By John Davis
Published on Jan 31st, 2009

In late July of 1999 my Kenpo "journey" began. Perhaps that phrase is an overused cliche, yet, it may be an apt description of any practitioner's development in the art of their choice. As with most journeys there is a beginning and ending point; fortunately, I have yet to see the latter. Admittedly, there were times when uncertainty, boredom and disillusionment prompted the urge to move on... Thankfully, that choice was delayed, allowing me to witness the endless opportunity and friendships that the art of Kenpo offers. The only price has been a willingness to put in time and effort, coupled with a view of open minded, child like enthusiasm.

There have been many points of departure along the way. Often, for personal reasons, "quitting" seemed a select alternative. Whether it was a broken marriage, the stress of work, raising children, poor instructors, injury (sometimes caused by poor instructors), and lack of training partners...the reasons for stopping far outweighed the reasons for beginning. At times I began to wonder why on earth I trained at all. I might as well be riding my bicycle or kicking the football about. Yet, the inexplicable allure of the art kept calling me back. Today, I am deeply grateful to have continued, as the levels of education and training I receive, coupled with meaningful relationships and a sense of purpose enrich my life beyond measure.

Recently, I began to consider some of the motivations that others may entertain, as well as reviewing my own. Among them would be the obvious impetus of self protection, as well as a need for physical activity. Mental and spiritual development certainly comes into play for some. Simply having a discipline or "focus" in life is important for others. Perhaps you may see a combination or gradual progression into all of those areas, as your practice unfolds.

With regard to self defense, I must confess to questioning the value of Kenpo, even today. When it comes to protecting one's self, concealed weapons, large bludgeoning objects, or most any tool at hand, may have an edge when confronted with the "modern" attacker. Staying out of situations that lead to violence would be a more effective means of protection. Running away is never something to be ashamed of.

Let's face it, for most of us, an urbane lifestyle doesn't present the need to draw from the repertoire of physical skills that many practitioners possess. On that note, when asked the question "have you ever used your martial skills in self defense?" a group of nearly fifteen upper level students, 1st through 6th black replied "never". In a survey conducted as part of my research into motivation, out of nearly 100 questionnaires, only one person answered yes to the same question. Early analysis of statistics and anecdotal evidence seem to belie the notion that training will, necessarily, be used to keep one safe or protect others. Perhaps, as my study continues, I'll find more instances of the ultimate need for good self defense practice developed through training. However, I believe, as others have stated, that the most useful aspect gleaned from constant training may be an acute sense of environmental awareness.

With the above in mind, ask your self how many times you have been in a training session where the instructor used the phrase "we do this on the street"? I have heard that term used repeatedly in classes that were as far from the "street" as I've ever been. Personally, in ten years of training with people from around the world, I've never met anyone that looked like some of the "animals" that I've run into or observed in a life of travel. Let's not kid ourselves. Most of us (of course, not all) have no experiential concept of the viciousness and utter disregard for human life that certain psychopathic, sociopath or criminal minds possess. We train, primarily, in an environment that is both arranged and forgiving. Additionally, we don't live in a world of constant individual warfare, as those from which the arts initially sprang. So, if not for self defense, why else might we engage in constant practice and effort to learn an art form that came from purely pragmatic origins?

Some might point to the need for excitement. Granted, Kenpo has that to offer. On a regular basis I meet with other students who are drained by the work a day world only to be refreshed by an hour and a half of valuable physical and mental exercise. Our bodies and minds are "excited" and we come away happier, relaxed and focused; ready to take on the next round of life's challenges. Of course, I would be overlooking an important part of everyone's path if I did not mention the surge of adrenaline that we experience early in our training as "tigers", not to mention the "endorphin' high that a solid workout session will produce in many, even as we age.

Along with physical development comes the advancement of our mental and spiritual lives. Progress takes place on both of those "internal" planes, making the practice more than just a workout or sport routine. Currently, I work with a group that includes regular discussion of art, literature and entertainment as a key focus in their training. Development of projects, shared reading and trips to concerts or exhibits serve to enhance our overall understanding of the world in which we practice our art. For some, active participation in musical production, writing or the graphic arts further enhances the overall spirit of Kenpo. Lastly, disciplines such as meditation and yoga practice are welcome additions to sound spiritual development.

There are so many wonderful avenues that open wide when we "practice". Unfortunately there are many pitfalls confronting every practitioner, as well. From observation, it seems that the further one advances, the more likely those traps are to consume the unwary. Fortunately, we are given methods to view ourselves from different perspectives (i.e. the "cycle of considerations"), as well as friends and teachers who might counsel us along the way. Symbolic references to becoming the "dragon" run throughout Kenpo. Like the dragon, we become wiser, stronger, ultimately more dangerous, yet reclusive and wary of those in our midst. We must learn to temper our skills and attitude or risk hurting those closest to us, merely by the act of "expelling our breath". Every word, act and deed must be calculated and delivered with purpose. With great power comes even greater responsibility.

So, if Kenpo might protect us, simply make us feel better, give our lives focus and advance our spiritual perceptions, what other reasons would we have for practicing the "art"? My personal belief is one that not everyone must share. I am a martial "artist" which, by definition allows for freedom of expression. While I learn from others who are more skilled, ultimately, it is my choice of how I express those lessons that will enhance my physical, psychological and spiritual makeup. There is little need to copy or imitate; rather emulating the masters that I revere is my personal goal.

Undoubtedly, this is all a very personal point of view. How about your's? Why did you begin? Why do you continue? What prompts you to tie your belt and bow on to the mat? Do you want to make the cover of a magazine, or wear a few more red stripes on a uniform that offers little practical value beyond the studio? Are you out of shape as you talk more than you train? If you train with a knife are you going to carry and use it? Will you carry your sticks home tonight, as you walk to your car? Has aggression ruled your life, perhaps tempting you to misuse your skills? Will you accept the serious consequences of your actions if you use or misuse your "art"? The questions are endless. The answers are only yours. No one should dictate the way you think or feel about your very personal journey.

Whatever the reason, train and train and train some more. Sometimes in life it is not the practical (or impractical) value of that which we love to do that matters. More often it will be the friends that we make (in my case "family" is a better word), the social lessons we come to accept, and the wealth of opportunity presented that matter most. In the end, the lessons of peace, love and understanding will be the most important lessons you will ever learn, and, hopefully, spread to those around you.

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: John Davis

John Davis is an Associate Instructor of Ed Parker's Kenpo, currently studying with coach, Dennis Lawson. Being a life long lover of sport and adventure, John began practicing the martial arts eleven years ago out of curiosity. Throughout that time, he has attended seminars and camps with several of Kenpo's regarded masters. A career highlight came in 2006 when he was part of a group that attended the Kenpo World Championships in Utrecht, Netherlands. While training in a large commercial setting, John taught daily classes for two years. Currently, Mr. Davis supplements his martial arts training with distance cycling, coming from a background of amateur racing in that sport. When not training regularly, John enjoys cooking for friends, travelling, fine art and a good comedy.

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