I have studied several styles of martial arts over the last 20 years. But I moved around the country, and when the new town I moved to didn’t have the same style, I had to start studying a new one. As a result, I don’t have a black belt in any discipline, but I have learned a lot about martial arts in general and how different disciplines are applied. While I regret not focusing on a single style and advancing further, I am thankful for the opportunities I had to practice and develop in several drastically different disciplines and compare them.
My formal martial arts training started at a kickboxing training facility in Auburn, California. The focus was on surviving several rounds in the ring, so endurance was a key factor. The strikes, kicks, and footwork were relatively few and simple in execution. The goal was to focus on a few basic techniques until they were second nature to turn loose against an prepared opponent in the ring. I caught myself reverting to some kickboxing mentality when sparring later on in Karate and Tae Kwon Do schools.
After moving back to Washington State, I found a jujitsu dojo. I liked the tradition and structure of the Japanese style. We had to learn all the names of the techniques in Japanese. This was a very close-in style of self-defense, wrapping the opponent up with holds and joint locks, or throwing them to the ground. I never imagined there were so many ways to throw someone to the ground! The gi uniforms were thick and rough-spun, so they stood up to repeated jerking and wrenching but left “gi burns” on our upper bodies. We had both stand-up sparring and grappling, where we sat back to back and spun toward each other when the instructor yelled “hajime!”
Tae Kwon Do
After moving to a town with no jujitsu, I tried Tae Kwon Do for a year. The first time I sparred Tae Kwon Do students I snagged their kicks and dumped them on the floor, which is what jujitsu had trained me to do. The instructor quickly explained that I was not allowed to grab to do any takedowns. I thought that seemed rather limiting, but it is a different style. I did learn how to maximize kicking and punching power, and I also began to learn stability with the braced stances and solidly based footwork.
I took Shorin-ryu Karate, an Okinawan style (wax-on, wax-off), during a couple summers in college. I did not advance in rank, but I learned a lot. The footwork was more natural and the feet closer together than TKD, but I do believe advance Shorin-ryu practitioners must be some of the toughest martial artists around! There was a heavy emphasis on conditioning and toughening the body. I saw a black-belt standing with his hands folded behind his head while two lower rank students mercilessly kicked his ribs and legs. When we did pushups, we actually punched the hardwood floor with our knuckles with each press.
Freestyle Kenpo Karate
I had always wanted to study American Kenpo as developed by the late Ed Parker, so when I found a Kenpo school in my college town, I jumped at the chance to study. But this was a hybrid of Kenpo-like techniques and Shotokan Karate forms, not truly American Kenpo. I did learn a lot, and sparred more here than in any other school. I loved the fluid and fast movements of Kenpo. After a year and a half I was preparing to test for brown belt, the rank below black. But I finished my degree and moved back to Washington once again.
American Kenpo Karate
Years later I finally found an American Kenpo instructor. I have to say I believe this is the most complete and effective system I have ever seen! Every move has a purpose and feeds the opponent into the next deadly strike. It is much more complicated and takes more struggling and dedication than Tae Kwon Do. But then, I respect and fear a black belt in American Kenpo much more than a black belt in Tae Kwon Do (unless he is a master from Korea). It also helps that my instructor has the best teaching skills of any previous instructor. He can tell where his students are having trouble, and he can explain the complicated concepts and principles in a clear and articulate manner. I could never learn the true effectiveness and hidden bonuses of the complicated sequences on my own.
Most of my posts on martial arts will deal with American Kenpo.