The Quantum Karateka

…because eventually you gotta find your own Way.


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What you been up to dude?

Oh man my body’s all sore.

Note to self: I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to exercise in the morning and then do my group practice in the afternoon. I feel like I’m stretching myself thin. Better to leave my Sundays open just for study group. And if no one can come that day (which is kinda often the case unfortunately), then just go jogging in the evening. It’s okay. Sacrifice not being able to do solo kata/bag work stuff in the morning so that I won’t feel so exhausted for group in the afternoon. I know, I know, it’s not like I’m working out for a long-ass time, and I schedule group practice for only an hour and a half (which isn’t very long really). But hey, I’m not one of those “Hoorah!-muscle-your-way-through-it-gung-ho-impulsive-king-warrior types” alright? I’m a highly sensitive person goddammit! I need rest! I need downtime! I need read-my-books-be-motherfucking-quiet-time!

Hahaha. Oh man, but yeah I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve been so busy since the beginning of the year. I mean, this is the first time I’ve actually been able to just sit down and blahg for this month! That’s because blahging takes me a while too. Like two, sometimes three, sometimes way too many hours! (I know, you’re reading this and you’re like, “Really, this dude took how many hours to fart this shit out his head? Wtf?“). Yeah brah. Sometime it do. Anyway, so yeah, been…occupied. Had study group practice today. That was pretty fun actually. It’s been difficult for me (in my head) to keep going with that sometimes because there are moments when I feel so discouraged that no one is available to train with me. I take it really personally. I’ll start to think they don’t like what I want to practice, or that I’m a sucky-ass facilitator, or that I’m a fake/fraud who’s trying too hard to be a martial artist, or they just don’t find me like-able, whatever. That’s not to say they don’t actually think some of these things, I have no idea. But most times, what’s in my head is just that, in my head. People have lives, they’re busy, they work, their schedules change, their dad’s get hospitalized, they leave their wives. I know. It’s not easy to always get a group together to do the same thing. Or at least, not easy for me. But anyway, I had fun with my training partner Juan today. He’s a former classmate from the old dojo. He still trains with our Sensei, but he’s the type of karate student who’s been asking himself those important life-changing questions like, “What the hell is kata anyway? What do the movements mean?”. My group is really geared towards those types of people. People who have been questioning traditional training methodologies but who haven’t quite given up on the whole thing yet because they sense there’s something more there. They’re right obviously, but information and the right teachers can be really hard to come by, even in the era of Google and YouTube. There’s so much crap out there, how do you know where to look, or what or who is valid or not? It can be pretty overwhelming. I know. I was there. This blahg comes out of that mess. Every so often (when I’m in a positive mood), I’m astonished at how much I’ve matured in my journey outside the dojo. How much more I know, not just about karate, but about how to manage myself as an independent student. It’s not easy man! So many times I’ve wanted to give up and quit (scroll through some of my past blahg posts to read what I’m talkin’ about). It’s funny, you know that whole saying about the “traditional meaning” of a black belt? How a student doesn’t really start their journey until they’ve become one? I don’t know where that comes from exactly (maybe Japanese culture…?) or if it’s just a bunch of processed lunch meat, but I have to say, there’s been some truth to that for me. In the five years since I’ve moved on from my old school, although I’m not training hard-core or anything, it’s almost like, I didn’t really start training until I left. It’s ironic, I know. What I’m trying to say is that, when I first started out as a karate student I was mainly relying on my teacher for hands-on guidance and assistance in training. When I left, I had to figure out how to practice on my own. I started by just doing what had been taught to me. But because of the new information I had been gleaning, what had been taught to me wasn’t quite making sense anymore (an understatement really. Everything I thought I knew about karate was being thrown into question). I had to really ask myself what it was about this art that I was trying to understand. Maybe this is like the Japanese martial concept of mastery known as “shu-ha-ri” (守破離)…protect, detach, transcend? I don’t know. I ain’t tryin’ ta transcend nothin’ man. I ain’t no Bruce Lee. I’m just trying to follow my Bliss within karate. Practice the way that makes sense in light of the information. Or like my mom said to me, I want karate to be “growing, alive, meaningful and relevant” (GAMR) in my life.

Speaking of GAMR, in about 3 weeks I’ll be taking a short trip to the Peaceful Warrior Martial Arts & Healing Center in Scottsdale, AZ for the Ryukyu Martial Arts Friendship Gasshuku 2017. A study group partner had mentioned this last year and when I heard that Ryan Parker was behind it all, I was like “Daaaamn! I gotta go!”. Ryan Parker is someone that I found online during my time in Oakland I think. Much like with Jesse Enkamp, Patrick McCarthy, Kris Wilder and others, I had been inspired by his combative insights into kata. Actually, just reading this now, I think Noah Legel (yet another applied karate “celebrity” I’m excited to meet!) would be considered the main logistical organizer for this gathering. Apparently, it was Ryan Parker who had started a bunch of Facebook groups for like-minded karateka and then Noah Legel was the one who brought them all physically together. There’s gonna be a whole line-up of these people teaching (Chris Denwood…another “celebrity”! Albeit through Skype I think…he lives in England). So yeah, I am hella excited (a bit nervous though, as all social-type gatherings make me nervous, but excited and curious nonetheless). It’s funny cause my Aunt actually lives not too far from this place so I’ll be able to stay with her when I’m there. I am expecting to learn a lot…so much that my brain will pop. Cooool!!! Hoping for some awesome pictures and video and just getting to talk and train with these people…wow. I’m glad I’m only 5 – 6 hours away from Arizona.

Anyways…will definitely be posting something about that!

– QK


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Against the Stream

Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that there is a deep, cavernous space within you. And in the blackness of that depth lies a massive fire-breathing creature (like a dragon of sorts, but not like Smaug from The Hobbit). For the moment it seems to be slumbering, its fearsome face looking almost peaceful.

Now imagine you are sitting in a dimly lit mediation hall. There are many others in this room with you, but in the darkness of that space they seem to be more like shadows; you notice their presence but you don’t feel the weight of their bodies. A teacher sits at the front of this room. Suddenly there is a…

Though it is not a sharp sound, it still cuts across the blackness to reach your ears where it vibrates in the bones and muscle fibers of your body. You get goosebumps.

You close your eyes and are attentive to the teacher’s instructions guiding you through the mediation. It’s strange, but after some time you begin to feel a heightened sense of aliveness in your body. A creeping sense of joy and happiness and positivity and excitement. As you continue to sit there noticing all these sensations in your body, you begin to feel a flood of tears bubbling up to your eyes. Is it sadness? No. Definitely a kind of joy. But a deeper joy. As though you had finally made it, after much struggle and painful effort, to some kind of refuge. And here you are now. And you almost can’t believe it.

Now go back to that deep cavernous space within you. As you continue to sit there in darkness, your eyes closed, the attention on noticing your thoughts, dissolving them in the even, steady pace of your breathing, in and out, in…and out…the slumbering beast begins to stir! It seems to be that the simple act of becoming aware of this space is somehow inducing this creature to awaken. It’s kind of scary, and exciting, and inspiring! But before this goes any further, you hear…

Last night, I went to my first ever group meditation and Dharma talk at a place called Against the Stream. This is a Buddhist meditation center founded by Noah Levine (author of a memoir called Dharma Punx). I was turned on to this place through my father after I had expressed interest in continuing some type of mindfulness practice now that I had “graduated” from 7 months of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy back in December. I was mainly interested in deepening my understanding of the mindfulness skills that DBT uses in order to curb “emotion dysregulation”, as that had provided small bits of joy and consolation in the times I had made conscious efforts to use them.

I’m really glad I went.

I know almost nothing about Buddhism, although some of my relatives could claim to be Buddhists. All I really know (off the top of my head) is that the Buddha was once a part of some aristocracy, a prince of some kind. And at the age of 29, went beyond his privileged walls and happened upon three(?) things which astonished him: sickness, old-age, and death. Needless to say, he was never the same. [Readers: Correct me if I’m wrong!]. Anyway, that’s all I really know. I mean besides him sitting under a tree and meditating of course, I have no other knowledge in my head about either the Buddha or the “religion” that was based upon his insights. I’m as green as a pickle, or whatever the phrase is. So that’s the mindset I took when I went to this Monday night meditation. The evening begins with a guided 30 minute sit they referred to as “Vipassana” aka “insight mediation”. (At first this seemed like an intimidating amount of time before I began. I was like, oh shit, am I gonna last thirty minutes?!) This was followed by an hour-long “Dharma talk”, which, I don’t even know what “Dharma” means….hold on….Google….okay….”natural universal laws/cosmic law and order“….okay. Got it. Sort of. Anyway, the talks are given by a rotating group of teachers, which includes Noah Levine. That night’s talk was given by someone named Dave Smith. I thought he was a pretty funny and gentle guy with some thought-provoking things to say. Two things I remember that stand out are:

“The mind is a terrible master, but a wonderful servant.” (which I forgot if he said he was quoting that from someone or paraphrasing it? It sounds like a cool Zen/Buddhist quote…)

And…

“If you keep showing up for something, eventually it’ll start showing up for you.”

That latter quote hit me in an inspiring way. It was like, yeah, your efforts will have an effect as long as you keep at it. Whatever it is. Don’t give up. He was referring specifically to the meditation and how many, many hours of practice will help to build the “mindfulness muscle” necessary to be “awake” in our daily lives. That was pretty cool because I immediately thought about karate and martial arts working in the same way (or any skill-based physical activity). It’s like, spirituality doesn’t mean some wah-wah-floating-in-the-air-no-touch-KO-Doctor-Strange-CGI-magic-bullshit; it means real, applied practice. Hours and hours of it. Gōngfu. Spiritual gōngfu. When Eckhart Tolle is talking about “alert presence”, he’s not talking about some special Street Fighter powers. He’s talking about clearing away the mind-chatter and fog which we think is “normal” to our daily existence. Meditation is a skill practice which helps us to do this. Why? Well, if the Buddha was concerned with “suffering and the end of suffering”, then maybe you can tell yourself why. Is suicide ideation suffering? Is depression suffering? Is anxiety suffering? You can sure bet the fuck it is. Why do you think I was in therapy in the first place? Why is there a whole market for drugs to treat these things? But I mean, what do I know right? I’m just gettin’ started with all this. But goddammit that’s besides the point. See? Mind-chatter. I wanted to note here too that I was particularly drawn to this place because of its punk aesthetics and this explanation of the organization’s name-sake:

Buddha was a revolutionary. His practice was subversive; his message, seditious. His enlightened point of view went against the norms of his day – in his own words, “against the stream.” (from the back cover of Levine’s book, Against the Stream)

I said to myself, “I am against the stream!” My life up till now has been like that. It speaks to the kinds of people and thinking I admire. Einstein…Jung…Buckminster Fuller…Grace Lee Boggs. People who have discovered things outside their respective boxes and shared that with the world, enlightening us. And if the Buddha was really like that, then I wanna learn more! So from now on, until further notice, I’m gonna be going to these Monday night meditation things. I know it’s only been one time, but I think I’ve found my place. Of course, I’ll never say that I’m officially a part of any organization (or maybe not. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t come across many organizations I like), but you gotta follow what attracts you. You know what I mean?

Okay. Peace.

– QK


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Soul Detective (part 1)

I recently unveiled for myself three months of progress on a project called “The Post-It Note Method”. I was inspired to do this after reading this article (thank you Hopper) by a psychotherapist and Zen teacher named Jared Michaels who practices in the Bay Area (who created and coined the term for this method). The basic premise of the project is very simple: For a period of 2 – 6 months, jot down on post-it notes (or any other small sticky paper) anything that brings you positivity, happiness, strength, excitement or inspiration (one note for each thing that brings this; and I recommend you read the article to find out why specifically you do that). Ideally, the intention is to do this on a daily basis so that by the end of that period of time you’ll have a plethora of sticky notes that you can then tack up onto a blank wall and visually discern for yourself where your area(s) of passion lies. Practically speaking, I didn’t experience moments of joy on certain days and/or I forgot to record moments; so over a period of 90 days, I ended up with only 42 sticky notes (which is still a pretty good amount to begin an analysis with). Also, I chose to unveil my progress at three months because I felt that was a good middle number to check on my results and because, serendipitously, the date that I began the project (9/25) would cycle to three months on Christmas day. So it’d be like opening a present to myself!

Tacked up onto my wall before:

purpose-1

Rearranged after:

purpose-2

As the author of the article explains (and as you can see from the “after” photo), you will discover “patterns” that you can then group into “clusters”. I ended up with six of these clusters which I gave temporary names for:

  1. Creativity
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Teaching + learning + education
  4. Drums + music + movement
  5. Building mastery
  6. Purpose + meaning

As you can also see from my list, some of these clusters could very well be part of the same thing (“Drums…” and “Creativity” for example). But my descriptions on each of those notes gave me the sense that there was something distinctive about what I was describing and hence, grouped them separately.

As far as what I discovered: It was kind of an underwhelming feeling after looking through all the notes and grouping them together. Nothing really jumped out at me. Fortunately, I hadn’t made the mistake of building up my expectations too much for this and so I was only mildly disappointed. The first thought that came to me was that I needed to collect more evidence (I’m gonna give it another three more months). I felt that while the evidence I did have was substantial enough to illuminate certain areas, I felt that I didn’t have enough to build a solid case for myself. One very interesting thing I did find was that I was reminded of the joy I had felt in practicing taiko. I had actually stopped taking classes after the end of October to re-group myself but also because I thought maybe I would stop doing it altogether (there was some doubt as to whether it was really for me and whether I fit into that community or not). After reading my description in one particular note, I realized to myself that I needed to continue those lessons! So I promptly signed up for the next 3 month cycle of classes at my school. Another interesting thing I found was the small joys I experienced practicing mindfulness as a result of my experience with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (which I’ve just decided, after 7 months, to transition out of). So I am going to check out some local Zen and/or mindfulness groups in the coming month in order to expand my knowledge of this practice and possibly deepen it. There were two post-it notes that I felt didn’t really fit into any of the clusters. I’m curious to see if these become whole new clusters entirely or if I’ll recognize later the essence of what it’s describing as part of an existing cluster.

I don’t think this method is an exact science like some kind of mathematical equation that yields solid answers. I think it is to be expected that there will be ambiguity and uncertainty about what your notes will be saying to you. I do have the feeling though that with even more solid evidence, the patterns that already do exist will become brighter. And I think for me, this will inspire more confidence in knowing whether or not to continue pursuing any one particular area.

If you’re a fellow soul detective, try this out. It’s kind of like gardening…for the soul.

– QK


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Snoopy the sage

Or more accurately…Charles Schulz the sage.

I was recently given a birthday card envelope which had a Snoopy sticker attached to it. This is what Snoopy said:

Pretty relevant stuff when you’re feeling all distraught about where you are in life and what you’re doing. Reminds me of Eckhart Tolle’s admonition that our “primary” purpose in life (in addition to our “secondary” purpose) is to breathe!

– QK


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Fear of a Robot Planet

While on the job the other day I overheard this piece on local radio station KCRW entitled The vanishing American dream and the moral responsibility of tech companies (which was an episode done by broadcast journalist Madeleine Brand on her show “Press Play”). You’ll have to just listen to the show to get a better sense of what this post is about, but to sum it up: Just as W.E.B. Du Bois famously stated in the opening of his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk that, “…the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line“, I think it’s no stretch to say that, in my opinion, the problem of the 21st century will be the problem of work. Don’t get me wrong now. I ain’t say that we somehow done with racism or any of the other problems in the world today. But what I find very interesting here is the connection to what I remember reading in the book, The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook by James Boggs (husband of Grace Lee Boggs). I can’t imagine Jimmy was the only person to be thinking in this way, but I do think he provides some eloquent insight into the topic which Brand explores on her show. Take note that Jimmy wrote this book over half-a-century ago in 1963. Here’s a quote from Chapter 4:

Many people in the United States are aware that, with automation, enough could be easily produced in this country so that there would be no need for the majority of Americans to work. But the right to live has always been so tied up with the necessity to produce that it is hard for the average person to visualize a workless society. The result is that when people face the perspective of their jobs being eliminated by automation, all they can think of is learning a new trade or a new profession, hoping that in this way they can maintain their right to live.

As long as this country was in the situation that most underdeveloped countries are in today, it was natural to tie together the right to live with the ability to produce. But when a country reaches the stage that this country has now reached, productivity can no longer be the measure of an individual’s right to life. When you travel around this country and see new automated plants springing up in one area after another, it becomes apparent that the era when man had to earn his right to live through work is rapidly drawing to a close. Within a few years, man as a productive force will be as obsolete as the mule.

Talk about being prescient. Goddamn Jimmy! If only you knew how it’s all coming together right now…driver-less cars and trucks, drones, cashier-less grocery stores…if only you knew! It’s mind-blowing. Now, I’m not going to get into all of the implications here because, well, I’m not really that well-versed on the issue. But I do feel very passionately that this question of work in our world today is still stuck in the “…18th-century philosophy that man must earn his living by the sweat of his brow…” as Jimmy says (pg. 49). Politicians and the public are still clamoring for more “jobs, jobs, jobs” and not really thinking very deeply about the changes that are and have already taken place (which is very evident in a place like Detroit). One of the main reasons I went to Detroit in the first place was because I had a sense that this was the future. That my security wasn’t going to be found in making sure I had a career and financial independence, but rather, in taking up the task of re-imagining our understanding of what it will mean to live and work in the 21st century. Now I know that might sound insanely naïve, but yeah dude, the “Call to Adventure” can’t happen if the hero isn’t naïve enough to answer it! I didn’t know that “changing the world” actually meant changing myself, i.e. my psychological orientation to life. I didn’t know that this was less a journey of “politics” than it was about “individuation”, about “spirit” and “soul”. I mean, I knew that I wasn’t going there to be no activist (and no, I’m not dissing activism). But I knew that I wanted to be a part of this “change” that Grace Lee Boggs captured my imagination with. I knew that something profound was happening in our world and I was gonna be damned if I didn’t go out there and participate in the solutions!

Hahaha. But here I am. Back where I started. As it should be I suppose. But what the fuck am I talkin’ about? This post wasn’t supposed to be how I pity myself. Fuck that shit. As the man say, “you cannot afford to pity yourself“. This post was about connecting what James Boggs wrote in 1963 and what Madeleine Brand was just talking about on her show in 2016. The “key question” is, as he says:

What is to be done with the men and women who are being made obsolete by the new stage of production?…Obviously no ordinary solution is possible. This is the social dilemma of our time. (pg. 48)

Damn right it is.

-QK