The 10 Principles of Kempo


  1. Principle of the Circle and Line:  This first key in the understanding of Kempo states that when your opponent charges straight in and attacks, you should use your feet to move your body along a circular path, while moving your arms in a circular pattern to deflect the oncoming force. When your opponent attacks you in a circular pattern, you should respond with a fast linear attack along a straight line, just as the circle can.
  2. Principle of the First Strike:  This principle has several meanings. First, it indicates that Kempo is primarily a striking art. “70% Hands & 30% Feet” is the classic breakdown, but you can change the techniques according to the circumstances of your body build. The second meaning is that if a confrontation is inevitable, a thug is climbing through your bathroom window at two o’clock in the morning and starts swinging a baseball bat at you, you should not wait for the aggressor to attack first! You need to hit him first with your foot, fist, elbow, knee, etc. You need to hit the attacker hard and hit continuously until he is subdued. Kempo also includes numerous grappling & throwing techniques, but research has shown they are used in less than 25% of the encounters in which practitioners find themselves, and they are ineffective against multiple attackers. Grappling uses 4-times as much strength & energy as striking does. It has been deemed a last resort suitable for use only if your opponent penetrates your first and second lines of defense, your Hands & Feet, respectively.
  3. Principle of Multiple Strikes:  Kempo is different from many karate styles in that it teaches you to strike first and strike often in rapid succession, high, low, straight in, and along a circular path. While unleashing such rapid fire strikes, it becomes difficult to “Kiai” (shout) in conjunction with each strike. Therefore you should forget about shouting with each blow. In fact, doing so means you are expending excess energy.  Shouting is good when you need to put a scare into your opponent, or to psych your opponent out. Your first & second strikes should be designed to stun, distract, and slow your opponent. Your third, and if necessary, fourth strikes are the power blows. Remember the Kempo maxim: “First set your opponent up, then take him out.”
  4. Principle of Targets:  If you had to punch a hole through a wall, would you rather hit a half-inch sheet of drywall, or a 2×4 stud? The answer is obvious, and that’s why Kempo advocates striking “soft” targets.  No one ever broke his knuckles punching an attacker’s temple, no one ever fractured an instep kicking an attacker’s groin, and no one ever injured his knife hand striking an attacker’s throat.  In Japan, the makiwara board is used to toughen the hands. In Thailand, Muay Thai fighters harden their shins by kicking banana trees.  Kempo is different! Kempo teaches the path of least resistance and least pain. Precisely targeting the Temple, Eyes, Nose, Neck, Floating Ribs, Solar Plexus, Kidneys, and Groin, are superior to simply pummeling away on random parts of the body.
  5. Principle of Kicking:  Kempo’s mandate to kick low is based on logic. A roundhouse kick and spinning reverse crescent kick to the head may be flashy and impressive, but such manoeuvres take longer to execute because your legs have to travel farther.  They also expose your groin to your opponent’s kick. Kicking high requires superior balance and focus; you should practice your leg techniques high, and deliver them low for self-defense. Kicking low to the legs, executing a “pillar attack” can break your opponent’s balance and legs.
  6. Principle of No Block:  Kempo emphasizes economy of movement and economy of time. Kempo’s no block principle teaches to avoid being struck by a punch or kick; you should move your body out of harm’s way.  The most advanced defense taught in the martial arts, it was perhaps best expressed by the old Shaolin priest in the Kung Fu TV series: “Avoid rather than check; check rather than block; block rather than strike; strike rather than hurt; hurt rather than maim; maim rather than kill, for all life is precious.”  Strategically, a block is a wasted move because it does not stop your opponent from attacking again with their free limbs. It is much better to move out of the way and simultaneously counterattack. This way of fighting is reserved for brown belts and above, however, because it requires a higher level of skill to employ correctly and a significant amount of sparring experience to avoid the tendency to allow your feet to stick to the ground during the crisis your brain senses.
  7. Principle of Yielding & Redirecting:  Yielding and redirecting are best exemplified by the symbol of Yin & Yang (soft & hard). When your opponent attacks hard, you should counterattack soft. If your opponent is weaker than you or attacks soft, you should attack hard to end the encounter quickly and directly. In most martial systems, blocking is extremely hard and may injure not only the attacker, but also the blocker. For the most part, Kempo does not adhere to this concept of “a block is a strike.” Instead, Kempo teaches you to block soft and strike hard. Redirecting is also of paramount importance. Many arts teach their practitioners to use a downward block to stop a front kick, resulting in the student’s hammerfist being slammed into the attacker’s instep. Such an impact can break the blocker’s hand or arm. Kempo teaches that it is preferable to parry your opponent’s leg to the side and spin him off balance before you counterattack hard. Such a redirecting movement will usually disrupt your opponent’s balance and leave him vulnerable.
  8. Principle of Mobility:  Mobility can be the easiest Kempo principle to understand. It holds that a moving target is harder to hit than a stationary target. As basic as that sounds, many martial artists fail to implement it. Kempo teaches that there are three types of fighters: the statue, who has little mobility and will not retreat; the runner, who has to be chased around; and the steamroller, who just keeps coming at you. If you are any one of these, be careful because you are predictable and can be defeated. The Kempo stylist must mix things up and no matter what, keep moving. If your stance is upright and your movement is good, you will be able to put yourself in a superior position relative to your opponent.
  9. Principle of Flexibility:  Flexibility is the law of survival. Kempo is unique in that it adapts to your build, personality and spirit. If you are 4 feet 10 inches tall, it makes little sense for you to focus on kicking when your strengths may be mobility and quickness. If you are a 110 pound woman, it makes little sense for you to grapple with a 220 pound assailant.  The old Kempo masters showed their wisdom when they proclaimed that in a fight for your life, you should use what you know best and forget about the sanctity of the style. Every practitioner has different attributes that can make him/her effective.  A tall person with long legs may have an advantage with kicking; a short person may have an advantage with his hands; a heavy person may have an advantage in grappling. The law of flexibility allows the practitioner to develop his own repertoire of techniques from within Kempo.
  10. Principle of The Warrior Spirit:  The final principle of Kempo is composed of two essentials components: the Internal and External. A rabid dog may pose a formidable threat, but it possesses only the external component of the warrior spirit. Inside, the animal is not thinking. To have a complete warrior spirit, you must be ferocious on the outside, but calm and tranquil on the inside.  Samurai warriors used to say that today is a good day to die. That did not mean they sought death. On the contrary, they wanted to preserve life, especially their own. They knew that if they went into battle with fear in their heart, they could die or sustain a serious injury.  They knew that only by embracing and accepting death could they focus everything on the physical task at hand: defeating the enemy. Your kiai, facial expressions, stance and on-guard position must all work in unison. Following the principle of Yin & Yang, you should be hard on the outside and soft on the inside. When used in this way, warrior spirit can be more important than physical skill.


Study these principles carefully…..Do not under estimate their power and keep your spirit true!