How Important Is Your Curriculum?

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Dec 19th, 2016

     In the last 40 years, a number of versions of Kenpo rank requirements have developed. Some studios require as few as 10 techniques per belt rank; while others still use the “original” (circa 1970) 32 technique format. Perhaps the studio owner’s thinking is:

What format works best with modern students? How do I differentiate my studio in a competitive market?  Or, what version of the Kenpo curriculum works with my current business model?

I suggest that these studio owners may be asking the wrong questions. All of the versions of curriculum represent a series of exercises that ought to enhance the building of strategies, skills, attributes, and especially, the attitudes necessary for fitness, personal confidence, and ultimately, self-defense. Instead, the bias, in most studios, is toward memorization and recall of specific sequences under test conditions. Perhaps this is simply a result of our current educational system. All discussions surrounding the content of curriculum labor under the mistaken belief that our conscious minds are in control.

If our conscious minds had more control it would be easy to simply set a goal (see my November article – Stop Setting Goals) and exercise more, lose weight, train regularly to become a black belt, etc. Yet, we all know just how difficult this is to accomplish. While inspiration, motivation, and positive thinking can go a long way in creating the necessary energy for change; our habits are both potent and deeply ingrained in us. 

Brain researchers place memory in the limbic brain; especially unconscious memory which is centered in the hippocampus. These structures are both older and wired differently than the cerebral cortex; the center of logical thought and reasoning. We now know that the emotional connection essential for recall, especially under stress, has little to do with our conscious mind. It is our unconscious mind that takes charge when we are stressed.

How then, do we train our student’s unconscious processes? What methods do we use to build self-defense skills that are easily recalled under stress? First, keep it simple. Complex movements are more difficult to execute when the sympathetic nervous system begins to generate the fight or flight (freeze or hide) responses we all feel under stress. Then, train students to be creative when faced with an encounter instead of depending on memory recall. Creativity is essential in most freestyle exercises and can easily be added to training basics, forms and sets, and even, self-defense models (Formulation Phase). Finally, training must be fun to keep students coming back to the studio. Our challenge as instructors is to redefine what fun is for our students; creating more intense and stimulating exercises that push our students to the limits of both their physical skills and their (unconscious, emotion based) knowledge.

 Do students come to a martial arts studio to learn a particular curriculum? Some do. Perhaps the student was inspired by a movie or MMA bout to study a particular style. This is the exception that proves the rule. Most students come to the martial arts because they want to change something in their lives; the particular style or system is of secondary importance. When we remember to tailor the Art to the individual, then, we are truly teaching Ed Parker’s Kenpo.


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.

Other Articles by Dennis Lawson

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