My Philosophy, Part I

by Stephen LaBounty (2007-10-26)

There are numerous web sites, articles, books, and videos on the Art of Kenpo. Most are scholarly, and come from a viewpoint of trial and error and hard questions with answers through training, a requirement for authenticity. Other views are vain attempts to be part of the discussion, self-important bids for prominence without qualification. Kenpo philosophy evolves over time, through an intimate understanding of what works and why, and must be founded in years of blood, sweat, tears and toil. Only then does one earn the credibility to posit such thoughts and ideas.

I want to give you my life long philosophy on belief, training, mind set and most of all application. I hope to leave you with a few thoughts to ponder regarding your own place in your Kenpo journey.

The words "Martial" and" Art"are used synonymously for ease of description of what we do. For me however, it is necessary to examine both words separately. Therein we find the levels of training needed for a viable and usable form of self-development and self-protection which, more often than not, is the real reason the majority of Kenpoists begin. "Martial Art" has a more deeper and responsible meaning.

Mankind's aversion to violence is a based on his fear of death. Injury, maiming, and violation add to the horror of having to get into a knock down, drag 'em out fight where pain, always a factor, is present and maybe increasing. Emotional scars are definitely part of this whole scheme, and to live in denial that you won't be punched, knocked down, or seriously hurt is like seeking employment at the Edsel plant to be part of the revolution in the car industry. This however is the "Martial" factor of our Art. The handling and maintenance of such scenarios is that at least we come to the event trained, if not skilled enough, to stand for our beliefs and rights to peace and safety. First and foremost you must set your mind to the task of actually hitting someone hard, very hard. Worse, that someone will be at such close quarters you will remember feeling or smelling his/her breath. If a weapon is present, the fear factor rises significantly, sometimes to a degree that one can lose bodily functions and not know it. Again, this is the "Martial" component of Martial Arts.

As for the "Art" constituent, it is necessary to examine movement and sometimes change completely the way we view our training. One problem I have is with the artist who continually micro-manages every step, movement and technique, and does so to a point where perfection of self and movement would be required to work in a real situation. An argument can be made that such study will make the artist more precise in application no matter the situation. In his excellent book "Face of Battle," John Keegan reminds us that mankind throughout history has preferred to be a "long distance killer." In his study of four historical wars, Keegan writes that the soldier was reluctant to come face to face with the enemy and when engaged, was reluctant to pierce the enemy's body with his weapon. "Eye to eye" combat was abhorrent, but when faced with "do it or die" the medieval soldier in particular would rather slash than stab. Even in the Oriental culture you see a penchant to the slash, not only for the rapidity of multiple hits, but aversion to stabbing while the one on the receiving end was watching you.

The "Art" of battle has to be updated from generation to generation. In a technological society such as ours, with a growing "rage culture," we are seeing ourselves having to deal once again with the reality of a better trained and more morally compromised attacker who is not part of a videogame or a dojo hypothesis.

The "Martial" must change and for me, the more practical, the better. One cannot exist without the other for the serious student, even though there are those degenerate "masters" of street and bar fighting who find you in their path and care little for your posturing and kiai-ing.

Next month I'll discuss how things are for me and for those who train with me, which means that it works for me, but may not for you. I will give you some examples of "intimate brutality" and how to prepare for it. No, I'm not asking you to shave your head, eat live lizards, pound your body with rattan poles or fight tigers. Also, I'll go over the "chase mentality" and implementation of our greatest weapon, our spirit. I believe the Kenpo system that our Senior Grand Master gave us contains all the answers, and all the tools to find them.

Stephen LaBounty, Kudan Student of Kenpo Karate