Escape the Jail Cell of Style

 

I recently posted this “Fighting Form” from our Empower Kickboxing program on Facebook. I designed the forms in the late 1990s to replace the traditional TKD forms I practiced and taught since 1974.

While the video didn’t quite go “viral,” it did stimulate over 100 comments and a number of “debates.”

I loved kata. I won more trophies in kata than fighting. I was the first center judge for the WAKO World Kata Championships in Berlin in 1986-ish. I was the US Open Korean Forms Champion in 1982. Just like my instructor Walt Bone, I was a kata guy.

However, after opening and running my school for a few years, I had a few revelations that I’d like to share with you.

Traditional kata creates confusion and contradiction.

1. It makes zero sense to teach my students to pull their hand to their hip during basics and kata in the first half of the class only to yell at them to put their hands up during mitt work and sparring. 

2. It makes zero sense to make students memorize and perform a clunky series of skills in stances that are way too deep and static only to yell at them to keep their legs under them and move during mitt work and sparring.

3. Each form and skill has an Asian name that students had to remember. For instance, one brown belt form was named Kwan Gae after the 15th Empower of some Korean dynasty. What do I care?

Why was I teaching Korean history in class? If I was going to teach history it would be American history. Remember, we won the war.

I wanted forms that taught the skills of sparring and self-defense.

Today, we can see what really works in self-defense because YouTube has hundreds of thousands of security and iPhone videos of real self-defense. 

Do you know what I’ve never seen in a real self-defense video? I’ve never seen an attacker in a deep stance holding his arm out with his other hand on his hip.

Why on earth would I spend time teaching what is clearly decades old impractical theory? 

Some will argue that the deadly skills of self-defense are hidden in the kata. Maybe they are, but people do not pay tuition to learn tedious forms in the hopes that one day they might figure out how it really works or, even worse, doesn’t work.

Think about it. Of all the skills that can be taught in a martial arts class, why would you pigeon hole yourself into the limiting jail cell of a style? 

How often have you had a prospect contact you can say, “I want to learn traditional kata.” Never.

When I replaced my TKD forms with these fighting forms, the students loved it and retention skyrocketed. I replaced basic TKD blocks and lunge punches with dynamic boxing and martial arts based combinations that they could apply that night in sparring.

The reason that most of us are so emotionally attached to a style is only because that’s what the school nearest taught. If the school taught a different style, you’d be just as attached. 

Attachment to any style is limiting. It’s limiting in what you learn and what you teach. Style attachment is like a brainwashing experiment reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate. 

In my first white belt class, my 14-year old brain was ripe for influence when my instructor Walt Bone said, “We teach Tae Kwon Do. It’s the best style because it emphasizes kicking. Your leg is a much longer and stronger weapon than your arm. An attacker has to get past our kicks and then our punches in order to get to us.”

Three years later, a dad of one of the students didn’t think karate worked so he challenged Mr. Bone. Bone put sparring gear on the guy and bowed him in. After an initial clash, the guy tackled Bone. It was not pretty. 

So much for the power of the style. Walt Bone is facing the camera in the dark grey gi. 

Grab a copy of The Dark Side of the Martial Arts at WaltBone.com


John Graden
John Graden

John Graden is widely credited with leading the martial arts school business into the modern age. He is the founder of the first successful professional association and trade journal. MA Success editor John Corcoran first called him a “visionary” in 1995. Martial Arts World magazine dubbed him, The Teacher of Teachers. Mr. Graden’s leadership was recognized in many mainstream media outlets including a cover story on the Wall Street Journal, documentaries on A&E Network, and as a guest on the Dr. Oz Show and many others.