Rock Athletics League

NEWS BULLETIN: Paper and Plastic and Wood has a table at Scifi on the Rock this year, where you can come and try Ancient Arts, as well as buy copies of the current set: Kenpo Masters ($15). You can also test out the still in the design phase set: Boxing champions. Come see us in Artists Alley (downstairs hall of the Holiday Inn).

Ancient Arts is fast, tense, two player card game, based on real martial arts. The first set is called Kenpo Masters, based on Kenpo Karate. You and your opponent will punch, kick, dodge, and block your way around the ring, in an attempt to knock each other out. You each control a fighter card, and a hand full of martial arts techniques. These allow you to move, attack, and defend, while your opponent evades and counter-attacks. It is possible to form devastating combos,  at the risk of tiring yourself out as you burn through your hand. You can rest to draw additional cards, but that means not protecting yourself, as you can't fight if you are catching your breath! First player to twenty points wins. Each game takes about 20 minutes to play. 

Check out the cards!

About the ancient art of Kenpo

I started studying Kenpo in 1992, when I was 9 years old, still hopped up on the Ninja Turtles craze. They offered a class at my school, and most of us wanted to learn to be a ninja. I fell in love with it, and I alone out of my school stuck with it after the brief program ended. I got my black belt when I was 15, which remains one of the proudest achievements of my life. In 2013, while adding the final touches to this game, I was promoted to the rank of 5th Degree Black Belt, by Chief Jean-Guy Angell. It has been a pleasure integrating my knowledge and understanding of this art into a game.

This game really does have a connection with its theme: the values on all the cards were largely determined by me going over the moves, to determine how they worked in this context; and the card artwork is literally just a colleague (Sensei Adam Gardener) and I wailing on each other. To give a better background, I have included this section about Kenpo itself, written by my instructor, Sensei Dave Jackman:

Kenpo, by most popular accounts, traces its origins back to the Shaolin Temple in China, approximately 1,000 years ago. As Legend has it, an Indian Monk, Bodhidharma, the original Buddha, traveled from India to China to teach his philosophy. When he arrived at the temple, he found the monks to be in poor shape in regards to being able to forget their physical limitations in order to meditate on the higher goals of spiritual enlightenment. Bodhidharma began training the monks in physical fitness, and also in methods of self defense, as the temple and the monks were the objects of attacks from marauding bands of outlaws.  

This program evolved into the Martial Art of “Shaolin Ch'uan Fa”. Ch'uan Fa means “law of the fist”. Although many countries had their own fighting techniques, Bodhidharma and the Shaolin temple are credited with being the origins of the “art” form of fighting, where a complete method of training the body, emotion, mind, and spirit were incorporated into one system for the overall development and spiritual growth of the individual.

Approximately 500 years ago a Chinese monk from the Shaolin temple traveled to Japan to teach the Mitose family. This family was already adept in fighting methods, and combined the Shaolin philosophy with their own to form Ko Sho Ryu Kenpo – “The old pine tree way of Kenpo”. At this point it should be mentioned that “Ch'uan Fa” in Japanese is pronounced as “Kenpo”.

Dr. James Mitose introduced Kenpo to Hawaii in the 1920s. This particular method of Kenpo spread to the USA and eventually Canada. As with most martial arts, there are many twists and turns in the road that leads us to where we are today.

Some of the attributes of Kenpo involve economy of motion, 360 degree awareness, knowledge to defend against other martial arts, and using your skills of compassion to avoid hitting if possible. Kenpo utilizes punching, striking, kicking, blocking/locking and sweeps/takedowns as its methods of self-defense. Kenpo combines these principles into a “hard” and “soft” style. Powerful punches and kicks compose the “hard” aspect while circular and evasive defensive movements comprise the “soft” element.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the term “law” in “law of the fist” means that there are both physical and spiritual laws to be followed in the learning of Kenpo. Physical laws are needed for the training of the body to be effective in self defense and spiritual laws are to be followed for the benefit of the student and all those with whom he/’she has contact. The motto of Kenpo is “man liberates himself by his will”.

- Sensei Dave Jackman, 8th degree Black Belt, Jean-Guy Angell Kenpo


Important Errata:

Burst of Speed is an Effect card, and therefore has no influence on movement, or ability to move on its own. The movement icons on it is a misprint in the initial print-run. 

Front Kick is misprinted in the initial print-run, missing the qualifier text. It is supposed to be a Hard, Kick. 

This card says “Combo any card on this”, and that one says “May not combo this card on anything”. How do they work together?

If a card says that it can never be comboed on top of another, then that takes priority.

How do you resolve attacks that happen from two different angles?

That should never legally come up, as you are only allowed to make one movement for your whole turn. Deciding not to move is still a movement, so all attack cards in a combo will happen from the same place. In the special case of Fast Footwork, which allows you to move again after playing it, you aren’t allowed to combo it on anything else (ever), which means it HAS to be the first card you play in your turn. Therefore, all your attacks will still happen from the same place: the last place you ended up.

If my opponent throws some massive combo at me, what happens if I just step back?

Assuming that your back isn’t against the wall (seeing as the ring is only 3 by 3, at least one of you always has your back against the wall), and you have an action card that allows you to step back (most do), then you can step back, and avoid all the damage. That’s why it’s important to keep your opponent’s options in mind when you make your moves.

I have to waste an Action card to back up? Can’t I just move?

You can’t move without using an Action card. However, since your attacks don’t resolve until your opponent’s turn, backing up with one means that if they want to step forward and press their attack, they have to walk into it. Since you already played it, it would resolve on their turn, before any of their moves got to resolve.

If you step next to your opponent with a Back Round Kick, you can combo a Jab and a Reverse Punch on it, right?

No. Stepping next to your opponent would cause a break. Movement technically happens at the same time as when you play your first attack/defense card (Effect cards don’t affect movement), so you are able to play one card that causes a break, but then nothing else can go on it. So, assuming that they’re on your right side, you would immediately deal 2 damage to them, and they wouldn’t have any chance to react. But you also wouldn’t have any chance to combo something else on it. Fair is fair.

Does that mean I can’t do a Hand Fake, then step forward with a Round Kick into an opponent’s side?

Actually, you can. Movement officially happens while playing your first attack/defence card, as Effect cards don’t affect/involve movement at all. So you could play the Hand Fake, and you still wouldn’t have technically made your movement. You then step forward with the Round Kick, and get to do your bonus 3 damage from the fake.

How is a draw possible?

Let’s look at the Back Round Kick again. It does 2 damage to the right side. (the actual side, not the angle). Let’s say that you were at 18 points, and your opponent was at 19 points, and you played your Back Round Kick while they were to your front-right. If they stepped forward with a reverse punch, a break would be called, and both cards would resolve immediately. The Reverse Punch would do 1 damage to you, giving them 1 point, and the Back Round Kick would do 2 damage to them, giving you 2 points. The game ends in a draw, with both of your scores at 20. If you had both been at 19 points, then you would win, as you would now have 21 points to their 20.

Is Fast Footwork an Effect card, or an Action card?

It is a Movement card, so it's an Action card, that doesn’t deal any damage. The only qualifier on it is “Movement”.

Blitz seems really complicated… What exactly can I do to respond to one? 

Sorry about that. It’s definitely a weird one. In sparring, the Blitz is an attack that you can’t simply deflect, and sidestepping it requires you to still keep your opponent’s fists in check. So in the game, you cannot use a block to make it less effective, unless you also sidestep. But you can’t sidestep the attack, unless you can use a block, or a movement card. So all that will work is Block, or Fast Footwork. Sidekick can also work, as the Blitz is a Rushing, Punch, and Sidekicks make Rushing attacks deal half damage. If they moved forward with their Blitz (which is worth way more points than moving sideways), then you can have the sidekick resolve immediately, getting you 4 points, and them only 3. If you don’t have a Sidekick, Fast Footwork, or Block in your hand, then you are going to get hit for full damage.

How does Hard Block work?

As the only movement icon is the central dot, you can’t play it while moving (which means you can’t use it to block a Blitz, as that card doesn’t allow you to defend without moving). Aside from reducing a lot of damage from your opponent’s attack, a successful block gets you a point, at the same time they would score on you (immediately). The definition of “success” here is that they made an attack, and you reduced the number of points, by any amount. You don’t get a point for using this card if they didn’t attack you, or if they are out of range to hit you. You can combo additional cards that work on a block, but you still can’t move (you’ve already made your “move”, by not moving). The cards you comboed on would resolve at the normal time (on your opponent’s turn, after they play their cards).

Is there a limit on how large a combo can get?

The limits are the cards you have in your hand, and the legal ways you can combine cards. It is possible to dump almost your entire hand into one combo. It often isn’t very wise…

How does Burst of Speed work?

It’s basically a way of combining any random two cards together, even if it normally wouldn’t be possible (this still doesn’t override any text that says “may never combo”, and movement restrictions still apply. This means that you can't move sideways with an attack, play burst of speed, then play a card that doesn't work when moving sideways).

Does Change Sides apply to everything on the card?

Yes. It mirror images all the movement, damage, and bonus/penalties on the card. As well as any future cards added to a this combo (it doesn’t affect the cards you’ve already played).

Can I play just an effect card, with no action cards? 

No. If you have no action cards, you are forced to rest. 

What happens if I have no Action cards in my hand, but I’m not allowed to rest?

If you aren't allowed to rest, because you rested last turn, or if there's just been a break, you must show your hand to prove that you have no action cards, and rest anyway. You're actually allowed to do this if you have no attack cards, although you are not forced to. This means that if it is your turn and you aren't defending from anything, but the only action card you have is a block, and you aren't supposed to rest, you can show your hand and rest anyway. If you would rather use the block, you can do that instead. 

Do I get points for a Hand Fake?

No, it makes your next attack worth bonus points. So if you were to play Hand Fake, Front Kick, Jab, then the Front Kick would be worth a bonus 3 points. The Jab would resolve as normal. 

Ancient Arts is designed by Cullam Bruce-Lockhart. Photographs by Megan White, featuring Adam Gardener and Cullam Bruce-Lockhart.
© Cullam Bruce-Lockhart, 2013.  
For more information or any questions, email, follow @CullamBL on Twitter, or check out my design blog at