Training For Life My Problem With Simplicity

By Sean Oman
Published on Jan 6th, 2014

On Tuesday, October 15th, 2013, as a green belt in Ed Parker’s American Kenpo, I had the privilege of attending a special training session at the invitation of Sifu Mark Brosten at the American Kenpo Karate school in Missoula, Montana. For the next two hours, my fellow Kenpoists and I were shown an innovative method to internalize the fundamentals of the art. This new method of training involved the study of a simple pattern: Hammer, Thrust, and Whip. As I soon found out, the pattern itself was simple but was by no means easy! The initial lesson was simple: While remaining in a right neutral bow, execute a right inward block (hammer), then a left vertical punch (thrust), then a right outward chop (whip). As simple as this lesson was, I immediately found that I was fighting against my own muscle memory as I started to repeat the pattern. I found it difficult to bring my right hand back to a whipping point of reference at my left shoulder because I instinctively wanted to bring it back to my left hip instead, as I have done many times while working the yellow belt technique “Alternating Maces.” This difficulty raised the intended question: ‘Is my art of Kenpo executed by rote, or do I have the capability of making choices in a fight?’

After I began to feel comfortable with the initial pattern, Sifu Brosten threw the first monkey wrench into the drill. He instructed us to work on two important kenpo principles: contouring and anchoring. This served to remind me to not only pay attention to what I was doing but also how I was doing it. What did my motion really look like? Was it sloppy or did I have principles behind my motion? By just focusing on the pattern, my principles suffered, and when I focused on my principles, then suddenly the simple pattern became more difficult. Eventually, with a little focused repetition, I added principles back into my execution of the pattern, but by then Sifu Brosten again asked us to incorporate another element: stance changes. Now the pattern became, ‘Execute a right inward block while pivoting to a right neutral bow. Then execute a left vertical punch while pivoting to a right forward bow. Finish by executing a right outward chop while pivoting to a right neutral bow.’ As a green belt, I felt that I had a firm grasp of the art, at least up until this point. I shouldn’t have had a problem executing this simple pattern, right? In fact, I should have had the pattern down pat, but I found that with every little change, I felt like I was learning the pattern all over again, which raised another important question: ‘How well have I truly internalized the art of Kenpo?’
I didn’t have time to contemplate any of these questions during the seminar, but I had plenty of time to feel frustrated. Stance work led to the question of where I had the most power? As Ed Parker wisely put it, ‘To see is to be deceived, but to feel is to believe.’ I was asked to discern where I felt the power in what I was doing. Such a thing was hard to do in the air, so I resolved the issue by hitting a punching bag.
As I have found to be true throughout my training, you can execute a drill in the air a thousand times and hit a punching bag a thousand more, but everything goes out the window once you have to defend against an actual attack. ‘Hammer, thrust, whip’ is easy to execute, except when a punch is coming your way, or a kick for that matter. At the front of the technique line, I defended against several attacks, always responding with the same pattern. At this point in the seminar that Sifu Brosten revealed to us a crucial observation. This simple pattern actually occurs repeatedly in the kenpo system. All this time in the technique line I had been working the base pattern behind ‘Alternating Maces,’ ‘Reversing Mace,’ and ‘Leaping Crane.’ Sifu Brosten expressed to us how much benefit we could see in our training time by practicing this pattern, how it is possible to train multiple techniques at once. I couldn’t help but get excited at this realization. At my current rank, my mind is already swimming with 106+ kenpo techniques. If I could train 10 techniques by training one simple pattern, what a huge benefit to my training time!
By the end of the seminar, I was mentally and physically spent. I had worked the ‘Hammer, Thrust, Whip’ pattern countless times, incorporating principles and stance changes. I used the pattern to defend against attacks. I worked the pattern in conjunction with foot maneuvers. And still I felt like I had so much more to learn, so much more to gain from its study. Though I ended the night exhausted and a little bit frustrated with myself, I walked away from the seminar with a valuable training tool and a greater understanding of Ed Parker’s American Kenpo.

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

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