Kenpo Rules and Principles

The Kenpo system is based on rules and principles of motion and self defense. There are techniques but the important lesson even in techniques are the rules and principles that make for sound logic when it comes to fighting and self-defense.

The following are just a sampling of some of the fundamental and significant rules and principles of Kenpo Karate.

Establish a Base

This is rule number one in Kenpo. You can’t do anything without a base. To punch, strike, throw or lock someone up, there must be a base, support. Like if you were to push a stalled car, you’d get in a decent stance and push with your weight going toward the car; that, by the way, is also Back-up Mass: having your weight behind and moving in line with your weapon.

Above you see these fighters getting into the standard fighting stance in Kenpo known as the Neutral Bow. They now have a decent base to work from and cover their targets.


For a moving weapon to have power, to be effective, to have any real effect, it must have travel. Tapping somebody doesn’t get the job done. Hitting someone when your fist only travels an inch or two is a tap.

So, Kenpo strikes always have travel; inserts do not always have as much travel as major strikes, and that’s why they are called inserts; they are inserted between the heavier strikes.

Dan on the left grabs Joe on the right.

Having struck Dan’s face with a downward strike, Joe continues down onto the arms to bring Dan’s face in and down within reach for an elbow strike.

The above technique, called Mace of Aggression, is a good example of a technique making good use of travel and also angle of execution (angle in which when used will have an effective result). Notice on the last elbow delivered that the defender reaches far back to get decent travel and he doesn’t have to worry about what the attacker can do about it because he’s pinned his attacker’s hands. Also, in the initial moves of the technique, the pull down and in on the attacker’s arms serves to bring him down and in, but also to chamber the arm for the first elbow strike. So, there is the rule of not to chamber as a separate maneuver. It should be noted that the first move is a stomp on the opponent’s foot and a strike to his face, which has the power of borrowed force behind it because the strikes are done as the opponent is pulling you in. Also, the defender uses his right foot to stomp on the opponent’s right foot, using what is called a cross-check. If he had stomped directly in front on the left foot, the attacker could still use the other leg to attack.

Economy of Motion

Economical Motion is movement without any wasted or unnecessary or telegraphic (able to be easily seen coming by opponent) motion; the weapon comes from where it already is, without a wind-up. For this reason it is a rule to not chamber as a separate maneuver. It should be noted though that motion is economical when you don’t waste motion but it must still be effective; it must still have travel, still have a direct line of entry, still be delivered at the angle of incidence (the angle at which the weapon lands straight into the target and not at an angle where it just glances off and has no or limited effect). The quickest is not always the most effective.

Dan punches, Joe blocks and kicks Dan at the same time while hammer-fisting James in the groin.

The preceding technique is seemingly simple but is very sophisticated, combining multiple rules and principles simultaneously to create multiple effects simultaneously. The technique looks simple because it’s combined multiple things in single moves, which is sophistication: Simplicity compounded.

When the defender is attacked he blocks, kicks and strikes simultaneously, all of his weapons moving from point of origin; he attacks the rear opponent without waiting for him to attack, so makes his attack his defense, possibly the most effective way to defend yourself. From there, the defender uses kicks, which are economical because they reach the attackers quicker since they’re longer weapons and, therefore, keep the opponents away; also, again, the attack is the defense: Attack and defense have been combined. It should be said too, that even though the movement is economical and comes from point of origin, all of the strikes have decent travel: For instance, from the hammer-fist to the groin to the rear opponent to the heel-palm to the face of the attacker in front, there is full-range of motion and excellent travel on that heel-palm.

The Inside Rule

The Inside Rule simply states that when you are in your opponent’s center-line, you must break the height zone. You must bend him at the waist, otherwise he still has all his weapons available to hit you.

James on the left and Dan on the right face off.

James comes in with a boxer’s hook or Kenpo round-house punch and Dan steps back into a right neutral bow stance and delivers a right outward block, covering low with left to protect his mid-zone.

Still being in James center-line, Dan must break the height zone to cancel James’ back-up weapon, so he kicks him in the groin.

James now bent forward, his weapons canceled, Dan is able to come down using marriage with gravity with a handsword strike to the neck or base of skull.

The above technique, called Sword of Destruction, is a good example of using the Inside Rule. Still being in the attackers center-line, the defender kicks to the groin to bend the attacker over, to break the height zone. A noticeable feature of this technique also is the rule to not chamber as a separate maneuver. The initial block, an outward block, chambers the arm already, already puts it in position to come down with the hand-sword at the end of the technique. This is also economical motion and what is called point of origin: The weapon moving from where it already is. In addition, dropping down with the chop adds power with a principle called marriage with gravity, using gravity to add power to a strike.

So, Kenpo rules and principles are taught throughout the system and as a student progresses and burns in movement and technique, he or she also begins to burn in and understand the rules and principles, the “why’s” of what he or she is doing. Which is the important part: The underlying rules and principles behind what we do. This understanding will last and can be applied to multiple situations as you recognize position and understand options.




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