AIK Kenpo Seniors: Discernment

Kenpo Seniors Blog - Discernment #1

The Bushido Value for this training cycle is Discernment. As students of Bushido, we know a lot about discernment -- except for why the translators didn’t just use the word “Wisdom” instead.

Like most translations, though, the one word we all know doesn’t tell the whole story. Discernment is a part of wisdom, but it isn’t all of the facets wisdom usually includes. Instead, it’s about the perceptual aspects of wisdom: seeing things as they really are instead of how you want them to be or are afraid they might be.

To practice discernment is to see a situation and perceive it with as much truth as is possible. This requires you to suspend your judgment until you have all of the available facts, and to be willing to change your conclusion when new information enters your perception. Discernment is vitally important to a warrior because of what a warrior does.

If you see a situation where one person appears to be getting attacked, you need to see the situation clearly. It might be a mugging. Or the person getting the worst of it might have been the person attempting the crime. Even if you see rightly that somebody is being wrongfully attacked, you must also discern safety factors like weapons or the three friends standing nearby. Discernment for a warrior is a potentially a matter of life and death.


Practicing Discernment

Like any tool or trait, discernment improves if you consciously practice it. It’s a big, complex job, though. So it works well in the beginning to practice its three component pieces. Discernment consists of accurate perception, accurate interpretation, and accurate intent.

Accurate Perception means seeing as much of everything as you can. It gives you all of the information you need to draw an accurate conclusion. In political conversation, accurate perception might include reading news articles with bias in mind. In reading a street situation, it requires scanning the entire scene.

Some hazards against accurate perception include tunnel vision, making unwarranted assumptions about unseen factors, and biased reporting from your sources of information.

Techniques for practicing accurate perception include keeping your mind on particular tasks, mentally cataloguing things as you walk by, and spending time focusing on a single sense to get as complete a picture as you can from that wavelength of input.

One meditation to do now is to think about a recent mistake you made because of inaccurate perception. What factors contributed to that inaccuracy? What were the consequences of the mistake? What can you to to avoid that error next time?


Accurate Interpretation means avoiding placing a misleading lens on your viewing of what you perceive. Human beings are built to analyze the meaning of information. That’s good, because it lets us make deeper and more nuanced decisions. But if your analysis is flawed, discernment goes out the window. In political conversation, this means being certain that the person you’re talking with actually wants to discuss the issues. Often they want to be reassured about something, or just to vent frustration. In the street, it means understanding how your moods and desires might color what you think something means.

Mood and emotion are the greatest hazards against accurate interpretation. If you’re angry at your wife over something that happened in the morning, you might make the wrong assumption about something she says at dinner.

Techniques for practicing accurate interpretation include considering things from the points of view of other people, talking with people who disagree with you, and asking for outside opinions.

Think about a recent time where accurate interpretation caused you to be misunderstood? What led to that interpretation being wrong? What happened because of it? Was there something you missed or ignored that could have prevented the misinterpretation?


Accurate Intent is a matter of self-policing. Often, what you want to be true or to happen next can so powerfully influence what you see that you let it decide what you think is happening regardless of the available facts. In political conversation, this can lead to ignoring information that doesn’t agree with what you already decided was true. If you want the suspicious person in the parking lot to be a false alarm, you might ignore signs that he definitely isn’t.

As suggested, your desire is what most interferes with accurate intent. Your intent as a warrior must always first be to see what’s really there. Mastery of your emotions is key to successfully doing that.

Techniques for practicing accurate information include deep breathing, kata, meditation...really anything that helps you practice regulating your mood and emotions.

What was a time in the last month where you wanted something so badly to be true that you ignored evidence to the contrary? Remember that being in an argumentative mood and wanting somebody else to be “the bad guy” counts. What happened as a result of you ignoring the other factors? How soon did you realize your mistake? What techniques did you use to counter it?


Discernment means putting all of these pieces together into a single whole of accurate perception. To paraphrase a concept from some self-help books...discernment helps you know what you know, what you don’t know, and most importantly, what you don’t yet know you don’t know.



Kenpo Seniors Blog - Discernment #2

We touched on this concept somewhat last month, but one particular facet of discernment requires a whole discussion of its very own. That’s because this one facet causes more trouble in perceiving the truth about the world than all the others put together. What is that factor?

Your personal filter.

Events don’t happen in a vacuum. Instead, the things you can see and hear (and taste, feel, and smell) only have significance because of their context. Some of that context isn’t available for you to perceive because they happened in the past, or they’re likely in the future, or they’re hidden by other information.

The human mind is very, very good at extrapolating context from a small amount of information. Unfortunately, it’s also very good at adding in imagined context and reaching an entirely inappropriate conclusion. Your personal filter is the part of your mind responsible for extrapolation. The better you understand and manage your filter, the better you will be at discernment.

It’s pretty easy to see how your personal filter could mess up your discernment. Imagine you’re walking from a store to your car at night and there’s a large man walking toward you across the parking lot.


If you’re in a bad mood about something already, you might view this as aggression whether or not it really is.

If you’re afraid of an attacker, you might convince yourself it’s perfectly safe because you want it to be safe -- whether or not it’s actually safe.

If you just lost a tournament fight and are doubting your skills, you might even convince yourself he’s a threat just to prove your kenpo skills.

If you’re in an unusually good mood, your optimism might mean you miss signs that he actually is a looming attacker

The objective truth in this theoretical situation isn’t important. Instead, it illustrates how much your mood and expectations can color what you see. We’ve all been in fights with loved ones, or missed important details at work, or made a bad decision because we listened to our personal filter instead of paying attention to the more important cues about the situation.


Take Nothing Personally

The book The Four Agreements looks at four things you can promise yourself to improve how you live your life. One of those agreements is “Take Nothing Personally,” and it applies directly to discernment and your personal filter.

The agreement is that you understand how much of what a person does has nothing to do with you, and how much of your initial emotional response to a situation has nothing to do with what’s actually happening. Imagine you accidentally cut somebody off in traffic. In the rearview mirror, you see that person shaking his fist. You immediately feel anger at his overreaction.

But some of that anger is also disguised guilt, because you broke one of the unwritten rules of polite driving…

...and if he’s shaking his fist in anger he’s probably not really mad about getting cut off. It’s just as likely something from earlier in his day already put him in a bad mood. He’s mad at his boss about something, but his boss isn’t handy. You are…

...and maybe he’s not shaking his fist at you at all. Maybe he’s just enjoying the heavy metal song that just came on his radio.

It’s your personal filter that determines what you decide is going on in that situation. Or any situation. Personal filters are difficult to control, but you can start by being as aware as possible of it. Whenever you have a strong emotional response to something, look to your personal filter. Think about how it might be impacting how you are discerning the situation. Then see what happens if you can lift and remove it.


We’ll close this discussion with an applicable joke:

“There are two kinds of people in the world: those who can extrapolate from incomplete information and”



Kenpo Seniors Blog - Discernment #3

Enrichment Topic - Blunt vs Fixed Weapons

One of the weaknesses of Kenpo as a system is that the curriculum is very broad, and has a lot of incentive for accumulating a long list of techniques in your knowledge base. This can lead some students to spend a lot of time and energy memorizing techniques without taking the time to understand them.

At early levels of training, memorization is enough. That repetition by rote builds solid technique and conditions your body. It builds the first level of competence in martial arts. But after that, it’s important to dive into the whys and hows of what you know.

Blunt and fixed weaponry is one lens you can use to understand the whys and hows of your techniques. The techniques at the heart of kenpo weren’t handed down a mountain to some kung fu monk from on high. They were developed through reasoning, examination, and application of principles. You can use the dichotomy of blunt vs. fixed to help understand how those factors designed those techniques.


A blunt weapon has a large surface area and does its damage with shock and impact.

Blunt hand strikes include punches and palm strikes

Blunt kicks include thrust kicks and wheel kicks

Blunt arm strikes include inward blocks and elbow strikes with the fist open

A handheld club is a blunt weapon. So is a staff if you’re swinging it.

In general, blunt weapons are safer to use for you but do less damage to your attacker. They require less accuracy to do at least a little damage, but have a lower “maximum damage.”


A fixed weapon has a smaller surface area, and does its damage through cutting or penetration.

Fixed hand strikes include finger spears and chops.

Fixed kicks include rear kicks, because you penetrate the target with the ball of the foot.

An elbow strike with the fist open exposes the bone of the arm, turning it into a cutting tool: a fixed weapon.

A knife is obviously a fixed handheld weapon. A staff you thrust with is also a fixed weapon.

Fixed weapons can hurt your attacker more seriously, but also use more fragile parts of your anatomy. You must strike accurately or risk harming yourself with your own attack.


With this in mind, consider one of your techniques. Which of the attacks in that technique are blunt, and which are fixed? Why were blunt weapons used when they were used? And why fixed where fixed were chosen? If you used a fixed weapon where a blunt weapon was called for, what would happen? What if you replaced a blunt weapon strike with a different blunt weapon strike?

This kind of consideration helps you to not just memorize techniques, but to understand them fundamentally.


Creation and Synthesis

Once you understand fully why a technique was built the way it was, you can then go on to modify the technique to suit different situations. Choose a technique you know well, one with at least three strikes in it. Consider these factors and how they might lead you to select a different weapon if the “traditional” strike isn’t an option.

Risk to You. Fixed weapons carry more risk. At that specific point in the technique, can you take the additional risk? Or should you play it safe?

Target Specifications. The shape, location, and nature of different parts of the human body call for different kinds of strikes. In some cases, fixed vs. blunt becomes obvious. In others, one fixed strike might work well while another would fail completely.

Impact on the Opponent. What is your goal in the confrontation? Do you want to stun the opponent so you can escape? Or do you need to disable him, with the risk of permanent injury to that human being an acceptable part of the outcome? A punch in the eye or. a thumb in the eye illustrate the difference between fixed and blunt weapons here.

State of the Opponent. One of the keys to how our techniques work is that one strike sets up for another. Because they require more accuracy, fixed weapons are often better suited for later stages of a technique once your opponent is compromised.


You can use these concepts to deconstruct all of your techniques. Whether or not you ever use the modifications you consider, the act of deconstruction helps you to better understand your kenpo. The better you understand your kenpo, the more effective a student, fighter, and teacher you will become.



Kenpo Seniors Blog - Discernment #4 (Assignment)

Testing time is around the corner once again. Whether you’re preparing for your first yellow belt, or moving inexorably toward your black belt test, the process for this month is much the same. You will practice your material, review it with your instructors, and practice it again until it’s as close to perfect as you can make it. You’ll clean your gi and get ready for testing day.

Meanwhile, as always, you’ll work to complete your Bushido Code assignment for the cycle. This one will be a short paper examining one of the trickiest aspects of Discernment.

Discernment is one of those concepts that’s like a mountain lake. On the surface it seems simple and easy to understand, but underneath there are currents and sunken objects that make it far more complex than it appears. One of those things is internal filters. We discussed them during the second month of the cycle. If you don’t remember them clearly, it’s a good idea to review that entry before attempting your assignment.

Go ahead. We’ll wait.


Okay. Your assignment for this cycle is to write a description of an event involving three people. You will describe the event four times:

Describe it as neutrally as possible, giving just the objective facts of the event. Like you might see in responsible reporting, or as viewed on a video.

Describe the event from the point of view of one person, but begin the description with a short note about something that impacts his internal filter. As you describe the event, focus on how he might interpret the objective fact differently because of that filter. Work with both his emotional response to the event, and how he might interpret and misinterpret what happened.

Describe the event from the point of view of the second person, using a different internal filter. Describe how that different filter changes her entire experience of and reaction to the event.

Describe the event from the point of view of the third person, again using another filter. Again, describe how that different filter changes his experience and reaction.


For example:

A man is walking across the lawn on his way into a hotel when he steps into a pile of dog poop. The doorman of the hotel is watching, and so it somebody on the sidewalk who is considering entering the hotel.

The doorman sees the man step in the dog poop. He’s had a rough day because it’s been busy and he hasn’t had the chance to clean the entry as well as he’s supposed to. He knows his boss will come by to check his work in half an hour. He gets anxious, and even a little mad at the man, thinking he’s going to track dog poop into the hotel lobby.

The person on the sidewalk is looking for a hotel to stay in, but feeling pinched for money. He wants a safe, clean place but doesn’t want to go broke getting the room. Because of this, he’s looking for excuses to go to not stay in this hotel (which is a little more expensive than some other options). When he sees the man step into the dog poop, he thinks to himself that a good hotel would keep its lawn clean. If they won’t take care of the first thing a potential customer sees, he thinks, they won’t possibly take care of the rooms. He decides the hotel is run poorly, and walks on past in search of a different place to sleep.

The man who stepped in the poop is an optimist in a really good mood. He always sees the best in everything, and expects all of his experiences to lead to some kind of great opportunity. When he steps into the dog poop, he stops in his tracks. He immediately starts looking for the cute, friendly puppy who must have left the mess.

This example is simpler and shorter than what we would most like to see from you for your assignment, but it addresses the basic idea. Each of the three people saw and felt different things. One saw a potential problem about to happen to him, and felt helpless to do anything about it. Another saw evidence that the hotel was trouble, and changed his evening plans. The third saw stepping in poop as evidence something great was about to happen.

If you’re in a particularly brave mood, write your assignment about a real event involving two other people where different filters created different results. Even braver, write your assignment about a time where your filter made you wrong.

As always, we’re here to help if you have any questions about or trouble with completing your assignment. Please have it with you, edited and proofread by the assigenment due date!

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