Friday, June 19, 2015

The Language of Kenpo

By Sarah Reichert

Almost a year ago, I began taking karate lessons from Fort Collins' long-established International Black Belt Academy ( The school holds with the traditions of both American and Chinese styles of Kenpo Karate.  I love it for many reasons but one in particular is the artful language used in naming its techniques.

Like much of the sport, Kenpo is a blend of defensive tactics, locks and holds, and flowing beauty. Each of the three levels contain five to seven techniques in six cycles throughout the year, providing nearly 130 different defensive movements that teach you a variety of ways to use your body in the most efficient way possible.  I, as a writer and inamorata of words, love the names given to each movement.

Techniques are given names like, "Locked Wing", "The Dance", "Circling Talons" and "Intellectual Departure".  Others make the immature twelve-year old in me giggle ("Aggressive Twins", "Squatting Sacrifice", "Squeezing the Peach").  But once you witness the destructive nature of these moves its hard to laugh because there is purpose in the poetry.

The names tell you how to attack and defend.  'Wings' are elbows, 'feathers' are hair, 'branches' are legs, and 'twigs' are arms.  "Intellectual Departure" departs the poor man from his intellect in the harshest way and 'peaches' are...well, exactly what you think they are.

At my next test I will have completed the first level, memorizing some 46 techniques, and I attribute the system of names with my ability to remember and engage in each.  But more than that, as a writer, it reminds me that language can be beautiful and still serve a purpose in memory, recognition and retention.  How often have you read a poem and the phrase sticks with you because of the power of its imagery and beauty?

So often writers are encouraged (even bullied) to use a 'less is more' tactic that streamlines our writing.  Don't over describe, don't over explain, and for God's sake cut all the words ending in -ly.  But we should be careful that we don't slash the beauty of words to the point of making our writing a desolate and barren landscape.  Language should balance beauty and meaning and we should always strive to use the best possible word. Words are roadmaps for our readers to enjoy on the journey we take together.

What are some meaningful phrases, from poetry or prose, that have stayed with you as a reader and writer?


Jenny said...

Love those names!

Every time I read Ray Bradbury, I am reminded that storytelling doesn't just have to be efficient; it can be beautiful, wordy, and rambling, too. If it's done right :-)

Anonymous said...

"You Never Know"
- from Someday Angeline by Louis Sachar

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