The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.


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Soul Detective (part 1)

I recently unveiled for myself three months of progress on a project called “The Post-It Note Method”. I was inspired to do this after reading this article (thank you Hopper) by a psychotherapist and Zen teacher named Jared Michaels who practices in the Bay Area (who created and coined the term for this method). The basic premise of the project is very simple: For a period of 2 – 6 months, jot down on post-it notes (or any other small sticky paper) anything that brings you positivity, happiness, strength, excitement or inspiration (one note for each thing that brings this; and I recommend you read the article to find out why specifically you do that). Ideally, the intention is to do this on a daily basis so that by the end of that period of time you’ll have a plethora of sticky notes that you can then tack up onto a blank wall and visually discern for yourself where your area(s) of passion lies. Practically speaking, I didn’t experience moments of joy on certain days and/or I forgot to record moments; so over a period of 90 days, I ended up with only 42 sticky notes (which is still a pretty good amount to begin an analysis with). Also, I chose to unveil my progress at three months because I felt that was a good middle number to check on my results and because, serendipitously, the date that I began the project (9/25) would cycle to three months on Christmas day. So it’d be like opening a present to myself!

Tacked up onto my wall before:

purpose-1

Rearranged after:

purpose-2

As the author of the article explains (and as you can see from the “after” photo), you will discover “patterns” that you can then group into “clusters”. I ended up with six of these clusters which I gave temporary names for:

  1. Creativity
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Teaching + learning + education
  4. Drums + music + movement
  5. Building mastery
  6. Purpose + meaning

As you can also see from my list, some of these clusters could very well be part of the same thing (“Drums…” and “Creativity” for example). But my descriptions on each of those notes gave me the sense that there was something distinctive about what I was describing and hence, grouped them separately.

As far as what I discovered: It was kind of an underwhelming feeling after looking through all the notes and grouping them together. Nothing really jumped out at me. Fortunately, I hadn’t made the mistake of building up my expectations too much for this and so I was only mildly disappointed. The first thought that came to me was that I needed to collect more evidence (I’m gonna give it another three more months). I felt that while the evidence I did have was substantial enough to illuminate certain areas, I felt that I didn’t have enough to build a solid case for myself. One very interesting thing I did find was that I was reminded of the joy I had felt in practicing taiko. I had actually stopped taking classes after the end of October to re-group myself but also because I thought maybe I would stop doing it altogether (there was some doubt as to whether it was really for me and whether I fit into that community or not). After reading my description in one particular note, I realized to myself that I needed to continue those lessons! So I promptly signed up for the next 3 month cycle of classes at my school. Another interesting thing I found was the small joys I experienced practicing mindfulness as a result of my experience with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (which I’ve just decided, after 7 months, to transition out of). So I am going to check out some local Zen and/or mindfulness groups in the coming month in order to expand my knowledge of this practice and possibly deepen it. There were two post-it notes that I felt didn’t really fit into any of the clusters. I’m curious to see if these become whole new clusters entirely or if I’ll recognize later the essence of what it’s describing as part of an existing cluster.

I don’t think this method is an exact science like some kind of mathematical equation that yields solid answers. I think it is to be expected that there will be ambiguity and uncertainty about what your notes will be saying to you. I do have the feeling though that with even more solid evidence, the patterns that already do exist will become brighter. And I think for me, this will inspire more confidence in knowing whether or not to continue pursuing any one particular area.

If you’re a fellow soul detective, try this out. It’s kind of like gardening…for the soul.

– QK

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Snoopy the sage

Or more accurately…Charles Schulz the sage.

I was recently given a birthday card envelope which had a Snoopy sticker attached to it. This is what Snoopy said:

Pretty relevant stuff when you’re feeling all distraught about where you are in life and what you’re doing. Reminds me of Eckhart Tolle’s admonition that our “primary” purpose in life (in addition to our “secondary” purpose) is to breathe!

– QK


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Fear of a Robot Planet

While on the job the other day I overheard this piece on local radio station KCRW entitled The vanishing American dream and the moral responsibility of tech companies (which was an episode done by broadcast journalist Madeleine Brand on her show “Press Play”). You’ll have to just listen to the show to get a better sense of what this post is about, but to sum it up: Just as W.E.B. Du Bois famously stated in the opening of his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk that, “…the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line“, I think it’s no stretch to say that, in my opinion, the problem of the 21st century will be the problem of work. Don’t get me wrong now. I ain’t say that we somehow done with racism or any of the other problems in the world today. But what I find very interesting here is the connection to what I remember reading in the book, The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook by James Boggs (husband of Grace Lee Boggs). I can’t imagine Jimmy was the only person to be thinking in this way, but I do think he provides some eloquent insight into the topic which Brand explores on her show. Take note that Jimmy wrote this book over half-a-century ago in 1963. Here’s a quote from Chapter 4:

Many people in the United States are aware that, with automation, enough could be easily produced in this country so that there would be no need for the majority of Americans to work. But the right to live has always been so tied up with the necessity to produce that it is hard for the average person to visualize a workless society. The result is that when people face the perspective of their jobs being eliminated by automation, all they can think of is learning a new trade or a new profession, hoping that in this way they can maintain their right to live.

As long as this country was in the situation that most underdeveloped countries are in today, it was natural to tie together the right to live with the ability to produce. But when a country reaches the stage that this country has now reached, productivity can no longer be the measure of an individual’s right to life. When you travel around this country and see new automated plants springing up in one area after another, it becomes apparent that the era when man had to earn his right to live through work is rapidly drawing to a close. Within a few years, man as a productive force will be as obsolete as the mule.

Talk about being prescient. Goddamn Jimmy! If only you knew how it’s all coming together right now…driver-less cars and trucks, drones, cashier-less grocery stores…if only you knew! It’s mind-blowing. Now, I’m not going to get into all of the implications here because, well, I’m not really that well-versed on the issue. But I do feel very passionately that this question of work in our world today is still stuck in the “…18th-century philosophy that man must earn his living by the sweat of his brow…” as Jimmy says (pg. 49). Politicians and the public are still clamoring for more “jobs, jobs, jobs” and not really thinking very deeply about the changes that are and have already taken place (which is very evident in a place like Detroit). One of the main reasons I went to Detroit in the first place was because I had a sense that this was the future. That my security wasn’t going to be found in making sure I had a career and financial independence, but rather, in taking up the task of re-imagining our understanding of what it will mean to live and work in the 21st century. Now I know that might sound insanely naïve, but yeah dude, the “Call to Adventure” can’t happen if the hero isn’t naïve enough to answer it! I didn’t know that “changing the world” actually meant changing myself, i.e. my psychological orientation to life. I didn’t know that this was less a journey of “politics” than it was about “individuation”, about “spirit” and “soul”. I mean, I knew that I wasn’t going there to be no activist (and no, I’m not dissing activism). But I knew that I wanted to be a part of this “change” that Grace Lee Boggs captured my imagination with. I knew that something profound was happening in our world and I was gonna be damned if I didn’t go out there and participate in the solutions!

Hahaha. But here I am. Back where I started. As it should be I suppose. But what the fuck am I talkin’ about? This post wasn’t supposed to be how I pity myself. Fuck that shit. As the man say, “you cannot afford to pity yourself“. This post was about connecting what James Boggs wrote in 1963 and what Madeleine Brand was just talking about on her show in 2016. The “key question” is, as he says:

What is to be done with the men and women who are being made obsolete by the new stage of production?…Obviously no ordinary solution is possible. This is the social dilemma of our time. (pg. 48)

Damn right it is.

-QK


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I chose go…but then I stayed?

Just got back home from a dojo meeting at my old school. In fact, it was supposed to be that same dojo meeting in which I was supposed to voice my ideas about what I feel is “missing” from the training.

Funny how things turn out. First of all, I had finally made the decision last week or so to move on from my school. I had the feeling that, even if my teacher was open to my ideas, I didn’t really feel like I was a part of this “family” anymore. And so my intention was for me to stop by the dojo this morning before class and hand over the keys. I also thought I could probably get a brief word in with my teacher about the whole situation. Well, I didn’t end up finishing my morning solo practice until it was almost time for their morning classes to start. After hemming and hawing a bit, I thought maybe I should just go drop it off and be done with it. Mind you, I had no intention of wanting to actually go to this meeting after having made my decision. I had already spoken with the owner of the music studio where we hold our study group training and asked if I could practice there alone in the mornings (for a small fee of course). So I was already there and moving on! But then so, I walked in the door and my teacher was on the dojo floor warming up along with a few others. One of the adult students recognized me and waved “hi”. Suddenly I felt awkward. I couldn’t just like leave the keys and walk out forever. That would be too weird. So I sort of signaled to my teacher that I was leaving it on his desk and said unnecessarily, “So…the dojo meeting is at 11:30 right Sensei?” (You know like, feigning friendliness so as to make it seem like everythang was cool). D’oh! What the hell were you thinking dude? Why did you just ask him what time the meeting was to make it seem like you were gonna show up? Now you have to show up dude! D’oh!

So I rushed home to eat breakfast and get my morning chores done. When I got back to the dojo it was ten minutes past 11:30 and everybody was already sitting down against the wall with my teacher addressing them. I bowed quickly and sat down next to one of the older adult black belts whom I hadn’t seen in a while. He stuck out his hand for a shake. Goddamn friendly dojo people. Why do you have to make me feel so welcome? I’m supposed to be ostracized from this place! hahaha. And so I sat there for about 40 minutes or so listening to my teacher talk about dojo business matters, anxiously not-waiting for him to turn to me and say, “James! You have something to say?” But then, what my teacher did was bring up the issue with me indirectly by asking who he had given the dojo keys to. He explained, “See, all I’m asking is that people help me out, assisting kids classes, teaching while I’m gone, etc. Then I can feel more comfortable handing out the keys because they’ve helped me”. Then he looked directly at me and said, “That’s the issue with us, see.” I listened and nodded very calmly. Suddenly, I had a change-of-thought: What if I did help him for at least one of the weekday kids classes? That would mean I could maybe get the keys back and then I would still be able to use the makiwara! Cause that’s honestly been one of the things I was lamenting by moving on was that I wouldn’t be able to punch the makiwara anymore (I know, selfish karate thoughts).

So right now my plan is that, starting January, I will commit to “helping out” either on a Tuesday or a Thursday. I’m not able to do this now because of my therapy schedule and the fact that I go to my karate class in Santa Monica on Tuesday evenings (both of which will come to an end before Christmas). I think this is doable for me and that it will be different than just being another student there training. Plus, it will help me to get out of my shell every week and put on my gi and black belt and act like I know what I’m doing. And plus, I mean, it’s a place where most everybody knows my name, you know? I’ve been with this “family” for over 9 years now. You’re bound to make bonds with people over that many years, even if those bonds are sometimes tenuous or volatile. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll change my mind again. But right now, surprisingly that’s what makes the most sense to me. Why not help out? If that means that I’ll still be able to access the dojo, then that’s all I care about really. My teacher wants to make it this deal where, if you help him out, he’ll reduce your belt testing fee. I don’t care about that shit man. I’m not in here to get ranked anymore. I mean, you know how I feel about the practice of awarding belts in a system that no longer utilizes functional two-person drilling to develop real skill and mastery. I don’t wanna be no black belt for mastering air punching! That’s why I’ve had such a hang-up with mine…I’ve felt so damn fake all these years. But okay, save that for the next post.

Anyway, like I said, funny how things turn out. But it does seem like this is a wise choice, regardless if it doesn’t turn out well. We’ll see…

– QK