In case anyone assumed I was speaking with false modesty in Second Degree Brown when I talked about how I’m not sure entirely what the theme was, and maybe it was too easy, let me assure you that First Degree Brown Belt gave me no such illusions.
We’ve got another short list of techniques. Just like the last belt, some of them feel like they’re there to teach a specific movement or application of force, and others are just these long brutal exercises in complicating your attacker to the ground. When I was younger, I loved the long ones more than anything, and I still like them a ton, even though I know that realistically, the odds of an attack, and the resulting reactions, fitting perfectly with a ten-step chain of moves, are not super high. (They are also teaching memorization and, as I noted in the Blue Belt writeup, getting you comfortable with moving from one strike to the next, so that if you punch a bad guy, and they don’t fall down but do bend over, you have muscle memory ready to help you do something instead of standing there hoping they fall down, or just doing the same strike again.)
But I have a new appreciation for the short stuff. It’s simple, but it’s there to teach a move, and having that as part of the repertoire is awesome. Sometimes it’s a move that I immediately want to steal and use all the time. Sometimes it’s a move that is uncomfortable until I learn how to move to make it work, and I’m better at making my body move after I learn that. Sometimes I’m just never gonna be great at this particular move, but maybe somebody with a different body type or skill set picks something up from it and loves it.
Also, of the six techniques, all except one have strikes to the groin, and two of the techniques specifically have a groin-based takedown that I find hilarious. By the time you reach this rank, you are done being scandalized by hitting people in the groin. It’s now just a reliable target.
One of the short movement-teaching techniques that also involves the takedown:
Attack: Right lunging kick from the front.
- Left leg steps back into a reverse bow (right leg straight, left bent), and the arms mirror the legs in crane-beak position. (Right arm is straight and down, left arm is up over head and bent. Crane beak is a finger position that is difficult to describe except to say that your fingers are all trying to curl toward one single point.) Use the right crane beak to hook the kick away.
- Left leg steps forward into a square horse behind the attacker. While behind attacker, simultaneous crane beaks to side of the base of attacker’s skull.
- Cross wrists (right over left), inverted crane beaks to attacker’s temples (so right hits left, left hits right).
- Uncross wrists, reach around to do paired crane beaks to attacker’s eyes.
- Right hand reaches down to grab the groin in a claw.
- Pull with right hand while punching the kidney with left.
This is a technique that is hard to explain to someone who has not gone through a bunch of levels of Kenpo already without them thinking that you are deeply weird. “What are we doing? Well, they tried to kick us, so we’re stepping behind them, and then we’re gonna peck the hell out of them with finger strikes, and after they are hurting and confused and hunched over because getting pecked in the temples and the eyes is kind of disorienting, we’re gonna use their groin like a lever and punch them in the back so that they fall over.”
But again, it’s not just because Kenpo is trying to maximize how many groin strikes we can get in. It’s all there for a reason!
You want to give yourself a nasty headache that feels out of proportion to the strike? (Please do not actually do this.) The sides of the base of the skull and the temples are both pressure points. And no, not pressure points in the goofy Kung Fu movie sense, where Ty Lee from Avatar: The Last Airbender pokes someone in the chest three times to paralyze them or take away their bending, but pressure points in the practical sense of “There’s not a lot of awesome protection here in terms of muscle, bone, or fat, so a strike here doesn’t have to be particularly hard to absolutely ruin somebody’s day.” A student who gets good at this technique, especially when practiced on different partners, is going to be good at delivering strikes with precision. It may not be a technique I ever fully use as written if I’m attacked by someone trying to kick me, but it made me a lot better at knowing how to hit.
And then the katas.
Again, we’ve got a short one and a long one. The short one uses sticks. It’s fun, fast, and teaches how to use two weapons and hopefully not hit yourself in the head more than a couple of times.
And then there is Kata Number Five.
(Go ahead and make the joke. I know some of you want to. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Kata Number Five. A little bit of snap kick in my life, a little bit of throat punch by my side, a little bit of crane beak on their head, a little bit of groin shot leaves ’em red…)
Number Five is only about half as long as Number Four, but while Number Four was kind of a taste of everything, Number Five has a theme, and that theme is, “Leg Day.”
It’s a kata full of double-sided techniques (you do it twice), and every technique is one that involves taking down an opponent and then dealing with them while they are on the ground. This means that your stances need to be especially low and solid, to show that you’re controlling your own balance and also low enough to strike at the attacker while they’re on the ground. You’re also doing a lot of kicks, because that whole saying about kicking them while they’re doing? It turns out that’s actually a solid plan if you’re dealing with an attacker that you’ve thrown to the ground but haven’t fully incapacitated.
The end result is that by the time you get to your first-degree brown test, you are gonna have good stances and the ability to hold those stances for as long as you need, and you are going to be good at striking with precision.
(And while we don’t make a big thing of it, Number Five also does something else interesting: every technique except one has some modification to it, whether it’s small, like changing a straight punch to an inverted punch, or big, like changing the entire back half of the technique. This may or may not mean anything. I’m working on my conspiracy board, and I may get back to it in a few belts, assuming that I keep doing this past Black Belt.)