Under: karate
10 Sep 2009

7 Responses to “Self Defense Techniques; Will Your Karate Work?”

  1. Martial Arts News 9.11.09 « Striking Thoughts Says:

    […] Zimmer wonders if your karate will work. In this post I will focus on self-defense techniques, what they are, how long it takes to learn […]

  2. David Hays Says:


    Good post. This subject comes up a lot, especially the question of why do we teach so many techniques and do they work. I answer the question this way; we teach the techniques as learning modules. This is a creative way to teach, and have the student practice and remember a sequence of moves that will enable them to defend themself. Techniques teach you balance, timing, how to create power by learning to use torque, and how to control an opponent.

    When Ed Parker was asked about techniques he said the following; “I teach Kenpo, not for the sake of teaching the techniques, but for the principles involved in them. And even then, these principles must be altered to fit the individual.

    The reason I give my techniques names is because there are certain sequences associated with these terms. If I told a student tomorrow that I was going to teach him a counter version to a double hand grab, it’s not as meaningful as when I say I’m going to teach him Parting Wings.

    You’ve got to know how to vary things. A lot of the techniques I’ve worked with, they’re ideas, they’re not rules. At any given time, any of my moves can change from defense to offense, offense to defense.

    Martial artists and Kenpo people especially, become so involved in doing the techniques exactly right in such and such amount of time, that they get caught in a pattern that they can’t break. That’s not what they’re for. Specific moves, specific techniques are based, like the ABCs in the English language or standard football plays.

    You have to have a point of reference and from there the combinations are endless and limited only by universal laws, laws that you can’t change”

    I was privileged, as was John Zimmer, to come from a school based in the reality of self defense. We not only had to learn the 240 self defense techniques, 17 Katas and countless basics to get our Black Belt, we had to understand the principles involved in them. We also had to do a lot of sparring. I believe the combination of the techniques, basics and sparring has made me a great all around martial artist.

    Those of you who say that self defense techniques do not work need to spend some time with an instructor that can help you learn the principles involved in them vs. taking them literally.

    Just my opinion.

    David Hays

  3. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Dave,

    Excellent point about learning modules and they are principals more so than hard and fast rules. I know I learned how to do knees and elbows before I ever heard of Muay Thai because of these techniques.

  4. Zara Says:

    Interesting movie, I’ll check if they have it in the nearest video-store. I won’t comment on the specifics of kenpo self-defense techniques since I never trained them but from what I’ve seen and (mostly on youtube and descriptions or videos on other sites) they seem to be overly complicated (alot of different moves for different attacks, sequences of 10 techniques or more in a row) and in a number of cases overkill. Chopping someone’s Adam’s apple in respons to a shirtgrab will likely result in his windpipe being crushed and this cannot possible be construed as legitemate self-defense (more like manslaughter). I suppose certain principles will cover alot of techniques and this might simplify things (an explanation on this would be most welcome and informative) but I still wonder how you’d be able to identify the attack in time and retrieve the necessary information from your brain (handgrab, technique nr 4) while still reacting instantly, effectively and naturally.

    If you are going to use strikes as your primary defensive tool you might aswell throw a boxing combination (followed by a knee, elbow or kick) after every defense, that way you don’t have to think too much about where to hit with what weapon. In our style of JJ we have certain entry-techniques against certain types of attacks (whether you’re grabbed by the shirt or choked from the front, the defense remains the same) and they don’t change with the different follow-up. For every attack you should identify primary danger (for a cross it’s the line going straight to your face, for a bearhug it’s being lifted and thrown or taken away) and counter that with proper body-mechanics. After that you give a few atemi (three at most) to soften him up for a lock, throw or choke. If they happen to fail you trap his arm(s) and hit again, flowing into something else. The technique itself is not important (a wristlock can be used in a wide variety of situations), stopping the attacker is and after a while you begin to see what would be most appropriate in a certain situation and what techniques flow easily and naturally into others. This is the beauty of the MA: after years of training you begin to absorb the techniques into your subconscious mind and they become automatic, just like driving a car or a bike. Before that point you need to keep things as simple as possible (less details to remember, making for faster learning) and hitting a man 10 times in a predetermined order (which will probably fall apart pretty quickly: battle-plans rarely survive even first contact with the enemy) does not seem to be very simple. I do like use of critical distance and counter-punching though: with sparring and plenty of exercise this will work for sure (maintaining distance is easier than letting the enemy dictate the range and having to act accordingly) and it’s probably more natural than doing kata or practicing formal techniques.

    These are just my thoughts on the subject, I could be wrong but these are my impressions on the art of kenpo (being a non-practioner). I would say kenpo is alot more effective than your standard run-of-the-mill karate (shotokan, wado…) since it’s actually meant for self-defense and not for sport-fighting and is alot more fluent and especially fast. Fast combinations thrown at vital-points is a very good strategy for winning fights and it’s still better to hit him three times with less power but fast and in places where it’ll hurt than trying to hit him once full force but failing because you’re too stiff and predictable (you just know a karateka will most likely begin with an oi-tsuki for example).

    In any case if there’s ever a seminar on kenpo in the neighbourhood I’ll be sure to check it out, it seems like a most interesting MA and if it kept you safe during .

  5. Zara Says:

    your many fights its bound to be effective, unless you’re a naturally gifted person of course. I still wonder what makes a good fighter: technique and practice or natural ability (more or less comparable to athletics: you can train all you want but if you don’t have a certain body type and appropriate genes you’ll never be a champion at the sprint for example). Ah well, another topic entirely.

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Zara, One difference between JJ and kenpo is the techniques I learn are mostly to guide beginners how to do various moves and combinations of moves. Unlike JJ, we don’t have to memorize the moves for attacks because when practiced – we get muscle memory.

    One difference between white and black belt is what I call fluidity. Under belts do things mechanically but black belts should just think of a move and be able to perform it.

    No need to practice exact combinations because each attack will be different with different possible openings and attack opportunities.

    To me fighting is simple anyway… using critical distance and take advantage of opportunities. I would not ever do a pre-set technique.

  7. Bill @ Self Defense Says:

    Kenpo seems to be a very effective method of self defense. I would definitely like to start training with this method.