AIK Kenpo Juniors: Whatever It Takes

Kenpo Juniors Blog - Whatever It Takes #1

You’re a Junior in Tucson, Arizona’s top martial arts community. You spend your time here training so you can keep yourself and even your family safer – whether that’s from immediate danger, the hazards of bad fitness, or even the stress of worrying about whether or not you’re going to turn out okay. As you know, every month at American Institutes of Kenpo we focus on a value that helps you to accomplish that mission.

This month’s value comes from Lee Sprague, friend and mentor to our founders Shawn Knight and Andrew Pilch. It’s a single sentence that can change your life if you let it:

Martial Arts Value:

Whatever it Takes!

Whatever it Takes is about living up to your responsibilities. Despite many (MANY) punches in the head, your instructor remembers how tough his teen and preteen years were. Those were the years when it seemed like everybody in your life piled on new responsibilities and new expectations almost every day. Life didn’t seem to care whether or not you wanted them, or were ready for them. They just gave you those new responsibilities to. This month, I have good news and bad news for you.

  • The bad news is I’m not going to take any responsibilities off your plate. I’m even going to add some.
  • The good news is Whatever it Takes is a powerful tool that makes it easier to live up to those new responsibilities.

Whatever it Takes means that whatever important task, duty or responsibility you are given, you accept no excuses and get it done. You treat it as a promise, and martial artists always keep their promises even when it means making sacrifices.

Some people make a big deal out of the difference between “reasons” and “excuses.” They say that a good reason is okay for failing to make good on what you promised, but an excuse isn’t. Every notice how for some adults, anything they do is a reason and anything you mention is an excuse? At American Institutes of Kenpo, and with the power of Whatever it Takes, none of that matters because you won’t let reasons or excuses get in the way.

For example, let’s say you promised to come help lead the warmups at your Kenpo class at 6:00. You know it takes 30 minutes to get to the dojo from your house.

  • If you played video games until 5:35 and showed up late, you might make an excuse but it wouldn’t mean you didn’t fail your teacher and fellow students.
  • If you left on time, but traffic was slow and made you five minutes late, some people might accept that as a valid reason to be late.

But in either case you still weren’t there to help with the warmups like you said you would. From the perspective of what happened in class, it doesn’t matter which one happened. A dedicated martial artist who does Whatever it Takes would have remembered that traffic can be rough in Tucson around dinner time, and left fifteen minutes early to be sure he arrived on time.

Write Whatever it Takes down somewhere you’ll see it often: on a card stuck to your locker door at school, or in dry erase marker on your bathroom mirror, or in a frame on your desk. Whenever you catch yourself talking yourself into not doing something you need to do…look at it and read it out loud:

Whatever it Takes

Parent’s Corner

Trust is a major issue with teens and preteens. Your junior wants more of it – whether it’s trusting her word, or assuming he’s capable of things he wants to do – and you’re nervous about what happens if you give it.

Whatever it Takes can be a valuable tool in this ongoing negotiation. In part because of the lessons he learns at AIK in Tucson, your junior will surprise you with how trustworthy and capable he is…if you allow for the opportunity. Just remind him to do Whatever it Takes and watch what happens.

The tool also works on the reverse end. Teens and preteens are experts at finding reasons to justify making mistakes. You can cut off all that argument by simply asking “Did you do Whatever it Takes to keep the promise you made?” Once that’s out of the way, you can turn the conversation into a teachable moment instead of an argument over whether or not the cat really kept him from taking the garbage out.







Kenpo Juniors Blog -Whatever It Takes #2

Last month, we introduced the Bushido value ofWhatever it Takes.It’s a vital part of your martial training. For example:

Imagine you have your black belt. You’re walking with your grandmother after helping her do some shopping when some people attack you. Maybe they’re muggers. Maybe they’re gangbangers. It doesn’t matter in that momentwhythey’re trying to hurt you. What matters is that you will absolutely dowhatever it takesto keep yourself and your grandmother safe. You will use every trick you picked up on the deck, every bit of your skill and resourcefulness, every part of the environment to escape to safety and get you both home to your family.

In his bookLiving the Martial Way, Forrest Morgan has another way of sayingWhatever it takes. He says to “make a desperate effort.” He says that if you really want to become the best you that you can be, and accomplish the things that make you happiest, you should give your responsibilities and your goals the same desperate effort you might if defending yourself or a loved one from an attack.


That’s a tall order, but as a martial arts student at American Institutes of Kenpo, you’re used to succeeding at things other people try to tell you are impossible. Doingwhatever it takesjust requires practice. This month, you’re going to get some of that practice by doing some exercises in the focus, discipline and desire that makeWhatever it Takessuch a powerful tool.

By the end of this month, you will complete an assignment in three different areas of your life:

Physical–Run, swim or bicycle farther than you ever have before in one go. Dowhatever it takesto break through the mental barrier that says you can’t keep moving forward. Because you can move forward, in this and in everything else you value.

Academic– Do something literally perfect in a class you and your parents choose. This might be a perfect record of turning in assignments for a week, or perfect behavior in a class you have trouble in, or a perfect score on a test. Whatever represents a significant challenge to you, focus, study and dowhatever it takesto accomplish that goal.

Relationships– Apologize to somebody you care about. By your age, you’ve done something you feel bad about that’s hurting your relationship with somebody. So has everybody else, and the sad part is you’ll do it again. Heal the wound by stepping up and apologize sincerely to that person for whatever it is you did. I guarantee this will be the hardest task on the list, but you’ll just have to dowhatever it takesto get it done.

At the end of this month, you will notice something about the other parts of your life. A lot of things that seemed difficult to you before will feel easy by comparison. That’s because once you’ve had some practice doingwhatever it takes, doing whatever comes naturally is a piece of cake.

Parents’ Corner

Expect some gut checks with your child this month. These three assignments are built to really push the edges of what they think is possible. You’ll see some stalling, and some resistance, and very often some failure in the first tries on what he or she needs to do.

This is normal. Every teen is different, but as a general rule most do best with these assignments if their parents remember two things:

1. Use blame-free reminders about the assigned tasks to keep them in the front of the mind all month. Something as simple as a note on the bathroom mirror, or going over the schedule for the weekend, can help a lot.

2. Repeat the phrasewhatever it takesand any synonyms you can think of. This is especially important when your teen’s spirits start getting down. Use it to brainstorm ideas for new ways to succeed.

And of course, our staff here at AIK are available to you any time if a pep talk or brainstorming session is what your child needs most to succeed.





Kenpo Juniors Blog -Whatever It Takes #3

Spirit, Honor and Discipline for Juniors

You might have noticed how at the end of each class, we say together “Spirit! Honor! Discipline! Oss!!” before we all leave and do whatever we do for the rest of the day. You’ve probably wondered what that’s about.

We’re glad you asked.

That’s our Closing Pledge. A Pledge is a promise you make to yourself, usually in public and with other people. The Pledge of Allegiance you say at school is another example of a pledge you’re probably familiar with. You say it all together with your class at the beginning of school, just like we say ours at the end of class. If you go to church, you probably recite a Creed or Pledge as part of the service.

Like most things, there’s good news and bad news about pledges.

The good news is that pledges help you reinforce what’s important. By saying things together as a group, you and the people around you celebrate what you think is important. You publicly promise to live in a certain way, and at the same time you publicly promise to help the people around you live according to those values.

The bad news about pledges is that they often become automatic. We can say them without thinking about the words, like when you do Short One Kata while thinking about something else. A pledge only has power when we think about what we’re saying and put them in to action.

To put our Closing Pledge into action, the first step is understanding what it means:

Spiritmeans attitude. Are you approaching your training with an eagerness to learn and a willingness to do whatever it takes to improve in your martial arts? How about your schoolwork? Your relationship with your parents?

Honormeans approaching problems with internal honesty. Did you do that 50thpushup all the way, or did you cheat because you were tired? Do you look at your front kicks to honestly, accurately assess where you can improve? Did you really do all you could to prepare for that Math test?

Disciplinemeans understanding that sometimes success means working hard at something you don’t like, but that the reward for the work is worth it. How hard do you work on your least favorite technique or kata? Do you make yourself pay attention in your least favorite class? Can you apologize to your parents when you’ve done wrong by them?

Oss!!– we’ve already talked about Oss in ourCoach’s Corner Blog. You’re putting an exclamation point at the end to remind yourself how much you mean it.

It’s our hope and our plan that you will say our Closing Pledge with intent, and with an eye to how to apply Spirit, Honor and Discipline in the outside world. The next time you finish class, keep these things in mind and ask yourself if you applied all three during your training. The next time you encounter a problem in life, ask yourself if you’ve approached the situation with Spirit, Honor and Discipline. If you haven’t, see what happens when you bring all three tools to the table.

While you’re at it, pay focused attention to the other Pledges you say in your life. What tools and lessons are inside of those? How might they help you lead a happier and more successful life? Are you living the values inherent in those pledges, or are you mouthing the words without giving them real thought? If the second, maybe you should consider changing that.

Parents’ Corner

Our lesson for this month is about our Pledge, but it’s also about mindfulness. Mindfulness is about paying focused attention to whatever you’re doing in the moment – whether that moment involves saying the words of a pledge, doing the dishes, or arguing with your kids.

Science fiction and fantasy writer Terry Pratchett once wrote that it’s hard to find an individual person in time travel, because people are rarely at a certain moment in time. At 10:10 AM, your mind is in a combination of what’s happening at that moment, what happened in the minutes and days before, and worry about what’s coming in the next minutes, hours, days and weeks. It’s hard to be happy and effective when our minds are in a blur of time.

By contrast, you’ve had moments of absolute focus and clarity where the only thing that existed for you was that single moment. For lucky people, that happens playing sports and watching entertainment. For the unlucky, they experience it mostly during violence.

Scientists now call that state “Flow,” while the Samurai called it “Satori.” By either name, it’s a good state for adults and teens to be in. Saying a Pledge with full attention to what it means is a way of building a habit of experiencing that mindfulness.






Kenpo Juniors Blog -Whatever It Takes #4 (Assignment)

Your teachers have already mentioned that your promotion won’t just be about the physical stuff you can do on the deck. Yes, the kicking and punching is the funnest part. Yes, it’s why you stepped onto the deck with us in the first place. No, it’s not the most important part or the part you’ll use most often.

We’ve spent a lot of time and energy on the martial arts value of “Whatever It Takes” during this cycle, and by now your teacher trusts that you know what it means. You understand what it involves, and why it’s important, and some ways you can use it as a tool to make your life better. Now it’s your turn to tell us what you’ve learned, and what you can add to the conversation about that value.

By your blue stripe test, you need to turn in your written assignment. Your assignment is a paper that defines what “Whatver It Takes” means to you. Depending on your history, your interests and where your training has taken you, this could take a number of different forms:

  • A simple essay describing your feelings about Whatever It Takes
  • A story from your life about doing Whatever It Takes and succeeding
  • A story from your life about failing at Whatever It Takes, and what you learned from that
  • An interview with a mentor about Whatever it Takes
  • Stories from history or mythology that inspire you to do Whatever It Takes
  • A book report about a fiction or nonfiction book where somebody did Whatever It Takes
  • Reporting on a current event about a person or group doing Whatever It Takes

These are just ideas. You can write on anything you like. For that matter, if you feel an art project or video would better express this part of your martial arts journey, talk it over with your teacher. They’ll help you define what it needs to look like on test day.

Just make sure you do “Whatever it Takes” to make this project the best possible expression of Whatever It Takes as it impacts your life this semester.

Parents’ Corner

There’s a practice from improvisational theater called “Yes and.” In improvisational theater, there’s no script. The actors just make up what they do based on what the other actors do and say. “Yes and” is a rule that says you can’t negate what the other actor proposed. Instead, you should accept what the actor proposed, and add something new.

Say an actor started an improvisational scene with “Wow, I can’t believe there are so many cats in here.” Responding with “No. Those are dogs,” is not “Yes and.” A “Yes and” response would be “How are you doing? Aren’t you allergic?”

Keep “Yes and” in mind when your child comes to you with ideas for this project. We’d much rather see an honest expression of a student’s journey than a shiny, polished piece that’s a few steps removed from their experience.

That said, the most important part of “Yes and” is the and. Whatever your child shows you on the first effort, no matter how impressive, find a way to challenge them with an and. What could be added? Explored? Improved? How could you push your child to make the report a growth and learning experience? If you have trouble thinking of something, give us a shout. We’re always here to help in any way we can.


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