Escape the Jail Cell of Style

Escape the Jail Cell of Style

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

Drill-Intimidation Match

Have the students’ pair up with a partner. Have one side wearing boxing gloves and the other side wearing focus mitts.

Instruct the students to circle each other with their hands down as if they were taunting each other in front of each other. Make sure both sides have the intense attitude of confidence, imagine two boxers before a fight.

When the students bring their hands up show the focus mitts, the other side is to throw any punching combination that you instruct them to. Then the students are to continue circling each other with attitude. Mix up the boxing combos through out the week to keep the drill fun and exciting.

Drill-Kicking Intensity

Have the students form two lines down the class room floor facing each other. Both sides of the students are to hold a sheet of striking film (x-ray sheet). Have the first side of the students perform any kick or kicking combo to the striking film that they wish.

Then the other side repeats the same. The students are to switch back and forth doing a different kick or combo each time. Encourage the kick side to show intensity in their movements, actions, and verbally with their kiaps.

Encourage the holding side to show intensity in the coaching, cheering, and actions to support their teammate. Emphasize that intensity is a learned quality and needs to be practiced and this is their opportunity to practice to the level ten.


In martial arts, a lot of the training we go though is to help us better defend ourselves. But martial arts is also an art. Performance aspects of martial arts like tournaments where participants compete in competition forms and fighting are specifically for the sport and art of martial arts.

Intensity is important in any art form where the participants perform for others. Intensity is an expression of passion for what one does. If someone is serious or passionate about something then they are intense when they do it!

By being a good team mate you should also show intensity and cheer the other team members as they perform. This motivates the other team members and shows your support for their performances.

Remember, being intense does not always come naturally. You need to practice your intensity to insure that you give your best.

(Have the students’ line up in lines facing each other down the floor of your classroom. Explain to the students that this drill is to help enhance their intensity level and also to help them better support their team mates when others are performing.

Have one side on the line perform any form combination of their choice, maybe 5 to 7 moves long. As they perform, the other sides of students are to loudly and excitingly coach and cheer the other members as they perform. Then the other side has their turn.

Repeat this back and forth several times. You, the instructor should also be coaching both sides to give their best.

Drill-Toss and Punch

The following drill is a great drill to develop the type of speed called reaction time. Reaction time is how fast you decide that you need to act and how accurate you were.

Begin this drill by having the students form two lines down the center of the floor facing a partner. Have one side toss a square punch target at the other students. The other side is to react to the pads being tossed by punching the pad back to other students.

Have the students toss the pad side ways so to decrease the surface area of the pad so the students have to react more accurately.