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!

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!

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. :]

Tonight I learned Short Form 1. This form is a series of right and left neutral bow stance movements in basically a circle doing a series of blocks as learned in Blocking Set 1. In short, it’s kind of difficult to wrap your head around if you aren’t used to moving around in odd ways smoothly…which I’m not.  That being said, this was hard. A form is not like a technique. It’s more like a combination of stances and techniques where you combine stances and techniques in movement. This gets you used to moving in a certain way that’s much more applied than a technique. Really, the movements feel awkward and if you’re uncertain, which I am, they look incredibly stiff. So, I’d like to take a second to picture myself moving not so gracefully around the floor looking stiff and uncomfortable and most likely sweating as Mando will have had me do the form over about a thousand times since I can’t get my feet right and my blocks look wrong or my body ends up facing the wrong way.

Yes, this happened frequently throughout the night and by the time it was over, I was pretty drenched in sweat with that metallic-like taste in my mouth that many will associate with “what happens when you’re about to pass out?” Yeah, that.

Anyway, I’ve learned my first form so congrats to me!

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!

So tonight I learned the following two techniques:

  • Sword of Destruction (Opposite of Delayed Sword)
  • Deflecting Hammer (Deflects Right Kick)

I also learned much about the Neutral Stance and how it can be done anywhere in any direction and will always be generally the same aside from the direction your facing. I discovered that the Neutral Fighting Stance can be done using a Bamboo Staff in between your feet with your front foot’s toe touching the bamboo staff and the your back foot’s heel touching the staff. This is a great tool to use to help practice the neutral fighting stance, neutral stance on an angle and attention stance. If you don’t have a bamboo staff, you can just use any long stick-like item you may have around ( ie. broom, mop, or even a long cord or string). I cannot express enough how helpful this will be in gauging where your feet need to be positioned and how to transition between attention stance into a neutral stance or a neutral fighting stance on an angle. To be honest with you, although I am pretty happy I was able to learn the two new techniques tonight, I learned more practicing the neutral fighting stance and shuffling my feet as well as the importance of using your free hand to “cover” your other hand.

When I say “cover” with your free hand when doing a technique or a form, what I mean is if you step back with your left foot into a neutral fighting stance and deflect a kick with a downward block (using your right hand) as seen in Deflecting Hammer, your left hand should be covering your right hand that is blocking the kick. The act of covering is done by holding your palm face down either above or below the hand you are acting with. Meaning, in Deflecting Hammer, since your right hand is doing a downward block, your left hand is covering above your right. This is meant to guard against any other attacks that might come at you.

I personally find the neutral fighting stance and the act of “covering” more insightful than the techniques themselves at the moment. I feel this way because they both go well with the idea that martial arts is the act of fighting without fighting, or fighting by not fighting. The idea that you are, again, mastering yourself and practicing self control and not mastering or controlling others. The proof is in the covering and defensive stances. I also find it more important to learn these as they teach you to always be prepared for those “what if” situations which, let’s be honest, is what we’re really training for, right?

So I’ve experienced another night of conditioning, conditioning, and still more conditioning along with practicing Delayed Sword, Alternating Maces, Blocking Set 1 and more of the almighty Horse stance. Finally after much conditioning in the form of various stretches and tiresome circuit training, I’m put under the magnifying glass of Mando’s observative eye. I admit, it’s not something I’m totally comfortable with. I find that while I try my very best at all times and after much practice, I am still pretty terrified of being hit or taking a hit or someone coming at me and I sometimes attack harder than I mean to with a complete lack of control. I hope that I can learn better control in my movements as I definitely do not want to hurt anyone and would like to achieve the discipline of control through practice and meditation. After much demonstration of Alternating Maces, Delayed Sword & Blocking Set 1, I have finally proved I know them well enough to learn two more techniques! Thankfully I’ve proved my worth through practice, determination, concentration and discipline! Really happy!

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.

We began our workout at the ripe old hour of 9:30PM thanks to the painful heat wave that has recently struck Socal (Southern California) and left us sweating in 101F degree weather with humidity levels in the 20-30% range up until literally midnight and did not cool down until probably the early morning. So, we started out with a variety of exercises including a few random kid friendly ones to entertain Armando’s visiting nephews (including a spontaneous MJ Thriller dance executed by his 3 yr. old nephew Moses. I admit I was impressed by his accuracy with the moves).  We did a chain of exercises alternating between Jumping Jacks, Push ups (with feet elevated off the floor), Sit ups, Various Abdomen/Core Strengthening Exercises, Various Stretching Exercises, etc. We continued on with Circuit-like training where you start by doing 5-15 jumping jacks, roll onto your back to the other side of the room where you do 5-15 push ups and hold the last push up for 10-20 seconds. This goes on until Mando (Armando’s nickname) tells me to stop. At this point, I feel pretty high on oxygen. We take a small 5 ish minute break and learn the following techniques:

  • Blocking Set 1
  • Delayed Sword
  • Alternating Maces

Truth be told, I learned blocking set 1 before and have been practicing it for about a month now everywhere. Literally, I go to the bathroom, pee and then do this set in the mirror. I got hit in the face once because I didn’t execute an inward block correctly. It left a shiner and hurts, but shows the importance of strength when you block and correct execution of each block in the Blocking Set 1. I will upload some youtube videos of each of these techniques (I’ll have Mando find the best ones) so you can see exactly how each one should look when executed.  More tomorrow, after another night of pain and progress has been had!