The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.


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Notes from a play date

So, Mr. Rory Miller was in town again over the weekend. I only signed up for the “Logic of Violence” Friday night lecture/workshop and the Monday night “play date” that he does. I was in Yosemite Saturday and Sunday. Those two days Rory did his infighting stuff. I was exposed to a bit of that in Seattle when he came to Kris Wilder’s dojo for a brief workshop so I’m not sure how much more I was missing. But I’m sure I’ll get more of it in the future.

The main thing I wanted to reflect on here isn’t so much on the play date itself. Although that was a great experience and right now we are working on scenario training. There is so much detail and delicacy and attention that needs to be paid to that to make it happen that it hasn’t yet rolled off the line yet. But Peter at Soja has been busy, so that’s a good excuse. It’s really on the students and people interested now who are going to be stepping up and getting something regular going. If any of you are curious, I’m not actually a member of Soja, more like “extended family” as Peter would say. But with their new expansion I think I am going to get more involved with not just the self-defense stuff, but in seeing if I can get my own idea going there as well. We’ll see. I’m feelin’ fresh and ready to be back in Oaktown and lookin’ to get down. For real.

But so the thing I wanted to reflect on happened when, at the end of class as we all mingled and talked, I came over to Rory to shake his hand and tell him he was awesome. And we did one of those “man-hugs” (you know, not the full embrace, just like, handshake-pull-it-into-a-half-chest-touch). And then he said:

“James, when are you going to relax around me?”

And then I was like,

“Huh? Ummm. When I can stop thinking of you as ‘Rory Miller’.”

And he was like,

“You know that’s all ham…”

And what he meant was, in case you never heard that expression, was that whatever image or idea I’ve cultivated in my head about him was all over-exaggerated anyway. And he’s right actually. Rory’s is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of learning from but he’s just a regular guy too. Except that he’s an old semi-retired wolf also. And that definitely makes him a unique ordinary guy.

But anyway…

That comment really made me think about myself. My social-anxiety. My shyness. How people perceive me vs. how I perceive myself. If I could respond to him again, I would’ve said, “I”ll relax when I feel I’ve found my groove in life, cause right now I’m not even sure I know who I am”. And my stiff formality comes mostly from my insecurities. But also too, I think Rory was just fuckin’ with me and he wasn’t totally serious. But there’s some truth to what he says. I don’t feel totally relaxed into myself. As I’ve blogged previously, I’m dealin’ with a self-dislike/hatred virus and in my quiet moments sometimes I do contemplate suicide.

You know, it’s not just Rory though. I was like that with Grace in Detroit, although she never made a comment like that to me. I guess it just has to do with people I really admire and dig a lot. Or their ideas at least. I just get nervous. I mean, when I’m reading their books I’m talking to them in the margins going like “Hell yeah! Holy crap! This is Awe-some!”. And then I see them in person and I’m just shy. But then you know, you see ’em in person and you see all their farts and flaws and you’re like, “Shit. They’re just people. What was I so excited about?”. But the ideas and the philosophy remains and that’s what draws me.

But whatever being in Seattle did for me, that voice isn’t so strong right now. I just found myself a fairly chill and easy j-o-b recently. I’m gonna check out some training options. And I’m looking to volunteer my time with some “troubled” young people. Plus, like I mentioned, I may be able to work with Soja to get my idea going. Just a small little “karate play group” thing. So, although I’m only gettin paid California minimum wage, I’m fulfilling the bottom portion of Maslow’s hierarchy at least. And yeah, the esteem and self-actualization will come in time. But it needs some time.

All in all, I’ve made the right decision to be back in California. It’s a goddamn gorgeous day today. Yesterday too. Actually all weekend it was awesome. California…not too hot, not too cold, just…chill. Goddamn you gotta love it. And apparently so do 38.8 million others.

But yeah, work, training, volunteer. That’s my holy trinity right now. Gonna see how that works out. Still not sure if I’m gonna cease and desist on this blog or not. I love to reflect. But sometimes there’s just so much stuff that runs through my head that I just don’t even know where to start and I just go cross-eyed and my head falls off.

Oops. There it goes again. Gotta go. Here’s a nice pic:

Rory Miller firing squad, execution by laughing.

– QK


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Do you do what you do because you think it’s important or because others do?

This quote and the previous one by Hunter S. Thompson comes via brainpickings.org, a website that came to my attention through a friend. Just sharing stuff I found through the site that speaks to me and makes me think:

Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

Paul Graham


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It’s not about who you wanna be, it’s about who you are

To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES. But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal.

Hunter S. Thompson


Whatever it is you do…do you love it?

I am not talking about proficiency through effort and struggle, but of the love of doing something. But don’t battle against society, don’t tackle dead tradition, unless you have this love in you, for your struggle will be meaningless, and you will merely create more mischief. Whereas, if you deeply feel what is right and can therefore stand alone, then your action born of love will have extraordinary significance, it will have vitality, beauty.

– Jiddu Krishnamurti, Think On These Things


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Essay by Greg Leisure: Part 10 (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!


10. It Has to be Dynamic

“Variety is the condition of harmony.”
– Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) British historian and essayist.

“Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure.”
– Petrarch

All dojo have different kinds of students. There are kids, teenagers, young adults and those of middle-age. Some are older or have disabilities. No student should be pressured or forced to do kumite, but there should be encouragement to do so.

At times, a class can be divided into a kumite half and a kata half. Those who wish to do kata that night can join the kata half. Those who wish to train in kumite can join the kumite half. And those who wish to observe the kumite should be allowed to do so as well, rather than being forced to do kata just because they do not want to do kumite.

The fact is, and more importantly the point is, a fight is dynamic. The preparation and training method for this must also be dynamic. The environment/atmosphere and option to participate in kumite should be regularly offered to students. Real self-defense or fighting is larger than any one style of martial arts. If a dojo cannot offer training that deals with the major parts of a real fight, then I would suggest that they are not offering self-defense, but instead an incomplete training program, or simply an “art” style.

It is not realistic to expect students to be members of two or three different dojo in order to fully develop skills in self-defense. But it is realistic to expect a dojo, which claims to teach self-defense, to offer realistic training experiences. Furthermore, it is not realistic to expect well-rounded self-defensive skill to develop through only one mode of training (such as kata) or when not partnered with another student who is resisting and being uncooperative.

I do not deny that kata and waza training assists in developing fighting skill, but I do believe that only kata and waza are not enough to maximize one’s potential. While performing kata may help to calm one’s mind, it cannot prepare a person for a violent experience where an intelligent opponent’s actions are unpredictable. It also does not address the natural reactions of the mind and its chemical productions while under stress. Kata does not teach a student how a punch or kick feels, nor to have a backup plan in case one’s main strategy fails. Only kumite, through standing strikes, throwing, tripping, and grappling on the ground can best fill in those gaps. No matter how skilled a person may be, they cannot know the skill of one’s opponent(s) beforehand nor can they expect their techniques to be perfectly carried out.

In addition, stamina is not developed in kata. In a fight, a person will exert themselves against an opponent who likewise will be doing the same, if not more. This clash of fighters, if the violence is not brought to a quick end, will require stamina in order for one to survive. This is body against body. In kata it is only body against air – no resistance. Bunkai cannot really be seen as a clashing of bodies. This is more of a controlled exercise by both parties, so there is no great sweating or trying to outsmart your opponent. The end is decided before it begins. Bunkai by itself is inadequate as a complete fighting training method.

And if the martial artist comes to believe that the end is over before it begins, as the kata may trick him into believing, then he is living in a delusion. Furthermore, hitting the air in kata training or even planned striking and blocking in bunkai, is not the same as hitting a body. How the body and fist reacts in these two different cases is totally different. The dynamics are just not the same.

The main principle of self-defense training is to be prepared; that is why we train. If one is relying on kata with its predetermined victorious outcome, then one is not being prepared. If one is overconfident through years of kata and other karate training without a back up plan developed through kumite experience (doing stand-up and ground fighting), then what they are doing is a limited and narrow version of fighting, not complete self-defense.

In art, beauty is decided by the observer and is different for each individual’s experience. I suggest that self-defense however should not be described as art. Its basis is in actual fact. Either one is the winner or loser. The final outcome does not depend on an observer.

“Arts” in martial arts has come to mean style, and now it is the situation that students of many karate styles are almost defenseless on the ground. In other words, the perception of karate as art has undermined the ability for one to effectively defend themselves.

Should karate concern itself most with the method of victory, or victory itself? Certainly, the method could be considered art, but if it does not result in victory, then where is its value? I suggest that if the method has borders around it, then creativity is limited. Why would one impose a limit on creativity if such an activity was meant to defend you or your child’s life?

Furthermore, speaking of the duty of a mother or father to defend their child in an attack, those who study karate, aikido, jujutsu, judo, etc, should seriously consider the meaning of “self” when describing their art as self-defense. The fact is, a situation may not be just about you. “Self” is selfish. It is too narrow. Martial artists might be reaching for a more noble goal if they thought more about using their skills for others who find themselves as targets of attacks.

A more meaningful expression of one’s study might be “fighting system”. So rather than say “My style of self-defense is karate” one could say, “My fighting system style is karate.” The latter is more expansive in its use, and language can be a powerful tool that shapes our thoughts. I maintain that it’s a better character trait to be thinking of serving others with one’s skills rather than oneself.

Karate needs to expand its definition of itself by being more inclusive in its training and techniques, and regularly train those newer additions just as much as kicks and blocks. It will still be karate, but one that has evolved, just as past masters were creative and added new techniques to what they were taught from their previous master. If they did not freeze karate’s development, then why should teachers and students of today’s karate freeze its development? By freezing karate’s development they are insulting the memory and tradition of dynamic change that was embraced by past masters, if not also insulting those masters by not learning from their example of continued innovation.

Would it be bad for today’s sensei and students to create new kata? If so, why? Is it the traditionalist mindset that prevents such newer innovation from coming to be? Is one’s dojo tolerant of students creating their own kata? Why don’t they encourage that as creative exercise? Surely, one does not think everything is perfect the way it is, do they? Is it not humble if one thinks they can improve karate — not just one’s own karate, but karate itself? Does one’s dojo encourage questions and actively listen to suggestions?

Why is it considered “superior” for some dojo not to include kumite as part of the training method when knowing that being hit for the first time in a fight could be a traumatic experience? How does the body move differently in clothes versus a gi, barefoot versus shoes, and how does it affect the whole dynamic of a fight situation as well as the effectiveness of a fighting system? If one is using their body to shield another person while fighting at the same time, how does that change things, and does one’s dojo instruction study such a situation? Wouldn’t a mother or father or even a stranger who is protecting a child find such training very useful?

The possibilities are numerous and students and instructors of fighting systems should be concerned with it enough to create dynamic training methods. Yes, the main points of a fighting system should be kept, as well as kata training and waza. But letting those become inflexible routines ends up defining a style or dojo as a prison rather than a dynamic system which is able to meet a variety of situations.*

*[Editor’s Note: For more on dynamic systems, check out Margaret Wheatley’s excellent book, Leadership and the New Science.]

“Diversity creates dimension in the world.”
– Elizabeth Ann Lawless


End of Part 10