The Quantum Karateka

… Do your own 道

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A stream of consciousness

I can’t believe it’s been a year since Grace died. A year and 17 days to be exact. It still sorta feels like it was recent. Like, Really? A whole year has passed since then? Wtf? Still reading the Einstein biography. There is no absolute time. No “God’s clock”. The metric of time is an illusion. Helpful yes, for meetings and business and such things. But one year ago, one day ago…what does that look like on the clock of the universe? A blip. A flash. Poof. Gone. We’re here but for a moment. All we ever have is right NOW.

I’ve been so engaged with the schedule I now have that I haven’t had the “time” to sit down and blog. “Accumulating positives” my therapists call it. This is my pleasurable moment of the day. It’s Friday. I’m clean and showered and off from a hard day’s work. I’m grateful for this moment. Typing these words. It’s been really hot the past couple days. Wonderful Southern California fall weather. Yeah right. I can’t say I miss Detroit snow or Seattle rain though, so….again, I’m grateful.

Today and yesterday I was listening again to Eckhart Tolle’s CD “Finding Your Life’s Purpose”. Primary purpose: Am I still breathing? Good. Secondary Purpose….I don’t remember him actually touching on that secondary purpose actually. I wonder if secondary purpose has anything to do with the work we do; the jobs we have? But yeah I like how his talk is counter-intuitive: Great! We get to find out how to discover our life’s purpose! What? Am I breathing? Of course I’m breathing. Wtf? You mean my purpose is to be here now, in this moment? That’s my purpose? No! I don’t wanna be sitting here. I wanna be somewhere else doing my purpose! You don’t surely mean to imply that my purpose is simply to exist do you? To be alive? What???

I’ve also been reading Studs Terkel’s Working. A really great collection of individual voices of people talking about what they do for work. Thought I might find some inspiration/insight into my own search for meaningful work. The book opens with a great interview with a steel mill worker by the name of Mike LeFevre. His frustrations and musings are so palpable and contemporary for me (the book was published in 1972 mind you), it makes me want to scream in exasperation every time I hear a presidential candidate talk about “Jobs, jobs, jobs”. Dude. Let’s talk about what James Boggs’ said already: A job ain’t the answer. Why? Because jobs are not sustainable. Why are we the only species on the planet standing in welfare lines? Have you ever seen a bird standing in a free worm line? Obviously, what we’ve conceived of as “work”, for the most part, isn’t actually work. It’s mindlessness. Mindlessness geared towards accumulating money/property/wealth/material goods/etc. Towards the accumulation of shiny things. This is nothing new here, I know. We have a materialistic society. We value things. Not people. Not our environments. Not the sky, land, or sea which allows us to exist. We value things. What? Mindlessness. Are you breathing? Yes. I am alive. All we ever have is right now. Neither past nor future exist. They are conceptions. There is really a portal into revolutionary solutions there. Into the Now. Our present moment. Alert presence. When you are in this state, you are slower, more careful, more deliberate. You stop often. You notice just how much is going on around you, where before it was just autopilot, a blur, background noise, static. It’s funny: around my area here you’ll see people standing out on street corners, dressed in their Sunday best, with bibles to give out, waiting to give you the “good news”. What if you had a guy/gal sitting at a table there, on a street corner with a banner or sign that read: “STOP. BREATHE. REFLECT.” haha. That’s it. No political or religious or other organizational motivations. Just a reminder to be more fully human. Question: What is the opposite of a terrorist? A terrorist brings death and destruction as a means to understanding God. This is insane and twisted. What is someone who brings awe and wonder and a sense of aliveness? I think that is the revolutionary task of the artist.

– QK

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Whew. I’m tired.

Haven’t really had the time to reflect like I’ve wanted in the past few weeks. Just started this new job and my body and mind are still getting adjusted to everything.

Or at least that’s what I think. I don’t know. I’ve had some really strange and vivid dreams lately. On the one hand I feel like I’ve been subtly changing. On the other hand I feel like I’m day-tripping through déjà vu of some sort. “I’ve been here before? I’ve done this before? I’ve met this person before?”

Or maybe I’m just trippin’ period.

Anyways, so I’ve been taking these karate classes at Santa Monica College, which is a local community college here in Los Angeles. It’s actually a course that’s offered to students there under the subject heading “Kinesiology Physical Education”. The course is taught by Sensei Garen Baghdasarian and is affiliated with the Zentokukai, an organization I only know about because I’ve been a One Minute Bunkai fan of Angel Lemus since my time in Detroit. In fact, that’s why I even signed up for the class in the first place. After conducting some online research this past summer I came across Sensei Garen (who was a student of Lemus sensei) listed on the Zentokukai website and immediately called to find out how I could check out his classes. This has actually required me to enroll as a community college student again, which was a somewhat frustrating yet, nostalgic process.

So far so good. Sensei Garen seems to be a fairly open-minded guy. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at the number of people who’ve not only signed up for class but who’ve so far kept showing up (okay, I mean, it has only been 3 weeks since the semester started). I think the attendance has been like 20+ people? It’s really the most people I’ve seen in any martial arts class, let alone karate. I mean, who does karate anymore these days? That’s like an old-fashioned martial art. haha

My criticisms aren’t really anything new or profound but I’ll still list them here: I get the feeling that Sensei Garen is like a branch manager of a franchise. For warm-ups we follow an official Zentokukai routine that he’s printed out on poster board. And most of the things we’ve covered so far is really that whole “repetition of parts” stuff that I have a hard time not rolling my eyes at. Dude, we have to actually hit stuff to get a feel for what we’re doing. If we don’t hit stuff, feel it, it’s all gonna be theory/fantasy. Punching and kicking the air to get warmed-up is great exercise. Punching and kicking air to know how to punch and kick a human body is two separate things. Modern karate education is just such in need of a major re-structuring of its pedagogy. Is your goal to produce functional students? Or is your goal to gather followers? Like I mentioned, Sensei Garen does seem to be open-minded and I think at some point I’m going to bring up these concerns with him. I think it may be possible to have an advanced class within the beginner class for the students who already have martial arts/karate experience. I can see that happening.

The other reason I’ve signed up for these classes was the hope that I’d find a more accepting karate community to be a part of. I haven’t gone back to my dojo to speak with my teacher since he took my study group flyer down. That was what, April? May? I just feel so discouraged in that type of environment. It feels very stifling and power-trippy and cultish and…stale. Gotta keep it fresh man. Otherwise that shit gonna stank! I mean, I somewhat miss being a part of my old dojo, but it’s more nostalgia than anything else. I’ve really grown and changed my thinking about my training. For the most part, I’ve taken it into my own hands, defined what I’ve wanted out of it, and sought out books, videos, teachers and found training partners that could help me to get there. And I’m not there yet. Not sure that I’ll ever be. But I know that if I were to be a part of my old dojo again, it’d have to be on my terms. I can’t abide by the master’s rules anymore. The funny thing I’ve realized though is that I’m actually not interested in being a follower of anyone’s organization. I don’t mind learning from instructors and following their routines, that’s different. I’m talking about the importance of becoming artists, not automatons; the need to develop individual skill and proficiency with what we spend our time doing, not obedience. There are also several really great instructors of practical karate out there. Why am I only gonna learn from one? And that’s just within the karate world. What about things I’ve learned from Rory Miller and others? How can you not heed the insights of people who’ve actually experienced shit for real?

Right now I’m actually a dues paying member (only about 7 bucks/month) of Patrick McCarthy’s International Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Research Society (IRKRS). I know, you’re like “This hypocrite…”. But hey I thought maybe I’d try out being a part of something more “progressive”. Yeah. Honestly it’s kinda whatever. Their website is somewhat outdated and most of the stuff available to members is…not all that great. What’d really be great is to learn from McCarthy or one of his students directly. That would be a trip. I love the Koryu Uchinadi stuff. And we’ve learned almost all of his Tegumi-renzoku geiko in my study group. But hey, at least he sends you a cool patch for your gi:


That’s the other thing…the study group. I stopped group practices around the middle of July. Things were looking a bit negative and I was stressed out not knowing if I’d get this current job or not. Having to hold practices every week, although it was only once or twice, was actually becoming a burden for me. I felt hemmed in by my own schedule. It wasn’t until I took the first class of the semester with Sensei Garen that I became re-inspired to continue our efforts. He had us doing some two-person exercises that got me thinking, “You know, it’s really important that I keep doing what we were doing in the study group because it was familiarizing ourselves with this kinda stuff and I feel more knowledgeable/confident doing this because of our practices.” But I didn’t want to feel stressed out like before so I decided why not hold practices only twice a month? It’s not much, but with everything else I do, it won’t feel like I’m trying to cram everything in every week. So that’s what we started back up again. We just had a practice this past Friday – reviewed some groundwork fundamentals. It was fun. And sweaty. It’s possible that I might get a couple more folks interested in our study group from Sensei Garen’s class. Having more people means I don’t have to keep relying on the same three guys to be available every time. Plus, different body types makes things more interesting. We’ll see. I’m kinda just having fun participating in class and helping others comprehend the two-person exercises he has us do. It’s really enjoyable to see such a large group and what seems like a pretty even mix of females and males.

As far as everything else in my life, I’m not sure where things are at right now (am I ever?). It’s going to be one year since I left Oakland and moved back in with the folks (on the 25th). I’ve definitely been doing some different things; taiko lessons for one…this study group…therapy…etc. I do wonder though if I’m actually moving towards something in my life or just stagnating out of fear. I don’t wanna stagnate. Stagnation is stinky. Well, whatever is going on, I hope things work out. Here’s a great quote from the Einstein biography I’m reading, attributed to the man himself:

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”

– Hiji Até

Rolling Juan over my shoulder.

Bridging and rolling Juan over my shoulder; GHC Session #29

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The truth is always more complex

I was on the job the other day and passed by this ubiquitous billboard that I’m sure you’ve seen somewhere too (at least in LA that is):

There are a few things that are interesting to note here. The first thing has to do with the fact that the billboard uses the face of German-born theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, to promote its cause by relying on the oft-repeated legend of Einstein not being a successful student. And if you’re like many people, including myself, you’ve probably already got in your head the anecdotal story of Einstein failing specifically in mathematics as a young student. Now, on any other day I would have passed by this billboard and not really gave it much more thought than: “Yeah. Einstein was a genius. So what?”. But recently I have been reading Walter Isaacson’s 2007 biography of the man. One of the first things that struck me while reading the book is that this legendary “fact” is in reality, False (notice the capital “F”?). Here are some humorous passages:

One widely held belief about Einstein is that he failed math as a student, an assertion that is made, often accompanied by the phrase “as everyone knows,” by scores of books and thousands of websites designed to reassure underachieving students. It even made it into the famous “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” newspaper column.

Alas, Einstein’s childhood offers history many savory ironies, but this is not one of them. In 1935, a rabbi in Princeton showed him a clipping of the Ripley’s column with the headline “Greatest Living Mathematician Failed in Mathematics.” Einstein laughed. “I never failed in mathematics,” he replied, correctly. “Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.”

In fact, he was a wonderful student, at least intellectually. In primary school, he was at the top of his class…As for math, far from being a failure, he was “far above the school requirements.” By age 12, his sister recalled, “he already had a predilection for solving complicated problems in applied arithmetic,” and he decided to see if he could jump ahead by learning geometry and algebra on his own…Not only did he learn the proofs in the books, he tackled the new theories by trying to prove them on his own. “Play and playmates were forgotten,” she noted. “For days on end he sat alone, immersed in the search for a solution, not giving up before he had found it.” (pg. 16 – 17)

So that’s kind of an important misbelief to squash here. Einstein was pretty much exhibiting signs of his Einstein-ness even as a young student. The second thing that struck me while reading Isaacson’s book is that one of the qualities he points out as critical to Einstein’s “genius” has a lot more to do with his unabashed questioning of authority/establishment/tradition/status-quo than it does with this nebulous value of “confidence” that the billboard is promoting. Another passage:

His slow development was combined with a cheeky rebelliousness toward authority, which led one schoolmaster to send him packing and another to amuse history by declaring that he would never amount to much. These traits made Albert Einstein the patron saint of distracted school kids everywhere. But they also helped to make him, or so he later surmised, the most creative scientific genius of modern times.

His cocky contempt for authority led him to question received wisdom in ways that well-trained acolytes in the academy never contemplated. And as for his slow verbal development, he came to believe that it allowed him to observe with wonder the everyday phenomena that others took for granted. “When I ask myself how it happened that I in particular discovered the relativity theory, it seemed to lie in the following circumstance,” Einstein once explained. “The ordinary adult never bothers his head about the problems of space and time. These are things he has thought of as a child. But I developed so slowly that I began to wonder about space and time only when I was already grown up. Consequently, I probed more deeply into the problem than an ordinary child would have.” (pg. 8 – 9)

Now, I’m not pointing all this out to deny that “confidence” isn’t an important quality to have or that Einstein didn’t have that. But I think the people behind this billboard campaign are dumbing down the truth to fit their agenda. A more accurate statement of values would probably read something like “Question Established Authority” or even “Imagination” or “Creativity” as the tagline. And that’s the last thing I want to point out here about this billboard. The problem in society isn’t that students aren’t more confident about their abilities and that’s why they’re dropping out of school. The problem has something more to do with the ways in which our society measures intelligence and determines who is capable and who is not. And so while it may be a fact that Einstein wasn’t received well in school by some of his teachers, this really had nothing to do with his lack of intelligence, but rather, his lack of respect for authority. I’ll leave you with one last passage which comes at the end of chapter one:

As a young student he never did well with rote learning. And later, as a theorist, his success came not from the brute strength of his mental processing power but from his imagination and creativity. He could construct complex equations, but more important, he knew that math is the language nature uses to describe her wonders…That approach required him to embrace nonconformity. “Long live impudence!” he exulted to the lover who would later become his wife. “It is my guardian angel in this world.” Many years later, when others thought that his reluctance to embrace quantum mechanics showed that he had lost his edge, he lamented, “To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.” … His success came from questioning conventional wisdom, challenging authority, and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals. Tyranny repulsed him, and he saw tolerance not simply as a sweet virtue but as a necessary condition for a creative society. “It is important to foster individuality,” he said, “for only the individual can produce the new ideas.” (pg. 7)

Long live impudence. Imagine that on a billboard.
– QK

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The Question

At the end this past Tuesday night’s taiko class, which was our “PEAC” week showcase (Performance Evaluation And Celebration), my instructor asked a question to my friend who had come to watch us. A very nonchalant, benign question that people will often ask when trying to get to know someone. It’s a question that for some of us, myself included, comes with a lot of anxiety and weight. It’s a question I hope to answer for myself more clearly in the future:

“And so what do you do?”

Boom. There it is.

What do I do??? Uh, uh, uh…stutter…stutter.

My friend answered that she was a “case worker”. Which is technically true. She’s employed by the county and handles public health insurance concerns. However, knowing the weight and pertinence of such a question to her life (and to mine) I chimed in, “But she really wants to go to art school”

And so then it hit me (but like later. When I was like brushing my teeth or something). Not an epiphany really, but just a clear re-realization of this truth: That if you want to be an “Artist” (and that may be a loaded term for some people; I use it broadly to mean many things, not just the fine arts), then someday, somehow, someway, you have got to own that. You have got to lay claim to that title and believe it in yourself. And you can pay and listen to “successful” people tell you how they did it or how they think you should do it and whatever like that but…You know you’re just secretly wanting them to give you that permission. Cause it sounds crazy right? Like, irrational. In your head I mean. Like, “Wtf? I can’t just do that. That would change everything.”

That’s why you need to go and DO IT.

…cause there ain’t no “TRY” in “D-E-T-R-OIT“, remember?


Okay, okay. I know it’s not so easy. I’m strugglin’ with this too. I definitely haven’t figured my shit out yet. What the fuck does a guy like me know, right? I’m 33 year years old and live at home with my parents (hahaha what a ridiculous-ass way to put myself down. Meh-meh-meh-neh-neh-neh I’m such a loser. Oh boo-hoo-hoo shut the fuck up. It doesn’t help to compare yourself to anyone goddammit!).

But it’s true I think. It’s no more complicated than that. You give yourself permission to display your courage in going forth and doing this work. Work that is necessary and in which you are needed. And shit…were you waiting for something?

Courage is not the absence of fear. It is going ahead in spite of it.

– QK

“Well gee, I am a baaad motherfucker aren’t I?”


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In My Impudent Opinion

IMIO, I think that people who believe they don’t need therapy because they consider themselves to be the standard-bearer of “normal”, are the ones most in need of therapy (like psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy or…whatever, take your pick dude). And I think those who know they need therapy or are already in therapy, what they really need is a kind of “life coaching” or guidance.

The difference is, the former is mainly unconscious and un-intuitive as to matters of the heart and soul. Their spiritual plumbing is congested and they need a strong laxative; cause that shit be stuck up in there! Goddamn! The latter is less unconscious and more sensitive to matters of the heart. They have already been investigating themselves like the Soul Detective that they are, sleuthing through books in the self-help section, going to meditation retreats, listening to empowering speakers/music/talks/etc, oftentimes paying for expensive therapy. So they are already in- the-know of their inner lives. They don’t need a high-priced professional to tell them this. What they need is a Wise Council of Elders, a Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi; someone who has been initiated into Life and brought forth their treasure into the world and is therefore in a position to mentor other humans through this arduous process….


Whatever. I’m being half-serious.

But seriously.
– Hiji Até