Back to Sophisticated Basics
I've often wondered how I manage to continue to press on with my martial arts journey when so often I realize how little I know and how everyday brings a new challenge to remember and hang on to previous concepts, principles and theories; then make room for more. I marvel at the shear amount of material Kenpo Seniors store away and yet manage to add additional thoughts, concepts, applications, theories, etc.... Or shall I say, the one's that see progression as a passion, a must, a necessity or whatever term you choose to describe them manage to add to their knowledge base and share it with the Kenpo community. Even better still, manage to share and advance Kenpo beyond the already established freestyle, self defense techniques, forms and sets. The trick however is to add to the knowledge base without adding nothing more than quantity without purpose. This is in particular where I wander off target and loose interest, but found this drives a more intense desire to further explore PKI.
I have a hard time digesting further definition or description of what a technique "can or should do"... or another memorization of a "new" way or expanded way of doing yet another or new technique by simply rearranging the basics. This concept, to me, destroys the very foundation of extemporaneous expression since it seems to require just the opposite by incorporating another "canned" answer to an attack or threat. The real goal, I think, is in fact a personal path and growth pattern that will be absorbed and ingrained so well it manifests itself as individual expression of expanded and validated areas or principles recognizable by the ones that developed them. This is where expanded exploration of principles added to existing techniques will develop desirable motion traits and can be an addition to our Kenpo curriculum. All supplemented by expanded drills, forms and sets that are devised to practice further exploration and motion calibration of needed combat theories and applications.
Always interesting to me is the concept of avoiding learning something at a level beyond rudimentary movements or memorization. Typical discussions have suggested that replicating a basic movement without foundational information can be accomplished and often times are the preferred method of understanding. I completely disagree with this line of reasoning.
Two elements for my observations are: Kenpo Principles and Levers/Leverage. I see Kenpo techniques performed, analyzed and even applauded that indicate to me the foundational principles were ignored, avoided or not provided for during the learning phase. Even possibly learned, but not seen as necessary to carry on and continue to be incorporated during application. When this is the case, there does not seem to be any indication in the execution of the technique that supports a deeper understanding than simply going through a motion. Effectiveness is sacrificed and quite frankly methods can prove to be more dangerous to the person performing the technique than to their opponent.
Same can be said about levers and leverage. As an example, to simply apply and arm bar and not understand that the elements of a lever, if used correctly, will clearly dictate the type of lever to be used, won't compromise the effectiveness and will ultimately decide success or failure. The retort being one does not need to know these parts to successfully apply an arm bar. Yet a proficient Kenpoist will readily recognize that a fundamental understanding of the principles needs to be incorporated in a technique and are in fact necessary for optimum effectiveness. Those that do not suffer with techniques they cannot get to work and are more times than not are abandoned and not taught to their next generation. Why would this apply in one situation, but not all?
For me, using these two examples helps describe PKI (Durgan Method) and its passion for progressive learning and development. PKI requires a deeper understanding of all elements by teaching the finer and more intricate parts of how and why things work. Nothing is incorporated into Kenpo without staying within the principles of Kenpo and further understanding how levers work, how leverage is achieved correctly and what class of lever is needed. The results show locks and chokes are enhanced and become much more effective. The study of planes further defines motion by prescribing a direct route of travel that enhances not only locks and levers, but striking techniques as well. Similar in thought to Kenpo techniques when you more fully understand the how and why things work the more apt you are to perform techniques that actually work. This will also assure that extemporaneous execution is based on sound fundamental principles proven to enhance both development and results, when called upon, without depending on a prearranged sequence that may or may not work. Adaptations then flow from striking to locks and locks to strikes seamlessly, without forethought or scripted responses.
I believe PKI/Durgan Method has expanded my personal growth and strives to address the very core of my view by in fact addressing the "what-if's" as combat scenarios using training models by applying simple leverage and plane descriptors in an advanced, sophisticated and scientific method of study. Avoiding memorization of yet another canned answer and in fact diametrically opposed to this method by exploring and applying terminology, theory, principles, logic while holding fast to the recognizable Kenpo concept of motion; the Universal Pattern. The universal pattern is recognizable as the base and place to start, from a standard and proven point, and exploring well beyond the surface by diving into the core of understanding motion.
I consider myself to be a permanent student of Kenpo since this is truly my chosen path which is always looking for ways to expand understanding and execution. While I readily admit some of the math explanations, planes and correct application of levers and leverage can be a bit of a challenge for me, the benefits and understanding continue to surface in execution and detailed teachings to lower ranks. While sometimes struggling to find room to squeeze more information into my memory banks, my foundation in Ed Parker American Kenpo has proven to be beneficial and surfaces often during my new studies in turn helping me to understand and apply PKI advanced concepts. Simply because they are in line with and dedicated to expanding even further from a source that strives and insists on approaching thoughts and theories with an open mind, but in harmony with fundamental Kenpo.
5th Degree Black Belt
Rank and Recognition in Today’s Martial Arts
By Todd Durgan
In today’s Martial arts world there have been many, and I do mean many people that have either been promoted to, or that have taken it upon themselves to be a rank that others may find either offensive or simply ridiculous. All measure and manner of judgement has been cast down by the haters and nay Sayers that scorn and scoff at these individuals whether warranted or not. There have also been as many articles and blogs or posts written regarding this one aspect of the arts as there have been people that have been wrongly or questionably promoted or self-promoted. So why would I write another? Because I sit on the fence of being either in many different people’s minds, and Entertainment of course!
It is human nature to compete and be competitive with one another or another stemming from the times of cavemen and women when food was scarce or hard to come by as a result of the danger of the kill or hunt and so on, sort of a hunter gatherer instinct. This is now days more of an engrained societal issue or result for most seen in the methods and systems that we have created and our children are raised in but seldom recognized by many as being such. As a child is raised they are encouraged to participate in various activities such as sports, speech, dance, or even the chess club for the purpose of personal gain of popularity or money and status in the community and even often times for some vicarious adventure for the parent or parents who didn’t do so well with the particular arena or feel they had been robbed of the opportunity in their own childhood. Those who do well in their field are praised and even treated special in many instances. They are given prizes, money, trophies, or other worldly gifts and adornments. This causes some inevitable and permanent results or side effects for all involved. Competitive spirit is good; it is great when kept in check, and the purpose for that competitive spirit is known and understood, but sadly in todays age when the only real repercussion to the overzealous father at the game is being dismissed or just getting some negative chatter from other parents. There is no life and death consequence and therefore it is a different result in participation of competition.
One such side effect is the outcast and Oster sized loser or losers of the game who may or may not learn and grow from the loss. Another is that the winner of said competition is then thrust into the lime light and treated very differently than his/her fellow class or team mates or even peers. This fuels the fire and creates a greater depth or commitment to the competition. Back to the point of the article, business is a competition. Customers buy or don’t buy your product. And there is no difference in the business of the martial arts. Higher Rank for most means or implies a higher demand. But this is not really true, look around are all of the 10th degree guys in high demand? Not really, not even close on a large scale.
We have now seen guys that are in their early to mid-40’s strap on tenth and guys in their late sixties early seventies not take it or refuse to take it. What is the difference between these two groups and the dynamic that is at work here? Let’s start with recognition, both the recognition of the rank by others and the recognition of the worth or validity of the rank by the wearer. Recognition and acceptance is a personal event and journey where rank is concerned. It’s easy to put a belt on it’s a whole different story to feel as if you are the proper owner and bearer of such rank. Now mind you that is if you really and truly care about the arts and recognize the responsibility that is inherent with said rank. Recognition by others is yet again a difficult thing; followers are followers to the end typically and will support their leader in whatever is decided. The real question is who do you want following you and for what reason? It’s real easy to accumulate groupies and hangers on if you have even just a little skill and knowledge, but is that really what your goal is, are there no greater aspirations? What is the measure or standard that you hold yourself to that has brought you to believe that you are worthy of this rank you are willing to wear and claim?
Newer and younger people in the arts seem to think that adding a new kick or punch or cool grappling move from another system warrants more rank and recognition not seeing the big picture where true creation and formulation of a training method or system is concerned. The older generation is sometimes stuck in the adoration of a founder or creator of their system which can create a sort of blindness in their own progress within the art or teaching ability and skills. So what is the difference between “bestowed” and “taken”, and what is a warranted rank vs. an un-warranted rank? Bestowed upon would imply that others have gathered together to put that person up to “insert rank”. This typically or traditionally happens with the Judan or tenth degree ranks and by others from other organizations that already hold such rank, or are the heads of their systems. (Mind you I am not trying to qualify or condone any of this) In most of the traditional systems there is only or can only be one Judan or 10th degree head of the system. Sadly in American Kenpo this is not the case, and has been the same affliction in many other systems now traditional and non-traditional as well.
And this brings us to the “taken” rank. People have now for the last few 20ish years been just taking the rank or putting it on themselves claiming to be the “man”! Sadly there is no one challenging this and so it goes unchecked and grows as a matter of course among the younger and more arrogant martial artists and generations. I will say though that these are typically the people that have absolutely no problem stealing or conning the general public and think rather highly of themselves and their self-proclaimed ability. They also likely have not experienced a good ass kicking and when they do are likely to dismiss it as something trivial like “the wind was blowing” or “the sun was in my eye and I couldn’t see”. We have the type who when frustrated with it all just bounce around to different people pledging their loyalty until they get either confirmation of a self-appointed rank or promoted to the desired rank and then move on to the next. There are so many ways that people have abused or disgraced the ranks and make them seem somehow less than what they are for those that work and commit a lifetime to the arts and actually trained and studied with and without a teacher/instructor for many many years.
Is the self-sacrifice and commitment of a man or woman for the majority of their life what make them worthy of an esteemed rank and recognition? Or is it something else? Perhaps the organization that they lead or have developed for years is collectively convinced that they are the next or best candidate for the rank? This is how it often happens, in both traditional and non-traditional systems alike. Often leaders of these organizations or groups do not set a standard for this and this allows them the freedom of non-compliance by default. But this is also a down fall to the system or standard because the student will almost always follow the example given whether right or wrong. These examples will be to the regular operations by the “Leader/Head” of the school or organization and the way business, promotions, recognitions and the like are conducted.
So the real question to ask is “do I measure myself against that?” or “do I maintain the tradition that I have been raised in and disregard all others”? The reality of it is that we should not measure our own journey by the apparent misguided wanderings of another’s journey through the world and the arts, no matter the impact that it may have on us mentally or emotionally. Not being disenfranchised by the current events and goings on in the Kenpo world with regard to rank is a hard thing sometimes, counts of 10th degrees going through the roof and seemingly unchecked mid and upper level ranks being assumed by people who may or may not really have the knowledge and ability, but likely do not have the time and experience to warrant such ranks. We have to look at each case (or don’t) with an open mind and try not to base their place with our own measuring stick but realize that they are measured or measuring by or with some other structure or criteria. There truly are only two choices, leave them to their own demise and dishonesty (and do not measure yourself against them this only encourages them as this fuels the fire of belief in themselves and what they are doing), or pay attention to them thereby confirming and drawing attention to them, bringing them followers and hangers on. Whatever it is that you choose good luck and be honest with yourself and true to your art!
A final thought; How can you attain a higher rank based on understanding and experience if you have never promoted a person to levels that would challenge you to do and learn more?
It is often taught in the Martial Arts that power is derived from the hips and proper timing and rotation thereof. While this is partially true I challenge you to consider the following writings and employ them if you think it may benefit you. For the purpose of clarity I will be speaking about footwork as it pertains to my system of choice, American Kenpo. In the Kenpo system there are many stances and foot maneuvers to practice and use in combat or in training. Before we dive into this very delicate subject let’s first look at another very important and overlooked concept that is directly related to and effected by footwork, and that is telegraphing.
Telegraphing involves the movement and change in one of three zones prior to the execution of the footwork to be done or executed. In many hard style traditional systems we can see this in full effect where as they rotate violently with the hips and or shoulders prior the launch of the intended strike or block thus changing the visual “width” of the body before or prior to the actual launch of any strike or block. This is practiced intentionally, in some instances for the development of power and timing. To be less telegraphic one must first understand “what” causes a telegraph and how we can avoid or minimize telegraphic motion, and on the reverse maximize telegraphing. If we look at the three main zones, height, depth, and width and how they function and the story they tell when activated we notice that two of the three are visible with the slightest of moves and yet one of them is relatively hard to perceive unless…
For the purpose of clarity let’s eliminate the “zone of obscurity” from the “telegraph” discussion since its name sake says it all. However two of the other three are very telegraphic vs. the one. Any change in “height” will surely be seen immediately, and the same is true for any change in “width”. The reason for this is the reliance of only one optical unit or eye and limited follow up brain function to perceive movement or change. Depth on the other hand requires both eyes and some cycling of the brain to bring the information from both together for the purpose of making a decision. So if we can master movement of depth over height and width then we can surely become “faster” and more “accurate” than through the practice of the increase in speed of a still telegraphic movement.
Now back to the foot work; we say transfer the weight to the front foot to a 60/40 ratio or weight distribution rotating the hips to a forward or square position/attitude and the rear foot to a forward facing relationship, while bending the front knee to accommodate the weight change and brace against the impending impact of the weapon to be delivered. This puts us in a fwd bow by the standard Kenpo requirements. What is not discussed very often if ever is the timing of the rotation of the rear foot and the timing of the weight change or distribution from neutral to forward. Another element of timing that is not often discussed is the change in relationship of the height, depth, and width with regard to their timing. For example, do you want the hips square before the weight change to the forward leg, or the weight to the forward leg before the hips square to the target? Now many will say that they should happen simultaneously right? Well you are correct, however the element of telegraphing is then brought in to play when these are timed in such a manner with no thought to the pivot of the rear foot and rotation of that same leg that allows the hips to actually square to the target and the weight to transfer to the forward leg. Problem!
To further compound this issue there is often an exchange (improper most of the time) of height that goes along with the rotation and placement of the rear foot into the forward bow position. While it is typically not intentional, it is still visible. The other issue is with the timing of said foot and rotation with regard to the actual strike of “weapon” deployed and the fact that the heel is typically the last part in motion or to stop moving. Is this correct? Not even. Why? Well if you employ or intend to employ the concept of “back-up-mass” or “bracing angle” the timing will allow neither to be truly applied to the strike. This is akin to delivering the bumper to the wall singularly and the car afterward and expecting the bumper to survive, or leading with the front of the bat into a baseball swing, you will not have full penetration or proper timing to hit the ball with any synchronicity or power. Put another way, look at a shot put and the timing of the foot work relative to the athlete and the shot itself at the time of release. The body moves forward as a result of the feet and then rotation and then shot flies.
When we move we should practice moving from the ground up, not from the body forward or body down. I remember a good friend of mine teaching a class one time at his wedding, this was the lesson!!! Or maybe I got it wrong, but thanks Mr. Dave Thompson, I think I get it.
Todd M. Durgan
Developing the Art
“Analytical study of”
The Kenpo system, as fragmented as it has become over these last twenty years since Mr. Parkers death, shows signs of promise in development and growth. Not in size or numbers of people that study it, but the actual progression and development of the system that is Mr. Parker’s Legacy. There are many schools of thought on this but the reality is that while Mr. Parker was alive he was continuously developing and integrating new thoughts and ideas of principle and motion into the model of kenpo that was most widely taught as with his own personal brand of kenpo. There are so many different directions that one can go, it is hard to understand how any one “senior” guy could have all the answers. This is where some of the bickering and fighting about who is and who isn’t comes from or has come from in the past. In my opinion they are all correct for the time period or material that was covered with them by Mr. Parker however, he himself said in many of his books that he hoped that people would further endeavor to develop and understand the art thereby helping and cultivating its progression forward going.
Many people mis interpret personal growth for progress of the art or vice versa. In my relatively short 30+ years in the arts with the last 25 either assisting, teaching, running, or owning a studio, I have had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time on and off the matt studying areas of the arts that interest me for one reason or another. With the development of the internet and wide use by martial artists around the globe to showcase their own material and styles, there is little doubt that the arts are both expansive and yet, at the same time seemingly limited in their applications, and unlimited in the various interpretations. While some of my fellow Kenpoists proclaim evolution or progression of the system others say bah it’s only the discovery of things unknown to that individual prior to learning it from some source or believing in discovery.
There are a couple of things that are certain about Kenpo, it is a great “system” or “art” if studied as such, it works well when applied correctly in any arena, and it does NOT have everything there is to have in a Martial Art. And while we scurry around the globe to try to find the answers to the questions we ask ourselves about the effectiveness of our art, do we ever stop to ask if we have fully explored the Art of Kenpo that SGM Parker left us? I believe there are concepts and theories of kenpo that have not yet been exploited to the fullest of their potentials. I believe that like he said in his own books “further exploration is necessary”. I believe that some of the people in kenpo are so caught up in the “tiger” mode of kenpo that they sometimes forget that they could be a dragon if only they would realize that Kenpo is an art, system, or style whichever you want to call it that will take a lifetime to master if such a thing is even possible. They could spend their entire lives studying it, internalizing and applying it.
So the point of all of this, how do we develop an art or system that seems to have all of the answers but a lifetime is required to really know? Observation is a key in any analytical process and learning kenpo has never been any different. The thing about kenpo that is so vastly different from any other system or art is its use of terms and incorporation of so many scientific principles and laws. But is that so different than all the rest, do they not use gravitational marriage, or torque, or height width and depth? Of course they do, everyone does, and these are basic physical laws or elements that cannot be denied by any man in any martial art. Concept and theory drive the kenpo practitioner to explore and develop their own personal style and understanding of the arts. The core of Kenpo is not its 154 self-defense techniques or its 30 something forms and sets, these are simply pre-arranged sequences of motion that will in time help the practitioner develop proper coordination and timing.
Principles and laws of motion, are applicable from one style or scenario to another. They drive the effectiveness of a technique or sequence of motion. These are transferrable from one physical move to another by virtue of the fact that the laws of nature are pure; you cannot jump up and not come back to the earth without some other force to suspend you in the air. Gravity WILL pull you back down. Diagonal motion for example when applied to the human body will momentarily cancel height, depth, and width. In a world where people are trying to develop more techniques to cover all the possible scenarios, we just need to look at the principles and use them to back up and drive the motion that will remedy the situation given.
Many of the keys and tools that are available to us as kenpoists are documented plainly in the many writings that Mr. Parker left us. The key is to use them appropriately in the manner for which they where meant, or is it? What is the key really, how do we know what appropriate is? The subtitle of this article is “analytical study of?” with no specific subject for a reason. Each individual eventually chooses their own path and direction to fulfill what they believe to be “the way” along their personal journey in the martial arts. Many in Kenpo study the teachings and writings of Mr. Parker with acute focus on specific ideas or concepts that they either got in person or have acquired through experience on and off the mat, either teaching or practicing. This does not however lead to progression, merely passing it on or carrying the torch of a system that they have now “traditionalized” for the sake of validation or respect and honor, none of which are wrong, but it is not progression. Progression involves advancement, growth, and greater effectiveness, all very important elements in the progression or evolution of anything.
Development is many things to many people, the problem with the mere idea of progression or development is that we as individuals see things subjectively as they correlate or relate to present day or “personal” knowledge and understanding. The problem with that is that no two people have the same foundations in the art, even if they studied from start to finish in the same class with the same instructor. Perception and interpretation play a major role in the execution and understanding of the art. Thus the subjective as opposed to objective views of the art and what its function, purpose, or application are.
Many students leave their teachers eventually due to this very element in ones learning processes, or for a myriad of other various reasons. The students that can look past these differences and allow themselves to continue to learn from the teacher are the ones who will benefit the most. They would allow new information to seep in and be applied as well as integrating and interpreting information from the teacher. It is sometimes hard as a student to realize that although we have grown by leaps and bounds the teacher will most likely grow proportionately and maintain that elevated level of experience and understanding. In a discussion with an old friend of mine once he said something that is very true, “we don’t know what we don’t know”. Now this may sound rather simplistic but has a very true message in that as we grow in or out of our own unknowing into another phase of knowledge and understanding we sometimes think that we have now attained something special, and for the individual that is true but typically not so much for the Arts as a whole.
In reality there has only been the personal growth into a new phase of learning and understanding. Evolution can only happen when there is undeniable proof that an element or concept or principle is being added, expounded beyond, or incorporated that has not previously been. This is a difficult thing to determine when and if the person “developing” has no knowledge of what he who came before knows or to what extent he knows. With the Kenpo system we at least have the advantage of having some of SGM Parker’s information or insight in written form. Is this everything he knew, I hardly think so, development therefore becomes this very gray area in the Kenpo system whereby people of different camps and training see things through different eyes and levels of personal understanding. To expand or develop what is written in the Infinite Insights is not necessarily to develop what SGM Parker knew or did, it is merely the development of information he documented and released publicly, and this like anything else that might be expanded on would be done subjectively since the originator or founder of the information is not doing the expanding.
There are many individuals in the Kenpo System that have exacted some expansion or development of the art. They each in their own small way have contributed to the collective progression of the Kenpo system. The problem is that there is no “real” collective, everyone is doing their own development and moving in their own direction without the supervision, input, or interaction with others that are seemingly doing the same thing. This is where the Ego supersedes the Art for so many. So the next time you feel like you just discovered something new and fresh in the kenpo or martial arts world, look around and try to recognize it for what it is with an objective view. Try consorting with someone you respect but that has a different outlook or opinion of the Arts or system than yourself. Discussion with a student or peer is not always the way since they will typically jump on board with you and your views in a blind faith loyalty or fellowship. Also remember that some people will in fact say things to discourage you, sad but true if they themselves have not really understood the things you speak of or have learned. Be creative and thoughtful both in your understanding and application, but respectful of the root of the information you have and where and when it comes from.
Todd M. Durgan