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."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Striking - Distraction vs. Damage

Over the last couple weeks we have been focusing on the difference between strikes done for damage and those used for distraction. Both have their place but there is an important distinction.

In the most basic sense, distraction strikes are those used to setup your opponent for a damaging blow. This doesn't mean that distraction strikes don't hurt -they do- but their intent is not destruction. This is again where we need to distinguish between terms; hurt and injury. A slap to the face, for example, hurts; a broken elbow, rib, or jaw is an injury.

The point of many strikes in the martial arts is not to deliver a clean, one-shot end to a fight but to daze the opponent, get them to flinch or contort into a position that can be exploited, or to drop his or her guard. If you watch boxers (arguably some of the best hand strikers in any martial art) they will throw out many quick jabs toward the face of their opponent. Although these can certainly hurt if they connect, they're not particularly devastating. Jabs are primarily used to get the opponent to flinch, move, shift their guard, or -if they connect- to stun the opponent enough to allow a hook, upper cut, or overhand punch to land with devastating effect. Those strikes do damage.

In Kajukembo, many of the strikes are intended for the same purpose as the jab. They provide an opening in the opponent's defenses to exploit. A hammer fist to the kidney isn't likely to stop an attack, but it certainly hurts (and can have some nasty after-effects the next few days). It's a distraction strike. What's more important is that the natural reaction to being struck there is to arch the back, open the mouth, and drop the hands. This sets up all kinds of possibilities for a follow-up attack. The throat is likely wide open at this point and a strike there is certain to do serious damage. Likewise, the mouth being open increases the likelihood that a jaw strike will break teeth or result in a knockout.

The same is true with many of the initial strikes in the Tricks (punch counters). For example, the bicep strike that starts several of the Tricks hurts and can weaken the limb but isn't a truly damaging blow. Its intent is to break the attacker's momentum and distract them from their attack (as well as making subsequent attacks with that limb less effective). What it does, however, is to create an opening for you to followup with a strike to the jaw, throat, or other vital area that is more likely to end the confrontation quickly.

For the most part, the strikes that you can do at 30% power in training without injuring your partner tend to be distraction strikes. The others, such as raking the eyes, kicks to the knees, or strikes to the jaw, throat, ribs, or spine, are damaging strikes.

Keep this in mind as you work through the techniques.  It certainly gave me a better idea of how things would unfold in a real conflict.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012 Goals

I decided to write out some Kajukembo goals I have for 2012. While thinking about these goals I realized that at this point in my journey, my goals must be humble and rooted in an understanding of my current level of skill and ability. Because of this, I came up with only two goals; two simple yet powerful goals.

Any more and I would be fooling myself as to what is possible to achieve in a single year. Self-delusion is a good way to set yourself up for failure.

My 2012 Goals:

1. Improve my strength, flexibility, conditioning, and balance. This is possibly the most important of my goals as this forms the basis for improving my footwork, stances, stamina, and power. I'll be working out more consistently outside the Kajukembo sessions; focusing on Yoga-like stretching, core strength, speed, and powerful whole-body movements.

2. Increase my understanding of the underlying Kajukembo concepts. Understanding the "why" and not just the "how" will allow me to adapt and apply the techniques we're learning to new situations and to learn new techniques more quickly. It will also allow me to modify the techniques to fit my body structure. You see, I have "monkey arms" and long legs that make some of the techniques difficult to perform -especially on shorter opponents (I know you're thinking, "reach advantage," but it also has some drawbacks). Understanding why we do the things we do and not just going through the motions will improve my overall effectiveness in all aspects of the art.

These are my goals for 2012. That's all. They're intentionally general in hopes that accomplishing these two things this year will set me up for more dramatic improvements in the next few years.