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Friday, November 16, 2012

Orange Belt Training Guide

Orange Belt: Roku-kyu

Stances: halfmoon
Blocks: palm blocks; 8-point palm (see blocking systems)
Strikes: inside elbow, inside hammerfist, outside hammerfist, double knifehand
Kicks: front instep, axe
Techniques: coordination, cup & saucer chamber, halfmoon steps

Defense Training: Tiger #2, 1 rear double wrist grab; Kempo combination #3 (see combinations section)

Sparring: 3-step set A
  • Punch/ outside block, punch, punch
  • Punch/ inside block, thrust punch face, thrust punch ribs
  • Punch/ upper block, back punch chin, back punch solar
  • Low punch/ lower block, uppercut chin, thrust punch ribs
Form: Kata Go-kyu, segment 1 (see forms section)

1st Degree
Stances: kneeling
Blocks: outward crane, x-block
Strikes: downward hammerfist, outside hammerfist, grabs/holds
Kicks: drop kick

Defense Training: 1 lapel grab, 1 front choke

Sparring: 3-step set B
  • Front kick/ lower block, lunge punch, punch
  • Side kick/ lower block, lunge palm, palm
  • Back kick/ lower block, lunge inside knife, outside knife
Form: Kata Go-kyu, segment 2 (see forms section)

2nd Degree
Blocks: low parry
Strikes: tiger claw, tiger rake, outward crane
Kicks: shuffle side
Techniques: footwork/ maneuvers

Defense Training: 1 double wrist grab, Kempo combination #18 (see combinations section)

Sparring: 3-step set C
  • Punch, punch/ outside block, outside block, front kick
  • Punch, punch/ inside block, inside block, side kick
  • Punch, punch/ upper block, upper block, front kick
  • Low punch, low punch/ lower block, lower block, side kick
Form: Kata Go-kyu, segment 3 (see forms section)

3rd Degree
Strikes: high side elbow, high back elbow
  • Intermediate- The step after "novice" or beginner, student is beginning to grasp basic techniques and concepts; green, blue, and purple belt.
Defense Training: 1 rear bear hug

Form: Kata Go-kyu, segment 4 (see forms section)

What's on the test (cumulative):
  • ALL previous material from white & yellow belt
  • Basics- palm blocks (high, middle, low, upward, downward), x-block, low parry, elbow strikes (inside, high side, high back), hammerfists (inside, outside, downward, side, lower side), double knifehand strike, tiger claw & rake, outward crane strike, grabs & holds, instep kick, drop kick, shuffle side kick, axe kick
  • Techniques- coordination, footwork & maneuvers, cup&saucer chamber, halfmoon steps
  • Blocking systems- 8-point, 8-point knifehand, 8-point palm
  • Terms- intermediate
  • Defense- 1 hand strike & 1 block for each animal, 1 tiger technique; 5 wrist grabs, 3 chokes, 1 bear hug, 3 lapel grabs; combinations 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 18
  • Sparring- 3-step set A, B, C
  • Forms- Kata Shichi-kyu, Kata Roku-kyu, Kata Go-kyu

Minimum time in rank: 4 months

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What is a Black Belt?


There's so many misconceptions about what it means to be a black belt. Some common ones include:

  • They are master warriors capable of extraordinary feats. 
  • They are all-knowing. 
  • They are deserving of admiration and worship. 
  • They are spiritual and philosophical geniuses.
The truth is, none of these are true. The most basic definition is this:
A black belt is a person who has mastered the basic techniques and concepts of their respective martial arts discipline.
Is that all there is to it? No, of course not. It is reasonable to assume that a person who has achieved a black belt will also be a confident person who has learned the meaning of respect, perseverance and self-discipline. However, that's not always the case. It really depends on the school/instructor. The unfortunate truth is, there are many schools out there who don't teach these values, and their curriculum is a sham. Many award black belts to young students after only a short time in training, giving a false sense of security and often results in an inflated ego. Those that run such schools are only interested in the business aspect, and making a profit (they are known as McDojo's). This is why people need to research before choosing a martial arts school/program, to be sure they are truly getting the benefits they are paying for. Generally, if a curriculum takes any less than 3 years to achieve a black belt, it's safe to assume that it is a "McDojo". A good program should take 4-6 years, maybe 3 at the very least. It is not the black belt itself that a student should be proud of, it is the journey toward getting it that is the real achievement.


Yes, black belts have ranks, from Junior black belt or "Observation" to 10th Degree. It's different from the color belt ranks, both in terms of meaning and how the ranks are achieved. The Japanese term for a black belt rank is "Dan" (1st Dan, 2nd Dan, etc.). In some systems, a black belt cannot be achieved until the student is at least 16 years of age, until which time a "Junior Black Belt" will be awarded (sometimes designated by a black belt with a white stripe down the center). Some curriculums (like mine) awards an "Observation Black Belt" before 1st Dan, indicated by just a plain black belt with no rank stripes (or sometimes a two toned belt of red & black, called a Poom belt). The general guideline for most systems go as follows:
  • Expert: Observation (or 1st Dan if not applicable) to 3rd Dan 
  • Master: 4th Dan to 6th Dan 
  • Grand-Master: 7th Dan to 10th Dan 

So how are these ranks achieved? It varies by system, even by school. But I'll explain how my system works. Usually black belt testing is done in front of a panel of instructors (it can range from 2 to 10). The instructor awarding the rank has to be at least 2 Dan ranks above the rank being awarded (with the exception of Grand-master ranks). Black belt ranks are not only based on skill, but also on merit... the higher the rank, the more heavily it relies on merit. It's not unusual for a candidate to spend several months preparing for rank advancement. Here are general requirements for my system:
  • Observation: Must demonstrate proficiency in all learned material (white through red belt), must have fulfilled Sempai hours, and must possess leadership qualities. 
  • 1st - 3rd Dan: In addition to required material, must show high level of respect, humility and strength of character. 
  • 4th - 6th Dan: In addition to required material, must show exemplary leadership qualities and deep level of understanding of martial arts concepts/ techniques. 
  • 7th - 8th Dan: These ranks require a panel of high-ranking instructors and decision must be unanimous. In addition to required material, must have shown great strides in understanding martial arts concepts, technique and philosophy, personal development of character and potential to impact the lives of others. 
  • 9th - 10th Dan: These ranks have no skill-based components and cannot be tested for. They are solely based on merit and requires nomination by at least 2 high ranking officials. The nomination is brought before a panel where credentials are reviewed and deliberated. Usually these ranks are awarded to the heads of schools or organizations, who have made a significant impact on the martial arts and in the lives of others. 

Sometimes, different ranks of black belt are indicated by rank stripes or special belts. Some examples include a Renshi belt, which is two-toned (red and white) on one side and black on the other (usually indicating 5th or 6th Dan). Some master belts (4th Dan and above) are white, black or red with a contrasting color trim around the edge. Some systems don't have a red belt in the colored ranks, instead a red belt indicates a very high ranking individual (9th or 10th Dan). Other master or grand-master belts have panels of red and white or black and white, or are black with a colored stripe down the center (usually red). Many of these belts include custom embroidery with their name in English, and/or characters from their style's country of origin (Japanese or Korean), indicating their style and/or school. Others just wear a plain black belt with no markings whatsoever.

It's important to keep in mind that a belt is just a belt, a piece of cloth. A person's rank is only significant within their own style or school. Different styles have different ranks, different requirements and different standards. It is the person behind the belt that really indicates if they are truly worthy of the rank they wear. You be the judge.

-Sensei Kristalyn

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Flexibility Guide

Let's face it, strength and flexibility are important aspects of the martial arts. They go hand-in-hand. Knowing how to develop it is just as important. I myself am working on getting my flexibility back to where it was at the peak of my training. I'll tell you what I know through years of experience and research, then I'll give you a few pointers so you can do some workouts and stretching exercises on your own.

Types of flexibility:

  • Dynamic- using momentum to bring your limbs through their full range of motion (such as leg lifts).
  • Static Passive- holding a relaxed stretch using some sort of surface resistance (like front and side splits on the floor).
  • Static Active- holding a stretch using only the strength of the antagonist muscles (holding a kick high in the air with no outside resistance).
So what type of flexibility should you develop for the martial arts? All of them! However, I don't ask my students to be able to do full splits or hold a kick for long periods of time (unless they are interested in getting into XMA training). In fact I don't even begin flexibility development training right away because it's important to build up leg strength before getting into flexibility (this strength begins to develop after several months of martial arts training). Once a student is ready to begin working on flexibility, how should they start?

A typical workout should go as follows:
  • Warm-up- joint rotations, dynamic flexibility exercises like leg lifts to the front, side and rear. Also include some light cardio to get the blood flowing.
  • Main workout- practice techniques, drills, kata. If you're looking to develop your strength further, include those exercises here (squats are great, and trunk lifts against a wall).
  • Cool down- isometric stretches*, followed by passive stretching.
*Isometric stretching is holding a stretched position while simultaneously tensing the stretched muscle for 10 to 20 seconds, then increasing the stretch and repeat the process until max stretch is reached. This should not be attempted until some strength and flexibility has been achieved, and no more than 4 times per week. Leave at least 24 hours between applications.

When you do your static passive stretching, be sure to target all your leg muscles as well as your back and abs. Start with quads and calves, stretch your back and ab muscles, then sit on the floor and do a pike to target the hamstrings. Next extend one leg out and stretch toward your foot and switch, and lastly try the side split position. Hold each for 1 minute, then go back and do all leg stretches again for 2 minutes each. Don't hold the stretches longer than 3 minutes, as that can lead to small muscle fiber tears and slow your progress.

For static active stretching, what I like to do is, start off with s-l-o-w leg lifts to your max height to the front, side and back (just 5 reps each leg). Then rest for a minute, and do a kick and hold it there for 10 seconds (front, side and back kick). Do 3 reps each leg, then go back and do 2 reps each leg. Yes, this is hard and tiring, but it's supposed to be. That's how you make progress, so try to suck it up. :)

If you ever feel pain during a stretch, STOP and slowly get out of the stretch. Do not try to force a stretch past your max tolerance, that can lead to injury and hinder your progress. You're not doing yourself any favors by over-doing it. I also suggest varying your routine to avoid getting bored... boredom can easily lead to that "I don't wanna" attitude and you may end up giving up before you reach your goals.

Please don't hesitate to ask if you need some workout guidance or more strength training exercises to get you started. Happy stretching, and train safe!

-Sensei Kristalyn

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Yellow Belt Training Guide

Yellow Belt: Shichi-kyu

Stances: cat
Blocks: inside knifehand, outside knifehand, high (upper) knifehand, low knifehand; 8-point knifehand (see blocking systems)
Strikes: backfist/backhand, low palm strike, downward knifehand, back punch
Kicks: lead leg front kick
Techniques: weight distribution, balance & center of gravity, counter attack

Defense Training: Technique #1 for each animal; 1 single wrist grab

Sparring: 2-step set A

  • Punch/ outside block, punch 
  • Punch/ inside block, punch 
  • Punch/ upper block, punch 
  • Punch/ lower block, punch

1st Degree
Blocks: side knifehand, low side knifehand, upward crane
Strikes: side elbow strike, side back punch, front knifehand strike, hand sweep
Kicks: stomp
Techniques: box step

Defense Training: 1 back choke; Kempo combination #5 (see combinations section)

Sparring: 2-step set B
  • Front kick/ lower block, lunge punch 
  • Side kick/ lower block, lunge palm 
  • Back kick/ lower block, lunge inside knife
Form: Kata Roku-kyu, segment 1 (see forms section)

2nd Degree
Blocks: brace
Strikes: inside knifehand, outside knifehand, upward elbow, upward crane
Techniques: shuffle forward & backward

Defense Training: 1 lapel grab; Kempo combination #2 (see combinations section)

Sparring: 2-step set C
  • Punch/ outside block, front kick 
  • Punch/ inside block, side kick 
  • Punch/ upper block, front kick 
  • Punch/ lower block, side kick
Form: Kata Roku-kyu, segment 2 (see forms section)

3rd Degree
Strikes: side backfist, hook punch
Techniques: kicking low to mid height, side shuffle

Defense Training: 1 double wrist grab

Form: Kata Roku-kyu, segment 3 (see forms section)

What's on the test:
  • Must show respect to instructors and peers
  • Basics- cat stance, upward crane block, knifehand blocks (inside, outside, upper, lower, side, lower side), backfist/backhand, back punch, side back punch, lower palm strike, upward elbow strike, side elbow strike, knifehand strikes (downward, inside, outside, front), upward crane strike, hook punch, hand sweep, lead leg front kick, stomp kick
  • Techniques- balance, weight distribution, kicking low to mid height, shuffle (forward, back, side)
  • Blocking systems- 8-point, 8-point knifehand
  • Defense- 1 single wrist grab, 1 back choke, 1 lapel grab; combinations
    2 & 5
  • Sparring- 2-step set A, B, C
  • Form- Kata Roku-kyu (orange belt form)

Minimum time in rank: 3 months

Sunday, June 17, 2012

White Belt Training Guide

White Belt: Hachi-kyu

Stances: horse (level 1), bow
Blocks: outside, inside, high (upper), low
Strikes: punch, palm strike, knee strike
Kicks: front snap
Techniques: front position, ready position, chambering, shifting stances

  • Dojo- Karate school or place of training
  • Sensei- Karate teacher/instructor
  • Rank- Belt level

    Defense Training: Learn the 5 Kempo animals (tiger, snake, leopard, crane, dragon), 1 front choke

    1st Degree
    Stances: fighting
    Blocks: side, low side; 8-point (see blocking systems)
    Kicks: back
    Techniques: pivot

    • Sempai- Senior student/teacher's helper
    • Kiai- Spirit shout to focus energy

      Defense Training: Block strikes moving forward & backward, Kempo combination #6 (see combinations section)

      Sparring: 1-step set A
      • Punch/ outside block 
      • Punch/ inside block 
      • Punch/ high block 
      • Punch/ low block 
      Form: Kata Shichi-kyu, segment 1 (see forms section)

      2nd Degree
      Stances: back
      Strikes: uppercut, back elbow
      Kicks: side thrust
      Techniques: breathing

      • Kyu- Under black belt rank
      • Novice- Beginner student; white, yellow, orange belts
      • Dan- Black belt rank

        Defense Training: 1 double wrist grab, Kempo combination #7 (see combinations section)
        Sparring: 1-step set B
        • Front kick/ low block 
        • Back kick/ low block 
        Form: Kata Shichi-kyu, segment 2 (see forms section)

        3rd Degree
        Strikes: thrust punch, downward elbow
        Defense Training: 1 lapel grab

        • Dynamic flexibility- Using momentum to bring a limb through its full range of motion

          Form: Kata Shichi-kyu, segment 3 (see forms section)

          What's on the test:
          • Must show ability to listen and follow directions
          • Basics- horse stance, bow stance, back stance, 4 basic blocks (outside, inside, high, low), side and lower side block, punch, palm strike, uppercut, thrust punch, back elbow, downward elbow, knee strike, front snap kick, back kick, side thrust kick
          • Techniques- front & ready positions, shift stances, pivot, chamber, breathing
          • 8-point blocking system
          • Terms (age 10+)- Sensei, Sempai, dojo, rank, kiai, novice, kyu, dan, dynamic flexibility
          • Defense- Know the 5 Kempo animals, blocking moving forward and backward; 1 double wrist grab, 1 front choke, 1 lapel grab; combination 6 & 7
          • Sparring- 1-step set A & B
          • Form- Kata Shichi-kyu (yellow belt form)

            Minimum time in rank: 3 months

            Friday, May 18, 2012

            YMCA Class Overview

            I started teaching kid's karate classes at the Cape Ann YMCA in April of 2011. As of now, I am a 3rd degree black belt in a style called Ryuchi, which basically means mixed style karate (it incorporates techniques from several styles, making for a well-rounded martial arts experience). It's fun, challenging, and no matter how much experience I have I'm always learning something new.

            The way I teach is non-traditional in the sense that I am not a "drill sergeant" type of instructor, I try to make every class fun and engaging. Some may not agree with this type of martial arts instruction, but it's important to keep in mind that these are kids, and this is the YMCA, not an actual dojo where students are more likely to take it seriously. I do plan out every lesson, but sometimes the lessons don't always go as planned.Well... it certainly keeps me on my toes!

            Here is my general list of guidelines that I expect every student to follow:

            • Listen to Sensei (and/or Peer Leader) and follow directions
            • Wear cool, comfortable clothing under your uniform (not jeans)
            • No jewelry, long hair tied back/ secured
            • Only eat/drink in designated area (not on training floor)
            • Always be respectful of others, both in and out of class
            • Practice at home at least a few days a week to ensure continued progress
            Below is the ranking system I use, starting from the bottom and moving up (please note that other styles/ schools may be different):

            White, yellow and orange are considered the Novice ranks, where expectations are more lenient. Green, blue and purple are the Intermediate ranks, expectations rise and difficulty level increases. Brown and red are Advanced ranks, where the difficulty increases significantly and expectations are high. Black belt is expert level; at this point the student takes more responsibility for his or her training.

            Each color (with the exception of black), has 4 levels (or "degrees"). The solid color is called "observation", where the student is learning new techniques appropriate to that rank. Then the first stripe (or "1st degree"), the student learns a drill incorporating some or all of those moves, plus some new techniques. On the second stripe (2nd degree), the student learns a second drill, slightly more complex. Finally, on the third stripe or "3rd degree", the student learns a form or "kata", which they must perform in order to move up to the next belt level.

            Once the level of black belt is reached, a student can expect many changes to take place in his or her training. Black belt also has degrees (up to 10th degree), but it's meaning and requirements are very different from the color belts, where the training is more structured and "by-the-book". Observation to 3rd degree black belt is considered Expert, 4th to 7th degree is Master, 8th to 10th degree is Grand-master. I'll explain more about this in a later post.

            After every class I always hang around for a little while if students have questions or need extra help. I'm a very approachable instructor and always reward my students who put forth an extra effort. I'm a believer in reward rather than punishment or harsh discipline. It may not be as immediately effective, but I think it encourages personal growth in the long-run and sends a positive message, and the result will be apparent later down the road.

            Tuesday, May 15, 2012


            Ok so... trying my hand at blogging. I thought this would be a good resource for my students (and their parents) to refer to for class updates, curriculum and training exercises to do at home. I will also share my own ongoing martial arts journey and my experiences teaching at the Cape Ann YMCA, as well as tutorials (when I have the time to do them). Hope you enjoy it, and please feel free to leave reviews and comments.

            -Sensei Kristalyn