Note from Mrs. White:
Ms Lee is a remarkable and accomplished individual. My husband and I have had the pleasure to watch her mature as a Martial Artist and as a young woman. She is focused and driven to achieve excellence in her endeavors and as a result, has done so. Her thesis is an excellent example of this. Aisling is a leader and an inspiration to us and no doubt to many others who cross her path.
Celbridge Kenpo Karate Academy
Kenpo: a Contribution to Society
Black Belt Thesis
The Yin and yang of Kenpo
Self-control Vs. Self defence
Confidence Vs. Humility
Discipline Vs. Flexibility
Concentration Vs. Speed
The seven virtues of bushido
Honesty and sincerity
Duty and loyalty
Becoming a Black Belt
Beyond the dojo
My Own Form
The Inspiration for the topic of this thesis came from a conversation I had with my head instructor Professor Downey.
We discussed possible ideas to explore along with aspects of some which have yet to be analysed. We discussed approaches, the quality expected but most importantly what it means. The aim of the thesis is not merely just another obstacle to try over come to attain that coveted 1st degree, rather to be used as a tool to expand the mind in line with the body.
It was from this conversation that Professor Downey imparted on me the ideology that the thesis we submit is not just an exhibit of our knowledge and understanding of Kenpo, the thesis we submit is our contribution to Kenpo, its development and continuation.
It was this concept of making a worthwhile contribution that began me contemplating how I could accomplish this important task. The idea of giving back to Kenpo, Kenpo has bestowed not only upon me but its whole community so many different rewards and gifts. It was then I realised I wanted to look at the human aspect of Kenpo and its contribution to society. This idea of Kenpo playing such a pivotal role in not just my life but many others all across the globe from all walks of life is a huge one which is often alluded to at various events.
Even recently at the celebration dinner for my club (Celbridge) all of the speeches echoed each other’s sentiment in how thankful they were for Kenpo in their lives. Upon listening to stories from our mentors and friends my table began sharing stories of how they got involved and started their own Kenpo journey, each different and special in its own way, carrying glints in the eye of the teller. Thus I have decided my thesis is to be based not on my own contribution to Kenpo but the reverse, to look at what Kenpo as a gift that has been given by SGM Parker and his lineage to us, to society and to the world.
My method to approaching this will be analysing an aspect of Kenpo that I have benefitted from and how it is not an isolated case in regards to how it can also benefit others
The Yin and Yang of Kenpo
Most of us have heard of the ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and yang or the dark and light. The correlation between this ideology and Kenpo is the symbolism. In Kenpo we have our own variation in the tiger and the dragon. The tiger being like a white belt, lacking technique but filled with courage, bravery and a strong will to fight. Opposing the tiger is the dragon experienced, wise, cunning, and knowledgeable in self-preservation.
My analysis of the yin and yang within this article will be that of mind and body in Kenpo. As SGM Ed Parker once said “mastery of the art is when the tiger is seen but the dragon prevails” it’s is with the complementary factors of training one’s mind and body that produces this well rounded practitioner where their skill can be seen when tested but their intelligence wins the fight.
Self-Control Vs Self-Defence
Kenpo is a self-defence system there’s no doubt about it but a funny thing occurs when someone trains and begins to gain proficiency in the system. When I started Kenpo, I started for many reasons one which made my parents encourage it over other sports was bullying. When I started I did as many others who enter a dojo for the first time, I had the intentions of learning how to fight. When my mother enrolled me in my school she was told to my surprise that id learn how not to fight. Perplexed at the age of 5 that this school where I observed people fighting (sparring) and practicing techniques with vigour I probed further “how is that” I quizzed professor Downey. The response I got was the same one he has given to anyone who asks, in training how to fight we learn not to fight, to walk away, that we don’t need to fight to prove ourselves (why this is true I will examine its components later).
So within these apparently opposing ideologies so the other lies. The most obvious is while acting in self-defence we exert self-control so as the force used is only what is necessary to ensure our safety. The other being in self-control we too find self-defence how often do we enter into an argument and before is escalates to levels beyond our control we walk away. In that display of self-control we too exert self-defence as that alone may have prevented us from being subjected to harm
Confidence Vs Humility
Through my own experience Kenpo has gifted me quite a high level of confidence but as the colour of my belt darkened my humility grew. Although these can be viewed as contradictory terms they are both key to a practitioners self-development in Kenpo.
“Champions believe in themselves even when no one else does”
Confidence is bred through demonstrations of proficiency from gradings and competitions, to learning how to command a group or even an entire class. These progressions instil a level of self-confidence and self-worth in a person. This confidence enhancing path is unmeasurably valuable, so much so that many times outside of the studio I have had to do public speaking in various scenarios and after at times people will say they would never be able to have done it whereas for me I never give it a second thought. This is due, I believe, solely from my early beginnings in Kenpo where performing sets and forms solo on front of a class or judges became regular occurrences, then moving onto teaching where it was not unheard of to have a class of 30+ children to instruct at one time. This self-awareness of ability allows the practitioner to believe in their capabilities physically in their application of the system and most importantly mentally. At some stage in everyone’s journey they’ll reach a point (or points) where they are challenged, be it their commitment, their drive, or their body can’t keep up, it is the self believe birthed from the developed confidence that allows a person to push past the barrier and reach a new level in their training.
“The humble man reserves room for progress the proud man believes he is already there”
The reverse of this coin being humility, I believe compliments the self-confidence developed. The dictionary definition states that humility is “the quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance.” I would agree with Kenpo instilling the former into a practitioner. As previously mentioned as I rose in rank I began to change my views on the system, as many of us have. As we encounter our own challenges and forge our own path so too do we develop an understanding and appreciation for those who have helped pave it before us. If you were to enter a new profession and within a short time begin questioning the work of your superiors you could be seen as disrespectful and offend those whom you question, In my experience my instructors have rejoiced in these questions as they pride themselves in the practicality and effectiveness of their craft yet when they see something new or a variation, they won’t dismiss it but rather work with you to analyse it and explore its viability. It is from this demonstration of constant learning and development from our leaders we realise that the coveted black belt is not a destination but a journey to be relished and that once obtained it starts again.
Discipline Vs Flexibility
“One half of knowing what you want is in knowing what you must give up before you get it.” One of the major benefits for any kenpoist and young children especially is the high level of discipline they develop that starts once they enter the studio. The discipline one develops is immeasurable in both mental and physical forms. The physical side of the discipline is evident when we can see a practitioner able to control their force against a training partner be it in sparring or during techniques and their ability to vary it accordingly to the rank and ability of their partner. Also one thing I noticed in Kenpo when we hurt or even injure a partner accidentally through excessive force we apologise, and I myself when on the receiving end acknowledge that in was a good strike and we continue on as before. There in again shows high levels of discipline involved, when the fowler does not become the fowled in retaliation for their excessiveness. I have visited other non Kenpo schools where trainers have to consistently remind students not to lash out at their partner for such a shot (mostly aimed at notably the newer members as they have yet to develop this discipline).
“It is better to cultivate discipline than to rely on motivation”
It is clear looking at higher ranks how mentally disciplined we are and can be. To get yourself into the studio, consistently regardless of any obstacles presented be it a halt in progress, physical restrictions or outside life, the fact that we still turn up and train is an achievement in itself. We all experience periods of latency in our training and it is in those times we truly learn what we are made of. These times where no material progress is evident can deter many as they previously progressed through the ranks with ease (this is especially evident with juniors). As the colour darkens on your belt, so too should your thought process deepen. It is when Kenpo becomes the smart man’s art where merely blind repetition of movement will no longer suffice where actual thought and tailoring must come into play that many fall away.
Again we look at how a practitioner can be both disciplined and flexible at the same time. As I’ve mentioned above through dedication we still train but Kenpo, at least as I have experienced it, is flexible. Like a scientist my Instructors love to be questioned have their methods questioned and constantly manipulate the original material to help it evolve in today’s world but most importantly it can be done tailor each student. Many people in today’s world look to MMA as the best self-defence system as it’s well-rounded. In its encompassing of the benefits of many styles it is, but bar ground fighting I believe Kenpo is extremely well rounded and any holes get patched fairly quickly. Such is the flexibility and diversity of the system.
Concentration Vs Speed
One of the most common comments I received from parents during my time teaching in the studio was the fascination in the concentration levels of most of the students (in particular their child) during class. Growing up my parents would come back from parent teacher meetings with the same statement “she’s a smart girl she just needs to learn how to concentrate” and yet when they brought me to the studio my attention would never waiver from the task at hand. Martial arts as a whole has the ability to gift those who chose to follow its path to learn how to concentrate. Be it the fine details or the bigger picture. We begin and end class in a meditative horse stance, during these few seconds we concentrate solely on what we want to achieve and reflect on what we have. Within the techniques there at times can be a lot happening be it a dynamic /responsive attacker, multiple targets, weapons and even in cases multiple attackers to concentrate on the moment at hand entirely is truly a benefit.
Even in day to day life the benefits of this can be seen for example recently I applied to become a lifeguard. Part of the application process was a fitness test of which there was one aspect I was concerned about, that being the deep water retrieval. For this I had to dive 5m to retrieve a human simulation dummy. Before I had to attempt it I visualised it (like the meditation we do before class) and I missed my first attempt but I concentrated on my breathing calmed and centred myself, again visualising myself completing the task and so I completed it ease on my second attempt. Like many of the above comparisons these two can contradict each other with speed we lose definition and with that our concentration is wasted. Speed doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative attribute to one’s performance. In fact it can actually act as an enhancement when executed correctly. To make informed and correct decisions in life and movement we must concentrate but alas outside of the controlled training environment, time is a luxury we are not afforded and speed becomes a necessity. Kenpo for the more proficient practitioner teaches the ability to concentrate in these situations and yet perform at a high level which can manifest itself in fast movements and critical thinking. Also at times speed is not as it appears, what some can see as fast rapid movement can actually be well thought out utilizations of the mechanical principles of Kenpo such as cutting angles, borrowing force and many more.
Although alone these attributes of Kenpo can at times appear to contradict each other in how to the average person they might negatively affect the other but through Kenpo we learn, as I have displayed above, how to harness the positive of each and allow the practitioner to gain a higher level of skill and self-awareness from the harmony of both.
The Seven Virtues of Budo
“I come to you with only karate. Empty hands I have no weapons, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles or my honour. Should it be a matter of life or death right or wrong, Then here are my weapons karate my empty hands”
-Kenpo Creed, SGM Ed Parker
Budo is Japanese for “the martial way” but more commonly referred to as the way of the warrior. Above outlined in the Kenpo creed is simply put the way of the Kenpo practitioner, this way I feel is in line with that of the original Budo code. Budo is the code of which the martial artists before us set out for the practitioner to live by.
In modern day sports a lot is to be said for admirable and virtuous characters who really lead by example. We can often see within other sports the hooliganism that accompanies it or how many competitors are very Machiavellian in their approach to winning. We in the martial arts world and especially though SGM Parker have a culture of which aligns perfectly with the seven virtues of Budo outlines many years ago before us. Below I aim to examine them and their role in the Kenpo practitioners experience and development.
The first of the seven I believe to be one of it not the most important within our community because without integrity we lose all the others. Without integrity we de-validate not only our system but our work and culture that many have worked so hard to develop and perpetuate. For me integrity represents honesty, good manners, having good morals and being honourable.
Most recently a great example of our clubs integrity was at our first kickboxing competition, all the students from our club represented themselves and the club as best they could but most importantly they conducted themselves to the highest standard. After each match win or lose all competitors were gracious in thanking officials, opponents and coaches. The most interesting comparison was when a very talented fighter from our club was competing, at first she was behind in points but soon caught up through her determination (it was a prime examples of all the virtues listed here). She went on to win the match. After the result was announced her opponent threw what I can only describe as a tantrum. I found this was highly disrespectful to both her (the opponents) coach and surrounding officials. Not long after our young competitor fought again and unfortunately was unsuccessful in that match but her response was in great contrast to that of her previous opponent, she was gracious in her defeat and went out of her way to express appreciation to all involved in the match including those who supported her.
Another side to the concept of integrity is the clubs members and their rank. I personally have found it quite pride inducing when travelling under the name of Celbridge Kenpo Karate Academy and representing Master Downey as where ever I go when people hear who you’ve trained under they respect your ability because any belt received under Master Downey is well and truly hard earned. When I visited Spain as part of an exchange such an event occurred. I was brought up to the top of the class and introduced as a visitor from Master Downey’s club and that they were delighted to have me so much so on that trip they asked if I would be willing to partake in a demonstration with them as they would be honoured to have a Downey student perform with them. To know that you work hard and the standard in the club is so high that not only in the club or nationally but internationally your rank is highly regard when bestowed upon you by master Downey, is a fantastic display of his and the clubs integrity, especially in a world where for a price you can be certified with a 10th degree black belt within minutes.
“A true test of a man’s character is by what he does when nobody is watching”-Unknown
The whole ethos of our club carries on into everyday life for its students as we can see it clearly evident in the growth of many of the juniors who have stayed through into adulthood, and what impressive character and also as a result their integrity has been moulded by that of our clubs. I know personally myself I have been in situations where my integrity has been tested be it in work, college or everyday life often it was cases where the easy road would contradict my morals even though it would yield desirable results. Through my development and growth as a person whom studies Kenpo I personally have found solace in the greater value of keeping my integrity intact from little things to the large.
Respect is such a relevant concept in today’s society as well as in the studio. Associate Master Barbara White once spoke of respect being something that should be commanded not demanded, that concept really struck a chord with me when analysing whom I respect and receive respect from. Firstly let me differentiate between the two, commanding respect is not an order but rather there is some quality about you or your character that garners the respect of others. Whereas if you demand respect you may not necessarily have done anything at all you’re merely ordering that you should be respected.
In today’s world a lot of people see respect as something that is just a given where as any martial artist knows it is forged through time, dedication and achievement. We respect our parents not because they gave us life but because they provided us with a life and often at times had to struggle to do so. We respect our teachers and instructors because they have educated themselves and worked hard to earn their position.
From the very first day we walk into the studio we learn about respect. Before we enter we bow, we line up in class ordered in rank out of respect to those more experienced than us, we salute as a sign of respect to the instructor and we thank them at the end. As mentioned in the club our instructors command the respect of their pupils it is not forced. We respect the life experience of them be it through their profession (many have worked in some area which enhances their understanding and knowledge in one or multiple aspects of Kenpo such as door-men, physics, biology, defence forces etc.) or otherwise . Like I mentioned before as a result of the integrity of the club we have a great culture of respect and many parents are astounded at the ability of instructors to hold the attention of large classes of young children, this is achieved not only by stimulating their children in a fun manner but also the respect that the instructors ability and character commands.
Outside of the club the children have been complimented on their composure be it at an event representing the club (as above mentioned at the kickboxing competition) or just in day to day scenarios. This too applies to the adults, for example something that I find really interesting is if you look at the European Kenpo camp Master Downey hosts each year. We have a large contingency occupy the location he hosts it at every year and we train with each other then we socialise in the evening. Now out of context if you were to tell someone you had a group that large and introduce alcohol anyone would say it is a recipe for disaster. Especially as I have been on many nights out where even grown men and women have lost the run of themselves but in my many years of attending it I have never seen anyone do so and even in an intoxicated state attendees still remain highly respectful.
When you actually pause to think, if you told people you pay to walk into a studio full of people waiting to hit you, many would argue one should be committed to a mental institution. It takes a lot of courage to walk into a studio for the first time as does it to allow others to train on you. Especially as a woman it can at times seem very much so more intimidating but beyond starting, the courage the Budo speaks of is a mind-set.
“Fatigue Makes Cowards of us all”- Vincent Lombardi
When we train its often to the point of exhaustion and that is as a result of the above quote how often do we see fighters or even sports personalities shrink in moments of weakness, when their body can no longer sustain what they have asked of it ? I know myself there have been times during my training especially during sparring that moving around the mat is a stalling tactic to allow the body time to recover before having to launch into another attack or defence. The ability to push past a barrier and overcome it weather it is mental or physical, that in my opinion is one of the greatest feats a human can accomplish. How often have we read of ordinary people completing extraordinary physical feats because they had the self-belief and the courage to go for it? Training in Kenpo teaches you resilience and to have the faith in yourself and your ability, these traits coupled together give many people the courage to come out of their shell socially, the normally reserved to get up on front of a crowd and compete and also the self-respect to not give up.
When we speak of courage we must acknowledge its inverse, that of course being fear. Mrs White speaks largely about the threats women face from attackers and how in America there are instances reported in which the motivational reason for these women surviving was fear, granted depending on what they were afraid of it motivated each differently but those afraid of grievous injury or rape fought harder and escaped. Many of these stories she has taken from Gavin De Becker’s book the gift of fear. As rightly observed these women were motivated by fear and thus the title is apt but I believe it was their courage that allowed them to act upon their fear as courage is not the absence of fear but rather the acknowledgment of it and the ability to move beyond it to achieve the desired outcome. One such story of courage that struck me was of a female officer who was pursued by a potential attacker and was shot in the heart but still continued to fight back and actually killed her assailant and survived.
Training in a form of self-defence affords us the self-awareness that we can defend ourselves if we need to and in turn the courage to do so when necessary.
Honour is a very foreign concept to some people and is at times widely perceived to be more prevalent in Asian culture. When we think of honour especially in a martial arts context we usually refer back to feudal japan/china with the nobility of the samurai being one that for me always stood out and fittingly so because Budo was at the heart of the samurai culture. Honour is a quality that can have many meanings in regards to us as martial artists it can be associated with respect, pride and morality. Again we can see the virtues of Budo are intrinsically linked because honour is synonymous with integrity and all its aforementioned qualities can be included here.
Mostly within the club we see honour as a way to respect someone such as we honour our history, in our salutation we remember and honour our systems origins and our aims as kenpoists. We honour our Kenpo family for their achievements in and outside the studio through our various ceremonies and promotions such as when someone has earned a new grade. With our conduct we in turn honour our school and its instructors, like I’ve mentioned above in the instance of the kickboxing competition the occurrences that day were not an isolated event, I’ve been involved in the Kenpo and martial arts community for a long time and I’ve seen such sights many a time and showing a high level of respect and carrying yourself in such a humble manner speaks volumes about not only you as a person but your origins which of course includes your club.
The compassion of a kenpoists can be seen very easily if you were to attend any training session. It can be seen after we conduct techniques and we offer a hand to help each other up, this is an interesting moment because it can be looked at as a physical representation of compassion but also a manifestation of metaphorically helping each other up. We spur each other on with encouragement and that literal helping hand when it comes to passing on knowledge, as they say the rising tide raises all boats and so does the constant thriving to improve not only oneself but each other. Comical or not I think the empathy we feel for a fellow man stems from the understanding of the physical pain we can inflict on each other and controlling it. Understanding how and when to physically hurt someone can truly expand the mind in my opinion allowing for us to grow as people.
Many years ago I was told no matter where I go in the world if I’m ever lost or stuck I could just go and find the nearest Kenpo School and then I’d be home. When I asked what they meant by being home I was told it was because they would look after you like family. At first I thought this a novel idea until I was actually fortunate enough to experience it first-hand. Back in 2010 I made friends with a girl at the European Kenpo camp. She had come over from Spain with friends and her instructor, I was studying Spanish at the time and her English, we struck up a conversation one of the days and a great friendship ensued. The following year she returned with her mother, I with my parents and we made arrangements to conduct our own little exchange. It was when I went to live with her for essentially a month that I truly understood the extent of what I was told years previously. When I was there all of those I had made friends with within her club and her instructor constantly made sure I was looked after and ok. It was one of the greatest journeys I have gone on and all thanks to the Kenpo community and their families. I have since returned and although I didn’t get to train an effort from the Kenpo community was made to meet up and see how I was and that I got to see as much as possible. Another interesting observation though is the compassion is not limited to just our fellow kenpoists this is so evident in how many of our competitions are used as fund raisers for various charities none other more evident that the work Master and Associate Master Mr and Mrs White do for the RFK of which I will speak about later.
Honesty and sincerity
Honesty and sincerity are very important in what we do as a club. Although we do enjoy our training sessions and can joke and laugh at times, we never forget that what we are training in is self-defence and we as a result must train realistically. If you google martial arts and defence techniques the internet will provide you with a plethora of people who’ve never experienced real life situations and as a result some of the material just wouldn’t work and that’s where you must work with your partner because if you want your art to be applicable your training has to be realistic and sincere.
It’s also from this that the honesty comes into play as mentioned before with integrity, with Master Downey you know you’ve earned your belt and therefore know you can protect yourself to that standard. There are clubs of which we are all aware of (the “McDojo”) that hands out belts and that is not honest or fair to its students because they may or may not be to the standard and thus could find themselves in danger as a result. This tough love we receive is just an example of honesty in our system, a perfect and prime example of the honesty and integrity we cultivate on the mat was a while ago I was practicing a technique and in the ideal stage it was very nice but as soon as my partner started throwing the punches hard and fast I got hit, and I thanked him. Why? Because I learned I was doing something wrong so I change and adapted what I was doing. Off the mat the idea of being honest and sincere again comes in under integrity. To be honest and able to be serious when required is honestly a trait I believe to be developed in the studio.
Duty and loyalty
We as trained martial artists have a duty firstly to ourselves to conduct ourselves in a manner aligning consciously or not with the concepts of Budo but also to be respectful of others, that could be abiding by the Kenpo creed in not using your Kenpo for malicious intent but rather in self-preservation and ensuring your loved ones are safe should the moment call for it. We always hear of the concept of paying it forward and Kenpo is a prime example of it. We have a culture of servitude in our club where as you rise in rank so shall you contribute to the rising of the under-belts.
I think the loyalty aspect again is apparent in the Kenpo system we choose an instructor and stick with them and over time this develops a very unique bond. I myself to date have trained under Master Downey for sixteen and a half years and I wouldn’t change it. No matter what life throws at me or other hobbies I take up, Kenpo has always had my first priority after my education, the same is true for many other practitioners.
All of these ideas (the virtues of Budo) again are carried forward from the times of the samurai. The way of a warrior is a noble one and thus you must conduct yourself so they are developed be it consciously or not and are more prevalent in those who’ve progressed and/or stuck with the art.
Becoming a Black Belt
“A Black Belt is a White Belt Who Never Gave Up”
Being a black belt is a lot more than just what you wear around your waist. The martial artist’s journey is not about getting a black belt it’s rather, in my opinion, about being one. To many it can mean different things it can mean being a leader, being skilful, being a teacher, a role model, carrying on a legacy, and so much more. The black belt itself is merely a symbol of a journey rather than a destination because anyone who achieves entry into this higher echelon of the Kenpo and even the martial arts community will tell you that you get to this peak and realise there’s more mountains to conquer. Becoming a black belt starts long before you even start on the material. It starts in the mind when a decision is made to commit to the goal.
Statistics have shown that for every 10,000 people who start training in a martial art half of them wont complete more than 6 months of training before they leave, of those that stay only a thousand will complete a year in their discipline, half of those that do stay the year will drop out before their second year is complete. Come the third year only 0.01% of those that started will still be training. Only ten of the original ten thousand will make it to their black belt and statistically speaking only 1 of those 10 will return to teach.
A person who achieves their black belt represents the 0.001% of people who take up a martial art.
It’s quite an astonishing analysis really of how few obtain the coveted grade although it’s not surprising as it takes an awful lot of commitment and drive to stay the course, but it makes it all that more desirable. A person’s wealth should not be judged by their material possessions but rather what they have that money can’t buy and surely a hard earned black belt is one of those wealth markers. In my opinion it is so valuable due to all of the positive traits, physical and mental, that a person develops as they journey through their time studying.
Becoming a black belt as mentioned starts a long time before you wrap it around your waist. It starts in your growth as a person it’s a mind-set one develops over time (the virtues and characteristics as mentioned above included). Some of the physical trials people can push themselves through are quite impressive but that’s due to their training and growth within the studio.
Without noticing at some point we all become leaders in Kenpo. The practitioners coming up behind us look to us for guidance (this is more predominant with the juniors) and in setting that example and standard we lead. Another important aspect to leading is when you teach only when you can convey a concept in a concise and coherent manner do you truly understand it. Although some people make it criteria for potential black belts to teach I think it shouldn’t have to be, you should naturally want to give back and impart your knowledge if not for the sake of those following in your footsteps but even for the benefits it will give you in return.
Again part of leading means you must set a high example and as I’ve mentioned before there’s no point in wearing a black belt if in fact your skill level doesn’t match it. It’s not necessarily that you can perform all and any of the material from any of the belts at the drop of the hat because there is a lot, but rather that you can execute the techniques efficiently and effectively that you can look at what someone’s doing and adapt it to suit yourself. Through seemingly minimalistic movements a skilful kenpoists can inflict tremendous pain and damage to an opponent. Being skilful to me is moving with purpose rather than the for the sake of moving.
“Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have”
Look at modern day role models in various sports and then look at those you find inside your own club. At times those you encounter be it weekly in training or those you only briefly get to see our Kenpo family has some fantastic role models who exhibit all of the virtues of Budo and for young children they are vital to continue the positive development of the younger generations.
Perseverance and Self Belief
As mentioned before, training in any martial art and achieving a rank is no easy feat especially a black belt. If you sit down with anyone who has earned one you will find a person with an impressive character, one who is quietly confident in themselves and they have a tremendous amount of self-belief. For some they were able to excel in their passion and achieve it reasonably quickly and for others it took many years of hard work and encountering pf road blocks along their journey. Both of these types of practitioners exhibit positive traits as above mentioned in their determination and ability to either focus fully and devote all their efforts on the task (for those who have a straight path) or for those who encountered various issues in their progression be it in or out of the studio their resilience and perseverance is evident in their ability to eventually achieve their goals.
Kenpo is a fantastic form of self-expression just like dance it is a medium that allows you to find movement to express yourself. This is especially evident at competitions you can see in the forms divisions how people differ in their movement and accentuation on different actions. A prime example of this is Bruce Lee who was very precise, serious, and strong in his movement, Jackie Chan has been quoted that he has modelled his style contrasted around Bruce Lees to make it his own.
Also in the studio it allows for you to release emotion through the movement be it blowing off steam from a stressful day or share in your joy with your training partner.
Another fantastic quality is the work ethic and dynamic developed especially in children who train in Kenpo. Kenpo can be both a team sport and an individual one. It’s individual in the sense that your progress only depends on you, and you move at the rate appropriate to your learning abilities but the members of the club work together as a team to help everyone improve. This is unique that it does allow for development of skills pertaining to working in a team while promoting independent learning and taking initiative in practitioners own learning.
Beyond The Dojo
One extremely understated fact that many people miss is the culture of family that is harvested within the Kenpo community like I’ve briefly mentioned I was personally invited into the home of the friend I made through Kenpo, to live with her and her family with no material gain for them.
A perfect example of this family atmosphere is indeed the European Kenpo Camp. People go out of their way at it to try and celebrate our common interest. An interesting thing about Kenpo is it seems to transcend all boarders physical and metaphorical be it language, culture or social barriers. It is this ability, for people to walk onto a mat and just see each other as part of this larger family without ever having met, is a beautiful one. Also this familial connection does not go away when someone leaves or has to stop training for whatever reason or period of time. The bond developed through sharing Kenpo as a common interest in my experience has been stronger than most sports and it’s a wonderful thing to experience and witness when you meet someone you haven’t seen in years and still the friendship remains. Many people have left and returned to Kenpo and due to its nature as an individual sport they can pick up where they left off.
The non-Kenpo community
“If you’re lucky enough to be successful send the elevator back down”
For many the skills and values they develop through their training they see as something to share and give back to the wider community. One such example is the fantastic work done by the White family and their school (Bob Whites Karate School) for the RFK (Royal Family Kids) for anyone whom is unaware the RFK provide summer camps for abused children allowing them a week during the summer where they can leave all their worries behind, which is interesting because essentially isn’t that what Kenpo affords its practitioners? Their clubs involvement with the organisation began when a student requested they perform a demonstration at one of the camps they volunteered at. When they had seen the work that was done they decided to hold a charity competition in the car park outside of their studio and have it in aid of the RFK. It has since become an annual affair and each year the amount raised grows. Associate Master Mrs White has said that the kenpo community coming together to raise these funds has visibly benefitted all involved from the Kenpo side it has brought more people together creating new friendships, more children get to attend the RFK’s camp and the local church who usually provided the bulk of the funds has less pressure to do so. For the last 3 years they have actually been running a Karate programme at their local camp which affords these children the chance to learn and develop some of the skills mentioned above especially discipline and confidence mainly.
My Own Form
When I began developing my own form I first sat down to brain storm what the purpose of it was. When we look at the Kenpo forms Mr Parker gave us they all serve a purpose to teach or focus the practitioner on some aspect of our Kenpo. I wanted to then in turn do the same, I wanted to take and analyse various aspects I could work on that displayed my strengths in Kenpo, but also allowed me to show my understanding. This in turn led me to the decision to develop my own techniques because I found greater worth in this as a display of my years of experience in Kenpo. Here I hope to explain and break down the techniques into an executable manner and explain the processes in their developments.
The form of which I have developed falls into the “what if” realm of Kenpo. The techniques I have selected are chosen on the basis of;
1. Attacks to which I believe I am most susceptible to receive
2. My reflex reaction to these attacks under these circumstances.
3. And lastly movements that complement both those previous and proceeding it
Once I had settled on a concept of which I wanted the form to revolve around the development of the form came about through a long thought process. When contemplating a potential attacker’s response to how you defend yourself we must look beyond the ideal stage and see how they would realistically respond. I firstly began by analysing the physical response of a person upon receiving various strikes e.g. doubling over, straightening up, negative orbits, balance, and falling patterns.
I then looked at realistically a potential attacker isn’t going to allow themselves to be a punching bag so I wanted to analyse their defensive response be it instinctive or trained to my defence of their attack. It was as mentioned this “what if” that I then observed how various techniques can be grafted to each other either as a prefix or a suffix to gain the upper hand in a given altercation. Such is the basis of my form.
There are 6 attackers within this form some of which execute multiple attacks (as their defence) and for which circumstances I have devised my own techniques.
The form begins from attention stance, stepping in to a right hooking punch from an attacker at 12 o’clock, stepping in and executing the double hand swords used in five swords on the radial nerve and wrist.
The attacker follows up with a left hooking punch to which you execute a right extended outward block with a palm shot to the face as in shielding hammer followed by shuffling in and contouring up the arm with a hammer fist to the jaw.
Then as per entwined maces the right hand drops to a hammer fist striking the groin while the left hand checks high and the right leg buckles your opponents left. The left hand then claws down on their face as the right comes back up to back knuckle them in the face. Then shoot the left hand up past their face to grab their neck and pull down onto your left knee. You then plant with a right forearm strike to the near side of their head. From there you execute a similar motion as seen in intercepting the ram where you grab their face pull back and rip and you in-place switch to the other side of their head and perform another (left) downward forearm strike.
The attacker then grabs your left shoulder with their right hand and you perform essentially obscure claws on the left hand side. Leading with the left hand step back with your left leg with double claws to the face, left foot then steps forward with a left uppercut motion used to hyper extend and possibly break their arm as right hand palms the shoulder. The right foot comes forward moving up the circle, right hand chops the neck. From this angle you strike helically down into the chest with your left hand.
The attacker then grabs the wrist of your left hand with their left, from there we do crossing talon, we counter grab their wrist rotate it and step through with a downward forearm to just above their left elbow, we then execute and outward elbow to the face followed by a claw, rake down the back with a hammer fist. From there as in reversing circles coupled with a downward elbow we knee to their left shoulder from there we blade kick their right leg and hammer the face. Plant forward and off to the 45° angle slightly while gripping their hand in a goose neck lock then step back around with the right and forward with the left pointing their wrist over their shoulder. When they fall retaining control of their arm with your right hand we palm the elbow joint with our left and (left) kick through the joint as per falling falcon and back through the kidney.
From there we are grabbed arms pinned from behind facing 2 o’clock. From here we execute squeezing the peach on the left side, dropping back with the right leg and a right hammer fist, a groin grab with a right step up with a quick in place switch.
As per left side of obscure wing you will drop back with the left leg and hammer the groin coming upward with an elbow, contour upward with a left chop to the neck as you reach around with the right to do the same on the other side and grab their collar.
From there we continue with fatal cross pulling them in and onto a left then right knee. From the right knee kick out their right leg and turn them with appropriate means (depending on their height and size at this point one method will be more desirable than others).
After you’ve turned them step back with the left and prop them on your right knee, a similar striking pattern to back breaker we double knuckle strike into their temples double chop down onto their vagus nerve, transitioning to gripping both the front and back of the head we snap the neck and step around with the left dropping them to the ground. As they fall we strike with a left claw following their descent with a right claw and landing with the right knee to the face.
From the kneeling position you receive an overhead punch. From here we rise with a front crossover into circling windmills upward left parry followed by a right upward parry the left hand cuts down the circle to chop the ribs. We then rise upward with our left and grab the inside of their wrist as we front crossover with our left then right hammer down on their jaw, from there like in defying the rod we right forearm inside their right arm to clear it and spin with a left back kick.
After clearing the previous attacker your jacket is low grabbed from behind from here we essentially execute menacing twirl on the left side spinning into them with a left hammer fist to the groin and right palm to their right shoulder. Striking with a right knee to the solar plexus succeeded by a left to their left thigh, land with an upward forearm catching their chin with the crook of your elbow then dropping down with an elbow into the sternum and hinging from there into a downward hammer to the groin step out with the right and finish with a left back kick planting into a right front crossover as you begin to cover out.
Immediately upon landing you receive a right front kick from an opponent. As in retreating pendulum you block low with the right as you drop back with the right leg into a twist stance while checking high with the left. From there step through with a blade kick to their rear leg while circling around with your right and hammering the back of the neck. Grabbing their shoulder adjust your right foot appropriately and pull down and back as you begin into a left spinning hook kick catching them in the sternum. Plant the left foot just above their left arm and as in the end of twisted rod kick through their ribs plant and stomp on the clavicle rotate and drop into a kneel with the right knee on their throat and eye poke. From there cross out with a kick to the head and hammer to the temple
Lastly having completed the previous technique you are now grabbed from behind arms free as in spiralling twig. From here you will drop into a horse stance with double elbows onto their arms then striking their hands to release the grip. Grabbing their right hand in a goose neck lock step forward with the right, then left off on the 45°angle, step and spin around with the right leg to face them.
From here (like the unarmed version of thrusting lance) left ball kick to their near shoulder and right ball kick to the face landing with an upward back knuckle. Roll it over into a hammer strike to the mastoid process, from there shuffle into an upward elbow to their shoulder, cupping your hand then onto the triceps clear the arm and in place switch with an elbow into the armpit drop back with the left leg to buckle and left hammer to the groin. Pivot on the left foot with an open handed double kidney shot and right knee. Plant the right foot back and grab their shoulders and spin and throw them to the ground. Like leap of death jump landing on their kidneys and forcing their head into the ground with a double palm shot, cupping the hand strike both ears then claw the sides cover out with a right hammer and sweep kick to the face.
In reflection upon the form I tried to utilise the various high zones in striking and moving. The idea with the techniques was I didn’t want to waste any movement even transitions had a striking or defensive value. Predominantly my defence was close quarters with all the elbows forearms and knees this was done based upon the research of how I’m most likely to end up in vulnerable situations. We have seen in the news many attempted abductions, recently there was a young girl who was walking home from school and approached from behind and a bag thrown over her head. Similarly my techniques are either based around the surprise attack or you could be in a situation e.g. in night club where all of a sudden it turns volatile and you haven’t necessarily got the distance or time to execute some more straight forward techniques or long distance defensive striking.
Also I’d like to mention these are merely just concepts and at times they may be considered overkill as I’ve said they were ideas and situations I thought of and wondered how could you deal with them and allow your Kenpo to flow, and I remain open to questions, ideas or critiquing as to their practicality or on how I could improve them.
In closing martial arts as a whole is a fantastic vehicle for self-development and growth both physically and mentally. Kenpo especially to me has a special quality about it that although it’s steeped in tradition and history the material is not bound by it which is symbolic of the practitioner itself that we develop ourselves constantly as a result of not restricting our achievements to what we may have once thought we could only do. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge those who’ve helped me in my journey so far.
My parents, who’ve constantly believed in me, no matter what limitations anyone put on me and gifted me with the support through all these years in my Kenpo journey be it funding my classes, to driving all over Ireland and even helping me travel abroad to expand my experience and training.
They say the sign of a great teacher is not to inspire students to follow in their footsteps but rather to seek what he sought in their journey. I would like to thank and acknowledge Master Edward Downey my chief instructor who for the last 16 years has been inspiring me and acting as a guide throughout my journey.
Maria Alameda Lopez and Kenpo Úbeda for their friendship and giving me such wonderful experiences that helped mould me as a person and a kenpoists. They truly opened my eyes to the strength of the Kenpo family.
To all the instructors I’ve had the pleasure of training under who’ve given me their time and shared with me their ways and process that I have carried with me. Notably Master Bob White, Professor John Burgess, Professor Richard Burgess, Associate Master Barbara White, Mr Dave Byrne, Mr Derek Newsome, Mr Keith Page, Mr Mick Maloney, Mr Richard Mullen, and Mr Mark Mc Dermot.