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The Mysterious Lances of Kenpo
By Pete Kautz 2006

Kenpo is a well-known hard-soft striking-grappling style known worldwide for its fast hands and effective situational self-defense techniques.  Each of the situational techniques has a special code-name.  So, for example, a one-handed lapel grab may be called “Lone Kimono” to help the student remember it is a one handed (Lone) grab to the lapel (Kimono).

In the terminology of Kenpo, when you hear the word “Lance” it refers to a knife.  Thus “Deflecting Lance” is a knife defense that involves deflecting the initial attack.  In the main curriculum of Kenpo, however, there are only a handful of these Lance techniques, and they are all defensive in nature in the sense of being unarmed responses to the slash or thrust of a knife.

There are no “knife fighting techniques” taught in the orthodox curriculum of Kenpo.  The only indication of offensive knife work in the system would be in the mysterious Form 8, a double-knife kata that is not widely known or shown.

However, as a long time practitioner and fan of Kenpo, let me say right here that I believe even as a yellow belt you are learning the Kenpo knife whether you know it or not!

So, why do the majority of people (some Kenpo Black Belts I’ve met included) think that Kenpo is NOT a knife fighting art?

Simply put, I feel it is because they look for the obvious and do not have the “mind of the knifeman” to see such things.  The Kenpo knife art is there, but hidden in plain sight.  When you see the motion of Kenpo through the filter of the blade, you become aware of the similarities of motion and targeting that are not always as apparent to the unarmed fighting specialist.

Want to try a simple test?

OK, just get a pair of training knives and run through some of the most fundamental basics of Kenpo like Blocking 1, Striking 1, Coordination 1, Short 1, Long 1, Short 2 and so on.  Start out in double forward grip to keep it simple, later double reverse grip, then one forward and one reverse on each side (4 total variations).

Then, get a friend and try out such Yellow / Orange Belt basics as Delaying the Sword, Sword of Destruction, Mace of Aggression, Sword & Hammer, Captured Twigs, Grasp of Death, Lone & Twin Kimono, Repeating Mace, Five Swords, and so on.  Again try the various grip combinations with both the single and double knife.  You will find that even some techniques that seem “odd” like Gift of Destruction make much more sense when viewed as a counter to having your knife wrist grabbed.  These already effective techniques are made all that much more deadly when the knife is added.

From here, try some of the advanced workhorse sets.  Blocking 2 is and excellent set for double knife as it teaches to weave the blades around the arms as you do all the double actions.  Coordination 2 also teaches this weaving action and safe routes of blade travel as well as the Universal Block action with the knives common to nearly all Chinese double short weapon sets.  Striking 2 is full of advanced double reverse grip knife techniques.  The techniques of Finger Sets 1-2 equate to point work in the forward grip and are highlighted with such attacks as thrusts over the shoulder and thrusts that are twisted repeatedly before retraction.

One book I would recommend to anyone interested in the Kenpo knife is Dr. John LaTourrette’s “Warrior’s Guide to Knife Fighting”.  Originally published in the mid 80’s, this still is a little gem that every knife and Kenpo aficionado should own.  Looking through it you will see that many of the techniques have unarmed equivalents that will be instantly familiar.  Interestingly, he never mentions this connection directly in the text, but it is very evident if you know the root techniques and ultimately very insightful for one’s own progression.

I would also recommend giving a visit to Kenpo Net and checking out “The Flame”, their online journal.  Contained here are several complete written curriculums for Kenpo from Yellow to Black Belt, including very clearly written descriptions of all the situational self defense techniques and all the forms mentioned in this article.  This is a great resource if you like Kenpo like I like Kenpo!

For more Kenpo fun, why not also check out this earlier Kenpo article and link page I did several years back (some links may be dead by now, I have not checked)

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