Combination #3 is a true master key to unlock the effectiveness of Shaolin Kempo

My teacher has many great concise ways to explain concepts and theories of shaolin kempo. One phase he uses is “Stun, Balance, Control”, to explain the basics of shaolin kempo core theory. The Villari SKK poster explains it as integrating the “four ways of fighting “ ( with your hands, with your legs, felling, and grappling)into one. The old Okinawan masters used the phrase, “Enter, Counter, Escape”. All essentially the same concept, and none mention blocking. Naturally, anyone will protect themselves from getting hit by avoidance or some method of stopping the offending limb from making contact. However, the elevation of blocking to a high level of importance can lead to a misunderstanding in the development of protection skills.

We all teach blocking. I teach the various blocking systems that are part of Shaolin Kempo. I am terribly picky about the movements of the blocks, the position of the elbows, the covering of the center-line, activation of the waist…etc., as I am sure most instructors are. I have always found it interesting that we call them blocking “systems”. But I digress, a little.

We teach most of our techniques with the beginning move as a block. The conceptual disadvantage of this is another topic. However, the teachings of the masters mentioned above do not speak of blocks. I often compensate for the seeming discrepancy by emphasizing how blocks “cover” the center-line. There is so much to say on this topic, but I will return to Shaolin Kempo fighting theory.
Combination #3 is one of our master key techniques. It encompasses set techniques and targets while embodying principles for the students to assimilate.

Combination #3 as I have it is:

Left leg steps forwards to 11 o’clock with right front 2-knuckle punch to the groin ( block 4 optional).
Left inverted hammer to the instigator’s center over their arm
Right back 2-knuckle to the head.
Right hand reaches behind the instigator’s neck to grab the opposite side of the neck as the left hand slides to grab the near shoulder.
Left hand pushes and right hand pulls the instigator. Twisting counter-clockwise. Right foot moves towards the left
Left leg steps out to a horse stance facing 6 o’clock as you pull the instigator down.
Left front 2-knuckle punch to the face
Cross-and Cover.

These movements embrace the four ways of fighting and teaches emphatically, the folding aspect of our system. Block four is optional because the original counter was tested against a boxing type of attack, for which such a “block” used as a block is problematic. I learned it against a step-through punch and the block works. The block checks off the other weapons turning the instigator. The punch to the groin pushes the pelvis backwards. The back-2-knuckle the the right side of the head creates another fold and of course the twisting of the shoulders nicely adds to the pretzeling. Then the finish pile drives them into the ground.
So, we clearly have folding and the four ways of fighting as a technique. If we take that optional block four and enter with a hammer to the head, we stun the instigator. The strike to the low center, pushing back the pelvis disrupts the balance. The same hand motions from the inside (in front of the neck rather than behind) can create an excellent strangle to render him/her unconscious or continue with the take down.
We can use that block four from a clinch situation to slip to the outside of the instigators arm, skip the punch but use a knee to the inner thigh to both disrupt the balance by attacking the “pillar” and still effectively pull the shoulders over the center of gravity. The knee strike will prevent the re establishment of balance and leads nicely into a takedown. Or, instead of a knee strike sweep / drive the leg backwards for another type of throw.

Same sequence but instead of a knee strike, step behind the shoulder of the instigator after using the shoulder twist to compromise balance. Once in position, you can apply a choke, do something bad to the spine or end with a hip throw.

A video to help illustrate what I am saying will follow soon.

All of this follows, “Stun, Balance, Control” and “Enter, Counter, Escape” while utilizing seamlessly the four ways of fighting. I consider combination # 3 a true master key of the Shaolin Kempo system.

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A block is a strike and a strike is a block and also…

The numbered combinations teach us how to do good Shaolin Kempo, only if we practice them with precision, presence, power, control, understanding, correct rhythm, timing and drill them for self defense. I had the fun of writing out all the combinations I know for the school syllabus. The greatness in the exercise is that it forced me to think deeply about what I was taught and what I do. It was a wonderful workout as well, getting up and down from the desk to go through the movements and then sit down quick, while I have it!!! Then, of course, the students (especially the lower belts and the young’s), ask the questions that let me know that so much of my work and ups and downs from the desk, still did not capture it…
The effort is never ending, yes.
As I wrote them out and the animal techniques and kempo I noticed that there is always a block and a step to begin the technique. But, is that how attacks happen? In a sporting event, more so, however, enemies tend to jump you from unexpected directions with unexpected attacks. This step with a block thing is either a carry-over from competition / point sparring or a poorly contrived teaching tool. Since, I teach this way( step with a block), we will leave the training tool thought alone 🙂 . The carry-over from competition teaches some concepts that are not self defense minded. As such, these tendencies require a clear perception of their context and to be drilled very little, if self defense is the main focus of your training.

As I practiced and “worked” my material I realized that a third option exists. What if, through these movements and angles (step and block) we are being told to keep a live hand and being given the most effective angle of response to an attack…
In a form we cannot be told how to get to a specific angle in relation to the enemy, because a violent situation is a dynamic and fluid thing. What forms do give us is the optimum directionality of response to an attack. I submit that so do our numbered combinations and kempo and animal techniques. Combination #3 for example steps left towards 11:00 and then pivots to 2:00. 2:00 is the optimal angle for our self protection violence. At this angle we have effectively reduced the capacity of the left hand and leg to attack us while exposing several choice targets for our free weapons. That first step is an attempt to illustrate the “how” of getting there. It is not the most effective move, yet the concept and principle hold a fundamental position in Shaolin Kempo “theory of movement”. Combination #18 teaches us…no…no… wait…the meaning of cat stances let me save for another time. Combination #33 teaches a direct center angle, while # 34 manipulates the attacker’s body to create an angle that also checks off their weapons and exposes specific targets for our counter and MSK manipulation. Our direction of force is shown through the directionality of our center / hara. The block is simply a tool to make sense of the how we get to that angle and to maintain the integrity of never having a dead hand. Drill combination #2 and have the back-2-knuckle blocked by your partner. Then take the angle necessary for combination #3 using the initial “block of the combination to rotate your attacker’s body counter clockwise while clearing the arm and, continue with the combination until, again, your partner blocks the back-2-knuckle. Adapting combination #5 to the outside, use the initial block to keep contact with the offending limb, extend the left hand to strike the face and follow up with the back-2-knuckle. The attacker can block it again but the concluding kick of combination #5 (going to the knee) ends the drill. Use this as a flow drill 2 then 3 then 5 and find how necessarily alive the “blocking “ hand must be in a self defense situation. It is fun and a good way to work you techniques. This way we can learn to do good Shaolin Kempo, through practicing the combinations with precision, presence, power, control, understanding, correct rhythm, timing and drill them for self defense.

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…and, if the Katas were gone?

Again, this is my opinion only…

 

It has been said that the combinations and katas of Shaolin Kempo are the backbone of the system( please note that shaolin kempo uses “kata’s” as a name of specific forms, unlike other styles where the term “kata” is equal to the term “form”). As a seeker of excellence in my chosen art, naturally this type of statement grabs my attention. “The backbone of the system”…I mean, wow…how can I not be drawn into an in depth study of these two key points???
So, historically the development of the combinations and kata is fairly well documented until about combination 30. We see the origins in Kajukenbo and their evolution as they spread from West to East until things culminate in the 6 Kata of George Pesare.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find much written on the katas and combinations other than historical information and musings.
As I mentioned in my previous blurb, the most rich interpretation I have found of katas 1-5 have been through using the combinations as keys. Without such interpretation they are little more than line drills, really. In the sense, that the Katas do not codify Shaolin Kempo flow, tactics, strategies and fighting principles. However, our numbered combination techniques do just that for the system. So, of what benefit is one to 5 kata in a system that teaches the Pinan / Heian forms?
When Kajukenbo was growing, they did not have the Pinan/Heian series as we do. When Nick Cerio brought them into his teachings and Fred Villari kept them in his Shaolin Kempo the need and benefit for the katas diminished greatly.
I count no more than six techniques, maybe eight at the max, in the Kata series that are not found in the numbered combinations or the Pinan series. Please note that I do not have all of the 108 numbered combinations. Let that sink in for a while…

I still practice and teach them, as they are a part of our history. However, I wonder what we, as Shaolin Kempo practitioners would loose, if we dropped them all together. Our distinction from other styles would remain due to our method, numbered combinations and the above dan rank forms. We would have more time to delve deeper into our forms and combinations. Seriously, to what degree do we benefit from continuing to use these forms we call 1 to 6 kata?

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