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.