If It Was Easy…

My son will be testing for his Jr. 1st Black Belt in Kenpo in a couple of months. Part of the test – actually, a large part of the test – is just physically surviving the damned thing. I’ve been through it twice and it nearly wrecked me back when I was in my 30s. At some point, I’ll be doing it again for 3rd black and, let me tell you, I’m not looking forward to it.

At any rate, part of the prep for the test involves three-hour-long Saturday classes where we run through the techniques and katas in the system, spar, do hands-on work with partners – more on that in a little bit, I’ve got a cool story – and run and do push-ups and run some more and then do some sit-ups and then more running and yada, yada, yada. Someone did some estimating based on Fitbit calculations and a normal one hour class can burn up to 1100 calories, so you can imagine what we’re burning off in three hours. Actually, there’s probably not much need to imagine, it’s simple math: in three short hours we’re burning off more calories than one of those Baskin Robbins Oreo shakes.

2500+ delicious calories in one small package.

So, “tired at the end” barely covers it. It’s a rough workout and the final test will run over the space of a few days. In the end, you feel like you’ve earned that damned belt. Which is a good feeling. My kiddo will probably be wasted after the test, but he’ll have his first black belt and that’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Sure, there are plenty more to go – including testing for the adult versions – but earning that first black belt will only ever happen once.

Getting to that point has been a multi-year process. I started teaching him Kenpo was he was about three or four and dragged him kicking and screaming into the school when he was five. That was six years and two schools ago (our old teacher retired) and he’s now on the cusp of finishing the first step into a much larger world.

It’s a long process to get to that point and I have to applaud his determination. Even though there were several times he wanted to quit, he kept going. That was partially me telling him he couldn’t quit, but it was also him working through the system and struggling to get better at it even when he really didn’t want to be there because the siren song of video games was too loud in his head.

Just like writing that book, or finishing that degree, or any of the myriad other¬† long-running things people do, getting to the first black belt takes determination. It’s hard work. But, let’s face it, if it was easy everyone would be doing it and getting handed a reward for doing something easy is a total waste of everyone’s time. Hooray! You managed to make it to work on time! Here’s your trophy. While I could wax philosophical for days about just how stupid it is to hand out meaningless trophies for trivial things, I’ll save that for another post. For the end of this one, I’ll just say two things: a) I’m really proud of my son right now and b) whatever it is you’re working on that seems like it’s taking freaking forever to get done, keep going until it is done. You’ll thank yourself for it at the end.

Need a little motivation to keep going? Drop a comment. I’m usually fairly good at yelling at people to keep going. ūüôā

Now, as for that cool story I was going to tell. If you’ve never hear of Walter Jon Williams, he’s a sci-fi writer here in Albuquerque. He’s also a long-time Kenpo student (let me just say, he’s got a lot of stripes on his belt). Mr. Williams has been coming to our black belt prep Saturdays and I’ve had the opportunity to work out with him over the past couple. Let me tell, it’s not often you get to meet a writer you like, but also get to kick him. He’s a nice guy with a wicked elbow strike and potent punch. If you’d like to see more about his writing, go check out his website/blog. I suppose I should also tell him Google thinks he’s been dead since the 30s.

Show Me The Stuff

Here’s an interesting factoid for you: The cast of the original Star Trek were among the last actors that were trained by picture. Apparently, when they were learning to act, part of their training consisted of showing them pictures of people doing particular faces to represent various emotions. This is what a scared person looks like. This is what a happy person looks like. So on and so forth.

Better than his Spocked face.

In a way, it makes a certain kind of sense. As a TV actor, part of the job is making sure the audience understands what’s going on. If you make a particular face, everyone knows you’re shocked. Then we don’t have to expend additional energy trying to decide who’s shocked, who’s got ennui, and who’s blas√© about about life; we can focus on the antics of Spock and Bones.

What does all this have to do with price of tea in China? Funny you should ask. But first, allow me to digress.

Back when I was still teaching Kenpo, I learned more teaching than I did learning. The reason was I had to not only be able to teach the techniques as I learned them, but be able to explain why the technique worked. It required an in-depth understanding to do it well.

Editing can change things.

Editing a book is kind of like teaching. It forces you to look at things differently. While I’m editing someone’s book, I’m also mentally editing my own works and noting what works and what doesn’t work when I’m reading it instead of writing it.

I’ve recently been editing a book for some folks. While it’s not a bad book, there are a few things in there that had me scratching my head and a few things that could really be expanded. In the writing world, we love to say “show, don’t tell.” The things that needed expanded fell into the “show, don’t tell” category. It wasn’t that they were bad lines, they just needed some expansion.

I’m not going to reproduce their lines here. Like I said, they’re not bad lines. But you see bad lines all the time. Little throw-away lines that would be easy to turn from bland to interesting.

Take this:

“I could tell she was upset.”

It’s a classic example of tell, not show. It’s also boring and feels half-assed. To make it interesting, look back to the way the original cast of Star Trek was trained and start asking question. How could I tell she was upset? Well, she looked upset. What does that look like? If you were to paint a picture of someone who was upset, what would it look like?

Steam always comes out of ears when people are upset. Seriously, watch a cartoon sometime.

That’s the essence of showing instead of telling.

An upset person can scowl, furrow their brow, snort, frown, grimace, narrow their eyes, glare, yell, blow steam out of their ears, and break things. Think about a person you’ve known and what he or she looked like when they were upset. Then write that.

Instead of “I could tell she was upset” how about:

“Her glare could peel the paint off a battleship. Those expressive brown eyes I love so much wouldn’t meet my gaze. She was completely focused on the bent spoon in her hand when she said, ‘I can’t believe you cheated at Street Fighter 2. I had that match and you know it’.”

Without ever saying “she’s upset” we know she’s upset. If in doubt, toss in a line about steam coming out of her ears.

Show it, don’t tell it.

Got any tips for showing instead of telling? Drop ’em in the comments and let the world see. In the interim, keep writing.

Merging Writing & Kenpo

A long time ago, while I was studying for my Green Belt in Kenpo, I was a cocky dude who thought he knew everything. Newsflash, I was wrong, but that’s beside the point. While I working on a technique (Breaking Wing, I think), I kept rushing to the throw¬†and missing the setup for the throw. So, when I was trying to work it with someone, I just couldn’t get the throw to work.

One of the instructors, a guy that had been around for a while – back to the Ed Parker days, I believe – told me to slow down and work each piece of the technique as if it were the whole technique. “Do what you’re doing while you’re doing it,” he said. After each part is done, then move to the next part and do it while you’re doing it.

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And remember to completely do it

The bottom line was this: the throw in Breaking Wing works because the previous two parts of the technique (a middle knuckle to the armpit and raking the ribs, followed with snaking around the opponent’s arm and torquing their shoulder) set up the final throw. Without those two pieces first disrupting the arm and then breaking the balance, the throw just ain’t gonna happen.

Kenpo’s full of stuff like that. It works brilliantly if each part is done correctly. Bork up one part and the rest is likely to fail.

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A little bit back Damyanti Biswas wrote a blog post about ideal writer’s retreats. As per Damyanti’s usual standards, it makes for an interesting read and leaves you with a good question to think about.

The general gist was, if you could create an ideal writer’s retreat, what would it look like? She trends toward the “no good view whatsoever” school of thought because excellent vistas mean excellent staring at the vista. Writing time, to Damyanti, is meant to be writing time, not staring into space time.

I realized I have no real ideal writing space. I prefer my chair with my feet up my beat-up ottoman, but our dog also prefers that space, so I wind up writing from the couch a lot of the time. Usually with the TV on and a bourbon and cola nearby.

On the other hand, I also wrote the first chapter of Transmute at the Starbucks on Central, surrounded by chatty college students and babbling homeless people. The coffee wasn’t that great and someone thought it would be a good idea to heat up my cheese danish. All in all, not the best¬†of circumstances, but I manage to make it work.

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I’ll be this sucker would have drowned out the noise.

I guess, once I get into the zone of doing something, I tend to focus on it. Maybe those words from Mr. Ericson all those years ago actually found a place to take root in my skull and I’ve actually found a way to do what I’m doing while I’m doing it. All it takes is focus. And a wife that will put up with me asking what just happened on TV all the time.

See, the switch from Kenpo to writing only felt like a bizarre segue into a completely different thing.

What about you? Do you have anything specific that you need to write?

Book Review – The Kenpo Karate Compendium by Lee Wedlake

bookReview

Most martial arts books aim to teach you martial arts by showing you pictures of people doing things. Some do it really well, others do it exceedingly poorly. Some of the books out there that purport to teach a martial art through pictures are trying to teach a shitty martial art poorly. In those cases, you’ve got the double whammy of suck.

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Don’t try this at home.

I have a huge library of martial arts books ranging from obscure treatises on Savate to modern explanations of Krav Maga and everything in between. Some are good, some not so good, but most of them can be counted on to have a gem or two ferreted away between the covers.

Whether or not you can learn a martial art from a book is debatable. I would argue that it’s really not possible to understand motion from static images, but once you’ve got a solid grasp of a martial art, you can start to pick things up from books and videos. The caveat, of course, is what you learn will be tainted by your understanding of whatever art you’ve been studying. In other words, you’d be doing Jeet Kun Do as a Kenpo practitioner, not as a Jeet Kun Do practitioner.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure. I’m of the opinion that if you can make it work, it’s all good. Others would likely disagree.

But, I digress. Lee Wedlake’s The Kenpo Karate Compendium: The Forms and Sets of American Kenpo isn’t one of those books that aims to teach you a martial art. It’s written for people who are already proficient at Kenpo and shows some extra details and notes that may or may not have been picked up during live training.

Kenpo’s a fractured system. It started out in Hawaii, moved to Utah, and exploded after that. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), that explosion has lead to a lot of different schools doing a lot of different things. My school broke from Ed Parker’s school at some point in the distant past, but we still use a lot of his techniques and forms. In fact, the bulk of the first forms from Parker Kenpo are still extant in AKKA Kenpo. There’s more divergence as the belts go higher, but especially the early ones are almost exactly the same as what Lee Wedlake wrote his book about.

That kind of fracturing isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s nice sometimes to go back to the source and see that it hasn’t changed as much as we sometimes like to think it. It’s also nice to get some insight from someone else. Not knocking my own Kenpo instructors here, but it can be a great thing to break out of the norm and see what someone else has to say.

The bottom line for a book like this is it isn’t a great book for beginners. This is for people who want to dig into the original forms and pick up what’s changed here and there over the years or catch those little details that get lost from time to time. It’s also nice to have a different take on something.

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Get your copy here

Just Keep Writing, Just Keep Writing

Stephen King once said he told his wife he writes every day except Christmas and Thanksgiving. He went on to say he also writes on those days. I may be wrong about the days, but I do know he said he writes every day unless something really bad happens.

In the martial arts we have a philosophy of training every day. It doesn’t have to be much; practice a kata, do a few kicks, beat up someone that looked at you funny, that sort of thing. Okay, so I’m joking about beating people up for looking at me funny, but the remainder is true. A little practice every day is a good thing.

Most things we do – whether they be physical or mental activities – get better with practice. As long as the practice is good practice, anyway. I used to tell my students in Kenpo to practice their basics like they really meant them because in a stress situation, when your brain turns to mush, you’re going to fall back on what you’ve practiced. If you’ve practiced never kicking above the shins or putting your weight into your punches, guess what’s going to happen.

You’re going to get clobbered. And probably laughed at. And you will likely have brought dishonor on your dojo.

Writing works the same way: Practice will get you better at it.¬†Or, at the very least, more efficient at it. The quality of your writing will only improve as you strive to improve it. Read a lot, write a lot. That’s Stephen King’s philosophy toward being a good writer. Just keep writing. It’s a job as much as it’s an art. Like any art, you’ll get better at it the more you do it.

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King knocks out about 2,000 words a day.¬†If we follow the standard of 250 words to a page, that means he’s writing a 720 page novel every few months. Walter Gibson was known to write 6,000 to 10,000 words day. I’m nowhere near their league. My average is only 500-1000 words a day. Sometimes it drops lower, sometimes it goes higher, but it’s usually in that range.

So, why am I telling you this? In the realm of questions no one asked, “How many words does Eric Lahti write per day?” is probably toward the top of the list. Most people won’t find this information useful, but there’s someone out there right now wondering how many words a day you’re supposed to write to consider yourself a writer. The answer is as many as you feel like. Some people take a decade to write a book, others crank out a novel a month for decades (I’m looking at you Walter Gibson).

The goal¬†isn’t to write the greatest prose on Earth, the goal is to write. Just like anything else out there, if you want to get good at writing, you need to write. If you want to get better at punching or kicking, go punch or kick things. And then write about that experience.

Maybe it’s just me, but if I don’t feel good if I haven’t written something every day.

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How much do you write a day?

Changes Changes Changes

My Kenpo school in Albuquerque is closing down. Our head instructor wants to be able to spend more time with his family and, after decades of running a school six days a week, probably wants to be able to sleep from time to time, too. So, my seventeen years at AKKA on Montgomery came to an end today.

It’s a melancholy time, but I wish Mr. Gilbert the best. He’s certainly earned it. On the plus side, my son got a personal lesson from a man with something like forty plus years of experience today. I’ve had plenty of one-on-one time with Mr. Gilbert over the years, but this was my son’s first chance to get some insight directly from a Grand Master of Kenpo and that’s a pretty special thing.

I’ve seen Mr. Gilbert, who is in his sixties now, punch so quickly I could barely see his hands move. That’s what a lifetime of practice looks like. But, for all his training and stories about people walking into his school trying to cause problems, it’s his reactions that will always stick with me. Bear in mind, this is the same man that once taught me “luck is the intersection of skill and opportunity”. If you’ve ever wondered where I got that phrase from, it would be from Mr. Gilbert.

People sometimes wonder what the Martial Arts is. What does it entail? What do you have to do? What does it all mean? Pure and simple, no bullshit here; the Martial Arts (all of them) are about learning to inflict the maximum amount of damage on opponent in the smallest amount of time without getting hurt yourself. In other words, once you boil away all uniforms and mottos and rigamorale, learning the martial arts is about learning to beat the snot out of someone.

Of course, the best martial artists don’t have to rely on their fists to win the fight. One of Mr. Gilbert’s many stories that stuck with me was one I heard for the first time this morning. It’s an apt story, especially given the caustic environment in this country right now.

It would appear, back when Mr. Gilbert was running a school on Central in Albuquerque, that a guy came in looking for trouble. “I’m gonna kick your ass!” he screamed.

This wasn’t an entirely uncommon event. We even had a loon wander in off the street during a pretest and try to cause some problems. A couple guys and I escorted him out and convinced him this wasn’t the best place to cause problems. No one got hurt, so it was all good.

Anyway, the guy on Central was probably one of the run-of-the-mill nutters down there that lives to look for trouble. Mr. Gilbert looked up from whatever paperwork he was working on and calmly asked, “What’s your name?”

This threw the bad guy for a loop. Here he was trying to look tough and this Karate dude just asked for his name. “Why do you need my name?” he asked.

“Well, I need to make sure you’re on the schedule. If you’re not on the list you’re going to have to come back later.”

Talk about defusing the situation. The underlying statement was there were so many guys looking to kick Mr. Gilbert’s ass that he needed a list and a schedule to keep up with them. In the end, the angry guy wound up walking out of the school with a brochure about learning Kenpo and all of Mr. Gilbert’s contact information.

I gather he never took a class, but no fight broke out and no one got hurt, so it was all good.

Those are the kinds of stories that will stick with me. Punching is punching and kicking is kicking, but learning how to avoid the fight entirely is priceless.

Now, since the school is going away, I finally got around to taking some pictures. These are paintings of the animals (Tiger, Crane, Leopard, Dragon, Snake, and Monkey) of the style. Each of the animals represents are certain movement forward in Kenpo understanding. The paintings were made directly on the walls of the school sometime in the 80s by a former student.

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Tiger and Leopard. Tiger is the first animal and represents beginner understanding. Push a button and three attacks come out. Tigers are linear and power-oriented. The Leopard combines the power of the tiger and the ability to move of the Crane.

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Crane. The second level. Cranes start to change from linear movement to what we call point and circle defense. Moving around the opponent and firing quick, precise strikes. The Crane actually comes between Tiger and Leopard.

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Dragon introduces twisted stances and more movement. This falls at the Green belt level, the last belt before someone hit expert level at Brown.

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Snake and me taking a picture. The snake has two components: constrictor and viper. Constrictor elements of Kenpo include methods of coiling around arms and bodies. Vipers introduce very precise shots to small targets like eyes. The three Brown belts compose snake techniques.

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Monkey is the Black Belt element. Monkey can use any and all of the other animals and the Black Belt is, at least partially, about learning to combine the elements together.

Mr. Gilbert will still be around, so it’s not like AKKA is losing him forever. And also, as he pointed out, Bill Packer died and the system kept going. Thomas Connor died and the system kept going. Ed Parker died and Kenpo lived on. It’s not an easy change to swallow since I left the system once before and came back primarily for Mr. Gilbert.

Happy New Year, everyone. It’s a time for change and renewal. You can either approach the problem head-on and beat your fists against the wall or you can use a bit of trickery to turn the problem to an advantage.

Punch Out!

There are a lot of different ways to punch someone: strong arm in front, strong arm in back, jabs, punching along a straight line, hooking punches, uppercuts, vertical fist, horizontal fist, half fist, and so on. ¬†If it’s a fist, someone has figured out how to hit with it and people tend to get themselves wrapped around the axle about which way is best. ¬†Most sytems, especially the hard-style systems, tend to throw the power strike from the rear hand.

The hand that's furthest away from your opponent is your rear hand

The hand that’s furthest away from your opponent is your rear hand

Science!

Science!

The reason for putting the strong punch in the back hand is due to the way you can use your hips and legs to help generate punching power. ¬†Simply put, when you engage your whole body starting with the legs, moving through the hips and up into the shoulders to throw a punch, you can put a lot of power behind it. ¬†Boxers use this kind of punch, as do most karateka, kickboxers, Krav Maga, and Tae Kwon Do practitioners. ¬†It’s relatively easy to learn (if somewhat hard to master), and highly effective. ¬†It does, however, have one drawback: since your fist is further away from your opponent so it has further to travel before it hits.

Enter some other styles, including Wing Chun and the style put together by this guy

He just hit you.  You'll feel it tomorrow.  Maybe.

He just hit you. You’ll feel it tomorrow. Maybe.

That system is, of course, Jeet Kune Do, also known as the Way of the Intercepting Fist.  Jeet Kune Do emphasizes putting your strong hand forward and stroking quickly.  It makes for a different kind of generating power and is a tad harder to master, but works quite nicely when you want a fast strike.  So, your straight punch works like this:

Note the twist of the hips to generate the power.

Note the twist of the hips to generate the power.

But a strong forward punch can work just as well.

One inch punch.  Note which hand he's using.

One inch punch. Note which hand he’s using.

Lee could knock a guy down with a one inch punch from the front hand.

Both styles of punching contain¬†a lot of power, you just have to generate it a bit differently. ¬†The twist of the hips doesn’t work the same way with your strong hand forward. ¬†You’ll still engage your hips but there’s also more of a push off from the back leg. ¬†I’m sure someone has done some actual studies on this and found using the rear had for the power strike will generate more power, but there’s more to strike than just the power.

Kenpo is one of those systems that empasizes the power strike coming from the rear hand. ¬†We tend to use our front hand to jab and parry. ¬†Unfortunately, fighting is a fluid situation and you don’t always have time to set up that perfect position for a strike so over the past couple kids’ classes I’ve been trying to introduce them to punching from unconventional positions. ¬†Last night we worked on using the front hand as the power hand. ¬†I stole a lesson from Jeet Kune Do that I picked up somewhere or another and introduced them to the water hose analogy. ¬†This is similar to the whipping philosophy for circular strikes in that it requires a relaxed arm but rather than working from arcing position the water hose analogy works on explosively moving forward.

To try it out yourself, get a solid stance that will let you push forward with your rear leg. ¬†Keep your arms relaxed. ¬†I started the class with their hands on their thighs, but you can really do it from anywhere. ¬†Now, imagine what happens to a water hose when water suddenly flows into it. ¬†It goes from soft and dangly to rigid very quickly, right? ¬†Keep that image firmly in your mind and just raise your hand from your thigh into a punch. ¬†You’ll get a kind of upward then forward movement in your fist. ¬†Imagine it almost as your fist is attached to your shoulder with rope and you’re throwing your fist forward. ¬†Practice, practice, practice and you’ll soon find you can whip that arm forward from any position and drive it forward with your rear leg. ¬†If you’re relaxed you’ll get an explosively fast punch with almost no telegraphing.

Bam!

Bam!

It may not be as powerful as standard rear hand punch, but it’s wicked quick and it doesn’t matter how powerful a punch is if it doesn’t hit anything.

One thing to keep in mind is punching is like anything else: the more you do it the better you’ll get at it. ¬†Find a heavy bag and start hitting it regularly. ¬†Practice slowly at first and work your way up to experimenting with different strikes. ¬†Make sure to use some kind of hand protection (I use cotton wraps) or your hand might wind up looking like this.

Broken arm

 

Now, if you’re so inclined, here’s the science behind Bruce Lee’s one inch punch.

Bruce Lee’s One Inch Punch

Go train hard and train safe.

Kenpo vs Damaged Goods

This is bit of long setup, so bear with me. ¬†Also, I kind of stole the title idea from Adam Oster’s blog, so props to him and a promise I won’t do it again. ¬†It was just too perfect to pass up.

When I was in college I slipped on some ice in Colorado Springs, CO, and folded my left leg under me and landed right on my knee. ¬†Yes, it hurt, but I was in my early twenties and indestructible, so I got up, walked it off and put up with the discomfort until it healed. ¬†I could, and probably should, have gone to the student health services and gotten some advice on it but young and stupid trumped wise course of action. ¬†Over the years, it’s gone in and out of whack from time to time and I usually just put a brace on it and wait for it to heal.

Last week in the kids’ Kenpo class I was trying to get them to understand that you don’t always have the perfect position to strike from, so we worked through punching from a bow stance.

Forward knee bent, holding most of the weight of the body, back leg rigid to keep from being pushed back

Forward knee bent, holding most of the weight of the body, back leg rigid to keep from being pushed back

We also worked on crescent kicks from a horse stance.

Weight evenly distributed, legs loose.

Weight evenly distributed, legs loose.

And striking from a twisted stance.

Stand with a wide stance and twist.  Now try generating some power from here.  You can unwind or rise up.

Stand with a wide stance and twist. Now try generating some power from here. You can unwind or rise up.

One thing all of these have in common is they all require a lot of leg strength and put some serious pressure on your knees. ¬†I’m pretty sure the kids were less than pleased with me, but it was kind of an important lesson to learn. ¬†Amazingly, my legs (which were already sore from running and lifting that morning) held up but my left leg was feeling a bit wobbly.

Flash forward about fifteen minutes and I’m teaching one of the brown belts a black belt technique called Whirling Python (Sorry, can’t find a video on it). ¬†Whirling Python looks like a fairly simple technique but it has one of the hardest kicks in the system to pull off. ¬†The gist of the technique is to deal with an incoming punch by slipping to the opponent’s side and winding up behind their back. ¬†From there, you twist their neck to stress the vertebrae and strike the side of the neck. ¬†That part just requires some speed and dedication. ¬†The next section involves a chicken wheel kick. ¬†You hit the side of your opponent’s right knee with a wheel kick (most people call it a roundhouse, the JKD folks call it a hook kick, we just call it a wheel kick). ¬†This starts to collapse the opponent over to their right side. ¬†Now, jump off your left foot and bring that left kick way up to the opponent’s head and continue the turn. ¬†Do it right and you’ll wind up pulling them down onto the ground. ¬†It’s effectively a throw with a kick and it’s pretty slick when you do it right.

Do it wrong, or have an aleady weak left leg, and the results are less impressive.

I’m pretty sure I pulled every muscle in my left leg. ¬†That was Wednesday. ¬†Now, on Sunday, I can mostly walk again although my leg muscles stiffen up when I sit down and getting up means I need to stretch the muscles back out again. ¬†Rather than just sit on my butt and wait for everything to be fine, I’m working it gently and actually made a trip to the gym this morning to do a little workout on the heavy bag. ¬†Needless to say I didn’t do any kicking, but I found I was having to fight my instincts to kick. ¬†This just left me with punches and elbows.

While I was hitting the bag I was kind of thinking about how this whole debacle could be turned into a lesson. ¬†In some ways it spins off my original lesson of realizing you don’t alway have the perfect position to strike from. ¬†In others it should probably be an object lesson about listening to your body when it tells you to knock this crap off. ¬†So, I guess in some ways, I taught myself an advanced lesson about mobility and striking from bad positions.

Shove Off

It’s been a while since I’ve talked martial arts on here and it’s high time I try to be a bit more regular about it.

I recently got hold of a copy of Gershon Keren’s Krav Maga: Real World Solutions to Real World Violence and have been reading it when I’m not busy reading books for the Indie Author Review Group or writing my own stuff. ¬†Amazingly, that still leaves plenty of time in the day to glance through and pick up a new idea or two here and there. ¬†Now, I don’t know Krav Maga at all, but I find it a fascinating study in simplification and generally meeting fire with fire. ¬†To the best of my knowledge no one in Albuquerque is teaching it so I’m picking up bits whereever I can and fusing them with Kenpo. ¬†Both systems are pretty practical and all martial arts share a lot with each other, so the fusion isn’t too hard to accomplish.

Every Wednesday, or almost every Wednesday, I’ve been teaching the kid’s Kenpo class. ¬†It’s been an eye opener for me because teaching something requires a much better understanding of it than just learning something. ¬†It’s forced me to examine my assumptions about how and why things work and also let me branch out a bit. ¬†I try to bring in something new every Wednesday, some small bit of arcane knowledge or a different way of looking at things. ¬†For instance, we’ve done exercises where one student will close his or her eyes and another student holding a kicking shield will move around the first student. ¬†When someone calls stop, the student with his or her eyes closed will open up, find the target and strike it. ¬†It’s designed to teach them how to pick up a target when the opponent isn’t directly in front. ¬†We’ve also scattered kicking shields all over the floor and done kata to show that your environment isn’t always as smooth the school floor.

So, back to Krav Maga. ¬†Most of what the Krav Maga folks deal with is fairly practical stuff but things like knife and gun attacks aren’t things most of the kids are going to need to learn to deal with at this point. ¬†At least I hope not. ¬†There was one thing I pulled from Keren’s book, though, that was pretty appropriate for the kids: dealing with a shove.

Mess you up, sucka.

Mess you up, sucka.

The shove is a classic fight starter, it’s a way of pulling off the alpha dog thing and is usually accompanied with a pithy phrase like “I’ll fuck you up.” ¬†Kenpo, like Krav Maga and most other fighting systems, has numerous ways of dealing with a shove and most of those end with the shover on the ground crying. ¬†All of our techniques, though, are predicated on the assumption that the fight is already started and both parties are fully committed to the fight. ¬†Stances are set and both people are primed and ready.

What happens, though, immediately after the shove is important and there are a few ways to go:

  • Shove ’em back
  • Back down and apologize
  • Fully commit and end the threat immediately

Most people choose to shove back, which is really the worst thing you can do in that situation. ¬†Shoving comes down to that alpha dog mentality I was talking about earlier. ¬†It’s a way to exert authority and dominance. ¬†As humans we like to think we’re above all that but we pull that kind of nonsense all the time. ¬†“Accidentally” bumping into someone, getting in someone’s space, pushing your way into an elevator before anyone can get off, yelling, and many other things are just attempts at dominance. ¬†Shoving is just a more physical way of saying “I’m tough but not quite ready to commit to the fight.”

Grrr.  Bark.  Woof.

Grrr. Bark. Woof.

Just in case you think it’s a stupid guy thing, women do it, too.

Wait for the fight, kids.

Wait for the fight, kids.

So why is shoving back such a bad idea? ¬†Two reasons: 1) it ups the ante, forcing the other person’s hand, and 2) it takes away an important tactical advantage. ¬†When someone shoves you the best bet, depending on the situation, is to either walk away or decisively end the fight. ¬†For the kid’s class I emphasized the idea of walking away. ¬†In fact, for the most part, it’s best to just walk away from a fight whever possible, after all it’s always easier to avoid a fight than to win one. ¬†Walking away, apologizing, whatever it takes to defuse the situation costs you nothing but some ego points. ¬†The way I see it, I have a huge amount of ego already so losing some doesn’t really hurt me.

It's all good, bro-dog.  It's all good.

It’s all good, bro-dog. It’s all good.

Interestingly enough, even though picture is supposed to be just a one-off funny, Kramer has actually adopted a good defensive stance. ¬†His hands are up, palms out. ¬†He look innocuous and non threatening. ¬†Look at the position of his hands, though; he’s actually in a position to intercept or block incoming strikes and counter strike if necessary. ¬†This kind of stance is pretty prevalent in the martial arts. ¬†The Krav Maga guys call it the interview stance, other systems have different names for it. ¬†We don’t really have a name for it in Kenpo, we just call it being prepared and non-threatening, but ready if necessary.

Defensive can become offensive in the blink of an eye.  Or a finger in the eye.

Defensive can become offensive in the blink of an eye. Or a finger in the eye.

So, the lesson for Wednesday was basically this: if someone shoves you it’s best to let it go, but get into a position where you can defend yourself if absolutely necessary. ¬†Hopefully the lesson stuck. ¬†I’d hate to see some of the kids getting in trouble at school for fighting. ¬†Although, my son has been hit before at school and hasn’t pummelled anyone into pulp (even though he loves sparring), so maybe the lessons are sinking in.

Next time you get shoved, rather than shoving back or putting on your Ninja face and going to town, you might want to consider just apologizing and walking away.

Ninja Mask!

Ninja Mask!

Writing the martial arts

Here’s a couple of terms for you to digest for a moment: jargon and argot.

They both describe a similar concept. ¬†The gist of both definitions is they’re a customized vocabulary used by a subset of the population that have a particular meaning to that subset. ¬†Trade vocabularies, if you will. ¬†The IT world is full of jargon. ¬†I’ve spent entire days subnetting IP addresses or instantiating classes. ¬†A delegate in programming is damn sight different from a delegate in politics.

The key difference between jargon and argot is their intended use. ¬†Jargon is just a customized vocabulary that evolves. ¬†Argot is a custom vocabulary meant to exclude outsiders from understanding the meanings. ¬†I picked up the idea of argot from an Intercultural Comm class I took when I working on my Master’s degree. ¬†Outside of academia, I haven’t heard it used much. ¬†Subnets and classes are perfect examples of jargon. ¬†Lolspeak is a pretty good example of argot.

Interestingly, if you stop and think about it, most jargon eventually evolves into argot, sometimes accidentally sometimes intentionally. ¬†It’s doubtful that Lolspeak was intentionally designed to make it difficult for outsiders to understand since it originated with people texting on phones with limited keyboards, but it’s the closest example I can come up with.

The martial arts world is no different. ¬†We have terms that we use that aren’t even necessarily interchangeable between systems. ¬†A wheel kick in Kenpo is a hook kick in Jeet Kun Do and a roundhouse kick in Muay Thai. ¬†There are, to be sure, subtle differences in how those kicks are executed between various systems but the basic concept of a kick that hits from the side remains the same.

So then, and this is where the writing part comes in.  Most people in the world are not versed in martial arts terms and even those of us who grew up on Kung Fu Theater might have some problems interpreting the various nuances.

Master of the Flying Guillotine is still one of my favorites.

Master of the Flying Guillotine is still one of my favorites.

This was one of the problems I found when I was writing Henchmen. ¬†It’s got a fair amount of martial arts in it because you’re supposed to write what you know (I know Kenpo) but I wanted to make it understandable. ¬†Whether or not I was successful is open to interpretation, but it did force me to think about how I described things. ¬†In my Kenpo school I can say “Darkness” and everyone who has learned that technique can do it. ¬†Perfect example of¬†argot.

So, let’s break it down and see if we can take a somewhat common Kenpo technique and make it work in a fiction environment. ¬†I chose Thundering Hammers, largely because it’s an easy enough technique to understand but has just enough built in argot to make it a little weird. ¬†It’s also one of the few Kenpo techniques that most schools seem to use to some degree or another.

As a side note, and this is just a personal defense thing: the hammer fist is a very effective tool for striking without worrying about things like breaking your fist.

About to get more than the purple purse he bargained for.  A hammer fist to the temple is an effective and safe strike.

That purse doesn’t even go with his outfit.

We’ll start with a technical description (essentially my own notes from I learned it for my green belt, lo those many years ago).

Thundering Hammers: Green belt chart

Attack: The opponent is attacking with a right punch, right foot lead, stepping in and punching at the same time.

Defense: As we step forward into the attack move slightly to the left to slip past the incoming punch and execute left inward block to deflect the opponent’s fist. ¬†This should place us nearly hip to hip with the attacker. ¬†From this position, execute a right rising hammer fist using the top of the fist to strike the opponent’s groin. ¬†It’s imperative that this strike be powerful; drive it with legs and hips. ¬† ¬†Expectation: this will stop the attacker’s forward movement and cause him/her to collapse at the knees and start to bend forward at the waist. ¬†From here, the right foot slides back and to the left as we adjust our position to continue the attack. ¬†Execute a downward hammer fist with our right hand to the opponent’s clavicle, furthering their bend at the knees. ¬†The left hand now executes a left downward hammer fist to the kidney. ¬†This should pull the opponent’s head back up slightly. ¬†The left foot now steps back and slightly to the right to prepare our position for next strike. ¬†The right hand executes a back knuckle to the back of the opponent’s head, forcing their head toward the ground. ¬†Before the opponent can fall, the right hand executes an upward palm strike to the opponent’s face. ¬†Target is the probably the nose or some other soft target. ¬†The right hand now forms a claw. ¬†The left foot shuffles back slightly and as we move backward we use our momentum to pull the opponent – using the claw hand – forward and further off balance.

End result: If all goes well, the opponent will be incapacitated and face down on the ground.

Further responses: It’s technically possible to kick the opponent in the head, but it would probably be overkill. ¬†Cover out and escape.

Yee haw. ¬†That’s some excitement right there. ¬†For a bit more of a visual example, check this Youtube video. ¬†AKKA’s Thundering Hammers is slightly different, but this is close enough for jazz and government work. ¬†The video gives a pretty good example of body positioning and where the strikes will land, even if it’s not spot on with what we teach.

So, now you’ve got the technical description of the technique and a basic understanding of what to expect. ¬†From a pure learning perspective, you’re probably ready to practice on a partner. ¬†Don’t try it immediately on an opponent, it’s nigh impossible to learn something to that level from a video a text description.

Still, it’s not exactly what I’d call compelling writing. ¬†We need dynamism if we’re going to have some action and adventure here, so let’s try to put it into fiction:

A cold rage burned in Chan’s mind. ¬†With every taunt Rory threw at him, Chan’s desire to hurt the other man grew. ¬†The fight had gone on too long, he’d spent too much time in snake mode, playing with his food and picking at Rory’s weaknesses. ¬†It was time to unleash the monkey.

Rory’s smirking face was an example of everything that was wrong with this place; all the lies, all the pain, all the death. ¬†Chan longed to charge forward, but the monkey was patient. ¬†Wait, it whispered, wait for him to come to you. ¬†Fight where you want to fight, not where he wants to fight.

Time slowed as a deadly calm rolled over Chan. ¬†A slight twitch from Rory telegraphed the fast right hand. ¬†The man was going to step in and strike, covering the distance and smashing Chan’s face in one neat move. ¬†Chan steps slightly to the left, slipping the attack, and put up a right hand to block. ¬†As he stopped next to Rory, Chan’s fist shot forward from his waist straight into the man’s groin. ¬†The man in black howled a scream of pain familiar to everyone that’s had his testicles smashed.

They wind up right next to each other, shoulder to sagging shoulder. ¬†The monkey begged Chan to press on, to finish the fight once and for all. ¬†A simple movement of his right foot changes his¬†position as the master raised a fist ready to beat down the beast. ¬†Chan’s deep southern growl echoed the names of everyone Rory had hurt in his mad quest for power over this realm.

“Amanda,” he snarled as his right hand hammered Rory’s clavicle. ¬†Rory’s body drooped forward.

“Nelson,” Chan growled as his left hand slammed into Rory’s kidney. ¬†The other man’s back straightened from the pain.

“Kevin!” Chan yelled and slammed the back of his fist into the back of the beast’s head. ¬†As Rory’s face hastened to meet the floor, Chan decided it wasn’t done yet. ¬†His hand, still moving after smashing Rory’s head kept moving down before suddenly changing direction and opening. ¬†Chan’s palm slammed into Rory’s nose.

Rory collapsed, Chan’s hand on his shattered nose the only thing holding him upright. ¬†With one final bit of rage, Chan’s fingers closed into a claw. ¬†“Alyssa,” he growled. ¬†Chan stepped back and pulled on Rory’s face. ¬†His strong fingers ripped canals into the other man’s face as he pulled him forward by the face.

There was blood under Chan’s finger nails as he watched the Beast of Aluna fall face-forward into the ground. ¬†Not ready to be fooled again, Chan stepped back, ready to continue pummeling the man if he so much as moved. ¬†Rory’s head bounced once on the hot pavement before the man lay prone and still.

Okay, so it’s a rough draft, but you’ve got to admit, it’s a hell of lot more interesting than the technical description. ¬†Hopefully, it’s easy enough to understand, too.

Now, just so we don’t wind up taking ourselves too seriously, let’s hear Master Ken’s (another Albuquerque guy!) take on Kenpo.

Tiger claw!

Tiger claw!

Take it away, Master Ken.