AIK Kenpo Juniors: Until the Last Day

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Until the Last Day#1

Each testing cycle in your kenpo journey at AIK, we introduce an ethical consideration to help build you into the kind of warrior who won’t use what we teach you inappropriately.

This cycle is no different, but the specific consideration is a change from our usual course.

Most other testing cycles, we’ve looked at one of the seven ethical principles of Bushido: Truth, Bravery, Courtesy, Compassion, Sincerity, Discernment, and Loyalty. This cycle, we’re going outside of those principles to discuss a concept you can apply to all seven:

“Until the Last Day”

Until the Last Day means practicing your martial arts until the last day of your life. As a teenager, that means improving your techniques, kata, and self-defense skills through consistent practice while also developing the mental and ethical attributes of a dedicated martial artist.

As you age, you will find that your physical development peaks (usually in your early to mid thirties). At that point you will still train to keep yourself fit and skilled, but your focus will shift to the mental and emotional attributes, as well as becoming a leader within the martial arts community.

The older you get, the more your focus will be on the less physical parts of your martial arts journey. More than one older master has visualized kata and lived as an example of mastery in the last years of their life, decades after their last flashy kick or tournament win.

We would love it if that happened for your life.

But we want to make one thing crystal clear.

Some martial arts schools put a lot of pressure on students to be “lifelong martial artists” -- which to them means “people who pay tuition for years and years.” We would love to be friends with you for decades, and train side by side as long as life lets us, but that’s not more important to us than what’s best for each and every person who ties on a belt to train with us.

It might be true that your life will mean training in martial arts, in kenpo, at AIK for every day for the rest of your life. We hope so, but we understand that few lives will really allow for that.

It might be true that your life will mean training in martial arts, in kenpo, but not at AIK. That you’ll move away, or for some other reason find your kenpo home is elsewhere. If that’s what your life needs, we hope you’ll stop by to visit sometimes and that what you learn with us helps you master your kenpo wherever you train.

It might be true that your life will mean training in martial arts, but not in kenpo. It could be that your personality, athletic style, and preferences mean you’re more suited for capoeira, or silat, or jujitsu...or for a non-martial athletic endeavor like swimming, gymnastics, or parkour. If that’s where your destiny lies, we wish you luck and we hope that what you learned in your kenpo studies can make you a better success in the martial art you do practice Until the Last Day.

It might be true that your life will lead you away from the martial arts. You might find your lifelong passion and calling in music, or art, or business, or philanthropy, or education, or plumbing, or anything else. Nobody at AIK will think less of you for long as, whatever you do for your life, you give it the focus, passion, and willingness to work and sacrifice that a martial artist understands. That way, what time you do spend as a martial artist can help you be the best whatever you become Until the Last Day.

Kids sometimes need a simpler, deeper explanation to get this admittedly complicated topic, but as a teen you understand the basics. The biggest challenge for students your age is to identify the things that will become lifelong pursuits and passions.

Sadly, we can’t be of much help there. Only you will know when you feel that electric zing that tells you you’ve found the things you were born to become. But when you find them, we’ll do all we can to help you achieve your goals within them.

Parents’ Corner

A lot of different methods seem to produce the same results when it comes to the ten years between 13 and 23, but one thing seems to generate success more reliably than others:

Having a plan.

The thing about a plan for a teenager is it helps him focus. It puts the more onerous parts of life in perspective, and answers the question of “when will I use this” when he’s asked to invest time in his future. Figuring out in general terms how the next ten years will set your teen up for success in whatever field he chooses will make a huge difference in how likely he is to end up in that chosen field.

And the best part? You can change the plan whenever you want. It turns out that making and working a plan usually results in enough general progress that you don’t start on square one when the new plan goes into place.

The readings and exercises from this test cycle are in part here to help your teen think about “what he wants to be when he grows up” and to start making decisions and taking action towards becoming that, whatever it happens to be.

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Until the Last Day#2

As you know from last month, the Bushido value for this testing cycle is “Until the Last Day.”

As you also probably know, this concept expresses pursuing something you feel passionate about for your entire life, until it is literally on your mind during your last day on Earth.

For us at AIK, martial arts -- specifically the martial art of kenpo, karate -- is one of those things we feel that passionate about. Each of your instructors has other things for which he or she feels that same kind of passion, but we all have that one commitment in common. We will all of us be martial arts students and practitioners until the day we die.

Until the day we die. Until the Last Day. This testing cycle we’ll be talking about death, and you’ll be thinking about death, more than with other values. This isn’t supposed to be a depressing thought, though. That’s because of another Bushido value they talk about in a book called the Hagakure.

The Hagakure tells us to “live with death in mind” at all times. But it’s not telling us to be sad and scared all the time. What that line means is that we should remember that death could happen at any moment -- so we shouldn’t leave things unfinished, or do things we might regret if we can’t make it right.

If you “live with death in mind” -- living as though today is that last day -- you won’t let a little disagreement with your friends or family explode into a big fight. You won’t put off important tasks, or wonderful experiences, until some time later on.

No. You’ll take care of business, every time. You’ll show the people important to you that you love them. You’ll work hard on your passions, and stop wasting time on the things that don’t grow, enrich, and delight you.

Taking on that challenge is … um … challenging for adults, but teens have an extra bit of trouble with this. That’s the fact that only a few teens have really discovered their lifelong passions. You haven’t had enough time. You’ve not yet been exposed to enough experiences to know what it is that can drive you for your entire life. You’ve not had enough time to figure out which opportunities won’t work for you.

This month, we’ll ask you to explore some aspects of yourself to help you identify some passions you might follow for the rest of your life. We will do this in four steps, one each week.

1. During the first week, make a list of the classes in school you feel the most engaged with. Which ones do you pay the most attention to? Which ones have homework you’re the most interested in? Which ones are the baseline for things you might want to study in college, or have as a career?

2. During the second week, make a list of the things outside of school you look forward to the most. This can be outside sports and classes, activities like kenpo, and your leisure activities like reading, video games, or cooking. 

3. During the third week, make a list of the things you have to do that you just hate doing, along with a list of things you’ve quit doing and classes or activities you’re glad you don’t participate in anymore. The purpose of this is to cross things off the list of potential lifelong pursuits. 

4. During the fourth week, make your “bucket list” -- a list of things you really want to do, but haven’t gotten to do yet. It’s okay to be wildly unrealistic here. If you really want to put your foot on Mars, maybe you need to get passionate about the physics behind high-speed space travel. 

By the end, you’ll have thought a bit about the things you love the most, and some things you’re not terribly interested in. It’s unlikely that you’ll have identified your exact “Until the Last Day” passions and pursuits in their entirety, or even eliminated any options for certain.

But you’ll have given these things more thought than most teens do, more thought than many adults have. And that will help you know your Until the Last Day passions when you do meet them.

Parents’ Corner

Like we mentioned last month, focus and goals are key tools to keeping a teenager on the straight and narrow, and setting them up for a successful adult life.

This month’s assignment is an exercise intended to help your teen think about those things in a deep and meaningful manner.

What we need your help with is for them to know that thinking about this stuff isn’t a trap or a commitment. Any decisions they make aren’t binding contracts or promises they’ve made to anybody. It’s just another tool in the lifetime toolbox to help your child discover who she will be as an adult.

Also like we said last month, it’s okay to change focus any time. Because working a plan toward destination A still means you’re all packed and already mobile when you decide you like destination B better.

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Kenpo Juniors Blog - Until the Last Day #3

Enrichment Topic - First, Second and Third Person

You already know that kenpo consists of several different kinds of martial arts training. You have your basics, your techniques, your kata, and your sparring.

You might not already know that different kinds of practice make each kind of training more effective in growing your attributes as a martial artist.

It works like this.

Practice happens in the first person, the second person, and the third person.

You probably remember these terms from your English classes. First person uses the word “I” (as in “I punched the ninja in the face.”) Third person uses “he,” “she,” “it,” and “they” (as in “He punched the ninjas in their faces.”) Second person is very rare, and uses “you,” (as in “You punched the ninja in the face.”)

First, second, and third person practice are similar in concept, but not exactly the same. So take a second and forget the language arts stuff for a while. Then read on to see what we mean.

First Person Practice is where you focus on your body. You pay attention to the position of your feet, the straightness of your spine, how much of your hips you put into the motions of your feet and hands. You make sure your blocks are just right, and your strikes go where they’re supposed to.

With first person practice, the tighter your focus the more you’ll improve. Sometimes it’s good to focus even on just one part of your body: just your feet, just your hips, or just your arms. The idea is to perfect your foundation before you start paying attention to other, potentially distracting things.

First person practice is best for the simplest parts of kenpo training: basics and techniques.

Second Person Practice expands your focus to include the physical space around you, and the physical impact of your actions. You’ll begin to powerfully visualize what happens to a person when your strikes land, and how your body might react when you block an attack. You’ll also pay attention to how your body moves in space, becoming aware of the room around you so you keep yourself and others safe.

By doing this, you take your practice out of just your body and begin to understand how it fits in the world. You still want to practice focus. Learn how to pay attention to what’s important in your immediate, physical space...but don’t let distractions interfere with your practice.

Second person practice is best for when you run your katas. That expanded awareness helps you understand the context of the motions, and keeps you from bumping into things.

Third Person Practice goes beyond the physical. It means paying attention to everything you do with first and second person practice, but also assessing emotions.

Third person practice happens best when you spar. During sparring, you are responsible for the physical safety of yourself, your partner, and the people around you. You must strike hard enough to be felt, but not hard enough to injure. You must defend yourself against whatever comes in, but not so forcefully you endanger yourself or your opponent. You must keep the kumite inside the bounds of the room, and away from spectators and other bystanders.

But you also have to watch your emotions. You have to master your fear, and prevent anger or frustration from making you lose control. And you must watch your opponent to be certain your strikes aren’t angering, frustrating, or frustrating her.

Third person practice is the most challenging kind, but it opens up new dimensions of mastery of not just martial arts, but of yourself.

Of course, this is only a model. It’s a way of understanding and thinking about your practice to get the most of the time you spend with your martial arts. Can you try technique practice in third person? Absolutely, once you’ve mastered doing it in the first. Can you do sparring in third person? Only if you and your partner agree that’s what you’re doing, and you have somebody there to keep it safe -- but you can learn some valuable things from the attempt.

Play with these concepts. Learn what you can from them. Understand your kenpo better as a result, then pass on your understanding to newer students.

Parents’ Corner

This concept for training works well as a way for you to help your teen practice at home. When you catch her practicing, ask whether she’s in the right frame of mind for the material she’s working on.

While you’re at it, this basic framework is pretty workable for any other kind of practice you or your teen might do. We encourage you to help her apply it to homework, sports practice, and problem-solving. You might even want to try it yourself with the things you work to improve every day.

As always, our staff at AIK are here to help you with this or anything else. Just grab an instructor after class.

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Until the Last Day#4 (Assignment)

As the day of your next test approaches, you’ll have a lot on your plate.

You need to practice your material so it absolutely shines on testing day.

You need to get sign-offs from teachers, parents, or other mentors who will say you’re ready to test.

You need to make sure everybody you want to watch your test is invited, and knows where to be.

You need to wash your gi. 

You need to make arrangements to be on site for your test on time. 

As always, you also need to complete your values assignment. Like we said at the beginning of this testing cycle, “Until the Last Day” isn’t part of the traditional values of the Code of Bushido.

Instead, it’s a way to live with that code and apply it to your daily life.

Because it’s different, you’ll be doing a different kind of assignment. Your experience with this assignment won’t end at test day. We just ask that you finish the first step. What comes later is hard to predict, and could impact you for years to come.

Your assignment is three steps:

Step One: Think about those passions you explored during the second month of this testing cycle.

Step Two: Choose two of those passions, preferably the ones you see yourself as most likely to be doing as an adult -- whether for a career or just as a hobby.

Step Three: Find somebody in each of those fields who you feel is practicing their passion “Until the Last Day.” The person must still be alive, but should be an advanced and respected master in their field.

Step Four: Write each of those people a letter asking at least three questions about living a life in that field. What the questions are is up to you, but they should be questions you generally want to know the answers to. Also, you can use email, or social media, or pen and paper. Whatever seems most appropriate for the people you choose.

Step Five: Wait.

In terms of what to bring on testing day, prepare a breif outline to turn in that includes the following: What are the two passions that you are pursuing, Who did you reachout to as a mentor / leader in those passions, and what questions did you ask them?

What comes after the test...well, as they say -- YMMV. Your Mileage May Vary.

For some students, the letters will go out but nobody will ever respond. Some of the most famous and successful people in the world are also the busiest. They won’t always have time to respond to your letters.

For others, they’ll get the responses and have lots to think about. Still others might get into an exchange of letters and communication that helps them for years, or for their entire lives. A lucky few might discover friends and mentors who change their lives for the better.

None of that is important this month. It will come if and when it comes. For this month, focus on what you might want to learn about things you’re passionate about, and who you might learn it from.

Parent’s Corner

Yes, we are taking your teen to talk to strangers for this assignment. No, we don’t think it’s dangerous.

That said, we would encourage you to watch the first few iterations of any communication that comes through as a result of this assignment. A teenager finding a positive mentor can be an wonderful thing, but it’s not without a little risk.

You know your child better than anybody, so you’re the best person to monitor communications to make sure they’re appropriate and positive. But if you want any help or thoughts on the safety of this assignment, ask any instructor. We’re trained in this, and eager to hel

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