The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.

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Some more thoughts on teaching

Just some more thoughts I had from this past Sunday’s study group session.

It’s interesting to me that teachers are under-appreciated in civil society and over-appreciated in the martial arts. I feel like the teacher is only half the equation; the other half being the hunger that the student brings to the table. That hunger is essentially what teaches the student. You start off with a teacher because you want access to the knowledge, whatever it is. Reading or watching things can only do so much. But your teacher is nothing more than a gateway into something that you bring your enthusiasm and willingness to explore on your own. When I say teachers are “over-emphasized” in the martial arts what I mean to say is that they are looked at as final authorities on truth. As though they are the perfected ideal of what you came there to learn. Well, sometimes you start off thinking that way perhaps. But no, they’re the doorway. You went inside on your own. Now it’s your job to keep going, keep expanding your understanding. You are here to learn something for yourself. So that’s what I was feeling the other day at the study group: I’m in a teaching role, yes. But it’s more like I’m a video game level boss intended to be defeated (albeit a pretty easy one); I’m a guidepost pointing the Way (although it’s possible I’m turned completely in the wrong direction and all graffitied up); I’m here for the student to eventually move past, not enter into a life-long co-dependent relationship with.

Hmmm. Just a side note here: I’m wondering if “mentoring” is something else entirely? Like, it’s related to teaching, but it’s more about noticing and bringing out what already lies within the student. Or maybe it’s all the same thing?

When I say teachers are “under-appreciated” in civil society, what I’m saying is that to be able to clearly transmit knowledge to another human being takes skill and it takes patience and dedication. That’s not something you can just go to teacher school to learn how to do. That’s something that comes from within I think. Teaching is under-appreciated I think because it’s so invisible. It happens so many times in so many places, in big and small ways, everyday, and not just in traditional “school” settings of course. Like when a friend shows you how to dance. Or when a parent shows you how to cook a healthy meal. The point of teaching someone is to help them, essentially I think, to become functional on their own. Without teachers, where would the human race be? We’d still be thinking we live on a flat planet. We’d still be thinking the sun actually goes up and down. We’d still be literally in the dark (cause fire right? Someone had to teach someone else how to make it). Teaching is under-appreciated because it’s so commonplace, we don’t even see it happening. Like, we take it for granted or something. But the individual doing the teaching, they really have to be able to take this large body of knowledge, sometimes really complex stuff, and make it make sense so that it can be useful to someone else. That’s no small job. Maybe that’s what Krishnamurti meant when he said:

Teaching is the greatest vocation in life, though now it is the most despised; it is the highest, the noblest of callings. But the teacher must be utterly dedicated, he must give himself to it completely, he must teach with his heart and mind, with his whole being; and out of that dedication things are made possible.

Just my thoughts.

– QK


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More insecurity?!

It has been difficult for me not to feel so insecure about myself in a teaching role. Even though for example, like this afternoon, my training partner in the study group gave me some feedback about what he felt he learned in our session. And it was a great feeling to hear him explain how he felt like his mind was opening up to new possibilities with looking at karate and kata. That’s the kind of feeling I felt when I first read and watched the works of Iain Abernethy and Patrick McCarthy and Jesse Enkamp and Lawrence Kane & Kris Wilder, etc. It really opened my mind up to understanding that the “traditional” karate training I had done was comic book fantasy stuff. I mean, when I first started, it looked and felt real. But slowly over time I began to suspect that something wasn’t right. Of course, I attributed that mostly to myself. I thought I just sucked. And the other black belts in the dojo just helped to confirm that for me. Like, “Yeah, Sensei is a genius and you’ll just never be able to move like him and so yeah sure, you can try all you want but you’ll never really amount to anything in this art because, well, you’re not gifted like he is.” Okay, not the exact words, but something to that effect. Basically it would amount to, I’ll never really get what Sensei does, period. Which is the reason that I suck.

What I can see and understand now is that, yes I sucked at copying my Sensei. I sucked at trying to be like him (in terms of “body mechanics” and such). Which makes complete sense because, duh motherfucker, I’m not him! My task is to learn how to move in the best, most efficient way possible for myself. Learning from guys like Rory helped to really elucidate that for me. Learning how to effectively survive violence comes down to basic things – “principles”. These principles are fairly simple to understand and can be learned fairly quickly, but they take training to be able to use them competently. But even though this takes time, it’s not like we’re trying to understand quantum physics here. As it says on a t-shirt Kris Wilder gave to me before I left Seattle: “Brutally simple, simply brutal”. This is karate. Or actually, this is any good martial art/fighting system. Understanding principles is akin to understanding how the engine of a car works. I’m not a mechanic, but I know that by understanding how an engine works, you can then understand how to fix things if something breaks down. Fighting and violence is things “breaking down”. To “fix things” is like, “making what is happening stop quickly”. This is the combative strategy of our art. Every movement in kata is designed to end the fight quickly. So, by learning how to use these principles in application, I can then bring out the best me there is. Not waste my time copying someone else. Because, if my awareness fails me, it’s not my Sensei who’ll be there to use his amazing body mechanics to save my ass. It’ll be my ass. Alone. Bewildered and scared and completely unprepared. So I better know what the fuck I’m doing, and I better be competent at it. This is I believe, one of the most insidious problems with modern (or “traditional”) karate training: Because we’re not using methods of aliveness to test competence with technical application (in the way that boxers, judoka, BJJ’ers, etc, do), we’re essentially left with theory in our heads (i.e. fantasy), which then makes us more susceptible to believing bullshit like what those black belts in my dojo used to tell me. And that doesn’t really help anything except strengthen the cult of personality surrounding people like my teacher. Which is, oh my god dude, such a fucking waste of time! I came in to this dojo to learn something for myself. I came in here to learn, essentially, how to be the most competent, most kick-ass version of me that I could be. I didn’t walk in here and pay you money and listen to you and sweat and bleed and spend hours and years of my time just so that I could be your follower.

So that’s partially the reason for my study group. Whether I’m a good teacher or not, I don’t know. All I know is that the way I learned karate has got to change. We can’t just keep passing on this comic book understanding to future generations. Man, that just makes my ancestors look bad! hahaha.

Just kidding.

No seriously.
– Hiji Até

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Creeping into my head

Kicking my ass

No amount of karate badassery can stop this Beast

Gosh. Feeling so insecure at the moment. Is the karate study group I’ve started a good idea? Does it even need to exist? What am I doing facilitating concepts that I’ve only just begun to learn anew for myself? This applied karate stuff takes an expert to understand and I’m a rank amateur. Should I even be teaching anybody? What if the things I’m doing are boring? What if I’m boring? What if I’m so boring nobody wants to play with me? What if I’m just lying to myself about this whole karate thing in the first place and that’s why I harbor so much self-doubt? What if I’m just a fake? A fraud? A phony? What if I just need to quit this karate business once and for all? Why do I even need to be doing it in the first place? Am I thinking in circles? Why do I have so much self-doubt? Is something wrong with me? Am I insane? Should I be seeing a doctor? I mean, a therapist? I mean, no wait a minute, I am seeing a therapist. Should I be thinking so much about this stuff? Why am I thinking so much about how to teach karate? Why am I thinking so much about how to structure what we’re learning? Why am I still associating with my Sensei even though every time I leave his dojo I feel shitty about myself? Is it just me? Am I just shitty? Am I just looking to blame people and circumstances outside of myself and not take responsibility for taking charge of my life? Am I neurotic?


I am crazy. Crazy enough to do things differently because I think it’s the right thing to do. Karate students wanna continue playing with water guns and pretending they’re real? That’s fine. Who am I to judge them? I mean, who cares? Unless they’re interested in learning how to shoot for real I can’t force them. Yeah, I am just a fucking rank amateur. I’m DIY-ing this applied stuff only because the teachers and schools I’d like to learn from aren’t anywhere near where I live. And even then, I’d still wanna be learning in my own way. Not rely on a teacher to tell me how reality looks. I need to see it for myself. I need to tread my own water.

Gosh it’s hard though. Hard because when you don’t believe in yourself enough, you’re more susceptible to being potentially crushed by the opinions of others. Sure, you need feedback. But you also need to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. And to remember that thing, that seed or kernel of an idea which started this whole thing, is the thing to be sticking to. You know why you’ve structured it this way. You know why you’ve defined those “key” concepts. You know what’s been missing from your training and you know you have an idea or two about how to remedy that. And what’s wrong with doing it then? What’s wrong with trying out something new? Even if it flies in the face of convention? Do you want the art you practice to be dead? Or alive? Do you want your life to have vigor and vitality? Or monotony and boredom and tendinitis? Do you want to just keep hiding behind the committee and blaming them when things go wrong? To keep on pretending that your reality is safe and secure? Or do you want to see the truth of the situation? To be responsible for what you do; to eat dirt when you fall down; to breathe real air when you attempt to soar up.

All I know is, when I go out, I wanna go out bein’ me 100%.

– Hiji Até

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Attitude of Gratitude

It is only in relation to other bodies and many somebodies that anybody is somebody. Don’t get it into your cotton-picking mind that you are somebody in yourself.
Jimmy Boggs

That quote used to trip me out a lot when I first read it. In case you don’t know, “Jimmy” (James) Boggs was the husband and fellow collaborator of Grace Lee Boggs, the 100 year-old Chinese American author/activist/philosopher (who passed away October 5th, 2015) whose words inspired my ass to drive to and live in Detroit, MI.

I think his words tripped me out cause I was like, “What you mean I’m not somebody inside myself? I’m a somebody. I got gifts. I’m worth something.” But I realize now that’s not what he was saying (I mean I could be wrong but…). Jimmy was sayin’, “Look. You may have degrees, titles, status, fame, whatever. But those things only mean something in relation to other people. What’s a celebrity on a desert island by him/herself? Nobody. What’s a high-ranking karate teacher without students and peers to be ranked over?” That’s a real subtle thing that thing. It’s like, yeah, this or that guy is talented, wow, he’s really good at what he does, etc, etc. But if that guy or gal is doing it all by himself, all alone in a place where there are no people, who’s gonna recognize that thing he/she does as talent in the first place? The birds? The bees? The bears? The beavers? Nah right? They don’t know what the hell these crazy humans are doing. So until you have another human being come along and go, “Hey, I think you’re pretty good at that thing you’re doing. I’d like to recognize you for that thing.”; until that happens, nobody had a clue what the hell that thing was in the first place.

So, you’re a nobody inside yourself. It makes sense now.

And I was thinking that perhaps the most powerful antidote for when pride gets the best of you and arrogance starts to creep in and you begin to feel as though maybe, just maybe you are a somebody in yourself, is to stop what you’re doing right now and take stock of what you’re grateful for. Like maybe you have 10 fingers and 10 toes and they all wiggle fine. Or maybe you have a mother who makes delicious and nutritious meals for you nearly every night of the week. Or maybe you have a father who’s financial savvy has allowed you to go to college without going into debt. Or maybe you’ve found a training partner that is on the same level as you and is willing take time out of their schedule to practice with you. Or maybe a lot of things. A lot of little things. A lot of things that we forget about too, like the sun rising, the air you can breathe (or not, depending on where you live), the water you can drink when you’re sweating and thirsty, the water you use to take a nice hot shower with after, etc.

Sadly, I honestly think my Sensei has forgotten this. Either forgotten it, or never really knew it in the first place. But when he talks about him being “top” (and yeah I mean look, he is considered a legitimate “master”…within the world of Matsubayashi-ryu that is) it just makes him sound arrogant. Like, dude, chill out. You don’t have to go on power tripping with me. I get that you have a legacy, that you have natural talent, that you work hard and keep yourself fit into your 70’s. But man, please. Please just cool out with the need to have to position yourself above anybody. Someday you’re gonna be dead in a grave below everybody. So why you gotta be trippin’?

I know I’m harpin’ on this issue a lot but it’s been something that’s really been bothering me since I’ve decided to go back to the old dojo at the beginning of this year. In my mind now, I’m currently moving towards a clean break-up with him. But a break-up that retains a friendly relationship, if possible. I need to move on fully and do my own thing. In fact, that’s what my intention was with going back, to retain my connection to my teacher, not to the kind of karate he teaches. I realize now though that even just being there for class once a week is more than I can handle. The environment is not friendly to a creative and imaginative outside-the-box thinker and doer like myself. And I’m tired of playing tag sparring-man…jeezus.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot I’ve learned from my Sensei and I’m grateful to have had a teacher that is always constantly stressing the need to maintain one’s physical health: “Without your health, what do you have?…” So I’m not moving on because I hate you Sensei or because I don’t like you, or because I think what you teach is bullshit. No. I’m moving on because that’s what my soul is urging me to do. In the same way it did when I went to Detroit. This isn’t about bitterness or resentment or being disgruntled. It’s about moving away from an environment that’s invalidating towards one that is nurturing, supportive and open to new ideas.

– Quantum

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It’s taken me almost a decade but…

I finally figured it out tonight

Standing on the dojo floor reflecting

You know what the problem is Sensei?

After nine years of knowing you and listening to you talk

The problem is that when you think you’re right 

Simply by default that makes everybody else wrong

And not just wrong

Stupid too

And for what?

For not seeing it the way you do? For having a difference of opinion?

I’m stupid for that?

It’s not any coincidence that many other people have had difficulty with you

I’ve listened to all your long stories about it, all the trouble

But the main theme that always comes across in those stories

Is that you are the victim

“Why me? Why they have trouble with me? I’m a nice guy see…”


Nice until you disagree

And then they’re stupid

You see Sensei? You’re disrespectful

That’s what causes the trouble

You invalidate other people’s perspectives just because you think you’re the font of knowledge

(Which by the way…you’re not)

You’re one guy on a planet with 7 some odd billion people

That’s a lot of people

Don’t you think one of those 7 billion people has more experience than you?

Perhaps has seen more fighting and violence than you?

Perhaps has a better understanding of that phenomenon than you?

Always, always, always, you cite that experience of running that bar, in that rough area of the city

With mean and sneaky people using razor blades between their fingers to slice at you

Hundreds of times you say

Yes, I know those stories, you tell them often

But I know a guy see

He’s a teacher too

In his past life he used to lead an emergency response team in a prison

He’s had over 300 documented altercations in that environment

When he teaches, he doesn’t pretend to know everything

He doesn’t put you down for thinking differently

In fact, he encourages it

But you know, I’m not gonna waste my time telling you about him

I’m just grateful to have met and trained with a guy like that

Because at the end of the day Sensei

You know this 

(I mean, I hope you know this. Maybe you don’t…)

The world is bigger than karate

Bigger than titles and rank and prestige

Bigger than how many students you have

Bigger than how big you think your dojo is

Bigger than all of us actually

And that’s where I live…

In the world.

– QK