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Bowley Kenpo Karate » Personal Stories, Philosophy » Kenpo is like mastering poker

Kenpo is like mastering poker

A few jobs back, I worked for a company that had a poker table onsite. Needless to say we played a lot of cards during our free time; even coming up with creative ways to make free time.  The game of choice was Texas Hold-em, and it came with a painful learning curve.  Looking back though I see many similarities between learning poker and learning Kenpo karate.

The Beginner

Sam Bowley about to perform Short Form 3

Sam Bowley about to perform Short Form 3

As a beginner, starting down the poker road, it’s a bit overwhelming. You first have to learn the rules of the game, figure out when to play and when not to, the nuances of betting, etc. And there’s a lot of money to be lost during the knowledge ramp-up.  Most beginners wash out due to these puzzle pieces that don’t quite seem to fit together yet.

A novice in Kenpo is in much the same boat. There are many basic movesto learn, coordination and cardio doesn’t come easy for most, and the techniques can be daunting. But with perseverance comes the reward of seeing yourself improve.

The Intermediate

Once the beginner poker player gets a few victories under his belt, he begins to see the flow of the game. Now he’s more skilled and starts to play himself rather than playing the cards. Bluffing and trying to watch his tells (physical giveaways as to what cards he has) becomes the focal points. Knowing more and beating the new beginners, he feels good and slightly invincible: ready to take on bigger stakes.

An intermediate in Kenpo is referred to as a tiger and again the similarities are eerie. He’s impressed with the knowledge he’s learned and earned. Coordination and most of the basic moves come fairly easily now. He’s able to hold his own in class and sparring as the speed of the Art has begun to slow down. While capable of defending himself he’s focused on how the Kenpo affects him in more of a physical sense.

The Advanced

The expert in poker no longer plays his cards or himself. Instead he plays his opponents. He’s observant of those around him, able to read bluffs and tells, and able to forecast how most game situations are expected to play out. The actual cards on the table, in a sense, are irrelevant.

Advanced Kenpoists are considered dragons. It’s not a title that’s bestowed, but rather more of a mindset students develop.  Dragons are stronger, more powerful, and wiser than tigers.  They know they can defeat most situations but now must take care as to what the skills can do to an opponent and must self-justify the cost of retaliation.  Kenpo for the advanced student is now equal portions what it can do for them physically and spiritually.

Playing poker no longer holds much interest for me.  But I have immense respect for those who do it as a hobby and even more for those who do it as a profession. They are true dragons of their sport.  But my time in playing hold-em those years ago has taught me to be self aware of where I am in the learning curve and to respect those above and below me in the cycle. Each day I strive to become a better Kenpoist and help my students on their paths to become dragons.

Sam Bowley
McKinney, TX

Filed under: Personal Stories, Philosophy

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