The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.

Death and other life stories

My boxing trainer died on Monday.

He was 43 years old.

Cardiac arrest they said.

I had class that Monday morning. After practice he asked me how I felt. “Great,” I said. “Good” he said with that gold crown smile. I told him I’d see him Wednesday night for training.

They said he died that night while teaching one of his students in the boxing ring. Damn. Dying in the ring. Doesn’t that qualify you as a true boxer?

His name was James Buggs. He was the first boxing trainer that introduced himself at King’s Gym where I started my lessons. I liked what he had to say and I signed up for his class. That was at the beginning of this month. Three weeks later, he’s gone. That’s a trip isn’t it? Just gone. Disappeared. No longer on the Earth. Hmmm. Makes me wonder how I’ll depart this planet.

Rest in peace Coach.

King’s Gym is pretty sweet. It’s basically a neighborhood boxing gym in the Fruitvale district where I live. Maybe 15-20 minutes walking distance. Last Wednesday they celebrated their 30th anniversary. It’s one of those authentic salty old boxing gyms. The kind you’d expect to see in a movie or something. It’s owned by Mr. and Mrs. King. They must be in their 60’s or early 70’s.

I’m boxing partially at the suggestion of Rory Miller. In the last seminar I took with him he mentioned boxing as a good method of training that overcomes the fear of getting hit. That’s his opinion of course, but before I ever met Miller and while I was in Detroit, the notion came to me that I needed to train in something that incorporated full contact. There had been a long lingering feeling in me of not having confidence in self-protection. Miller suggested that I get the skills in boxing, work my way up to sparring and then quit after I begin to feel like all I want to do is hit back after getting smashed, or get a concussion (his words! – as the percussive nature of boxing isn’t good for the brain in the long run). I know it might sound kinda stupid (or macho) to be doing such a thing. I don’t think it has anything to do with that. As Rory said to me, “you can’t safely acquire experience with unsafe things”.  It takes some honesty with yourself to recognize where your training is lacking. But even boxers can fantasize too much about the extent of their skill.

I think I’m finding out from this new after-school job of mine that I clearly have no knack for discipline. Teaching martial arts to kids is obviously proving to be much harder than I thought. It’s disappointing because I honestly thought I might have had some inborn talent for this. “Education” is one of the things that I discovered I was drawn to during my spiritual recovery in Detroit. As of right now, it’s quite unclear whether or not my genius actually lies here. *sigh*

At least I’m making mistakes.

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até

The middle of my second week


Another draining day. Keeping kids paying attention to what you’re trying to teach them when it’s clearly evident that they do not want to be there to learn is…stressful. Like trying to push a car that has little tiny wheels.

(An illustration of my face during class)

It’s going to be Wednesday. The middle of my second week teaching “martial arts” to some of the students at United For Success Academy. Whether I’m the right person for this job is irrelevant now. I’ve been hired. Not much else I can do but do my best. My main worry is basically attempting to establish some authority within the classroom so that I can actually be able to teach them something. Without that invisible hold on their attention, I won’t be able to really do much. What sucks is that this job is turning out to be more like babysitting rather than teaching and learning.

Whatever it is that I saw with teaching karate-dō to these kids, whatever grand visions or dreams I’ve had in the past with the kind of school or dojo I would like to be a part of, all of that is being severely put to the test right now. I’m being challenged left and right with all sorts of pressures stemming from causes known and unknown. Do I really want to do this? Is this really my  vision or was I just kidding myself?

A counter thought occurs to me: Is it that they are not here to learn or is it that they have not yet seen how learning from me will benefit them? Why should they trust me as their teacher? Why should they pay attention to what I’m trying to pass along? What good will it do them? What use does it serve? How is their genius being given attention by the things I have to show them?

I obviously cannot expect for all of these students to be walking away with a profound appreciation of martial arts or karate-dō; maybe I can’t expect even half of them to do this. But that’s like any other field of study in life. It’s not for everyone. Its benefits will serve best those that seek it somewhere deep down inside themselves. But the job requires that I take in the good and the bad, the ruly and the unruly. Honestly that’s my only main worry right now. How do I engage those that refuse to be engaged? What consequence do I have for them?


As my Sensei always said to me, one of my main problems I need to deal with is always being a “nice guy”.

That sucks.

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até

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Mr. Hughes…

Langston that is.

Saw this great quote posted by some of the students at United For Success Academy where I work now here in East Oaktown. They had a bunch of creative displays posted up on the hallway walls in honor of Black History Month. The quote caught my eye mainly because it speaks to how I was feeling about this new job as an after-school “martial arts” instructor and my feelings of inadequacy with it. Whatever the truth may be about where my genius lies, at least I know I must be doing. There is no try.

“An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.”

Langston Hughes

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até

Filling in the gaps

Take the curriculum of the school of karate I began my study in (Matsubayashi-ryu) and add to that.

There’s no need to abandon previous teaching models simply because of frustration with its limitations.

Look at where the limitations are, consider the historical development of the art and expand upon it accordingly.

For example, why in our school did we not practice break-falls? Why? Because shorin-ryu is a superior system and thus there was no need to break-fall because we would never find ourselves on the ground anyway in a real fight (???). Why did we not practice joint locks, pins, or throws? Because karate doesn’t have any throws and joint locking and pinning is for those BJJ guys (???).

The more one reads about a given subject, the deeper one investigates into their chosen art, the more things become fuzzy and less defined. In this realm, things are fluid and the similarities are far more fascinating than the differences.

One thing is for sure (at least as far as I’ve read); karate is primarily a percussive art that emphasizes striking. However, in contexts where striking may be inappropriate (such as on a school playground with a zero-tolerance policy), what other combative techniques are available to the student? Certainly one can understand the need to investigate other systems in order to extract what is useful and develop from there.

But in all this obsession over adopting the best physical training methods, the essence of karate is what is often the thing paid the most lip-service to. The essence being, to defeat one’s enemy without fighting back. Self-control.

For the middle-school students I will be teaching, this essence is what I hope to be able to get across to them.

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até

First Anniversary


Can you believe it? My first official entry for this blog was published on March 3rd, 2013 (check it out here). That means this is the first anniversary of this blog! WOOHOO! Break out the lemonade and pizza!!!

Okay, well technically three days past that date now. I actually didn’t realize this until a few minutes ago. Man, that’s a pretty cool feeling knowing you’ve got a project going for that long. What began as an acceptance to a challenge posed by the author Seth Godin has now become my official online thought dumping site.

Anyways, just thought I’d make a note for myself that this is the first anniversary since The Quantum Karateka was born.

Pretty cool.

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até