Kurt Zettlemoyer Koo Self Defense

My Black Belt Test

On a very rainy March 3 of 2001 I took my black belt test for Koo Self Defense International. It was, to say the least, a memorable experience, and certainly the hardest I have ever pushed myself.

The test began with a series striking and kicking drills that simulate a street attack. These were not the rehearsed and choreographed "step sparring" you see in most martial arts studios. These drills involve a moving attacker who can be chasing you, retreating, or charging. You must then perform a kick or strike to halt his motion, and counter attack with whatever strikes and kicks you can. These drills are very tiring and after this part of the test, I was already very tired, despite the vigorous aerobic and strength training I do.

Next came focus mitt sparing. This exercise consists of 60 seconds of striking focus mitts with full power at full speed. It is similar to the "mad minute" that boxers perform on the heavy bag, except in this drill, your targets are moving around the gym, switch from head to body and back at random, and are encouraged to hit back! When the mitt sparing was over, it was time for shield sparring. Shield sparring is basically the same as mitt sparring except now you must kick as well as strike, and yes, the person holding the shields is still trying to hit you.

Now came combination drills, a fast flurry of strikes, kicks, and even headbutts delivered onto focus mitts and shields. To give you an idea of the number of strikes involved in this drill, 1 combination consists of 23 strikes, and many combinations are delivered. By now, my legs felt like rubber. Even the brief rest period did not bring back my full stamina, I was exhausted, and the 2 hardest parts of the test were yet to come. "2 on 1" is an exercise in which 2 attackers, protected by focus shields (or armed with focus shields, depending on your point of view) rush in and attack you. You must use strikes, kicks, sweeps, grappling, running, pushing, positioning, footwork, and even objects in the studio to avoid, delay, or stop your attackers. This exercise was fast and rough, and my "game plan" that I went into the situation with fell apart inside of a few seconds The situation was not helped by the fact that my attackers were KSDI blackbelts, both of them taller, and outweighing me by a significant margin. After 60 seconds I ended up down, pinned between the floor and the wall. On the positive side, I did manage to get 1 of my opponents to smack the other sharply with his focus shield, caused them to interfere with each other, and I delivered several hard punches and kicks, despite my exhausted condition. Not a stellar performance, but absolutely the best learning experience I've had in martial arts in all my years. I now have some small understanding of the speed and aggression 2 determined opponents can come at you with, and the nature of the training I plan to focus on in the coming years.

Finally came the much dreaded breaking techniques. The boards used are brand new rebreakable polymer, and much harder to break than a regular wooden board. 52 separate breaking techniques are required, you do not get to "measure up" before breaking, you only get 1 try, and you must break 80% of them on FIRST ATTEMPT. At the end of these 52 breaking techniques came the POWER Break, 4 boards with each leg. This is a lot of pressure. Add on to that the various bumps and bruises you may have, and total exhaustion. On my first break the top half of the board snapped down and stuck me in the shin hard enough to split the skin wide open. Despite the pain, the exhaustion, and the pressure I still managed to score 111 points out of a possible 115, missing only 2 first time breaks. Only then, after the breaking, did I realize how far I have come, and how all the hard work has paid off. Now that I have my black belt and proven that I have a good grasp of the basics, my real training can begin. Many people get their black belt and say, "I've done it!". Better they should say, "I've started it."

The following links below are video clips of some of my breaking techniques on test day. Let the video clip download through your windows video media player and then press play!

VIDEO CLIPS - My Black Belt Test breaking brand new plastic rebreakable boards
Right Downward Elbow - 2 Boards
Right Straight Punch - 2 Boards
Left Upper Cut - 1 Board
Left Leg - 4 Boards
Right Leg - 4 Boards

Taken April 2002
Power Drills Class Hand/Feet
Power Drills Class White/Yellow Belt Hands Combo 12 movements executed in 4 seconds
Power Drills Class Black Belt Hand Combo 27 movements executed in 9 seconds

The following article which I wrote appeared in The Daily Tribune's special supplement on 'Health and Fitness', Friday February 28, 2003

A Black Belt reflects on five years of Koo Self Defense

When I walked into Koo Self Defense studios back in 1998 I knew I was in shape. For the last 18 months I had been on a program of running and weight training that had trimmed fat and built muscle. I was feeling confident and prepared. After one week of Master Koo’s workouts, I discovered that what I had done before now was to prepare myself to run and lift weights. I had built all the muscles and conditioning necessary to do just exactly those two things, run and lift weights. I was, however, ill prepared for the whole body dynamic workout I got. I was shocked to discover how many areas I was weak in. My old vocabulary of 'max weight' and 'percent incline on the treadmill' was quickly being replaced with words like 'flexibility', 'aerobic / anaerobic endurance', and 'fast twitch muscle fiber building.' I was being introduced to a whole new world of fitness that encompassed so much more than bench presses and stair climbing machines. It was a world of full body, full spectrum conditioning. I was working muscles in new ways, building strength, endurance, tone, flexibility, agility, speed, aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, and here’s the best part…… It was fun, and it’s still fun almost five years later. Let me tell you why it is still fun.

First is the relaxed, approachable atmosphere of the place. There are no 'pajama' style martial arts uniforms, just a tee-shirt and shorts emblazoned tastefully with a small Koo Self Defense logo. You can wear a belt to signify your rank if you wish to, but it’s not mandatory. I noticed that most people do not, and I do not wear the black belt I currently hold. I noticed a belt does not make you any better or get you in shape any faster. There are no bare feet or special karate shoes, everyone just wears athletic shoes. The rigid structure of bowing and titles has been reduced greatly, so there is no 'culture shock' for those who are unfamiliar with the structure most martial arts have. KSD is a place to build your mind and body, not learn how to be polite in a whole new fashion.

The next thing is the music. Nearly every gym in America plays music for it’s customers enjoyment. How many martial arts studios have that? Not enough, in my opinion. Master Koo’s custom CDs play during each class. The music ranges from high energy dance music to keep you going during aerobics, to soothing easy listening to relax you during stretching. It helps keep you focused, and keep a smile on your face while you exercise.

But the most important thing, is the workout itself. It begins with a simple warm up that is easy to do, but so important to avoiding strain or injury. Then an aerobic workout, of which there are many varieties. There are workouts that focus on the legs, on the abs, arms, workouts that build timing, jump rope workouts, calisthenics style workouts, and the list goes on. They are all challenging, and they are always changing, staying fresh and interesting. After aerobics comes stretching, but not stretching like you often see. Koo Self Defense stretching is a unique blend of techniques incorporating yoga, hitting all the muscles and joints, and even improving breathing and balance. And finally we come to the meat of the workout, the self defense training. Koo Self Defense teaches full power strikes, punches, and kicks performed on focus mitts and shields. Like the aerobics, there is an ever changing stable of self defense work outs from speed punching drills to stamina kick drills to street self-style defense work outs. Yes, I do mean work outs. The exercise does not stop when the kicking starts. There is no punching in the air or stationary blocking drills. The self defense portion of the class is just as challenging, or even more challenging, than the aerobic portion. It focuses more on anaerobic conditioning, speed, power, agility, grace and footwork in perfect compliment to the aerobic workout. And not only is it a great workout, but you’re learning to defend yourself at the same time, instead of just learning how to push weights into the air, or program the stationary bicycle machine. This article is primarily about the fitness aspect of the program, but allow me to assure you, the self defense training is the best I have ever seen.

I have done martial arts for a long time now, about 18 years in fact. I have trained in Tae Kwon Do, Ishyn Ryu karate, Okinawan Te karate, and even Judo and boxing in college. The way I train is to find the best work out, best martial art, best whatever it is I am looking for, and do that until I find something better. When I find something better, I leave what I was doing and never look back. I have been at Koo Self Defense since 1998, and I am still there. Why? I have yet to find any work out that offers a better challenge, gives better results, is more practical, or is more enjoyable than Koo Self Defense.

Kurt Zettlemoyer

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This site was updated May 10, 2002

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