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Martial Arts

Loren Christensen – Fastest back fist in the West

Background info

Loren began his martial arts training in 1965 and over the years he has earned 10 black belts, 7 in Karate, 2 in Jujitsu and 1 in Arnis.

As an author of 32 books, Christensen has received high praise for his easy-to-read, informative writing style from readers and book reviewers in the United States, France and Russia.

What was it about the martial arts that attracted you?
In 1965, when I was 19 years old, I broke my lower back in a power lifting contest and had to wear a back brace. While looking for something to spend my energy on since I couldn’t lift weights, I heard about a new and mystical thing called “karate.” I found a school a few miles from my home in Portland Oregon, telephoned a buddy, and we went to check it out. The instant I walked into the huge training hall, I was hooked. The tremendous power I saw exhibited, the shouts, stomping, snapping of gi, and the way the 20-foot high windows created cathedral-like light beams that shown down on the perspiring students, all caught my teenage fancy. And it’s never left.


The back injury created a major obstacle: I could barely lift my legs because of the intense pain and the adhesions that had stiffened and added 80 years to my spine. Through lots of hard work, pain and teeth grinding, I eventually turned into the mediocre kicker that I still am today.


How did your back injury affect your Aiki Jujitsu training? Was it a style you should have trained in considering the amount of stress placed on the back whilst learning break falls, etc?

I began training in karate in 1965 but I didn’t start jujitsu until the late 1980s. By then my back was in fair shape and was unaffected by falling.


A back injury is like a knee injury in that when 10 people have a bad back (or bad knee) the structures are so complex that it’s likely there are 10 different injuries. I could handle falling, but should I lift an opponent improperly, the back pain-o-meter needle would blip into the red. However, another person with the same back injury could lift an awkward weight without pain, but not tolerate falling.


Should you have an injury, consult your doctor first or, better yet, a sports physician.


Who was your first instructor or inspiration?
I started in Kongsu, a Korean form of Shotokan with the Oregon Karate Association under Bruce Terrill. Bruce, as he asked us to call him, was extraordinarily fast. He trained under Master Moon Woo, a man known for his super speed. Woo once said that Bruce was the fastest fighter he’d seen.


I was definitely inspired by his speed and his demeanour. He looked a little like Woody Allen (but not as buff), and he had this odd way of walking that made him the target of bullies. Those who witnessed Bruce dispatch the bullies said they were all struck dozens of times. One story had it that he hit one poor sap with 100 blows, but I’m guessing that’s an urban legend. But given his speed…


What were your first impressions of training?
I loved it. I was never good at sports nor was I interested in trying to improve. I did like weight training because I could do it by myself. Once I had learned enough in the martial arts to train alone, I knew I had found something that I would do for a long time. I enjoyed training hard in class and I enjoyed training at home by myself. That has stayed with me over the years.


What successes/ promotions have you achieved?
I’ve earned enough rank to be really, really embarrassed should someone clean my clock on the street and I’ve earned enough to get terribly sued should I over-clean someone else’s clock in a self-defence situation.


I’ve been fortunate to have trained with some fantastic instructors and training partners, all of whom have been responsible for my progress in the fighting arts.


2nd-degree black belt in Wu Ying Tao from Bruce Terrill, Oregon Karate Association.


4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th dan black belt American Free-style karate from Professor Duke Moore, ATAMA. (Moore got his first black belt in 1940 and was later given rank from Mas Oyama)


1st and 2nd degree black belt Aiki Jujitsu from Soke Tim Delgman


1st degree black belt Modern Arnis from Professor Remy Presas


I discovered as a youngster that I had a gift for writing. I began writing for the martial arts magazines in the early 1980s and wrote my first book in 1987. I really hit it hard then and have since written 35 books, about two dozen of them on the martial arts. I’ve also been fortunate to have made six training DVDs. I now write full time.


When I was a shy 19 year old, and trying to figure out how to tie a karate belt, I would never have guessed I’d be writing about the arts 40 some years later. It was the martial arts and my wonderful teachers, peers, and training partners that have given me the confidence and ability to make that possible.



How important is realism to martial practice?
I’ve mellowed over the years on that subject. I used to think that if a system wasn’t teaching all it could to help people survive the means streets, it was worthless, or just an exercise. But in the last few years I’ve grown to understand that the martial arts offer something for everyone.


There are street oriented styles for people who are strictly interested in survival – cops, soldiers, and citizens who want an edge. There are styles for those who want to compete – point Karate fighting and padded-chest Taekwon-Do matches. There are systems for those who want full contact – Mixed Martial Arts and Kick Boxers. There is Cardio Kickboxing for people who want to tighten their thighs and de-flab their upper arms. Lastly, there are arts for those who mostly want to study an Asian culture, philosophy, and ki control.


My approach has always been to train for realism. When I was fighting in the war torn streets of Saigon, Vietnam as a Military Policeman, I only cared about what worked. When I walked some of Portland, Oregon’s toughest streets as a cop for 25 years, I only cared about what worked. I still train and teach that way today.


How important is understanding the purpose behind moves/techniques? How do you find out about
those purposes? From your teacher, or from your own study? Which, do you think, is the best way to find
If you don’t understand the purpose of a technique, you’re paying high monthly dues to learn cheerleading moves because that’s the only purpose it serves.


I’ve asked people what a certain move in their kata means and they hadn’t a clue. How silly. Yes you go to a dojo, yes you have a teacher, but the bottom line is that you’re responsible for your learning. If you don’t know, ask. If your teacher isn’t telling you (you have to wonder why) then ask another student. Training is about accumulating information and putting that information into action. If you don’t understand the information, the only action you’re likely to get is your defeat.


I think a teacher should help the student discover answers. For example, I’ll ask a student: what’s the best way to cross the gap in this situation? If his answer isn’t the best one, I have him try different methods until he discovers the answer himself. If I had simply told him, he might or might not have retained the answer. But when he discovers it through trial and error, he’s more apt to retain it.


What does it take to make a success of martial practice?
One way I define success is to be the best you can be. Few of us can be Mas Oyama or Bruce Lee, but we can all train hard to be the best of which we are capable.


If a student is content coming to class twice a week and that’s all he wants to commit, that’s fine. This person is getting out of it exactly what he wants. Therefore, he is successful at training twice a week. But should a teacher nag him to train harder, to sign up for more classes, and to attend tournaments, the student might just quit. I learned that the hard way with such students early in my teaching. As teachers, we have to recognize when a student is getting out of his training exactly what he wants, even it’s only once or twice a week.


For the student who wants to push himself as far as he is capable, he needs to sacrifice. He needs to follow a healthy diet designed for an athlete. He needs to establish a training regimen scientifically designed with modern concepts and principles to develop his body to maximum flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, power, speed, strength, and technical skill. He also needs to know when to rest, relax, and allow his body some recuperation and healing.


As teachers, we must give just as much of ourselves to the student who trains twice a week as we do to the one who wants push himself to the max.


How do factors such as age and sex affect training?

Well, the dojo is no place for sex no matter what your age. Juuust kidding. I know what you mean.


There are some schools that are inflexible in adapting the system to the student. They say “Everyone must kick this way. Everyone must block like this.” This is wrong. I’m almost six feet tall and weigh 210. My girl friend is 5 feet 5 inches and weighs 128 or so. She’s a black belt and very good but there is no way she can solidify herself and absorb some hard kicks as I do, and there is no way I can move my body as quickly as she can. She works with her attributes and I work with mine.


The same applies to age. I’ve gotten older students over the years who have left other schools because the teacher had insisted they try to keep up with the kids. In fact, I just got an email from a gal who was experiencing that very thing in her school. Her teacher should take her aside and tell her to learn to do everything, but concentrate on those things that she does really well and make them their hers.


I’m 60 years old. Although I’ve been blessed with good health and have retained most of my strength and speed, I know it’s not going to last forever. So for the past three years or so I’ve been concentrating especially hard on targeting highly vulnerable targets – eyes, throat, ears, nose, groin, bladder, liver and kidneys – targets that are especially vulnerable and don’t necessitate the power of Arnold Schwarzenegger to hurt them.


How effective are martial arts in a street situation? How might they be made more effective? Do you
cover all aspects of practice – striking, grappling, locks etc and if not, which are omitted, and why?
I don’t omit anything. I’ve even taught the best way to hit someone with a lamp and the best way to use a cat. Seriously. I know of a case where someone threw their sharp-nailed cat into an attacker’s face.


Striking, grappling and locks all work; the trick is to know when to apply them.


One time when I was attending a defensive tactics seminar at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia, I had partnered up with a veteran Arkansas state trooper. I was busy twisting his wrist, when he said in his southern drawl, “That does surely hurt some, but I don’t think it would be too good against some ol’ boy comin’ at you with a whirling McCullough chain saw.”


The guy had a good point. It’s all about the right technique for the situation.


How important are titles such as ‘Sifu’, ‘Sensei’ ‘Sabom’ and ‘Shihan’ to you?

Hmm, lots of answers possible here.

In this day of fast belt promotions one must always raise a suspicious eyebrow at these titles unless it’s well known who the person is.


I always show legit people with these titles respect because of the years of sweat and injury that went into earning them. The people I associate with, all high ranking (two of them are Soke), don’t even use their titles, though in some cases their students insist.


A few weeks ago a guy emailed me and asked that I send him free all my books and DVDs so he could review them. He signed his name Master so-and-so. He called himself master. Dee-lete!


There is a monthly magazine, the title of which I won’t mention, that targets teachers and school owners. Almost every issue depicts a school(s) owner on the cover who goes by one of the titles you mentioned. With the exception of one or two over the last two-year period, these cover people are obese, some in the extreme. What the heck is up with that? If I were a student of such a person, it would be an effort to hold them in high esteem. These teachers have forgotten the first rule: lead by example.


I attended a tournament recently in which there was a huge division for kids under 12. There were dozens and dozens of them wearing black belts. Now, I can’t begin to count the number of fingers and toes I broke, the shattered knee cap, the cracked rib, the damaged bladder, and trashed elbows I received on my path to the rank I hold. Likewise with all the martial arts experts I know.


And here was a gaggle of rosy-cheeked kids wearing crisp new black belts. And how did they look on the tournament floor? Don’t get me started.



Who are you inspired by now?

I’m inspired by my many martial arts friends who are always so generous with their ideas, thoughts, opinions and hard data when I ask for help with a martial arts book I’m working on. Combined, these kind folks have hundreds of years of martial arts training. Since we have all taken different paths and have had different experiences along the way, what they have to say is invaluable to me.


If I can modify the question to “what trait inspires me” I would say speed. Even after training for 42 years, I’m still inspired and awed when I see a martial artist – white belt of black – move with the speed of a cobra strike.


I was at a tournament on the East Coast back in 1968 where Bruce Lee was a guest celebrity and coaching a tournament champ named Louis Delgado. I remember being enthralled at Bruce Lee’s speed as he skipped in and out of range popping back fists at Delgado. His fist was an absolute blur and he could move his entire body faster than most people can punch. He had only been in The Green Hornet TV series at that time and I remember thinking, “Man, this guy ought to be movies.”


Can I pick ’em or what?


Lee inspired me.


What are your thoughts on the new emphasis of practical martial arts?

I think all martial arts styles are supposed to be practical, though some have clearly moved away from it.


As mentioned earlier, there is something in the martial arts for everyone – sport, the study of a culture, betterment of the person, fitness, and self-defence. There are students for each of these slants.


My approach is only practical and as a result I get cops, military people, and citizens who just want to know how to defend themselves. I won’t accept anyone I think just wants to fight well at drinking establishments. That’s not ethical and I don’t need a lawsuit coming my way.


On the subject of lawsuits, one time a police officer called me and said that he had responded to an armed robbery of a pawn shop. When they got there they found the suspect lying on the floor beaten to a pulp. When the cops asked the store owner how he did that, he said he had studied martial arts with me a few years earlier. Now, I managed to talk the officers into leaving my name out of the report, but I was still nervous for a while expecting a call from the law firm of Cheatham & Fleesum.



Do you believe that pressure points work?

When I was a cop walking a beat in skid row, I found that pressure point techniques didn’t’ work well on drunks. Their brains were too pickled to receive the pain message.


Of course, not all pressure point targets are the same. Also, not everyone defines pressure points the same way. I use a broad definition. Some might define them as a place on the body where a nerve can be pressed against a bone; i.e. the temple, the point under the nose, and so on. I define it as any place that really, really hurts when you pinch, press, and gouge it.


Imagine you have just dumped your assailant onto his back and you’re on the ground controlling one arm. When you place the point of your elbow into his eye socket and lean into it, most people will stop fighting you.


Imagine you’re standing and he’s down on his back grabbing one of your legs. Place your other foot between his legs and lower your heel and your weight onto his groin. Think crush. Most people will not only let go of your leg but will give you the keys to their car and offer to keep up the payments for you.


I’ve had a lot of success with the classic pressure points (and quite a few failures, too). I’ve had even more success with those points that I include in my broader definition.



Do you think pressure points are the be-all and end-all or the poison on the tip of the arrow?



I don’t think any one technique is the be-all. Example: I saw too separate cases where people were shot multiple times in the head and still ran around and had to be subdued. I know one guy who was shot in the heart and ran over 100 feet before he dropped dead. Another disarmed a policeman of his baton and commenced to beat the officer with it, and continued to do so after the cop shot him in the heart. The guy was able to get several more whacks in before he dropped dead.


The only technique that I would put in the ALMOST end-all category would be an eye gouge. Not a flick or scrape, but a gouge up to the second knuckle. I say “almost” because I’m sure there are some characters out there who receive your gouge, shake their heads for a second, and then say, “That all you got?” and keep on fighting with their orbs dangling down their cheeks.



Do you agree with pressure testing techniques?

It depends on how it’s done. If it’s done for the student and it’s done safely, then sure. But if it’s done for the ego of the instructor so he can tell everyone how he tortured the student, then no.


I’ve have sat on tow black belt panels for two tests that were clearly for the instructor’s ego. In one, a student was cut so badly with a real knife that I could see exposed tendons moving in his wrist. In the other test, a totally exhausted student was forced to defend against 15 attackers over and over. I don’t know how long it would have gone on if the student’s lat muscle hadn’t torn loose and rolled up his back like a window blind. It cost him a surgery and six months of recuperation.


Most of the time, the teacher knows if the student is worthy of the next belt calibre. So why torture him? To see what he’s made of? Doesn’t the teacher already know?


My tests are hard because of the amount of material (I teach three arts and the student must demonstrate material from all of them). There have been a couple of students who threw up, but not because of unreasonable requirements on my part. It was because they failed to get into maximum cardio condition.



Are the oyo derived from bunkai valid or should we only practice that laid out by the masters?

That depends on the instructor’s approach and the rigidity of the system. My approach is to look at what the masters have given us, look at what current day masters have to say about these techniques, weigh all this against my experience in the street, and then, if necessary, modify and tweak the material to make it street applicable for my needs.


For example, I think the Japanese front kick is perfect. It’s devastatingly powerful, fast, and difficult to block. But I have trouble making their blocks work for me against some of the street slop I’ve come up against. So I follow a defence system that is similar to Kung Fu and Western boxing.


Do you believe that the addition of pressure points and grappling to karate/Taekwon-do is true to the
style or a corruption?

Whether it’s true to the style or a corruption is of course up to the teacher. I’ve never been in a style that was that restrictive nor would I stay longer than it took me to turn around and head out the door. I’m a firm believer in using whatever works.


I once grabbed a mattress and charged a Thai man who was off his meds and kicking everyone in a church that he had wandered into. When he ran from us into the attic, the other cops told me to go get him. So I picked up a single bed mattress and charged him, knocking him down so we could restrain his arms that stuck out on one end and his ankles that protruded form the other.


I always tell folks who email me that if they are stuck in a restrictive style with no other options where they can study, buy books and DVDs on whatever else they want to learn. Grab a training buddy who wants to expand his knowledge and practice at their home.


Do you believe that patterns are the heart of karate/TKD?

To a person who trains in traditional arts I would say yes. As far as my approach to the fighting arts, I say no.


I stopped doing forms about 17 years ago and haven’t missed them a bit.


Would you still do your art if there was only one pattern?

Since I no longer do patterns at all, the answer would be yes.


In the kick/punch arts, I’ve trained in Kongsu, Shotokan, Hung Gar, Sil Lum, and Muay Thai, so my kicking and punching reflects all those. I train more like a boxer or Muay Thai fighter. I’ve found that I’m still the same student of the arts as I was when I did forms, only now I spend more time training on fighting combinations, heavy bag work, and hand-held pad work.


Hard core traditionalists aren’t going to agree with that, but it works for me. And if it works, you can’t argue with that.



Fact Box – Snapshot of the person.

a) What’s your favourite colour?


b) What’s your favourite food?

Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese.


c) What’s your favourite film?

I find that I like violent movies less and less. I like movies like Crash and The Straight Story, movies where there might be violence but there is a strong spiritual theme running through them.


d) What’s your favourite music?

New Age stuff and classical. Lots of strings, no piano.



e) What are you currently reading?

I’ve gotten away from fiction in recent years. Now I concentrate mostly on biographies and books of a spiritual nature. I read some on Christianity but mostly books on Buddhism and Zen.


f) What’s your favourite technique?

The back fist and if I get a second choice I’d say the roundhouse kick. Joe Lewis was once asked during his competitive days how he could score with his sidekick since his opponents knew that he would most certainly use it. Lewis answered that he never threw it the same way twice.


I have always remembered that and have tried to incorporate the concept into my training. I throw the back fist a dozen different ways and likewise with the roundhouse kick. I’m not referring to a dozen scenarios in which to use them but to the physical way they are delivered. Doing this keeps the techniques fresh physically and mentally, reduces the chance of muscles getting injured from overuse, and it opens up many more opportunities to use them.

About mattsylvester

Father of two beautiful daughters and married to the beautiful Karen, Matthew has been reading and writing fantasy and science fiction since he first read the Hobbit at the age of 7.


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