Kenpo Karate techniques can be thought of as a group of ideas, pieces to a puzzle. Because real fighting is spontaneous, the situation can change, an opponent can end up moving in an unexpected way and a standard technique will have to be changed according to changes in circumstances. This is what is known as the Formulation Phase of a technique, in which you can add to the technique, delete moves, rearrange moves or short-cut the technique as necessary; you change a technique when you want to or have to.
Along these lines, Kenpo is full of category completions, for instance. A category completion shows the various ways a move can be done. In one technique, you will be shown how to strike with the inner part of the forearm horizontally; in another technique you will be shown how to use that strike vertically on a downward plane; and, yet, in a different technique you will see how the strike can be done vertically on an upward plane. We will deal with category completions in the future.
Also, Kenpo has what are called Master Key techniques, which are moves, from the technique, which can be used in more than one scenario. Five Swords, a famous Master Key technique, for instance, can be done against a right punch or a left punch.
The point is, Kenpo is an adaptable art. You adjust as necessary, add techniques to the technique you’ve started (known as Grafting) or change to a new technique.
The techniques, intentionally, are put together this way. Sets of techniques will present alternatives to other techniques, depending on circumstances. For instances, there is a wall behind you, so you can’t move back, then you have a technique for the same situation in which you can move forward instead of backward.
One way this is organized in the system is through family groupings. Family techniques have the same couple of base moves. For instance, a left block outside of a right punch, followed by a strike with the inner part of the arm or hand. Besides the family techniques, there are other techniques that will work as alternatives to the base technique originally attempted.
Here we will explore family groupings, as alternative techniques, and other techniques that can be used as alternatives if the first technique attempted, or that you want to attempt, won’t work.
Dance of Death, Thundering Hammers and Sleeper
In all three of these techniques, you slip and step in to the left as the opponent throws a right punch, and block with a left inward block; and you end up on the outside of the punch. In Dance of Death, you then deliver a right reverse hand-sword (in some systems, called a ridge-hand strike) low to the groin; followed by a succession of moves. In Thundering Hammers, you start from the same initial block, but instead the strike is a horizontal forearm strike to the body. In The Sleeper–again, same block–but now you strike high to the throat or neck. As you can see, on the strike, three zones are covered: Low, middle and high. These give you alternatives, in case one of the targets is blocked, for instance.
The Kenpo technique Dance of Death
Joe steps in and slips and blocks the right punch.
He then delivers a reverse handsword to the groin. Hitting the low zone. Notice also his hand was already low, so he strikes from where his hand already was.
Joe uses a horizontal knee to strike the right leg, at the thigh, up and out of the way and into his hand.
With James’ right leg in his hand, Joe delivers an inward-downward elbow to James’ mid-section to thrown him to the ground. This is opposing forces and the hinge principle in action.
The base technique finishes with a knee-bar, using own knee to bar/lock-up the opponent’s knee.
Now we have the scenario in which you cannot use the initial low strike. The opponent lifts his knee and blocks off the target.
This time James lifts his knee and so Joe can’t strike the groin.
Joe shoots his striking hand up to the neck and strikes James with the inner part of the wrist, and goes into a technique called The Sleeper.
Joe applies a choke, cutting off the carotid arteries.
Joe maintains the choke and off-angles with his left foot back to start a throw.
Joe makes sure James is on his side and not on his back where he can still fight.
Alternatively, you can also go into a technique called Attacking Mace. Though the initial move of Attacking Mace is a step back, with the block on the outside of the arm, you can still use it in this scenario. One of the main points being that in Attacking Mace, your hand is already at mid-level, as opposed to Dance of Death in which the hand is first low. Being at mid-level, you use a straight right punch as the first move after the initial block.
Here we will show the base technique for Attacking Mace, another alternative technique if you block on the outside of a right punch.
Notice how Joe’s hand is at the middle zone.
Joe punches straight into the ribs, which turns James and opens him up for a kick.
As he falls back, Joe grabs his wrist.
Joe delivers a front kick to the body or groin. This is an opposing forces move because the kick goes out and the right arm pulls back on the opponent’s arm as the left hand chambers back too.
Finally, Joe lands forward with an upper-cut (diagonal) to the ribs, while maintaining the check on the right arm and checking the right leg with his leg too.
In the next technique, your right hand, for whatever reason, is high. Maybe you are leaning against a wall. Though in this technique we show a break on the arm to get the arm high, really it is designed to fit into this puzzle, as an alternative to these other techniques, in a situation in which your hand is already high. So, you have to take the high target first, which is done with a raking strike to the head/face.
The technique is called Flashing Mace.
Joe blocks at the elbow joint and simultaneously with the other arm strikes the inside of the arm, scissoring the arm to tweak or break the elbow joint.:As he slips in.
Joe step in to the left 45 as he strikes through the face.
He spins with a left back-knuckle to the ribs, obviously with a lot of torque. Also notice he is zoned away from James’ weapons and checking his right arm.
Finally, as far as this group of techniques goes, we should look at Thundering Hammers. It is another alternative to Dance of Death and The Sleeper, with the same initial base moves: A left inward block on the outside of a right punch and a strike with inside of the right hand or arm as the next move.
Joe slips and blocks the right punch.
Notice here that Joe’s hand is not high but in a position to strike the mid-zone.
Joe shuffles in with a forearm strike to the body.
Joe strikes the kidney and drops a knee into the calf.
Joe checks the arm and chambers his other hand.
Joe drops a hammerfist to the back of the neck and drops a knee onto the calf.
Continuing the circular movement of his hand, Joe chambers that hand for a strike.
Joe’s body and the attacker’s face are now in a position for Joe to deliver a back-knuckle strike to the face.
He comes up with a heel-palm claw to the face as he shuffles in.
Circling the Horizon, Leaping Crane and Gathering Clouds
These three techniques are all against a right punch, with the initial defense being a left inward parry as you slip the punch with the right striking hand going to the outside of your own left hand and then going in for a strike. On two of the techniques, scissoring is used, also called weapons destruction or gunting in Filipino martial arts. Also, in these techniques you are coming up on one foot in the initial move; in Leaping Crane you go to a one-legged stance and in the other two techniques you use what is called a cat-stance, in which most of the weight is on one foot and the other foot has a light bit of weight on the ground. You then move in with the right foot. In other words, in all of these techniques, you slip with the left foot, parry with the left hand, and then you move into the opponent with your right hand and foot.
Notice that each technique has a different zone that is struck in the first couple of moves. In Circling the Horizon, you go for the high zone, or the face; then you strike the middle zone and finally the low zone. In Leaping Crane you kick the low zone, then strike the mid-zone and end with an elbow to the head, or high zone. In Gathering of the Clouds, you strike the mid-zone first, then open up the leg for a scoop kick to the groin. So, there is category completion in these techniques for the order of striking zones.
Joe slips with his left foot, parries the punch, draws to a cat stance with his right foot .
Joe steps in with his right and delivers a punch to the face. Essentially, both hands circled into this move, the left parrying and the right circling over and outside of the left to deliver the punch.
Joe draws his right hand in for a good line of entry and travel for an elbow to the ribs.
He slices through with a handsword to the leg to move it and open the groin.
He delivers a reverse handsword up into the groin.
In Leaping Crane, the punch is initially parried with the left and the right rakes through the bicep muscle or elbow joint as you slip to the left and leap to a one-legged stance with right leg chambered. The kick is delivered low, then a back-knuckle is sent to the kidneys and finally an elbow strikes the head.
Notice in Circling the Horizon, you punch high and then elbow to the mid-section. In Leaping Crane, you punch the mid-section and then elbow high.
Finally, we have Gathering Clouds, in which you parry, and cat-stance, like you did in Circling the Horizon, but then, instead, start the initial striking to the mid-section; then open up the groin for a low-shot. It’s a chopping strike and a collapsing elbow and then a kick; as opposed to Leaping Crane, which has the kick first, then a strike with the hand and then an elbow. This appears to be a category completion of the order of strikes and kicks.
So, there you have some examples of family grouping techniques, alternatives that can be used when a specific technique won’t work in the circumstances and bits of the Kenpo puzzle. Of course, it’s up to you to explore the system and see where category completions are, where the cross-references are and how techniques can fit together to give you alternatives in a real spontaneous self-defense situation.