Models Or Techniques?

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Aug 16th, 2016

While teaching a recent class on logic and basics, I fielded some questions about specific applications of basics in Kenpo techniques. I was able to use this opportunity to teach the larger idea of models vs. techniques. This article developed from that class discussion. First, Kenpo techniques don’t appear out of nowhere; some may be patterns of motion taken from the past, others may be modeled from actual street encounters, and still others may be useful constructs developed by Mr. Parker or his students. All of these sequences of motion derive from a particular scenario.

SCENARIO --- This term refers to an imagined sequence of possible events or set of circumstances (e.g. a worst case scenario). The scenario denotes the situation and various exercises that the MODEL or TECHNIQUE is structured to explore (the “feel” of a rear attack, various kinds of pushes from the front, etc.). In short, a scenario is the “story”, to which, a TECHNIQUE or MODEL refers.

By accepting this definition, and those that follow, we can move away from the limited thinking that plagues many Kenpo studios. “That technique would never work on the street.” “We teach more, or fewer, techniques than that other Kenpo school; so our school is better.” Such phrases, while common, are examples of the limited view many have of Kenpo’s “exercises”.

When viewed as exercises, training the various models or “techniques” of Kenpo becomes a valuable way to experience the usefulness of a given sequence of movements. But first, it helps to understand the exercise’s underlying idea or theme.

THEME --- The theme (or themes) of a particular technique are the ideas that one internalizes through training the model. Instead of viewing a technique, or any specific pattern of motion, as “the” answer to a predicament in self-defense, focusing on the theme allows us greater flexibility in action and thought. In Kenpo, the theme of a technique, like the repeated melody in a song, aids the Kenpoist in internalizing and remembering the underlying Principles of Self-Defense, Principle of Motion, unfamiliar basics, etc., that the model presents for study. The theme then, allows the practitioner greater latitude to train beyond the IDEAL PHASE of the technique and use the model to work with and explore a greater number of variables. (See WHAT IF PHASE and FORMULATION PHASE of a technique).

The exercise (technique or model) then becomes a way a student can train in order to internalize the larger idea or theme that the exercise represents. If you follow this logic, then you can begin to understand the reason for the following definitions and my insistence on referring to Kenpo “Models”.

MODEL --- The use of a streamlined version of something complex, allowing the complex notion (in Kenpo, situations in actual combat) to be studied abstractly, with better controls, and in greater detail. A MODEL is used for analyzing and solving problems generated from the introduction of new and unique variables in a process (the WHAT IF and FORMULATION phases of a TECHNIQUE), and for making predictions. In logic, models are interpretations of a theory, or useful idea, arrived at by assigning examples or variables in such a way as to make the theory an accurate representation of reality (in Kenpo, a “map” for actual combat). A MODEL, then, is a construct that may be imitated or used as a starting point for further experimentation for any related process. A model may encompass a single technique or a number of related techniques. MODEL, then, is a larger idea than the more specific TECHNIQUE.

TECHNIQUE --- Techniques (both Freestyle and Self Defense) represent potential actions that may be taken by one or more individuals during combat. These actions are structured to tell a “story” of a particular encounter. This “story” may involve the Ideal Phase of the technique --- where everything goes as planned, or the What If Phase of the technique --- where a different variable is presented and the exercise must Alter or Adjust to Formulate a different response to the situation. Freestyle techniques are coded models that use letters and numbers to represent certain movements or natural weapons and how they may be applied in a street freestyle encounter. Self Defense models have a theme or themes. The model is an overall idea that allows the practitioner to experience the theme or themes physically. The theme often introduces the application of a specific (new) basic or a Principle of Motion or Principle of Self Defense.

Finally, the value of any Art is not in the quality of the “techniques” used to create the art, but in the way the art impacts, influences, and nurtures the artist and his audience.


Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: Dennis Lawson

Dennis Lawson has trained for 4 decades in Ed Parker's Kenpo. During his varied career, Mr. Lawson has been an IKKA Regional Director for Region #3, has acted as Master of Ceremonies for the International Karate Championships, and has published numerous articles in publications for the International Kenpo Karate Association, The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC), and Kenpo 2000.

Mr. Lawson has had the opportunity to study other Martial Arts and holds advanced rank in Aikido and Takemusu Aiki Budo. Dennis taught, competed in, and promoted events in the New Orleans area for 20 years. Among his list of favorite achievements is choreographing and performing Kenpo for the Dance Council of New Orleans. His academic background in psychology and love of music allow Dennis to offer a unique and entertaining approach to tailoring "the Art" to the individual. Dennis has taught seminars in Ireland, Jersey Channel Islands, The Netherlands, Portugal, and throughout the United States.

Dennis holds a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo and was awarded the title “Professor” under the auspices of The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC). Mr. Lawson was inducted into the International Black Belt Hall of Fame as Master Instructor of the Year for 2006.

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