I'd like to introduce myself and tell my martial arts story as it were. It may be a bit long but it feels good to tell the story.
My name is David, I'm a student at the University of Kentucky and I've been a practitioner of martial arts since I was 13 years old (I am currently 21). I started in Shaolin-Do when I was in grade school. My best friend's father was a 5th degree black belt who studied under Grand Master Sin Kwang The. He owned a local school so it was natural for me to begin my training with him. I unfortunately had to leave the school when I was 17 because of a rather messy divorce between my master and his wife. Because I was his son's best friend he was trying to use me as a way to get to his son. I achieved the rank of 3rd degree brown belt before I had no choice but to remove myself from the situation.
Shortly before this occurred my aunt and uncle came to stay with us for a few months. My uncle got a new job that required him to relocate and since they didn't have a house yet they stayed with us until they could get one. My uncle is a 5th degree black belt in Uechi-ryu. I had never realised the amazing resource I had at my fingertips until it was too late.
My uncle and I had talked about doing some training the whole time he was staying with us, but at that time I was so into Shaolin-Do that I didn't want to bother with another style. I didn't realise the opportunity I was passing up until long after. I did a lesson with my uncle right before they moved into their new home (1.5 hours away), but I didn't fully appreciate the style at first. It was too different from the chinese style I already knew. It was when I moved away to college that I finally realised the golden opportunity that had slipped between my fingers.
My first year of college I took a KHP course titled "Advanced Martial Arts". It turned out to be a Shotokan class, which I had read a little about before choosing Shaolin but wasn't necessarily interested in. As a whole I enjoyed the experience but with over 50 students in one gym, all at different skill levels and some who signed up only for an easy "A", it was not a great learning experience. I realised that replacing Shaolin in my life was not going to be an easy task. I was used to small 4-6 person classes and in Shaolin I had a training partner who started one day after I had so we were able to train and go through the ranks together. That was when it first sank in that I had really missed out on the one-on-one training I could have done with my uncle.
My second year of college I moved into an apartment that was about 5 minutes away from my uncles house. There was a gym close by that he had a membership at so I signed up as well so that we could train in their aerobics/martial arts room at night when it was not in use. The problem is that my uncle works for a global company that sends him all over the world for business. His schedule is tenuous at best, he never knows when he will be at home, or even in the United States. This created a great difficulty in scheduling lessons. We only managed to get one lesson in before giving up the idea.
Flash forward one year to my 4th year of college (aka the present). I looked at myself in the mirror a while back and realised my martial artist physic was gone, replaced with a beer belly. I still had a little of my flexibility and under the chub there was still some muscle but all in all I was disappointed with my current appearance. I decided to look around for a dojo where I could do some training and get back in shape. Shaolin-do has their national headquarters here in Lexington so they naturally would have been my first choice. Unfortunately my years of doing Shaoling improperly and with no one correcting me lead to my knees becoming weak and damaged, too many twists and diving/rolls. So I looked for another style to train in. My mother had been asking around and suggested I try out this Kenpo school that was really close to my house. I went and did the tour and I really liked their facilities so I decided to give them a try.
The school teaches "Tracy's Kenpo" which is an American adaptation of the traditional Japanese Kempo. I'll begin by saying I am not a big fan of the style. They focus entirely on self-defense and nothing on the philosophical aspects of the martial arts. They use no breathing, no "kyas", no meditation, and no "chi/ki" use at all. Their fighting stance seems ridiculous to me (they pretty much stand completely sideways when sparring, leaving the entire side and front open to attack). I'm really only doing the training so I can get back in shape.
There are a few nice things about the style. All the lessons are private 1-on-1 lessons with your own instructor which makes learning the material very easy. The facilities are very nice with an open gym from 11am-9pm every day. There are group workouts twice per day, every day of the week except Sunday and you can go to as many as you want.
I enjoy the group workouts but it's missing some of the things I like about other styles. You don't learn your first kata until orange belt (3rd belt) and you don't do any material in the group lessons (aside from kicks and punches). In Shaolin after stretching and warmup we did all of the short kata, sparing kata, and long kata followed by new material on Tuesdays and sparring on Thursdays. I really liked this system because you got to practice with everybody twice a week and you do the material as long as you practice the art. In this Kenpo you don't use the material again until your first brown belt testing, so you have to remember everything you learned in all the previous belts entirely by practicing by yourself. In Shaolin you really had no choice but to remember the old material because you did it before the start of every lesson. It made learning and retaining the information much easier and gave continuity to the form. Everything you learn built upon what you learned in your previous rank.
I completed my yellow belt test last week and I'm enrolled for the next 6 months, at the end of which I'll be looking for another style. My uncle just moved into a new house with plenty of space for us to workout so my plan is to begin training with him as soon as possible. I hope to get back in decent enough shape by the end of my 6 months in Kenpo that I'll be able to keep pace with my uncle. I just hope that I don't learn any new bad habits in Kenpo that will mess me up when I can start training for real.