“With all things, certain paths are given directing us on various roots to a final goal. Sometimes this goal is reached in a very short period of time, while at other times that goal is never completed as new paths cross the original. The direction in which Kempo leads its practitioners is similar to that – its goals are represented in a sphere, constantly expanding with the final goal only being the beginning of a new stage.”
Olaf Bock, International Kempo Federation (2023)
Kempo, with its roots tracing back centuries to the Chinese Shaolin temple, exudes an aura of reverence and mystery. Yet, within its seemingly intricate exterior lie both simplicity and complexity intertwined.
While Kempo presents itself as a distinctive self-defense art, beneath the surface lies a realm where the convergence of mind and body takes center stage. Here, Kempo practitioners transition from basic combat forms to a heightened state of proficiency.
Ying Kuchan, a Shaolin monk and Kempo master, spoke of this art after a profound meditation session. He described it as the embodiment of adaptability and yielding—the harmonious synergy of all elements working in unison (IKF, 2023).
At its core, Kempo’s distinctiveness emerges through its comprehensive repertoire of defense techniques. Kempo embodies unarmed combat, manifesting diverse applications and approaches. Externally, it stands as an unbridled system of offense and defense, emphasizing striking prowess with hands and feet, immobilization techniques, and controlled takedowns.
A street-smart defensive discipline, Kempo refuses to confine its practitioners to a singular methodology. Clawing hands seamlessly transform into slashing feet; astute joint locks seamlessly segue into formidable hip throws; and evasive blocks seamlessly transition into breath-restricting chokes (IKF, 2023).
Let’s discuss how you can use these formidable techniques in your training with us, and how the principles behind them can filter over into your everyday life!
In the early stages of my training, I learned the basics of the defensive maneuvers and honed them through consistent practice to embed the motions into my memory and cultivate muscle familiarity. Following the attainment of my black belt, my learning journey advanced as I became a student of Master Josh George. The concepts I am about to elucidate stem from his invaluable perspectives on defensive maneuvers.
Kempo Defensive Maneuver 1: Principle 1
Multi-Purpose of Different Strikes
In Shaolin Kempo DM 1 or Combination 1 each movement has a dual purpose: the direct purpose (to hit or block), and the indirect purpose (to set up the next move).
Your block brings their head forward, but you need to strike right away to maintain the offensive. The strike keeps them in place while masking your move to a better position. The next strike hits them and distracts from the arm wrap. The fourth strike brings your hand back to move in tandem with your leg for the takedown.
Kempo Defense Maneuver 1: Principle 2
One Step Theory on Fighting
Shaolin Kempo DM 1 or Combination 1 is a great example of efficiency in motion. The one step theory on fighting is that for every move you make, your opponent can move as well. To be a successful fighter, you will need to practice making one move serve multiple purposes. This can fluster your opponent and make them prone to mistakes, like using two moves for one purpose.
- I often think about times when I have heard the phrase “Kill 2 birds with one stone”. Utilize this same philosophy in your personal life – one task can cover two or more objectives to save time and create efficiency!
Kempo Defense Maneuver 2: Principle 1
Defending with One Arm
In Shaolin Kempo DM 2 or Combination 2, the benefit of defending with one arm or side of the body is that it leaves your other side free to defend against another attacker.
Kempo Defense Maneuver 2: Principle 2
Attacks at Varying Heights
Attacking multiple points high and then low is disorienting and surprising, giving you the chance to take your attacker’s balance.
Kempo Defense Maneuver 2: Principle 3
For Shaolin Kempo DM 2 or Combination 2, reducing your profile upon entry is helpful, but it has its downside. You are taking away some of your most vulnerable target areas, but at the same time you are also limiting what you can attack with.
Kempo Defense Maneuver 2: Principle 4
Troubleshooting and Take Down
At this point in your training, it’s important to ask yourself what the purpose of the technique is, and how you can achieve your goal. When practicing Shaolin Kempo DM 2 or Combination 2, if something isn’t working, try to figure out why. The backfist stuns, the elbow moves them backward, and the sweep allows you to gain control of the foot and immobilize them for the groin strike.
- While this DM is about reducing vulnerability and increasing your attack variables, I think about this from a personal perspective. How often do we view our relationships like this?
Sometimes it’s not about creating a defense to reduce vulnerability or inventing more ways to attack another person but more about opening the potential for communication. If we’ve encountered hurtful relationships in the past, we tend to build a wall instead of a door. While protecting ourselves and our emotions is important, communication is vital for healthy relationships.
While the defensive maneuvers found within the Kempo style of martial arts are multi-faceted, we can see that the principles also bleed into concepts outside the dojo as well.
Beyond its surface as a potent self-defense system, Kempo unveils a path towards enlightenment through its intricate maneuvers and techniques. As practitioners navigate the realms, they embrace the essence of unity between mind and body, unlocking where combat transforms into an art form, and self-defense evolves into a way of life.
From graceful sweeps and seamless transitions to brutal strikes and breathless chokes, Kempo is the perfect harmonious composition of beauty and brutality in self-defense and martial arts.
International Kempo Federation. (2023). Kempo History. Retrieved from http://www.kempoikf.com/en/page/kempo-history-10