I’ve recently began practicing my techniques, blocking set and kicking sets as well as short form 1 in my very small closet sized bedroom. This may seem counterproductive or ridiculous to some, but it really helps a lot when doing American Kenpo. For Sungadan, it definitely would not work at all. The stances and movement is far too wide for me to make any progress. In contrast, for American Kenpo, it actually helps me keep my form and stances tight and sharp and prevents me from using unnecessary space to do the movements. I find this really beneficial because I have the tendency to do wide large movements if I have the space to do so. Practicing American Kenpo in such a small space does not allow me to practice large movements or wide movements for any of the forms or techniques. I recommend this to anyone who is practincing American Kenpo or anyone who is practicing another martial art that requires small, close to the body sharp movements in each technique. Please leave comments! Let me know how this works for you: what problems do you encounter with this method of practice? What benefits you from working the techniques and forms in this type of space? Are there any other practices that you could recommend? Let me know!

Good luck!

A Symbol of the Ideals and Beliefs Taught in American Kenpo Karate

This is the crest of American Kenpo Karate. Actually, it is one of many crests as each school has its own variation. I tried to get a close to the original as possible, or at least as close to the ideals that Mando says he was taught. I asked him what each part of the crest symbolizes and this is what he told me:

“It varies between schools. It’s so diluted that many patches have many different meanings. Hear is how I learned it and what it means to me:
The top of the patch is like a roof. It protects and shelters all who are under it. The sides are curved because of the belief of many Chinese monks. They are curved so that they may repel evil demons and spirits and send them back to where they came from, should they descend onto your protection. The bottom is in the shape of an axe, the weapon of choice for an executioner. Should anyone in the home of Kenpo should ever be influenced by greed, gluttony or evil, they are executed and removed from the protection of Kenpo. The Tiger represents strength: A white belt that is strong and affective, but lacking the fundamentals of a mental fight. The Dragon represents Spirtual Strength: A Black belt with enough trainging to be deadly, even without ever physically touching an opponent; very wise and accurate. The Chinese writing on the left side of the image mean something like “Kenpo Karate, Law of the Fist and Empty Hand.” The right side literally translates to “Spirit of the Dragon and the Tiger.””

Thanks to Mando who has been kind enough to lend his knowledge, expertise and wisdom to my lessons, blogs and to you all out there in the world. Without him, my dream of learning a martial art may have never become a reality.

COMING SOON! Since I cannot seem to find many suitable videos on youtube or anywhere else on the web that demonstrates well executed techniques, forms, etc. I have asked Mando if I could film him doing each of them so that everyone who visits here and wants to see exactly what I am talking about in action, can finally do so wherever they are in the world. Therefore, very soon I am going to start filming Mando demonstrating the techniques of American Kenpo Karate as I learn them over time so look in the links and media categories very soon for video demonstrations on each technique, form and set. Over time, as I advance, he may also demonstrate how to apply them in real life and/or in tournaments, adjustments and the philosophy of American Kenpo Karate and martial arts.

Talk to you all again very soon!

There are, of course, many notable differences between the art of Sungadan and the art of American Kenpo, but the most evident one at first look is the difference in movement. For instance, in Sungadan, the stances are very wide and open. They require a lot more space than American Kenpo, which in contrast, is very close and in tight proximity to your body. I find it very awkward to practice each of them concurrently, both of which take a lot of focus to do, yet even more so on my part so as not to confuse the moves and stances between the varying styles. Therefore, in order to make it easier on myself, I have found that practicing American Kenpo in smaller spaces or rooms really helps to keep the moves closer to my body and to not waste the energy doing each of the techniques and forms by putting my arms and legs to far out of the way. The exact opposite is being practiced for Sungadan. I use my larger sized living room and focus on the open, wider movements to tackle these techniques because the radius of movement is a lot larger. I find this very helpful not only for movement and precise technique practice, but also for fitness. There is a lot of aerobics type workout involved in Sungadan, which requires more space while American Kenpo really does not require as much space and focuses more on strength training. Both do require quite a lot of cardio and strength training in the end, so of course, practice, practice, and then practice again! Because for some reason, your sensei or shifou ( teacher or master, respectively) will never EVER tell you that’s enough or that you’re good enough. So, that being said, there is never a limit to your what you can learn or to your potential. It is limitless. So aim high and good luck!

After spending this much time practicing the little that I have learned so far in martial arts, I’m starting to realize how much it affects your mind. I think that while it affects everyone differently, it has a profound effect on each of us, whatever that effect might be. For me, it’s a clarifying, calm experience, the same I experience during those moments of extreme fitness where you’ve just finished X amount of push ups or some other crazy exercise, one you never thought you would be able to complete so much of. You’re standing there, panting and sweating so much the salty sweat is threatening to burn its way into your eyes and yet, while you’re amazed that you were even able to do something like it in the first place, you almost crave more of it. You crave more of that feeling, that almost mind numbing clarity. It’s the same feeling for me with martial arts. I get that quiet focus which, to me, feels exactly like my meditation sessions and my mind recognizes that even though my physical body is in pain at the moment, I’m fine and I can do more if pressed. And I’m addicted to not only this kind of clear mindedness, but also the pain that brings it to me. It’s an odd feeling of not quite infallibility, but more of a possibility.. like anything you want to do is possible. And personally, I think we all need more of that feeling in our lives. That feeling that nothing at all can stop us in the world, that the world may even be working in mysterious ways, working to help us on toward our goals. I’m addicted to that kind of feeling. And, of course, it may just be that my body and mind are addicted to the endorphins that are being released every time I do this, but there is something to it. Something about it that feels a bit more fulfilling. Just food for thought. I leave you with this awesome quote from a book I really love. I definitely recommend it to those who like reading philosophical fiction about the journey to self discovery and life, etc.

When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
(The alchemist to Santiago, echoing the words of the old king.)

Yes, I stole this saying from ” The Karate Kid AKA Kung Fu Kid AKA Kung Fu Dream,” but the saying does actually exist.  This saying describes my current state in martial arts quite well in that, I am now practicing everything I’ve learned in an almost obsessive sort of way. Because I’ve noticed since I’ve learned a few techniques, stances and one form, coupled with conditioning I find that I really want to perfect each of them. This, of course, is encouraged by the fact that Mando refuses to teach me anything new until he thinks I am comfortable with the things I know currently. Therefore, I am sufficiently obsessed with practicing each stance, technique and the one form wherever I go including but not limited to : the bathroom (mirror is helpful!), my bedroom, the shower, my office, the garage, the pool, the backyard and sometimes if I think I can pull it off with enough subtlety, while waiting in line. There is something infectious about martial arts that I can only compare to the likes of a religion or more familiar for me, acting. I hope that I can reach new heights in this discipline and become graceful, controlled and if possible, wise. :]

I’ve begun meditating before each new martial arts lesson or conditioning session in an attempt to clear the clutter in my mind. It’s not the easiest thing to do as my mind works at a million miles a minute and the moment I think I’ve started to achieve stillness and calm, I’m grasping at another thought. Despite the business of my mind and seeming impossible task of “turning off” so to speak, I do occasionally achieve the stillness I hope for. This is what happened last night. It’s strange to think of achieving this task as so simple, but for some reason, after a bit of stretching and a few exercises to get my nervous energy out, I simply sat down and meditated for 5-10 minutes until I was called up for the martial arts lesson. No thought went into how I would execute my journey to calm. I just sat down on the floor, legs crossed and inhaled. Exhaled. Then the next thing you know, ten minutes gone and it’s time for my lesson.  Not all to surprisingly, my lesson was much more focused this time after meditation. It seems to calm me down and bring me into a weird sort of space where I’m here in the present and yet not and yet floating on stillness. It’s a foreign feeling, but a great one nonetheless and it definitely improves my lessons and the quality of my concentration. I seem to be able to grasp the techniques and movements better after a good meditation session as seen last night. If you want to meditate, but you’re a completely twitchy person like I am most days, try doing some intense cardio or weight training before you start your meditation so you aren’t twitching around on the ground like a lunatic. This really helps to calm me down prior to meditating. After meditation, you will feel much more focused. Might also help with writers block, etc. Good luck!

I recently learned that there are 3 basic stages when learning any martial art:

1. Primitive: Learning the basic movements, getting used to your body and comfortable with moving a certain way.

2. Mechanical: You’ve learned many of the movements and can do them chronologically in unison, without stopping due to memorization and frequent practice.

3. Spontaneous: You know the movements by heart, you’re comfortable with your body and know how to use your body and the movements at once, adjusting each of the techniques or forms to fit your needs, circumstances etc. to make them work for you and with your body without too much thought.

I am very much still in the primitive stage of things. I’m learning the movements and I know a few techniques and possibly part of one kara/form by memory, but I do not know them all and cannot do any of them with the smooth, yet solid grace that someone in the spontaneous stage would be able to. I cannot move with the calm certainty of someone in the spontaneous stage of things or even someone in the mechanical stage of things, although I really do hope to be capable of this kind of reflexive execution someday soon.

Until that day, I return to my kingdom of utter newb-dom and try, try again to gain some form of fluidity and ease with these often uncomfortable and seemingly unnatural movements in the hopes that one day ( again hopefully sooner than later), somewhere past the primitive and mechanical stages amid the sweat and blood and sore muscles, I will bloom into spontaneity. That is my wish, my prayer. Until then, it’s a great deal of discipline, determination, focus, and faith. Wish me luck!

As I learn more and more about martial arts, American Kenpo in particular (though I’m sure it’s something many other martial arts share), and the various idealistic values that go along with it, the more I realize how much emphasis is put on respect and humility. From the way you stand, address and greet your instructor (physically and verbally), put on your uniform and belt (belt direction), to all of the pledges you are made to memorize with each belt advancement until finally your black belt when all of the belt pledges should be fully memorized and recited during grueling tests on forms/karas, techniques, stances etc. It makes me reflect fully on how these things will affect and shape me as a person.

I realize now I pay more attention to the respect of other martial arts and I am learning that there is no superior martial art only, it seems, superior martial artists. I am realizing that martial arts is not about the control and submission of others, but the control and mastery of yourself. It is a test in extreme physical and mental discipline that tries your patience, your body’s endurance, strength and capacity for pain, and most of all, your dedication and determination to better yourself and continue this until you can’t anymore. Martial arts and the mastery of yourself is a lifelong journey and I feel it can only be reached through the utmost humility and consistent dedication. Pledging yourself to a life of martial arts in any style/discipline is a choice you make about how you will live your life each day and how these pledges and lessons you learn will reflect your actions and choices made in your life.

It makes me a bit nervous to realize I’ve made this choice for myself, but I do so without hesitation. There is some level of wisdom and calm and most definitely a level of focus and balance that I want out of this for my life. I am so frequently in a state of nervous turmoil and hysteria being thrown around life. I want to stride forward with the greatest balance and focus so I may accomplish all the things in my life without fear of failure or rejection, a compassionate and accepting heart, and a calm confidence that I may reach my goals if I am consistently diligent in my determination to learn and improve til the day I die. Because, to me, that will be a life well lived; one that is full and left with no stone unturned, no opportunity left without careful consideration and all the compassionate heart in the world to aid humankind, the world, wildlife, etc. To look in the mirror and smile knowing I can say I’ve done all I can and mean it, wholeheartedly and true.

This is my very first blog posting! :] I’m excited and curious to see where this will lead. To start, I’m doing this blog to track my progress (starting 07/12/10) in American Kenpo as taught to me by my boyfriend, Armando Villanueva Jr., who is a first degree black belt in the art. I have the utmost respect for Armando and am ecstatic if not a little terrified that he is willing to teach me what he knows. If you don’t know what American Kenpo is, you can click here for more information on the history of this martial art: History of American Kenpo for a better explanation than I could ever give you. Back on to my journey with the utmost respect for this art, its founders and its colorful history… :]

For awhile, we only trained on and off very casually, but have recently began pretty intense conditioning. This means a lot of exercise including running, intense squats (using something called a lead bag?WTF?), blocks, strikes, crunches, pull ups (which I cannot even do yet), and push ups (apparently while elevated on chairs! Eek!).

I am pretty afraid of all of this. I have to admit that while I’ve been in a few stupid high school girl fights, I’m terrified of being hit, let alone being hit in the face. I just freak out and go into the fetal position. Not only that, but I’m not exactly in shape. While I’m not considered morbidly obese, I could be thinner. So, I thought this would not only be a great way to stay in shape, but also an amazing experience in which I can learn American Kenpo, get passed my fears of getting hit, and learn something about martial arts; a lifestyle that has fascinated and drawn in the curiosity of many people for thousands of years. And, though this may be a little overeager, overzealous and definitely too early to tell, maybe participate in tournaments in the future. Regardless of what happens, I am very excited and grateful to be taught any martial art at all.

So, moving on respectively… :] (since I am the Queen of Rambling), a lot of conditioning will be had, I may blog about broken, shattered or sprained bones or muscles ( let’s cross our fingers on that one please and thank you) . At any rate, I’m sure he has more in store for us, which he is used to and I am not, than even I can comment on yet. Of course this will eventually involve much more that includes actual American Kenpo techniques, forms AKA Karas, etc., but for now let the conditioning commence!

To end this first blog, I will leave you all with an appropriate quote:

” I come to you with only karate, empty hands. I have no weapons, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles or my honor; should it be a matter of life or death, of right or wrong; then here are my weapons, karate, my empty hands.”
—Ed Parker – March, 1957