Economy of motion


By Ingmar Johansson 

Kenpo is a system based on many different things. Kenpo is one of the most written about arts in the world. It has concepts, principles, logic, rules of motion, and not to mention an effective and devastating self-defense system if one understands and follows these rules and principles of motion. It is one of the most complex systems that doesn’t only teach how to punch and kick but also to study motion. I believe this is the genius of Ed Parker’s Kenpo self-defense system. This article will analyze some of the things that make “Economy of motion” so important. This theme has been chosen because it is a frequently used term in classes and seminars, and usually not fully understood and given its true value. Therefore I will try to explain certain principles that contribute to economy of motion.
Flow of motion combined with proper body mechanics will maximize your performance to help you become a magician of motion and a student or teacher who understands what one needs to be powerful and effective in ones performance. Only through quality time, meaning time spent analyzing and thinking about your motion as a student of Kenpo one can increase ones understanding of these principles. There are no short cuts. As Mr. Parker said “If you want to be good, Just work out and years later you will be good”, meaning workout smart or as just explained.

The big E

The big E is an expression Mr. Richard “Huk” Planas uses often. It stands for “Effective”. Therefore in Kenpo we really don’t want to take more time then necessary to get the job done, meaning end the fight by delivering a devastating blow.
If he didn’t hit the floor by the second or third move you are probably losing the fight. Reason being the lack of understanding or use of body mechanics and principles of motion.
One of the principles is travel, enough travel to get the job done, this means the distance between point A to point B or the distance a weapon moves to hit or strike a target that will cause enough damage to nullify or cancel any counter move from your opponent. Kenpo practitioners learns early in their training the saying that you are never without a weapon or target keeping in mind the closes weapon to the closest target won’t be effective without proper travel and body mechanics. An example would be if the front hand is to close to your opponent for an effective strike then the rear hand would be the economy motion strike. You have to move from point of origin and have a good understanding of your weapons, the targets and his body reactions from your hits.

Over skill not over kill

A common misunderstanding when other martial artists look at Kenpo is that we hit or strike our opponent too many times. It is termed over kill by them. The purpose of that is to train to become over skilled and not over kill. Therefore we have to understand that prewritten extensions are not important to economy of motion. The extensions are in the system to complete categories of basics and motion in the many ways they are applicable. One should realize that after you hit your opponent ten times and he is still up on his feet and you have to hit him many more times makes the big statement, your Kenpo is not working, again from a lack of proper body mechanics and power principles. According to Mr. Planas, extensions were made for people who do not realize that they are making that same statement themselves.
The best way in my point of view is to work extensions to work your mind and be creative on your own. The major reason for the extensions was basically commercial reasons. If one goes back and fully understands what one has learned in the art one can extend or add moves if needed from things they have done previously in other techniques. This is by using things you already know and have practiced many times and not by having to learn more then necessary, this is more then enough to fill you head. More, definitely, does not mean better. It just means more quantity and probably less quality.

Let’s now talk about a few principles that make your Kenpo more effective and emphasis on “Economy of motion”.


When executing a downward block. One has to realize that you are cocking your hand, going the opposite direction. So to get the travel needed for the block the rule is don’t raise your hand and forearm higher then your solar plexus or opposite elbow for cocking. This should give you enough travel for an effective block. This is related to using the cat principle with your hand and not just your foot. As you should know, the cat done with the front foot is to understand the minimum, not maximum cocking of the foot. This puts the foot in a loaded position with a bent knee for the necessary travel and mechanics to generate an effective kick from this minimum range. A step through in reverse would give the kick maximum range of motion. The point is that we also cat the hand for the same reason.
It is very often you see students lifting their hand all the way to the shoulder which would be the same relationship as the step through in reverse but now it gives the hand more distance to travel. And isn’t necessary with this block.
Another example is Delayed Sword, usually the first beginner technique, after they do the inward block they usually draw or re-cock the hand because they extended the block to far forward for the outward handsword, this is done subconsciously not consciously. This comes from the brain knowing that you do not have enough travel for an effective strike so your brain cocks the hand for you, as we say your brain knows what you need for power, if you don’t. This is where learning economy of motion from the begging comes in. The economy motion rule covers this basic motion that you never just block, you also have to load or cock at the same time. We want to block and strike in two moves, not block, draw, and then strike in three moves.
Another principle used in this technique comes from the front kick which is not only done to cancel the opponents height zone it also gives you more travel in the strike to add effectiveness from marriage of gravity.

Hit and cock principle

This is a principle which most systems use. On a students first lesson he is usually taught how to punch from a horse stance to isolate the hands from the lower body. We have the student start with one hand extended in the punch position and the opposite hand cocked at his side. When he executes the punch with the opposite hand he is taught to re-cock the extended hand. This is what we call the hit and cock principle, when one hand strikes the other has to cock for the next strike as we never cock or check as a separate move. An example would be Darting mace, as the opponent grabs your right arm with two hands you lift your left arm above the opponents arms as you counter grab with your right hand his right wrist. As you step forward into a left neutral bow and drop your left forearm down with your body weight on the opponents arms to cancel his height zone as you pull your right arm back to your right side or cocked position while your left hand continued forward to strike under the opponents chin or jaw utilizing the borrowed force principle and is now in the extended position. This move sets up the hit and cock position. From this point on the moves alternate with the hit and cock principle as one hand hits the other hand cocks with no loss of motion. Here you can see clearly how the hands alternate. Mr. Miyagi in Karate kid 2 says to Daniel-san in the end when he brings out a drum with two small balls as he starts to turn the drum one ball hits the drum and the other cocks and then he says to Daniel-san “This is the secret to my system”.

Never check or cock in a separate move

I learned this principle for the first time by working sticks with Mr. Planas. Checking and cocking is extra moves if you do them separately so the intension is when one hand hits the other should be cocked. An example would be Thundering Hammers. A common mistake after the first strike is to check as a separate move by bringing the right hand up and over the top of the opponent’s right arm. And then strike the opponents left kidney. The check was already in place from the first strike, as the opponent bends over from the strike his arm is hanging in your centerline which from this position is the only strike he is in position for intentionally or unintentionally this strike is covered or checked from your first strike position. When you lose that position by moving to the top of his arm when he is in this position you don’t check but you open your centerline to be hit either way.

Adding extra moves

A scoop kick is a good example where your point of origin is important. As you shuffle in with a hammer fist strike to the groin while in a reverse close kneel with your foot in between his legs. As you cover out it is common to see that students deliver a heel kick up to the opponents groin then replant the foot back down before covering out is also a loss beat. If the kick was done as a scoop kick the scoop would or should be used to carry you out or away from the opponent into your cross over position to set up your cover out.
Another common thing you see in the Five swords technique is the rear cross over position used as a stance, meaning stop or freeze momentarily before delivering the right hand sword to the opponent’s neck. This is the only lost beat in the technique if done in this manner. A faster and smoother way is using the rebound principle for the right punch, as your right hand moves back and up into chop position shift your left foot, meaning as the foot moves the whole body turns into position at the same time, not and then which is what the cross over gives you, and settle into your stance with the strike in one smooth move. Always economize your motion and don’t add moves that do not have any purpose except adding beats or loss time which gives your opponent a chance to move.

Compound Principle

On the other hand adding or inserting does not have to be a bad thing; here I will give you examples of adding having a positive effect as long as it is done with correct timing and mechanics. The principle is called compounding. We say when you do a heel palm, you do a heel palm-claw and when you do a claw it is a heel palm –claw. There are many techniques where we do this, e.g. Hooking wings, Thrusting wedge etc. Another example is the technique Shield and sword in the end you move out into a twist stance and as you unwind the twist you use torque for the right hammer strike to the opponents left kidney and the last part of the rotation is for the roundhouse kick to the right kidney, which is the same compounding motion as done in five swords except horizontal. Observe in the rotation there should be two strikes taking full advantage of the torque principle. Another example would be five swords in the stance change to a forward bow there are two strikes that occur. The right slicing downward diagonal handsword followed by the left heel palm strike which is the main reasons for the stance change which also positions or cocks your right hand for the next strike.

The crane principle

Every time you cross your body you use insert moves when applicable. This is what we call the “The crane principle”. Leaping crane delivers this principle twice. The first time as your right hand cocks to your left you strike his arm as an insert to cause pain and thought cancelation. The second time is just the reverse of the first move. You deliver a back knuckle strike to the opponent’s left kidney as you re-cock your right hand to your right side or chamber position for the horizontal inward elbow strike.

Many threes, a few fours

One of the principles of motion in Kenpo is to do as much as you can at once, as long as nothing causes detraction or takes away effectiveness of the other moves. All though there are a few techniques were we actually do more then three things on the first move. For example, in Leaping crane you leap of to the left into a crane stance as you use your left hand to parry the opponent’s right punch. Your right hand moves to your left to cock it for the outward downward back knuckle strike to the opponents left kidney. As the right hand moves to the left you take advantage of the cocking motion and strike the opponent’s right arm to cause a distraction to his intension. So here is an example of four things happening at once. The leap, the parry, striking the arm and cocking the foot for the next move. Ed Parker use to say “I would hit him with my left foot as well if I didn’t have to stand on it”. Another example would be Gift of destruction were you skip forward with the left foot, pull with the right hand, strike the opponents right elbow with the left hand and knee the opponent in the groin. All of these things should happen on the first beat. This is maximizing your motion.

Other important factors

Proper body mechanics is the most important part to be effective. By synchronizing the upper and the lower body motion, you will increase your power and effectiveness in every move you do or deliver. You will now hit with the whole body. We say in Kenpo, you never hit with a hand, arm, foot or leg, we hit with the whole body, another way to say it, move the body as a unit.
My advice to you is to do your techniques and forms in slow motion or like Tai Chi speed. Doing so you can feel how you generate power by moving correctly in every body mechanic you do. Slowly you then increase the speed and the effectiveness is there. Remember speed is an illusion of proper motion. Timing is the biggest basic of them all; if the timing is not there the effectiveness won’t be there either. The mechanics of the upper and lower body can be exactly right by themselves, but if not timed correctly the effectiveness will be far less then intended.
There are so many factors that are important to insure you victory. Remember the Kenpo motto “speed, power and accuracy” but keep in mind power and accuracy first with enough speed to get the job done.
I hope you have enjoyed the article obviously there are many more things that makes your performance even better study the art intelligently, be critical and ask a lot of questions. I wish you all best in your quest to be your best.

Ingmar Johansson
Assoc. Professor
Parker/Planas Lineage
Kenpo Sweden

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