Tenderizer hammer to soften the meat

Softening Moves

Most of the entry moves in Kempo are softening actions. You smack the enemy to distract them. This distraction provides the time necessary to perform complex maneuvers, especially locks and traps. They play a vital role in your arsenal of weapons. The concept is known as tenderizing.

Distraction with a Wet Blanket

Sometimes termed the wet blanket, softening moves are distraction strikes. Most are medium-intensity, relaxed-whipping motions that produce painful stings. Some are painful nerve plexus strikes. Both cause the opponent to wince and think about something else. This distraction creates an opening for you to apply a technique. Never delay the offensive, but don’t rush either.

Any competent fighter will be able to slip out of or avoid locks. What softening moves provide is a painful feint that allows your attack to slip in undefended. You can also stall by continuous application of softening actions until you can position yourself into an optimal offensive location. Remember that Kempo stylists control the “flow” or “rate” of the attack. Use this to maintain control.

Moves You Know

Two of the grade-level crane techniques contain nerve plexus strikes to the face. Right after you derail the attack with your wing, you step in with Crane’s Beak hits to the cheek and jaw hinge. This hook allows you to hook and uproot your opponent.

Kaimuki 5 has another example. The opening moves are blocks and softening moves. You don’t break bricks and boards with the backhand, but you can cause momentary stings across the face. Sometimes, that is more effective than breaking bones.

Finally, many of the Escapes and Grab Arts contain softening moves. For Lapel 1, you slap the hand and the face before you proceed with the armbar and wrist lock. The wristlock is the second softening move in that technique. When you grab the hand, your thumb presses the nerve point in the web of the hand. That allows you to dislodge, seize and lock the wrist.

Know Your Moves

Which techniques have them? Which techniques could utilize them? Take it upon yourself to investigate your Kempo. Remember that each move should flow into the next. Distractions precede complex finishing moves. All practice is research, and perfect practice makes perfect.


  • A head instructor of Golden Leopard Kempo Martial Arts School, teaching Philippine Combatives, Kickboxing, and Self-Defense to San Diego students for over three decades.

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