AIK Kenpo Juniors: Discernment

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Discernment#1

Our Bushido Value for this month has just as much importance as the other values we study, but it also has the most problematic name. Truth, Bravery and Courtesy (for example) are easy to understand the basics of because the words are already part of regular vocabulary.

But discernment? What’s discernment?

Discernment seeing the truth about something. This is different from seeing something and insisting what you see is the truth. It’s eliminating as much of the you in you seeing so that your perception of a thing is as close to the real truth as possible.

You may have seen a cartoon that’s recently popular on the internet. Two people standing next to a number written on the ground between them. One says it’s a six. The other says it’s a nine. Neither of these people are practicing discernment. Instead, they’re stuck insisting they’re right about something.

A martial artist does the opposite. Instead of insisting his perception is correct, he looks at all of the available information then draws as accurate as possible a conclusion. Even once he’s decided what is “true,” he always remains open to changing his mind if he learns new information.

Why does discernment matter?

Discernment matters because doing the right thing is the most important responsibility of a warrior (or anybody else). If you don’t see what’s really happening, then you can’t do the right thing.

At school this matters because if you “learn” the wrong thing, you could spend your life thinking something’s true that isn’t. It can also make you miss homework or do poorly on your exams.

At home, discernment is important because you can’t fulfill your responsibilities to your family if you don’t understand what those responsibilities are. Worse, misunderstanding what a family member says can start a fight that could have been avoided.

As a warrior, discernment matters more than in other ways of being. Misunderstanding an order at McDonalds means somebody gets a hamburger instead of a cheeseburger. Misunderstanding the line in a movie means missing a chance to laugh at a joke. But if a warrior fails to discern the truth of a situation, he might hurt somebody who doesn’t deserve it. Or he might get hurt by failing to see a threat.

What other parts of life can you think of where discernment is vitally important? Can you imagine ways where not understanding the truth of a situation?

How to improve discernment?

Now that we agree discernment is important, it’s time to learn how to practice it. Like any other skill or tool, you get better with discernment the more you use the things that make it work. With discernment, those things consist of three components:

Focus on the situation you need to understand. While you’re giving it your full attention, make sure to broaden your scope so you can see the context and surroundings. Don’t let unrelated things (like mood or distraction) get in the way. Seek to see everything without judgment before you begin to decide what it is or means.

Listen to the opinions of other people involved. If they agree with you, do they agree for reasons that show they’re seeking true understanding? Or are they reaching their conclusion without discernment? If they disagree, why? Should you let their reasons impact how you view the situation? Why or why not?

Guard against your own wants, moods, assumptions and hopes. Eyeglasses are lenses that change how the world looks. So is what’s going on inside your mind. If you have a strong emotional reaction to something, or you want to believe something means a certain thing, it’s like putting on a friend’s glasses then trying to see the world. Everything is warped and blurry, and you can’t get a clear and accurate picture.

Parents Corner

Between parents and teens, about 90% of friction comes from lack of discernment. Often it’s because the teen doesn’t fully understand the context or consequences of something she wants to do. Other times the teen perceives your intentions as a parent differently from the truth of the situations. Other times, you as a parent misinterpret words, actions, or motivations.

It would be easy (and a little annoying) to just remind you here that discernment is as important for adults as it is for their kids...but there’s another piece to it. Now that you and your teen have both read about discernment, you can use the concept to facilitate more useful conversations when there’s conflict between you and your teen. And where there’s open communication, things go a lot better.

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Discernment#2

Last month, I described a cartoon where two people were looking at a number. One said it was a six, and the other said it was a nine. We talked briefly about how neither was practicing discernment because they were listening more to what they insisted was true than they were paying attention to the situation.

When people disagree or make mistakes, it’s usually because they got stuck in a challenge to discernment. Here are the six most common challenges to discernment.

Narrow Perspective

Sometimes you focus so much on one part of a situation and fail to see the whole context. What if the number those two were looking at was between a 5 and a 7? Suddenly the person who keeps insisting it’s a 9 looks very wrong. If you pay attention only to one thing out of many, it’s hard to see the truth of a thing. 

Can you think of a time where narrow perspective made you miss important information?

Emotional Interference

Once in a while your mood can makes something seem like it’s very different from what it really is. Most people have had experiences where they were so angry about something else that they got mad about another thing that wasn’t really something to get upset about. In the cartoon, if the person who saw a 6 was already mad at the person who saw the 9, maybe he disagreed just because he wanted the 9 person to be wrong.

Can you think of a time where your emotions made you think somebody did one thing, but the person did something else instead?

Not Being Mindful

Also known as “not paying attention.” It’s easy to miss important details about a situation if you’re only partially paying attention to what’s going on. Maybe you’re thinking about a problem at school, or daydreaming about time with friends. Whatever has your attention makes it very difficult to really see what’s going on. If both of our number people were mostly thinking about other things, they might miss small differences in how the number was drawn that could tell exactly which it is.

Can you think of a time where you were so distracted you missed important details?

Wanting Something Else to Be True

This is one of the hardest discernment challenges to avoid. If you look at something and want it to be one thing very badly, you can trick yourself into ignoring things that show it’s something different. Say the 9 person was going to win a thousand-dollar bet if the number was a 9. He would have a lot of reasons to miss any facts that suggested it was a 6. He would spend his time arguing that he was right instead of looking for more clues about the truth.

Can you think of a time when you wanted something to be true so bad that you couldn’t see that it was false?

Being in a Hurry

This is kind of like the mindfulness challenge, but is common enough to deserve its own spot. If you’re in a hurry, it’s hard to pay enough attention. Maybe 6 person just wants to walk past the number and go to a doctor appointment he’s already late for. This can cause two different problems:

It can make him have narrow perspective or low mindfulness so he doesn’t see what the number really is.

It can make him agree with the 6 person to end the conversation so he can go on to his appointment.

Neither of these are good if he wants to really know what the number is. Can you think of a time where being in a hurry got in the way of you seeing what was really going on?

Bad Information

It’s impossible to see the truth about something if some of your information isn’t true. Sometimes this happens because somebody else told a lie. Sometimes it’s because of an honest mistake. In both cases, the result is the same: seeing something one way when it’s really another. What if somebody told 9 person the number was a 9, but only because he hated the number 6? The 9 person would be sure of the “truth” even though it wasn’t really true.

Can you think of a time where you were absolutely sure about something but later found out you were only sure because you had bad information?

In kenpo training, you learn how to defend yourself against attacks by knowing what attacks exist. Then you apply a technique you know will work against them. Talk with your parents about different mental techniques you might use to defend against the “attacks” of the challenges to discernment.

Parents’ Corner

Child psychologists say that one of the biggest troubles in the relationship between a teen and a parent is the teen’s need to gain more and more autonomy. It’s a problem because teens aren’t ready for as much autonomy as they want (though they are usually ready for more autonomy than the parents think they are).

One way of giving a teen more autonomy is to give her tools to deal with situations, then trust the teen to use those tools as she sees fit. This list of common ways that discernment gets interrupted is a set of that kind of tool. Many counselors have suggested training a child or a teen with tools like this during conflict-free time...then asking the child which tool might be most appropriate the next time conflict appears. 

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Discernment #3

Enrichment Topic - Blunt vs Fixed Weapons

As a teen student of kenpo, it’s not enough for you to memorize your kenpo material. You have to understand why the material is what it is.

In Delayed Sword, you kick to the groin and follow it up with a sword hand to the neck. Why? In part, you kick first because people bend over when kicked properly in the groin. You hit the back of the neck second because the kick exposes that target. But why kick the groin, and why with a snap kick? Why hit the back of the neck with a chop instead of a hammer fist?

Blunt and Fixed Weapons are part of understanding some of those answers. They are two categories of attacks, split based on how your body strikes your opponent.

A blunt weapon uses a large area to strike the target. It doesn’t need to be precise to do damage, but often does less damage than a fixed weapon.

A fixed weapon uses a smaller area to strike the target. Usually, it penetrates deeper and does more damage. Because of the small area, though, it must be aimed carefully to be effective.

Imagine you need to strike an attacker’s face. A blunt weapon like a fist or elbow you can launch at the face pretty much anywhere. It will hurt, maybe stun, your attacker as long as you hit hard enough and with good form. Or you could use a fixed weapon like a sword hand or an eye poke. If the sword hand hits the bridge of the nose, you can break it and cause a lot of pain and disorientation. If you miss and hit the forehead, it won’t do much. With the eye poke, an accurate hit can end a fight immediately. But if you miss by a little you can break your own fingers.

Whether to choose a blunt or fixed weapon at any given moment depends on several factors:

Risk: Blunt weapons are usually safer for you, because you don’t risk injuring yourself and you don’t need to be as accurate. Fixed weapons have the ability to end a dangerous situation more quickly, but are potentially dangerous to you, too. How much can you risk missing or getting hurt in that particular situation?

Available Targets: Some weapons are better than others for striking particular targets. Fixed weapons are better for soft, vulnerable targets like the throat, groin, and eyes. Blunt weapons are best with larger targets like the face, thighs, or torso. At any given moment, different targets will be easier or harder to strike effectively. Sometimes, the only available targets are great for one kind of weapon and poor for another.

Seriousness of the Situation: Blunt weapons typically do less lasting harm than fixed weapons. A punch in the face hurts, but a thumb in the eye can blind somebody permanently. A knee to the stomach can knock the wind out of somebody, but a half-fist to the throat can kill. How badly do you need to hurt somebody to be safe? Is it better to punch the nose with a fist, or break it with a hand sword?

Opponent’s State: Striking accurately to small targets is easier when your opponent is already compromised. If he’s up and moving and focused (like your classmates in sparring) it will be very hard to successfully land many of the fixed weapon strikes. But if you’ve already “softened him up” with some blunt weapons to slow him and weaken his defenses...then a fixed weapon strike to end the fight is pretty likely to succeed.

Other martial arts might use other terms to define these two categories of attack, and some might split attacks into further categories. For that matter, we do that in kenpo. We have categories for kicks, closed hand strikes, and open-hand strikes. All three also include blunt and fixed weapon options.

Like most ways of categorizing things, splitting weapons into blunt and fixed categories is just a way of helping you understand how things work. It’s a lens for viewing the material. Don’t let debates or confusion about whether a half-fist (for example) is blunt or fixed get in the way of using discernment about weapons choice. Just use it as a tool for deeper understanding of why your techniques and katas are the way they are.

Practice Challenge

This isn’t a formal assignment like you see in some other parts of the curriculum, but still worth doing when you have the time. It works like this:

Step One: Pick up the chart of techniques for your current belt level (the one you wear now, not the one you’re working to earn).

Step Two: List each of the attacks in the technique. Use the name and its target. For Delayed Sword you would write “Front snap kick to groin” and “outward chop to back of neck.”

Step Three: Identify whether each of the attacks you list is a blunt or fixed weapon. For Delayed Sword, the kick is a blunt weapon while the chop is fixed.

Step Four: Think about, and write a few notes on, why the technique uses a blunt or fixed weapon at that part of the technique. Use the considerations listed above, plus any others you can think of.

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Discernment#4 (Assignment)

As testing day approaches, you have a lot of things you need to do. You need to practice your material, check it with a teacher and a fellow student, and make sure your school teachers and parents are ready to sign off on your graduation. You need to confirm your parents know the time and date of testing, and make arrangements to get there.

And, of course, you need to complete your Bushido Project for this testing cycle. For discernment, you’ll do a project that looks at different ways people can perceive a specific thing.

You’re going to make three pictures. It doesn’t matter how you do this. If you like to draw, draw. If you like to paint, paint. You can trace things if you’re not confident in your freehand, or use a computer graphics program. Collages and crayons are also good options. How you create your pictures isn’t important. What’s important is that you think about the assignment deeply, and that your finished work demonstrates that thought.

Your three pictures will be of the same thing, from different perspectives. For example, you might draw a house:

One drawing might be of the front, one of the back, and one from above.

Or you might draw the front door closed, then open from the outside looking in, then open from the inside looking out.

Or you might draw a window from the perspective of an adult looking inside, then from the perspective of a child not tall enough to see through, then from a bat hanging upside down from the rafter.

Another example would be to draw an object like a pencil or bicycle from three levels of zoom. The point here is to understand two of the most important truths of discernment.

First, multiple perceptions and viewpoints can all be accurate from different points of view.

Second, none of those points of view are completely correct. They all lack the context and “big picture” understanding needed to see the real truth.

If you want a real challenge, you can make your pictures more reflective of the reality of discernment in real life. Most of the time, differences in how we view things have more to do with our internal perspective than with where we are physically standing relative to the thing we’re trying to discern. If we’re in a bad mood, we see things are threatening or annoying. If in a good mood, the small stuff stays small. 

How might you make your three pictures to reflect the internal aspects of discernment? This isn’t a necessary part of the assignment, but if you’re up to the challenge we’d love to see what you come up with.

Bring your pictures to the school on the assignmetn due date. Be ready to explain the assignment, and your process for choosing what you create, to anybody who asks.

Parents’ Corner

This assignment is one of the hardest to stay “hands off” about, but might be the most important one for us all to step back and let the student explore. Sad to say, as alpha-karate-expert types we’re not very good at not getting involved in important things done by people who are important to us...but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all try.

Just remember that the style, quality and process for the artworks isn’t important to us here. Different students have different degrees of talent and training for drawing, painting, and the like. What we care about is how deeply the student thinks about discernment, perspective, and prejudice while making the art.

That’s one of the powerful things about art of any kind. While your hands or body are busy making the art, your mind thinks deeply about the subjects of the art. That’s what we’re trying to encourage here.

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