The KI to Fighting Supremacy Part 1

Inside Kung-Fu


Interview by Michael Janich

June 2005

Pg 34-39, 95

Joseph Simonet has taken 30 years of conceptual study and turned it into one revolutionary martial arts system.

For years, Joseph Simonet has been one of the best-kept secrets in the American martial arts community. An exceptionally talented practitioner and instructor with high-level ranking in numerous Chinese, Indonesian, and Filipino martial arts, he is best known for his ability to cross-reference and synthesize the common elements of individual arts into universal concepts and physical principles that transcend style.


This universal body of knowledge forms the foundation of his revolutionary KI Fighting Concepts curriculum and its wooden dummy-based, state-of-the-art training methodology, the Art and Science of Mook Jong. In this two-part interview, Simonet explains the method behind his uniquely visionary madness.

INSIDE KUNG-FU: When did you begin your training in martial arts?

JOSEPH SIMONET: I started training in 1972 in Japanese karate. At that time, I as already a competitive power lifter and was looking for other ways to challenge myself physically.

IKF: When did you get involved in kenpo?

JS: I switched to kenpo in 1973 and met Al Tracy in 1975. Although I have studied many different arts since then, I am still associated with Al Tracy and Tracy’s kenpo and am probably the highest-ranked practitioner of that system no teaching that art exclusively.

IKF: What ranks do you hold and in what arts?
JS: I am currently an eighth-degree black belt in Tracy’s kenpo; a fourth-degree in doce pares under Christopher Petrilli; a second degree in eskrido under Cacoy Cañete; a second degree in pentjak silat tongkat serak; and a black-sash level in wing chun gung-fu. I also have an instructor’s certification in Yan style taiji.

IKF: What do you mean “black-sash level” in wing chun?

JS: I’ve trained in both classical wing chun and its non-classical variants for over two decades and had the opportunity to study with some of the best wing chun instructors in the country. I learned the classical wooden dummy set from the great Wang Kiu and ultimately mastered all the skills of the system on my own terms.

IKF: But you never received a formal rank?
JS: I trained with people who had their black sash and could do everything that they could—usually better. That taught me that individual accomplishment is always more important than formal rank or certification. If anyone doubts my skills in wing chun, they are welcome to stop by anytime and “stick” with me.

IKF: What was the significance of each of the arts you studied and how did they give you the tools to develop as a martial artist?
JS: I consider kenpo to be the most complete encyclopedia of physical motion in the martial arts. If you want to catalog a movement, you can find it in kenpo. The Filipino arts taught me the importance of flow and the fact that spontaneous application is more important than rote technique. Through wing chun I developed an in-depth understanding of physical structure and the advantages of skeletal alignment over muscular strength. Silat taught me forward enerfy, taking an opponent’s space, and the secrets of body leverage and angles in throwing. And from taijiquan I learned the power of fluidity and relaxed movement.

IKF: Which arts were the most revolutionary to your development as a martial artist?

JS: At the time, every one of them was revolutionary to me, because I immersed myself completely in that art while I was studying it. I wanted to make sure that I understood the totality of the art in its pure form first. Then, I stepped back and looked at the art with a critical eye to draw the best elements and concepts from it.

IKF: Which arts were least beneficial?

JS: I have learned something from every art I’ve studied—even if it was what not to do. Once you discover that, you reverse-engineer your training to focus on the stuff that does work.

IKF: What is KI Fighting Concepts?

JS: The KI in KI Fighting Concepts stands for “karate innovations.” I founded it in 1979 as a hybrid system designed to fill in some of the blanks that I found in kenpo, but it’s grown far beyond that. The way I see it, every martial art presents a specific model. Although every model works fairly well at a basic level, the more I challenged them, the more their limitations became apparent and the models broke down. To fix them, you have to look outside the model and draw from something else.

Over time, what began as a hybrid system of kenpo has become and eclectic blend of pre-eminent martial arts systems, unified at the conceptual level. The development of KI Fighting Concepts has also paralleled my personal development in the arts, filling in the blanks in the totality of my own training, knowledge, understanding, and training methodology.

IKF: So KI Fighting Concepts follows the model of “absorbing what is useful?”

JS: Absorbing what is useful is a nice start, but more important that that is extracting what is essential. A “useful” skill set that doesn’t include the really critical skills that you need to fight well is a guaranteed way of getting your butt kicked. It’s like having a survival kit full of “useful” items that doesn’t include matches or some other way of making a fire. Without that essential element, you die.

IKF: There are a lot of styles and systems out there that claim to have extracted the best of all the arts. How is KI Fighting Concepts different?

JS: Most people who claim to have created eclectic systems have done nothing to integrate their arts at a fundamental level. If you duct tape a wrench and a screwdriver together, you haven’t invented anything. By the same token, duct taping a bunch of tae kwon do techniques onto jiu-jitsu ground skills doesn’t produce an integrated fighting art.

The “concept” in KI Fighting Concepts reflects the fact that it is a synthesis based on total integration of the component parts, not just a buffet line of different martial arts techniques. So many styles are actually defined by the minute difference that set them apart instead of the 99 percent of the content that makes them similar. That’s ridiculous.

By understanding the core concepts and mechanics that are common to all systems, you can achieve total integration at the foundation of the art and flow to any technique you choose. This approach also helps you appreciate various styles for what they contribute to the whole, rather than blowing them off because “their stance are wider than our stances.”

IKF: You’ve got some pretty impressive martial arts credentials, but what qualifies you to create your own martial art?

JS: After 30 years of training, six black belts, and years of seeking the truth from other people, I decided that I was qualified. Who told Yim Wing Chun, Mas Oyama, Morehei Uyeshiba or any other founder of a martial art that they were qualified? Nobody. Because of all the tradition and ritual that surrounds the martial arts we forget that men developed all arts. In most cases, they were developed to overcome the shortcomings of the systems they already had, which were also developed by men. Well, the same thing applies today.

It amazes me that when it comes to every other field of human endeavor—science, medicine, technology, education—we constantly strive for progress. But when it comes to martial arts, most people are convinced that someone else figured it all out and created the ultimate fighting art hundreds of years ago. I don’t think so.

If I have the knowledge, the skills, and the insight to create a superior system, I’m not going to hold back because it’s not traditional. The telegraph was a great invention, but I don’t see anyone trading in his cell phones for one.

IKF: So you no longer see much value in the traditional martial arts?

JS: All living things are evolving, dormant, or dying. When viewed in this way, most traditional arts are at best either dormant or dying. As cultural experience, as a form of fitness, or as an off-the-shelf basic self-defense, they’re fine. But as a state-of-the-art fighting system, no art that values tradition above function is worth betting your life on.

IKF: What about the instructors who claim to have adapted their traditional arts to the needs of modern self-defense?

JS: If they’re still restricted by the limitations of their tradition, they’re going to come up short. Training in traditional martial arts is like restoring an old car. You bust your butt for years to get everything to look exactly like the original. But when you’re done, you’ve still only got a 1973 Pinto. Granted, it’s a beautiful, historically accurate Pinto, but it’s still a Pinto.

IKF: Do you consider yourself in the same league as people like Mas Oyama, Ed Parker or the founders of other well known systems?

JS: That’s not for me to judge, but that’s certainly my goal. They were great men and great martial artists because they started with the martial tradition that they learned and continued to analyze, innovate, and build upon it. That tradition—a legacy of innovation and progress—is what I really value.

If you think about it, the biggest difference between me and the founders of other arts is that I’m still alive. As strange as it may sound, in the traditional arts, being dead is a great qualification. Your followers will spend years interpreting and re-interpreting everything you said or wrote like your grocery list somehow holds the key to martial enlightenment. I’m here to answer questions and provide guidance to my students now. I’m also continuing to grow and learn along with them.

IKF: What has been your most satisfying experience or accomplishment in the martial arts?

JS: Realizing that I was in control of my own destiny and didn’t need validation from anyone else.

IKF: What has been the most frustrating?

JS: Waiting so long to realize it.

(In part two, Simonet explains his fighting philosophy, the role of wooden dummy training in the quest for personal martial excellence, and his plans for the future.)


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