24 June 2008


For seven years, I have collected many memories of Metro Manila that I still often bring to mind even while I'm now in Iloilo City.

One of these memories is
Nippon Kempo, a rather lesser known, newfangled combat sport developed in Japan in the 1930s. We still don't have it here in the entire Western Visayas.

Like other forms of combat sports, such as
Judo, Taekwondo, and Muay Thai, Nippon Kempo uses full-contact competitions and modern sport training methods to teach and assess students rather than the non-competitive, almost non-contact approaches of more traditional martial arts systems like Aikido.

So, a Nippon Kempo practitioner doesn't neutralize attacks with some cosmic energy mumbo-jumbo, or "pull" his/her strikes, or deliver them in a semi-cooperative manner, or refuse to go full-contact because his/her techniques are so lethal for actual application.
Instead, he/she delivers his/her techniques with full power, blinding speed, deceitful cleverness, and reflexive killer instinct--just like he/she would outside the gym or dojo.

On the other hand,
unlike Judo, Muay Thai, and Taekwondo, Nippon Kempo's repertoire of techniques is rather more exciting because it's pretty much like those used in Mixed Martial Arts: punches, kicks, knee strikes, wrestling, throws, foot sweeps, takedowns, ground fighting, joint locks, and submission holds.

To allow students to practice these techniques in full force and actual speed--without going home ugly and disfigured--they must wear a set of (very heavy) protective gear called bogu, which consists of a head protector, a body armor, groin protector, hand wraps (though optional), and a pair of 8-ounce boxing gloves.

Nippon Kempo bouts usually last for three minutes, within which competitors must try to score an
ippon or one full point against each other. The first competitor to score two ippons is the winner of the match.

The following are examples where an
ippon is awarded:

1. When you've cleanly connected a flurry of well-timed punches or kicks to a protected area, such as the head.

2. When your opponent taps out due to a joint lock or submission hold.

3. When you've lifted your opponent above your waist line. (The presumption is that--without the protective gear--your opponent could no longer continue fighting if you slam him to the ground.)

I had the opportunity to experience Nippon Kempo for two months under Coach Rio Ohmori in Makati City in 2006, and it was fun.

We held our classes back then at BA Lepanto Condominium along Paseo De Roxas Avenue. However, their new location now is at Punch Out Boxing Gym, World Center Building, 5th Floor, 330 De La Costa Street, Salcedo Village, Makati City.

To win in a Nippon Kempo match, you really have to have an entire range of skills and techniques in both stand-up and ground fighting.

Just like in MMA, a good stand-up alone won't be enough. With zero background in
clinch combat and ground fighting, even a good striker could end up tapping out or
eating punches from above once the fight goes to the ground. 

I learned this beyond mere theory when I sparred with Coach Rio twice or thrice. During our feeling-out stage, he would tell me, "Very nice combos, CJ," but in just a matter of seconds after that, I would already be inside his tight triangle choke or would go flat on the mat with his crazy Judo foot sweeps.

After each match, I would just console myself with the fact that Coach Rio was a six-footer (he's the one standing behind me in the third photo and, in the video below, he's the
only one wearing a black head protector), and he already was a Nippon Kempo black belt and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blue belt then (maybe he's purple now, I'm not sure). I'm only 5'6" and, that time, was just a lowly BJJ white belt from another school.

As a system, Nippon Kempo has its share of shortcomings, too. I observed that, because of the heavy protection that the
bogu provides, practitioners--especially the lazy ones--tend to form bad habits by forgetting/disregarding the "pain aspect."

Because of the thick protective gear, they can afford to sacrifice being hit (it doesn't hurt at all really--except when, say, a front kick misses a protected area, like your lower abdomen, and hits your upper right thigh instead, which happened to me, by the way, and made me limp for like four days) so that they can get closer to their opponents and increase their chances of landing a cleaner shot or launching a takedown.

I have seen some guys at the gym who occasionally did this tactic--even those Japanese black belts (Coach Rio's friends) who paid us a visit one time. (Watch the video below.)

On the streets, however, (where there's no
bogu, of course) this tactic not only has very slim chances of success, it also has disaster written all over it. You'll likely end up having memorable injuries, or artless disfigurement, or even an untimely rendezvous with thine Creator.

Despite this shortcoming (and even the relative obscurity it suffers compared to other combat sports), I think Nippon Kempo is still the next best thing to MMA because--unlike Judo, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, even BJJ and Boxing--you get to do a much wider range of techniques (not just the "usual" punches only, or kicks only, or punches and kicks only, or grappling only kind of thing) in full-power application but without the potential danger of getting seriously injured--or disfigured.

Through actual, full-power application, you get to test whether or not your techniques will work against a fully resisting opponent. Through regular sparring, you'll realize that techniques that don't work are soon abandoned, and the more effective ones are continuously fine-tuned against different attackers and defenders under different situations.

Also, with the full-contact spar sessions in Nippon Kempo, you always get to practice how to react or operate under the adrenal stress of actual (and
usually unpredictable) attacks,
giving you an already-familiar feeling--and hopefully enough wits and composure not to panic--during a potentially violent confrontation on the streets or inside a bar, especially if it's your first time. 

For those who are in Metro Manila and are interested in this fun combat sport, you can reach Coach Rio Ohmori at +63915-950-2135 and/or nipponkempo@mail2philippines.com.

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