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Thread: A Day With Ron Chapél...

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    Chris Armstrong is offline
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    Default A Day With Ron Chapél...

    I had an amazing day visiting Ron Chapél and some of his students and I wanted to share my impressions with you. Please note that many of the things I encountered where new to me and sometimes confusing, so I will undoubtedly explain some things incorrectly and I invite Dr. Chapél to correct me.

    I was introduced to Dr. Chapél through Ed Parker Jr. who is assisting me with some research into the origins and evolution of American Kenpo. I first began communicating with Dr. Chapél through email and then he called me (on his dime) and we had a very long and enlightening conversation. He was already blowin' my mind with his paradigm-shifting ideas. Then he invited me to come to his school to see and feel things for myself - things that wouldn't make as much sense until I physically experienced them.

    When I walked into the studio, one of the teachers, Mr. Perez, was getting ready to start warming-up the class with some techniques before Dr. Chapél arrived. They all came over an introduced themselves and welcomed me, then soon began the class by reciting the Kenpo Creed. They began working on Alternating Maces. Although some parts of it were very different from anything I'd seen before, their crisp execution and strong basics were very impressive.

    One thing that was immediately noticeable was their judicious use of monitoring, or what they called "pair rhythm," meaning that they would wait for reactions of the attacker to their strikes before moving on to the next part of the technique, as opposed to just blazing through the technique as many Kenpoists are infamous for. Mr. Perez even mentioned that they (SubLevel Four practitioners) are sometimes criticized for performing their techniques too slowly, by other, more speed oriented, Kenpoists.

    After a short time, Mr. Perez came over and explained that on the first downward forearm strike to the arms, they were striking the L5 pressure point on the attacker's right forearm. He then demonstrated that if he just hit my arms in any old place, it would knock my arms down and my upper body would move down a bit. But, when he hit the L5 point, my knees bent, my body moved forward and it caused a "cold water" effect, that is akin to the kind of momentary shock of getting hit in the face with cold water. And it was a quite different feeling than just getting my arms knocked down. And remember, Mr. Perez was being very gentle with me. I was a visitor and not participating on the mat.

    They then began applying the principles contained in Alternating Maces to other attacks like a left straight punch, a tackle, a kick. Mr. Perez then talked about the concept of "Spatial Distortion," which was something like, giving your attacker a false reading of where contact will be made by moving backward or forward when he's trying to tackle you, for example. This disrupts his stability and gives you a momentary advantage.

    Soon, Dr. Chapel arrived and we met and he gave me a great big friendly hug and I introduced him to my wife. He got the students started on some new techniques and then began explaining/demonstrating a bunch of things to me. He began explaining the concept of indexing, which puts your limbs and body into strong "structurally alligned" positions.

    This process sometimes required a subtle procedure and other times entailed a large, gross movement, (which he explained by using Parker's analogy of the evolution from printing to cursive to shorthand writing) which would, with continued practice, become a much smaller, refined and more direct movement.

    He had me perform different movements and stances and then showed me how to make them stronger, often by surprisingly small adjustments. When I expressed confusion/disbelief, he said, "Everything matters." This relates to a key idea that came-up continually throughout our discussions which was that the body and mind have to be in sync and one can put them out of sync by doing things that confound unconscious expectations about the body's intent and orientation to the physical world that have been built-up over a lifetime of neural conditioning through physical/sensory associations. The things that Dr. Chapél showed me involved both physical and visual miscues that led to a diminution of my strength and stability. (I hope I haven't butchered this concept too badly, but that's my first rough-draft understanding of it.)

    The value of being aware of this is that it can work against you if you aren't aware that you're doing it to yourself or it can work for you by knowing how to put your opponent into a state of physical/sensory disharmony.

    Slap-Checks

    Due to my inexperience with slap-checks, I, like many others, had a lot skepticism about their origins and usefulness. When Mr. Perez was explaining different techniques to the class, he mentioned one use of the s-c whereby it would come into contact with an attacking limb and other situations where it would not. It was beginning to make more sense. In further conversations/demonstrations with Dr. Chapel, I learned that the s-c has several uses and methods of execution, some more easily grasped (by me) than others. He also explained that the s-c is used in several Chinese systems, but that it is not too openly talked about or described in books.

    Mr. Parker understood and used them but was not ready to include slap-checks in the commercial version of American Kenpo. I've also been told this by Ed Parker Jr. I still have much more to learn about this technique.

    Nerve Strikes

    On thing that I was interested to look into was nerve strikes. After some preliminary (and painful) demonstration on my arm and face, I asked Dr. Chapel to do something a bit more, shall we say, invasive. He did a relatively mild heel-palm to the left side of my face and I was instantly disoriented and staggered back a few steps; my face turned red and I started sweating a lot. Some of this was described to me by my wife later because I wasn't totally aware of everything. I was momentarily stunned or spaced-out by it. The effect I experienced is what Dr. Chapél calls Physical/Mental Disassociation. I shudder to think what would have happened if he had applied more force to his heel-palm.

    A couple of other important things to understand about nerve strikes are that the position of pressure points change slightly when a person is standing relative to positions shown on pressure point charts, which assumes a body is lying down. In addition to this, pressure points may become "closed" in certain body postures by being covered by muscles and Dr. Chapél uses certain techniques to move the opponent into positions that "open" these points so they are available for striking. Another interesting demonstration showed that the position of a limb relative to certain nerve pathways (meridians?) and the angle of the strike affects the intensity of the reaction.

    I know some people criticize the use of nerve strikes by saying that bodies are in motion and it's too hard to hit precise points. My perspective, after experiencing a bit of this directly and watching others experience these effects in the class, is that, while you're not guaranteed to hit every point you're going for in a dynamic situation, it would seem that it would be good to know about them and practice going for them, because, when you do hit them, the payoff is great if you can stun someone for valuable seconds. Ya gotta hit 'em somewhere, so you might as well go for these spots and work to improve your accuracy.

    On a funny note, the students were working on a technique involving a nerve strike to the neck and one student was talking about it and demonstrated it by doing a right ridge-hand to the left side of his own neck almost put himself out with it. It was pretty funny, even to him.

    Ranking Philosophy

    A very refreshing aspect of Dr. Chapél's school is his perspective on rank. Once you achieve black-belt there are not stripes added to your belt. You can still be promoted to 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc., through further study and testing, however it just won't appear on your belt. This is to try to minimize the fixation on rank and put the emphasis on performance, regardless of rank. Also, Dr. Chapél makes a conscious effort to occasionally convey some new concept or technique to a lower ranking person, so that the higher ranking people will have to learn from that person. This reminds everyone that they all depend on one another for help and information and it doesn't always flow in one top-down direction.

    After class finished several hours later, (BTW, these guys routinely do classes that last for several hours and Dr. Chapél teaches all of them as long as he's in town.) we all sat around and talked for a while and eventually my wife and I took Dr. Chapél out for dinner and we talked for another couple of hours. Then, when the restaurant finally closed and they kicked us out, we stayed out in the parking lot till almost 2:30 am talking and doing more demos. Mr. Perez mentioned earlier in the evening that some of the coolest stuff he's learned from Dr. Chapél came through these late night parking lot lessons.

    I had originally intended to interview him about certain Chinese masters that Ed Parker had interacted with in the 60s, but I quickly became so fascinated with his SL-4 ideas that we mostly talked about that, so I'll have to do another interview in the future and try to restrict my questions to historical issues.

    I wanted to post this "review" of my visit because I had such a great experience meeting Dr. Chapél and being the beneficiary of his abundant generosity, but also because there has been some bashing of him on the web by people who (I suspect) have not met him or who have not taken the time to explore his ideas and methods with an open, enquiring mind. Remember, you can always reject his ideas after you've explored them, but to reject them out-of-hand isn't really being fair to him OR yourself.

    Although I study Motion-Kenpo, I don't find his SL-4 ideas threatening or something to put-down. They are definitely challenging and sometimes I'd be stammering stuff like, "OK, but what about..." But, I realize that these two "flavors" of Kenpo have different histories and purposes. Just as there are people for whom SL-4 is the best option, there are definitely people for whom Motion-Kenpo fits better. It all depends on what you're looking for. Ed Parker was working on the SL-4 perspective with Dr. Chapél at the same time he was organizing EPAK as outlined in Infinite Insights vol. 5.

    Dr. Chapél began publishing his first course book while Ed Parker was still alive and with his blessing. He explicitly told Dr. Chapél that he wanted this information to be shared. And they were working on a book and video series that was different from the series, of which only two videos were produced before Ed Parker's death. SL-4 is not some BS he made-up. He gives all credit to Ed Parker for this information. Dr. Chapél's job was to organize and codify it, leaving Ed Parker free to stay on a creative level of thought and not have to deal with organizational issues. Ed Parker Jr. has confirmed Dr. Chapél's relationship to his father in many conversations with me and he will to you if you simply ask him about it.

    If you've read this far, I hope it is because you have an interest in exploring different ideas in Kenpo and you'll seek out Dr. Chapél; attend his seminars; heck, invite him to your school for a seminar.

    Thanks again Dr. Chapél for all your hospitality and openness,

    Chris Armstrong

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    Default Re: A Day With Ron Chapél...

    Mr.Armstrong its sounds like you had a Great time with Mr.Chapel.
    Its sounds like you learned and see first hand some terrific stuff, and
    It sound like something everyone should see first hand before judging it or saying anything about it.
    Mr. Armstromg I really enjoyed reading this thread and if you do go back to visit Mr. chapel, can you post your next visit..

    Thank-you
    Yours Truly
    Kenpo0324

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    Chris Armstrong is offline
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    Default Re: A Day With Ron Chapél...

    Hi Ken, (you can call me Chris)

    I'm glad you liked the post. Yes, I'll post more information when I have future meetings with Dr. Chapél.

    Chris

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    Default Re: A Day With Ron Chapél...

    Hi Chris,

    Hope all is well down in Pasadena, my friend.

    Thanks for sharing your time with Mr. Chapel. Although him and I have never met, we have exchanged emails quite a few times, and he's definitely a fountain of knowledge, with a great attitude.

    Hope to see you in LV again next year.


    Jamie Seabrook
    www.seabrook.gotkenpo.com

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    Chris Armstrong is offline
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    Default Re: A Day With Ron Chapél...

    Hi Jamie,

    See you in LV next year, if not sooner.

    Chris

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    Smile Re: A Day With Ron Chapél...

    Hi Chris,
    Interesting post. I am glad to hear that 'Doc' is up and around. Must be doing pretty good if he is teaching. Congratulations Doc. Hope you are not over doing.
    You don't want any set backs. I have had a couple of back surgeries, they take time to heal. I figure yours was in the neck area that is even more critical (I know you know that) Take care, G

    Regards, Gary

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