AIK Kenpo Seniors: Sincerity

Kenpo Seniors Blog - Sincerity #1

Sincerity might be one of the more difficult concepts to explain, because Bushido already urges Truth. What’s the difference? Was this kind of attention to what’s accurate so important they decided to include it twice? Does the original Japanese include a differentiation that’s missing when translating into English? Are they two separate and core concepts that each need individual attention, just like you can’t raise twins while paying attention to only your favorite?

We’d say the answer is “All of the Above.” Here’s why.

Truth applies to what you say (and to what you think, in that your thoughts are really just private conversations you have with yourself). When you speak, it’s up to you to make sure the words you use are in line with the objective reality around you.

Sincerity applies to what you do. When you act sincerely, you are acting in accordance to what you know is true about yourself. You are moving with purpose that’s congruent to your values. You are speaking not only words that are true, but words that match the intent you say you are speaking with. You are practicing your martial arts with a fearless eye toward where you have room to improve.

Lee Sprague would define Sincerity as “Truth in Action.” It’s applying the rigorous demand for objective truth in your speech to your decisions about how to act. It’s making certain what you do is congruent with what you know to be right.

In the warring states period of Japan (from which Bushido derived), and in other warrior cultures, sincerity was among the most important warrior values. Even truth wasn’t as prized, since “All Warfare Is Based on Deception.” You could lie to an enemy, or tell a white lie to a loved one, and not be considered a poor warrior. But sincerity is at the heart of martial value and action.

If a warrior is insincere in his training, he can’t develop his fighting skills enough to be effective in battle. He gets himself killed, and people who rely on him. If a warrior is insincere in his approach to guard duty, the enemy can sneak past him. If he’s insincere in even small things like maintaining his weapons, or cleaning a hallway, this can have disastrous consequences when war begins. His mindful focus on his intention and the truth of his action if vital to his succesfully performing his duties.

Modern times rarely call for that kind of warrior action, but let’s look at another kind of fight. You love your partner (and your kids if you have them). The truth of your heart is that love, and a sincere desire for those people to be happy. But have you ever gotten in an argument where you find yourself saying things with the sole intention of hurting the other person’s feelings? In that kind of fighting, where you’re against the other person and trying to “score points” in the conversation, isn’t congruent with the truth of how you feel. In your anger or hurt you’ve become insincere. Your actions aren’t reflecting the truth. Nobody’s going to die from this kind of insincerity, but when it’s all over you regret having slipped.

Sincerity is everywhere, and can sometimes surprise you with its importance. As you train in this cycle of your Kenpo and Bushido study, be on the lookout for how it impacts your life.

One last point about Sincerity: this is one of the hardest bushido traits to cultivate, because it’s the only one with very few external indicators. If you’re not truthful, people can catch you in a lie. If you’re not courteous, people can point out you’re being rude. But Sincerity is a matter of matching the invisible (your thoughts and intentions) to the visible (your actions). Only you can see what’s going on there in real time. Only you can know whether or not you’re being sincere in any given moment.

The bad news about that is only you can take responsibility for how you express sincerity in daily life. The good news about that is only you have any power over whether or not you choose to express it.

Good luck. Despite that, as always, your teachers and fellow students at American Institutes of Kenpo in Tucson, Arizona are ready to help you in any way we can.

Kenpo Seniors Blog - Sincerity #2

We all know that one person. The one who tries to tell you that he’s “brutally honest” but really is just being brutal. He consistently tears down everybody around him while pretending he’s just truthful and wants people to know what’s really going on.

You also know that other person. The one who will tell you hard truths when you need to hear them, even hard truths that really upset you to acknowledge. She also celebrates your victories and compliments you from time to time, but if you need an honest opinion, you know she’s a good source for it.

Which one do you like having in your life?

This is the difference between truth and sincerity. That first person tells the truth (as he sees it), but he’s not acting with sincerity. Though he claims, and may claim to himself, that he says ugly things to and about people “for their own good” because it’s true, that’s not really what’s going on with him. He’s saying those things because he serves his ego, or because he can’t think of more interesting things to talk about. His motives aren’t what he says they are, and everybody can tell at one level or another.

The second person may say things even more hurtful (because they are often more deeply considered and closer to your heart), but you can tell that she is sincerely saying them only with your best interest in mind. When she speaks, it’s from a space of loyalty, friendship, and honest desire to help. Her stated motives are the same as her true motives, and you know this whenever you talk with her.

If sincerity is “truth in action” you can practice sincerity daily by making certain your actions are based in truth. A few other examples you might see this in daily life include:

People who feel manipulative, because they say things for what they’ll evoke in other people rather than the truthfulness or relevance of the thought.

Many, many different kinds of sales or coaching techniques. Most of these are forms of manipulation like mentioned above.

Working out while not giving 100% effort to the exercise. Whether that’s true full-on exhaustion reps, or just close attention to form on a moderate know when you’re giving it your best.

Completing work or school work, and knowing whether or not you gave your best according to the circumstances at the moment.

Talking with a spouse, partner or other loved one and knowing whether or not what you said was said with as much love, kindness or patience as the relationship deserves.

“Mindfulness” is a concept from zen practice that applies here as well. “Mindfulness” means to be engaged completely in whatever activity you’re engaged in. You’re not thinking about what comes next, or stuck on something that happened earlier. You’re not multitasking. You’re as focused on the here and now as much as you were the first time you kissed the person you like kissing the most right now. When you’re walking, you’re walking -- not thinking of the destination. When you’re cleaning the kitchen, you’re cleaning the kitchen -- not thinking of what you’ll do after. When you’re going to sleep, you’re relaxing -- not fretting about the mistakes of the day.

Which brings us to your exploration exercise for this cycle. Once each day this month, choose one task in which to be completely mindful and sincere. Focus all of your energy and thought on that task, whether it’s a chore, a job-related duty, a conversation, a workout, or anything else. Apply the lens of sincerity to that focus. Are you giving that chore the attention to detail you know you are capable of? Are you completing your duty to the absolute best of your ability? Are the words and thoughts in that conversation both the objective truth, and reflective of your true feelings and motivations? Are you giving that workout your all?

Take some notes from time to time on how different your task of mindfulness feels as compared to other things you do throughout the day. Are the results better? Do you have more fun? Do you feel stronger and more integrated? Or does the added effort leave you feeling awkward and exhausted?

If the latter, keep at it. Like most exercises, it might be uncomfortable at first. After a while, though, you get strong at it and it begins to feel good. Ultimately you’ll crave the experience just like you do time on the mats.

For more on mindfulness and sincere living, we recommend reading Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh and Joel Hyams’ Zen in the Martial Arts. You’ll also find more than one reference to mindfulness and sincere living in the Gospels.

Kenpo Seniors Blog - Sincerity #3

Enrichment Topic - Methods of Execution

“Methods of Execution” is the label Grand Master Ed Parker placed on the idea that how you do a thing (also why you do a thing) is at least as important as what you do. In conversation, this is most plainly visible in humor. If you say to somebody “You’re a jerk” and you mean to insult that person, it’s an invitation to an argument if not a fight. If you say the exact same words to a friend in a joking way, you both smile and laugh.

In the same way, if you throw a front kick loosely without strong intent you have a different result from if you throw it with focus on form. And even perfect form thrown as an exercise is less effective in the ring or on the street than a less-than-perfect kick thrown with the intent of causing harm.

Master Parker defined more than 20 Methods of Execution to describe the mechanics and intent behind the motions in kenpo strikes and blocks. These included These included hammering, thrusting, whipping, lifting, looping, round-housing, hooking, clawing, poking, stiff-arming or stiff-legging, pecking, flicking, scooping, shoveling, slicing, scissoring, butting, biting, gouging, pinching, squeezing, ripping and tearing.

Some of these Methods were very specialized, applicable to only a handful of basics (and sometimes only a single technique). Seven of the Methods of Execution are extremely common, applying to mutliple basics. Master Parker dubbed these the “7 Major Methods of Execution.” They are:

Clawing -- using the fingers to dig into your target, rather than relying on impact alone. This can cause extra damage, or help you control your opponent by turning the body

Hammering -- striking (usually with your closed fist) as if your weapon is a hammer head driving a nail

Hooking -- striking in a swooping motion, usually upward, as with a boxer’s hook or an uppercut punch

Round-Housing -- delivering an attack in a curved line. This is most often seen in the eponymous “round-house kick” but you can also see it with a haymaker punch, and to a lesser extent with inward elbow strikes.

Slicing -- moving shallowly through a target rather than impacting and withdrawing. A raking fist through the bridge of the nose, or a slicing elbow through the ribs are two common examples.

Thrusting -- delivering your attack in a straight line for linear impact, as with a jabbing punch or a front thrust kick. A two-handed push to the front is another example of thrusting execution.

Whipping -- moving loosely, then tightening the muscles at the point of impact. A variety of finger strikes, as well as a front snap kick, are common examples of this method of execution.

What’s interesting is how the same motion can create different results with different Methods of Execution. Sometimes the best choice is a matter of what you’ll be striking (the nose versus the throat, for example). Other times it’s a matter of what you hope to accomplish (i.e. thrusting versus whipping). This blog post isn’t here to tell you what’s right or wrong with any given basic or technique.

Instead, we suggest you play with your kenpo basics. Practice in the air, then on a bag, various Methods of Execution for each and see which feel best and more natural. Even spend time applying Methods that are obviously wrong, since doing things wrong is one of the best ways to really internalize how to do that thing right. Once you’ve played with your basics and found your favorite Methods for each, start including this concept in your techniques and kata.

Believe us, your instructors can see whether or not you’re thinking about Methods of Execution when you perform your Kenpo. The most experienced can even see which Method you’re thinking about. You’ll find that your Kenpo feels different when you begin to practice with this concept in mind.

One last thing. Think a little this month about why we chose to discuss Methods of Execution during a testing cycle in which we examine the Bushido value of Sincerity. This is not coincidental.

Kenpo Seniors Blog - Sincerity #4 (Assignment)

This testing cycle is coming to an end, which means you will be testing for rank shortly. Whether this is your first test for yellow belt, or an iteration of brown leading up to Black, you need to copmlete three things:

Know, and demonstrate your knowledge, of all physical requirements for your new rank.

Complete any and all reading or knowledge requirements for your promotion

Finish your Bushido Sincerity Assignment

Your Sincerity Assignment has three parts this month, each an exercise and assessment on a specific way that sincerity impacts daily modern life. We think you’ll find by the end how important sincerity is to day-to-day happiness, even though you’re unlikely to charge into battle any time soon. Your three assignments are related to Mindfulness, Intent, and Commitment.

The Mindfulness Walk

Choose a path that will take you 10 to 15 minutes to walk. This might be a trail through a favorite park, your walk to work or with your child to school, a couple of laps around a jogging track, or any other walk that’s within a reasonable distance of your home. Walk that path.

But only walk the path. Keep your mind on the motion of your legs and feet, on your breath as you start to feel the exercise. Look at the plants and people and sky as you move through the world. Think to yourself only about what you are experiencing in that present moment. No cheating with music on your headphones or a podcast, or thinking about something that’s been on your mind. Stay present, and focused on the present.

If your mind drifts, don’t give up. Just steer it back to the here and now. Learning how to do that is another part of the exercise.


Choose a conversation you’re going to have. Make sure it’s one of those conversations. The kind that sometimes turn into fights, or where you get defensive, or you tend to lash out at the other person. This might be a talk you initiate (like speaking to your child about his grades), or one somebody else initiates (like a performance review with your boss). Whatever opportunity seems most useful and appropriate. Don’t worry, you’ll have several opportunities throughout the month.

Before you begin that conversation, write down your goal for that conversation. Is it to navigate a tricky argument with your romantic partner so you are both happier and the relationship is stronger? Is it to build bridges of communication with your teenage son? Is it to improve at your job while demonstrating how great you already are? Whatever it is, write it down and memorize it a few days before the talk, then read it each day and again just before you chat.

During the conversation, run everything you want to say through the filter of that intent. If it doesn’t match what you want to do in that talk, don’t say it. Either keep it inside entirely, or phrase it in a way that suits your goal. Tone and body language play heavily here as well, so do not ignore them.


Three weeks before test time, choose one small thing to do or not to do every day. This could be something like putting your socks in the hamper instead of by your bed, or drinking water instead of Coke in the morning, or kissing your kid goodnight every night. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it improves your life somehow and happens every day.

Promise yourself you will make that change every day for two consecutive weeks, then do everything necessary to keep that promise. If you need to set an alarm or reminder, set that alarm. If you need to ask a friend to keep you accountable, ask. If you need to leap out of bed as you’re falling asleep and do it because you forgot, get to leaping. Keep this commitment to yourself no matter what.

For each of these three commitments, write a short journal entry or letter to yourself about how it went. Talk about your success level, about how it felt during, and how it felt after. Write something about sincerity, and how it interacted with the task you attempted. If you feel comfortable, bring the writings in to share with your instructor and discuss. If it’s too personal, that’s all right. Keep your thoughts to yourself, but write them down. There’s power in writing down your thoughts and experiences, and that’s most of the point of this exercise.

As always, if you have questions or need help don’t hesitate to ask. Our staff is here to help you along on your journey.

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