Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Even the Masters Have Masters

At Dunham's Martial Arts, we practice a unique style of American Kenpo. Many of the Self Defense Techniques come from a tradition handed down from Grandmasters of the art's past. Our lineage can be traced back to the practices of the Shaolin temple monks of China themselves. It is an ancient battle art, thousands of years old, reflected through many cultures on its way to our school.

It began as a simple method of physical training and self defense. Our legends tell us that a Buddhist monk came to the Shaolin temple from India and requested entrance, but was denied. So he went in to the mountain caves and stared at the stone walls for nine years seeking enlightenment, until his image was burned into the stone. It was only then that he was allowed to enter the temple. Upon entry however, he found that his fellow monks were out of shape, sometimes falling asleep during mediation and unable to perform the physical demands of their order. Combat practices had existed in China since the semi-mythical Yellow Emperor first taught violence to man more than 4000 years ago, and the monk, whose name was Bodhidarma, incorporated those martial practices with a series of physical exercises which would come to be known as The Eighteen Hands of Shaolin.

While most likely apocryphal, there is no doubt that the rigid, stylized practices which the monks of Shaolin would later develop would revolutionize martial practices in China, and later, in the many parts of the world that their culture would influence. The Ming General Qi Jiguang included description of Shaolin Chuan-Fa, (少林拳法 "fist principles"; pronounced “shorin kempo” in Japanese) and staff techniques in his book, Ji Xiao Xin Shu (紀效新書), which can be translated as "New Book Recording Effective Techniques." When this book spread to East Asia, it had a great influence on the development of martial arts in regions such as Okinawa, Japan, and Korea.

It is sometime during this period that our oldest known martial arts ancestor can be somewhat confidently identified. He is a man named Peichin Takahara who taught Chuan-Fa in the Shuri region of Okinawa. He was a monk who was revered as a great warrior and taught compassion and love while emphasizing dedication both to knowledge of the techniques and to physical practice and hard training. Beyond Takahara, we have only semi-legendary martial arts masters and warriors from China and Japan. His student, Kanga Sakukawa became such an expert that people simply called him “china hand” and taught Te; which would later be know as Shuri-Te after the region it was practiced in. His student Matsumura Sokon practiced Shuri-Te and was never known to have lost a duel. He taught Anko Itosu who taught in his Ten Precepts that his own Shorin-Ryu was, “not intended to be used against a single assailant but instead as a way of avoiding a fight should one be confronted by a villain or ruffian.” His student Choki Motobu studied with other future Masters such as Gichin Funakoshi and would go on to found Motobu-Ryu.

Now, here things get a little more difficult to pin down. During the 1930s a Hawaiian born man of Japanese descent named James Mitose began teaching kenpo and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he taught the art to American civilians on the island to prepare them for a possible Japanese invasion. Where he received his martial arts training is a matter of some debate. He called his art Koshoryu (old pine tree school) Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu. He seemed to attribute his art to the teachings of Choki Motobu, although there isn't any record of him training under Motobu, and some people also claim he was taught Yoshida Kenpo from his grandfather. The art he taught appears to be based on the practices of Japanese and Okinawan martial arts descended from the earlier Chinese Chaun-Fa. He would go on to teach William Kwai Sun Chow, known as Thunderbolt for his hard hitting techniques, who would call the art he would pass on to his students Kara-Ho Kenpo which is still practiced by more than 10,000 students, most in the United States. One of those students was Ed Parker, who brought the art to the mainland, where he attempted to incorporate more of the traditional chinese movements of its earlier roots with modern self defense applications drawn from common street encounters into an art he would eventually call Ed Parker's American Kenpo.

Ed Parker taught a number of students, many of whom have gone on to found their own systems of martial arts. Two of those students were brothers, Al and Jim Tracy, whose Tracy's Kenpo is now a worldwide organization that emphasizes the earlier teachings of Mr. Parker. One of their students, Jim Mitchell, would also train under Mr. Parker himself, and would then go on to teach Mitchell System Kenpo Karate as his own style of what he learned from his teachers.  A student of his, Theron Sturgess, now teaches his own systematic approach to learning martial arts at Dynamic Edge Martial Arts.  Today, Chris Dunham, who has studied over the past 20 years under Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Sturgess, and many others, has opened up his own school to teach Dunham's Art of American Kenpo with an emphasis on empowering each student with serious self-defense and personal development.

And that brings us to you. Many of you are learning Dunham's Art of American Kenpo. But like the many Masters before you, it is your challenge to make it your own. To internalize the lessons passed down to you by your instructors and to express your knowledge of the arts in your own unique way. This practice is handed down, instructor to student, and has been for thousands of years since the legendary Yellow Emperor. Each generation, each culture, leaves its own unique mark on what they inherit and passes something new on to the next generation.

Shaolin Chuan-Fa, Te, Shuri-Te, Shorin-Ryu, Motobu-Ryu, Yoshida Kenpo, Koshoryu Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu, Kara-Ho Kenpo, Ed Parker's American Kenpo, Tracy's Kenpo Karate, Mitchell System Kenpo Karate, Dynamic Edge Martial Arts, Dunham's Art of American Kenpo. What will the next art be? What will you bring to the art? What will your students call it someday?

It is important to know the lineage of your art, because it is the path by which the knowledge you hold came into your hands. We owe much to our martial ancestors for devoting themselves to preserving the traditions and practices we engage in today. But we owe an equal debt to our descendants, to be more than a kenpo practitioner. We must be martial artists, and like all artists, we must create.

Create a great day. Create a new art. Create a tradition and history worth remembering. Become a legend of your own. Kenpo will continue on in to the future, and the students of tomorrow will speak of the practitioners that came before them. It is a chain unbroken that leads directly to every student.

You are the next great Master of Kenpo.

Drills -
Beginner: Practice each of your techniques with seriousness and commitment. You are only as good as your basics. Practice each hand and foot technique ten times, each side, on the bag and B.O.B. Look to your senior students for advice on execution and training methods.

Intermediate: Learn the principles and theories behind the techniques. Understand why the stances are structured the way they are and how to use those stances in combat. Practice upper and lower body blocks and strikes with a partner from each of the stances in your sets. Look for opportunities to work with lower rank students and set a positive example for them by your knowledge and diligence.

Advanced: Learn how to transmit knowledge to younger students. Learn how to do, but also how to teach. Begin with your first techniques and practice teaching them by the numbers, in the air and on the body. Identify key principles and movements important to each technique and practice demonstrating these to students. Come up with three drills each for teaching kicking, punching, and blocking.

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