16
Jan
09

Inside Kung-Fu July 2001

ikf-july-20013Inside Kung-Fu

“Building a Martial Arts Bridge”

By Michael Janich

July 2001

Pg. 91-94, 96, 101

Cross-training in different arts can be an excellent way of broadening your knowledge and rounding your skills.

People study and practice the martial arts for many reasons. Some do it for fitness, others do it for sport, and still others do it to learn to defend themselves. To satisfy these basic needs, just about any singular martial art will do. But among martial artists interested in developing their fighting skills to the highest possible level, it is rare to see someone who trains in a single art.

Cross-training in different arts can be an excellent way of broadening your knowledge and rounding out your skills. However, too many martial artists approach it from the perspective of amassing technique rather than increasing their understanding. If a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, a lot of knowledge, without proper understanding of that knowledge, can be extremely dangerous.

A Different Approach

One martial artist who has taken a distinctly different approach to cross-training is Joseph Simonet, founder of KI Fighting Concepts in Wenatchee, Wash. Rather than accumulating techniques from different styles or attempting to blend arts artificially, he has focused on distilling and extracting the key concepts of the arts. By integrating the arts at the conceptual level, the result is a powerful synthesis of technique that truly transcends the limits of the parent arts.

According to Simonet, “The various martial arts of world are kind of like islands – each reaching above the water and striving for its own identity. Most people who train in different arts and try to combine them into a single expression take the approach of building bridges between the islands. They link the arts artificially.

“For example, you might have someone who practices kenpo and jiu-jitsu to get a well-rounded education in the striking and grappling arts,” he notes. “However, when he fights, he kicks and strikes until he closes the distance so he can grapple. He’s doing kenpo then jiu-jitsu, but he’s not integrating the arts.”

“The key to learning,” Simonet continues, “is diligent study. The key to understanding is relating to different bodies of knowledge and recognizing the similarities that link them naturally. Rather than building bridges between the islands, I take the opposite approach – I drain the ocean of misunderstanding to reveal common ground. Now instead of islands, I have a mountain range.”

Simonet’s approach to the arts is more than just a clever metaphor. He is a 7th-degree black belt in Tracy’s kenpo karate, a 2nd-degree in the tongkat serak style of Indonesian pentjak silat, a 2nd-degree in doce pares eskrima and eskrido, a certified instructor of Yang style taijiquan, and a black sash-level practitioner of wing chun gung-fu. When asked about any one of these individual arts, Simonet can demonstrate and teach it perfectly in its pure form. But when he fights, he instantly and effortlessly flows from one art to the other, often integrating the principles of different arts into a single dynamic expression. In other words, when Simonet fights, his feet are firmly on common ground.

The Key To Mastery

Watching Simonet’s beginning students work through portions of the KI Fighting Concepts curriculum, it was easy to pick out specific elements of Simonet’s parent arts. As one group practices chi sao from wing chun and hubud drills from the Filipino arts, another group is working on traditional silat footwork patterns. However, when his advanced students took the floor, the similarities seemed to dissolve, revealing a unique and tremendously effective hybrid – a result of integrating concept instead of technique.

As Simonet explains, “Each of the traditional arts has one or more unique elements that are the key to its function. By learning an art in its original form, you can discover these elements and develop a thorough understanding of them. Once you’ve done this, you are free to extract those elements and integrate them with the functional aspects of another style or system. This is the approach that I’ve taken in my study and my teaching of the arts. In other words, I’ve paid my dues in the traditional arts so my students don’t have to.”

It may seem that such a conceptual approach to the fighting arts would sacrifice form and structure; however, this is not the case. In Simonet’s words, “Form determines function. They are synonymous. Once you know why something from a traditional art works by learning and understanding its form, you can blend the concept behind that form into your overall expression of the arts. This conceptual integration, combined with an understanding of the importance of physical attributes, can ultimately yield a form that is structurally superior to that of other arts. And that is the goal of KI Fighting Concepts.”

The heart of Simonet’s “conceptual blending” of the arts is his integration of wing chun gung-fu and pentjak silat serak. Wing chun is known for its watertight close-range defenses and structure of simultaneous attack and defense. Serak is renowned for its explosive forward energy and simultaneous upper and lower body attacks. Through his mastery of both arts, Simonet discovered the common ground between their two structures.

For example, the hand position of the supported punch of serak is similar to the wing chun bong sao (wing block) /wu hand (warding or guarding hand) position. Against a straight-line punch, a wing chun practitioner might move off centerline, deflect with the bong sao and then simultaneously grab with the wu hand while countering with a backfist. Against the same attack, a serak stylists might duck low, explode forward while pinning the attacker’s foot with his lead foot, and strike at an upward angle with the supported punch.

Simonet’s version of these techniques integrates the forward energy and supported hand position of serak, the structural strength of wing chun’s bong sao, and the idea that hitting is always better than blocking.

Wing Chun vs. Serak

As the attacker punches, Simonet explodes forward, trapping with his lead foot as his supported bong sao simultaneously deflects the incoming punch and strikes full force into his opponent’s face. The structure of the supported bong sao protects the head extremely well (much like a “frame” in Russian sambo) and, when combined with full-body commitment (and the fact that the opponent is anchored in place by the foot trap), ensures the maximum transfer of force into the striking target. The timing of this technique is also geared toward intercepting – the ultimate goal and highest level of technique in jeet kune do.

This technique also provides an effective defense against trapping techniques such as the pak sau/punch. For example, against a straight punch a wing chun or jeet kune do practitioner might deflect the punch with an inward slap block (pak sau) and counter with a punch of his own. One KI Fighting Concepts counter to this popular defense would be to use the impact of the pak sau to rotate the punching arm into a bong sau position and immediately support it with the guarding hand. This two-handed structure, which is also reminiscent of the roll back and press in taiji, will easily defeat even the strongest counterpunch and pave the way for a variety of immediate counters.

This technique is only one example of Simonet’s ability to integrate various fighting styles into hybrid expressions that are actually structurally superior to the parent arts. In Simonet’s words, “The ‘KI’ in KI Fighting Concepts stands for ‘Karate Innovations.’ It’s all about elevating the level of our art through constant analysis and evolution. Our school motto probably says it best: ‘KI Fighting Concepts – Where innovation transcends tradition.’”

What the Critics Say

Simonet’s indomitable spirit of innovation has earned him a dedicated following among reality-based martial artists. However, it has also prompted some serious criticism from traditionalists, including some of his former instructors. Like his expression of the arts, Simonet’s response to this criticism is well-reasoned and thoroughly researched.

“Some people consider my methods a form of betrayal,” he explains, “However, this type of innovations actually perfectly in line with the strongest traditions of the fighting arts. Every one of the arts we enjoy today started with the thoughts and analysis of a human mind. For example, kyokushinkai karate is an expression of the brilliant thoughts and research of Mas Oyama. If you want to preserve that tradition, fine. Learn to fight like he did. If you want to learn to fight better, learn to think like he did.”

Simonet operates his well-equipped KI Fighting Concepts school with the help of his assistant and protégé Addy Hernandez. Hernandez is a holder of multiple black belts and to date is the only person to earn a black-belt ranking in the demanding KI Fighting Concepts curriculum. She is also a strong believer in putting theory into practice and has applied her skills very successfully as a full-contact kickboxing competitor.

Simonet and Hernandez have a dedicated following of more than 150 students. They also travel frequently and maintain an active seminar schedule at locations nationwide. However, to make their unique expression of the fighting arts available to more martial artists, they have organized the “Wind and Rock” training camp at picturesque Lake Chelan in Washington state.

Based on the tremendous success of the first camp held in July 2000, it will become an annual even that will set the standard for all other seminar camps. In addition to Simonet and Hernandez, Wind and Rock 2001 will feature noted jeet kune do instructor Burton Richardson and doce pares eskrima master Chris Petrilli.

No matter how you look at it, all martial arts traditions began with innovation – the commitment of one person to do things differently to achieve a higher goal. If that spirit of innovation is the height of martial tradition, that tradition is alive and well in Joseph Simonet and KI Fighting Concepts.

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