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Are You Supposed To Finish Self-Defense Techniques?

By Ron Chapél Ph.D.
American Chúan-fa

There are many misconceptions that permeate modern self-defense martial arts “systems.” Most of them have their origins somewhere in the Ed Parker influence or lineage, based on his successful implementation of business concepts to insure fiscal success, with what is essentially a non-profitable entity by nature. Creating an amalgam of profitability, and reasonable successful applications brought with it many diverse concepts that often contradict each other, or at a minimum, serve to add fuel to the fire of a confusing hybrid activity, at best. The strict dichotomy between an “art,” and its self-defense potential are often loss on many.

One of these is the understanding surrounding elongated self-defense technique sequences. While many of the uniformed see them as real world applicable, others recognize the folly of such notions. Depending upon perspective and philosophy, this is either completely unreasonable, or impractical, and sometimes both. But all the perspectives are borne of a misunderstanding philosophically where Mr. Parker intended to ultimately take his many art(s) and his singular ultimate interpretation.

To clear the picture we must look back first to the traditional teaching of the arts from the cultural progenitors perspective of the “Old Chinese.” Traditionally the art was taught through many complex forms and sets, for dual purposes. First and foremost was for the preservation of significant accumulated information that defied codification in any other form.

Second were addendum sets that served to highlight specific applications, and promote attendant skills. Lastly were accelerated “strictly functional” applications that didn’t contain the information of the forms, but put “skills set” into applications.

Historically, many arts, and their proponents influenced the interpretation(s) of Ed Parker. While “Splashing Hands” spawned the creation or interpretation(s) of Limalama under Sifu Haumea Lefiti, Parker’s motion-based product as well has its roots in the Mok Gar strict applications of “Splashing Hands.” This is significant because “Splashing Hands/Limalama” is to Mok Gar, what “Splashing Hands/Motion-Kenpo” is to Ed Parker’s yet undeveloped American Kenpo vehicle.

To my knowledge Mok Gar was one of the first to take this streamlined approach to applications. Not that the other information was not available in the art, but the “Splashing Hands” perspective was created to serve a specific purpose for those tasked to protection of cultural assets.

So it is with Limalama and it’s Motion-Kenpo brother. While the progenitor influence was designed to be wholly offensive in nature and philosophy, Sifu Lefiti and subsequently his junior Ed Parker, saw the defensive potential in the vehicle. Although Limalama is more closely aligned with the source material in philosophy and teaching, Parker chose to take a more conceptual approach. Parker’s method relying on a motion-based approach, allowed heavy interpretation by those with previous martial backgrounds to assimilate into motion-kenpo relatively easily, with limited input from Ed Parker personally. Thus, the much more successful Motion-Kenpo, reigns business-like over the more deliberately taught Limalama.

This same breakdown of components can be seen in all of the Parker interpretations, with various focus shifts predicated on era, purpose, and philosophical changes as knowledge evolved. Initially Parker came to the mainland with no codified bank of knowledge or information other than his personal experiences, and a set of personal three by five cards inscribed with technique ideas gleaned from his relationship with Professor Chow. Parker’s only “Kenpo teacher,” William Kwai Sun Chow, had no real system at the time choosing to freelance classes with real world street experiments, and testing the efficacy of his own innovative ideas. It was really left to senior students under Chow like Sijo Emperado, and his junior Ed Parker, to eventually begin the codification process of creating “systems”.

But Sijo Emperado (and friends), and the resultant Kajukenbo System(s) were in many ways like Sifu Lefiti and Limalama. Enjoying a significantly tremendous success as a martial art, but choosing a different philosophical approach to teaching than the wholly business-driven “motion-Kenpo.”

So the methods were set long ago in the roots of the art. “Forms” contain all of the complexities of the art, including answers to obscure questions of timing, angles, and postures, along with biomechanical codifications of information. This is why the old school methods of learning “Forms” is so painstakingly precise, and specific. These methods are still quite observable in the proper teaching of vehicles like Taiji, which only contains this singular component, sans “Sets”, and “applications.” This method is noticeably absent in modern interpretations because of its requirement of, at minimum, a “master” level teacher to transfer the information. This was great for an art, but bad for proliferating a business.

“Sets” were designed to hone specific skills, and usually concentrated on specific aspects of training whether it was stances, kicks, punches, or footwork. Forms and Sets co-existed well with general knowledge of the former focused in the latter.

Only a master level teacher than was able to decode the Forms, and thus teach the applications derived from them, utilizing the skills learned in sets to make them functional. This was how the applications were originally taught. Learn the Forms slow and painstakingly correct. Practice your Sets to develop your skills, and the teacher would extrapolate the applications from the Forms and share them with you. But the applications were more freeform based on Forms Information, and no real codified techniques.

As usually Parker took a creative an innovative approach, that unfortunately was derailed as he moved into the commercial era, but nevertheless, continued to prevail in some form in his motion idea.

Taking from Professor Chow the idea of focusing on applications over codification fit perfectly with the business of Kenpo, and created a hybrid of methods. Originally the forms didn’t exist, so the concentration on codified self-defense techniques was the order of the day. But when Parker began studying with Chinese Masters he began to understand the importance of forms, and began the codification process of basic forms of various influences. These forms ended with what most know as Short Form Three as the business took flight.

With the diversion to the business, additional Forms were ultimately created but without the depth of knowledge, or biomechanical cohesion of previous work. These Forms and Sets as well were derived from and/or created for different purposes other than archiving information.

Ed Parker made a conscious decision to divert from the Chinese Method of concentrating on Forms, to Self-defense techniques as the repository of information, but that aspect never made it into the business. Instead he incorporated the Splashing Hands Application Concept to Self-Defense techniques. Utilizing instead, minimal skill with maximum applications to vulnerable body parts. It was a perfect match of function over form, and is the singular entity that made the business with limited instruction possible.

But of course it created a contradiction. Elongated technique sequences executed with any degree of skill would preclude its need in the initial stages. But, the business demanded more and more superficial information and rank promotions, over a small amount of in-dept knowledge to keep unmotivated students from being bored. But, anyone who thinks realistically that in a “5 Swords” scenario, after a hand-sword to the neck and fingers to the eyes, the sequence ether requires or needs additional strikes to the stomach, and neck of what should be a helpless individual is disingenuous in their thought process, intellectually deficient, and in some instances boarder-line criminal.

Ultimately Mr. Parker intent was to divide the art into specific entities to preserve the information. While he spoke to me in generalities, much of the specific language is mine. Sets would remain unchanged but expanded to include specific realistic drills to enhance the learning process. In my teaching, this is where the A.O.D. (Anticipated Offensive Drills) reside. All of these drill sets require defensive footwork and blocking under the adrenal stress of possible injury.

When an offensive component is added to the A.O.D.’s, they become “Dictionary” Self-Defense Techniques. These are self-defense techniques executed under the specific assumption of anticipating the assault, and ending the confrontation quickly and decisively. The Dictionary self-defense techniques are a bridge between the Forms, and Sets to the Self-Defense Techniques.

This component most closely resembles the stand-up confrontations often seen in sparring, but more like JKD Training. The motion-business version was called, “Freestyle Formulas.” Taken from its street focus and adapted to tournament use, they were overly complex, formulized, and never caught on with the business of teaching. Only a few ever fully utilized or even understood them.

Forms are categorized by Course Level and have specific purposes of focus in training. Containing once again, very precise information of execution, they buttress the skill producing Sets and form a bridge to the A.O.D. Drills.

Because he started with, and found them more practical for modern applications, Mr. Parker shifted the archiving properties, to Self-Defense Techniques. Known now as “Encyclopedia Self-Defense Techniques,” they contain all of the in-depth information that previously could only be found in the old Forms.

Executed properly, they insure function while providing essential information that cannot be presented in the other components. They also allow, once again executed properly, that only the first part of the sequence should be needed to be successful in application.

The rest of the technique serves as information for independent extrapolation of information, independent applications, or as a bridge of the preceding material should it become rarely necessary, all while serving its archive function. This is also why techniques may not be altered. To do so would be like slowly pulling pages out of your encyclopedia, and wondering where all the information went after most of the pages are removed.

Advanced students may make knowledgeable changes in sequences for their personal use, but the Encyclopedia version, or Default Techniques are taught and remain unchanged. The system is cast in stone and must remain so to allow all students the exposure and access to information that might otherwise elude them, and keeps the knowledge components of the Dictionary, Encyclopedia, and constituent aspects intact for all future generations of students and instructors alike as reference tools.

So to answer the question, “Should you finish a technique sequence?” It depends upon the technique, circumstances, and interpretation. My goal is “No.” But then, who says we have to start at the beginning? All of the information we archive is valid, and has multiple applications and levels. On defense, the attacker may initiate a response of our choosing, but so may we initiate an offensive or defensive application from anywhere in the sequence of information. That’s the value of having reference material. You can always look up, examine, and use proper information in many ways, but it must always stem from a solid, unshakeable source of material, and not a bunch of conceptual ideas open to interpretations.


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