AIK Kenpo Kids: Discernment

Kenpo Kids Blog - Discernment #1

As you study your kenpo and step more fully into the life of a martial artist, it might surprise you to learn how much of being a warrior has nothing to do with physical skills. Discernment, the Bushido value for this cycle, is one of those non-physical skills that is vital to being a successful warrior. But before we can tell you why that is, we probably have to talk about what it is.

Discernment is the most challenging word in the Bushido Code. Most other words -- sincerity and bravery, for example -- you already know what they mean. Bushido might have a slightly different emphasis or twist on their definition, but you come to the lesson with an idea of what they mean.

But discernment? Whoever heard of discernment?

We have. And here’s what it means.

Discernment comes from the word “discern.” Discern means to see, or to understand, something clearly. Discernment is being a person who sees and understands things clearly. It combines situational awareness, wisdom and perception.

Situational awareness is being aware of what’s happening around you. At the dojo, this means much more than just paying attention to your instructor. It means knowing where your classmates are so you don’t bump into them. It means watching for the walls, and people crossing the floor. It’s similar at school, too. A regular student pays attention to the teacher. A discerning student knows to watch the other students for hints about how to do the best possible job, and pays attention to his classmates to see if she can help them. At home, discernment means knowing where your milk glass is at dinner so you never bump it and knock it over. It can even mean seeing messes to clean up before your parents tell you about them.

Wisdom means understand what things mean when you see them. In school, it means double-checking your answers on a test to make sure you didn’t make a small mistake. At home, it can mean listening to your parents carefully. It means knowing what your parents really want, no matter how much they said. At the dojo, it means applying what you know about kicks and chops to every technique and kata you learn.

Truth in perception is a fancy way of saying to double-check what you think is happening. If your brother or sister is rude to you, does it mean he or she is being mean? Or does it mean he or she is having a really bad day and needs a hug? Reading an assignment at school, you can choose between a quick read that might be wrong and a close read that’s sure to be right. At the dojo, wisdom helps you tell the difference between a good kick and an excellent kick. All of these things are examples of discernment in action.

That’s what discernment means. It’s a long word and a lot of explanation to mean “pay attention.” Warriors pay attention because if they don’t, one of two bad things might happen.

The warrior might not see somebody when they’re practicing, and hurt that person accidentally.

The warrior might use violence by mistake, and hurt somebody on purpose when that person didn’t deserve to be hurt.

That’s why discernment is important to being a warrior, to martial arts, and to your kenpo journey.

Parents’ Corner

Discernment is one of the most powerful tools for our kids program students because it addresses something school-age children are starting to learn. It helps them begin to take responsibility for their own perception. By now, you’ve already been in a situation that proves it. Your child kicks a cousin, then responds “You only said not to punch him.” Or does only half of her math homework because the worksheet was double-sided but she didn’t turn it over to check. As parents ourselves, we’ve been there.

Helping to teach our students the importance of going further in discerning the world around them has a second goal as well. It builds the habit of going the extra mile in all things. A child who learns to pay extra attention and analyze what she sees is a child who will also look at homework, helping, and citizenship to analyze how she can better help. It’s a building block for personal growth, scholarship, athletics and civic duty as an adult.

Since the early 1990s, popular culture has started using another word for what Bushido calls Discernment: “Mindfulness.” If you’re in the mood, read anything by Thich Nhat Hanh, Paul Reps, or Dan Millman for some other voices about discernment and mindfulness. It’s as useful to adults as it is to kids.

As always, we’re here to help in any way you need.

Kenpo Kids Blog - Discernment #2

We read last week about how discernment means paying attention to the world around you, and how that can help you make good decisions at home, in school, and at the dojo. Today we’re going to talk about an important discernment tool for your lifetime toolbox. It’s called lag time. It works like this.

Have you ever gotten into trouble after you were doing something you shouldn’t, but didn’t really think about it that way until your parents or teachers stopped you? Have you ever caught yourself arguing with a friend over something, and forgotten why you started arguing instead of just talking? That’s lag time.

Lag time is when you’re doing something wrong, or harmful. But you only realize it’s wrong or harmful when you’re in the middle of doing it. Lag time is responsible for a lot of little trouble kids get into. Like talking in class. Or playing a video game after it’s time to stop. Or arguing with your parents.

What is lag time? It’s how long it takes between starting to do something you shouldn’t, and realizing you shouldn’t be doing that thing. A warrior practices discernment by making lag time as short as possible.

In a perfect world, your discernment would work like this.

You: “Should I do this?”

Discernment: “No.”

You: “Okay. I won’t do this.”

Instead, most of the time, it works like this.

You: “Should I do this?”

You (without discernment): “Heck yes.”

You: “Okay, I’ll do this.”

Discernment (later): “Hey...should you be doing this?”

You: “Yes.”

Discernment: “Are you sure?”

You: “Oh. Wait. Maybe not.”

Discernment: “Probably not.”

You: “Really?”

Discernment: “Definitely not.”

You: “Okay. I’ll stop.”

So the trick to make lag time small is to use your discernment early. Here are three tools you can use to apply discernment. They work a lot like your kenpo techniques. Think of them like self-defense against bad decisions.

Three Deep Breaths. Any time you need to decide whether or not to do something, breathe deeply three times. After your third breath, ask yourself whether or not it’s a good idea. You can also do this if you’re in the middle of something you start to wonder is a good idea.

Ask Your Mother. Or your dad. Or your sensei. Just stop and ask (out loud if you want), “Mom, should I do this?” Then imagine what your mom would say. If you’re in the middle of something, you can instead imagine how she might react if she saw what was happening right now.

Explain Yourself. Before you make your decision, describe what you are about to do like you’re telling the story at the dinner table. You might be surprised how bad the idea sounds when you say it out loud.

Time to Experiment

If you’re already experienced with our Bushido Values lessons here at American Institutes of Kenpo, you know that this month you’ll do some experiments about Discernment to better understand what it is. If you’re new to our kenpo family, then this will be a fun new experience.

Your mission this month is to try the experiment below to help you practice and understand Discernment. Try several times to see how it works in different situations. Talk about what happened with your parents and classmates.

Rephrase and Reframe

“Rephrase” means to say something in a new way. “Reframe” means to find a new way to think about something. Your experiment is to think about something that happened at school, or read about in the news, or saw on television. Describe it in three ways.

First, describe it as it appears from the outside

Second, describe what it appeared like from one person involved

Third, describe it in a way that’s true, but makes it seem like something false happened

When you talk with people about your experiment, think about how all of the descriptions seem true. Lag time is very often about what seems true in a moment, but is less true when you think about it later.

Don’t worry if lag time is a tricky thing to understand. Don’t worry if it’s even trickier to make part of how you decide things. Lag time is a skill even adults work hard to master. You’re lucky because you’re starting to practice lag time earlier than most people do.

Parents’ Corner

If you’ve been watching class, you might have heard one of the instructors talking about “Triggers and Anchors.” These are verbal tools that can cut lag time in half or smaller. “Focus!” “Eyes, Mind Body, sir!” is an example of a trigger and an anchor. Whatever is happening in class, the students have a reflex to change their attention and respond when they hear the trigger of “Focus!” Classroom teachers use similar techniques to transition classrooms from one activity to another. They work really well.

At home, if you’re noticing a lag time issue at certain times of day or in certain situations, you can use a Trigger and Anchor pairing to help immediately shift your child’s frame of reference and focus. This is one of the best and most powerful tools for reducing lag time we’re aware of.

Kenpo Kids Blog - Discernment #3

Enrichment Topic - Blunt vs. Fixed Weapons

It’s always best to have the right tool for the right job. You use a screwdriver to drive a screw into a wall, and a hammer to drive in a nail. You could sort of use a screwdriver to pound in a nail. You could maybe use a hammer to drive in a screw. But you’ll do it faster and better if you use the right tool. And don’t even try using a hammer to cut a board in half. That’s a job for a saw.

This is true for all kinds of things. You use a pencil to fill in a bubble test, and pen for a final project. For art, you use crayons and paint and colored pencils for different kinds of art. At the dinner table, you don’t eat soup with a knife. And you don’t cut pork chops with a spoon.

Your kenpo also uses the right tool for the right job, with a concept called Blunt Weapons vs. Fixed Weapons. It works like this…

Anything you use to hit your opponent in karate is called a “weapon.” Your kicks are weapons. Your punches are weapons. Your elbows and knees are weapons. Sometimes your blocks can be weapons, if you hit just right with them.

Any weapon belongs to one of two categories: Blunt Weapons and Fixed Weapons.

A Blunt Weapon hits with a large area. With your hands, strikes with closed fists are blunt weapons. Most kicks, elbows and knees are blunt weapons.

A Fixed Weapon hits with a smaller area. Open-hand strikes are fixed weapons. A few martial arts use feet and elbows for fixed weapons, but you won’t have learned any of those yet.

Those are the two kinds of tools kenpo artists use for striking. Like all other tools, there are better places and wrong places to use them.

Blunt Weapons

Blunt weapons strike a large area, meaning they do less damage when they hit. That’s the bad news. The good news is they also take less damage when they hit something. It hurts you less to strike something with a blunt weapon than it does with a fixed weapon.

Some examples of blunt weapons from your kenpo charts include a thrust kick, a reverse punch, a palm strike, and an elbow strike. You use these to target large areas like the face or the solar plexus. When a blunt weapon hits, it puts a lot of force into a big part of the body. It shocks the opponent and moves him where you want him to go.

Blunt weapons are good at scaring people, but they don’t injure people as much as fixed weapons. They’re also easier to use when you can’t be exact. Some people say they are better for fighting bullies than other weapons because those two things are true.

Fixed Weapons

A fixed weapon strikes a small, vulnerable area. The good news about a fixed weapon is they can do a lot for you with very little strength. The bad news about a fixed weapon is that if you miss by even a little you won’t do much to your opponent. You might even hurt yourself.

Some examples of fixed weapons from your kenpo charts include inward and outward chops, a half-fist strike, a middle-knuckle, and a spear hand. Those strikes put a lot of force into a small area, meaning they can harm and injure people more easily.

But they come with two disadvantages.

The first disadvantage is they can accidentally hurt somebody seriously. A punch in the nose hurts. A spear hand to the throat can put somebody in the hospital. It’s easy to hurt somebody worse than you wanted to with a fixed weapon.

The second disadvantage is they can accidentally hurt you. A finger poke to the eye hurts the bad guy. A finger poke aimed at the eye, but hitting the forehead? That hurts your finger. Badly.

For these reasons, it’s best to use fixed weapons only in serious emergencies. You don’t want to risk badly injuring yourself or somebody else unless it’s really, really important.

Putting it Together

The technique Delayed Sword has two strikes in it. Can you think of which kinds of weapons those two strikes use? Now, think of two techniques from the belt level you’re working on now. Which weapons do the strikes in those techniques use?

Parents’ Corner

This cycle’s expansion topic is a good opportunity to talk with your child about when to use karate and when not to. The choice between a fixed and a blunt weapon is part of smart martial arts practice. Even more important is the choice between the four main tools of self defense:





It’s a good idea to talk with your child about how self defense only happens very rarely. And when it does, only the last main tool involves using a weapon of any kind. As your child grows in her abilities, knowing when to use them becomes a greater and greater responsibility.

Kenpo Kids Blog - Discernment #4 (Assignment)

At the end of this month, you will test for your rank. For some of you, this will be the next test after several. For others, this is your first test. Either way, the expectations are the same. Come to testing time prepared, ready to show your best work and your strongest knowledge. Practice at home, and in front of people.

And complete your Bushido Values project.

This month, you will finish a project to bring with you to the dojo on testing day. It will be there for visitors to look at, and ask you questions about. Make it your best work, and think about it enough so you can answer all the questions people ask.

Your project for this month is to create a puzzle. Puzzles are ways for people to practice Discernment by looking at something until they unlock a secret through observation and thought. You can draw things by hand, or make your puzzle on the computer. It should not be a jigsaw puzzle, but the kind of puzzle you find in riddle books or crossword books. Here are five examples of puzzles that test discernment very well:

Spot the Difference. Draw two pictures that are almost identical. It’s okay to trace by hand, or copy and paste on your computer. Make six or eight or even ten differences between the two pictures. People practice discernment by looking carefully enough to tell what’s different.

One of These Things is Not Like the Other. Make an array of simple drawings or photos of four, five, or six things. Make all but one belong to a group of similar objects. If your drawings were of a chicken, a duck, a wren, a crow, an eagle, and a cat, then the cat wouldn’t belong. You can make it tricky, if you want. A four-drawing set of a chair, a couch, a table, and a crayon...the table would be out because it starts with a T. People practice discernment by detecting a pattern.

Is To Puzzles. You might have seen these in tests you take at school. For example. “Puppy is to Dog is as Kitten is to ______.” The answer is cat. That’s because a puppy is a young dog, and a kitten is a young cat. “Sensei is to Dojo is as Teacher is to ______.” The answer is to school. If you choose this puzzle, make between six and ten puzzles to bring to the dojo. People practice discernment by thinking about how things are related.

Extreme Close-Up. This one you do with your computer. Find a picture of a common object, like a pencil or a milk jug. Blow up a small piece of the photo and cut out the rest. Make sure it’s something that shows enough of it that people can guess what it is from the small, close-up photo. If you choose this one, do three or four photos for variety. People practice discernment by seeing how the small piece is part of a larger whole.

Code Categories. This is a two step puzzle for advanced students. Make up a letter replacement code, where A actually means Z or some other letter. Make a list of seven or eight words that are part of a category like “Animals” or “Kenpo Techniques.” Use the code to write the words for your list, then write the category like normal. People can use the category as a clue to decode the words. People practice discernment by combining two clues to solve the mystery.

Use one of these puzzles, or make up one of your own. Mount it on cardboard, or on colorful paper. Bring it to the dojo on test day.

Parents’ Corner

It’s really, really tempting to help on this assignment but please resist the temptation. We would rather see the best a student can do than a more polished project with the help from a parent. Also remember that it’s not cheating to trace, or download art, or to look facts up. This project isn’t about creativity or memorizing facts. It’s about combining information and art in ways that make people think. As long as the idea is original, “outsourcing” the details is completely acceptable.

As always, if you need any help from us, just ask. We have plenty of ideas and experience to help make your student’s project and test the best it can be

2018 All Rights Reserved - AIK (American Institute of Kenpo) - Contact Webmaster