The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.

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Essay by Greg Leisure: Part 4 (of 11)

The following essay was written by Greg Leisure, a reader of this blog and a fellow karate student from Okinawa, Japan. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are presented here in order to provoke intelligent thought and discussion. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Quantum Karateka. Readers should be thinking for themselves and asking questions.  – – Enjoy!

4. On The Importance of Being a Well-Rounded Fighter

“With me, illusions are bound to be shattered. I am here to shatter all illusions. Yes, it will irritate you, it will annoy you – that’s my way of functioning and working. I will sabotage you from your very roots!”
― Osho

“Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”
― Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do

I do not believe a martial artist is an expert if they cannot see the weakness in their own style of martial art. And if they are curious students of self-defense, they would search for that part of the puzzle which is missing. It is my belief that stand-up fighters must learn how to fight on the ground, and, likewise, ground fighters must learn to stand up and fight with strikes.

On the ground the whole dynamics of fighting changes. How will body mechanics be used on the ground when it has not been trained for on the ground? Perhaps it will be impossible without a center of balance based upon stand-up training. How will one create massive force on the ground? If one is lucky and is able to punch with a free arm, it will not be the same as when standing.

Dojo instructors will be better able to assist in developing more efficient and well-rounded martial artists if they admit that the whole range of possibilities of a fight must be studied and have time devoted to regular training in those situations. If this is not done, then it cannot be honestly claimed that effective self-defense is being taught or learned. If one does not have the full spectrum of training for a realistic fight, then one’s fighting abilities may be an illusion.

Shouldn’t such illusions be sabotaged?

It is understandable that some instructors may know little or nothing about ground fighting, and, therefore, cannot offer much specific training as such. I suggest two solutions:

1. Don’t worry about specific expert training if that cannot be found. What is most important is that one experiences moving on the ground against someone while still trying to strike. Students will naturally begin to learn on their own about locking, pushing, and pulling limbs and getting into a dominant position.

2. Instructors should invite jujutsu, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and judo teachers or their students to lead classes as guest instructors. It should not be a once or twice a year seminar type event. They should be as often as possible but in such a way that they do not outnumber regular classes.

There really is no other way to prepare for a fight if one does not experience a very wide range of possibilities of how a fight could occur. Safety measures can be adopted to protect from injury, and while that does take away from some of the realism, it is still superior to just doing kata. Pairing up with a training partner for standing and ground fighting is essential in order to prepare for different possibilities of how a fight could evolve.

One must accept and assume that an opponent on the street may be a better fighter and could control the flow of the fight. Stand-up fighters and their instructors would be wise to prepare for such a thing. But the same is true for ground fighters as well. In other words, cross-training is essential for all who do martial arts for self-defense.

Who wants to be a victim of over-confidence? One should ask themselves, “Am I married to my style of martial arts, or am I married to self-defense?” Does one have enough imagination and foresight to see how their own style of martial art could not be enough to stop an attack? Does one reject the idea that one must fully master a technique or style before being able to adequately defend oneself, or does one expect reasonable improvement in abilities within a reasonable amount of time?

“Agitate! Agitate! Ought to be the motto of every reformer. Agitation is the opposite of stagnation – the one is life, the other death.”
— Ernestine Rose

End of Part 4


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Essay by Greg Leisure: Part 3 (of 11)

The following essay was written by Greg Leisure, a reader of this blog and a fellow karate student from Okinawa, Japan. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are presented here in order to provoke intelligent thought and discussion. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Quantum Karateka. Readers should be thinking for themselves and asking questions.  – – Enjoy!

3. The Anatomy of a Fight

“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

“Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune. ”
― C.G. Jung

Kumite training should begin with acting just as a real fight may: a sudden attack or escalation.

There should be shouting and shoving by the attacker, getting into each other’s personal space, right into their face. It should be intimidating. It should be as scary as possible. Remember, the goal is to train for a situation becoming violent, and usually violent situations begin with loud and rude threats. There is fear. This is the street, or bar, or park. This is real life. It is not the dojo where everyone is polite, having good manners and a calm heart beat and steady pulse rate.

If martial arts dojo are preparing students for self defense, then it is crucial that the whole anatomy of a violent situation be examined and experienced in training in order to prepare for it, not only the physical aspect, but the psychological and body’s chemical reactions as well. Because, the mind and the body’s dump of adrenaline will affect one’s ability to respond.

I do not believe that kata training only is enough preparation to handle the effects of adrenaline for most people. I just do not believe that a lifetime of karate and kata training can erase millions of years of evolution and its creation of fear. It’s not humble to insist that kata training alone can overcome millions of years of evolution. People may need to defend themselves before a lifetime of karate study and do not have such luxury to wipe fear from their mind. They must accept and deal with it when attacked. Self defense training must accept this truthful situation and provide training to prepare for it. All victims of attacks do not have twenty years or more of training to keep a calm mind, as it is said kata training is a part of achieving, but may need the ability to respond with only a short amount of karate training experience. It is irresponsible of a dojo to not address this need of their students and acknowledge the physiological effects of an attack that they could experience. They should prepare for that through training that tries to replicate those physiological effects in the students.

Doesn’t a medical student study the anatomy of the human body so that they are prepared to treat it? So why should a martial artist believe one may study just kata, just waza, just body mechanics, just kumite? The anatomy of a fight is more complex and deserving of extensive study than just one or two aspects of the previous points mentioned. The whole body of a fight extends from the meet, the escalation, the first strike, follow-up strikes, the ground, the end, to total disengagement. Each one needs to be examined and practiced as if one were a medical student intent on becoming a doctor.

Furthermore, in real life it is quite probable that one could be attacked by two or more people. Even though kata training visualizes multiple attackers in order to teach techniques, it is not a realistic substitute for kumite against multiple fighters. Fighting one and more than one fighter should be trained in kumite. In kata, as mentioned before, there is already pre-knowledge on what direction the attacker is coming from, and success is already known. So of course, in such a training style it is easy for one to keep a calm mind. But that is a delusion if one thinks it is guaranteed to be transferred to a real fight.

In a real fight no one denies that attackers will be coming from different directions and moving in unexpected ways and really trying to win. Unlike kata, one will not know when and how they will attack, so one cannot expect anything. It is chaos! And kumite training should try to recreate such scenes.

Kata training is like studying our galaxy, its stars and its planets. It simply is not enough. Around our galaxy exists the universe, a much larger field of study. A fight and everything it can include surrounds kata like the universe surrounds our galaxy. Isn’t there more knowledge in studying a larger, more inclusive system and its parts, than just studying a smaller, exclusive part? Which student will most likely have a wider range of knowledge and abilities?

Finally, as martial artists we must accept that violence from the beginning to the end has no specific style or form. As said above, it is chaos, or it soon will be chaos, or parts of it will be so. And, therefore, the defender must accept that they may not be able to control the flow of the fight and its form. While a person who has trained in karate may prefer to stand at a distance in order to utilize strikes, there is a good chance the fight could go to the ground. What then?

If the karate student has not developed any ground fighting ability through his or her training, then there is a good chance that all the many hours they have devoted to martial arts will be a huge waste. They may soon be folded up like an origami paper crane. Is a karate student a piece of paper who is perhaps waiting to become an origami crane?

Fighting without any ground training could make someone feel like a fish on land. Or perhaps a more fearful image is that the ground is water, and scary things exist in the seas.

“I am a Shark. The ground is an ocean. Most people don’t know how to swim”
— Rickson Gracie

Do you know how to swim? What if after having fallen or been thrown into the ocean you do meet a shark? What are the possibilities of you being eaten?

End of Part 3

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Essay by Greg Leisure: Part 2 (of 11)

The following essay was written by Greg Leisure, a reader of this blog and a fellow karate student from Okinawa, Japan. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are presented here in order to provoke intelligent thought and discussion. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Quantum Karateka. Readers should be thinking for themselves and asking questions.  – – Enjoy!

2. The Necessity for Kumite

“However, even if you practice the kata of karate, if that is all that you do, if your [other] training is lacking, then you will not develop sufficient ability. If you do not [also]…study things like body-shifting and engagement distancing, you will be inadequately prepared when the need arises to call on your skills…”
— Kenwa Mabuni

“…the karate-ka must by no means neglect kumite…”
— Kenwa Mabuni, Practice Karate Correctly, Karate Kenkyu, 1934, Translated by Mark Tankosich, MA

Women will be more vulnerable than men. Weaker men will be more vulnerable than stronger men. The slow will be more vulnerable than the quick. And on average, we can assume that martial artists who’ve trained for a short amount of time will be more vulnerable than martial artists who’ve trained for longer. We just can’t say to these different ability levels that “once you master martial arts, then you’ll be able to defend yourself.” It is my opinion that even beginners should walk out of martial arts classes with more and more preparation to respond to not only gradual attacks, but sudden attacks as well.

An angry friend or drunk brother who starts a fight, or even a stranger in a bar gives us time to prepare, and therefore, to know how to respond to each separately. One does not want to apply massive force to a family member and perhaps, not even to a drunk person at a bar. Because of that we may have to be prepared to strike with several weaker blows in order to cause pain, but no real or permanent damage. No knock-out strikes. No strikes or throws to cause one to fall and hit their head on a hard surface or corner.

Many fights end in severe damage or death not because of the strike, but because of the fall and hitting the head on a hard surface. No one wants an aunt to blame them for their son’s death. It would destroy relations throughout the family for lifetimes.

It can’t be avoided, but to effectively train for such a situation kumite is essential. Kumite does not mean sport fighting where points and a winner is declared.* But it cannot be denied that kumite does mean fighting.

*[Editor’s note: “kumite” is written 組手 and translates to “grappling hands”].

Some say that in real fights there are no rules, so therefore, kumite will not teach anything to help in a real fight. But I do not hold this opinion at all. Because, in a fight that is not for survival there indeed ARE rules. When one gets into a physical fight with one’s friend, brother, uncle, casual acquaintance, co-worker and perhaps a stranger in a neutral social setting, one does not want to stick a finger into their eye and blind them for life or put a knife-hand into the center of their throat. These kinds of fights do have rules and escalation has a clear limit that one does not cross.

But still, one needs to win so as to not risk being injured. And it is kumite that will greatly assist in winning. Besides striking, which cannot be done full contact to the face without protective gear, there are three other important points that cannot be effectively trained for in a real fight without kumite. These are: distancing, positioning, and timing.

Static drills just do not mimic realistic situations. An opponent is always moving. They may move to the side, back, or forward. Furthermore, they may shift from a right handed to a left handed stance, changing their body angle. The rhythm of their body movement will not match ours. At the same time they will be trying to strike or grab you without you knowing what they are planning on doing. One of the great weaknesses of kata and bunkai training (which I enjoy and see value in as well) is that one always knows where the attack is coming from and where it is going. One knows the angle of the attack. And worst of all, one knows that it is planned that the defender will be successful. This last point is creating false confidence, so kumite is needed to balance out any falsehood that is developed.

In kumite there is no agreed outcome that one or the other opponent will be successful with their strikes or blocks. Isn’t it important that kumite to some degree be practiced by those students willing to do so when offered? It is my opinion that practicing kata and their techniques, in addition to kumite, is what will create the better martial artist and prepare him or her for a fight situation.

But, this is only half of two. The other half of my point is concerning that of a surprise attack by someone wishing to do great harm. Here kumite is even more important, because, as stated before about adrenaline dumps, one needs to be familiar with how adrenaline affects the body in a fight. Kata training does not produce any adrenaline or side effects of adrenaline.

While kumite will probably not cause a person to freeze, as in the case of a real attack, it can still cause adrenaline production which does have an affect on skills. Also, if one does not know what a hit to the stomach feels like in kumite and is not prepared for the feeling in the dojo, then how does one think they will react if they experience a strike for the first time in a street fight? I would suspect that they will react quite poorly. Therefore, kumite is essential.

“I started to get real skill and competence by practicing kumite with him [Sakuma] …”
— Choki Motobu, The Lost Interviews, Classical Fighting Arts Magazine, pg. 51

End of Part 2

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Essay by Greg Leisure: Part 1 (of 11)

The following essay was written by Greg Leisure, a reader of this blog and a fellow karate student from Okinawa, Japan. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are presented here in order to provoke intelligent thought and discussion. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Quantum Karateka. Readers should be thinking for themselves and asking questions.  – – Enjoy!

Adrenaline Dump and Other Implications for Martial Arts and Real Life Self Defense: A Manifesto for Training Methods and the Need for Karate to Evolve©

By Greg Leisure

“We should open Karate to the public and receive criticism, opinions and studies from other prominent fighting artists.”
— Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-ryu Karate)

“All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.”
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt


  • Introduction

1. Evolution, Adrenaline Dumps and Fighters

2. The Necessity for Kumite

3. The Anatomy of a Fight

4. On The Importance of Being a Well-Rounded Fighter

5. A Brief Review

6. Guest Instructors and Open Dojo Invitation Nights

7. Defending Against an Armed Attacker and Improvising Nearby Objects for Effective Weapons

8. Martial Arts Is Not Above Science

9. Resistance, Non-Cooperation, and Aliveness in Training

10. It Has to be Dynamic

11. Conclusion

  • Final Review: Key Words and Concepts


“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”
— Margaret Heffernan

“The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them.”
― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

This writing includes some of my thoughts, observations and opinions as they relate to martial arts, and more specifically to karate and its training methods. These thoughts developed slowly over a period of years as I trained to receive my black belt in Shorin-ryu karate and afterwards. I cannot claim that they are all original, because for years people such as Iain Abernethy, Rory Miller, Rob Redmond, David Erath, Matt Thornton and others have been articulating them. In turn some of them have given credit to Jigoro Kano and the Gracie family in Brazil for influencing their thoughts. I give a great deal of credit to all of them for influencing my opinions on karate and its training. However, it is true that in many cases I did have those thoughts prior to finding them expressed by a number of people, and, therefore, doubted that they were legitimate, wondering if I were the only one having them and finding myself worrying that I was developing a bad attitude.

That was not the case. Mostly these other writers confirmed within myself what I felt to be true about karate training, and that the deficiencies I found myself experiencing in training were the same deficiencies others in other dojo were also observing or experiencing.

Some of these thoughts and doubts began to first surface in my talks with my close friend, Micky Gowen, who had years before been a student of Shorin-ryu and Goju-ryu. Over lunch and coffee I’d pour out my frustrations and he’d further crystallize the problems that students in dojo face.

Later as I continued my training in Okinawa at the Shobukan Dojo under Sensei Giyu Gibo I came to know his Chief Instructor, Morihiro Yagi, who provided me the opportunity to speak my mind freely on all aspects of karate and martial arts, never attempting to intimidate me to agree with him. He gave freely of his time in many face to face discussions as well as lengthy back and forth email messages. It was a breath of fresh air to speak with a highly skilled martial artist in a friendly and frank way. Furthermore, he continued to encourage me in developing my thoughts on karate and to write them down.

By making material available, such as his personal writings, reading materials, and DVDs I was able to learn things I had not considered before and used them as jumping off points that prodded me to look further. Because of that I am grateful.

As I said, others have had these thoughts about karate and martial arts training before I have expressed them here. From my own experience I find their thoughts and views legitimate and feel they need to be stressed. If I could do so in my own way that affects change or causes others to think on these issues, then I feel I will have succeeded. With that, I add my voice to theirs calling for change at dojo that for too many years have been doing the same thing, never altering to adapt more effective techniques and training methods.

Students seeking effective self defense under the umbrella of martial arts should be served, not karate. Karate is merely an ingredient within the soup that includes a mix of other fighting systems. As one technique in a kata is part of a much larger body of work, so, too, is karate — a part of a much larger group, which is martial arts.

A technique is linked to the whole kata, and it (i.e. the technique) alone is inadequate as a full system of self defense. In this light one may see that karate is linked to other martial arts providing self defense that can be linked together to form the complete fighting system —a better karate, a better self defense. Karate alone is not complete. In other words, it is inadequate. Even more so against another skilled fighter. It is in the spirit of science, logic, reason, and common sense that I put forth this argument.

It is in the best interests of martial arts students who seek effective self defense in a reasonable amount of training time, not respect for tradition, that I offer this writing.

“Let us cultivate our garden.” ― Voltaire

G.L. 25 May, 2014

1. Evolution, Adrenaline Dumps, and Fighters

“The very essence of martial arts is the thirst for knowledge and the truth about ourselves.”
— Frank Shamrock

“You have to study your opponent and set up a specific strategy to beat them. Maybe some people didn’t follow this evolution.”
— Shogun Rua

Evolution has evolved all animals to have a natural reaction to danger: either stay and fight, or run for safety. This is called the Fight or Flight response to danger.

When a situation occurs, the target must quickly decide which to do. At the same time the body will start pumping massive amounts of adrenaline, which will seem at first to give the body energy, speed, and power. But for some, adrenaline in massive amounts will cause the body to feel as if there are heavy weights on their limbs, or as if they are frozen. A sudden violent attack may cause their minds to go into shock, and along with the adrenaline make them unable to move to defend themselves. We have all read stories of victims of crime who said that they were so frightened that they could not move. It’s not because they did not know what to do, or that they did not know how to defend themselves, but because they could not.

In a sense, in times like this, evolution keeps a rabbit from moving in tall grass because a predator is nearby; it is controlling them, freezing them into stillness. In a TV nature show one may see a cheetah catch a zebra, and it appears that the zebra is still healthy enough to fight back with kicks in order to escape, rather than not moving and letting the cheetah start eating her. But what has perhaps happened is that the zebra has been overloaded with chemicals from fear that it has become frozen, unable to fight back anymore. Why should we think that humans are different when we have firsthand accounts of people recalling how they were frozen with fear, being unable to move?

In other words, there is a fine balance between useful adrenaline and adrenaline overload. Once your body overloads on adrenaline, self defense becomes increasingly difficult, if not almost impossible. If a violent situation develops rather slowly, building up little by little, then one’s mind may have time to adjust to the new situation, speaking to itself to stay calm, thereby somewhat managing the flow of adrenaline for their benefit. In cases where violence is first preceded by some time in which a confrontation escalates from name-calling to shouting, then challenging, and pushing and shoving one may have the best chances for managing it.

However, in a violent attack that happens suddenly one may have a very short time before their mind goes into shock and an adrenaline dump prevents any ability to defend oneself. There may even be a strong possibility that a state of shock and a massive adrenaline dump will occur immediately, and, therefore, not allow any defense from a continuing attack. In this last case one should just hope that the natural response of the body to go into a fetal position will allow one to protect the head and vital organs until the attack is finished.

So, what are the implications of this for martial artists who study physical conflict? Of course, the perfect scenario is that in an attack a martial artist would be able to swiftly deliver a counterattack almost instantly, and thus end the attack by delivering effective, massive force to the attacker. But realistically, we must assume that a high percentage of fights do not go as planned from the point of view of the one who is attacked. That is because the attacker has a clear advantage — surprise, as well as the victim having an adrenaline dump and his or her mind going into shock as mentioned before, thereby rendering them unable to respond. Does one believe that their training has prepared them for real life fighting and the physiological responses evolved from evolution?

“You ARE gonna get hit. But you gotta believe in what you are doing, believe that you are causing more damage than they are.”
— Jens Pulver

End of Part 1

New Year, New Thoughts

Had a good talk with Sensei Wilder after class the other day.

He commented that what I’m doing here in Seattle is basically re-examining and restructuring everything I once was. Programs and routines that once worked for me are no longer applicable. It’s adapt or be swallowed up. He compared it to a glass of muddy water. You set that glass down and it’s pretty cloudy. You can’t see nothin’. But you let the dirt settle and things start to get much clearer. Right now, the water’s all muddy. Sensei Wilder even thought that there was a chance he wasn’t going to see me after the two-week Christmas/New Year’s break from class. Hell, I thought about that too. Not a day goes by where I don’t have some creeping self-doubt go streaking across my mind. I told him reading Eric Hoffer made me want to quit my life.

Anyway, it’s 2015 and I’m still here. And despite whatever doubts I have, I really do feel I’ve learned a lot about karate from Mr. Wilder. Not so much about Goju-ryu necessarily, but things and ideas which can either be adapted or discarded, whatever works for my character, my expression. I wrote the following poem that I thought I might give to Sensei Wilder if/when it comes time for me to leave Seattle. It’s called, “What I learned about karate from Mr. Wilder” (yeah, I know, great title):

Karate is kicking a man while he’s down
Or inviting him in and then slamming the door on his fingers
It’s about finishing the other guy’s sentences
Or not letting him talk at all.

So, a good martial art is one that is basically very bad
It is thievery and manipulation
The science of dirty tricks
Nothing nice about it.

But what’s bad also has lessons for what’s good
Knowing when to engage and when not
Staying sticky with your problems and not getting entangled
And the best solutions are usually the most simple.

The thought that is surfacing for me is that I’ve come all the way up here and actually found the kind of karate I was looking for, but no longer really want it anymore. What’s more important is to find physical activities that work for what I need. My body is getting older, more stiff, more prone to breakdown. Flexibility and a strong heart seem essential. I don’t imagine I’m gonna be worried too much about kata and fighting when I’m 60. But, like that muddy water, it’s not clear yet what I want to do.

Guess I’m just gonna have to keep on blogging.

Happy New Year.