SHAOLIN KENPO ASSOCIATION
Wanna Be aSTREETFIGHTER?
By Loren Franck
(Reprinted from Karate Kung-fu Illustrated magazine, April 1987.)
Ralph Castro doesn't take nonsense from anyone. And he doesn't give any in return, it's not his style, and besides, it doesn't get the job done.
That job is preparing students of his kenpo style to defend themselves in the street and to successfully walk through life with confidence.
Look closely and you'll see that Castro's kenpo resembles Ed Parker's martial art of the same name. Nothing unusual there. Castro studied with Parker for some 26 years, and the two were good friends until 1981, when a disagreement sledge hammered a wedge between the two. In some ways, Castro regrets the split because he got his first black belt from Parker and the two men knew each other during their service in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Nevertheless, Castro's kenpo stands on its own and doesn't need to be bolstered by Parker or anyone else. In fact, it's simple and straightforward. As Castro explains, "My system, which I simply call the Ralph Castro system of martial arts, gives people what they already have. We all possess a certain degree of speed, power and proficiency in natural reactions. But we don't naturally have accuracy when striking opponents. My kenpo system develops speed, power and accuracy until you can fight like a polished, well-oiled machine."
All You Can Be
Castro's system will not turn you into Superman, Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris. It will simply make you the best fighter you can be, which is the most any martial art system can do.
Right from the start, Castro takes a completely honest approach with his students. The first time they walk in the door of his 9,000-square-foot Daly City, California, dojo, they see that there's no pressure to join, no hot sales pitch and no contract to sign. Rather, Castro gives a trial lesson which shows what his art will do for new students. Throughout this initial consultation, he stresses that you get out of kenpo exactly what you put into it.
Most people who witness Castro's demonstration of what kenpo can do for them are eager to join, too: And after the most rudimentary self-defense basics (usually in about five weeks), students learn more traditional aspects of the art, such as respect, dojo etiquette and belt-rank systems.
But more than anything, Castro's kenpo is a fighting system and a tool for self-defense. Consequently, it uses fighting principles that have been proven effective for centuries.
"My students work within a framework of kenpo principles, most of which came from William Chow, who in turn learned kenpo from James Mitose in Hawaii during the 1940s. One of our basic fighting principles is that we turn defensive moves into offensive ones. In fact, my system is built on that.
"Becoming proficient in kenpo takes a lot of practice. But as I always tell my students, it isn't practice that makes perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect."
Not only do Castro's philosophy and fighting principles work in the street; they help create top tournament competitors, too. This is especially true for students who have entered what Castro calls Phase III training. In the first two phases, students get an overall picture of kenpo, then work on the mechanics of the movements. At the end of Phase II, Castro says, students know the kenpo movements pretty well, but in Phase III, students know them so well they come naturally. "Fighting should be a natural reaction," Castro stresses. "Your moves should come from natural instinct."
And when that happens, a great kenpo tournament fighter is born. Castro doesn't require his students to participate in specific tournaments, either. He's more concerned that they get a thorough grasp of the art.
"When you start learning kenpo," Castro says, "you begin by learning one technique. But as you grow in the art, you learn movement after movement, technique upon technique, until you know them all (or pretty close). What happens then? You discover that you really only need one technique. In other words, you can apply the same basic move and principle in many situations.
"Of course, you don't have to only rely on one technique," Castro adds, "and that's why our kenpo system stresses combinations. Follow-up strikes are almost automatic in my system."
Unlike some other interpretations of kenpo (notably Parker's), Castro's system advocates high kicks when the situation warrants. Castro says the blows can serve as high jabs or even finishing blows under the right circumstances. "Essentially," Castro explains, "your legs become an extension of your hands and you can use them in the same way you do your hands."
Castro gleaned his insight by watching tournament fighters over more than two decades. "I witnessed one high kick after another work in tournaments" he recalls. "Those kicks can work, either in the ring or in the street. But there's a catch: They must be done correctly.
"A kick doesn't have to be fancy and complicated to be advanced," Castro adds. "In other words, a simple kick can become advanced by refining it and applying it in new ways. There's no limit to the ways you can apply the basic principles of kenpo."
Of course, the secrets of streetfighting can't be condensed into a few paragraphs or photos. But five keys are crucial when using kenpo to fight for your life. Says Castro, "These are probably the five most important elements to remember when streetfighting."
o Avoidance. The best way to get out of a fight is to avoid it in the first place. And the sooner you can do that the better. "Always try to reason the problem out with your opponent before you resort to fighting," Castro argues. "The closer you get to the first blow, the harder it is to escape the situation."
o Defense to offense. If you can't avoid a fight, immediately turn your defensive moves into offensive ones. This changes the whole perspective of the confrontation, Castro says. "When you constantly defend against your attackers, you're playing their game," Castro says. "However, you want your attacker to fight according to your game plan, and a big part of that involves putting him on the defensive."
o Proximity. "If you face two or more attackers," Castro explains, "strike the closest one. That opponent is the most dangerous to you." When in a multiple-attacker situation, work your way around them, or back and forth between them, striking each in turn to temporarily disable them. In other words, don't keep punching and kicking the first opponent until you drop him for good. Rotate opponents as you strike.
o Surprise. This is one of the most basic fighting keys. Obviously, if your opponents know what you're going to do, they'll be prepared for it and will be better able to block and counter.
But Castro takes the principle of surprise even further. Surprise also means keeping your attackers guessing where your strikes will come from, Castro says. For instance, your opponents may expect a high kick, but the angle from which you deliver that kick and the combinations you use with it can take them totally off guard.
o Natural reaction. Finally, as mentioned previously, fighting must be a natural reaction in Castro's system. All blocks, parries, kicks, punches and open-handed strikes must flow automatically. There should be no thought involved. If you have to think about each move, your opponents will probably get the best of you.
Castro's kenpo is practical. In fact, that's one of its most distinguishing features. The system's techniques were designed to work in the street under all possible circumstances.
But before you ponder all possible fighting situations and how Castro's kenpo deals with them, you must know who the real fighters are-those who pose a real danger to you.
And who are the real fighters? "You'll never know the real fighters until you see them fight," Castro argues. "Why? Because they don't go around showing how tough they are. They don't have to, because they know they can handle themselves. For example, the guys who cut you off on the freeway or flip you the finger when they think you're going too slow-don't worry about them. They're just 'flippers' and lack self-respect and self-confidence. When they confront you, they're really not looking for a fight. They just want to feel powerful by getting an apology."
A Satisfying System
Many happy students have left Castro's wing and tackled the real-world streetfighting scene. And oftentimes, these students have used the simplest techniques to win fights.
For instance, one of Castro's students joined the U.S. Army and then found himself in a few scuffles-which he won. "Professor Castro," the student said over long-distance telephone afterwards, "I want to thank you for me how to count." (Some of Castro's simplest techniques involve striking the face, groin and face in a 1-2-3 manner.)
"What do you mean?" Castro asked. "Well," the student continued, "since I've been in the Army I've had a few scrapes, but I haven't lost one. All I did was count 1-2-3--face, groin, face--and I did OK."
Castro also tells of a woman student who was met by a potential rapist. "She just kept hitting face, groin, face-1-2-3--and rendered him helpless. She was completely unharmed."
These are good lessons for streetfighters, too, Castro says. If these students handled their attackers with the simple 1-2-3 approach, just think what they could do if they had the entire Castro kenpo arsenal behind them.
For further information about streetfighting or the Ralph Castro kenpo system, write to Castro at 69 Washington Street, Daly City, California 94104.
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International Shaolin Kenpo Association - Revised 09/27/2023
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