The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.

Spiritual Gongfu

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I’m a highly sensitive person (“HSP” for short).

Do you know what that is?

Probably not, considering that the information isn’t necessarily common knowledge. If you do know, howdy. Are you an HSP too? Or do you know someone who is, like your partner, child, friend, etc?

For those that don’t know, feel free to start with this book by researcher and author Elaine Aron.

Anyways, I’m an HSP. Or at least I can say I strongly suspect myself to be. I had no idea what that was before last summer though. It wasn’t until someone suggested to me that I read the above mentioned book that I came to an understanding of it.

But let me step back for a minute cause my understanding of all this really started with this book by Susan Cain. You can watch her 2012 TED talk on YouTube here.

Yeah, so I read that book by Susan Cain, also last summer. And in it, Cain mentions the research work of Elaine Aron and in particular, I took notice of the word “sensitive” cause that seemed to resonate with me somehow on a deeper level than just introversion.

So you could say I’m a “sensitive introvert”. Hmmm. That sounds almost wussy doesn’t it? Like borderline “Oh you’re a soft girly man!”. Which is what leads me precisely to the context of this post.

You’ll need a bit of background first though. In the HSP book, Dr. Aron describes two general classes which certain human societies have governed themselves by: the “king-warriors” and the “priestly-advisers”. [NOTE: All of what I’m writing here is being pulled from my memory of what I read in those books. If I’ve misquoted something, don’t have a cow man. Feel free to correct me]. The people who are genetically “gifted” with high-sensitivity are the ones that fall into the “priestly-adviser” class. We are the types of people that generally become the philosophers, teachers, counselors, healers, etc. of the society.

But so, “king-warrior” types. What does that label conjour in the mind? “Leader”? “Captain”? “Jock”“Navy SEAL”? “Spartan”? You might even believe “martial artist” goes in that category. I mean, you weren’t thinking “chaplain” were you? Or “Buddhist monk”? Or “Zen priest”? Or “Mindfulness”?

Or were you?

I mean, I don’t think too many people in the general Western public attribute martial arts with qualities of “sensitivity” and “introversion”. From my experience, laypeople tend to equate the practice with being about acquiring confidence and having assertiveness and aggressive competitive drive, and definitely the opposite of whatever “shy” is. I’ve been told at a job interview, “So you’re a black belt. Aren’t you supposed to be more confident?”. Why, no. I never got that memo. Sorry. Guess I’ll just have to be me then.


If you read Susan Cain’s book, you’ll find where she discusses the “Extrovert Ideal”. In a nutshell, we live in a society that favors extroversion. We look down on those who are considered “shy” or “quiet”. We think there’s something wrong with those kinds of people. SIDE NOTE: I cringe whenever I read about mass shooters being described with those same characteristics. I get the subconscious impression somehow that psychotic = introvert. And so of course, you really can’t blame people like my Sensei when they teach their students that they should strive to meet this ideal. It’s like a father telling his son to get a government job when his real passion is playing the guitar. They’re just going along with what they believe is right (which of course is undoubtedly influenced by what society deems as “right”). Doesn’t make it right though. Nor does it make it harmless either. We psychologically damage a lot of kids in public schools through the insistence on meeting “testing standards”.

So wait a minute. What does all this have to do with martial arts again? Well, like I said. I’m an HSP. That means I am decidedly not the “king-warrior” type. I like quiet pursuits, i.e. reading books under trees, listening to somber music, talking to people deeply one-on-one, writing long-ass blog posts like this one. Doesn’t much sound like I enjoy fighting right? Cause I don’t. I don’t like watching hyper-aggressive UFC bouts, boxing matches or competitive sports generally. Those things overarouse me (that’s a term in the HSP book to describe an HSP getting stressed-the-fuck-out). I’m not saying I won’t watch stuff like that. They can be fascinating for their own reasons. But I don’t seek it out, you know? I don’t have UFC watching parties at my house. I’m not saying I’m some kinda cultured snob either (“Oh poo poo look at those brute men hitting each other.”). What I’m saying is that I’m a dude with glasses that likes to read his books and think deeply about various things, including karate. So why should a “priestly-adviser” type like me want to have anything to do with martial arts in the first place?

My answer to that question is long and complicated. It’s precisely for those reasons that I’ve questioned my own pursuit of such things. I didn’t have the terminology in my head for “HSP” or “introvert” when I first began karate, but I knew internally deep inside that I really had no interest in fighting. My interest was in subduing or resolving conflict. But so then I thought, “well maybe I have to get good at fighting first before I can gain the ability to do that?” So then I sweat and bleed in the dojo trying to accomplish that elusive goal, to no avail of course. In fact, the more I trained, the more agitated I seemed to get, the more pride seemed to build up, the more aggressive I felt. Something was obviously wrong and it was making training at the dojo a frustrating endeavor. (Ahhh. Training itself was overarousing. Huh. Didn’t see that till just now). For a time I was what you could call a “disgruntled karateka”. I hated myself. I absolutely hated myself. My punching the makiwara became a source of sadistic inner punishment. I wanted to bleed out these non-extroverted qualities I had. I wanted to be “normal”, without the social anxiety, the fear, the shyness (which by the way is defined as a “fear of people”. And that didn’t really apply to me actually. Fearing people and fearing their social judgment is two different things).


I’m so glad I got through them days without killing myself. That’s why I cuss so goddamn much when I write. I feel like this deep defiance towards a society that just steamrolls over people that don’t fit its ideal standard. Well motherfucker. I WILL NOT be steamrolled. Dig it? Suck my hairy Okinawan balls.

hahaha. Okay just kidding don’t do that. Go suck a horse’s balls how about that?

I’m glad I’m still here and able to reflect back on myself. And laugh and cry about just how hard I was on myself. How unjustifiably vicious I was to my gentle self. Like, why, why, why would I ever want to hurt the little boy inside? Why? What did he do? Nothing. He didn’t do nothin’. He just grew up in a king-warrior society that viewed his beautiful gifts and inner genius as “problems” and thus internalized a negative self-script that saw him as worthless and de-valued.

So it has been a slow process of healing. Of remembering to “Love and accept myself exactly as I am.” To be kind, gentle and compassionate with myself. To train in ways that make sense to me versus trying to meet other people’s standards.

It’s taken me a while to get here.

But I’m here.

Still figuring it out as I go along.

elbow SMASH.
– Hiji Até

“[Carl] Jung knew the prejudice in Western culture against the introverted. He could tolerate it when it came from the extraverted. But he felt that the introverted who undervalue themselves are truly doing the world a disservice.”

– Elaine Aron, The Highly Sensitive Person, pg. 100


One thought on “Spiritual Gongfu

  1. Pingback: What kind of work do you want to do in the world? | The Quantum Karateka

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