American Kenpo Belt Levels, The Themes

By John Sepulveda

In creating one of the most up to date and structured self-defence systems in the world, Senior Grand Master Ed Parker arranged each belt level to specifically teach an area of the art that was felt to be of the greatest benefit to the student, thus the student is able to spend time developing the area of the art that is applicable to them, this in turn means they do not try to accelerate their learning beyond their point of comprehension for the belt level they are at.  Instead, the student should spend the time at each belt level concentrating on what that level is teaching and try to incorporate that element into their training. 

The art has three main stages of learning, the first is the primitive, the second is mechanical and the third is spontaneous.  By following a specific structure to our study of American Kenpo, we hope to retain the knowledge given to us as quickly as possible, so it is to be of the greatest benefit in the shortest possible time. 

The primitive stage of learning is the early days of training. This level can be dangerous so caution and control is advised when practicing with a partner.  It is a time of learning when the student training lacks perspective, the student at this level should try to develop themselves mentally as well as physically.  They should also try to develop strong basics and perfect their stronger side first.  Once the student feels confident with this first side they may then precede to their weaker side, thus practicing on both sides of the body leads to more ambidextrous qualities.  Movements at this level are executed in a crude manner lacking timing and co-ordination.  The student at this stage is taught how to do each move rather than how each move may be used is a combat situation. It is a time of intangibility and awkwardness.  The student must learn the value of working towards a goal and having the will power and conviction to see these goals to completion.  This stage of training emphasizes the importance of acquiring a proper attitude towards their study of the martial arts and that this is the first step to a better understanding of themselves. 

The mechanical stage is the level of training when the student is more impressed with their own physical prowess than their actual ability to fight.  Their movements are clear and precise but are applied mechanically and without sequential flow, an integral part of reaching the spontaneous stage.  The student is also more equipped to fight verbally than to fight physically.  This stage of training teaches definition.  The student at this stage may have a greater understanding of how each self defence technique works and may have a certain amount of success in applying this knowledge in actual combat; however their physical reaction and application, in some cases, may be spontaneous while on others it may not. 

The spontaneous stage; of all the stages of learning this is the most tangible and rewarding.  Where the ability of your natural weapons act without premeditation and forethought as if they had minds of their own.  Through all the students training the focus will have been to acquire and attain this level.  Once attained it will take continual training just to maintain this level of spontaneity.  This is the stage where the student’s weapons react without restraint, where the moves are executed with fluidity and sequential flow.  It is the student’s ability to flow through all three states of motion - solid, liquid and gaseous

As you start on the path of martial arts, we must remember that each of these stages of learning will at some time overlap and that within each of these stages are plateaus of learning that are also multileveled.  The student may experience the feeling of one or all of these levels at some time during their training. While remembering that the ultimate level that they should strive for is that of spontaneity.  It is important to have a basic understanding of the three stages of learning, otherwise how can the student focus on the training ahead when they have no knowledge of their ultimate goal. 

As Senior Grand Master Ed Parker would remind us, "Like a custom made suit should fit the individual, so should the Kenpo system be tailored to the individual".

In Kenpo,

John Sepulveda.