The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.

Learning to fly

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Saw that posted on someone’s Tumblr page. It made me think about my recent job rejection for an after-school enrichment instructor. The position was something that came across to me while in conversation with my partner. I was in a suicidally-tinged dark funk when I asked her the question, “What am I even qualified to do?“.

Lot’s of things“, she said.

“Really?”, I said half-wanting to desperately believe in myself, the other half squirming away from that feeling.

And then she went onto Craigslist and pulled up a half-dozen open job positions for after-school related programs.

I admit. That was scary. Here was more than a few job positions that were looking for qualified individuals in an area that I had some interest in. Not just a passing interest. Not just hobby interest. But an interest in which I saw myself growing and becoming and doing, at least in the meantime. The job offer was good. Great pay. Great hours that worked with my ideal training schedule. And most of all, the chance to continue to do my karate by teaching it. I applied online for 3 open positions within the same non-profit and 1 open position with another. My partner helped me to spruce up my resume, draft a heartfelt cover letter and answer 3 questions that had to do with teaching strategies and other things that I have little formal experience with (she herself is a middle school teacher). I hesitated after completing it all.

What happens if I don’t get the position“, I nervously pondered to myself, my fingering hovering over the “send” button.

An even scarier thought, “What happens if I do get the position?” Oof. Too much thinking.


A couple days later I received an email from someone in administration who was interested in conducting a phone interview with me. YES! I got a hook! I was excited.

On the day of the phone interview I wasn’t so excited. I was anxious. I paced around my small square of a room not knowing how to calm myself down. I needed to get outside. I went to my car 10 minutes before the interview was about to start. I sat there trying to distract myself. Trying to act as if I wasn’t nervously waiting for this damn person to call me so that we could get the damn interview over with. Damn.

The phone rang.

Hello?” I said in my best cheery voice, acting like I didn’t know who the hell it was calling me at that exact agreed upon hour. Sweat dripped from my palms. My throat felt dry.

Oh, James? You want to speak to James? James is right here. I’m James. That’s right. That’s me.

Damn, shut up dude. Why you gotta act like that? Stop stuttering and just speak.

Oh hi, how are you? Yes this is a great time to talk? Questions for me? Great! Let’s do it!

Ugh. Questions? I hate questions! Why you gotta ask me questions?! Didn’t you read what you asked me to send in?! I’m not feeling confident enough to answer your damn questions off the top of my head!

Hmmm. Okay. Why do I think I’m qualified for this position? Yes, okay. Great question. Let me see here. I’m qualified because….”

And that’s where it went downhill. Or at least that’s my take on it. My answers were vague and indefinite. I kept prefacing things with, “Well I don’t have any formal experience but…“. Blah blah blah blah blah.

I received an email yesterday informing me that sorry but, we are looking for candidates with previous teaching experience working with children and youth along with a strong history of working within youth education programs.” Yeah yeah yeah. Same old story. Not qualified enough. Not confident enough.

Pause to reflect.

Okay, okay. It’s not that I’m not qualified. It’s just that I lack the experience. And I lack the confidence that comes from experience. Question is, how do I gain that experience?

And this is where I come back to that Nietzsche quote.

I wanted to fly before I knew how to dance.

I wanted to run and jump before I knew how to walk.

I wanted to be in a position of authority and respect and power before I knew how to self-confidently hold those things within myself.

The non-profit that I applied into is a strong one. Great pay, great hours, great place to root down with. “Great” doesn’t come without looking for equally qualified candidates. I wasn’t one of them. I can accept that for now.

There was another open job position online for “Part Time Self-Defense/Karate Instructor” for an organization known as Young Champions of America. Ugh. Even the title makes my eyes hurt. Trophies and tournaments and awards and belts and funky colored uniforms and kata performances set to crappy dance music. They’re only asking for one day a week to teach. They’ve got their own curriculum for the instructors to follow. They require job candidates to be, “18 years of age or older, Red/Brown/Black Belt, Valid driver’s license, Strong interpersonal skills, Retail/sales experience is a plus.”

“Retail/sales experience..” WTF?

What is this, a karate sales job or something? Do these people even know what karate translates to? Is this some McDojo-type bullshit? Sure smells like it. Happy-meal karate. Comes with a free ninja black belt and trophy. Limited time offer. Get yours today!

Goddammit. I clicked the send button again. Rewrote my cover letter and attached the requested resume. I got nothing to lose except my biases and stereotypes and prejudices and preconceived notions. I ain’t trippin. My partner helped me write a kick-ass resume. I want someone to see it! And if it ain’t gonna be the organization whose vision and values I want to work with, then let it be with someone else who’s at least offering to pay me for what I like to practice! And then let me get the experience teaching to even see if I like it and then I’ll know something more sure inside of myself to be able to answer questions more confidently.


Here’s another great quote from that same person’s Tumblr:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

– Neil Gaiman


Elbow fucking SMASH!
– Hiji Até

what is karate?

The sense I get from my reading is that karate, as a modern martial art that developed over centuries in Okinawa with influence from China and other cultures, is a very brutal, practical and sophisticated art of civilian self-defense. And that its deepest secrets (contrary to what you want to believe about dim mak) lie more in sayings like “do not strike others, do not get struck” and “karate ni sente nashi”. Yet the way karate is trained and taught today is child’s play, for the most part. Not saying it can’t be taught to children; just saying that the so-called “basics” are just silly man. Way too linear. Way too rigid. Not enough attention paid to the source from which these movements sprung, i.e. habitual acts of physical violence.

I’m not claiming to know any real “truth” about karate. I’m just saying that I think it would be more beneficial if we stopped hopping around in our white pajamas long enough to recognize that maybe we need to rethink how we are training and transmitting this art for future generations.

As karateka, what are our goals and what are we trying to achieve? Do we want to have functionality with karate or do we want to keep going on pretending? Perhaps more significantly, how can karate be beneficial to humanity? And I don’t mean beneficial in the so-called “traditional” way of making us productive citizens who follow maps and take orders and never question authority (20th century Industrial one-size-fits-all thinking). I mean beneficial in the way that contributes towards Beloved Community. That takes the basic philosophy from Okinawa (ichariba chode) and translates that into our cities and our neighborhoods. Instead of tournaments and trophies, how about public service projects; trash pick-up, planting trees, fixing houses? How about volunteering at shelters and talking to survivors of violence, whether domestic, war or otherwise? How about providing service to the elderly and those with disabilities?

Many people practice karate. But many people have no idea of the culture from which it sprung. Have no connection to the spirit which guided its development. You don’t need to be Okinawan to understand the deepest secrets of Okinawan karate. You just need to know in your heart of hearts that you are interconnected with every living thing on this planet. Black belts, titles, rank, etc. have nothing to do with this.

Elbow SMASH.
– Hiji Até