The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.

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Whew. I’m tired.

Haven’t really had the time to reflect like I’ve wanted in the past few weeks. Just started this new job and my body and mind are still getting adjusted to everything.

Or at least that’s what I think. I don’t know. I’ve had some really strange and vivid dreams lately. On the one hand I feel like I’ve been subtly changing. On the other hand I feel like I’m day-tripping through déjà vu of some sort. “I’ve been here before? I’ve done this before? I’ve met this person before?”

Or maybe I’m just trippin’ period.

Anyways, so I’ve been taking these karate classes at Santa Monica College, which is a local community college here in Los Angeles. It’s actually a course that’s offered to students there under the subject heading “Kinesiology Physical Education”. The course is taught by Sensei Garen Baghdasarian and is affiliated with the Zentokukai, an organization I only know about because I’ve been a One Minute Bunkai fan of Angel Lemus since my time in Detroit. In fact, that’s why I even signed up for the class in the first place. After conducting some online research this past summer I came across Sensei Garen (who was a student of Lemus sensei) listed on the Zentokukai website and immediately called to find out how I could check out his classes. This has actually required me to enroll as a community college student again, which was a somewhat frustrating yet, nostalgic process.

So far so good. Sensei Garen seems to be a fairly open-minded guy. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at the number of people who’ve not only signed up for class but who’ve so far kept showing up (okay, I mean, it has only been 3 weeks since the semester started). I think the attendance has been like 20+ people? It’s really the most people I’ve seen in any martial arts class, let alone karate. I mean, who does karate anymore these days? That’s like an old-fashioned martial art. haha

My criticisms aren’t really anything new or profound but I’ll still list them here: I get the feeling that Sensei Garen is like a branch manager of a franchise. For warm-ups we follow an official Zentokukai routine that he’s printed out on poster board. And most of the things we’ve covered so far is really that whole “repetition of parts” stuff that I have a hard time not rolling my eyes at. Dude, we have to actually hit stuff to get a feel for what we’re doing. If we don’t hit stuff, feel it, it’s all gonna be theory/fantasy. Punching and kicking the air to get warmed-up is great exercise. Punching and kicking air to know how to punch and kick a human body is two separate things. Modern karate education is just such in need of a major re-structuring of its pedagogy. Is your goal to produce functional students? Or is your goal to gather followers? Like I mentioned, Sensei Garen does seem to be open-minded and I think at some point I’m going to bring up these concerns with him. I think it may be possible to have an advanced class within the beginner class for the students who already have martial arts/karate experience. I can see that happening.

The other reason I’ve signed up for these classes was the hope that I’d find a more accepting karate community to be a part of. I haven’t gone back to my dojo to speak with my teacher since he took my study group flyer down. That was what, April? May? I just feel so discouraged in that type of environment. It feels very stifling and power-trippy and cultish and…stale. Gotta keep it fresh man. Otherwise that shit gonna stank! I mean, I somewhat miss being a part of my old dojo, but it’s more nostalgia than anything else. I’ve really grown and changed my thinking about my training. For the most part, I’ve taken it into my own hands, defined what I’ve wanted out of it, and sought out books, videos, teachers and found training partners that could help me to get there. And I’m not there yet. Not sure that I’ll ever be. But I know that if I were to be a part of my old dojo again, it’d have to be on my terms. I can’t abide by the master’s rules anymore. The funny thing I’ve realized though is that I’m actually not interested in being a follower of anyone’s organization. I don’t mind learning from instructors and following their routines, that’s different. I’m talking about the importance of becoming artists, not automatons; the need to develop individual skill and proficiency with what we spend our time doing, not obedience. There are also several really great instructors of practical karate out there. Why am I only gonna learn from one? And that’s just within the karate world. What about things I’ve learned from Rory Miller and others? How can you not heed the insights of people who’ve actually experienced shit for real?

Right now I’m actually a dues paying member (only about 7 bucks/month) of Patrick McCarthy’s International Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Research Society (IRKRS). I know, you’re like “This hypocrite…”. But hey I thought maybe I’d try out being a part of something more “progressive”. Yeah. Honestly it’s kinda whatever. Their website is somewhat outdated and most of the stuff available to members is…not all that great. What’d really be great is to learn from McCarthy or one of his students directly. That would be a trip. I love the Koryu Uchinadi stuff. And we’ve learned almost all of his Tegumi-renzoku geiko in my study group. But hey, at least he sends you a cool patch for your gi:


That’s the other thing…the study group. I stopped group practices around the middle of July. Things were looking a bit negative and I was stressed out not knowing if I’d get this current job or not. Having to hold practices every week, although it was only once or twice, was actually becoming a burden for me. I felt hemmed in by my own schedule. It wasn’t until I took the first class of the semester with Sensei Garen that I became re-inspired to continue our efforts. He had us doing some two-person exercises that got me thinking, “You know, it’s really important that I keep doing what we were doing in the study group because it was familiarizing ourselves with this kinda stuff and I feel more knowledgeable/confident doing this because of our practices.” But I didn’t want to feel stressed out like before so I decided why not hold practices only twice a month? It’s not much, but with everything else I do, it won’t feel like I’m trying to cram everything in every week. So that’s what we started back up again. We just had a practice this past Friday – reviewed some groundwork fundamentals. It was fun. And sweaty. It’s possible that I might get a couple more folks interested in our study group from Sensei Garen’s class. Having more people means I don’t have to keep relying on the same three guys to be available every time. Plus, different body types makes things more interesting. We’ll see. I’m kinda just having fun participating in class and helping others comprehend the two-person exercises he has us do. It’s really enjoyable to see such a large group and what seems like a pretty even mix of females and males.

As far as everything else in my life, I’m not sure where things are at right now (am I ever?). It’s going to be one year since I left Oakland and moved back in with the folks (on the 25th). I’ve definitely been doing some different things; taiko lessons for one…this study group…therapy…etc. I do wonder though if I’m actually moving towards something in my life or just stagnating out of fear. I don’t wanna stagnate. Stagnation is stinky. Well, whatever is going on, I hope things work out. Here’s a great quote from the Einstein biography I’m reading, attributed to the man himself:

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”

– Hiji Até

Rolling Juan over my shoulder.

Bridging and rolling Juan over my shoulder; GHC Session #29