The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.

Am I missing something here?

I have to blog about this just cause it’s trippin’ me out a bit. It’s something that’s been rackin’ my brain since I got here and it flares up every once in a while, just like it’s doin’ now. Shit.

Basically, I mean, I feel like I’m not doing something right. I can’t pinpoint if it’s karate specifically, martial arts in general or all of that together. I know that I am having to reinvent myself now. Essentially this is what has been happening since I left for Detroit. A metamorphosis took place. That much I can understand. What isn’t clear is my relationship to karate. I kept dabbling with it because I felt that it was too important, culturally and physically speaking, to just leave behind. But I realize I can get my healthcare doing other things and that culture isn’t a static thing.

To be even more really honest, I just feel like a goddamn karate poser. I feel like this blog was created out of frustration, not love. And that I’m not doing the right things in life. Like I’m not listening closely enough to what my heart is telling me. So many times I’ve felt like I want to just end this blog. I suppose what will end up happening more realistically is that I will stop blogging and this site will fall dormant. But I don’t like that shit. I don’t like loose ends. Gotta tie things up. It don’t have to be pretty. Just got to be seen all the way through. Instead of deleting like I’ve done for all the other creative projects in my life, I’m leaving it here. It’s not like it’s takin’ up cyberspace. When this blog ends, I will blog about it.

Anyway, oh yeah. I’m movin’ back to California. I feel like my time is done here. Not that there isn’t any more to learn or that there are no opportunities. It’s just….It’s just that I keep hearin’ these damn song lyrics in my head:

If you won’t reinvent yourself, you can’t circumvent yourself…

It’s a good song by the way, I think. When I heard that line, it was like daaammmnnn. God was talking to me right there. Synchronicity. Cause all that day I had been thinking about this topic and I turned on the radio and there it was.

Go reinvent yourself James. Otherwise you’ll keep banging your head against the wall.

– QK


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Practice Means Failure

Yo, I got to give a shout out to my dear beloved friend and former housemate Sarah for this one cause she the one that said it. We were just talking today on the phone and gettin’ caught up with one another and she said this thing which was in reference to her time spent in a meditation course. I thought it was profoundly brilliant:

Practice means failure.

Damn. I like that. Let me break it down for you based on the context of what she was saying and adding my own two-cent thoughts on it:

She was describing how one of her teachers told her that the purpose of mediation practice was to become aware of the unnecessary thinking patterns in our minds in order so we can learn to not get caught up in them. In processing that, my friend thought that this wasn’t about practicing to become successful little zen monks who have perfect empty minds. It was about practicing so that these mistakes would make themselves apparent, thereby “failing” because you are allowing them to clutter your mind. But only in doing so could one learn how to move past them.

The thought that came to my mind was, if I am ever a part of opening a dojo/gym, I’ma paint those three words on the wall in big bold black letters cause that’s what it’s about to me! If your training is about perfection, then that’s no good for when we talk about self-defense and surviving violence. The point of your training is not so that you can defend yourself perfectly or perform some technique without flaws. The point is to force you to make as many mistakes as possible by putting you through live testing. Kinda like forcing yourself to ride a bike for the first time between two points. The point of that practice is so that you can fail, i.e. fall down, scrape yourself, bang your knee, get cut up. Because eventually, you gonna get used to the fact that failing is a part of the game. And that the emphasis is not on avoiding mistakes but on persevering despite them. You dig it? Oh damn that kick to the groin didn’t do shit, he’s still got his hands around my neck! Ooo, there’s a wall behind me that I can slam his face into! Oh, what’s that? It’s a brick on the ground that I’m gonna use to smash him some more if he keeps comin’!

You know what I mean? That’s important man. Especially if you teaching self-defense or surviving violence. No one gives a fuck about your mistakes and failures in a situation like that. On that same token, no one gives a shit about your perfect technique either. The goal is to survive the assault either by escaping or incapacitating the Threat. However that’s done. Of course, with knowledge of the law and fitting the punishment to the crime.

So it’s not “practice makes perfect” cause that sets you up for paralysis. And paralysis is death.

It’s practice means failure, means making mistakes, means fucking up, so that you can learn what works and what doesn’t. There is no competition here. No games to win. No money to be made. No trophies to take home. This is brutal, raw functionality so that you can kick-ass when you need to and get to safety before it’s too late.

That’s the kind of gym/dojo I wanna be a part of.



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Essay by Greg Leisure: Part 9 (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!

Resistance, Non-Cooperation, and Aliveness in Training

“One of the most important things one can do in life is to brutally question every single thing you are taught.”
― Bryant McGill, Voice of Reason

“Curiosity and irreverence go together. Curiosity cannot exist without the other. Curiosity asks, ‘Is this true?’ … To the questioner, nothing is sacred. He detests dogma … He is challenging, insulting, agitating, discrediting. He stirs unrest.”
― Saul D. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals

It is very important when doing kumite in self-defense training that one’s training partner resists and is non-cooperative. Kata, while good for learning techniques, body mechanics, and delivering strikes with massive force, do not have the aspects of resistance and non-cooperation from a training partner. Bunkai teaches techniques, but again, it ignores those aspects.

It is my opinion that bunkai or waza should be demonstrated slowly the first time. Then the second time there should be resistance to the technique. The third time there should be stronger resistance and non-cooperation.* The person demonstrating the technique should say to the other, “Do not let me succeed at what I am trying to do.” If such a strong order is given, then we can believe in the technique more if the demonstrator is successful. In this way it may be proven that the technique will work (though it should be tested on with a non-member student or guest who is unfamiliar with the exercise). And the fourth time it should be shown to be usable in the flow of kumite. If a technique is only proven successful in the first level of demonstration (except for eye or throat strikes), then one must accept that it is more theory than proof. It may still have interesting lessons, but it may be unrealistic or ineffective in a fight, or the opportunity to use such a technique may never occur in a fight. It is essential that techniques meet strong resistance and non-cooperation in the third level, then after that, shown to be usable in kumite as well. In the end, techniques need to be thoroughly tested.

*[Editor’s Note: For a more comprehensive understanding of this method, check out Patrick McCarthy’s HAPV theory.]

Resistance and non-cooperation within kumite and applied technique training is what has become referred to as the Alive* training method. This is because a fight is a changing, living experience. It is not dead. Something that is alive does not have the same shape all the time. It is constantly evolving. It is chaotic like real fights are. Kata training, while important, is not alive. Kata have no aspects of chaos.

*[Editor’s Note: For further understanding of this method click here and here.]

The Alive training method is being adopted more and more in the United States, Australia, and Europe. It is not a fad. It has been spreading for the last couple decades or so. Dojo and self-defense arts which are not prepared to adopt the principles of Alive will find their students at a lower level of preparedness for self-defense than students of schools where this is used.

This is part of modernizing, and if traditional martial arts do not modernize by adopting Alive and its principles of resistance, non-cooperation, and dynamic kumite, then they will slowly lose students and eventually be pushed aside by fighting systems that have. Karate cannot relax and assume that people of the world will always want karate. As the world and its people change, so must everything else, including karate. It would be foolish and arrogant of any instructor or student to assume that the art they do will survive simply because they have come to love it and believe it to be great within their own mind.

In today’s modern world, martial arts students are customers, and customers want the best product. Ideally, products must get better and better, and indeed must aim to be the best. There is good, better, and best. The best have a greater chance of surviving. It is simple evolution with the products known as martial arts that some will disappear. The best will stay and get better.

One should themselves, “Has our dojo training method changed from one year ago? Two years ago? Five years ago? Ten years ago? Has it stagnated, doing basically the same thing every class?” Often, instructors come to love the training method as much as the art and become resistant to incorporating new methods and lesson plans. They are no longer dynamic.

Confinement to a teaching method or lesson plan can occur for a variety of reasons:

• An instructor may feel that it is respectful to his past teachers to continue the same way he had been taught. (This person might be considered a traditionalist or purist)
• One finds it easier to do the same thing all the time.
• One may have lost passion for their art or self-defense.
• One cannot see the complex nature of self-defense training and the need to meet a variety of situations.
• One may not be creative enough to create new methods.
• One considers themselves an expert with no need to look any further to learn new things about self-defense.
• One doesn’t know where to look for other ways.
• One may have too much pride to make a change, because they may feel that to change is like admitting they were not doing something correctly.

Whether your instructor exhibits any of the above characteristics or not, what is important to understand is that both students and teachers should always search for ways to improve in order so that self-defensive skills can evolve to even more efficient levels than before.

Today’s karate should not stay pure any more than Ankō Itosu’s karate. Remember, Master Itosu’s karate innovated by creating new kata*, hence adding more knowledge to the body of karate.

*[Editor’s Note: The author is apparently referring here to the ‘Pinan’ series of kata.]

Change is dynamic. Karate should always be changing with the times, and therefore, be dynamic. The best fighting system and training method of self-defense cannot be a dinosaur. But that is the risk any particular martial art takes if they do not allow for creative change and the incorporation of newer training methods.

Is one a traditionalist and purist, or is one a radical? This question is offered in the spirit of Socrates to everyone. Of course, Socrates annoyed the traditionalists so much that he was forced to kill himself. But, his radical questions transformed society for the better because they forced reflection and logical arguments to defend points of views.

Why does one train the way they do? Is it realistic? Does it provide effective self-defense instruction to all body types, both male and female? How can it improve? Is it dynamic? Has it stayed the same for many years with nothing new or innovative incorporated into the training?

Can training methods be changed in a particular dojo? Consider this:

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.”
― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

“A great man is always willing to be little.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

End of Part 9

Letting go

What once called to me

Feels no longer there

What once drove me

Is parked on the side of the road

I am listening to what the world is trying to say to me

No longer identified by my teachers, my parents, or schools

Free to let go

Or hang on to what was.

– QK

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Essay by Greg Leisure: Part 8 (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!

Martial Arts Is Not Above Science

“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”
— Albert Einstein

“The method of science is tried and true. It is not perfect, it’s just the best we have. And to abandon it, with its skeptical protocols, is the pathway to a dark age.”
— Carl Sagan

In martial arts circles one might hear a debate between those who practice their art as a means of self-defense and those who practice it as sport. Oftentimes it comes down to this position: just because you are good at sports karate does not mean you can defend yourself with it.

Fair enough. Well, not really. What is really going on here is the desire for some martial artists or their dojo to avoid being tested. It’s like throwing rocks from a distance at someone who has no rocks to throw back. That is because traditionalists know they can never fully be scientifically evaluated because they can say that the spontaneity of a real attack can never be replicated enough times and re-tested to draw definitive conclusions. To add insult, it’s almost as if they are saying the sports martial artists are not really engaging in any training that is substantially applicable to self-defense, therefore, they are not in fact doing martial arts, because martial arts was developed for self-defense. This self-serving logic is an attempt to give a higher legitimacy to one’s own abilities and reasons for learning martial arts.

Even though the sports arena forces martial artists to fight with rules, the mind can quickly shift to a real life scenario if need be. And I doubt that they will be thinking of rules and judges then. On the other hand, a traditionalist who never experiences adrenaline, strikes to the body, or various fighting styles (e.g. stand-up vs. ground, left-handed vs. right-handed stances, etc.) which are different from their own, will have greater odds against them in a real situation. On the contrary, the sports martial artist will have had a wider variety of fighting styles to go up against, as well as experiencing different body types, strengths, speeds, power, distancing and timing. These are all things that traditionalists will not benefit from, and even more so if they do not even engage in kumite within their dojo. If traditionalist dojo view kumite negatively as they do sports karate, then it is my opinion that they would be even less able to meet the challenges of a real fight.

Look, a front kick or roundhouse kick is the same for traditionalists as it is for sports marital artists. A kick solidly connecting with a chin or temple either in the ring or out is equally effective. The venue is irrelevant to the physiological affects. And if in the ring a front kick is not permitted to the groin area, as it can be done in the street, it is not at all difficult for the kick to be directed to the groin by a sports martial artist. They are fully aware that the street is not a padded surface in front of judges.

Certainly, things such as eye-pokes, biting, and throat hits cannot be tested and are not permitted in sports martial arts. But traditionalists are delusional if they think they are the only ones who can use those techniques, or that sports martial artists know nothing about them. That is simply, in all probability, not the case with many sports martial artists.

In many cases, sports martial artists have a strong background in kihon kata, regular kata, and their techniques. It is my opinion that traditionalists who try to discount the legitimacy of sports martial artists’ skills in self-defense are in some way jealous of not having the experience of stepping into the ring for themselves to test their skills. Skills which can be demonstrated through timing, distancing, positioning, striking, and grappling — all aspects of a well-rounded martial artist.

I do not believe that sports martial artists are inferior in self-defensive skill. In fact, I would claim that they are probably more prepared for actual violence, due to greater fighting experience, even if certain violent techniques within the ring are limited. In any event, the great amount of sniping done by traditionalists upon sports martial artists, is unwarranted I feel, without conclusive scientific evidence to back up those claims. It not only looks like envy, but it is not very humble as well. And isn’t humility supposed to be part of the martial arts character building experience?

The great thing about science is that it can test claims. The scientific method is the procedure for this. It lets us come to a certain degree of certainty once the data has been collected, analyzed, and interpreted. For example, if one claims that samurai sword making practices of 17th century Japan created a superior cutting edge than English-made swords produced in the same time period, then a controlled experiment as part of the scientific method can be set up to pass verdict on the claim.

Things may take this shape:

One claims: 17th century samurai swords of Japan cut better than English swords made in the same time period.

Define a question: Do 17th century samurai swords of Japan cut better than English swords made in the same time period?

Gather resources: Acquire a number of swords from the same time period, people skilled at using them, different materials to cut through, measuring aids, etc.

Explanatory Hypothesis: 17th century samurai swords cut better than English swords of the same time period because they are sharper and stronger.

  • Set up a test that is reproducible and collect the data
  • Analyze the data
  • Interpret the data and draw conclusions for a new hypothesis
  • Publish the results
  • Re-test, by other scientists as well

And if numerous re-tests come to the same conclusion, one can see a greater amount of probability being given to the hypothesis.

Let’s apply this method to the subject of this chapter:

Claim: Martial artists who participate in martial arts sports competition are skilled at self-defense and are able to protect themselves.

Define a question: Do martial artists who engage in martial arts sports competition have effective self-defensive skill in a real world situation?

Gather resources: Collect news stories, official police reports, hospital records, etc., of martial artists who have been in violent situations. Acquire safety equipment.

Explanatory Hypothesis: Martial artists who engage in martial arts sports competition do have real world self-defensive abilities because the techniques used in matches are transferable to the streets, and also because they have training that includes other violent techniques applicable to the streets that are not permitted in matches.

Set up a test and collect data: Gather people willing to play the role of violent attackers and sports martial artists. Create a variety of situations. Direct, solid blows to the head of the sports martial artists donning safety gear denotes a loss and should be judged as an inability to defend one’s self.

  • Analyze the data
  • Interpret the data and draw conclusions for a new hypothesis
  • Publish the results
  • Re-test, by other scientists as well

It is my belief that there will be a number of official reports documenting that martial artists who have engaged in sports competition have indeed been able to defend themselves. Also, I believe, even though scenario testing obviously cannot recreate an actual situation of violence, its data can still show us that sports martial artists do in fact have skills that allow them to defend themselves.

If traditionalists still believe otherwise, and continue to think they are superior in self-defensive skill, then the burden of proof is upon them to show that martial artists who engage in competition are less able to defend themselves than those martial artists who do not engage in competition.

“At first, they’ll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they’ll dislike you.”
― Criss Jami

End of Part 8