Kenpo Counterpoint
By Professor of the Arts, Mr. Zach Whitson

Coun-ter-point n., Mus. The combining of melodies into a harmonic relationship while retaining the linear character. The term counterpoint is a term used in music to describe the way one melody lays over another in order to develop a more sophisticated harmony. The element of counterpoint in music is both natural and necessary in composing a sophisticated sound. While listening to my favorite Eric Clapton cd I will hear counterpoint in action. With a drum and percussionist keeping time a bass guitar is heard then a rhythm guitar, lead guitar, keyboard also a harmonica and perhaps a saxophone. The melody played by the bass guitar is very different from the saxophone and the lead guitar is a bit different from the harmonica however with counterpoint they all exist harmoniously.

Essentially Kenpo Counterpoint was designed using the self-defense techniques of Ed Parkers American Kenpo with the strategic counter and re-counter drill concept of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali. The musical term “Counterpoint” has been applied to this training method for several reasons. One is because the training is comprised of two very different martial disciplines that exist in harmony. Second is the concept that every technique has a counter and re-counter based on timing and position.

The Counterpoint training method develops the student’s ability to recognize position and develop timing in order to change and flow spontaneously in order to achieve the objective. Based on timing and position every technique has counters and re-counters. As the human body moves through the motions and positions of combat the opportunities for countering continuously change and evolve.

A relevant counter in one position may not be practical or possible in a slightly different position. The point or place where a particular counter occurs is called the “Counterpoint”. With missed opportunities there does come a point in time and position where the chance of countering is no longer available, this is called the ‘point of no return”. For example the point of no return can be demonstrated in lock flow. At the beginning stages of any given lock are certain opportunities for counters. As motion continues and positions change slightly some options are lost while other new ones present themselves. As the joint manipulation moves to its final stages the joint reaches that position where pain is overwhelming and providing that all other counters are checked there is no escape.

Kenpo techniques teach the principles, concepts and “rules of motion” that make Kenpo a functional self-defense system. Among other attributes Kenpo technique explores the science of how the human body moves defensively to generate speed, power and accuracy while considering the opponents reaction to injuries sustained. A technique is comprised of three basic elements. First is the base move which is generally an evasive foot maneuver combined with a defensive move such as a block or parry with the addition of a punch, kick or strike of some type. Second is the body of the technique that further completes the job with more strikes intended to capitalize on other open and available targets. Finally there is the extension technique that adds several more strikes done in combination and as necessary if the guy is still standing. So with the base move, the body of the technique and the extension a complete technique may have multiple strikes numbering well over ten or more.

The base move is always the most important element while the extension is the least important. A weak base move versus a good strong punch aimed and landing right between your eyes will probably leave you unconscious and on the ground. Techniques were given extension motion for several reasons with some of the more important reasons being: position recognition, development of what if scenarios and categorical completion.

The extension or “over kill” concept only happens if the base move was effective and allowed for opportunities to finish the technique. So, if the initial defensive move and counter attack were weak or infective than a multiple strike follow up becomes increasingly unlikely. A skilled fighter capable of giving you problems in completing your base move and capable of countering and connecting with his own attack could limit your “over kill” or extension motion.

Some people feel that the extension is no more than a fantasy and I must agree with this line of thought. Think about it this way, the extension only works if the base move was effective but if the base worked then your opponent will not be on his feet for you to complete your extension. So if the base works the extension won’t happen and if you must use the extension than the base was ineffective and the ineffective base in all probability will not leave you in a position to complete the extension. In other words, the extension relies on the base but a strong base cancels the necessity of an extension.

Kenpo Counterpoint concentrates on the base move (initial maneuver, block and strike) to explore the opportunities for countering. Being able to effectively complete the base move and spontaneously change as opportunities ebb and flow are essential to effective finishing or completion of follow up techniques.

American Kenpo techniques are further categorized into three phases which are comprised of the ideal, what if and formulation phases. The “ideal” phase teaches how a technique should work if all goes as planned. The “what if” considers other possible actions and reactions that may change the technique as planned and the “formulation phase” explores re-counter opportunities as they materialize. American Kenpo uses the “three phase” concept to explore the basic idea, consider the consequences and compose effective answers to the situation. From this continual process one begins to discover all the possibilities that are hidden in a technique. Kenpo Counterpoint keeps the three phase concept at the core of the training and further develops this concept by exploring the various contingencies in flow to develop spontaneity.

Counterpoint removes the tendency to analyze and think so the process is more dependent on feel and automatic reaction to the counters that are offered. As the skill level increases, the student is prepared to lead his opponent into a chosen pathway. For example, each move in a technique has at least three counters and each counter holds at least three re-counters and from that point you have at least three counters to the re-counters. With the ability to automatically respond this way you can actually begin to act three steps ahead of your opponent.

The term “Reaction Pathway” refers to those automatic responses to action that open the way for countering. Having extensively explored the possibilities you can actually use your action to lead your opponent in the direction that you want him to take. In leading your opponent in a given direction he may find and take another path but your familiarity with the new direction allows you to take a short cut and again step ahead and lead. This concept requires a “give and take” attitude, the effective use of timing and a willingness to yield. Instead of opposing force you allow your opponent to take his chosen path. For example, you deflect an oncoming punch and respond with a straight-arm bar, he gives resistance and you counter with a figure four-arm lock. He again resists your lock but without becoming caught in a power struggle you stay relaxed go with his motion and re-counter with a bent arm bar.

The idea of a “reaction pathway” can also be applied to the concept of fakes, baits and deception. This is used tactically to set up or arrange a reaction. Transcending the self- defense concept of block and counter the reaction pathway employs the concept of strategic counter-offense. Strategic counter-offense allows you to engage targets and while your opponent presents automatic defensive reaction his efforts are manipulated strategically to leave you with superior position and target options.

Largely, the counterpoint method is a study of timing. Based on timing each move or position of a technique has several possibilities for a counter. If you are consistently missing an opportunity to counter, one of the first things to analyze is your timing, as a large percentage of botched counters are due to timing issues. Using the counterpoint method you must play timing in order to effectively counter your opponent’s intentions. You can be early with your timing giving your opponent an advantage or you can be late leaving an opening or totally missing a workable counter. In the more advanced stages of Kenpo Counterpoint, counters are based on full, half, third and quarter beat motion. As motion is sliced into smaller pieces of time the countering becomes increasingly sophisticated.

It must be understood that speed and timing are two very different elements; you can be very fast but have bad timing. Also, as we age our ability to generate speed diminishes, however our ability to develop timing is possible much later in life. A case in point, Grand Master Cacoy Canete, of the Doce Pares Eskrima System, at eighty-five years old does not appear to be blazingly fast, however his ability to time counters and re-counters is phenomenal. His development of timing and knowledge of countering allows him to control much younger, stronger and faster opponents.

In the beginning stages, Kenpo Counterpoint is to be practiced with an emphasis on learning the counters by recognizing margin for error positions and reading motion. To achieve this, the drill must be done at a slow, relaxed pace avoiding competition until both partners are able to act and react to the variables given. If one partner is missing counters and hesitating with a response then the drill must be slowed until the motion is read and understood allowing for a viable counter. As both partners understand the tactics that set up reaction and after the many pathways are experienced, the drill speed and intensity can be increased.

Within Kenpo there exists a set of rules that if followed allow for optimum use of each move. Besides developing spontaneity the Counterpoint training method forces the practitioner to use the rules of motion that are inherent in the proper execution of Kenpo technique. When the rules of motion are ignored or overlooked you will find it difficult to counter the guy who can apply the rules of motion at speed without losing his power, accuracy or timing. By applying the rules you achieve your goals with less effort while increasing your effectiveness. By ignoring the rules you leave yourself open to counters and lose the opportunities to fully exploit your opportunities.

Counterpoint is a proving ground for the “rules of motion”. All the rules can be tested and/or discovered here. In practicing Counterpoint you will soon come to realize that the rules are there for a reason and if applied correctly work well. You can understand the rule, explain the rule, teach the rule and expound on the rule until you are blue in the face, but if you haven’t internalized the rule into flow then the benefit of the rule is lost. This is another good reason to do the drill at a relaxed, slow pace at first, if you go too fast in the learning stage you will start to lose the rules that make your counters effective.

A valuable saying in Pekiti-Tirsia goes like this, “learn the drill, drill the drill and then forget the drill”. Grand Tuhon Gaje also says that “we learn to forget”. This is a very important point in the flow drill concept. Because of extensive practice and drilling you execute your counters and re-counters without thought or hesitation. With a drill that incorporates countless counters and re-counters you cannot become locked into one response. You must be very flexible in your ability to counter until you have found the intended targets.

With a very large drill that includes an endless supply of technique the training has a feel and look that has a life of its own. It is a method to develop your technique so that it is functional at speed and is spontaneous. In advanced terms the drill resembles sparring and the conditioning allows you to execute techniques based on feel and timing not memory. At this stage the drill is completely free form and anything can happen. If you have a method to develop your technique for sparring then you are more likely to have the skill to pull off a complex technique while sparing.

Everyone, at one time, thought that Mike Tyson couldn’t be beaten. Buster Douglas comes along unwilling to play Tyson’s game and not realizing that he was supposed to lose. Well trained and unafraid, Buster Douglas walks into the ring and proceeds to knock Tyson into next week. Within the conceptual aspects of Kenpo there exists the idea that Kenpo techniques cannot be countered. The thought is that if done properly, Kenpo leaves no openings or possibilities for a counter and this line of thought is very much true if you only engage untrained fighters. If a system is only taught with the idea that it will always work and cannot be countered problems could develop while facing someone that doesn’t go along with the program.

I use the term “counter-ability” meaning a techniques inherent counters or possibilities for counters. Some techniques by design are harder to counter than others based on the level of counter-ability but, all things in nature have an opposite and reverse. That is why the concept of yin and yang has been around for about four thousand years. This was also discovered over four hundred years ago by Sir Isaac Newton with the third law of motion that states “for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction”.

Traditionally Kenpo techniques are practiced in the technique line with one guy attacking the other defending. The defender executes the technique while the guy that initially attacked becomes no more than a punch dummy for the defender. This is productive to a point but if you always train to be a dummy you may turn into a dummy on the street. You have the option to learn how to counter your opponent or you can train to just stand there as a good dummy should and go with the program. I think that it may be counterproductive at the higher levels of training to condition your self to get hit without countering.

Some Kenpoist with a limited understanding and exposure claim that the flow drill concept is flawed. One argument is that an opening must be presented for your training partner to enter and that leaving this opening is a bad habit. Remember, this mind set says that Kenpo leaves no openings or possibility for a counter. However, these same guys stand there totally open, as the uke (receiver) or “dummy” and allow their training partner to hit them 15 times, throw them on the floor and proceed to stomp on them. I see this as a huge contradiction in terms. Training yourself to be a “dummy” or to get hit is a bad habit while training to avoid being hit and counter attacking is a good habit. Counterpoint develops the entries and counters not from being open but from the margin for error position where each partner has multiple options for countering. The only openings are the ones used to bait or draw an attack.

In the beginning the base of Kenpo Counterpoint is comprised of sixteen American Kenpo techniques. From this basic drill Counterpoint progresses with advanced concepts, techniques and tactics pertaining to empty hand, stick and knife. The idea is to learn the concept and training method only to explore the reaction pathways and develop your own strategies and tactics. This is the key to truly developing the attribute of spontaneity. Having many transitions or pathways to bridge or graft techniques prevents you from becoming locked to a particular action or response. If you become too rigid in your ideal response you lose the flexibility to flow with the changes and you will always be one step behind.

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