AIK Coach's Corner: Whatever It Takes

Coach’s Corner Blog - Whatever It Takes #1

Where your favorite martial arts teachers at American Institute of Kenpo answer your questions. This month, Shawn Knight of the AIK-Knight dojo talks about some of the key vocabulary we use in our training.

You say “Oos!” all the time. What does “Oos!” mean?

It’s a Japanese word sometimes spelled “Osu” by translators. It consists of two syllables:

O, which in this context means “To push forward”

SU, which in this context means “To endure”

In Japanese most people drop the vowel at the end of a word, so something spelled “Osu” is pronounced “Oss”…and pronounced with a loud, energetic and forceful voice. You say it to mean you plan to move forward even when things are hard, or as a way of expressing that you appreciate and respect somebody’s plan for or habit of doing so.

My teacher (Sigung Stephen LaBounty) spells it“Oos” to provide more emphasis on theorigin of the sound. It should come from low in the belly and avoid having a snake“hiss” as the primary focus.

At AIK, we like to use it at the opening or closing of an interaction, used to show respect and agreement. Think of it as adding an exclamation point to a sentence somebody else wrote to show how enthusiastic you are about the idea.

What is Backup Mass?

Using body weight directly behind an action to give it more force. For example, punching with your elbow behind the fist, with the whole thing driven by your feet and hips instead of reaching out with just your fist to make the punch.

Your kenpo teachers harp on you all the time about proper body alignment, because all the elements of your body contribute to backup mass. If everything’s lined up, you can strike or block with most of your body weight behind it. If things are out of alignment, everything is significantly less powerful.

What are Torque and Rotating Force?

It’s easy to think of attacks and defenses as linear, after all your punch goes in and out instead of around and around. However, twisting and rotating actions (called “torque”) can put a lot more power into your strikes.

Consider the technique Locked Wing. When you place one leg behind the other in a twisted stance, you feel a pressure in your hips and legs, driving you to straighten out. When you rotate to end up in a horse stance, you release that stored energy into action that goes along with it. This extra energy is called “Rotating Force” and an important aspect of many of our techniques and kata.

What is Marriage of Gravity?

Ed Parker defines this as “The uniting of mind, breath and strength while simultaneously dropping your body weight along with the execution of your natural weapon(s).” Translated into more plain English it means sinking your body weight to ground yourself simultaneous to delivering an attack. Remember that the Earth’s gravity is pulling on you all the time, and dropping your body weight as you strike adds some of that gravitational force to your strike.

This is especially important for novice students, since most of us (including your instructors) started with the habit of raising our body weight when we made a strike. Remember: 10 meters per second per second. It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law.

The three main power principles of American Kenpo: Backup Mass (or inertia), Rotation (or torque), and Marriage of Gravity. You will also hear mention of two others which are much less referenced - They are called Borrowed Force and Reverse Marriage of Gravity (just some food for thought and further study).

Do you have any great questions for coach’s corner? Send them in to our Facebook and we’ll post answers next month.

Coach’s Corner Blog - Whatever It Takes #2

Of his enormous contributions to science, Newton famously said that if he had seen far it was because he “stood on the shoulders of giants.” This is true of all kenpo practitioners, as we learn the developments of those who trained before us to help us become the best martial artists we can be.

Your uniform has a patch on it that represents the heritage and the mission of the American Institutes of Kenpo. Wearing it on your uniform is a reminder of the debt we all owe to those who went before us in the practice of kenpo.

To tell you more about the patch, we asked some questions of AIK cofounder and artist-in-residence Andrew Pilch.

What’s a crest?

A crest is an arrangement of symbols that represent a concept from history or philosophy. The Great Seal of the United States is another example of a crest, and it includes and Eagle to represent valor and a pyramid to symbolize strength and durability.

Where did ours come from?

The AIK crest was inspired by the patch used by Ed Parker’s International Kenpo Karate Association, and has many similarities to that older patch. That should be no surprise – Ed Parker founded kenpo as we practice it, and crests celebrate history among other things. From that foundation, we created a patch that simultaneously honors Grand Master Ed Parker and represents what we want AIK to be.

What do the Tigers and Dragons Symbolize?

Ed Parker wrote that the Tiger represents the earthly strength derived during the early stages of learning, while the Dragon represents spiritual strength. Feeling and appreciating physical prowess is part of early stages of training, while seasoned martial artists begin to feel and use the spiritual growth that comes through the beginnings of mastery.

The original crest had one of each, but we changed that to two Tigers and two Dragons to represent the twin Kenpo families we wanted to honor. It also represents the “Interdependency of I and Other” that is at the heart of kenpo training. For continued growth and development – which is our goal in the martial arts – we rely on our instructors, partners and students. Without other practitioners, we would grow stagnant and complacent.

What do the Circle and Lines Mean?

In the original crest, the circle and lines represented the Universal Pattern, a diagram that incorporated many aspects of studying kenpo:

  • The cycle of perpetual motion, growth and change (Circle)
  • The circular nature of most movement (Circle)
  • The bonds of friendship between kenpo practitioners (Circle)
  • The eighteen original hand movements (Lines)
  • Potential angles of defense and attack (Lines)
  • Potential angles of movement (Lines)

For the AIK crest, we took the pattern and tilted it. The lines of the original patch were always intended to represent three-dimensional movement, and we felt the tilt better depicted that aspect of the pattern.

We also view the circles as representing the continuing need to train, and a symbol of the rotating nature of our AIK curriculum. This was also part of Ed Parker’s vision, but we choose to emphasize that more in our martial arts journey.

What about the colors?

There are two colors with symbolic importance on our crest: White and Grey.

Gray represents the brain, which is responsible for proficiency, achievement and authority. We chose gray because of the common term “gray matter.” The White signifies the beginning stages of development, and the openly curious mind all practitioners should strive to maintain.

The other colors – for example the coloration of the dragon and tiger – are just there to be pretty.

How about the Chinese Characters? Did you copy them off a sorority girl’s ankle?

Ha! No. The writing is in Chinese to remind us where Kenpo originally came from. We took the writing from the original crest and verified it through several different translators to make sure our students don’t walk around wearing something that says “Hot and Sour Soup.” The letters to the right read “Kenpo Karate” (Law of the Fist and the Empty Hand) and the letters on the left say “Spirit of the Tiger and the Dragon).

What’s the pearl about? Why is it on fire?

“The Pearl of Great Price” represents the wisdom, relationships, reputation and legacy that are gained through a life of good works. We left it exactly as it was from the Ed Parker version because there’s not much to be added to that as a concept.

The flame comes from the logo of the International Karate Championships. The three tips of the flame represent the three stages of development as a martial artist: primitive, mechanical and spontaneous. More on those in another Coach’s Corner.

What Does the shape represent?

The top of the patch is shaped like a roof because of the shelter and protection martial arts training can provide. The sides are also part of the house motif (we all are part of the same kenpo family), and curved like traditional Chinese walls to ward away evil. The bottom of the crest has an axe shape, showing our willingness and duty to “cut off” support and relations with any kenpo stylist who uses the power of martial arts to do evil. These elements were part of Ed Parker’s original patch, and we have kept them.

To that, AIK added the Kenpo and Grandmaster bars, both in memoriam of Ed Parker Senior and the legacy he has left for us all.

Coach’s Corner Blog - Whatever It Takes #3

Sometime on Coach’s corner, you get to hear what the head instructors and driving forces in AIK are thinking about when they design the curriculum and make decisions for our martial arts organizations. Other times, you read what younger stars among us think. Every once in a while, we’re lucky enough to hear from the leaders and influencers who taught and teach our leadership. In this month’s Coach’s Corner, we’re getting the word on our closing pledge from the man who taught it to us – Sigung Stephen LaBounty.

For details on Sigung’s long career of excellence in martial arts and life, go here ( He’s been in Kenpo since nearly its beginning, and his contributions are vast. Here’s what he has to say about Kenpo and the three words of our creed:

In the late 60s and early 70s, I was on a path with very little honor and more than enough hedonism. It had a lot of signs of success: my Kenpo was improving, my tournament record was increasing and my school was doing well. I was making quite a few friends in the martial arts community, teaching David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and meeting many people I really had nothing in common with except for “being on the come.” That’s a reference in the gambling world meaning that I had little hope that my “number” would come up so I placed my “wealth” on one roll of the dice for fame and fortune – in other words, a sucker’s bet.

I lost.

My family suffered from my absence. My business began to fail because of my lackadaisical attitude. My desire to “please” all of those whom I thought “wanted” me brought with it laziness, attitude and anger.

I was lucky enough to have the benefit from friends who stayed the course through that time, and was told by most of them what they saw in me. With their help, I totally committed to my Kenpo, my family and my business…but most of all to my attitude.

I had the good fortune to have many spiritual people in my life, and while I didn’t really subscribe to all of it I did take away one vital fact.I, and nobody else, was to blame for the turn in my life, and only I could reverse that. I had to find a “mantra” that could keep me on my path once I found it. I came up with quite a few, actually, but they were so far-fetched that I blush as I remember them. Eventually I found one with more maturity of conscience and soul, and I share it now with all those who call me teacher.

The Three Sayings I use for my principled journey in the martial arts are:





The possession of values, attitudes and beliefs that lend to constant reminder of the rise and fall of the fortunate and the unfortunate, and to live always in the constant dedication to continue the search and find the strength to continue and surround ourselves with that driving force that moves us ever forward. To understand that NOT to do this insures slow, if at all, progress and the lack of skill to move forward.


To find the ways of honesty within ourselves, when speaking of ourselves whilst on this rare path that few understand. To defend ourselves from self-deception and self-glorification and to put forth our honest faults and failings only to find purely, our honest applications with true passion and directand physical involvement. To understand and subscribe to the creed that: "Theory only informs, only true, direct and physical contact convinces."


To understand the necessity of true and complete application of all training of drills, regimentation, corrections and rebukes, and the requirement of the art to toughen oneself in all ways. To accept the compulsion of change and to take that change to heart and adopt it willingly.

Attentive students in class and of our blog can see how Sigung LaBounty’s attitude and words have infused what we teach and practice. This is true of you, as well: what you learn, and say, and do will echo through your relationships far beyond what you can see and well after you are gone.

What will those learnings, words, and actions say?

Coach’s Corner Blog - Whatever It Takes #4

Welcome to our newest installment of Coach’s Corner, where we talk directly with the leaders, movers and shakers of AIK about their history, our shared history, and the philosophy behind how we train. This month, we’re connecting with Mr. Shawn Knight about a way of looking at your training journey: a concept calledShu Ha Ri.

What is Shu Ha Ri?

It’s a way of looking at the stages of a student’s relationship with his or her teacher, defining three separate stages. Looking back at my childhood, and at my relationship with my son, it’s also a way of looking at life.

Where does it come from?

Three answers to that question. The concept is core to the philosophy of many traditional Japanese martial arts. We got it from the bookFlashing Steel, which is about a specific school of sword training and about the process of martial training in general. I found out about the book from Lee Sprague (which is how I found out about probably half of all the important stuff I know).

What’s Shu?

Shu can mean either “to protect” or “to obey” and it’s a great description of the early relationship between a student and teacher. It’s the teacher’s job to protect the student’s interest and enthusiasm, and the student’s job to obey. In this case, it’s less about obeying orders as much as it is about trusting the teacher to know the material well.

If your sensei says “block like this” at this stage, you block like this. You don’t block like that. Or this other way. Because your teacher knows a lot more than you do, and you trust that knowledge without question.

What’s Ha?

Ha can mean “to break free” or “to frustrate” and parents of teenagers know it all too well. At this stage – usually around or just after a student reaches black belt level – the student knows enough to start questioning the why of how the material words. Sometimes a teacher gives an answer the student doesn’t like.

In many cases, the student dislikes the answer because the student’s knowledge is incomplete. At other times, it’s because the student’s experience differs so much from the teacher’s experience that what’s right for the teacher isn’t right for the student. The student begins to assert his or her individuality by breaking free of that rote memorization and simple obedience that is the hallmark ofShuand beginning to find his own path.

Though this stage can be very frustrating for both teacher and student, it’s also the beginning of where martial arts stops being something the student has learned and begins being part of the person the student is.

What’s Ri?

It means “separation” and refers to when a high-ranking student has made the material so much a part of himself that he is ready to move on and teach others without the direct guidance and input of the teacher. Compare this to a child leaving home as an adult, and notice how I run my own martial organization instead of teaching as an instructor in the dojo where I first trained.

Sometimes it’s necessary for the teacher and student to have something of a falling out to cut those close emotional bonds that would keep a student too close for too long – again think about how teens often fight with parents during their last years of living at home. This can be painful for everybody involved, but a teacher knows to set aside his or her ego and accept this, too, as part of the process.

Is it always that way?

Technically, it’s never that way. This isn’t a simple, linear progression like climbing a flight of stairs. It’s more like walking up a mountain: you’ll go up, then down, then further up than you went down, then down again. Sometimes you’re in one stage. Sometimes you’re in two stages or all three. There will be times when you’re in Ri for some things and Shu for others.

The important part isn’t to get caught up in the details or where you are on the continuum. It’s to realize that this is one way to describe how your martial arts journey will progress, and to let that knowledge comfort you when parts of it become difficult.

Isn’t it an oversimplification of a complex topic?

Of course it is. Every model of anything is an oversimplification, just a way of wrapping your head around an experience so it makes the most possible sense. For me the thing that’s most conspicuously missing is the fourth stage of Cooperation.

I went through all three of these stages during my martial arts journey, and eventually separated from my mentors and teachers. But during my own exploration, I gained insight into their journeys and found that most of my disagreement actually came from fundamentally shared values. In the end, I work with my teachers and their ideas instead of separately from them – putting my own flavor on a shared recipe, if you will. But the love, respect and cooperation are a core part of this fourth and final step.

That happens more and more as your ego stops being a part of your training experience. But that’s a deep enough topic that we’ll save it for another time.

If you have any questions you’d love to see a coach address, reach out via Facebook and you might see it in an upcoming Coach’s Corner.

(Lee Sprague’s logo, the three circles represent Shu-Ha-Ri. He used this concept often in his teachings and always made the person/student his highest value and priority. - Oos!!!)

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