The style we teach is called Kempo-Karate (usually shortened to just “Kempo”). Below is a description of what distinguishes Kempo from the myriad of martial arts that exist today.
There are many different martial arts for people to choose from these days. They range from sport oriented programs that emphasize competition, to traditional arts that have been handed down relatively unchanged for generations. There are hard styles (generally Japanese, Okinawan or Korean) and soft styles (generally Chinese). There are styles that focus more on kicks, others that focus more on striking and still others that emphasize ground fighting.
Kempo is an art that is not as commonly known outside of martial arts circles, so we will take this opportunity to try and explain some of the particulars about this style of martial art that differentiate it from others. Keep in mind that other arts may consider one or more of these items as distinctives as well. It is in the sum total of all of the items listed here that you get a picture of how Kempo differs from other arts. Please also bear in mind that this list does not consider the unique elements of the On Mission Martial Arts program, but only the Kempo art that forms one component of that entire program.
Much of the material below is adapted from the writings of various Kempo leaders over the years. We go into more detail defining each of these principles in other places, but this will give you a general overview:
(1) Use the circle to overcome the line & the line to overcome the circle. Kempo blends both linear and circular techniques depending on the circumstances.
(2) Kempo is primarily a striking art – roughly 70% arms and 30% legs. We will grapple and ground fight if necessary, but due to the fact that it uses about four times the energy of striking, we only employ it if our first and second levels of defense (feet and arms) are penetrated.
(3) Multiple strikes – in Kempo we do not go for a “one punch kill,” but use our first and second attacks to set up our opponent for the finishing blows to follow in rapid succession until the opponent is subdued. These attacks will be a blend of linear and circular moves, high and low attacks and strikes with the foot, knee, hand and/or elbow as appropriate.
(4) Kempo realizes that at times the best defense is a good offense. If you are faced with a disadvantage (larger opponent, multiple opponents, weapons, surprise) you may need to intercept the opponents attack with your attack to gain or regain the advantage.
(5) Strike to vital areas of the body – soft targets. You will be more likely to stop your opponent and less likely to injure yourself.
(6) If kicking, kick low. Kempo’s mandate to kick low is based on logic. High kicks 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.
(7) No block principle – Kempo 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. 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 generally 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 Kempo 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.
(8) Hard vs. Soft/Soft vs. 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 is a style that 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, Kempo does not adhere to this concept of “a block is a strike.” Instead, it teaches you to block soft and strike hard, especially as you advance in rank.
Redirecting is also of paramount importance. For example, many arts teach their practitioners to use a downward block to stop a front kick, but such an impact can break the blocking hand or arm. Kempo 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.
(9) Mobility – Mobility may be the easiest Kempo 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.
Kempo teaches that there are three types of fighters: the statue, which has little mobility and will not retreat; the runner, who has to be chased around the ring; and the steamroller, which 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.
(10) Upright Stances
The law of flexibility is the law of survival. Kempo 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 Kempo 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 Kempo.
(11) Warrior Spirit
The final principle of Kempo 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. 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.