The Quantum Karateka

… follow your own Way

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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?”


Leave a comment



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

Leave a comment

Letter to the Unknown

Dear Universe,

How are you?

Just wanted to reflect out loud here…helps to sorta clear the air you know? A slow inhale…and exhale…

Okay, so I’ve been here in Los Angeles for 10 months now. Fast approaching one year. Holy shit that’s quick.

For starters, I’ve held down this Habitat for Humanity job for the past 8 months. Initially what I had thought going into the job last December was that the two-day-a-week work schedule would allow me the flexibility of taking graduate school courses. I knew that, had I decided to go back to school, I would have liked to go part-time while also working part-time. Eight months after starting the job, and having gone through a free 5 week introductory course at the prospective college back in January/February, I’ve finally come around to the tentative decision not to go back to school. I think money definitely has something to do with it (the program I’m interested in would cost nearly $40,000). But also, I realized that going back to school right now would be less about me tuning in to my authentic voice and more about listening to those “shoulds”, i.e. “I’m 33; I should be in a career track; I should be working in a job relevant to my education; I should be financially independent; I should not be living at home; I should have figured out this stuff before my thirties; I should be ashamed of myself for not being more like other successful thirty year olds; I should stop making a list of shoulds…”

Right. Eat a dick shoulds.

I also thought to myself that having the Habitat job would be beneficial because then, if I decided not to go back to school, I had the opportunity to become a full time employee. Alas, having grown increasingly tired of the physically strenuous job that it is, I decided nah fuck that, and put my application out there for other work. I should say here too though that another important aspect of Habitat was aligning my values with what I do to make money. Yes, I could sweat and bust my balls at any other similar-type job, but Habitat’s mission is a Christian God’s mission and although I’m no True Believer, I’m down with that sorta spiritual-sacred-in-the-mundane-interconnected-type thing. Not that that really has anything to do with the company statement, but I think real work needs to be about helping people and the planet and why not make a living doing that? What we literally do on the job is pick up people’s donations in a big-ass company truck and re-sell those items at what’s called a “ReStore”; the profits of which (at least according to company propaganda) go towards funding the construction of homes for those who cannot independently purchase one on the market. I’m not gonna get into the details of exactly how that works because I honestly don’t know how all that works. But from the people I’ve talked to the process is such that, Habitat does not do free hand-outs of homes. They have what’s called “sweat equity” in which the potential home-owner actually takes part in not only building their own home but also in volunteering with the day-to-day of Habitat operations. In other words, it ain’t no charity.

But yeah, I’m tired of Habitat. Or at least, tired of the specific job that I do for them. It’s basically dirty, sweaty grunt work. People look at me and they’re like “Oh you build homes!” and I’m like, “No lady. That ain’t me, but that sure would sound gloriously noble wouldn’t it? Nah, I’m just here to pick up your used junk. Give it to me!” Haha. I’m not saying I have a problem with dirty, sweaty grunt work. I’m just saying I’m tired of it. There’s other types of not-so-dirty-sweaty grunt work out there.

Well anyway. At the moment I’m waiting on a call back about another gig I applied for. Hopefully I’ve passed all of their background checks and I’ll be able to transition out of Habitat by mid to late August. Supposing I do get the gig (which I’m already supposing that I did; just waiting on an official offer), that will allow me to take twice a week karate classes at the local community college. What’s significant about those is that the instructor is a direct student of Angel Lemus (one of my practical karate heroes) and the focus of their classes emphasizes function over form. In a way, it’s kind of a last ditch effort to find someone (anyone!) who teaches this applied karate stuff. I’ve been weaning off my study group practice recently because I had been losing my enthusiasm for it. The study group is all about teaching ourselves, which is fine except that, learning kata bunkai really does require the knowledgeable guidance of a skilled instructor, at least in my experience. I mean, it’s like reading Kris Wilder’s book The Way of Kata and learning from him in person; two very different things. And perhaps because learning very technical things engages my “inferior function” (see Carl Jung), I always come away feeling so incompetent and stupid, which just makes me feel dis-empowered to want to keep continuing on my own.

Or it could be that I’m just done with karate and I’m making elaborate excuses for myself. Like a comatose loved one that I’m hesitating to take off life support.

Or it could be that I’m actually a lazy underachiever and I’m just not disciplined enough to study and practice more often.

Or it could be both of those things…

…or none of those things.

So let’s see here: I’ll transition out of Habitat by the end of August. I’ll be working this new gig 25 hours a week. I’ll be taking these karate classes twice a week. I’ll still be going through my dialectical behavioral therapy through the end of the year; once a week individual, once a week skills class. I have my personal work-out routine 2 -3 days week; one day judo or jogging, the other two days by myself at my former dojo. I realize that my continued involvement with martial arts is more about keeping physically active and healthy than anything else, at least for the moment. Maybe I’ll take up swimming when I’m older…

But hey, I haven’t told you yet I was cross-training with taiko lessons did I? Here’s a photo:

James taiko May 2016 (edited)

No we’re not posing for the camera. Our instructor snapped shots as each of us took turns leading the class in a performance piece. I’m looking at our music sheet, trying very hard not to lose the count!

Remember when I was interested in learning Aikido? Not anymore. Yeah, I decided I would rather learn taiko than another martial art. If I’m going to learn anything new to align with my gentle nature, I’m going to drum or dance; taiko is kinda both of those things actually. I’ve had about 20 some-odd classes so far in 6 months. It helps keep me connected to creating music, although trap set (which was how I got started drumming back in my teens) and big Japanese barrels aren’t the same thing necessarily. These lessons have been good for a lot of reasons actually. I was going to write to you about it a few months back but…I dunno. Just kept putting it off. The school is really nice. The instructors are top-notch. I may not be signing up for lessons for the next three month cycle this August, but I hope to start up again soon after. Gotta find a class that works with the new job schedule. It’s not surprising to me that there’s so much similarity in the body mechanics of taiko performance and karate. They’re both percussive endeavors and they both emphasize bodily expression (albeit with completely different purposes!). Maybe I’ll blog about this later.

. . .

Sometimes I’ll hear people talk about their “5 year plans”. Hmmm, at best all I’ve got right now is a 6 month plan, which is all the things I just listed. Maybe I should have a 5 year plan, but you know how I feel about those shoulds. I mean, I’m sure that a 3 – 5 year plan is going to surface sooner or later. I know that would make my dad feel better about where I’m at in life. But fuck dude, I don’t care about making my old man feel any better. I need that shit for myself! Sometimes it’s nice sailing on this big goddamn ocean, but it’d be great to start seeing some land on the horizon. Am I even following these stars correctly…?

Okay Creator. I’ve gotta go now. I’ve done enough reflecting and it’s making me antsy.

Talk to you later.


Leave a comment

Making friends ain’t easy and being human is hard

I think at some point I’m going to have to grow comfortable with the fact that getting to know new people and making friends is going to be a difficult process for me. I struggle with the anxiety of being social. Social anxiety.

There are moments, like now, when I feel disappointed in who I am. I feel dislike for myself. These moments usually occur whenever I feel as though I’ve failed to meet some “should” standard, i.e. I should have talked to that person. I should have been more friendly. I should have asked questions.

I think the last time I remember people liking me and making friends seemed easier was when I was a child (that statement may not be totally accurate). As of late, it seems as though this process has become an arduous social task. An inner groan rumbles forth and I have to push myself to meet new people and do new things. Mainly I think, and ironically so, it isn’t so much that I fear people, but rather, I’m afraid that they won’t like me. My self-esteem and self-confidence is under construction.

At times I fear being lonely. I fear that I won’t develop these social skills to make friends and that I’m forever destined to be outside looking in.

The only remedy I’ve found that works for me during these moments is to unequivocally love and accept myself for who I am. It doesn’t always work, but it’s the only real defense I have against the suicidal and depressed thoughts. This is what is meant by spiritual gongfu. Resilience.

It’s good to remember that each and every moment can be radically different. What may seemed true a second ago, one hour ago, may not be the case after. It’s not so much about distracting the mind from the problem as it is engaging in the various moments of your life. Those moments can change your life.

– QK


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers