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Martial Arts, Writing

Prof. Rick Clark – Pressure Points Pioneer

Trad – You were over in the UK again recently. How did this go?
Very well, over the past (number of years) there have been a number of clubs that have hosted me on a regular basis and the instructors have become very good friends. So when I come back to visit its not like I am just come into a venue and not know the individuals. In one instance, for example, I have seen a toddler grow up to be a young man with a brown belt in his fathers club. I have been able to watch the development of white belts to black. Its really quite good to see the growth.

Trad – What research did you present to attendees?
This time around I was presenting some ways in which you could use Pinan 2 in self-defence applications and the use of various stances for locking techniques. The vast majority of techniques I teach are from a very close range, not from the distance you would normally associate with sparring. I am of the opinion that self defence will occur at a very close range and not at a sparring distance. Also, there were some police officers along at the seminars so I worked with techniques that would be appropriate for law enforcement. On one such seminar we had available to us firearms where I was able to teach some techniques to disarm and lock with the firearm. I know this is not a normal topic in martial arts seminars in the UK, but having the weapons available and the officers I thought it would be an interesting topic for part of the session.

Trad – How was this received and were the police already trained in similar techniques or did you see a specific for this type of training in the UK?
So far the response has been very positive from any police officers I have worked with. It is my experience that police officers no matter if they are in the US, UK, or EU have received very minimal training in hand to hand combative. Those that have greater skills tend to be martial artists and have gotten this training on their own. Because I was in the military police, have worked in the field as a civilian, and have my bachelors and masters degree in Criminology I have an interest in working with law enforcement and correctional officers, and a better understanding of the requirements of their jobs. In the US I have worked with the FBI, US Marshals, Military Intelligence, SWAT, State and local officers in the past. While most of of the officers have received some training it is basic, and many of the techniques that the officers who are martial artists are not appropriate for use in law enforcement and correctional settings. You see what officers are allowed to use in various situations is based on what is commonly called “use of force regulations” here in the US. These regulations give guidelines on how much force can be used by officers in dealing with suspects and in many situations agencies detail exactly what techniques can be used. So for me I have a look at what techniques can be use, and the offer suggestions on what slight modifications can be utilized to improve their effectiveness. This may be something as simple as target selection, or hand placement when applying a technique. Because of my background and my work with other law enforcement and correctional I have can offer officers some insight into what other departments use for techniques and give some feed back on what techniques have worked for them.

Trad – Guns are a big part of American culture. Why is it that there doesn’t seem to be a martial art that incorporates them? Surely something like this would be of benefit to your police officers. Many of whom seem to be shot with their own weapons.
Ah, but there is such an art! Once guns were introduced into Japan a whole system developed in the use of firearms from the individual fire arm to the cannon. But this was developed with matchlock weapons.

There are many courses offered in the US to officers on weapons retention and of course holsters for firearms have been designed to reduce the ability of an opponent to grab the firearm of an officer. When I have taught officers in the US they are always surprised and shocked when I demonstrate how their handgun can be taken away from them. Invariably this leads to a prolonged session on weapons retention and disarm. Contrary to popular belief officers are not often killed with their own weapons, police are killed in the US with long guns such as rifles and shotguns, knives or other cutting instruments, blunt instruments, and even cars used as weapons. Of course handguns are the most often used weapon but the criminal in all but a very few cases has a weapon

Trad – Going back to the Pinan research that you’ve been doing. Do you think that pattern-based styles have too many? Do you think it would be best for styles to revert back to having only one or two patterns or is this diversification too firmly entrenched?
Personally I have worked on Naihanchi (Teki 1) for the past 15 years or so as my primary kata. I do believe it is important to work on one kata as your personal form and develop your self-defense techniques as fully as you can from the one form. Bill Burgar wrote an excellent book on this Five Years One Kata: Putting Kata Back Into The Heart Of Karate) topic, and I would highly recommend it for reading.

Trad – ADK members such as Bill Burgar have made a study of a single pattern for a period of years. Is this something you would encourage others to do as part of their journey through the arts?
Yes, too often I see people learning a new kata just to get their next grading. For many kata does not have any meaning or practical purpose in their training. Some even go so far as to say it is of no value in real life. I disagree with this position but can respect the opinion of others. For me I just have to stop and remember that three or four hundred years ago there had to be a way to pass on techniques to students, they did not have books the way we do now or for that matter DVD’s. So forms gave people a way to remember and pass on techniques to their students.

Trad – Since you started coming over here in 1995, how has knowledge of pressure points and their applications expanded?
I find it interesting how many people now have some knowledge of pressure points and you don’t have the resistance to the idea that pressure points can be found in the martial arts. When a few of us started to promote the use of pressure points a lot of people would not believe that pressure points were truly a part of martial arts.

Trad – You used to be an advocate of a more esoteric approach to pressure points. Now you are the main advocate of the ‘Just Hit Here’ theory. What made you change your mind?
Well to be honest when a few of us started to do some intensive study into the use of pressure points we would spend a lot of time trying to figure out what was going on. Why do these places on the body react the way they do. What causes a person to pass out, or the limb to go numb, or get ill. A few of us would read everything we could get our hands on and really do a lot of research. Some of the guys I knew went so far as to study acupuncture and become certified in its use. I had even given that serious consideration at one point in time.

For some period of time I had a rather strong belief that theories of acupuncture were the key to unlock the secrets. But the more I studied the more confusing it became. I was looking for clarity, something that would give me an understanding of why the techniques worked. You see if you understand how they work, then I felt you would be able to be predictive about other techniques. But rather than being clearer it became more and more clouded. People would ask me why such and such a technique would work and I could come up with a very logical explanation using some theory of acupuncture why so much pain was created. But, what I began to notice was that I could come up with an explanation about any and every combination of techniques.

In other words everything could be explained, and nothing was discounted. So if everything is included and nothing is excluded there is no predictive value.

While I was looking at explanations from the point of view of oriental medicine I also was reading about western medical science. While many things could be explained looking at it from this point of view there were things that could just not be explained, at least at my level of understanding, by western medical science. For example, I could not find any good reasons why individuals would be knocked out from strikes to the arm or legs. Sure strikes to the head and neck area, even to the torso can be explained using western medical knowledge, but not to the arms and legs.

So, now I find myself in a position that I just have to look at what happens when you strike various points and just be satisfied with an explanation that it works just “because”. Sure I’ll continue to study what I can from both western and eastern western medicine, but I must come to the conclusion at some point in time I will have to be satisfied with an answer to all of the questions that we may have about pressure points. We could spend the rest of our lives doing research and still not come up with a satisfactory answer, so I am satisfied with “just hit here”.

Trad – Some people believe that they can do no-touch knockouts by using Chi to take their subjects down. Good technique or plain hypnotism?
At the risk of denigrating anyone I will have to say that I truly believe that anyone who belives that they can knock out someone else without touching them has been watching too many science fiction movies. If and I do mean if someone can really perform such a technique there is a way to get rich and famous. The James Randi Educational Foundation
has a one million dollar challenge to anyone who can prove in a controlled setting evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. I have every confidence in the world that the folks that are claiming that they can knock out a person with Chi if they could really perform such a technique would be in contact with James Randi and demonstrate their ability and collect a million dollars.

I can guarantee you that if I could perform such a feat I would be at his door with a bag ready to collect the cash! Simply ask yourself why they would be unwilling to demonstrate in a controlled situation when they are perfectly willing to demonstrate in a seminar.

Trad – Do you think that a sound delivery system is the main factor or that pressure points are?
Of course you MUST have a solid delivery system! No matter how many pressure points you know, or how to hit them, you have to be able to make use of the technique in self-defence. One of the major criticisms I hear from martial artist is that in a real fight you would not be able to hit a pressure point. The funny thing is that I agree with them to a point, you do have to be able to strike, kick, or grab a pressure point in self-defence. But then you have to be able to apply an arm bar, kick, punch, throw, or whatever technique you practice in self-defence. Pressure points are only part of the technique, not the entire technique. For example, before you apply a technique many schools teach that you strike your opponent to get their attention or divert their attention. So what is to stop you from attempting to hit a pressure point? If you miss the point you have still applied an atemi waza and can continue on with the technique. Nothing is 100% in this world, but if you can increase the probability that your technique will succeed, why would not you not practice such techniques?

Trad – When we first met in 1995 you hit HARD. Now training is based more on accuracy and feeling the effects rather than being affected by them. Why this shift in approach?
To be honest, people are more receptive to believing that the techniques work. So you can strike or press with lighter pressure and get a result that people can recognize. Ten or twelve years ago I would hit harder and people would pass out, today I strike lighter and if they feel a “buzz” or light headed they recognize that a harder strike would have put them out.

There is not the need to strike hard today, and if you don’t need to do so, why hit someone hard? Let me give you an example, I believe that in a seminar setting you will find that there is a small percentage of people that do not feel the results of a light pressure point strike or grab. I think there will be about 3 to 5 percent of the population that demonstrate a resistance to pressure points, or they can take such a strike without showing any effect. Now, I know you can block your feeling to some of the strikes and reduce the effectiveness of some of the points.

f in a seminar I come across a person who displays some resistance to pressure points I don’t try to hit them harder, just to prove that it can work. I really believe its not appropriate to hit a person harder in a seminar situation just to prove or make sure a technique works. If I get a person like this in a seminar I tend use this as a learning opportunity. Clearly this shows how you have to have a delivery system other than just the use of pressure points.

Trad – So far you have 3 books under your belt. Are you working on anymore?
Yep I am working on my 4th book, and I hate to say I have been working on it for quite some time now. I have not gotten it to the point where I am happy with the final product. Books are a funny thing, they tend to outlive you. So I want to make sure I am happy with the book and will be satisfied that 100 years from now I would be pleased with the results.

Trad – You hold a number of belts in different arts. Which one meant the most to you and why?
I guess that would have to be my first black belt in Tae Kwon Do Chung Do Kwan. That was my first and I guess it’s like your first love you don’t forget them.

Trad – Everyone has a core style and you have studied Chung Do Kwan for many years. However, which one is your personal favourite? The one you just can’t get away from?
This is a difficult question to answer. Not because one style that I have practiced is better or worse than the other. Rather, the other styles that I have practiced seem to improve each other style. I know this may sound a bit crazy but let me explain.

In Tae Kwon Do and Karate you have throwing techniques, but they are not as highly developed as in Judo. So my practice of Judo has improved my skills in Karate and Tae Kwon Do because the throws that are taught in these arts have been improved from my training in Judo. Conversely, in Judo there are self-defence techniques that make use of kicks. But as you can imagine they are not as perfected as in Tae Kwon Do or Karate. So having ranked in these arts has improved my skill in Judo self-defence techniques.

My point is that all of the martial arts are connected in some way shape or form and the main techniques of one art are the secondary or tertiary techniques of another art. By developing skill in complimentary arts you are increasing yours skills in your primary art.

Trad – Do you feel that training in the majority of schools has got easier, softer? Is this because modern training methods yield better result or due to instructors not wishing to lose students and income?
This is a rather difficult question in that I could make an argument for both positions. But it does seem to come down to the individual school and instructor. Yes, there are schools that worry about income and what they teach. Yes there are instructors who have received very little training and have gone on to open their own clubs and as a consequence teach incomplete systems. But there are also excellent instructors who are fantastic teachers and give their students a very high level of training.

Trad – You served in Korea. Did you take advantage of this and train in the martial arts when over there and if so, how was the training different (if at all)?
Yes I did spend a year in Korea. It was funny I expected everyone in Korea to be a black belt and be on a very high level of training. I went to Korea as a new 1st dan in Tae Kwon Do, and walked into the Air Force Base Dochang with my black belt and a copy of my certificate signed by Son Duk Son (second headmaster of Chung Do Kwan). I expected no questions as to my rank, but they said I could wear my belt for one class and they would observe me and I might be allowed to continue to wear my belt. After the class they wanted me to grade for 2nd dan, but I refused because I had been a 1st dan for only a few months and my primary instructors were in the US. That was a silly mistake, I should have tested. I would have left Korea as a 3rd dan rather than a 1st, and it took me another 3 years before my instructors in the states would allow me to test for my 2nd dan.

You see in Korea you could get a 1st dan in 12 months with two or three classes per week. The classes were an hour long and while the quality of instruction was very good, the students were not as skilled as a 1st dan in the US. So I declined, that was a mistake I would never make again. If an instructor offered to grade me I now humbly accept their decision. Because at the end of the day their signature and reputation is at stake, and they know better than me what the standards are to receive rank in their art.

Trad – You run the ADK. What is the main thrust of the ADK and what style do members study?
Ao Denkou Kai is an organization that is open to all styles or systems. As you might expect the main thrust is the use of pressure points in the martial arts. ADK encourages cross training in other arts to better understand and develop your own primary art. Most of the people who have joined the organization are black belts in other arts and have found a base from which to study and continue to learn. Many times when you achieve your black belt people seem to feel that they are not learning anything new. So we provide an environment where black belts can continue to learn and learn what they feel is most appropriate to their own growth. As I mentioned learning Judo to improve your throws and grappling if you practice Tae Kwon Do or Karate. Or if you feel that you would benefit from learning knife defense, the ability to practice Arnis and improve that aspect of your art.

Trad – Do you find the multi-style approach has more pros than cons?
This is a difficult question to answer without offending people. The idea that you don’t cross train is a new concept in the martial arts. In the old days if you were a warrior you would have skills in a number of battlefield arts because you would be in a position where you would need to be able to attack and defend at various distances. Skill with the bow and arrow would have given the warrior an ability to reach out and touch their enemy at a distance. The use of the sword, spear, knife, and other weapons gave you a different range of techniques. Finally the empty hand arts would provide another piece to the overall skill of the warrior.
It is said that Ito would send out his students to learn from other instructors their special techniques. So why is it that we should not do the same with our students and ourselves? I really hate to say this but I think many times the reasons that we do not encourage our students to cross train is that we are afraid that our students will see that we as instructors don’t know everything. Personally I encourage my students to cross train and bring back to the group the good things they learn from other styles. That way we improve the body of knowledge of our own systems, and we continue to learn.

Trad – If people want to join the ADK, what are the requirements? How much is it?
ADK is a bit different than any other group. The only requirement is that the instructor knows me personally and I know them. I do not want ADK to be some large group where instructors don’t know the head of the group. I want the instructors to know me and I know them. That we get along as human beings first and foremost, not just as martial artists. As to the cost, well, that’s a bit strange as well. There is no cost to join or for membership dues. I am of the firm belief that money is the cause of most of the problems in the martial arts. So to help get rid of one of the potential problems, I don’t charge dues for ADK.

Trad – How much does the ADK charge for gradings?
Gradings are free. At one point in time I did charge, but once again money changing hands seemed to be one of those things that presents a problem. I don’t charge for grades, so when I evaluate someone if I think they are at 1st dan or 5th dan I feel free to make that evaluation based on their skills and ability. I can never be accused of having an organization that you buy your ranks, because the ranks are free. But, because I sign my name on the certificate I am also putting my reputation on the certificate as well. I am not tempted to grade a person higher than what I truly believe deserve just because of money, I grade based on what I see in their skills. People who have certificates from me know that they did not buy a rank. This gets some of the politics out of martial arts organizations and so far this has worked out quite well.

Trad – Does mean that the ADK is pretty much open to anyone who wishes to study pressure points without having a syllabus pressed on them?
That it does. But I have to point out once again the only way you get into ADK is if we know each other. I am not out trying to get a large student base to make money from association dues, nor from fees generated from grading. I want instructors with me that will get along with the other members of the group and will not cause political problems. I would rather have a small group that gets along than a large group with members coming and going all the time. Life is just too short and its not worth the trouble to get into a lot of political fights with members of an association.

Trad – So members are really following a philosophy rather than a set way of thinking?
Yes, for members of ADK its about learning and progressing in the martial arts. Its about helping others in the group, and being helped by our peers. While ADK is not a large group, it is growing and so far we have had very good results. People get along, no fights, and a lot of sharing of information and knowledge.

Trad – How do you see the ADK progressing in the future?
That is an interesting question. I am not getting younger, so at 57 I hope to have a good 20 years of teaching and organizing the ADK. I hope by that time I will have been able to move people up in rank to the point that they will be able to carry on the ADK once I have died. I truly hope they will be able to continue with the concept of a non political group that has a primary purpose of offering a home to martial artists who want to develop their own personal skills and not be restricted by organizations with iron clad rules and regulations.

Trad – With so many free-thinkers this must make for a rich and diverse approach to pressure points and pattern applications. Is any of this research available?
Sure its available. The best way to get the information is to get involved with an instructor of ADK, get the books published by member of ADK, DVD’s, classes, or seminars.

Trad – Coming back to seminars. How often are you in the UK and when’s your next tour?
I have been coming to the UK twice a year to be with my friends and teach some seminars. I will probably be back in mid to late May.

Trad – Is there a difference in approach to the martial arts in the UK and the US?
Yes very much so! In the UK it seems there are very few clubs that are run from a single purpose Dojo. You see clubs being run in community centres, leisure centres, church halls, school gyms etc. In the US most of the clubs have their own dedicated dojo. Quite honestly there is a price difference as well. In the UK classes cost a few quid and are paid on the day of the class, in the US you will pay anywhere from 20 quid to 100 pounds per month and will have signed a year (or longer) contract for classes. But that is understandable when the instructor has to sign a contract to rent floor space, pay water, electricity, phone, and adverting bills. While in the US we do have clubs that are run as a hobby, I believe the vast majority are run as a business and operate on a business model. There are many instructors who are professional instructors making their living, or at least a majority of their income from the martial arts.

Trad – Are you planning on showing more new research or covering some of the aspects of your books, such as ’75 Down Blocks’?
Every time I teach a seminar I have two sections, review of previous material and new material. It is important to review and provide a background for first time students as well as to provide new material for practice. Of course this depends on the individual seminar and those in attendance. For example we have seminars for the instructors (hosts) where we don’t review, but work through new material and provide an opportunity for the instructors to show the others what they have been working on in the past six months or year.

Trad – Do you think it’s possible for someone to study 4 hours a day, 5 days a week and get a black belt in a year? And, if so why are they often not considered to be ‘valid’ with regards to ‘time in service’ when the hours that they will have put in will far exceed those of a ‘normal’ black belt?
Of course! To me getting your 1st dan really is nothing more than telling me that you have the basic techniques of a system down to a point where you are ready to begin to learn. You are at a point where constant supervision and correction are not needed. For me serious training really starts about 4th dan level. 1st and 2nd dan ranks are students, 3rd and 4th are competitor ranks and when you begin to learn.

Trad – Is obtaining a black the belt the be all and end all, or should we look at training and increased knowledge as the goal of students rather than the next belt?
I truly wish we did not have a belt system but that will never happen. Belts tend to get in the way of training and are useful for in that they tell you an approximate skill level of an individual. Back in the 60’s I read of a school in Japan that would give a black belt to you the first night of training. They then said, now that that is out of the way let’s start to learn.

Trad – Would you advocate having fewer belts (and therefore gradings) or is the idea of the ‘next belt’ too firmly entrenched?
Belts do give you a way to motivate students and they do serve a purpose, but as I said they can get in the way of training and may give people a false sense of achievement.

Trad – Do you have any amusing anecdotes or stories from your seminars that you can share with us?
I guess one of the funniest things was when I was teaching some police in the US some time back. A question came up about what good was hand to hand techniques when someone had a gun. I mentioned that it was possible to disarm a person, and that was met with a healthy bit of skepticism. So I felt a demonstration was in order, and I asked if I could borrow a handgun.

After making sure it was empty, I asked the person to come forward and point the gun at me. My instruction to them was that when they saw me move they were to fire the gun and not let me take the firearm. Well to make a long story short I had the firearm in my hand and they were in an arm bar looking at the business end of the weapon. The officer’s faces dropped to the ground and everyone was asking me if I could do that again. Well I did, several times, and they never got a shot off. So for the next hour and a half we worked on this and similar techniques.

Trad – In a previous interview you said that you thought MMA were in some ways far more traditional than the ‘Traditional’ arts as they are now. A big factor of the MMA is ‘live’ training, ‘pressure testing’. Is this something you think instructors/students should do on a regular basis in order to ensure that what they teach works?
I have mixed feelings on pressure testing. I think it can be important but it does pose some risk to the individuals. So rules have to be in place and control will be critical. If you look at Judo you will find a lot of pressure testing, they go all out but with controlled techniques. So that does proved some hard testing for techniques and can be very valuable. One of the most important lessons a Karataka can learn is not to under estimate a Judoka.

Trad – There’s a lot of pressure points do/don’t work in grappling. Do you think that this because those trying to apply them possibly aren’t appying them correctly when on the ground
I am not really sure about this area.  As you know I have experienced some health problems over the past few years.  Grappling is an area that seems to give me a bit of a problem now, so I tend to avoid this portion of my martial arts now.  I don’t feel that this really hurts me because there are so many areas of the martial arts that I can still practice.  I will leave that study to those a bit younger and to those with the desire to research that area. 

Trad – With the profusion of books, DVDs and seminars on pressure points and pattern applications do you think that people are being encouraged to think for themselves less rather than being encouraged to go out and find the applications for themselves?

I think  this is an individual question in many ways.  Some instructors and associations no matter what you do will still say that what they are teaching is the only way.  I guess I am of the opinion you should see as many different opinions and then make a decision on what is right for you.  Sure as a white belt you have to have an instructor that tells you “do it this way” but after a point in time and a great deal of practice you should be able to make some decision on what is the best path to follow.  I guess I don’t like someone taking my hand and leading me down a path.  I would rather push ahead on my own, make some mistakes, learn, and go forward. 

Trad – Attempts are being made to codify kyusho and the way it is studied. Good or bad?

Pointless – no pun intended.  Any technique will be based on an individual’s skill and ability.  Even within a system individuals will find techniques they like better than others, techniques that they can perform better than others, or techniques that are just better suited for the individual.  Pressure points are the same in a lot of respects I believe.  Groups of points will work better for various arts and be more suited for different individuals at different points in their development.  So I don’t see how you will be able to develop a master system that will fit all needs for styles and individuals.   

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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