KT:Useful Mythology: A kenpo fable.

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Sep 11, 2006
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Useful Mythology: A kenpo fable.
By Dr. Dave in da house - 12-29-2008 03:41 PM
Originally Posted at: KenpoTalk


Myths are not meant to be fact. Rather, they are meant to imbue the energy of observations and mental constructs into useful lessons, allowing us to encapsulate ideas into contexts that provide meaning. In other words, to think about things in a way that teaches us something useful. The thread on gripping and Darting mace got me thinking about some kenpo mythology, and so...

I heard someone describe kenpo as "a martial at designed against other martial arts". Not sure I embrace it, but the way I was taught Form 4 fits nicely with this: All against multiple strike combinations, typically employing punch/kick combinations. Considering Mr. Parkers coming up in the rich martial field of Hawaii, kinda makes sense. Also heard a lot about early day kenpo techs being made in response to issues some of his guys would come to him with. "Mr. Parker...there I was, squared off with this boxer, and...", or, "Mr. Parker, since I saw you last, this judo guy grabbed me by the collar, put me in a headlock, then dumped me on my head."...so:

Once upon a time, Little Johnny Doe wanted to take the martial arts to fight against his bigger brothers and the local bullies. So, he signed up for judo lessons at the local Y. Little Johnny's father was a big Irish fellow, better than 6 and a half feet tall, and weighing more than 250 pounds. His dad was also a boxer, occasionally participating in the prizefights at the shipyard to cover expenses for his burgeoning family.

So little Johnny grew up doing that Japanese judo wrestling, and getting taught how to box by his dear old Dad. Couple years go by, and the lousy economy finds Johnny working as the bodyguard for Mack, the local loan shark. Johnny's job is to hurt people who come after Mack, or to go out and find people who owe Mack money, and hurt them.

Mack, it seems, failed to appear in court while out on bail. So one day, a freelance bail agent named Bob showed up to innvite Mack down to the jail. Bob does OK as a fighter. Matter of fact, because of the industry he's chosen for a career, he signed up for some self-defense lessons at a little place in Pasadena, up Walnut way, under an interesting Hawaiian fellow with big hair.

Anyway, Bob mistakenly runs into Little Johnny while attempting to retrieve Mack. Johnny repeatedly siezes Bob by his limbs or wrists, and slams him unceremoniously on the ground at Macks feet. As if to add insult to injury, Johnny even punches him a lot first, hitting him with several jabs to the face, followed by a heavy overhand right cross, and even a couple of wicked uppercuts and hooks. Then, while Bob is bleeding out his face and trying to recover the breath that got knocked out by Johnny's uppercuts, Johnny latches onto his lapels they way they showed him in Judo at the Y, picks him up, and slams him down into the concrete yet again.

After the broken ribs and facial lacerations heal enough for Bob to get active again, he hits the gym to pack on some muscles. He'll need it in his line of work. But he also stops by the self-defense studio he's paying dues at to complain about his outcome to the proprietor. The big haired Hawaiian sees the bent nose and racoon eyes, and inquires, "What happened to you?" Well, Bob proceeds to tell him. To which the proprietor says, "How'd he grab you?" Bob shows him. The owner says, "You mean like this?" Yep. Bob confirms.

The owner says, "The next time he does that, try doing this to him...it allows you to injure his arm so he doesn't keep doing it to you....he won't wanna grab you again with his fingers smashed, elbow doslocated, or shoulder forcibly rotated out of the socket." But he goes on. "After you tweak his elbow, you gotta take the fight out of him so he doesn't let go and just start hitting you. So counter grab him like so, then hit him with a karate chop like this, a hammerfist like this, a side snap kick like this..." and the lesson goes on. They also cover what to do in the event of more injurious uppercuts, and those darned sneaky hooks.

In the corner, one of the regular students is eavesdropping on the private lessons content, and writing the combination down so he can practice it later with his training parrtners, and benefit from Bobs experience. This student doesn't know that the instructor will ask him for a copy later, and 25 years from now this combination will be have a well-known name. First, since they are all so young, they'll just call it, "That ting to do to a guy who grabs you like that." Then, when Bob comes back from his next round with Little Johnny, having defeated the first grab but gotten beaten by the 2nd, the instructor will describe another set of responses for grabs. So the first one will get called "Judo Grab Defense #1", or something like that. Later, maybe "1 handed judo grab", with the new one being "2-handed judo grab". They will figure out and write down other variations on them. And as years go by, the combinations themselves might get cutesy names like, "Destructive Kimono of Doom in Darkness".

But something horrible happens. The street toughs, collectors, cops from back in the day when trouncing some a-hole was OK, have all either stopped training, stopped teaching, or keeled over. What gets left behind are their students' students...a generation of folks who have never even witnessed a streetfight, never got their noses broken by a back-alley boxer, never got picked up and dumped on their rear-ends by a judo bouncer in a bar on the wrong side of the tracks, never had to subdue a perp who was swiping at them with a straight razor, never had to duck a lead-filled sapp or sock filled with penny rolls, and so on. So now, instead of dodging or slipping baseball bats, they slip foam-padded pixie sticks. And wonder what the big deal is about the footwork used to get clear.

Instead of dropping into a solid stance against a gi grab where the other guy is trying to pick them up and launch them into the furniture, they just step back and flap their hands in the air, wondering why anyone would ever grab thier t-shirt and stand there, anyway. They practice arms-pinned bearhugs, chatting away about the evening news, instead of wriggling hard to free something before their attacker suplexes them onto their heads, or an accomplice sticks them in the belly or throat with a sharpened screwdriver.

Oh, they know they are part of a legacy born of violennce, but lacking the experiences of the guys who helped shape that legacy, what they are left with is a lackluster shell of poor impersonations to practice. But they will defend those impersonations with their lives. They will argue online and over lite beer about how their instructors lineage goes back solidly to the Hawaiian guy on Walnut, so he knows his impersonations are right, and everybody elses are wrong. And even though the speaker has never been in a fight, and neither has his instructor, they will defend their ability to stand their while they hand a compliant partner a wrist for technique practice, saying they are combat ready.

Yep. Bob the Bounty-Hunter eventually opened a studio, and was hard on his guys to make sure they were tough. One of Bob's students also eventually opened a studio, but lacking Bob's experiences, translated "being tough" as "doing lots of calisthenics". One of his calisthenics students also eventually opened a studio, and faced with a culture of people who didn't wanna do calisthenics but DID need somewhere to drop off their kids for a bit, just taught the impersonations in a lackluster way.

Of course, the names are all made up. None of these people ever really existed. This is certainly not representative of what has happened in kenpo. And should, in no way, be used as an impetus for you to consider the NATURE OF THE ATTACK, or be mindful of how you ought to use your body, authority, intensity, or ownership, while practicing these techniques.

In closing, I have a question ala Rich Hale (credit where credit's due): If Lone Kimono is against a single hand lapel grab, do you know anyone who has ever been injured or forced to tap out becuase of a liesurely lapel grab? "OK, OK, I give! That's all the punishment my kimono collar can take!", or, "Stop it....my T-shirt hurts!"



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