The Quantum Karateka

… Dare to follow your own 道

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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

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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.