Think the skills of a world-class kickboxer are all anyone would need for self-defense? Well, kickboxing legend Kathy Long might disagree with you. In this two-part story, the Black Belt Hall of Famer explains why she cross-trains in other arts for a more street-oriented skill set.

Sooner or later, it happens to every martial artist: You’ve devoted the past five or 10 years of your life to honing your skill in isshin-ryu karate — or Shaolin kung fu or muay Thai kickboxing or whatever — and you think you’re a pretty good fighter.

Then one day, you spar with a practitioner of a different style — maybe a judo player — and he succeeds with so many defensive and offensive techniques that it takes you completely by surprise. You throw your best roundhouse kick, but he just absorbs it and slams you to the mat. You poke at his headgear with your tiger-claw strike, but he just slips to the side and locks up your arm, then sends you sailing over his hip.

You never even see most of his counterattacks coming, but afterward you thank your lucky stars the encounter happened in the gym and not on the street.

For some martial artists, such an experience elicits nothing more than hokey attempts at rationalization: “Our sparring rules don’t permit throwing.” “The mat was so soft I couldn’t push off to throw my reverse punch.” “I didn’t know he was going to grab my legs and take me down, but I’ll be ready next time.”

But for more open-minded martial artists, such as former kickboxing champion and Black Belt Hall of Fame member Kathy Long, such experiences serve to open their eyes to a whole new world of self-defense training — in a different but complementary art.

True Believer

If you don’t believe in the need to supplement your primary art with techniques from other styles, you should listen to Kathy Long. “I now practice san soo kung fu with William Vigil and jiu-jitsu with the Machado brothers,” she says. “I’ve done kung fu for a little more than 10 years, and before that I did aikido. I’ve also done wrestling, kali and a little bit of wing chun.”

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Kathy Long has invested time in so many styles because she believes that martial artists interested in self-defense should strive for maximum versatility. “It’s like when you get into kickboxing: If you have a really good jab and nothing else, you have a deficit,” she says. “If you’re going to be a well-rounded martial artist, you can’t study just one style. One style doesn’t have it all. Even in san soo, there are holes and deficiencies. You have to be able to fill those gaps. 

“The interesting thing about san soo is that it comes as close as anything I have ever seen to being the most complete system. They have grappling, leveraging, punching, kicking and ground work. I have stayed with the style for so long because it is very functional, practical and effective. But I’m glad that I’m an open-minded person who can see the holes, and I’ve decided to try to fill them.”

More Than Kickboxing

While training in boxing and kickboxing under former manager Eric Nolan, Kathy Long defeated some of the best female fighters in the world, including Ramona Gatto, Bonnie Canino and Kyoko Kamikaze. She developed such incredible power in her punching and kicking techniques that, in preparation for her successful quests for five world kickboxing titles, she often worked out with men instead of women. But she never rested on her laurels or felt satisfied with her ring-fighting skills.

Just having the jab, cross and a couple of kicks from kickboxing is not enough for self-defense, Kathy Long says. “It’s not even close. Kickboxing is a sport to start with, and there are a lot of rules and regulations that you have to fight by. I think that if a woman decides to punch a 200-pound man in the face, she’s probably not going to be that effective. However, if she takes that punch and turns it into a finger spear to the eyes, and the right cross becomes an open-hand strike to the throat, then a knee to the groin and a strike to the base of the skull, things change.

"You can’t do just one style to be as destructive as you’d like to be in self-defense.”

Although little of Kathy Long’s san soo arsenal made it into the kickboxing ring, the art’s principles did influence the way she fought. “San soo does a wonderful thing: It teaches you to strike in combination, as opposed to striking once and thinking that’s enough,” she says. 

Punch Proofing

Another benefit of her years in the ring was the development of the ability to take a hit — a right cross to the jaw or Thai kick to the leg, for example. “You have to understand it’s going to happen,” she says. “You’re going to get hit, no matter how slick you think you are. I’ve gotten hit more times than I care to talk about.

“It prepares you to think under pressure, to be hit and be dizzied, to almost get knocked out but stay calm enough to think rationally until you’re well enough to do something. When I started kickboxing, there were times when I would get in the ring and it would be pretty easy to knock me out. Later on, as I got more used to it and more conditioned, that same hit wouldn’t even make me wince.”

The experience of getting hit, the conditioning and the mental preparation helped make Kathy Long more able to defend herself on the street. “At first, I wasn’t mentally prepared, I didn’t know what [getting hit] would be like, and I wasn’t used to it,” she says. “After a while, my mind frame just changed to ‘I don’t care if I get hit.’”

Story by Robert W. Young

(Read Part 2 here.)

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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
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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!

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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: or go to

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!
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