The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.


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Questions, always questions

If you’re doing something because you love to do it, there’s no question about whether it’s the “right” thing to do or not. You just do it. Cause you like it. That’s it.

Right?

Are some people more destined to become something than others? I don’t know. I recently saw a quote on a BJJ website (attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson):

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”

I think that sounds right. Only…does one simply decide on something, or is there a more complex metaphysical process going on? What about feeling called to do something? I mean, is it a matter of simply picking and choosing our work/profession/career/etc, or does it need to first reveal itself to us? Are the possibilities really endless? Or are there actually some things (careers, professions, trades, etc) that are not possible? Or maybe Emerson is just sayin’, “Look bro, put your mind to it and you can be anything you wanna be.” – speaking to that whole human potential thing. I mean, that makes sense to me. But then I’m like, well, that’s great that the possibilities are endless but, how will I know which possibility to focus my mind on? I can’t possibly focus on all of them in one lifetime.

I remember a conversation with a friend in Oakland. We were talking about how things fall into place if they are authentically aligned with what you want to do. And so I thought, “Well, maybe karate isn’t authentically aligned with who I am because I can’t seem to find a damn teacher for this stuff I wanna learn?” Or maybe what I’m trying to learn is so esoteric and specific that there just isn’t gonna be a plethora of teachers to teach it? Or maybe what I’m trying to learn is an elaborate excuse for me to avoid having to train in the first place because then I can say, well, there’s no teacher or school in the area I want to learn from, so therefore I won’t train. Or maybe it’s a faulty notion to believe that things will just fall into place? Maybe, even though it’s authentically aligned, you still have to have some persistence and determination? Maybe it’s wise to consider not giving up?

My Jungian analyst told me during one session that, “When we are moving closer to our center, coincidences become more frequent.” I think Jung calls this “synchronicity”? Certainly, this was the case in Detroit, to quite an extraordinary degree actually. I was meeting people who were connected to me in unexpected but familiar ways. Although, I feel as though these “coincidences” have become less apparent to me as I’ve moved forward in the stream of my journey. Or maybe I’ve gotten so near-sighted by my own fears and anxiety that I miss seeing the synchronicity?

As far as karate is concerned, I feel like I want to learn from somebody dammit! I feel like, okay, study group is there to fill in the void. But what we really need is an experienced guide. I mean, of course we could go get ourselves into fights and learn first-hand the nature of the beast, or at least one aspect of it (and risk being seriously injured, maimed or killed). That sounds crazy, but it can be a reality. Of course, I’m not interested in doing that in the first place – save that for the bad motherfuckers, as in baadasssss. For me, what I’m interested in learning is how our kata translates to that violent reality. I mean, would a BJJ/boxing/MMA/judo student be satisfied with learning a technique without it being shown how it works on another person, both statically and dynamically? I’d think not. So why would I, as a karate student, be satisfied with just learning a sequence of fighting-like movements without understanding what its function is for? That’s not me whining. That’s me pointing out a seriously flawed aspect of modern karate pedagogy! But okay…you’ve heard it all from me before. I know.

Okay! No more questions!

Goodnight!

– QK


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Martial Arts and Masculinity

The way men express themselves in daily life is a topic of interest for me. And particularly how that expression manifests itself in the dojo/gym/etc.

Many times, on the job or in the media, I hear the expression “that’s gay” or “you’re gay”. Oftentimes it’s meant to be humorous and said in a nonchalant sort of way. Then maybe another guy will make another joke based around that theme. And then I sort of shake my head at the idiocy of the banter and grimace.

I think it’s accurate to say I’ve always been a quiet and sensitive child. My mom likes to tell the story of when I was a baby, they thought they had left me at a restaurant because I was so quiet sitting in the backseat, it was like I wasn’t even there (I mean, how could they have known I was simply practicing my ninja skills?). I might have dabbled in sports like the other boys (baseball, basketball, soccer). I even started martial arts briefly as a kid:

karate kid 1

I’m staring directly into your soul.

But my greatest strengths have always lied within “softer” or “internal” expressions, i.e. within the arts. I wasn’t particularly good at or all that interested with sports; I’ll refer to those things as “external” expressions. [Side note: even though an art like dancing could be considered external, I think it has more to do with what’s internal and feminine.] So it makes sense to me why, in my mid-twenties when I started seriously practicing karate, I was always more complimented on my kata rather than my “sparring” (I don’t use the word “kumite” here because, to my mind, that means something else). Kata, without function, is basically dancing. I have no (more) illusions that its performance is about fighting (only if we’re gonna break it down and examine its essence does it become something entirely apart from dancing). I am definitely not saying here that my performance of kata was anything special, it’s just to emphasize that my internal expression was stronger (kata) than my external expression (sparring). Even when I was trying out boxing briefly in Oakland, I remember being complemented on the form of my punches. And yes, I’m probably capable of hitting hard, but inside I know, if I’m being completely honest with myself, that when it comes time to put those punches in action (in a sporting context), I’m just not…interested in that. In four months at the gym, I never spent time sparring in the ring (besides doing body-shots with a partner); never a full-on spar. Much of the time was spent learning hand and footwork, the fundamental punches, and focus-mitt/bag work. The intention was always to eventually build up to go into the ring (to overcome the fear of getting hit). But I just didn’t stay long enough. Plus, because I’m a four-eyed dude, I would have had to buy contact lenses, which I didn’t make enough money for at the time. Yeah, excuses, excuses. Plus, it’s just scary to go toe-to-toe with a boxer. Peyton Quinn is right. But I mean, my intention was to get in there and go at it. I just didn’t like rush it, if you know what I mean.

(pause)

The point of what I was trying to say there was that these “softer”, “internal” pursuits are often what is shoved under the “gay” category. Besides being used homophobically, that term encapsulates for me the denial-rejection of everything feminine within a man. When you’re with a group of insecure men (despite however secure they might try and project themselves as), you fear being singled out or perceived as “gay”. It’s equivalent to being called a “girl”. Which is equivalent to being associated with being “soft” and thus “feminine”. I say “insecure” men because I believe, men are essentially living in a time of great flux with identity, not just gender. The old standards of what was considered to be a “man” are really no longer applicable and relevant in the 21st century (in my passionate opinion). The persona of toughness, not showing one’s feelings, not feeling period, etc. are, in my mind, highly corrosive to a healthy psychic well-being. Men may act as though they feel secure in their masculinity, but deep inside, great things are shifting. In times of such great shifting, I believe fundamentalism and rigidity start to become even more prominent. I think too that the reason for my “social anxiety disorder” which I underwent therapy for back in 2011 is partially the psychic result of feeling so much of this tension and shifting and change (that’s right, I make these claims cause I’m a metaphysical scientist – a metaphysicist).

Perhaps you’ve read by now of the recent shooting in Orlando, FL. A friend just recently sent me this article entitled “Toxic Masculinity and Murder” (which is the inspiration for these thoughts), which I think touches on a lot of the issues that have concerned me in recent years, in particular the mention of the shooter’s belligerent attitude towards homosexuality and his abusive domestic behavior. It also made me pause and reflect on my own toxic words towards a former friend (apparently I had called him a “pussy ass faggot” in a moment of now-forgotten context), as well as my physically abusive actions towards him. Everytime I think back on what I did, I cringe in shame, thinking to myself how entirely possible it would be to equate what I had done as the prototypical behavior behind such murderous rampages like the one seen in Orlando. This may sound disturbing but, I feel as though I am that shooter. That is to say, I feel as though I am in touch with the same psychic stress which caused him to erupt in that way. Carl Jung apparently once said, “Behind the wound lies the genius.” My own wounds as a male, in relation to my father, to society, to other men, have all informed me of what great sadness and tragedy there is in men who have not found initiation into a thriving, vibrant, and generative life. For men here, without individuated elders to guide us in life-giving rights of passage, we are left with the death rituals of suicide or violence.

For me, the practice of martial arts or karate or whatever style you want to call it, is of no use if it is not counterbalanced with an attention towards human spiritual development. This does not mean sitting in zazen posture for 5 or 10 minutes before or after practice; it does not mean entering tournaments and competing so as to gain “confidence” and “self-esteem”; it does not mean endless sweaty repetitions of kata, the function of which is not clearly understood; it does not mean quietly obeying your Sensei/Master/Hanshi/Guru/Professor/etc, because you believe that this constitutes “the Way”. When I use the phrase “human spiritual development” I am mainly referring to the psychological processes by which we can access and thus openly discuss the psychic disturbances which affect our individual and collective lives. For me, an innovative program might be something like: a Client comes into the center seeking or because they have been assigned therapy. The two-phase program consists of individual sessions with a psychotherapist/mindfulness-based instructor/etc, to determine the scope of these disturbances as well as to provide a safe container with which to work through them. The other half of the program is a skills-building course within a physical discipline such as karate. To my mind, this would be something similar to like someone enrolling in a technical/trade school or even like a music college, where they are taught the fundamentals and principles of their particular discipline. In sum, an inner and outer gōngfu (hard work to achieve skill). A modern-day Shaolin Temple.

And again, the emphasis is on men here. Not to say women are themselves not in need of such balance, but the main trouble here, the violence, the abuse, the destruction of our homes and ecosystems is primarily the result of misplaced male energies. I do not currently have on hand any scientifically tracked and researched data to support that claim. All I have is the wound. The wound that lets me know that men today are in great trouble. And we will continue to be, so long as we do not make greater efforts to re-define what masculinity means in the 21st century.

– QK


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Fundamental misconceptions

Fundamental societal-misconception #1:

I WANT/NEED TO BECOME SOMEBODY.

Basic “spiritual revolutionary” life principle #1:

You already are some body

Yes. For as long as you live in relation to other human bodies who love and care about you, your body/being will be recognized as being special or distinct from those other human bodies/beings. So chill. You’re already somebody. Good job. The real mind-fuck to understand here is that there is nobody you need to become except by simply existing and evolving as yourself. The notion that we are somehow starting from nothing and then one day becoming something is fundamentally and spiritually flawed (I believe anyway). Yes, great things do often start from average beginnings (I forgot where I read or heard that). But you know the analogy of the acorn and the oak tree? Every awesome thing the oak tree is, started within the acorn. It’s not to imply it was mapped out and somehow destined to be. The seed, the acorn, must be properly nurtured. It’s environment must be conducive towards its growth. With those things in place, the acorn is allowed to do its thing.

I’m blogging about this because I need to remind myself of it on a daily basis. The job I’m doing isn’t what I want to be doing. The financial situation I have isn’t what I want to have. The living arrangement I have isn’t how I want to be living. The basic position I’m at in life isn’t where I’d like to be. OK. That’s the facts. So then the fundamental question I ask myself is: How do I get from where I am (this unfavorable place), to where it is I want to be (some vague undefined more ideal place)? First of all, where is it that you want to be? I mean, even having the best global positioning system in the world couldn’t help if you didn’t know where you needed or wanted to go. And so it would seem to be my next task then to figure out, okay, what tangible and defined place am I trying to get to?

But see, that’s also the rub here: You can’t make the oak tree grow any faster than its natural evolution. All you can do is nurture that growth. You can’t pull a vision for your life out of thin air. It must be allowed to sprout organically. One of the fundamental problems I see, which is related to that fundamental societal-misconception #1 is that, many people are striving very hard to grow themselves outwardly in some way. Literally, we live in a society of over-production and over-growth. Cancer I’ve read somewhere is a disease of over-growth of cells. We give cows drug injections in order to speed-up their milk production process. Likewise, we push ourselves very hard as human beings to strive to achieve things, i.e. titles, accolades, fame, fortune, etc. But, as the spiritual lesson of the The Alchemist reminds us, what more can you achieve outside of you than the riches that are located within you?

So I know that the position that I am in right now in life isn’t something I can fast-forward. It’s not something I can inject a growth-hormone to and speed-up its development. My task right now it seems is to continue to do the detective work of uncovering the mystery of my soul. Tangibly this means taking note of what draws my attention, getting a handle on the emotional wounds which trigger me, doing things outside my comfort zone in order to create a dialectic (that is to say, putting yourself in a situation antithetical to who you think you are so that you can see how you actually are), etc.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned about life so far. They’re not anything new. Just things I’ve whispered to myself in moments of clarity:

You are bound only by your beliefs (which means your attitude makes a difference). You are not destined to become anything. The path you’re walking is being created each step you take; only later will it make sense why you went the way you did. Who you think you are is not fixed, although what you actually are remains constant. Life must be lived deliberately and consciously, not on autopilot.

elbow SMASHy
– QK


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Evolution and Revolution in the 21st century

So we have been doing this study group thing for the past 3 months now. That’s kind of an accomplishment in my eyes. Considering that I first tried this in Oakland and it lasted about a month, and so three months? Wow, it’s like passing a job probationary period or something. And unlike Oakland, there’s been at least one other person training with me twice a week (for the most part anyway, minus absences due to illness and traveling; but in Oakland it was only once a week). That’s really a success compared to the previous endeavor. And if I go back a little further and think about my time in Detroit and trying out teaching karate for the first time, it’s really kind of amazing that there has been any clear progress at all. I mean like, when I was in Detroit, I was still reeling and trying not to drown from the flood of new karate information I was subjecting myself to (thank you mainly Jesse Enkamp, Patrick McCarthy, Iain Abernethy as they were my doorway into this information). It’s not hard to admit but I mean, I really knew nothing technical about karate at the time except the physical performance of the kata. So four years later I’m like, “Damn. If only I knew then what I know now.” (Yeah, it’s always the same story right?). It makes sense in light of how things develop in nature, like a tree for example; it’s not gonna sprout any faster than how it does. And I’m not trying to imply that what I know now is so amazing or advanced. I’m saying, at least now I can sorta explain to people (and show – that’s crucial) what karate is when they ask me: “So, like, what is karate dude?” You know what I mean? Here I was at the time with this 3rd degree black belt and stuttering without a clear answer. Since then it’s been, fuck this black belt bullshit, I just need to remain a student of this information. Actually, just to be clear, it was never about me wanting to teach this stuff. It was always about, I need to understand what I’m doing more better (that’s right, mo’ better). It starts with me just wanting to continue my practice while away from my dojo; then people get wind of that and they’re like “Hey I wanna learn too.“; and then it’s like, okay let me show you what I’ve learned and let’s do it together. But because at the same time I’m reading this new information, it’s fucking with my head, so I’m like, “Okay, I’m teaching you what I know, but it’s actually very insufficient. But see there’s this other shit I been reading and it’s like ‘Whoa.’ Blowing my mind. And I think that’s actually a more real and truthful karate than what I was taught. But I can’t teach it cause I don’t know how to do it.” And plus like I said it’s like, “Hey, I’m not so much interested in teaching you this stuff as I am in learning it for myself!” But goddammit, okay, I have a foundation, let’s start from there.

Ugh. That was a mouthful of words. Here’s a video:

The first half showcases how we begin our study group sessions. It’s not a fixed-in-stone routine, but we’ve been learning the twelve Tegumi renzoku-geiko developed by Patrick McCarthy (in the video we’re doing number six). Since buying the DVD while in Detroit, I’ve always found them fascinating and useful for beginners like myself because I believe they give a good physical introduction to “what is karate?”, while also providing a good warm-up and impact conditioning. If I look stiff and blocky doing the exercises, that’s because I am. In that session I think it was only our first or second time doing number six and so our flow is stuttery. That’s okay though. We’ll get it. And plus I’m an amateur, sheesh. The second half of the video showcases the third and final part of our sessions. Again, it’s not a fixed-in-stone routine, but we’ve recently been learning the Kata-Based Sparring (KBS) model developed by Iain Abernethy. What you see is me and Anthony playing a KBS game in which, for one minute or so, we both try to gain and maintain control of the neck by being on the inside clinch. At the end of the round, whoever was not able to maintain the inside clinch had to do a hated body-weight exercise for 30 seconds. As you can see, that ended up being me. It’s good to film yourself though because now I see how my tendency to bow my head cost me the round (thanks to study-group member Luca for recording). Anyway, good fun and difficult to get.

That’s another thing that’s been rapidly evolving too is the structure of our practice sessions. It’s at the point now where we’re asking if we should just adopt McCarthy’s Koryu-Uchinadi model for learning rather than trying to collect and streamline information on our own. I think we all agree that staying independent is ideal, but I have always felt a profound need in these last few years for a good teacher to help guide our understanding. It’s one thing to go to a few seminars here and there; quite another to be under the influence of an experienced person’s teaching model. I mean, I had asked Rory Miller if there was some way I could learn from him in a structured way. He told me he doesn’t take students. Which, for what he teaches, makes a lot of sense. But because the main purpose of our study group is to understand how the kata becomes functional, I think a good teacher(s) is essential. I mean, we’re already learning from their DVD’s and books, not like we came up with this stuff on our own (which is why I admire Michael and Aaron over at karateculture.com for being the garage-dojo karate geniuses that they are). And I don’t imagine that just because we adopt a specific teacher’s model it means we will then discard other people’s information. That really wouldn’t make any sense. So we’re still figuring out what to do. I have it in mind to email Jesse Enkamp to get his opinion on this whole structure thing. The other members of the group are open to adopting the Koryu-Uchinadi model. I just wanna learn well. And so how do we do that? Like I said at the beginning, I’m just surprised that there’s been real, tangible progress in these last four years, cause it’s not like I planned it that way. I was just always seeking…searching…watching.

Let me end here with a quote by Muhammad Ali (RIP) that I saw on the wall at King’s Boxing Gym in Oakland where I had the fortune to be a brief student. I think he sums it up well:

“The man [or woman] who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

So hang up that black belt and keep learning.

elbow SMASHit
– QK