AIK Kenpo Juniors: Compassion

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Compassion#1

Wait just one minute here. Isn’t Bushido about being a warrior? Isn’t martial arts about kicking butts while looking really, really good? What’s compassion got to do with Delayed Sword, rising elbows and Long Two Kata?

Turns out, pretty much everything.

Bill Packer used to say that martial arts training without philosophy is just brutality. As a martial artist, a trained fighter and conditioned athlete, you have power. You can use that power to bully people, or you can use that power to make the world a better place. The trouble with having power is it gets really tempting to misuse it. Just ask Anakin Skywalker.

Compassion is the safety valve that keeps warriors from turning into bullies. Compassion means you use your abilities as a warrior to make everybody’s lives better, maybe even the people you have to use your warrior skills against. Let’s look at the who, what, when, where, why and how of compassion as it fits into the life of a warrior and follower of Bushido...

Who should practice compassion? Well, ideally everybody would practice compassion all the time. That would make the world a much better place. But it’s especially important for warriors to practice compassion because a warrior without compassion can do a lot of damage in the world.

What is compassion? Compassion means looking for the real reasons somebody is doing something, and working to solve the problem those reasons create. If somebody is threatening you, compassion means understanding he’s threatening you because he is afraid. If you can help him stop being afraid, the threat ends and you didn’t have to use violence.

When is compassion important? It’s always important, whether you’re using it to keep your temper with a younger sibling, or to keep a tense situation from becoming a fight. But it’s especially important in that second situation. Compassion can help you keep the world peaceful, by pushing you to find peaceful solutions. It’s easy to punch a bully because “he’s being a jerk.” It’s compassionate, and more like a warrior, to help the bully feel less sad, frustrated and afraid so he stops being a jerk altogether.

Where can you practice compassion? You’ll do more on this later this cycle, but for now keep in mind that you can practice compassion literally everywhere. A warrior isn’t just compassionate when situations obviously call for compassion. A warrior looks for ways to be compassionate, and practices that compassion with the same energy and power he practices his arts of war.

Why be compassionate? Because it’s the right thing to do. But more than that, because it helps you be a more effective warrior in three ways:

Being compassionate with everybody, all the time, brings more positive people into your life. It helps you have a strong group of friends and makes the world better.

Being compassionate helps you use your martial arts skills only when it’s absolutely necessary. If you treat even difficult people with compassion, you’ll know when somebody is past being talked with. Then you’ll know it’s time to get into a fighting stance.

Being compassionate gives you a reputation for being calm and kind. That reputation will mean adults listen to you if you say you felt you had to use your martial arts. They will be more likely to believe your story, and to put the responsibility on the other person.

How can you become more compassionate? By being compassionate more often. Like we said earlier, look for ways to be compassionate every day the same way you looked for opportunities to be courteous. When you start looking, you’ll see those times for compassion everywhere. You don’t have to take every single one of them, but start by being extra compassionate once every morning and once every afternoon. See what that does to how you think about people, and how people respond to you.

Parents’ Corner

Compassion is like any of the other values in our Bushido curriculum. It’s a “mental muscle” that gets built with use, and can atrophy if left alone. Unlike some of the other values on the list, it can sometimes be more difficult to find overt teachable moment to help your child practice using this particular skill. Besides the Random Acts of Kindness we’ll discuss later in this cycle, you can take on any of a number of small (and large) practices to help build compassion in and with your child. Three strong examples include:

Setting aside 10% of your child’s budget for gifting -- whether to buy actual gifts, or to donate to charities.

Volunteering in your community at least once a quarter, and letting your child help with the planning

Visiting a retirement home, childrens’ hospital, or similar facility to gift time to people who need it

There is literally an infinite number of other possibilities, and which you settle on is unimportant. What is important is developing the habit of practicing compassion.As always, if anybody on our staff can help you with this, just reach out and we will do everything we can.

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Compassion#2

We’ve talked before in this blog about how looking for the helpers is one way to help not be as frightened by large, scary disasters or other events you see on the news. In case you missed it, this advice comes from Mr. Rogers himself. He says to watch for the police, firemen and volunteers who come to help when bad things happen. You’ll notice how much they outnumber the bad people responsible for the worst disasters. 

That’s one way to practice compassion. Because fear often makes compassion harder to feel and act on, finding ways to be less frightened makes it easier to remain compassionate. But that’s not our lesson for today. Our lesson for today is another exercise you can do to build this important Bushido value.

You’ve met people, read books, watched YouTube videos and seen movies. A surprising number of these featured cats (not an animal much known for compassion), but others were inspiring stories of people who acted with compassion in amazing circumstances. Some forgave seemingly unforgivable acts. Others gave when they had almost nothing to give. Others led what seems like armies of men and women not to war, but to bring food to the hungry, clothing to the cold, or medicine to the sick.

Your assignment for this month is to find examples of people who are compassionate. Take these examples from real life stories in the news, or biographies, or your history and civics classes...or take them from works of fiction like novels and movies, or even poems. If you can, find one each day and tell somebody about it. You can share it with a friend in class, post it on social media, or talk about it at dinner with your family. 

Don’t worry if you miss a day for one good reason or another. That’s just how life works, and an important part of compassion is being compassionate with yourself when you make mistakes. The philosopher Ze Frank suggests we should learn to be as forgiving and compassionate with ourselves as we are with our friends and family. 

But what does this have to do with martial arts? With being a warrior and a fighter? What does learning to take pity on people and help folks who need it teach us about kicking butt?

Some really important things, actually.

The thing about being trained as a warrior is you learn some extremely dangerous skills. In time you will literally have the power of life and death over people. That power, used indiscriminately, makes a person a monster. That’s why the Bushido code focuses on values that have nothing directly to do with fighting, but rather about how to live life as a peaceful, caring individual.

Once you study on compassion by observing it in action every day, you will begin to understand when not to use your martial arts skills...which is something you must understand before you even consider when to use them.

Parents’ Corner

This assignment is an excellent opportunity to talk about your family’s history. Almost every family, no matter (yeah, let’s go with colorful) has stories about compassion and caring. It might have been one particular family member known for kindness and generosity, or a shared famly value passed from generation to generation. It might be a little bit of both. 

Studies show that pride in family stories helps children grow to emulate the characters in those stories. Here’s a chance to share the stories of love and compassion so your child will grow to pass on those characteristics and values to the next generation of your family.

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Compassion #3

Enrichment Topic - 3 Phases of learning

Learning about anything -- kenpo, history, math, piano, cooking, painting, whatever -- is easiest when you don’t just learn the thing but when you also learn about learning. Knowing how your brain and body process new skills helps you put the right effort in the right place at the right time. Ed Parker, the inventor of Kenpo, spent a lot of time learning and thinking about this. It’s why Kenpo is such an enduring art and effective way of teaching self defense.

One of the things Mr. Parker discovered was the three different phases of learning a skill. They’re called the Ideal Phase, the What If Phase and the Spontaneous Phase. Each of them represents a different level of understanding something, for example the technique Delayed Sword.

In the Ideal Phase, you learn the technique to practice under ideal conditions. A partner approaches you from the front with a straight right punch. You step back with your left foot and block him with a right inward block. You kick him in the groin with a right front snap kick, then right chop him in the neck as you put your foot down. You practice in the air, and on partners, until you’ve memorized this sequence of moves.

This is how you learn any skill. Some other examples of the ideal phase include:

Memorizing scales on a piano or recorder

Learning exactly how to walk from your home to school

Being able to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in your own kitchen

Memorizing the lines in a comedy play

At the end of the ideal phase, you’ll be able to do the thing you’ve learned correctly every time, so long as everything goes according to plan. It’s when the plan fails a little that the Ideal Phase begins to lose some of its usefulness.

In the What If Phase, you can perform the technique if one or two elements are changed. You can do it best if you know what the elements are ahead of time, but can sometimes succeed with a surprise shift. You can practice Delayed Sword left-handed, or spin and perform it on an attack from behind, or use a chop to the arm instead of an inward block. You know the technique well enough that you can swap out the parts without losing track of what you’re doing.

With other skills in the what if phase…

You can play scales in different keys and at different tempos

You can walk from a friend’s house to school because you know where his house is on your route

You can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in somebody else’s kitchen, or substituting honey for jelly

You can take the lines you memorized and change them if another actor messes up his lines

At the end of the what if phase, you can alter techniques and often explain some of how they work so that you can apply Delayed Sword to a wrist grab, and Spiraling Twig to a choke hold. It’s an intermediate stage of expertise where you move from memorizing a technique to truly knowing it.

In the Spontaneous Phase, you know a technique so well you can perform it even without performing it. When a right punch comes at you, you move in ways that sort of look like Delayed Sword but aren’t really that technique at all. It’s not making a mistake with the technique -- it’s using what you know about Delayed Sword to make up the best response to the situation. You might also use the core concepts to apply a version of Delayed Sword to a bear hug from behind. You make up what you need to as you go along, because you understand why things work.

The spontaneous phase also exists in other skills. You see it when:

A pianist improvises notes between scales to write a song

You use your knowledge of the neighborhood to find your way home from any place nearby

A chef uses what he knows about sandwiches to make something delicious no matter what’s in the fridge and pantry

A comedian does improvised comedy based on the beginnings of a script

You’ve seen your instructors do this: tell somebody to make an attack, and just improvise a response. As you develop to this stage with different techniques, you’ll be able to do the same thing. The more techniques you learn to this level, the easier it will be.

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Compassion#4 (Assignment)

Your rank test is coming up, and by now you’re already preparing by practicing your material, checking in with teachers and mentors, and making sure you know where to be and when for the day of your test. This month, though, we’re going to let you in on a little secret. 

You don’t get your belt because of your test.

Say you’re testing for blue belt this cycle. If you weren’t already a blue belt -- that is, if you didn’t already have the skills and attitude of a blue belt -- you wouldn’t be ready for the test. Your test isn’t what gets you your belt. It’s how you show all the things you’ve done to earn your belt.

Because getting any rank of martial arts belt doesn’t happen in one thing. It happens over time. It’s an accumulation of small things that add up to something large, the same way seconds eventually add up to a year. Your Bushido assignment for this cycle is very much the same. It’s not a single paper or presentation or experiment. It’s something you’ll do over the course of a month.

Your job for this month is to share compassion with everybody you know on social media. During the 30 days of this month, you need to find and share at least 10 examples of compassion on your social media feed. Some examples of what we’re talking about might include:

News articles about an individual showing compassion

YouTube videos showing acts of compassion and kindness

Memes explaining the acts of a particularly compassionate individual

Photos of people performing compassionate acts

Posts where you talk directly about compassion and kindness

If you can, share different kinds of things. Ten YouTube videos of people rescuing animals technically fulfills this assignment, but it’s not as powerful as a collection of news articles, youtube videos, podcast episodes, photos and memes.

Also, do your best to post on 10 different days. Sometimes life gets ahead of you and you need to double up once in a while to stay on schedule. That’s okay. But don’t wait until the last minute and post 10 things on the night before your test. That’s bad form.

Finally, write a paragraph about your experiences as you expressed and shared compassion in your life this month and turn it in before month’s end.

If you don’t have social media, ask to use your parents’ social media account for this. Not all families are ready for their kids to have a social media account of their own. If nobody in your house has one, talk to your teachers at AIK. They will help you come up with an alternative assignment that does what this task was intended to do.

Parent’s Corner

We here at American Institutes of Kenpo challenge you to do this assignment right along with your child. There’s a concept in perception called the “reticular activating system,” best described to parents as how you never really noticed how many babies are in the world until you got pregnant. Then suddenly they were everywhere. You notice what you’re primed to notice.

If you’re primed to notice the ugly, the small, and the’ll find it. If you’re primed to notice the small acts of beauty and kindness around us every day, that’s what you’ll find instead. This assignment is an opportunity to help prime yourself to notice those beautiful moments at least as often as you notice the terrible.

As always, we’re here to help if you have any questions about your child’s assignment, training, and search for acts of compassion.

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