Today is an exciting new first for Kenpo Women…we introduce our first guest author, Amy Strader! In the future, from time to time, we hope to offer articles and content from guest authors on a regular basis. I firmly believe hearing from different voices within our Kenpo community increases our ability to learn and broadens our horizons. New voices can challenge what we believe and potentially open our eyes, or offer us a new way to view a challenge or problem we may not have even realized we faced. We also hope to provide a platform for the existing, and next generation, of Kenpo Women leaders by providing them a place to learn, teach, and enhance our community and to start conversations with other martial artists throughout the world.
In my 29 years of training in American Kenpo, all of my instructors have been men. I have studied under and with a few women, but for the most part my senior instructors have been men. I was raised, for the most part by a single mom; I had 3 older sisters and a father who drifted in and out of my life as a loving yet distant image. My childhood was peaceful, yet I married into a relationship that became destructive; steeped in drug and alcohol abuse.
I escaped from that life and for the past 24 years I have explored Kenpo and tried to understand how it had made me a stronger and more self reliant woman. I have been determined to find the best way I could to pass those lessons on to other women. In this exploration I have discovered that the tactics for women have to be different than for men. The provocation for combat or engagement is different for women and the results must be different.
I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Parker, but my impression from those who have is that he wanted his senior students to explore the art and expand it based on their perspective of the world. I don’t think it is necessary for women to change the curriculum. I believe that Sr. Grandmaster Parker was very particular about the order in which things were to be taught so that the understanding of the information was progressive and consistent. Today with all the women who are practicing American Kenpo Karate, I think that perspective is crucial to the continued growth of the Art.
In combat; there are stages:
1) Pre – contact/threatening,
There are various styles of combat. From my perspective the two styles most relevant for women are:
Escalating Engagement vs. Ambush
Escalating Engagement usually starts as a non-physical confrontation, stage 1, one person trying to gain control of the other person by manipulation, threats and generally attempting to alter their perspective of themselves. This can also be related to bullying and/or verbal/psychological abuse, disrespectful body language and low level physical contact. The engagement then escalates to stage 2, (dead attacks, i.e. grabbing, restraining, uncomfortable physical contact) and semi-live attacks (pushing, hair pulling, pinching, digging in of fingernails) and then ultimately live attacks (slaps, punches and kicks, pushing into inanimate objects, and the use of weapons).
An altercation between two males may move through these stages within a matter of seconds. From start to finish the whole battle may last only a short time and may escalate through the stages quickly, adding, skipping or deleting any stage along the way.
For a woman, in an escalating engagement the pre-contact and contact stages may last for years. It may escalate to the next stage at anytime and then de-escalate for an extended period of time. This same type of bullying is familiar to children in abusive situations as well. The exposure over time creates a psychological barrier of desensitization of the injury, self-doubt and discouragement. None of which are attitudes beneficial for combat.
In most cases a woman, teen or child is at a disadvantage physically to a grown man. This means making the decision to physically engage must be very different must be well planned and practiced. It is often to the woman’s advantage to avoid the stage of exchange if possible. In most cases the desired outcome is to get to the stage of retreat as quickly as possible. Another strategy is to bypass all the stages and go from pre-entry to pursuit, which creates a combat style similar to ambush or pre-emptive strikes. (Also known as the “element of surprise.”) This strategy is often not practical if the woman is familiar with the attacker.
Ambush on the other hand is generally from the flank or behind, there is no warning and the combat initiates in contact and immediately accelerates to exchange and then ideally retreat. Often there is injury from the onset and disbelief of the seriousness of the attack. A woman can be quickly overcome and fear will be a dominant factor in her response.
It is my opinion that a woman can successfully train and prepare for both of these scenarios. I think that American Kenpo Karate is an excellent tool to do this. The practicality of Kenpo lends itself beautifully to a woman’s physique as well as a man’s. The combat aspect of the predesigned self defense techniques prepare one for an ambush scenario and were created in consideration of different angles of attack, varying height zones and body targets. A woman may want to explore these options in her training, as well as the fit of weapon to target.
A woman generally has a lower center of gravity, strong hips and thighs, smaller hands and fingers. These attributes can be maximized to a woman’s advantage by altering stances within a technique, establishing a lower base and by adapting strikes with varying weapons (handforms and kicks) or to alternate targets.
Take for example, the technique Thundering Hammers. After the block the first strike is a horizontal forearm across the ribs or mid-section bending your attacker over as you buckle their knee with your knee. In my opinion, a woman may not have the mass to deliver the required amount of force over a larger area such as a forearm to compel a large man to bend forward; but if she alters her strike to a fist, either an inverted hammerfist or a corkscrew punch on an slightly downward angle to the groin or femoral triangle the impact may be that much greater. In conjunction with that because of her lower base of stability, if she should give more emphasis to the buckling of the legs her success overall can tremendous.
Practicing this way, for women will open their minds to the benefits of practice. It will also emphasis the opportunity that American Kenpo provides in its adaptability. I think that it is the duty of all women who train at whatever rank to share these ideas for growth with their sister Kenpoists to increase the understanding of what Sr.Grandmaster Parker designed, not to change it, but to enhance it and point out the ingeniousness of it.
The benefits of physical training of any kind are paramount to a woman’s health, fitness, sense of well being and confidence. This can be achieved in many ways and with many styles of martial arts, but the practice of running the American Kenpo forms and sets assists so much with balance, posture, body alignment, understanding of economy of movement and the other power principles that it is invaluable to a woman’s understanding of how their body functions and moves effectively.
Training with a partner using the American Kenpo Self Defense Techniques in critical to a woman establishing the endurance to withstand some physical abuse and the psychological insight of knowing that she can. The emotional strength and wisdom that comes from this training can mean the difference between success and defeat or life and death for a woman. The level of confidence, self and spatial awareness training provides can help a woman avoid getting into a combat of escalating engagement or at least to recognize it and take control of the stages and outcome.
As a woman and a practitioner of American Kenpo Karate, I cannot think of a greater gift to give my sisters. This understanding of the need and methods to adapt a nearly perfect form of self defense for female combat is unique to women. Men are great teachers; they have paved the way for women to enter an area of training that was not open to them very long ago. They have helped provide the encouragement and passion for the art.
Now we as women of American Kenpo Karate must bring our perspective to the field, share our unique understanding, pick up and pass the torch and keep the Kenpo fire burning. May the spirit of Kenpo burn hot inside of you, keep you safe and warm and spur you on to greatness.
Amy Strader lives in Corvallis, Oregon. She has a fourth degree black belt in American Kenpo Karate, works as a fitness instructor, personal trainer and owns Western Oregon Kenpo Karate Club. She started her Kenpo training in Albuquerque in 1983, with Mr. Bill Packer. She did some tournament competitions in the 80’s and she was one of the first women to fight in competitive kickboxing exhibitions with Mr. Packer’s team. She now trains with Lou Donadio in Corvallis. Amy teaches women’s self defense clinics and is available to teach seminars to students in Kenpo Karate and in fitness in general. Feel free to contact her at: Amystrader@aol.com