The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.

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White People

In the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Fruitvale where I live, it is interesting, frustrating and funny to see this very large billboard promoting the new Cameron Crowe written/directed movie, “Aloha“:

Not my photo, but it’s the same billboard that’s in my neighborhood.

To my eye it is striking to see three, very large, very prominent facial photos of relatively attractive white people next to the Hawaiian word “Aloha”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked Bradley Cooper (the white male actor in the photo) in “Silver Linings Playbook” and I heard he’s real good in Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” as well. But for some reason, seeing these faces in the midst of the predominantly “colored” neighborhood in which I live seems very out-of-touch-with-everything to me. When I see these faces, when I read the word “Aloha” (the film is set in Hawaii), I don’t think of these faces on the billboard. I think of my pidgin-speaking-Big-Island-born Grandfather. I think of the Hawaiian-blood residents of that island, who like indigenous people in other parts of the world, have had to struggle against being wiped out. I think of the many other faces of color that populate those islands.

I’m not saying white people aren’t to be associated with Hawaii. I’m not saying it’s not authentic to have them star in movies set in Hawaii (white folks make up a little over 20% of the population according to the census). I’m just saying that it seems very much behind-the-times for me to see such faces in such a movie. It speaks very clearly to me of the unbalanced world-view that is still promulgated in the U.S. media machine. In the eyes of the people who’s hands run the gears and levers of that machine, it is still very much a white, white world. Which is funny when you consider the fact that white people are essentially a minority in the world population. Seeing these faces on this billboard speaks to the concepts of “white privilege”, “colonization”, and other academic terms which seek to articulate the phenomenon of one group of human beings viewing another group with fear and seeking to control that group with violence; and materialistically “benefiting” off of the subjugation of that group (although, how any human can truly, holistically benefit off of the violent subjugation of another human being is curious to me). It’s even more interesting in light of the recent #Blacklivesmatter “movement” which arose in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. To me that hashtag expresses the sentiment, “I’m a human being! See me in all my dimensions so that you may perceive me as more than a racist stereotype! Treat me with the human dignity I deserve!”.

So to see such a prominent billboard like that*, in a neighborhood where most of the people you see walking around are Latino, Black or Asian makes me think: Damn. Our stories are still not being told. Our perspectives are still not being heard. Our faces are still not being seen.

And being seen, being perceived, is what visual storytelling, the kind which Hollywood specializes in, can help us to do – help us to perceive in three-dimensions so that we might develop into more human human beings.

– QK

*In contrast to that, it almost seemed radical to see the 2013 movie posters for Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” prominently displayed around the neighborhood and especially at the Fruitvale BART station. Although, it would be nice to see more mass media films featuring Black or other people of color in leading roles whose plots are about something other than pain/death/violence.



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Three years

3 years.

That’s how long it’s been since I first left my parent’s home in Southern California and made my way to Detroit. The anniversary of that first initial parting was last week, May 20th. As with many of my personal special occasions I will usually celebrate with a bubble tea (green tea icy please) or a pizza (Fruitvale’s Pizza City please!). But that day I had my martial arts class after work so I couldn’t get either. Guess I’ll have to make up for it this weekend sometime.

Anyways, trivial side notes aside, yeah….3 years. That’s a significant amount of time to have been away from “home” (i.e. parent’s house). Especially when I initially left with no real idea of how long I’d be gone. I told my mom and dad that I’d probably stay through the summer in Detroit and figure it out from there. Very soon after that I got myself into a relationship with my significant other who had been visiting Detroit from Oakland. After 10 months in the Motor City (and surviving the winter!…which wasn’t really that bad) I eventually made my way to the Bay Area. That was in April of 2013. So, even with my recent four month absence to go study abroad in Seattle, that’s a good solid two years time I have in Oakland now. Can I say I’m a native yet? No? After 5 years? 10 years? At what point does a person get to say, “Yeah, I’m from (blank)“? haha. Not that it’s of any importance to claim a city. Shiiit. I claim the Earth as my home.

So three years away from “home” and what am I doing now? Where am I going? Have I figured out my life yet? Don’t know, not sure and please don’t ask. Yeah, it sho is a journey, that’s for real. If anybody ever tells you that you’re supposed to have figured it out by a certain age is following an outdated map. I’m 32 years old now. I left home for the first real time in my life at age 29. And now here I am, in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, wondering how to cultivate the fruit within. It ain’t obvious man. I mean, for some people it might be. But for me it’s not. I’m like Sherlock Holmes trying to decode the mystery of my Soul. The Soul’s Code.

Also what’s significant is that I’ve been away from another “home”, i.e. my Sensei’s dojo (the dojo where I started learning karate seriously for the first time in my life) for these three years. And it’s been an interesting roller coaster of to train or not to train with all this karate business. Since being back from Seattle, I signed up at the local boxing gym (not the same one I went to last year) and was there for a month. Then I decided I wanted to give BJJ a try (that’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for all you non-martial arts people, or as Rory says, Basically Just Judo). And since I got a really good deal with the BJJ school, I decided to switch over to that. I’m happy about it. Boxing to me felt like having to take a prerequisite college course that I thought was important but that I wasn’t really into, whereas BJJ was something I wanted to do for fun. And I told myself after coming back from the Emerald City that I would only get myself involved with healthy physical activities (not even just martial arts) that brought me joy. Cause I’m tired of being a disgruntled student always disappointed with what’s missing in a dojo. What happened to doing something because it’s fun? I take issue with training being compared to work. I don’t wanna go to work after I get off work man. And don’t get me wrong, “hard work” is necessary to improve in any field, but like Krishnamurti says, are you doing it because you’re genuinely drawn to it? Or are you doing it because you’re trying to become somebody? Big difference.

So yeah, even though I been hopping around in my personal regimens, I’m just trying to find what fits me and what meets my needs. I may not have any clearer idea of what I might contribute to this old world, but I do feel I know mysoul a little bit better and that feels good.

– QK

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Essay by Greg Leisure: Part 11 (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!

11. Conclusion

“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.”
― C. JoyBell C.

“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My martial art is karate, and it has been estimated that fifty million people all over the world practice it. I am not sure if that number is accurate, but I am also willing to bet that karate students worldwide are declining in numbers. That is probably due to the rise of professional mixed martial artist fighters and the popularity of MMA, which has captured the eyes of millions on TV.

Does that mean that karate has to disappear as MMA training nudges itself into the martial arts market? I don’t know. It might. But it appears that MMA is not a fad. It has certainly captured the imaginations of many as its popularity continues to grow, and more MMA gyms and their training methods are coming into the scene year after year.

I think karate has to ask itself: Is karate best as an aspect of self-defense, or is karate perfect in its training methods and in need of nothing else for any violent situation that may come about? The logical and intellectually honest answer screams the former. This question lets one clearly see that karate can be an integral part of self-defense and cannot be the most comprehensive on its own. Therefore, if karate wants to thrive and grow stronger in the 21st Century it needs to embrace elements of MMA training.

Some traditionalists may resist, pointing out that karate already has aspects of other martial arts built into it, therefore making it unnecessary to learn new techniques and training methods. And that may be so with a few techniques from other systems scattered around in some of the kata. But realistically those techniques are few and may not be given the training time to become proficient enough to use them. For instance, training those techniques may require mats and if a dojo does not have any, then in all probability such techniques will be neglected and no skill will be developed. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, other styles’ techniques found within kata, even if mastered, do nothing to prepare for attacks from other fighting styles.

Karate, or more accurately, those dojo which have yet not moved toward a more dynamic training method, desperately needs to have an internal renaissance, allowing innovation in order to create more well-rounded fighters who can apply effective techniques in a short amount of time. It is a disservice to students to tell them that they need years of training to master techniques before being able to use them effectively. Keeping karate and its kata as its core, dojo can integrate aspects of MMA. Karate should not concern itself with keeping tradition more than the interests of students looking for effective self-defense.

Hundreds of years ago Okinawans looked west and took seeds from Chinese martial arts and grew them into karate. Having become a proud part of Okinawan culture, karate masters may be reluctant to change, not understanding that they have begun to treat karate more like how Rob Redmond of 24 Fighting Chickens refers to it as, “a cultural preservation society.”

Did the original pioneers of karate intend for it to become a cultural preservation society, or were they concerned with continuing to develop the best system and techniques for fighting that they were capable of?

I do not deny that karate is effective for self-defense, but I do question if it is the best, or if its training cannot be much improved upon in order to make it the best. Surely it can; everything can be improved. And because of that, I wonder if it is time that Okinawan dojo and their instructors look East to America’s MMA and its training methods for developing the fully well-rounded fighter.

I will venture to say that many dojo in America have already admitted to themselves the superior abilities demonstrated by MMA fighters, and have already adopted, or are beginning to adopt their training methods. Other dojo might adopt them more quickly if they had approval by their symbolic head, which is usually a karate master in Okinawa or mainland Japan. It could be the disapproval of these masters not wanting to dilute karate that is keeping many schools from adapting.

Okinawan and Japanese masters could be standing in the way of this potential sea change either because as said, they do not want the purity of karate diluted, or they are unaware of MMA and what it means, or what it could mean for improving karate, self-defense, and the market for future students. However, if masters are humble (which is a character trait that is supposedly admired and encouraged through karate training), then pride should not prevent them from admitting they have things to learn from the West concerning martial arts as self-defense and its training methods. It could very well be however that pride in their art and culture could prevent them from doing what is necessary for the further development of karate for self-defense.

If Okinawan karate masters as heads of their federations do not permit their satellite dojo from incorporating MMA methods into their karate, I would then suggest that if these dojo have the best interest of their students in mind for self-defense purposes, they should then amicably break the relationship and continue forward into the future on their own.

Okinawa does not own karate, even though it is often treated as a Mecca amongst instructors and students. Karate belongs to the world just like any other thing*. Do cars belong to the U.S? Do CEOs of Japanese car manufacturers keep an American automobile company president as their symbolic chairman? Of course not. They are independent from America and produce just as fine quality cars, if not better. Japanese care manufacturers are independent because they have matured. Therefore, dojo around the world need to grow up and get over this feeling of a need to have an Okinawan or Japanese symbolic head. It is just plain flattery at best and condescending at worse to insist on having one.

Like most things, karate does not benefit by allowing it to be under a monopoly. Market wide goods and services prosper when they are free of a single controlling entity. One should not fall under the delusion of having legitimacy just because one’s symbolic head is a master from Okinawa or Japan. One does not need to be recognized by such for stature in the martial arts community. Though it may be getting harder to resist now that the Okinawan prefectural government has begun to promote karate worldwide in an effort to keep its Mecca status amongst karate students, thus ensuring more visitors for economic benefit for the prefecture – and dojo run as businesses.

As a resident of Okinawa for over twenty years, I hope for economic prosperity for the prefecture, as well as the joys of karate becoming known by more people around the world. But I do not feel that the karate world is serving the interests of self-defense by allowing karate to be owned by a particular people or its culture. Such a thing has more to do with a profit motive than a self-defense motive.

It’s an unhealthy relationship when an entity looks to another entity to justify its legitimacy. Many dojo in America, Europe, and South America simply feel they need to have a direct relationship to a living master of his or her own dojo in Okinawa or Japan. Let’s face it, many high ranking foreign martial artists are just as skilled as their Japanese and Okinawan counterparts. Is it genuine modesty that they proclaim to still have a lot to learn from their Okinawan master? Or is the relationship more of a marketing scheme so that they can crow that they have a direct living link to Okinawa?

Look at the websites of karate schools. Lineages, a real live Okinawan sensei and a ‘home’ dojo in Japan are often touted as a point of pride. I can understand such a display when the Okinawan sensei taught the foreign sensei who now has his/her own dojo. But this is harder to accept when the original relationship no longer exists because of a death, or when the teacher’s offspring is left as the dynastic head to govern the relationship. In any case, is such a thing healthy for self-defense training? Or are such relationships based more on money, benefiting head master and satellite master equally due to marketing and bragging rights?

If a dojo fails to accept the superiority of MMA methods and how they can benefit karate because an Okinawan/Japanese master is standing in the way of change, then the student does not benefit. Karate can integrate MMA training methods without losing its essence. Karate dojo can still be karate dojo, but with karate as a core they should move towards adopting MMA training methods alongside their already established methods involving kata, kihon, and waza.

Adopting other methods is in the best tradition of karate and its students, and can lead to a renaissance of the art. By being dynamic, karate will see itself grow. By not doing so, karate will dwindle to irrelevance, digging itself into a grave due to pride, inflexibility, selfishness, and a desire for profit.

“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”
― Rick Warren

Final Review: 

Key Words and Concepts for Further Promotion, Thought, and Discussion within Karate and the Martial Arts Community

The key words and concepts I’d like one to remember from this writing are: acting out pre-attack situations, adrenaline dump, gradual violence, sudden violence, psychological reaction, stand-up kumite, ground fighting, progressing from stand-up fighting to ground fighting, one to one fighting, multiple attackers, distancing, timing, positioning, knife attack, pipe/stick attack, stamina, plan B, delusion/overconfidence, claims of self-defense training vs. competition in sports, testing claims with scientific method, ALIVE training, resistance in testing technique, non-cooperation in testing technique, proving technique in kumite, guest instructors and students, open invitation class to other fighters, kumite option during class, dojo environment encouraging kumite, equipment such as floor mats which can be put down and taken up quickly, traditionalist and purist versus reformer and radical, questioning, dynamic training.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
― Albert Einstein

End of Part 11