Sometimes I think things and don’t know exactly why I think them. I don’t know if this is me being somewhere on the spectrum or me having synesthesia, but I always thought of Blue Belt as one of the nice belts, as opposed to Purple and Green on either side, which were kind of mean belts. (I also feel this way about some of the degrees of Black Belt, where I feel like the odd-numbered degrees are sharper or harder, and the even-numbered degrees are softer.) It’s important to note that as far as I can tell, this is purely an Inside Patrick’s Head thing. Blue Belt has claws aplenty and groin strikes for days, so it’s certainly not nicer than Purple. And yet unfortunately for all of us, my brain is the only tool I’ve got to process the world, so that’s what you get when you click on this website.

Blue Belt comes after Purple, and it’s the first belt that doesn’t have any basic kicks or combinations in it. It is less about teaching you new moves and more about getting you better at the moves that you already know. There are thirty-ish techniques and two katas, and if you have good physical memory and have been putting the work in, this belt can fly by.

The big thing that I think of when I go through Blue Belt material, though, is the waist.

Purple Belt was teaching you how to use stances to generate power, and at Blue Belt, they assume you’ve got that down, and they add in waist movements. A lot of the techniques are some variation of “open with a block with one hand that moves your waist one way to help you wind up, and then follow with a strike from the other hand that moves your waist the other way.” (This is then followed by general whoopass.) For example:

Thousand Mallets:
Attack: Standard right punch, right leg forward, from the front. More of a lunging punch than a swinging punch.


  • Left foot steps forward into a fighting stance, left inward block to stop the punch, right arm goes back as wind-up.
  • Swing right forearm into attacker’s midsection to bend them over, left hand winds up at left ear.
  • Left hammer-fist (like you’re pounding the table) to attacker’s kidney (assuming they are bent over).
  • Right hammer-fist to attacker’s head.
  • Left foot comes back to right, shift weight to a cat stance with left leg back, back-knuckle to attacker’s head. (This is a quick jab intended to stun rather than do a ton of damage.)
  • Right foot steps forward into fighting stance closer to attacker, grab hair/back of head with left hand and face with right.
  • Left hand pushes, right hand pulls as a claw, to twist attacker’s head and force them to the ground.

With the exception of that little hammer-fist, which is primarily there as a one-second stun to cover the transition that gets you into position to do the takedown, everything in there is about using your waist for power. The block winds up the forearm strike, which winds up the left hammer-fist, which winds up the right hammer-fist, and that final claw-head-twist bit uses waist rotation to get enough speed and power into it that the attacker either spins into a fall (in the fun choreographed version with partners) or goes “Ow, my neck!” while falling onto their stomach.

Beyond exciting torso-twisting action, another fun part of Blue Belt is something related to that little back-knuckle strike: the techniques are getting longer. This is one of those things that makes onlookers think that Kenpo is the style for overdoing it. Like, really, you socked the guy in the gut, drilled him in the kidney, and then clocked him on the back of the head. Do you actually need to do a neck-twisting takedown on the poor jerk? Or, to be less charitable, why don’t you practice making one really good strike that will put the guy on the ground instead of doing five or six that won’t? And heck, beyond that, what do you do if you do that forearm strike to bend the guy over, but he doesn’t bend over? What happens to the rest of your long memorized technique then?

I can’t speak for every school, but this is what I was taught:

The techniques we learn are idealized forms that present the most likely reactions of a tough attacker.

  • Idealized Forms: These techniques are an ideal, not how we expect an actual fight to go. They are useful for teaching specific movements (a quick strike to cover a stance shift, getting power from the waist), and they will often be the right moves to do in a real-life scenario, but if you do these techniques like a robot — (if (attacker.move == “right_punch”) && (attacker.leg == “forward”) && (attacker.position == “front”)) {do.ThousandMallets()}; — then you’re going to find that they don’t work all the time.
  • Most Likely Reactions: If you do the technique against an opponent, all other things being equal, this is how the opponent is most likely to react. However, it is also possible that due to random factors, your opponent might react differently to a strike. Maybe they punched in such a way as to be more to the side than straight-on, so your forearm hits them in the ribs instead of the stomach — they’ll flinch and maybe curl up a little, but they won’t bend over. Maybe you learned the technique in California but are performing it in Edmonton in the winter, and your attacker is wearing a thick puffy coat because Edmonton is ridiculously cold, and your forearm strike doesn’t do a whole lot to someone wearing a puffy coat and probably a sweatshirt underneath it, especially when you’re most likely wearing a puffy coat yourself, and the whole scenario is like watching two big plush sports mascots fight.
  • Tough Attacker: It is also possible that you start the technique, and after your first strike, your opponent falls down unconscious, or drops to their knees and starts crying, or otherwise clearly indicates that you have won. If so, then you should stop the technique and do what comes next (running away, securing them to make sure that they don’t have a gun or knife if you aren’t in a good place to run away, whatever). At this belt, you’re learning techniques that are five or six moves, but that’s a worst-case scenario for an attacker, and it’s better to learn a six-move technique and only need the first two than learn a single deadly perfect strike, do that, and then learn that your opponent was wearing a puffy jacket, and crap, what do you do now?

At my old school, the way we balanced realism versus ideals was as follows:

  • We trained hard with the techniques, drilled them into memory, and when we were getting tested, we performed those techniques with a partner who was dummying for us so that we could perform the techniques as intended.
  • In addition, we regularly did Attack Response drills, in which a partner would attack you with a random move — a punch, a kick, a grab, whatever — and your job was to defend yourself. After the first attack, the partner’s job was to dummy for you. Sometimes that meant that you did a letter-perfect technique you knew, but more often, what that meant was that you started with a block, did a strike, saw how they reacted, and then kept going from there. Okay, I threw that forearm, expecting my partner to bend over, but it turns out they were punching with their left leg forward instead of their right, and that wasn’t so much a forearm to their gut as an awkward top-of-my-fist to their ribs, and they cradled around it a bit, but didn’t fully bend over! What now? Well, I’m not doing Thousand Mallets anymore, clearly — nor should I have been in the first place, because Thousand Mallets is for a right punch with the right leg forward, and this was a punch with the left leg forward, but that’s okay! Because of how they flinched, their arms are down, so instead of doing a hammer-fist to their kidneys, I can just throw a palm strike up under their chin! I even still get power from my waist by going right-strike, left-strike. Okay, that palm strike up under the chin made my partner step up onto their tiptoes. Honestly that feels completely unrealistic given what I’ve seen from what happens when people get hit up under the chin in real life, but that’s what my partner did, so that’s what I react to! Their groin is open now, so how about a sword-hand with my right arm, so I can keep that power going? And so on.

Practicing like that gets you a good set of moves that will often work really well, and sometimes they work in their entirety, and sometimes you start out doing Thousand Mallets and then shift into Blinding Sword instead, and that kind of mix and match is great.

(I also love love love dummying, which is the term we used for reacting naturally to our partner doing all their cool moves on us. At lower belts, you’re basically just doing touch-strength strikes, so if your partner completely fails to dummy, you haven’t hit them super-hard, and on places like the face or the neck, you’re controlling your strikes so that if they completely fail to dummy, you don’t even touch them. If you and your partner are both advanced students, you can get more comfortable hitting with more power, because you know your partner will dummy it. It’s great for both partners. The person striking gets the vital feeling of doing techniques on a real physical person and realizing, for example, that they’ve been throwing that eye strike as though their opponent is five feet away and also about seven feet tall, and in most cases, their target will actually be a lot closer and probably shorter, so they don’t need to extend that much. The person dummying gets to learn the vital skill of moving with an incoming strike, so that even if they can’t get a hand up to block that punch coming at their face, they will instinctively go with it, and that sucker punch that might have rung their bell instead glances off their cheek, and while that still hurts and will leave a nasty bruise later, they are still capable of reacting and fighting back. (And at higher levels, they get more comfortable getting hit, period, because the best martial art moves ever won’t save you if your world collapses the first time you take a punch to the face or the gut.)

Also, dummying is basically fight choreography, and as someone who was highly motivated by beating up imaginary bad guys, I looooove fight choreography. (Additional note: it’s like fight choreography, and it will likely help you pick up any stage combat faster than someone without that training, but it is not a substitute for training with stage fighting. A lot of good solid moves either look un-cool on stage or on camera or are really hard to do safely with a partner unless that partner has also been taking the exact same martial art as you and knows what to do. So don’t be me in high school attempting to add fight choreography to the school play.))

One final note on Blue Belt, beyond all of that: at Orange Belt and Purple Belt, you learn katas that are… okay, it’s hard for them to not be basic, because it’s the first two belts. That’s not a slam. But if you look at someone doing Short 1 or Short 2, barring any other information, your reaction is likely to be, “That is someone practicing basic blocks and strikes,” and not, say, “Oh my gosh, that looks like a badass doing impossibly cool moves like the hero of an action movie!”

That changes with Short 3. The salute changes into something closer to a Kung Fu salute, and the kata is made up of techniques, flowing one into the next, rather than straightforward block-and-strike combinations. Short 3 in particular is almost all techniques against grabs or pushes. You can do it in about a minute or so, and when you finish, you feel like you’ve beaten up a roomful of goons. It feels fun and cool and, well, still not flashy, because there’s an upper limit to how flashy a kata is gonna look if it’s intended to be a collection of practical techniques and also doesn’t include any high kicks.

But it’s a step in the direction of “gracefully badass,” and feeling gracefully badass is absolutely part of what made Kenpo the exercise I actually wanted to practice.