The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.


Two Questions

Two questions came to my mind today:

1. What role does the martial artist have in today’s society, if any?

2. In the case of Okinawan karate, and as advocated by Shoshin Nagamine, what role does karate play in contributing towards “world peace”?

More specifically:

1. Considering that the police and military represent the modern “warrior class” of today’s society, what role can the martial artist still have in our society besides being a glorified sport competitor?

2. What role can a modern karate dojo play in the community besides being a business endeavor or an alternative workout gym or a simple affinity group? I think of “world peace” as equivalent to “beloved community”. What does a karate dojo in beloved community look like? How can the karateka contribute towards manifesting “world peace” locally?

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até


Thoughts

There’s so much that these kids need.

They need something practical, something that will help them deal with the violence and aggression of others.

And they need something deeper, something that will help them to recognize the real source of the conflict they experience.

Karate to me is, ancestral wisdom education. My ancestors giving to the world a profound discipline, a gift. Much like other cultures have given to the world. As Funakoshi Sensei once wrote, “To study the old is to understand the new“.

The problem that I’ve discovered for myself is that the delivery system, the transmission of this art, the teaching methodologies, the pedagogical models by which most karate students are learning this art are dangerously ineffective. I say dangerously because, if there is a time in your life when you need to employ the physical skills of karate, and you come to find that what you thought was a weapon was in fact just a toy blade, this will not serve you well. I believe each karate student must make an honest assessment of their training and ask themselves, “Am I training for the reality of the environment I’m in? Or am I kidding myself?”

There’s much from Karatedō to teach. So many lessons to impart. So much richness and depth. I believe that giving these kids something to really sink their teeth into, something that they can take with them into all other areas of their life, even as they grow out of being kids, that is what I believe Karatedō can be. There is something so mystically profound about practicing such an ancient discipline. It’s as if the ghosts of the ancestors are being invoked every time we engage in the practice of this brutal, empty-handed dance.

These kids are at such a sensitive age too (I’m talkin’ middle schoolers). And when it comes to violence and aggression, which is what I believe Karatedō teaches us how to handle, they are scared but they don’t admit to it. And if you are teaching them that they are not supposed to be scared and not supposed to be nervous and anxious about these kinds of things, then you are doing them a GREAT mis-service. They don’t need false macho attitudes about handling conflict. They need to be able to learn how to trust their built in human instinct and develop the ability to successfully avoid and handle conflict. Conflict communications dude. That’s like 80  to 90 percent of karate training, I believe. As Rory Miller put it during his seminar back in October: “There is more skill at talking people down than there is in fighting...You have to tell your students it’s okay NOT to fight. If you have never practiced and not been praised for AVOIDING A FIGHT and you are a martial artist, you will beat yourself up.” Which is what I’ve done just simply for being male and holding false assumptions about what social expectations being male has in our society. And to some degree, sometimes I think I’m not qualified as a martial artist because I have no real experience with physical violence (other than my own).

Gonna stop there for now. All these thoughts were sparked from an interview I had today to teach martial arts to middle school students here in Oakland. Part of the interview was them (the administrators) watching while I taught. As they say in the Bay, I had “hella” fun teaching them, but I’m not sure I got the gig. It don’t matter though. I was sooooo nervous beforehand, but as I sat there in the class listening to them talk, I was getting excited. Like literally I felt nervous excitement. I really wanna teach these kids man. I really want to give them this gift of my ancestors that I’ve been privileged to receive. I’m not expecting them all to be martial artists for the rest of their lives, but for at least during this time of their adolescence, when they are dealing with so many difficult things, difficult people, living in this hecka difficult world, I want them to at least glimpse, for even just a second, their innate genius, their talents and their own gifts. Because it is those things that will carry them through troubled waters.

Amen.

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até


When Buddhists Attack

That’s right. That’s the name of this book I’ve been reading. That title caught my eye when I first saw it recommended on a reading list provided by Jesse Enkamp. I highly recommend it for all practitioners of Japanese (or other) martial arts:

While reading, I came across this paragraph that was very helpful in illuminating why there is so much misconception with martial arts (particularly those coming from Japan) with regards to its perceived effectiveness as a “fighting” or “self-defense” system:

“Returning to Japanese history, one cannot be very surprised to find that the practice of martial arts throughout the Tokugawa Era [1603-1868 – Ed.] underwent a substantial change…budō became a discipline for self-improvement much more than self-defense. Attention to detail was emphasized more than functional use. It was unavoidable, therefore, that the focus of these arts should narrow. While the samurai in previous generations needed to study a plurality of ryu, or styles of martial arts (e.g., swordsmanship, grappling, horseback riding, tying up an enemy), these early mixed martial artists slowly disappeared as excellence was pursued in a focused art form.” (Mann pg.99).

I highlighted that passage above because when I read that, I was like “AHA!”. That explained why I felt so discouraged and dis-empowered in my few years of training. Here I was, naively thinking I was learning “self-defense” and for the life of me could not understand why every little movement I did was judged, ridiculed or meticulously examined. I mean, of course I simply accepted that as part of karate training and just the mere fact of me being sucky (okay, well maybe I do suck!). Point is, my thinking at the time went something like, “Well, maybe I’ll be a more perfect karateka one day and I can be like my Sensei if I keep training hard enough”. Here’s a link to a post on the original blog site I started in Detroit which speaks to this frustration: http://quantumkarateka.blogspot.com/2013/03/perfectionism-of-form-is-disease.html

As far as the misconception goes when people think about or do karate, it’s interesting that this is of course not something that is unique to the world of martial arts. When you lack historical context for something, it becomes difficult to perceive clearly what the solutions might be if you are caught in a dilemma. What makes it particularly difficult with karate however is that there exists a clear lack of written record about its historical development over the centuries (which is why reading Patrick McCarthy’s work is so damn helpful!). Facts are embellished with anecdotal evidence and whimsy flights of imagination. While I believe all of that has its place, I don’t believe it’s helpful for students like me who thought they were going to learn something functional when they walked into their dojo, only to find a few years later that the blood, sweat, and tears (not to mention time and money) were spent on something so not-functional. I really don’t believe true self-empowerment can be built in a person if they are not faced with reality based training (that means training for the kinds of attacks that are likely to happen in their environment, understanding the psychology behind violence so as to develop awareness and avoidance strategies, working in drills that help to overcome particular weaknesses and that correspond to one’s body type, etc). Of course, in modern, commercial karate training, lip service is paid to “building empowerment, self-confidence, esteem” blah blah blah. But I think this “attention to detail” as author Jeffery Mann points out has more of the effect of instilling self-defeat than anything else.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I don’t know. I mean, it’s not like I’m a cop, or a soldier or a bouncer who deals with physical violence as a part of my daily job description and therefore needs these skills. But I do feel that, having an understanding of the psychology of human violence as well as the ability to physically fight for yourself when violently assaulted, is something that all well meaning citizens should have the opportunity to learn. I guess I just really don’t believe true world peace through karate training (as advocated by Shoshin Nagamine) can really be a reality if we are not actually learning and incorporating what reality is presenting us.

There’s one little last bit of that excerpt I highlighted: “Mixed martial artists“.

Karate, as far as I understand it in my reading, is in fact a mixed martial art. While its emphasis may be more on the percussive side (striking), there are elements of it that may be better learned through the training pedagogy of other systems (like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, etc). I don’t see why all karate students are not required (or at least strongly encouraged) to seek out training in other martial systems. Or at least, incorporate relevant training methods from other systems into their own. Why would you not do that? Would you discourage a college student from checking out classes of interest outside their major? Would you discourage your child from asking certain types of questions? Would you prevent yourself from accessing certain types of information? I don’t think so. Or at least you wouldn’t want to feel restricted, right?

When there is a lack of information that informs your discipline, you choke off its life. Training becomes stagnant and worst of all, “not fun”.

Karate training needs to be fun man.

Lack of fun does not equal realness.

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até