After a brief delay in the form of me dealing with debilitating migraines and then getting sinus surgery, we hit Second Degree Brown!

Going from third to second was fun for me. I think it was less that this one was inherently easy and more that the lessons this belt taught were lessons that I took to naturally, maybe? I don’t know. There aren’t that many other former brown belts around to compare notes with.

We only have six techniques this time — it’s even smaller in terms of a technique list than third degree was. The techniques that are there, though, are interesting. They range from the very short but tricky to the big long stuff we got in green belt, and if I had to pick a theme, I would point at two different ideas:

First, while we’ve had techniques designed to make an attacker fall down since all the way back at orange belt, this belt gets into some really specific applications. The only technique that doesn’t involve a move specifically there to put the attacker on the ground is the very last one. The other five are all hooking the legs and doing trips or throws or takedowns of some other sort. (Because part of the second-degree test was doing all of these techniques with a partner, these could end up being exhausting for the partner. There are few things that will tucker you out like having to fall down and get back up a bunch of times.)

Second, while the last belt started the trend, this belt very much sells the idea that anything can be a strike. This may be the first belt where none of the techniques include a standard straight punch with the knuckles down. (I think that Third-Degree Brown has two, and Green Belt has four-ish.) The closest we’ve got is Plummeting Ronin, which has a Kenpo punch (which is a jab with the fist sideways).

And some of the things we have instead of strikes are weird. We’ve got eye rakes and back-knuckle rakes and such, which we’ve had before. We’ve got a new paired-strike that has the right hand doing a low chop (hitting with heel of hand) and the left hand doing a high sword-hand (hand held like a chop, hits with the part of the hand between the thumb and index finger). It’s one of those moves that shows how soft and circular we’ve gotten.

There are moves that are hard to explain, and as a new student learning them, my reaction was, wait, what? I’m doing that as a strike? How does that work? But then you do it, or have it done on you, and you see that it can work.

The one I really love that demonstrates both the first and second idea is Billowing Sails:

Attack: Right punch, right leg forward. The punch is a straight punch, not a haymaker.


  • Right leg steps back into right reverse bow, right hand parries and grabs the attacking hand, and left hand does a four-finger eye rake across the eyes.
  • Shift from reverse bow into rear horse, left back-knuckle rake across face, right side claw (hand held like a claw) across face.
  • Right foot comes back to left, shift into a left cat stance.
  • Right steps forward into attacker, simultaneous right knee to the back of the attacker’s right knee, double strong back-knuckles to the back.

The first part of the technique always made sense to me. Control the punch, hit the eyes, cool. But then we get to that bit at the end, and it’s all knew for us.

To be clear, “double strong back-knuckles” is a term I made up. It means doing a back-knuckle strike (which other styles might call a backfist), but instead of doing one of them as a fast little jab, you hold your hands like you’re holding an imaginary pole straight up, left over right, and you hit with strength rather than for speed.

And it’s weird, and it feels strange to do it in the air after years of throwing punches and chops and elbows. It’s not something that would ever be my go-to strike.

But, in this context — where I’m stepping into the attacker, and I’m doing this strike at the same time that I’m hitting the back of their knee — it’s not about doing a ton of damage. It’s about disrupting the attacker’s balance (particularly after grabbing their arm and pulling them off balance and then hitting them three times with strikes aimed at the eyes, which might not all hit but are always going to make the attacker flinch). The attacker attacks, and then they’re off balance, and then they flinch, and then their balance is completely disrupted, and you’ve put them on the ground.

So, like I said, weird techniques. Good weird! Showing new ways to do things weird!

For katas, this belt continues the tradition of having one big kara and one little kata.

The big kata is Number Four, which is definitely the longest kata so far. It’s about twenty techniques, performed on both sides. Many of the techniques are techniques we’ve learned in past belts (Thousand Mallets, which I described in Blue Belt, is in here) or even in this belt (Billowing Sails is in here), but some of them are more classic combinations, where you’re doing a series of strikes that aren’t telling the story of dealing with one particular attacker as much as demonstrating mastery of how to do the specifics. I’ve tried to figure out what the theme of this kata is, and I’ve come up short. I can point to Short Three as doing a bunch of techniques dealing with pushes or grabs, or Short Two as being about teaching block-strike combinations, but Number Four doesn’t have a strong theme that I can figure out. A lot of the techniques are dealing with punches, but I mean, that’s Kenpo. A lot of everything is about dealing with punches. And you’ve still got techniques dealing with kicks here and there.

I don’t know if “shifting from one stance to another” is a theme, but it’s possible that’s it. Pretty much everything you do is about striking in unusual stances and getting power from the strikes nevertheless. That said, that’s like saying that the theme of the book is “uses verbs”.

The little kata is Finger Set, which I always loved and considered almost as good as a rest break, because it’s a skill kata rather than a technique kata, and the skill it’s working on is finger strikes. You basically do a fun fancy salutation, drop into a square horse, and then do a ton of eye strikes and claws and other quick-flick type strikes. It’s fun, it’s fast, and it makes you feel like a Kung Fu master while also requiring almost no leg work.

And that’s Second Degree Brown! Like I said, this belt was fun for me, and it’s possible there are difficult things in here that I just enjoyed enough to not realize I was being tested on them. Like, maybe the trick about Number Four is that it’s long. Even when I had trouble with other stuff, my memory has always been good, so a kata being long and complicated was rarely a big deal for me. But if memory is more of an issue for you, then maybe this belt was a lot harder. I don’t know.

At the time, I just knew that I was happy that this one went fast, and you know, I will take that.