The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.


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What kind of work do you want to do in the world?

My usual route home from work takes me past the Pacific Coast Campus of Long Beach City College.

As I was driving home today I noticed two Jehovah’s Witness-type Bible people on the street corner looking over toward the campus. Something felt serious about the way they were looking over there. Like, you know how when something unusual/out-of-the-ordinary happens in public and people sorta stop and stare for a minute? Well, cuing in on that, I too glanced over at the campus just in time to see three cop cars speeding up to the entrance of the school and come to a halt, one already with his door open. I then saw a few other police officers running toward the entrance, guns drawn. Holy fuck. Was this yet another school shooting going down right now?! As I slowly drove past the campus, I saw a small unit of what looked to be SWAT officers going in towards the school. Suddenly, two or three loud bangs went off. My first thought was, Huh, gunshots sound kinda puny from a distance, almost like just loud cap guns or something. And then I thought, Fuck, what if a stray bullet hits me through my open passenger window? Then I noticed some younger looking police-type guys standing guard near the campus driveway behind a traffic barricade. They didn’t seem to be too concerned by what was happening; I think I even saw one of them smiling as he talked to his buddy. WTF? Aren’t you alarmed that there’s a shooting going down right now?! Then I noticed a whole shit load of cop cars and emergency type vehicles congregated towards the back of the campus. Ahhh, it’s some kind of scenario training going on.

Whew. I actually circled back around again to drive past and double check. Yes, it was a training. Thankfully. My God, I thought. That would have been very unsettling had that been a real “active shooter” scenario. It’s one thing to read and hear about these things happening in some other city, state or town you’ve never heard of. Very different when it occurs in the areas you work or live. Goddamn…

Witnessing that today got me really thinking again about the type of work I want to be doing on this planet. When I was younger, around middle-school age or so, I remember thinking I wanted to be a Navy SEAL ( probably because I had been reading one of Richard Marcinko’s books). I can’t remember if  I was actually serious about it; I think it had more to do with wanting to be or look cool. At that time I was also into BB gun wars and paintballing (ahhh, those were the days…), so I probably thought I was a junior commando or something. Haha. As I got older, particularly in my mid to late twenties (I’m 34 now at the time of typing this), still without any real idea of “career”, but sensing this impulse in me that wanted to “help people”, I thought that maybe I should consider being a firefighter or an EMT. By that time I knew I didn’t want to have to carry a gun and possibly shoot people. But I did have, again, this sense of wanting to help people out in times of distress and trouble. To run towards the fire while everyone else was running away.

It wasn’t until I read this book by Dr. Elaine Aron that I became enlightened as to who and why I was the way I was (which I’ve blahged about before here). There’s something to be said for that ancient Greek adage, know thyself. Seeing those police officers today, with guns drawn, running towards the sound of danger like that (albeit simulated), I was like Man, that’s serious work. And I thought, what’s the equivalent of that based upon who I am? That’s not to say I don’t have the capability of being a police officer or firefighter. But again, knowing thyself, I know that I wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of routine or schedule. I wouldn’t feel healthy and alive and fulfilled being on the front lines. I’d more likely be stressed out, stretched thin, angry, irritable, hostile, negative, disgruntled and just plain unpleasant to be around. Kind of like the time*, before I had left for Detroit, when I was doing judo twice a week and maintaining my practice schedule at my Sensei’s dojo 2 or 3 times a week and working 40 hours. That may not be a lot for some people, but that was way too much training for me. I mean, at the time of course, I had little idea about my truer nature and I thought that I needed to be a gung-ho warrior type intent on being a better, more knowledgeable martial artist. Hahaha. *Sigh* What I needed to do was just chill and be okay with not trying to do too many things at once. The point is, there are certain types of people who are able to maintain relative equilibrium with that kind of warrior schedule. I’m not one of them.

*Not even just before Detroit; check out some of my posts from when I was in Seattle.

Consider this quote from Dr. Aron’s book:

Sooner or later everyone encounters stressful life experiences, but HSPs react more to such stimulation. If you see this reaction as part of some basic flaw, you intensify the stress already present in any life crisis. Next come feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness (5).

Not that I don’t have the ability to maintain that schedule. I was doing so, in fact. It’s that I “react more” to the kind of stress that puts on me. I feel more wacked-outta-line (hence the severe disgruntlement bordering on depression and suicide). Added to that, because of my lack of knowledge about myself, I felt that this was some kind of “flaw” in me as Aron says. Some kind of weakness that I needed to push outta my system like a piece of shit in my intestines. Had I been educated about my trait, and felt empowered rather than burdened by it, then perhaps I too would have been better able to weather the storm.

But, as I was saying about “serious work”. What would that be for me? A counselor? A priest? A Buddhist monk? A therapist? A teacher?  It’s like, I’m looking for that same quality of serious like those cops rushing in with guns drawn. Like firefighters racing to the scene of a burning building. Goosebumps serious. You know what I mean? In fact, that’s the quality I was looking to create during my filmmaking days. Not that it was all about being serious. Just that, I wanted to really grab people by the throat with my creative visions. Sadly, this all became too literal, with me destroying my filmmaking friendship exactly because of this inability to maintain equilibrium. But that’s besides the point now…

Back in January I had the fortune of attending one those Monday night meditation + dharma talks with Noah Levine facilitating. That was a profound and inspiring session for me because he used the analogy of the Dharma being like a “fire extinguisher” to put out the fires of greed, hatred and delusion. He referenced this Bad Religion album:

Image result for bad religion suffer

With the young man being on fire, literally. Noah was saying that we are like this, on fire, when we are not “awake”; burning through the world with our greed, hatreds and delusions, creating suffering for ourselves and others. That was pretty synchronicitous though, that he used that analogy. Exactly how I had imagined myself. A spiritual firefighter. How that can manifest itself as a “career” or job of some type, I still don’t have any real clue. I know I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing now for the rest of my life (which is delivery driving). I did have the thought that the equivalent of seriousness to being an actual firefighter or cop would be a teacher, whether a public school teacher or Buddhist teacher, I don’t know. Kind of like my ex-partner who taught middle school. It may not be a position that’s given much credit in our society, but I do think it’s a position that carries weight, at least in my mind. That’s a serious job to me. I’m not saying I’m interested in making this my career. I’m saying that this kind of role is what suits my nature better than being a cop or fireman. But yeah, if I became like an actual teacher of some kind, I’d probably be proud of myself. Happy to have found some kind of useful niche in society. That’s all I’m looking for man. Just some place to fit in and be of service and be appreciated for what I bring to the motherfucking table.

. . .

With that being said, it’s time now for me to…bum bum bum…end this blahg. Really. Not just this post but this entire blog. Like, stop blogging forever. For real this time. haha. Seriously. I’ve found a more suitable platform for myself, I think. Less long form blahblahblahging and more concise to the point. Plus, still a way to keep track of whatever little insights or cool shit I come across. It’s still under construction but you can follow it here. Or not.

A few days ago it was April 1st. Four years ago to that day was when I drove out of Detroit. Which means that this blog, which was created a month or so before leaving is now four years old. Wow. Kind of a trip because, it’s not been that long, but a lotta things been happenin’ in that short space of time. A lot of which you can read about in my post archives. But it’s been feeling right for me to finally lay this thing down. The other platform is more suitable I believe for giving voice to my multi-faceted self. I am most certainly still a quantum karateka, but karate and martial arts really isn’t my core thing. Not quite sure I can put that core thing into words yet, but it has to do with that “seriousness”. With helping people put out their fires. Shit, putting out my own fire! Fuck. I be burnin’ too! I am still going to check back in here every once in a while, in case people wanna comment on stuff that I need to moderate. Otherwise, yeah dude. It’s dead. I’m gone. Moved on.

To all readers past and future, thank you. Really. And to any future offspring who will read these thoughts, this is here for you. Actually no, not really. This is here for me. To remind myself of where I’ve been and where I wanted to go.

So for the last time…ELBOW Smash! And I’ll leave you with a Buddhist blessing I learned from Noah:

May you be happy. May you be at ease. May you be free from suffering.

– QK


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What you been up to dude?

Oh man my body’s all sore.

Note to self: I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to exercise in the morning and then do my group practice in the afternoon. I feel like I’m stretching myself thin. Better to leave my Sundays open just for study group. And if no one can come that day (which is kinda often the case unfortunately), then just go jogging in the evening. It’s okay. Sacrifice not being able to do solo kata/bag work stuff in the morning so that I won’t feel so exhausted for group in the afternoon. I know, I know, it’s not like I’m working out for a long-ass time, and I schedule group practice for only an hour and a half (which isn’t very long really). But hey, I’m not one of those “Hoorah!-muscle-your-way-through-it-gung-ho-impulsive-king-warrior types” alright? I’m a highly sensitive person goddammit! I need rest! I need downtime! I need read-my-books-be-motherfucking-quiet-time!

Hahaha. Oh man, but yeah I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve been so busy since the beginning of the year. I mean, this is the first time I’ve actually been able to just sit down and blahg for this month! That’s because blahging takes me a while too. Like two, sometimes three, sometimes way too many hours! (I know, you’re reading this and you’re like, “Really, this dude took how many hours to fart this shit out his head? Wtf?“). Yeah brah. Sometime it do. Anyway, so yeah, been…occupied. Had study group practice today. That was pretty fun actually. It’s been difficult for me (in my head) to keep going with that sometimes because there are moments when I feel so discouraged that no one is available to train with me. I take it really personally. I’ll start to think they don’t like what I want to practice, or that I’m a sucky-ass facilitator, or that I’m a fake/fraud who’s trying too hard to be a martial artist, or they just don’t find me like-able, whatever. That’s not to say they don’t actually think some of these things, I have no idea. But most times, what’s in my head is just that, in my head. People have lives, they’re busy, they work, their schedules change, their dad’s get hospitalized, they leave their wives. I know. It’s not easy to always get a group together to do the same thing. Or at least, not easy for me. But anyway, I had fun with my training partner Juan today. He’s a former classmate from the old dojo. He still trains with our Sensei, but he’s the type of karate student who’s been asking himself those important life-changing questions like, “What the hell is kata anyway? What do the movements mean?”. My group is really geared towards those types of people. People who have been questioning traditional training methodologies but who haven’t quite given up on the whole thing yet because they sense there’s something more there. They’re right obviously, but information and the right teachers can be really hard to come by, even in the era of Google and YouTube. There’s so much crap out there, how do you know where to look, or what or who is valid or not? It can be pretty overwhelming. I know. I was there. This blahg comes out of that mess. Every so often (when I’m in a positive mood), I’m astonished at how much I’ve matured in my journey outside the dojo. How much more I know, not just about karate, but about how to manage myself as an independent student. It’s not easy man! So many times I’ve wanted to give up and quit (scroll through some of my past blahg posts to read what I’m talkin’ about). It’s funny, you know that whole saying about the “traditional meaning” of a black belt? How a student doesn’t really start their journey until they’ve become one? I don’t know where that comes from exactly (maybe Japanese culture…?) or if it’s just a bunch of processed lunch meat, but I have to say, there’s been some truth to that for me. In the five years since I’ve moved on from my old school, although I’m not training hard-core or anything, it’s almost like, I didn’t really start training until I left. It’s ironic, I know. What I’m trying to say is that, when I first started out as a karate student I was mainly relying on my teacher for hands-on guidance and assistance in training. When I left, I had to figure out how to practice on my own. I started by just doing what had been taught to me. But because of the new information I had been gleaning, what had been taught to me wasn’t quite making sense anymore (an understatement really. Everything I thought I knew about karate was being thrown into question). I had to really ask myself what it was about this art that I was trying to understand. Maybe this is like the Japanese martial concept of mastery known as “shu-ha-ri” (守破離)…protect, detach, transcend? I don’t know. I ain’t tryin’ ta transcend nothin’ man. I ain’t no Bruce Lee. I’m just trying to follow my Bliss within karate. Practice the way that makes sense in light of the information. Or like my mom said to me, I want karate to be “growing, alive, meaningful and relevant” (GAMR) in my life.

Speaking of GAMR, in about 3 weeks I’ll be taking a short trip to the Peaceful Warrior Martial Arts & Healing Center in Scottsdale, AZ for the Ryukyu Martial Arts Friendship Gasshuku 2017. A study group partner had mentioned this last year and when I heard that Ryan Parker was behind it all, I was like “Daaaamn! I gotta go!”. Ryan Parker is someone that I found online during my time in Oakland I think. Much like with Jesse Enkamp, Patrick McCarthy, Kris Wilder and others, I had been inspired by his combative insights into kata. Actually, just reading this now, I think Noah Legel (yet another applied karate “celebrity” I’m excited to meet!) would be considered the main logistical organizer for this gathering. Apparently, it was Ryan Parker who had started a bunch of Facebook groups for like-minded karateka and then Noah Legel was the one who brought them all physically together. There’s gonna be a whole line-up of these people teaching (Chris Denwood…another “celebrity”! Albeit through Skype I think…he lives in England). So yeah, I am hella excited (a bit nervous though, as all social-type gatherings make me nervous, but excited and curious nonetheless). It’s funny cause my Aunt actually lives not too far from this place so I’ll be able to stay with her when I’m there. I am expecting to learn a lot…so much that my brain will pop. Cooool!!! Hoping for some awesome pictures and video and just getting to talk and train with these people…wow. I’m glad I’m only 5 – 6 hours away from Arizona.

Anyways…will definitely be posting something about that!

– QK


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Against the Stream

Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that there is a deep, cavernous space within you. And in the blackness of that depth lies a massive fire-breathing creature (like a dragon of sorts, but not like Smaug from The Hobbit). For the moment it seems to be slumbering, its fearsome face looking almost peaceful.

Now imagine you are sitting in a dimly lit mediation hall. There are many others in this room with you, but in the darkness of that space they seem to be more like shadows; you notice their presence but you don’t feel the weight of their bodies. A teacher sits at the front of this room. Suddenly there is a…

Though it is not a sharp sound, it still cuts across the blackness to reach your ears where it vibrates in the bones and muscle fibers of your body. You get goosebumps.

You close your eyes and are attentive to the teacher’s instructions guiding you through the mediation. It’s strange, but after some time you begin to feel a heightened sense of aliveness in your body. A creeping sense of joy and happiness and positivity and excitement. As you continue to sit there noticing all these sensations in your body, you begin to feel a flood of tears bubbling up to your eyes. Is it sadness? No. Definitely a kind of joy. But a deeper joy. As though you had finally made it, after much struggle and painful effort, to some kind of refuge. And here you are now. And you almost can’t believe it.

Now go back to that deep cavernous space within you. As you continue to sit there in darkness, your eyes closed, the attention on noticing your thoughts, dissolving them in the even, steady pace of your breathing, in and out, in…and out…the slumbering beast begins to stir! It seems to be that the simple act of becoming aware of this space is somehow inducing this creature to awaken. It’s kind of scary, and exciting, and inspiring! But before this goes any further, you hear…

Last night, I went to my first ever group meditation and Dharma talk at a place called Against the Stream. This is a Buddhist meditation center founded by Noah Levine (author of a memoir called Dharma Punx). I was turned on to this place through my father after I had expressed interest in continuing some type of mindfulness practice now that I had “graduated” from 7 months of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy back in December. I was mainly interested in deepening my understanding of the mindfulness skills that DBT uses in order to curb “emotion dysregulation”, as that had provided small bits of joy and consolation in the times I had made conscious efforts to use them.

I’m really glad I went.

I know almost nothing about Buddhism, although some of my relatives could claim to be Buddhists. All I really know (off the top of my head) is that the Buddha was once a part of some aristocracy, a prince of some kind. And at the age of 29, went beyond his privileged walls and happened upon three(?) things which astonished him: sickness, old-age, and death. Needless to say, he was never the same. [Readers: Correct me if I’m wrong!]. Anyway, that’s all I really know. I mean besides him sitting under a tree and meditating of course, I have no other knowledge in my head about either the Buddha or the “religion” that was based upon his insights. I’m as green as a pickle, or whatever the phrase is. So that’s the mindset I took when I went to this Monday night meditation. The evening begins with a guided 30 minute sit they referred to as “Vipassana” aka “insight mediation”. (At first this seemed like an intimidating amount of time before I began. I was like, oh shit, am I gonna last thirty minutes?!) This was followed by an hour-long “Dharma talk”, which, I don’t even know what “Dharma” means….hold on….Google….okay….”natural universal laws/cosmic law and order“….okay. Got it. Sort of. Anyway, the talks are given by a rotating group of teachers, which includes Noah Levine. That night’s talk was given by someone named Dave Smith. I thought he was a pretty funny and gentle guy with some thought-provoking things to say. Two things I remember that stand out are:

“The mind is a terrible master, but a wonderful servant.” (which I forgot if he said he was quoting that from someone or paraphrasing it? It sounds like a cool Zen/Buddhist quote…)

And…

“If you keep showing up for something, eventually it’ll start showing up for you.”

That latter quote hit me in an inspiring way. It was like, yeah, your efforts will have an effect as long as you keep at it. Whatever it is. Don’t give up. He was referring specifically to the meditation and how many, many hours of practice will help to build the “mindfulness muscle” necessary to be “awake” in our daily lives. That was pretty cool because I immediately thought about karate and martial arts working in the same way (or any skill-based physical activity). It’s like, spirituality doesn’t mean some wah-wah-floating-in-the-air-no-touch-KO-Doctor-Strange-CGI-magic-bullshit; it means real, applied practice. Hours and hours of it. Gōngfu. Spiritual gōngfu. When Eckhart Tolle is talking about “alert presence”, he’s not talking about some special Street Fighter powers. He’s talking about clearing away the mind-chatter and fog which we think is “normal” to our daily existence. Meditation is a skill practice which helps us to do this. Why? Well, if the Buddha was concerned with “suffering and the end of suffering”, then maybe you can tell yourself why. Is suicide ideation suffering? Is depression suffering? Is anxiety suffering? You can sure bet the fuck it is. Why do you think I was in therapy in the first place? Why is there a whole market for drugs to treat these things? But I mean, what do I know right? I’m just gettin’ started with all this. But goddammit that’s besides the point. See? Mind-chatter. I wanted to note here too that I was particularly drawn to this place because of its punk aesthetics and this explanation of the organization’s name-sake:

Buddha was a revolutionary. His practice was subversive; his message, seditious. His enlightened point of view went against the norms of his day – in his own words, “against the stream.” (from the back cover of Levine’s book, Against the Stream)

I said to myself, “I am against the stream!” My life up till now has been like that. It speaks to the kinds of people and thinking I admire. Einstein…Jung…Buckminster Fuller…Grace Lee Boggs. People who have discovered things outside their respective boxes and shared that with the world, enlightening us. And if the Buddha was really like that, then I wanna learn more! So from now on, until further notice, I’m gonna be going to these Monday night meditation things. I know it’s only been one time, but I think I’ve found my place. Of course, I’ll never say that I’m officially a part of any organization (or maybe not. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t come across many organizations I like), but you gotta follow what attracts you. You know what I mean?

Okay. Peace.

– QK


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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