The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.


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Then and Now

The following excerpt is from my journal:

May 20th, 2012
The Day of Departure

It has officially begun @ 10:20am. Sitting in the parking lot of Jack in the Crack in Torrance. Centering myself. Some notes to self: All you can do is set a date; doesn’t mean you’ll go on that day. All you can do is make plans; doesn’t mean they’re gonna be stuck to. Another note: As I made my way away from the house this morning, I was crying and disoriented. As I made an attempt to get into the left lane on Hawthorne, I nearly bumped into a Lexus mini SUV. The license plate frame read, “GO BLUE. MICHIGAN.”

4 years later.

Here I am. In Torrance again. In my parent’s house. In the same room I had in high school.

Things are different now. Not just superficially of course. Things are not the same anymore. These aren’t measurable differences, besides maybe a few more gray hairs on my head. I feel different inside myself. I feel myself differently. I am more me now than I ever was.

I wrote something down in my journal today that I’d like to share here. The context is that I had gone to the dojo to speak to my teacher about how I have been feeling recently. I didn’t have a script. I didn’t really want one. I knew what needed to be said, I just had no idea how it would go down. I began by asking him, “What do you want me to do?” I clarified that since he had taken down the names of other black belts off his wall, people that he once had friendly relations with, was he planning to do that with me? “That’s your choice!” he said, a bit bewildered. What I had meant of course was that, since I am no longer interested in training at his school, and no longer interested in helping him run his organization, was I to be kicked out? “Oh, well if it’s my choice then Sensei, I don’t want to be kicked out.” The conversation then veered into a debate of sorts, regarding my interest in kata bunkai, him trying to explain away my questions, me trying to stand my ground and stay clear-headed. It was difficult. And then a mom and her daughter came in for class and the conversation/debate had to be ended abruptly. I told him I’d be back to discuss it some more.

Maybe.

As I drove home, a hot, fiery rage burned inside me. Not a conflagration. But a renewing fire. One that made me want to create a PowerPoint presentation of what I had learned about kata and why that new information makes more sense than what I was taught. One that made me want to begin outlining the idea for a documentary and call it, “KATA: The language of karate”.

Instead, I wrote these words:

Sensei tells me, “You’ve changed a lot. Your thinking.” Yes, I have teacher. I’ve changed a lot. Changed the way I’ve thought about what I’m learning, about myself, about life, a whole helluva lot. And that’s not gonna stop. It can’t stop. It won’t stop. The world is spinning, revolving. People are living, dying. Nothing can stay the same forever. The only real stability, paradoxically, is in that changing. If we can embrace that change and not get “stuck in old ideas” (as Grace says), then we can live more fully in this life instead of fearfully. I’m not saying it’s easy or that I’m great at this. It takes courage to face uncertainty, to assert your authentic Self among the naysayers, to live life according to what you know to be true inside yourself. The truth I’ve brought back home isn’t about karate or bunkai or fighting or violence. The truth I’ve brought back is how I move and shake in this world. How I believe things need to be taught and learned. Part of my struggle with suicide and depression comes from that old confusion of Self. From that place of devaluing, worthlessness and rejection. Being introverted and highly-sensitive, I’ve naturally dwelled on that inside myself, turned them over and over again. Not understanding how my environment, especially the people in it, have affected me. I’ve soaked in their thoughts and ideas, marinated in their opinions. Not recognizing that these gifts I have were being used against me. Not by them, but by me. Often, when we don’t know the magnitude of the power we hold in our hands (like a gun), it’s very easy to hurt ourselves. And so, armed with new insight and knowledge, I sit here, waiting, watching, listening to myself. Learning new tricks to manage the arousal. Learning new skills that feed the soul. I have no idea where I will be in 5 years time or what I will be doing. Life is just too damn short to have expectations.

Happy 4 years later.
elbow SMASH.

GHC session #18 (5.18.16) 2

GHC session #18 (5.18.16): Luca and I practicing the “Oh Shit!” guard from the Abernethy Kata-Based Sparring DVD.

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Karate Culture seminar reflections

Okay, some rambling, bumbling, disjointed thoughts coming up…

Let’s see if I can make them coherent here…

Went to my first “applied karate” seminar this past Saturday:

1st karateculture seminar 5.7.16

Aaron and Michael (seated, in middle) of Karate Culture, comin’ straight outta Texas. At Kaizen dojo in Torrance, CA – May 7th, 2016. You’re probably thinking, “Hey, what’s that little kid doing there?” I don’t know either, but he’s a 9 year-old badass in training.

I’m standing in the back there, second from the left, wearing my beni-imo belt. The core of the Grappling Hands Circle study group is also in there: Luca, the big Italian guy standing there in the middle next to the woman, and Anthony to the right of him. Interesting side note: The guy holding his belt to the left of Luca is another Italian dude, like literally from Italy (Luca is Italian-American). I think he said he had flown in a day earlier(?) just to attend the seminar. That’s awesome.

Anyway, my thoughts on the whole thing? Well certainly what Aaron and Michael presented isn’t anything radically new to those in the applied karate community. But they’re damn good at what they do and they’ve developed their own system and flow with how they discover applications in kata and apply them on each other. I really envy their approach. I couldn’t help but feel like an uncoordinated baby in trying to do the things they showed us. If I was being a dick to myself I’d say that me being a black belt is a joke compared to them. But I don’t wanna be a dick to myself. So I’ll say that I am where I am and there’s always room for improvement.

As I was saying though, information-wise I think much of what was covered I have already been exposed to in various ways by reading, watching or directly learning from other teachers. I really liked how Aaron and Michael had come up with their own series of 10(?) kihon exercises. I thought those were pretty cool. And I could dig their approach to empty-handed fighting in general, although I’m biased towards guys like Rory Miller only because I feel like I trust that information source more. I don’t know if that’s some kinda faulty logic of mine, but I mean, wouldn’t you trust the insights of someone who’s survived 300+ documented altercations in a prison environment more than someone who has only occasional experiences with violence? I mean, I know Michael’s job is a college professor and Aaron mentioned he was a pharmacist. Guys like Rory are retired violence professionals. That’s a big difference in my eyes. But like I said, I’m biased.

The main thing I’m reflecting on right now, in light of having attended the seminar and having just gotten home from my study group session, is that one of the things I can see that has really benefited Michael and Aaron in their development is having first had a teacher that exposed them to seeing karate in this way. At least, this is what I heard from Aaron directly. He was reminiscing about learning from their current Sensei and how that person (forgot the name) had been the one to really shine the light for him on applied karate. It just makes me think about the reasons I had gone up to Seattle to seek instruction from Kris Wilder in the first place. I realized back then, and still even now, that much of this stuff isn’t so easy to just get on your own (unless you’re gonna be like Choki Motobu and go pick fights in the red-light district. But even then…). I think it takes mentorship and apprenticeship of some kind. And that aspect is proving to be the most challenging part for me about facilitating this study group. I am personally looking to better understand the combative applications that lie within kata. What I don’t have is any systematized way of approaching this – besides like, amalgamating the written guidelines of three different applied karate sources and compiling it in what I like to call a “kata literacy” manual. I recognize of course that much of how Aaron and Michael come up with stuff is through creative play and experimentation. I think that’s key. But I’m feeling so woefully inadequate as to how to even set that up (besides doing something like moving to Texas to learn their methods directly). Right now in the study group, we are learning through a combination of DVD’s/Youtube/written sources/our own experiences and of course, play. But there always seems to be something missing for me. Some feeling of inadequacy about what I’m doing. Some feeling of like, “are we getting anywhere? Or just randomly floating?” A lot of it I trace back to feeling like I’m lacking a fundamental or basic “hands-on” understanding of the applied-ness. Part of the idea behind the group was to give myself this education. But learning from a DVD/book and learning hands-on from a teacher is two very different things. And not everyone gleans insight in the same way (like, some people really do learn a lot on their own). But lacking the schools here in my environment, I see no other choice but to create my own “school” so as to basically re-teach myself karate. In addition, I’ve also signed up for judo again at a local club. And I’ve just come across the number for a teacher in the Zentokukai (if any of you are familiar with Angel Lemus’ stuff on Youtube) who apparently teaches in West Los Angeles somewhere (not Angel Lemus himself of course. He’s another teacher I’d move to learn from – but he’s in Hawaii). So that’s a potential source of information I could go to for help. And there’s also a rumor that Patrick McCarthy might move to Southern California in the near future…???

Anyways, I’m gonna just keep going with what we’re doing for the time being. I just ordered Abernethy’s “Kata Based Sparring” DVD which I’m hoping will help get us set up for making the Aliveness part of our training more productive. That should be fun. Other than that, I don’t know what else to do. I don’t feel the urge to move myself anymore. I think Southern California is the place I need to be right now. Plus, without the support of my parents again, I’d probably still just be thinking about where I’d like to go with my training instead of acting on it. It helps a lot when you come home dead tired from work and there’s a healthy meal there, you know? And not having to pay rent….jeezus. Thank you mom, dad.

Okay, that’s all the blabbering I have for now…

– elbow SMASH the Power


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An authentic calling?

I was inspired to blog this down the other day after re-reading a bit more of Jeff Chang’s edu-taining book Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. Particularly this section, which relates the beginnings of Public Enemy:

The times indeed called for someone new to flip “It’s Like That” and “Proud to Be Black” the way those records had flipped “The Message” and “Planet Rock.” But even more, the times required a harder kind of intellect. Bill Stephney challenged Chuck, “Why don’t you be the one?” Chuck wasn’t so sure. But then he was writing as if he already had the freedom to say what folks couldn’t: “I’m a MC protector, US defector, South African government wrecker. Panther power-you can feel it in my arm. Look out y’all, cause I’m a timebomb tickin’!” (pg. 241)

What came to me after reading this was the feeling that where I’m looking to go with my martial arts training, or what I’m interested in creating, is a program/school that has some element of this:

And this:

And of course, maybe a few other things thrown in there as well. Basically, a program geared towards helping to shift the definition of masculinity in our culture towards one that is mature, responsible and compassionate. A program that helps men connect to their inner “Wild Man” (through MA/karate) and become cognizant of their “anima” (through depth work). Men everywhere I feel are in trouble, particularly in a society such as ours which favors materialism, racism and militarism.

But maybe this isn’t a vision for a program necessarily. Maybe it’s just a vision for myself?

I’m not sure at the moment…

elbow SMASH.