attack. Untrained fighters just aren’t aware at all, and are much more vulnerable to this approach. If they see, and defend one, the other attack will most likely succeed.

There is a concept in Kempo known as walking techniques.  The idea with it is that as you move/close with your opponent you put your feet in close to your opponents feet/leg on the first move. There will of course be subsequent movements (at least a second move, you disrupt them on the second move). Once you close follow the previous methods I’ve talked about for positioning, skeletal freezing, timing, etc. if you put your foot very close or on top of the opponents foot, it allows you to control them with your leg as they try to move again. Again you can stop them from moving, take them off their feet, or break things, as they try to make their second move.

Kicking the leg as they try to move, or sweeping them as they move, works well if you want to be more aggressive then just stopping their rotation.  Of course you’re still doing everything you should with your upper body attack. You need to learn these different principles,   ingrain them until they become unconscious things for you. You keep  adding in principles this way. It is like layers of an onion.

Of course this isn’t the only method or system. If you have seen Chen Taijiquan practioners do push hands, you will see them with opposite legs forward, working sensitivity with their legs. While doing push hands  they are also pushing with their legs, and will take advantage of an opening either high or low, whichever presents itself.

Other approaches can appear to be more aggressive. For example many systems,  most Kempo systems included will fight from a further distance, and intend to immediately resolve the conflict, on contact through the fist move, or flow of moves.  Though you need to hit which ever target presents itself, as a general rule it is preferable to hit with the hands, then the feet/legs. The reason for this is that if you kick them on your way in they may not be in reach for your hand/arm attack.

One of the key things I think you need to do to use this approach, is to unbalance your opponent on contact. You want to break his balance and set him in place with your hands, exposing the leg nicely stretched out, locked in place and ready to attack.

If you have ever seen Liu Ho Pa Fa being performed with that 30 degree  lean they do, it is perfect for this. They come in from an angle, break the opponents balance, set and stretch out the opponent. Then they follow up. I look at it like using you hands similarly to sticking a fork in a piece of steak to hold it in place, while you use your legs, like a knife to cut off the piece you want.

There are lots of variations on this theme, but you need to think three dimensionally, not two  dimensionally.