Self Defense Principles Not Techniques: Power

The main purpose of learning techniques in Kenpo is not just to learn a set of moves, but to learn sound principles of motion and practical considerations in self-defense. For this reason, Kenpo techniques teach how to check an opponent, how to use power principles that make strikes more powerful, and how to manipulate the opponent in various ways. It’s not that the technique is not important, it’s just that the underlying principles of the technique are what will have lasting power and will be applicable as the circumstance dictates. Set moves will have to be changed but principles apply when they do in varying situations. For instance, to know that you must check your opponent as soon as possible to stop an attack or follow-up attacks is standard in Kenpo and can be applied in various ways depending on position and timing. So, various techniques show how this is done, when, and from what position. It’s the principle that must be understood and the reasons why it is applied.

Here we explore how different principles are included within various Kenpo techniques. We will take many different techniques here and examine what principles are important within the techniques, focusing mainly on the power principles of Borrowed Force, Marriage with Gravity, Opposing Forces, Torque and Back-up Mass. However, many more principles are examined.

Principles explored are:

  • Borrowed Force
  • Marriage with Gravity
  • Opposing Forces or Push Pull
  • Torque
  • Back-up Mass
  • The Inside Rule
  • Canceling Dimensional Zones
  • The Hinge Principle
  • Zoning
  • Following or Changing Rotation or Orbits
  • Checking and Covering
  • Economy of Motion

More principles will be explored but these are prominent ones. These are examined in no particular order though effort has been made to keep to techniques that emphasize particular principles, but it is inevitable multiple principles occur within a single technique.

Deflecting Hammer

Borrowed Force is using your opponent’s energy or movement against him. Typically it is used by taking advantage of him moving in on you to deliver your own strike with forward momentum, creating a head-on collision with doubled impact.

Deflecting Hammer is a Kenpo technique that exemplifies Borrowed Force. It is against a right front thrust kick, by the book, and defense relies on a riding-force block that is like a parry that pulls the attacker into an inward elbow strike. Below is a demonstration of the technique.

Joe on the left and James on the right square off.


James comes in with a right front thrust kick.

Joe steps back to get into a stance with a good base and executes a downward diagonal block going toward him and back.

James own momentum and the riding force of the block pulls James in toward Joe.

Without stopping the movement of his arm, Joe chambers his arm to ensure decent travel on his weapon.

Joe shuffles in with an inward elbow which James lands on, the impact doubled by the force of the strike coming as James comes forward.

So, it should be noted that multiple principles occur in this technique. There is settling into a stance to get a good base to do the block and the following strike; as the block is done low, the other hand covers high. There is the Borrowed Force rendered by the parrying block; after the block, Joe continues the motion of his arm to “naturally” chamber it so that it has good travel, and therefore power, for the inward elbow that James lands on; since he does not have to “re-chamber”, he is using economy of motion, meaning no extra beats. It should be stated that this technique ideally is executed in two beats.


Intellectual Departure

One of the main power principles learned, in the Kenpo technique called Intellectual Departure, is also Borrowed Force. This technique is also against a right step-through front thrust kick, and a riding force again is used to cause the opponent to land heavily onto a technique; in this case, a back kick.

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

As the kick comes in, Dan deflects it in and towards the left with the inside of his forearm, as he steps back and turns his body toward the left.

Dan continues to turn his body counter-clockwise and deflect the kick with the inside forearm block directed in toward him and diagonal.

Dan then delivers a back kick which James lands on because he’s still moving forward, lending Borrowed Force to the kick.

Dan then turns to face James again, because you never want your back to your opponent, and delivers a back-knuckle to the face.

Note that Dan is covering with the left hand.

Dan delivers a side kick to the knee.

So, it should be said here that the Inside Rule is followed. The Inside Rule says that if you are still in the opponent’s center-line where he can deliver all his weapons, that you have to break the height zone. This is done in this technique by kicking to the groin. Breaking the height zone, meaning bending the opponent over so he is no longer straight-backed, cancels his weapons because his weapons can only be used effectively when he is standing up straight and with a good base.

Sword of Destruction

Many principles are contained in this basic yet relatively sophisticated technique. It involves establishing a base, breaking the height zone because you are in the opponent’s center-line, and marriage with gravity and blocking above the hinge.

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 his left hand 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 hand-sword strike to the neck or base of skull.

Also of note are the covers and checks in this technique. Dan has covered his mid-zone throughout the technique and his leg, at the end, provides a positional check by being positioned so that even if James leg came up to kick him in the groin it would be blocked off. It should be pointed out too, that in the initial block, Dan blocks James at the forearm, because if he blocked at the bicep, the arm would have collapsed and Dan would have been hit anyway. Position of block is important. Also, the hand-sword comes straight down from where it is after the block, using the rule that you never make a cock (chamber) a separate maneuver; this means motion is not wasted or telegraphic and comes from point of origin, from where it already is. The rule of economical motion is that motion must not be wasted but still be effective; for instance, a strike might be fast, but without decent travel and angle then it is not effective.

Thundering Hammers

Thundering Hammers is a techniques that involves simultaneous and multiple checks and heavy use of marriage with gravity.

James is defending on the left, Dan is preparing to deliver a right straight thrust punch.

As Dan punches, James slips to the outside, zoned away from the back-up weapon, and blocks at the elbow or tricep, as he settles in a good stance.

James right arm already hanging low and in position comes in for a strike to the mid-section or groin

Dan now being bent over from the strike, allows James to raise his left arm high and come down with a hammer-fist and forearm strike to the kidneys using marriage with gravity and striking and checking the right leg with his left knee.

Not to waste motion, James strikes Dan on the way to grab and check his arm with the other hand.

Checking Dan’s right arm with his left hand, James reaches up high with his right hand to get travel to come down with a hammer-fist to the back of the neck or base of the skull while driving his knee into Dan’s calf as a strike and check.

Not to waste motion, James claws through the face as he steps to the 45 to gain a position to strike Dan.

Dan’s face now turned to face James, allows James to deliver a back-knuckle downward as he lands in position.

James allows his arms to swing back with the strike, providing good travel for the next strike, while checking Dan’s arm.

James delivers a heel-palm strike to the face.

In this technique the knee is used as a cover, check and strike. It is used as a strike and check simultaneously. It should be said too that with the ending strikes, the claw, back-knuckle and heel-palm, there is a one-handed opposing forces type striking occurring; the face is whipped in multiple directions as the hand strikes back and forth in opposing directions.

Gift of Destruction

Gift of Destruction is a technique against an unfriendly hand-shake; that is, it is against someone shaking your hand so they can punch you with the other one. The initial response is to pull on the hand that is being gripped in a handshake, and to push, or strike, on the elbow joint with the other hand, effectively manipulating the opponent’s width zone by turning his body side-ways and, so, canceling his back-up punch. This is, again, opposing forces or a push-pull effect. In addition, a knee is delivered to the groin, also an opposing forces move because the right arm pulls back at the same time; it should be noted, this knee to the groin further checks the opponent by canceling his height zone and delivering pain. Near the end of the technique, commonly called an extension to the base technique, there is a series of strikes whipping the opponent’s face back and forth as the defender strikes with one hand in opposing directions, like a wind-shield wiper. Finally, at the very end, the defender strikes low at the hinge or at the bladder which causes the opponent to bend forward and land on a succeeding upward forearm strike, giving the strike borrowed force.

Joe is on the left and James is on the right, shaking Joe’s hand and preparing to punch him.

Joe pulls on the arm and strikes at the elbow joint, manipulating at the hinge, while striking with a knee to the groin.

Joe having pulled back his arm, now has it chambered. He also checks James’ right arm with his left, keeping him crossed up to further check the back-up weapon and keep pressure on the depth zone.

Joe lands forward with an inward elbow, totally taking advantage of the forward momentum or back-up mass behind his weapon.

Joe off-angles to the 45, covering high with the left, and delivers a hammer-fist to the solar plexus.

Joe bring his fist up and toward the back of James, raking his knuckles through his face causing his head to turn to the side.

Joe rakes through James face in the opposite direction on the way to delivering a hammer-fist to the bladder at the middle hinge of the body, causing James to bend forward.

As James falls forward, Joe shoots up with a forearm strike under James’ chin or to the throat, adding borrowed force to the strike.

It is important to consider the push-pull effect or opposing forces principle in the initial moves of this technique. Push-pull is a common principle in locking and throwing arts and is the basis of much of the manipulation of an opponent’s body in martial arts.

Securing the Storm

The technique called Securing the Storm involves zoning, using the hinge principle, borrowed force and opposing forces. It is against a round-house club attack and the initial move is a simultaneous attack and defense, hitting while block; one of the best checks you can use is a good offense. After the initial move, the defender zones away from the back up weapon and locks up the attacking limb by the elbow joint in an arm bar; in the process, throwing the attacker forward and then throwing him the other way, to the ground using an opposing forces effect and getting borrowed force at the same time.

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

Dan steps in and blocks and punches, doing defensive offense, using back-up mass and getting borrowed force too.

Dan steps to the 45 and bars James arm at the elbow while zoning away from the rear hand and pulling him forward.

Dan pulls James forward, while still covering high with the right hand.

As James falls forward, Dan maneuvers to the back of him and switches feet to prepare to sweep him the other direction.

Sweeping back with his right leg on James’ right leg and striking high with his right hand, Dan sweeps James to the ground.



Returning Storm

Returning Storm is a technique against a round-house club attack (traveling horizontally) and the attacker comes back with a back-hand club attack; the defender leans back to avoid the first attack and then steps in to block the second one and arm bars the limb and uses the elbow hinge to swing the attacker into a knee strike, lending borrowed force to the knee strike, while the arm bar and a foot maneuver lend leverage for throwing the attacker around, using proper angles to get it done.

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

Joe swings the club and James leans back.

As the next club swing starts to come in, James steps into it and grabs the wrist and bars the arm at the elbow hinge.

Using the arm bar, James swings Joe down and forward.

Using that forward momentum of Joe being thrown by the arm bar, James gets borrowed force for a knee to the face or body.

Landing with a stiff-armed back-knuckle, striking upwards, James gets the opposing forces effect on the strike because his foot lands down as his strike goes up and in.

Captured Leaves

The primary principle involved in Captured Leaves is Torque. Torque is any twisting or turning action that generates power. In Captured Leaves the rotation of the body is used to generate power in two directions and at the same time along different planes; in addition Opposing Forces is also used. In this technique, the defender has altered the technique, what I call Martial Arts Algebra, what is commonly called in Kenpo the Formulation Phase, in which the technique is altered to suit the situation; in particular, due to the fact that Joe is shorter than his opponent he has deleted the elbow that occurs on the initial spin and opted instead to use both hands to assist in the break on the attacker’s arm, lending more power and leverage for the arm break. Possibly unable to get the elbow strike in anyway, due to the height difference, Joe opted to give power and leverage to the break over the shoulder. You will see how this works in the following images.

Dan on the left attempts to apply a finger lock and punch Joe.

Joe steps in and blocks the punch.

As he turns 180 degrees, Joe breaks the arm over his shoulder. In the Ideal Phase of this technique, here would be a left back elbow with the power of rotation behind it.

Joe turns the other direction, as he pulls on the arm he delivers an outward elbow strike in the opposing direction of the pull on the arm.


This article has focused primarily on power principles that underlie Kenpo techniques, and other relevant principles as well. In succeeding articles we will discuss how techniques show you how to manipulate opponents by way of dimensional zones and body parts.

As stated, while it is important to understand basics, and the mechanics of techniques, it is crucial to understand underlying principles because then you can apply them across multiple situations and the principles become important and not just specifics and particulars.

Combat Strategy is an excellent book that delves into power principles and strategy, how to generate power through body mechanics and manipulation of the opponent, exploring the how, when and why of applications.


Infinite Insights 5: Mental and Physical Applications is a great examination of Kenpo principles derived from self-defense techniques, giving a close look at what principles are learned from various techniques.

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