The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.

Reflections on a play-date

The best way I can think of to describe Rory is like a friendly wolf.

And rolling around with him on the mat is like grappling with a boa constrictor.

Lots of new little things learned tonight at the Rory Miller play-date, the last day of his weekend long seminar. Again, I am reminded of the seriousness of what we are playing with, but also the extreme fun factor. Grappling is hecka fun man! I have little clue on what to do when I am rolling around but something about trying not to let yourself get choked or locked out is seriously fun for me. Invigorating. Adrenalizing. I was all grins after.

What makes Rory a good…great teacher for me is that he allows you to learn for yourself. He sets up the format, the exercises, etc. in order to give context, but he doesn’t hold the “right” answers, nor does he pretend to; merely solutions that he’s had personal experience coming up with and that have worked for him. He is very much a facilitator in the way that some people only pretend to be. Rory is the native guide and we are the intrepid explorers (his words).

Three great things to note here that I learned tonight (not necessarily new, but a great reminder from the last time I took his weekend seminar):

Everything about self-defense has to do with violating social taboos. Hitting someone, being rude to them when they cross your personal boundary, potentially hurting their body or their feelings or both, etc. All those things are what my mother told me NOT to do. It’s what we teach our kids not to do, at home and in the classroom. Ingrain it in them. Condition it by way of punishment, expulsions, detention. So yeah while Chojun Miyagi sensei’s maxim, “Do not strike others, do not get struck” still stands, there are those people out there who aren’t interested in being civil. Who aren’t interested in being considerate, kind, well-meaning, well-intentioned, polite, sensitive, etc. A Predator doesn’t care how nice your mother raised you to be. They think like a hunter. You are their prey. You are sub-human to them. Can you hit them? Hard? Full force? In order to incapacitate them? Stop them from assaulting you?

Social experiment: walk up to a complete stranger and say “you’re stupid and ugly”, then walk off. Rory said, if you can do that, he’s not worried about you being able to defend yourself in a surviving violence situation. What he’s saying is, if you can practice being able to veer off the social script, then you have a better chance of not getting caught up in a Predator’s trap (the “interview”). Like the above point about violating social taboos, a lot of this is psychological more than it is having some kind of elite physical fighting skill. As Rory also said before, “there is more skill in talking someone down than there is in fighting”. What if that was the norm for MA training? What if your Sensei sent you out on assignment to do just that? What if MA class was half like psychological lecture/discussion and then half training? Then of course, why do I have to have a Sensei tell me to do something? Why can’t I think and learn for myself? Better yet, what if MA training was like 1/3 acting class, 1/3 con-comm, 1/3 physical training? That acting part is really the one that gives me the greatest anxiety. But I act like I was never a kid once, acting out all kinds of silly characters. I’m learning that self-defense also means how quickly you can transmogrify into someone completely unlike your everyday (fake) self. How often do we practice that in the dojo? It seems like the only acting going on is old men wishing they were 25 again.

I don’t want you guys fighting, I want you hunting. Like I said above, Rory is a wolf. He’s a friendly wolf, but he’s a wolf. Nice, well-meaning people who’ve never gotten into a fight in their life can learn something from a wolf. But I think too, it’s really just about simply acknowledging that we all have this Predator capacity within ourselves. We just act like we don’t have an amygdala. That to me is really the gist behind Kisshu Fushin (鬼手佛心 – Demon’s hand, Saint’s heart).

Thank you Rory.

Rory Miller seminar 1

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até

Not a fighter

I just got home from a “play date” with Rory Miller.

He’s back in town again doing his thing. I’ve decided not to go to his all-weekend training this time only because one, my funds are tight and two, I just went through his course back in October and so I don’t feel I need a refresher just yet. But he’s coming back in the fall so I’ll plan to do it again then. What happened tonight is what he calls “play dates” because literally that’s what we do. Someone has a question about something (“How do I escape from being pinned against a wall?” or “How do I block a knife attack?”) and then we partner up and make it live. Really fun to do and always I feel like I’m learning something useful. Which makes me think of a great point Rory highlighted tonight (another Rory-ism):

We teach what’s easy to teach, not what’s useful.

He was referring to martial arts schools and the tendency to focus on things mostly UN-related to how actual violence occurs and what skills I might need in a criminal assault encounter. Really good point to consider for MA students and instructors alike.

Anyway, so I was just processing what happened tonight and I’ve got this inkling inside me that feels true because it feels honest.

I am not a fighter.

Not that I had any feeling that I should be, or wanted to be. But I was trying to figure out why I felt a bit “out of place” tonight. Definitely not because of the people there. It had more to do with a sense that, this isn’t where I feel at home; these people are not my “tribe”. What Rory represents to me is real fighting. What he is teaching is vital particularly for people who have never been in a real fight but who are students in the fighting arts. For those people, Rory is one big really great (and rare) reality check. But Rory is a fighter. That is the language he speaks and intimately understands.  I am not a fighter. I am appalled by violence and scared of it. Part of the reason I wanted to take up MA training is to overcome my fear of violence. Overcome my fear of aggression and bullying. I would much rather do my quiet little creative projects than participate in any sparring contests. If there’s any “fighting skill” in me that I would like to develop, it has to do more with what Rory is teaching rather than what most MA teach, that is, surviving violence (and conflict communications). That has more to do with acknowledging and accepting the lizard brain parts of ourselves; the war-like parts; the aggressive, evil, brutal parts. This is animalistic to me. Primitive. Predatory. I personally think of Okinawan karate (and perhaps most MA) coming from that inner-animal place. Why I like MA though is because it has the potential to be holistic. Like, not only is it ideally this “surviving violence-fighting” part, but it is also connected to fitness and a spiritual philosophy that respects life (karate ni sente nashi).

So, while I may be a student of the fighting arts, my interest has really nothing to do with fighting and whole lot more to do with, how do you develop real self-confidence and self-esteem in a person so that they can overcome fear, the same fear that drives most human violence in the world and is the main stumbling block towards world peace…? How do we develop what Margaret Wheatley calls, “warriors for the human spirit”? That is what I’m really freakin’ interested in. That’s why I thought teaching MA to kids would be a great thing, cause that’s a great age to develop this.

Hmmm. If I’m honest, I recognize that there’s a lot of work I still need to do with myself before I can have more clarity about how to develop this capacity in others. Actually, I’m not too concerned about teaching this to others as I am in wanting to teach this to myself first. If I cannot embody that capacity, who the hell would I be helping?

Looking forward to another play date on Monday night.

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até

A worried, stressful confession

I think I made a mistake with teaching martial arts.

After two months of doing this, I still feel like I’m not connecting well with the students (or some of the staff for that matter). And not really feeling enthusiastic anymore about what I’m doing (especially when, like today, a student in my class mentions to me that another former student of mine has been spreading a rumor that I am a “pervert”). WTF? That can easily become a serious matter. And I’m not even sure what basis she has for this other than to just shame me. I am of the belief that this student, who transferred out of my class after my first month of teaching is trying to “get back at me” for a hurtful comment that I had said in frustration during that time. It was something like, “why are you even in this class?” in response to my inability to get her and others to do some exercise or drill in class. I did try apologizing to her immediately after, but it was too late. Kids can get hurt so deeply and easily. I know. I was a kid once. I remember lots of hurtful things that were said or done to me (and that still affect me). My only interaction with her since then has been a conscious effort to say “hi” every time I see her in order to try and make things friendly. Apparently that has failed. I guess I should have known better not to say “hi” when her response every time has been “Ewww. Don’t talk to me. I don’t know you.” Wow. That’s hurtful. Our world has become so fearful and divided and fractured that small interactions with human beings like this (and kids for that matter) become cause for paranoia (why does that man keep saying hi to me?). For sure there are real perverts out there. Mean and vicious ones. The kind that kidnap and rape and molest and kill. While I can recognize my human shadow and my capacity for brutality, I never thought I’d be accused of it like this. Honestly, it worries me a little. Rumors can get out of hand. And sometimes we’re more inclined to believe our children than we are our adults. But I’m also kinda not worried because I haven’t done anything wrong!!! Jeezus fucking christ. What the fuck is wrong with these kids spreading rumors like that?!?! Don’t they know that’s a serious deal for adults?!?! Oh wait. Sorry. I do know what’s wrong (or at least I have an idea). But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

Don’t get me twisted though; this job has been good exactly because of these challenges. How would I have known what kind of work this is had I not applied for it? I still would be carrying around all these fantastical ideas in my head about teaching karate to young people.

I do have this little feeling in the back of my mind that this idea of thinking I wanted to teach karate to young people, as something I thought I had gained clarity on in Detroit, is in fact FALSE. Something makes me think that it’s not karate that I need to be teaching (if teaching at all). What that thing is I don’t know.

I can tell you this: what Detroit represented for me was a spiritual journey inside myself. This “spiritual” aspect is what has the most draw for me in all of the things I am interested in and plan to do in my life, whether with karate, music, or etc.

Exactly how this spirituality will manifest itself tangibly is yet to be seen. I feel like this whole past year in Oakland has been a difficult time for me. I am lost and I am feeling worried, sad, anxious and unclear about everything. But I still feel hopeful that something will click for me. Something as yet unseen.

UGH. Something is getting serious.

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até

The house I (used to) live in

Being that its been over a year now since I’ve left Detroit for Oakland (as of April 1st), I thought it’d be nice to show some pictures of where I lived for 10 months in the Motor City: 3372 Farnsworth Street. I took the following pictures with one of those cheap Kodak flash cameras that I had initially bought in case I got into a car accident on my way to the D and I needed to snap some photos. Fortunately I never had to use it for that. The photos were taken sometime in early 2013, maybe February? I forgot now. I just had them developed a week ago. As you can see, they are all winter shots and there’s a dead, somber quality to them. It’s no wonder people hibernate and rarely go out in that kind of weather. It’s no fun. At least not for me. I realized after that Detroit winter that I was more of a California kid. Snow was just so…unnecessary. Anyway, without further ado, here is a 19 picture photo tour of the house I lived in, located on the east side of Detroit in a neighborhood farming community situated on Farnsworth Street:


View from the street facing the front of the house. My roommate Sarah’s car (now deceased) is right there in front lightly covered in snow. This house was at least 100 years old; since renovated by Paul the landlord who lived two houses down to the left. Apparently these homes were conveniently built to house industry workers during Detroit’s long-gone boom years.

Detroit house 2

Closer view of the front of the house. Notice the “Peace Zones for Life” poster I taped to the door. In the summer when I first arrived I would sit on the steps of that big front porch and read my books. That’s also how I got to know some of my neighbors. Also notice that this house is actually two separate levels. I was renting out a room on the bottom flat for $250/month.

Detroit house 3

Notice the mailbox to the right with all the icicles hanging off it.

Detroit house 4

View facing the back of the duplex. Notice Paul the landlord’s tractor. During the annual fall harvest block party, Paul hooked a wagon to the back of that old thing and tugged us around. Sorta like a Midwest carnival ride I suppose. One of Paul’s two sons lived in that house to the left. His other son and their family lived directly across the street. His grand kids could often be found running around this area during the summer.

Detroit house 5

Alternative view of the backyard area. You can see Paul’s house towards the back on the left (the yellowish one). To the right you can see the chicken and rabbit coops. During that same fall harvest block party one of the neighbors made rabbit stew using the ones in that coop! SCIENCE FACT: Stewed rabbit tastes kinda like stringy chicken.

Detroit house 6

View from the same backyard facing out. Part of what made this a “farming community” is that Paul had made a large garden plot for neighbors to plant their own food. That’s what the snow is covering in this photo. Also notice the abandoned factory building in the background, typical of Detroit scenery.

Detroit house 7

View from inside the house facing the front door (R) and the living room (L). Both of the bikes were used by my housemate Sarah. Notice the old-style heater grill on the floor to the left. That plus another smaller one in the kitchen is what was supposed to keep the house warm in the winter.

Detroit house 8

Closer view of the living room. This doubled as Sarah’s “office” where she had her laptop and books. We’d also rearrange the couches to have movie nights in here. It was so easy to fall asleep while reading a book in this room.

Detroit house 10

Sarah! Here she is cleaning up her room which was located to the left of that living room area. Remember that heater grill on the floor? Well, the main problem was none of that heat ever made its way into our rooms even though they were in close proximity. Not that it mattered much because in order to save money, we would turn off the heat at night. This made for some very chilly mornings.

Detroit house 9

View from the living room facing out towards the dining area and kitchen. Sarah’s room would be to the right. Notice the sparse furniture. My first housemate had a big dining table and china cabinet in this area that she took back with her when she moved out. I briefly tried using the empty space to do some kata when it rained outside only to get a call from the upstairs neighbor asking me to please stop stomping around.

Detroit house 11

View of the kitchen area. That round dining table was something Sarah either found cheap or on the side of the road, I forgot which. For a while we were using an old wobbly wooden table that slanted down at one end. This table was much better for eating at.

Detroit house 12

View looking up from the dining table and towards the back door. During the hot humid Detroit summer I would sit in the kitchen and read my books. I’ve never been to the Midwest before, but there was something just so magically nostalgic about the view from this backdoor; soft breeze blowing through the screen, golden magic hour light illuminating the room. Notice the instant lunch boxes on the table. Sarah would bring these home from her job at a school because they would throw them away. It was like getting a treat every time!

Detroit house 13

Sarah stuck some pins in the kitchen wall and hung our napkins. I was the only one who really used it though. Cute picture no?

Detroit house 15

This pantry was to the right of where those napkins were. Notice the plastic sheeting taped to the window. I’m not sure that helped much with insulation but it was worth a try. I’ve often said to Sarah that I don’t think I would have survived that winter very well without her help. I would say about 50% or more of our food was scavenged. This cut down on costs considerably.

Detroit house 14

View looking towards the corner of the room opposite the pantry. This was considered my work space where I would read online karate articles and paint performance masks, one of which is hanging on the wall there. This is also the spot where the blog of the Quantum Karateka began!

Detroit house 16

View facing opposite my work station and towards the bathroom (L) and my room (R). A smaller version of that floor heater grill is located right under the bottom of this photo. But as I mentioned, none of that heat ever made it to the rooms. 

Detroit house 17

Close up of the bathroom. You have to remember that these houses were abandoned before Paul the landlord bought them up and renovated them. He did a pretty good job if you ask me. SCIENCE FACT: There was a couple times when the shower didn’t work because the water pipes became frozen!

Detroit house 18

Close up of the room I rented for 10 months at $250/month. That mattress was provided for me by my first housemate Laura. In the winter I slept in my sweats, inside the sleeping bag and covered with that blanket. It didn’t really do much to keep me warm. SCIENCE FACT: It would get so cold in here I often woke up in the mornings and saw my own breath!

Just wanted to include this last photo cause it's a picturesque shot looking down the street, with our house on the left. You can imagine Christmas really looked like Christmas in this kind of weather. I miss you Detroit...just not the snow.

Just wanted to include this last photo cause it’s a picturesque shot looking down Farnsworth street (our house is to the left). You can imagine Christmas really looked like Christmas in this kind of weather. Again, notice the wide front porch steps; really great for sitting on and meeting people in the summer. I miss you Detroit…just not the snow.

Alrighty, that’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed the tour!

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até

It’s in the doing

This is gonna sound real like “duh” obvious, but I feel like, if I’m gonna talk about karate, I better be doing as much training as I am talking. Either that or just talk less. Or just shut up all together. Sound harsh? Maybe. Martial arts is in the doing of the thing. I can talk all day about some abstract physical concept, but if my body is not in the right condition through consistent training to be able to do that very thing, then I think I would just be fooling myself, wouldn’t I? I really think that the only way to legitimately know anything is to test it so as to experience the reality of it. Another obvious point, I know.

I think way too much about the type of training I want and not enough doing of that training, despite whatever limited resources I have access to.

Martial arts to me is about health, grace, and some kind of intimacy with physical violence. It’s other things too of course, but I’m interested in those things. I’m interested in training so as to exemplify those qualities.

I’m not interested in being a martial arts superstar. I’m not interested in trophies or belts or titles or competitions or being called “sensei”. I’m interested in how my training can serve to make me a more whole human being. A more compassionate human being. A wiser human being. A more kick-ass human being.

Sometimes I feel so far from all those qualities that I just have to helplessly blahg about it. Call it like, whining out loud. Should re-name the blog, “Diary of an anxious, over-thinking, not enough doing karateka”.

– –

I should mention here by the way that today, April 7th marks the one year anniversary of my arrival here in Oakland. ONE YEAR. Holy cow. That’s longer than I was in Detroit. I’m just as unclear as ever about the path I’m on. Still not sure of where the journey is taking me. Not saying I need to know these things, but I did think, however naively, that I would have figured some things out by now. Nope. Not the case. I’m certainly doing a lot of things I’ve never done before, but I don’t feel any more confident than I did when I left for Detroit. The only new weapon I have with me, to help me through all these dark, uncertain times is humility. I can only cry when faced with my limitations. I still get angry and mad for sure. I still have violent suicidal thoughts, sure. But somehow, and I’m crediting this to the journey I took to Detroit, I’m better able to withstand those things within me. I’m better able to look at those “failings” and accept those as a part of me. They’re not failings really. More like just insecurities when faced with new challenges. For sure though, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done. Work that is never actually finished of course. The main thing is, keeping my anxiety tightrope 3 feet off the ground (or lower) instead of 30 stories high. Really, and this such an oft used phrase now, it really is just about “keepin’ it real”. Detroit was a “really real place”. And so has Oakland been for me.

That’s helpful for me to keep in mind whenever my mind gets too mixed up in its own grand schemes.

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até