Sunday, June 16, 2013


Last weekend, we had the honor of heading to Houston to train with Sigung Burt Vickers and his students. As always, Sigung Vickers provided a welcoming environment and excellent training as well as allowing Sifu Grant the opportunity to share variations on standard techniques we've been working on. I'll showcase a few of those modifications -such as the "Big Man" techniques- in future posts but today I'll be focusing on a portion of the training session involving the element of surprise and how it affects our reactions.

Most of the time, we practice specific techniques in a prepared manner. In other words, we know what is coming and what technique we are planning on using against it. This is a critical method for developing skills in the same way that basketball players practice jump shots, dribbling, and free throws. However, just as with basketball, things change drastically when the scenario is no longer strictly under our control. This is why it is important to mix things up in training. Other martial arts do this through free-form sparring, however, Kajukembo is not very well-suited to sparring; it's not a fighting or sporting art as much as a self-defense art.

To provide a sense of surprise, Sigung Vickers had us do a version of the "bull in the ring" which involved a known set possible attacks but what was unknown was which of those attacks each person would choose. We did rounds of grabs, punches, clubs, and knife attacks. Each of these general categories of attack consists of a few basic types and it was which type of attack that was the unknown.

For example, with a knife there are only a few basic possible attacks; slash, thrust, and overhead. Sure, the nuances of each attack (angle, speed, etc.) may differ but those are the basics. So, one student would enter the ring and be attacked by each other student in turn. The attack could be any of these three basic types because we train defensive techniques for each. What's interesting is that, even given the limited set of possibilities, not knowing which is coming this time can leave you doing a rather embarrassing imitation of Lucille Ball. In training this may be embarrassing, but during a mugging that reaction may be deadly.

As the training session progressed, you could definitely see that there were certain techniques that were the "go to" techniques for each person in a particular situation. Part of the beauty of Kajukembo is that many of the techniques work equally well in different circumstances. A haymaker is similar enough to an outside club swing, for example, that similar techniques can often be used against both.

It's important to reduce the natural surprise reaction to an unexpected threat. Incorporating this sort of surprise training into your sessions can make you better at reading the body language that precedes an attack. More important, it can steady your reactions and help you mount the appropriate defense and counter-attack.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

White Belt - Yellow Belt: A Guest Post

Mario Castro Jr. is a new student of Kajukembo under Sigung Burt Vickers and has written an essay describing what he has learned in his progress to Yellow Belt. His perspective is well-thought out and captures the core of Kajukembo. 
White Belt - Yellow Belt
Mario Castro Jr., Student of Sigung Burt Vickers, K.S.D.S.

Being a new student to GM R. Peralta’s KAJUKEMBO SELF DEFENSE SYSTEMS, I am attempting to explain what would be (in my opinion) the most important lesson to be learned at this level. That would be, one’s own balance. In order to understand why, we must first look at a primary dogma taught to students. Within K.S.D.S. we must understand our principle of speed, power, and accuracy which coincide with mind, body, and spirit.

To the right, is a chart which I will use to explain my theory. As you can see there are two columns and  three rows. It is to be read from top to bottom and left to right.

1.       Accuracy : Mind
2.       Power : Body
3.       Speed : Spirit

First, let us begin with the mind, where all things like ideas and imagination live. The Dojo is where we have new seeds of ideas planted by our Teacher. We are to do our best to remember the techniques taught while using our imagination during personal practice.  Slowly, thru meditating on the actions being performed, we begin the search for mental balance. As we continue on we see the beginning of patience within ourselves with the creation of discipline and only a glimpse of accuracy.

The body, which is used by the mind to move from one area to the other and to suffer the tension of muscles while maintaining a stance. We begin to understand the use of our bodies and the power it can create within a limited space. This is also the purpose of the octagon, to use it for our movement, attack and defense of self. We learn to use angles, lines and circles to create opportunity, disruption of balance, and weight transfer.  Finding balance while performing actions is like a child learning to walk for the first time, first falling then tripping and finally stepping with confidence. We are told to,” put our hip into it” or “drop your weight” but we will always lack power if we do not have stability which comes from balance.

Finally, speed will give us quick reflexes to what our spirit “feels” in the area. Some people call it a sixth sense, the repeated practice to create muscle memory which saves us from thinking. That precious moment when we need to react thru our senses, the tingling in the back of our neck, which warns us of danger. It becomes natural to not think but to just be in the moment as it is not as we think it is. Again, this can only be achieved by mastering the first two principles for if our mind has no accuracy, our body cannot generate power and our spirit will not be allowed to control our speed properly.

If one so chooses, in our crest we can see this in the root which is the clover. Three circles balanced on the tip of the triangle (circles & lines). Growing out of the basic techniques the three must be in balance in order to reach for the perfection of chi within.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

100% Natural

It has been a while since I've posted anything so I wanted to at least throw something up here to let you know the site isn't abandoned. 

Last night's TUF episode (Uriah Hall v. Bubba McDaniel) gave me an idea for a post but I need to think about it a bit before I write it. Hopefully, by this weekend I'll get around to it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Stomping the Bug

It's amazing how sometimes a concept can be explained to you 5,318 times (give or take) without it really clicking, but one simple comment can make it all clear. After that moment, it's difficult to see how you you ever failed to understand it. Today, Sifu Grant said something that explained the side kick so well that it actually made me stare at the ground for several seconds like a hippy on acid; my mouth hanging open, nearly drooling with idiotic bliss.

We were working on techniques that incorporate kicks today. After some roundhouse drills with a kicking shield and several rounds of Trick 6, we started working on Grab 7. Although the technique originally incorporated a roundhouse kick, Sifu Grant modified this technique to use a sidekick. After a few rounds of Grab 7, another student and I weren't delivering the power that Sifu Grant expected from the side kick. It turns out, we were essentially doing a leg extension from the knee. This means that the power is generated entirely from the quadriceps, which aren't sufficiently strong to drive through your opponent. This failing was not because of a lack of instruction from Sifu Grant; he had demonstrated and explained the kick many times in the past. We had done many kicking drills and had broken down the kick step by step.

For some unknown reason, I just didn't "get it." It seemed like I was doing it correctly when broken down, but when I tried to put it all together something was missing. I just couldn't connect the dots. Today Sifu Grant presented the analogy that brought it all together for me.

"It's like stomping a bug. The bug is just on the other guy's body."

It's a simple analogy that got my mind whirling. All of a sudden, images of everything we had worked on in the past flew through my head. It just made sense. Drive from the hamstring and the butt, not the knee and quad.

In retrospect, I can see exactly how the instruction I had received should have produced the proper technique. Sifu Grant had taught me everything I needed to know to do it correctly. I'm still reeling from the fact that I didn't get it before. All the pieces were there, I just failed to recognize how they fit together. It's kind of like watching a murder mystery. It isn't until the big a-ha moment when the detective points his finger and tells you that the butler did it that you're able to put the puzzle together. You're left thinking, "Well, no kidding. Of course he did."

So if you're not delivering power with your side kick despite the instruction you've been given, just remember to stomp the bug.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Branching Out - My Workshop Experience

I had the opportunity this past weekend to attend a workshop organized by Sigung Burt Vickers at Impact Martial Arts in Houston. First, I would like to thank Sigung Vickers for putting together this workshop with so many fabulous martial arts instructors and allowing me the honor of attending. I would also like to thank Impact Martial Arts for allowing us to use their facilities. It was an amazing training event with a lot of knowledge being passed on to the students.

It was a two day workshop focusing on multiple styles that started Friday night and finished with five hours of straight martial arts training on Saturday. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to Houston for the Friday session but still got to spend Saturday learning from some very skilled and knowledgeable instructors and other attendees. There's no way I can do justice to the techniques and drills covered; I would simply like to provide an overview of the instruction we received, my impressions on it, and perhaps give you motivation to seek out similar workshops whenever possible.

We started the day with Sigung Vickers instructing us in some Kajukembo defensive striking and blocking drills against punch combinations. These focused on alternating hard blocks with fan blocks, combining simultaneous blocks and strikes, and capitalizing on offensive openings created by effective blocking and evasion. Moving smoothly between strong, hard techniques and flowing parries, deflections, and evasions is one of the core concepts of Kajukembo and it was wonderful being instructed in the finer points by Sigung Vickers himself. I also was privileged to perform these drills with one of Sigung Vickers's students, Brandon (Sorry, Brandon. I didn't catch your last name). He was quite helpful in working me through some of the specific drills that we don't perform on a regular basis at Dallas Kajukembo. Sigung Vickers then led us in some classic Kajukembo ground striking (hitting an opponent who is on the ground -hitting the ground itself would hurt a lot and not be very effective). The Hawaiian Guillotine is a technique where, after taking an opponent to the ground, you strike the groin causing his head to raise. Then you strike the chin or jaw bending the head backward and finish with a strike to the throat. It is a devastatingly fast and effective technique that will end an attack quickly.

Next, Master Karloff Fontanosa took the lead and instructed us in a drill focused on defending against some of the more common knife attacks; overhead, side-swipe, and upward thrust. The intent of this drill was to focus on fluid movement, redirection, and body positioning. This was a good drill that incorporated attacks from either side and using both hands in defense. His insight into knife fighting was invaluable in understanding not only the most common attacks but the pitfalls inherent in blocking an edged weapon instead of evading and redirecting the attack. Unfortunately, as I said, I missed the Friday night session where Master Fontanosa gave instruction on fast and deceptive/untelegraphed kicking techniques. However, I got to be Master Fontanosa's kicking dummy as he gave an impromptu demonstration of the techniques to those of us who missed his Friday session. I know he was only kicking me with a fraction of his true power, but I can now say without a doubt that you never want to be on the receiving end of a Taekwondo Master's kick. Master Fontanosa actually kicked me in the back of my ribs while standing in front of me. It was so fast, I barely had time to flinch before feeling the impact.

After two and a half hours of training, we took a short food and water break then were graced with Grand Master Joe Lansdale, Shihan Richard Hartstein, and Sensei Adam Coats instructing us in the art of Shen Chuan. Like Kajukembo, Shen Chuan is a self-defense oriented martial art that incorporates aspects of several traditional martial arts; Kenpo, Hapkido, Jujitsu, Aikido, Judo, and Jeet Kune Do to name a few. Shen Chuan relies heavily on disrupting the opponent's balance, invading his or her space, and using natural body mechanics to put the opponent wherever the Shen Chuan practitioner wants. When done correctly, it appears effortless and fluid. When watching Grand Master Lansdale perform the techniques it appears almost supernaturally simple. Of course, that's not the way it looked when I did it but Grand Master Lansdale patiently corrected my form. Shihan Hartstein and Sensei Coats were also quite helpful in my understanding of the techniques we were learning, taking the time to demonstrate the techniques against me so I could experience what they should feel like. Grand Master Lansdale then taught us some of the Shen Chuan interpretations of classic Jujitsu wrist locks. As any Kajukembo practitioner knows, these joint locks are extremely painful (even for someone like me with freaky-flexible joints) and the Shen Chuan style incorporates them well.

Next, Sensei Chris Kimbrough gave instruction on some knife defense techniques that he has been developing. These are intended to be simple, effective techniques that the average person can use without years of training. One in particular, a defense from a knife being held at the stomach as a threat, involves only two basic moves; grab and control the knife hand while slipping the stomach to the side (to avoid a reaction-induced lunge) followed by a solid kick to the groin. This is a fast technique that can be performed from a seemingly submissive position with the hands out in front as if to say, "Woah, buddy. I'll do whatever you say." I've had the pleasure of being instructed by Sensei Kimbrough before at a workshop here in the Dallas area and it was good to receive additional instruction and train some of his techniques against different individuals.

Finally, Sifu Jeff Grant gave a demonstration of some of his variations on Kajukembo techniques. These are some of the techniques we learn from Sifu Grant at Dallas Kajukembo. Sifu Grant showed how basic techniques can be strung together in powerful combinations to overwhelm an attacker and finish a conflict quickly. This is precisely what I love about Kajukembo and studying under Sifu Grant. While demonstrating these techniques, several groans and moans could be heard from the attendees who obviously were sympathetic to the pain endured by the Uke, Tim Smith. This was a great demonstration of the power and effectiveness of Kajukembo.

All said, this was an amazing workshop and I would not trade the experience for anything. Learning new styles from outstanding instructors, being open to incorporating different techniques, and being pushed outside your comfort zone is sure to make every attendee a better overall martial artist. If you get a chance to attend such a workshop, I highly recommend it.

Thank you to every one of the instructors; you have my deepest respect.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kajukembo Tattoos

Well, it has been a long time since I've posted anything; I've been extremely busy and simply haven't had the time. Excuses aside, I got some great material for a quick post, so I decided to make the time.

As mentioned before, Kajukembo is an art that requires training with contact to develop toughness and confidence, and to prepare the practitioner for a real-world self-defense scenario. Because of this, it is common to experience bruises, swelling, and sore joints. In fact, bruises are often shown off and worn as a badge of honor among Kajukembo practitioners; a tattoo of sorts. "Hey, dude! Check this one out," is commonly overheard.

We just got a new white belt student and he has already earned his. We're not quite sure if he bruises easily or if we just upped the ante a bit to test whether he really wanted to be there, but he's been a really good sport about his new Kajukembo tattoos. Either way, I'm certain he's just waiting for his skills to progress to the point that he can repay the favor.

This is the result of a limb destruction technique we use to incapacitate the arm of an attacker making it weaker and less effective as a weapon for the remainder of an altercation.

These bruises on the body need little explanation; they're from rib and sternum strikes.

One thing to keep in mind is that these were delivered by the smallest guy in the group. Tim (a 2nd degree Brown belt at this time) may only weigh 145 pounds but he hits like a truck. That's a testament to the power of training and technique over size and raw strength.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"That will never work" and Other Ignorance

We've all heard it when attempting to show a technique to someone who isn't a martial artist. Worse are all the ignorant* comments you'll find on YouTube -usually from untrained teenage boys who think they're Bruce Lee because they got in a fight once in 8th grade over some girl who didn't want them anyway.
"I wouldn't hold my hand out like that."
"I could easily just..."
"He's just letting the guy do that to him."
 "That would never work in a real fight."

We all know the responses to these objections -one of which is to demonstrate the technique faster and harder- but what if you're in a situation where that's not feasible such as discussing the issue in a fine restaurant (trust me, you'll get kicked out faster than you can play the Hawaiian Drums)?

All of these objections and more are quite common but it's that last item that I'd like to address the most.

Let's be honest. Most of us have never tried many of these techniques "for real" so we have to talk about the history of the system and how it was developed by testing techniques in real fights and all of that. The problem is that doesn't convince the ignorant; they came to their opinions without any help from facts and they'll keep it that way, thank you very much.

Even we practitioners can be lulled into thinking that certain things we do are "just because" and wouldn't really work or be useful in a real encounter. For example, when practicing your stances and such, it's easy to get into the mindset that these are just formalities and in a "real" fight you'd just do what you have to do to win.

That's partially correct, of course. You won't focus on whether your feet are perfectly aligned and your center balanced and upright in a horse stance during an attack on the street. However, by training our bodies to take certain stances and positions, we'll naturally do it in an encounter. Today it may seem forced and unnatural to drop into a proper front stance during a technique but after a while it should become second nature.

An example comes to us courtesy of the UFC; Benevidez vs. Urushitani.

Before you say, "the UFC isn't a self defense scenario" or whatever, I realize that. However, barring the exclusion of certain techniques, such as groin, throat, and eye strikes, and the fact that both people are voluntarily engaging in the fight it's pretty close. The key here is that it is as close to a "real" fight as trained fighters typically get. So, on to the example.

At the beginning of Round 2, Urushitani delivers what could have been a devastating kick. Benevidez reacts by going into a front stance and double forearm block. Although the front stance is not perfect (his back leg is not locked out) and he partially misses the block with his right arm, the incoming kick is not only halted in its tracks but driven back opening up a counter strike. Notice he drives forward into the kick; he doesn't attempt to back away. This meeting of force with force is what gives this technique its power.

Don't think for a second that Benevidez thought to himself, "Oh, he's about to kick me. I should go into a front stance and block the kick with my forearms." He just did it.

Think about this scene next time you doubt the usefulness of something you're learning. Trust the knowledge and experience of your Sifu. It's not being taught just for the giggles.

     *I'm using ignorant in its formal sense of "lacking knowledge."