For decades, kenpo has been renowned in the West as one of the most effective and efficient martial arts in existence, and for hundreds of years before that it enjoyed a similar reputation in Asia. Much of that success can be attributed to a set of fighting principles that has been defined and refined into an exact science through the efforts of scores of masters who knew the meaning of trial by fire. This article outlines 10 of those laws for the benefit of all the martial artists who have not had the opportunity to experience them firsthand.


Kenpo Law #1: The Circle and the Line

The first law of kenpo states that when your opponent charges straight in and attacks, you should use your feet to move your body along a circular path. You should also consider moving your arms in a circular pattern to deflect the oncoming force. When your opponent attacks you in a circular fashion, however, you should respond with a fast linear attack —along a straight line from your weapon to his target. Just as the circle can overcome the line, the line can overcome the circle.

Kenpo Law #2: Strike First

This principle has several meanings. First, it indicates that kenpo is primarily a striking art. Seventy percent hands and 30 percent feet is the classical breakdown, but you can change the proportion according to the circumstances or your body build. The second meaning is that if a confrontation is inevitable—a thug is climbing through your bathroom window at 2 o’clock in the morning and he starts swinging a baseball bat—you should not wait for the aggressor to attack first. You need to hit him first with a foot, a fist, an elbow or a knee. You also need to hit hard and hit continuously until he is subdued. The kenpo curriculum also includes numerous grappling and throwing techniques, but research has shown they are used in less than 25 percent of the encounters practitioners have found themselves in, and they are ineffective against multiple attackers. Because grappling uses four times as much strength and energy as striking does, it has been deemed a last resort suitable for use only if your opponent penetrates your first and second lines of defense: your feet and fists, respectively.

Kenpo Law #3: Multiple Strikes

Kenpo is different from many karate styles in that it teaches you to strike first and strike often in rapid succession— high, low, straight in and along a circular path. While unleashing such rapidfire strikes, it becomes difficult to kiai (shout) in conjunction with each one. Therefore, you should forget about issuing a kiai with each blow; in fact, doing so means you are expending excess energy. Your first and second strikes should be designed to stun, distract and slow your opponent. Your third and, if necessary, fourth strikes are the power blows. Remember the kenpo maxim: First set your opponent up, then take him out.

Kenpo Law #4: Targets

If you had to punch a hole through a wall, would you rather hit a half-inch of sheet rock or a 2x4 stud? The answer is obvious, and it’s also why kenpo advocates striking “soft” targets. No one ever broke his knuckle punching an attacker’s temple, no one ever fractured his instep kicking an attacker’s groin and no one ever injured his knifehand striking an attacker’s throat. In Japan the makiwara board is used to toughen the hands, and in Thailand muay Thai fighters harden their shins by kicking banana trees. Kenpo is different in that it teaches the path of least resistance and least pain. Precisely targeting the temple, face, nose, neck, solar plexus, stomach, groin and floating ribs is superior to simply pummeling away on random parts of the aggressor’s body.

Kenpo Law #5: Kicking

Kenpo’s mandate to kick low is based on logic. A roundhouse kick and spinning reverse crescent kick to the head may be flashy and impressive, but such maneuvers take longer to execute because your leg has to travel farther. They also expose your groin to your opponent’s kick. Because kicking high requires superior balance and focus, you should practice your leg techniques high. But deliver them low for self-defense. Furthermore, kicking low to the legs—executing a “pillar attack”—can break your opponent’s balance and his leg.

Kenpo Law #6: No Block

Kenpo emphasizes economy of movement and economy of time. Hence, its no-block principle teaches that to avoid being struck by a punch or kick, you should move your body out of harm’s way. The most advanced defense taught in the martial arts, it was perhaps best expressed by the old Shaolin priest in the Kung Fu television series: “Avoid rather than check; check rather than block; block rather than strike; strike rather than hurt; hurt rather than maim; maim rather than kill—for all life is precious.” Strategically, a block is a wasted move because it does not stop your opponent from attacking again with his free limb. It is much better to move yourself out of the way of his punch or kick and simultaneously counterattack. This way of fighting is reserved for brown belts and above, however, because it requires a higher level of skill to employ correctly and a significant amount of sparring experience to avoid the tendency to allow your feet to stick to the ground during the crisis your brain senses. The no-block principle does not mean blocking plays no part in fighting. If you were standing in a corner with no way out and an assailant charged with a club, you would have to block his attack. That’s why kenpo teaches eight distinct blocking systems, along with dozens of traps, yet they all lead to the same maxim: The best block of all is no block at all.

Kenpo Law #7: Yielding and Redirecting

Yielding and redirecting are best exemplified by the symbol of yin and yang (soft and hard). When your opponent attacks hard, you should counterattack soft. If he is weaker than you or attacks soft, you should counterattack hard to end the encounter quickly and directly. Aikido includes many techniques that rely on the same principle of yielding and redirecting. In most karate systems, however, blocking is extremely hard and may injure not only the attacker but also the blocker. For the most part, kenpo does not adhere to this concept of “a block is a strike.” Instead, it teaches you to block soft and strike hard. Redirecting is also of paramount importance. Many arts teach their practitioners to use a downward block to stop a front kick, resulting in the dents’ hammerfist being slammed into the attacker’s instep, but such an impact can break the blocking hand or arm. Kenpo teaches that it is preferable to parry your opponent’s leg to the side and spin him off-balance before you counterattack hard. Such a redirecting movement will usually disrupt his balance and leave him vulnerable.

Kenpo Law #8: Mobility

Mobility may be the easiest kenpo principle to understand. It holds that a moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one. As basic as that sounds, many martial artists fail to implement it. Kenpo teaches that there are three types of fighters: the statue, who has little mobility and will not retreat; the runner, who has to be chased around the ring; and the steamroller, who just keeps coming at you. If you are any one of these, be careful because you are predictable and can thus be defeated. To transcend mediocrity, you must mix things up and no matter what, keep moving. If your stance is upright and your movement is good, you will be able to put yourself in a superior position relative to your opponent.

Kenpo Law #9: Flexibility

The law of flexibility is the law of survival. Kenpo is unique in that it adapts to your build, personality and spirit. If you stand 4 feet 10 inches tall, it makes little sense for you to focus on kicking when your greatest strengths may be mobility and quickness. If you are a 110-pound woman, it makes little sense for you to grapple with a 230- pound assailant. The old kenpo masters showed their wisdom when they proclaimed that in a fight for your life, you should use what you know best and forget about the sanctity of the style. Every practitioner has different attributes that can make him or her effective. A tall person with long legs may have an advantage with kicking; a short person may have an advantage with his hands; and a heavy person may have an advantage in grappling. The law of flexibility allows them all to develop their own repertoire of techniques from within kenpo.

Kenpo Law #10: The Warrior Spirit

The final principle of kenpo is composed of two essential components: the internal and external. A rabid dog may pose a formidable threat, but it possesses only the external component of the warrior spirit. Inside, the animal is not thinking. To have a complete warrior spirit, you must be ferocious on the outside but calm and tranquil on the inside. Samurai warriors used to say that any day is a good day to die. That did not mean they sought death. On the contrary, they wanted to preserve life— especially their own. But they knew that if they went into battle with fear in their heart, they could die or sustain a serious injury. They knew that only by embracing and accepting death could they focus everything on the physical task at hand: defeating the enemy. Your kiai, facial expressions, stance and on-guard position must all work in unison. Following the principle of yin and yang, you should be hard on the outside and soft on the inside. When used in this way, warrior spirit can be more important than physical skill.

Following Kenpo’s Laws

Perhaps the best way to put the 10 laws of kenpo into practice is to think of them as keys that can unlock the doors of higher learning. Remember that they are not written in stone, as there are exceptions to every rule. In the 35 years I have practiced kenpo, I have discovered only one negative side to the 10 laws: A single lifetime is not enough to learn everything there is to know about them. No doubt many martial artists would consider that a positive.
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
Keep Reading Show less

Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

Keep Reading Show less

Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter