March 30

Three Essential Principles of Self-Defense

In one swift motion, you have an opportunity to guard almost all of the vital points of your body, maintain distance from a threat, and be prepared for many types of attack.

Change your Stupid Stance. Put your Helpless Hands Up. And make sure you don’t have such a Dumb Distance.

I cannot overstate the importance of the three basic self-defense principles that have been taught to me by my instructors. I have consistently seen other martial artists talk about these same ideas, but never using the alliteration Metamora Martial Arts founder Mr. Joe Chianakas did.

Stupid Stance

Let’s assume two people are facing each other as if they are mirror images. You’re within reach of each other and your hands are at your sides. Do you notice what’s open?

Vital points exposed in Stupid Stance

Vital points of the human body

If you thought “vital points along the center of your body,” you’re right. Looking at the image to the left, draw a line down the center of the body. Then, look at all the targets that are located on that line: Groin. Stomach. Solar Plexus. Throat. Jaw. Nose. Eyes. Forehead.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That means your vital points would be exposed to a strike such as a punch, a knee or a stab with a knife.

Fix Stupid Stance by turning your body to one direction or the other. This makes your vital points harder to get to. Instead of a straight line, your attacker now has to use a rounded technique, such as a hook punch, roundhouse kick or something else.

Great, you no longer have a Stupid Stance. Now let’s fix those hands.

Helpless Hands

Let’s assume the only thing we’ve done so far is change our stance by rotating our body 90 degrees or so.

Fighting posture

Notice how both people look mostly non-threatening. Now imagine if both their hands were balled into fists. 

Those vital points are still at risk because your hands are probably still down by your waist. That means you have Helpless Hands.

Put those hands up!

But be careful about how you do it.

Depending on the situation, you should first keep your hands open with your palms toward your threat. This non-verbal posture suggests you don’t want any trouble. Add in telling the threat, “I don’t want any trouble” or “Don’t shoot me with that gun!” and you have at least made the threat think twice before proceeding with an attack. Better yet, you’ve made people nearby aware of the situation.

Back to the hands. You don’t immediately want to go to a fighting posture. That may conflict with your verbal statement of not wanting to fight, and suggest to the threat that you are indeed ready to fight.

By first going to the posture with open hands, you can almost immediately change them to fists if the need arises.

Dumb Distance

The final essential self-defense principle is distance.

This can go two ways.

Showing fighting distance

Notice the distance between these fighters.

If you are a close-in fighter, you actually want to move closer to your opponent to jam his techniques. This is probably a good idea if your attacker is taller.

But be careful! If you do this, you should be well versed in grappling, as that is the likely next step if the two of you are scuffling on your feet.

The other way is to back up. Make it so that the person can’t touch you.

Look at the picture of the UFC fighters. The fighter in the red trunks appears to have had to use a jumping side kick in order to reach his opponent. The person in the black trunks has created much distance in order for the red-trunked fighter to strike.

This is an interesting use of the kick in competition, but I would argue it is not a great attack on the street. While the person in the red trunks would be setting this kick up, the person in black would ideally jam this person and defend himself before the fighter ever left the ground.

(I know I’m analyzing a static situation, but I hope you see the point here.)

Do you have any questions/comments on Stupid Stance, Dumb Distance or Helpless Hands? Leave a comment below, or bring it up during next Thursday’s class.

Other Class Updates

During advanced class, students continued to learn the basic techniques of Wansu. I introduced the manaruken (punch and cover) this week. Next week, students will learn the final technique of the main Wansu sequence as we progress toward learning the rest of the techniques in the form.

I will be sending out a newsletter this week cover what we’ve been going over in class for the past month, and what I anticipate teaching during April.

March 22

Learning Wansu: Adding to Shuto

During this week’s advanced class, we added to the shuto. More specifically, we augmented it.

The augmented shuto, which looks very similar to shintai domei in the Pinnacle of Okinawan Karate, is found in numerous kata throughout Shuri-ryu. It can be used in a variety of ways.

For this article, though, we’ll restrict its use to the traditional block as described in Wansu kata.

Properly executed, the augmented shuto can be broken down into three steps.

1. Fingers touch at the hips

The tips of your middle fingers should be touching. All fingers are straight. Palms are facing straight down. Your hands should be at your belt level.

By bringing both of your arms over to your side, you start to coil the energy you’ll need to get the optimal benefit out of the shuto.

Advanced students should begin to think about the types of applications that can be performed using this motion.

2. Hands and forearms protect the head and body

From the belt level, the hands come up to protect the face as the arms come together to form a shield. Again, your body is still turned to the side, ready to perform a great shuto.

Again, advanced students should be thinking about how this move could be applied in self-defense.

3. Hands come to final position

The forward hand should be out in front. Keep the elbow pointed down and close the body while blocking with the blade of the hand.

The rear hand should be near your solar plexus.

Imagine holding a pane of glass in your hands.

Other Notes from Last Night’s Class

I decided to split last night’s classes into two 45-minute sessions. We were still hitting our 90 minutes, but decided that 30 minutes was just too short to teach the basic class, and 60 minutes was feeling long for the advanced class. We found that “just right” medium last night, I think.

In the basic class, students learned middle block, vertical punch and side kick, as well as what body parts they would target for each.

Next week, I plan to cover the three most basic principles in self-defense.

Want More Info?

Leave a comment and I’ll reply. That way everybody can learn!

March 15

Learning Wansu: Focusing on Shuto

Last night, Metamora Martial Arts students learned (or reviewed) shuto, an edge-of-hand strike or block.

Shutos are seen in so many places in karate. In Shuri-ryu, we see them in all of our wazas – ippons, taezus, kihons – as well as a number of our katas. It’s an incredibly versatile technique.

In order to get to last night’s recap, I need to explain a new teaching methodology I am experimenting with.

A New Way of Teaching

After much discussion with my instructor, Mr. Hawkey, I have elected to teach kata differently than I ever learned or have taught in the past. Previously, I’d started out working kata as the full series. I’d start out somewhat sloppy, working on the full pattern of movement, and then refining my techniques as I progressed. However, I wasn’t satisfied in this approach any longer both in my experience as a student and as an instructor. As a result, I am reversing the process of teaching kata.

Think Small

Instead of teaching a full form right away, I am starting small. Students will begin learning kata first with learning the individual techniques of the kata. Once they demonstrate understanding of the technique, I will begin to have them incorporate it into a short combination of movements. From there, we’ll progress to working a series. Once each student can perform the entire series using each new technique, I’ll move them along to the full kata.

In our requirements, you’ll notice that for a first stripe, I only require knowledge of the techniques. At second stripe, I’ll look for the students to have a firm understanding of the series. Only when they put these series together into a full kata will they be eligible for promotion.

Edge of Hand – Shuto

As mentioned above, the shuto can be used in a number of ways. In fact, Master Robert Trias describes in the Pinnacle of Okinawan Karate that the hand can strike from five sides and can be used to block in at least three ways.

This video by bunkai (application) expert Iain Abernethy demonstrates a number of drills that can be done with shuto.

(Side note: I’m excited to attend an Iain Abernethy seminar in Chicago next month.)

You can form the shuto using these steps:

  1. Place the thumb so it’s about 3/4 of an inch away from the little finger.
  2. Keep the four fingers solid together  – you should see very little light between the fingers.

How the Shuto is Used in Wansu

The shuto that appears in Wansu is technically an augmented shuto that blocks an incoming strike. Both the hands are cast as a shuto. One is out in front while the other guards the solar plexus. I will be introducing this to class soon.

As students progress, I will introduce more ways they can use the shuto.

New Class Times Next Week

As announced in class last night, I am going to experiment with some new class times next week. Basic class will be 6-6:45. Advanced class will be 6:45-7:30.

I’ve noticed that a half hour is just not enough time to cover off on the material I want to cover.

Want to learn more about the shuto?

Tell me what drills you’d like to practice in class. How about the drills in Mr. Abernethy’s video above? Maybe you’ve got additional information you want me to cover about the edge-of-strike, or if you a story about using this technique in a sparring match or a super cool break.

Leave a comment below and tell us all about it!

June 2

Summer training at Mr. Hawkey’s

Last night began the fourth summer of advanced ranks training at Mr. Hawkey’s home deep in the woods in Hopewell. As class goes on, I hope to provide more insight as to what we’re learning.

When black belts first started attending classes in 2008, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. He was in the process of transforming a space adjacent garage into something of a cottage for when his children came back home – though at the time, the walls weren’t finished, there was no air conditioning and the only martial arts-related equipment in the room were two very smooth blue mats taped together and a rig for a punching bag and speed bag.

Now, as advanced ranks began to join us last summer, the room is air conditioned and finished.. There’s a bathroom, a kitchenette and some more furniture. The old fireplace is adorned with foam on its edges to protect us from potentially falling into it. The mats still appear to be in pristine condition, like he’s ordered another set.

Mr. Hawkey also enjoys landscaping, eager to show us new projects he’s working on. Last summer he was redoing his backyard and even had Justin and I moving blocks for him before we started class. I didn’t get to see the finished product last night, so maybe next time.

In a way, Mr. Hawkey’s home projects are telling of martial arts practice. When he teaches class at his place, we refine techniques and build on the knowledge we have, similar to how he’s turned a building with four walls and a roof into a weekend getaway.

We worked undo chikara last night with reference to Wansu. Undo chikara stands for moving forces, outlined in the Pinnacle of Okinawan Karate, and they are different ways to look at your techniques. Instead of just blocking and striking, we’ll be taking a look at ways to apply pressure, joint locks, throws, knockouts and more in order to effectively dispose of “the attacker.” (I put this in quotes not because I think it’s a joke, but because “the attacker” seems to be the invisible other person in the room with us when we visualize what’s happening.)

As students, generally colored belts, we work the same interpretation over and over again. This allows us to get a decent grasp on the basics.

However, as we advance into the deeper colored belts and black belts, we need to know our kata inside and out. And that’s where this advanced class comes in. But in order to do some of these modified techniques and apply extensions on the kata, we must have a solid grasp of Wansu’s basic tenets. For example, last night, Mr. Hawkey was showing us the axes the hips must rotate around to get the proper thrust and action. Once we get a firm understanding of how our hips move, then we can understand what kind of damage we can cause.

There is so much attention to detail with regard to where your body is against “the attacker’s.” How are you moving? Where is (s)he going? Why would you want to use a one-finger punch instead of a regular punch? Why do we use stances anyway?

This goes to show that before we ever get to the advanced techniques, we need to get the basics down first before we add to them.

Just like building a cottage in the woods.

February 23

Neil Kirchoefer: From the dojo to the seminary

Another soon-to-be regular feature on our website is a “Where are they now?” feature.

We’ve asked black belts and advanced rank students who were a close part of our martial arts family to reflect on their training now that they are adults. We’ve also asked several students to tell us what they are doing now and how martial arts has contributed to their current life status.

In our first “Where are they now?” feature, we are proud to present an article written by first-degree black belt, Neil Kirchoefer.

Neil’s touching story about our martial arts “family” is something we hope all martial artists and athletes experience, and what Neil is doing right now in life may surprise and inspire you!

It feels like so long ago – freshman year, 2002. I was riding on the bus home from school when I heard from my friend Amanda Dixon about an after-school martial arts program. I had a few other friends who were joining, so I decided to check it out.

Neil Kirchoefer is in seminary school

Neil Kirchoefer traded in his black belt for a white collar

Metamora Martial Arts was in its infancy. The highest ranking student, Adam Ulbricht, was merely a green belt. It looked to me to be a fun thing to get into, and the idea of possibly getting a black belt by graduation was very exciting.

Four years later, in August of 2006, after hours of grueling physical activity, I finally achieved the rank of shodan, or first-degree black belt.

I am grateful for my years involved with Metamora Martial Arts in so many ways.

We were not just a dojo – we were a family. This hit me the hardest during my sophomore year, just after my dad passed away. I remember very clearly the group of my fellow martial arts students as they came to support me at his funeral.

I realized that this martial arts group was about far more than just martial arts – much more than learning the forms and moving up in the ranks. We were a tight community, helping each other out on our road to black belt. I developed my closest friendships in high school through martial arts – friendships that continue to this day.

Through martial arts, I also learned about the value of teaching. I found that teaching karate was definitely the best way of learning karate. After teaching Wansu about thirty times over the course of a couple years, I had it down! I also gained a greater confidence in my teaching abilities, and I am a lot more willing to help if needed.

Today, I’m in a world that is very much different than that of my high school years.

I am now in my fourth year of seminary formation, studying to be a Catholic priest for the diocese of Peoria. Rather than seeking a black belt, I am now seeking a white collar.

Neil Kirchoefer and Amanda Dixon - Arts Day 2005

Neil Kirchoefer and Amanda Dixon – Arts Day 2005

If things go as planned, I will be ordained in May of 2015.

Although it’s obvious that the seminary is very much different than the dojo, I have seen a number of similarities.

The seminary, like the dojo, is a community of close friends who are all striving after the same goal. We are very committed to helping each other out in attaining that goal.

I have also seen that the road to black belt and the road to priesthood are both marked by a great deal of sacrifice.

I had to give a lot in order to achieve my dream of becoming a black belt – long, late hours of training, being willing to take criticism, being able to press ahead when at the point of giving up.

I have had to give up a lot in the seminary life as well. Our busy schedule prevents us from sleeping in every morning or staying out late at night. Our rigorous intellectual formation is always keeping us on our toes.

And, of course, for anyone familiar with the life of Catholic priest, we have to give up the idea of getting married or having girlfriends!

This idea of sacrifice is perhaps the biggest lesson I learned while I was training for a black belt. There comes a time in everyone’s life when we realize that we have to sacrifice something in order to gain something greater. If not, then we would just keep sitting at home all day, turning into a potato in front of the computer of television.

Sacrifices must be made in order for life to be lived to the fullest.

I am so grateful that I learned this lesson in my years of martial arts training.