The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.


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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


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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

So things are finally coming to a head here at my old dojo. I was just about to wrap-up my usual solo practice routine this past Saturday morning when my Sensei came in through the door, a little earlier than usual to get ready for his 9:30 am class. *cringe*

Some context: For the past few months I have been using his dojo for my own personal training during the times when classes are not in session and when I’ll be least likely to run into either him or the other students. This is actually a privilege for any of the black/brown belt students who he has given the dojo keys to. When I came back home last year and I stopped back into the dojo for the first time, one of the first things my Sensei did was hand me those keys. So it’s nothing new or special and I was just taking him up on that opportunity to use the dojo during those off-hours. At least, that’s how I saw it.

Back to that Saturday morning: Almost immediately after I gave my best fake-cheerful “Good morning”, he began questioning me about why I hadn’t shown up to any of the dojo meetings, why I hadn’t helped with the tournaments or classes, etc. I braced myself; used some of the mindfulness skills I’ve been learning in therapy. “Oh no. Here we go.” I thought. Not the way I had envisioned starting my day. I didn’t really say much in response. Just mostly listened to him talk about how he thought maybe he’s being too nice with me and here I am using up resources at the dojo (like water and electricity I guess. Which I don’t really use a lot of, but okay, I get his point. He pays rent on the place, how am I contributing back?). And how “weird” (his word) it is for me not to be involved with the dojo “family” (his word again). Family. That’s really what it’s kinda like isn’t it? When you get involved with a regular group of people who do the same thing. But like within any family, there’s gonna be dissension. The kids are gonna grow up and they’re gonna wanna move their own way. Right? And depending on how tolerant the parents are, they can be accepting of this inevitable fact or rail against it (or disown them). Anyway, so I just mostly listened to him talk about these things, doing my best not to capsize in the ocean of emotions that surged and swelled within me. The only really significant point I made which I didn’t really elaborate on or articulate more clearly was when I told him that I felt there were things “missing” from the training. And that I was simply interested in pursuing a type of practice that searched after and included those “missing” elements. Judging by the hot mess of words that tumbled forth out of this man’s mouth, I’m sure he took that to mean I was accusing him of not knowing how to train his students.

The conversation had to end abruptly because students were starting to come in for the morning class, and so I was sort of left with an ultimatum put forth by him: either come to the next dojo meeting in two weeks and present to the other black belts why I believe my ideas for training should be considered (and prove it somehow) OR return the keys to the dojo and go train somewhere else. The thing is, my teacher doesn’t actually believe I’ll be able to prove to him anything other than what he already believes. That’s not to say he wouldn’t be open to considering other ideas. But my sense, and this is judging by the tone of his comments, is that he does not feel I know what it’s really like to run a dojo as a business (among other things). And he’s right of course. I have zero experience with that. But I do believe that a dojo business can be run with an open mind towards new ideas and new ways of training. My core fundamental concern though is not about whether my ideas will be financially lucrative, but whether or not they will help to keep the art I practice (as do thousands?, millions? of others) “growing, alive, meaningful and relevant”. However, I can see the dialectic here: It takes money to keep a school operating in the public sphere. And I was obviously able to learn karate for myself this way. I get it dude. You need to keep the lights on. But look, I’m not asking you to abandon everything you’ve worked hard to build. I’m simply asking that for the adult students (kids are a bit of a different story), if we could conduct our training so that we can be exposed to relevant information which will help us to clearly figure out the combative meaning, significance and consequence of our art. And why not? Why would you not allow for this flow of information? Is it because you’re the final authority?

*sigh*

So I’m feeling worried about the decision I have to make. (Okay, actually I’m feeling really fuckin’ mad and worried. What the fuck is up with this dude? Why does he keep consistently and belligerantly putting me down? WTF man? What kind of teacher are you? Ugh! My analysis is that he’s feeling threatened and he’s talking tough out of fear. Fear of losing control). Should I just return those keys now and go train solo somewhere else? Certainly I have that option, I think. The place where we conduct the study group is probably open to that happening (for a small fee at least). I’m really not interested in practicing at any parks again like I did in Detroit and Oakland. That’s only a last resort thing. Worse comes to worse, I’ll be on the concrete floor of my parent’s garage (which I can make work). If I do make the decision to articulate my thoughts, I am going to have to write up my talking points clearly and make it a succinct presentation. I believe this is possible to do. However, I do feel that I am under-qualified/under-skilled to be making these points. The best I can do is speak from my heart about why I feel those “missing” elements in our training are so goddamn important. I’m leaning towards this decision mainly because it’s time I break my silence on the whole matter. Shit has to come out in the open. I mean, we did just elect Donald Trump for President of the United States. Wow. Let the uncomfortable truth be known, if you get what I’m sayin’. My next step would be to consult with my therapist about this matter and come up with some mindfulness strategies for dealing with potential emotional dysregulation as a result of either being rejected or ignored for what I have to say.

Whatever happens, I’m ready for it I think. I mean look, the things I have to present, they’re not new or original, I know that. They’ve been discussed and talked about and practiced by people way more qualified/talented/skilled than me. I’m just an amateur messenger of sorts (a deeply reflective one that is). I have no evil plot to replace my Sensei as head of the dojo. I don’t care about things like that. If anything, I’d like to be a part of the team of instructors that keeps the school thriving long after he’s gone. Ultimately, I just wanna share what I’ve learned. I want to add to and broaden the knowledge base of the students. In this way I think practice can feel more fun and alive and truthful, rather than the monotonous “tradition” and fantasy that I have felt it to be.

But hey, karate or no karate…life goes on dude.

– QK


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All the way down (first)

“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”

– Molière

Saw that quote on one of those large desk calendars in the office where I work. Funny how you come across things that speak to your soul in the most unlikely of places. Perhaps it’s not that soul doesn’t exist on the job, but rather, it’s just dormant? I obviously liken myself to those trees. I feel akin to them. Who am I? What am I to do? What do I have to contribute? There is a lot in me that feels as though it’s bursting forth at times. But the buds on the branches, they don’t seem to bloom very well. What’s wrong with me? Am I stupid? Am I lacking insight? Intelligence? Maybe I just don’t have “it”?

It would seem to me, without having any knowledge of horticulture, that without solid roots, a plant or a tree cannot grow upwards. The idea of “success” in this culture is to grow early and to grow fast. That is to say, if you’ve not figured it out by a certain age, then somehow you’re a failure. The “social ladder” implies obviously an upward climbing to some desired goal. We go to institutions of “higher learning” for which we pay lots of money for paper degrees that allow us access to “higher paying” jobs (that is, until you get laid off). Success is “all the way up“. And that’s so seductive isn’t it? Sexy ass beat. Strong delivery. You go to the top. You conquer. You become the dominator. You were kept down, so now you’re gonna go up. But all the way up is so high, I know it hurts that much more when you fall. Bam. Splat. There goes your ego. I don’t think the modern human, without the benefit of ritual to help guide the psychological rites of passage that are necessary to become more fully human and a responsible holder of power, can continue to keep going like this without either breaking down or becoming a True Believer.

I feel that this is what’s happened to me, this growing down. Or at least, that’s what I suspect is happening. You’re deceived in a way to answer the call to adventure. You think, “oh wow. I’m going to the Promised Land!” And then you realize it’s kind of a slow descent into some underworld. You disappear for a time in the whale. You’re nobody. Nothing. People don’t look at you cause you’re not even there. After a while, walking this road of trials, you start to realize that this is what it’s about, this walking. This path that you’re forging. You glean new insights into yourself. Little things that help to strengthen the new emerging identity. You’re still not sure of a lot of things, but you’re better at accepting your lot in life. Not that you’re resigned to it. Not that you’re gonna settle for it and that’s that. No. You’re better at accepting the fact that you cannot grow tall if you have not first grown down. You want power? You want to hold power? You want to wield real power? Or, I think the Qur’an says it best actually (as quoted by Joseph Campbell in his famous text):

“…do you think that you could enter paradise without having suffered like those [believers] who passed away before you?”

Nah bitch. Get back in line. This ain’t no fuckin’ handout. Lest you wanna end up like them Nazi’s in the first Indiana Jones film. Go right ahead then. Open that ark…

Image result for indiana jones raiders of the lost ark

Look man. I’m not saying I know what it’s all about. I’m just sayin’ that I think we got our priorities all mixed up. And it’s causing a hellaofalot of unnecessary stressin’. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with making a lot of money and going to college or whatever like that. But if it’s coming at the expense of the Planet, at the expense of destroying our environment, at the expense of human life, then I think we got some serious thinking to do here.

– QK


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A stream of consciousness

I can’t believe it’s been a year since Grace died. A year and 17 days to be exact. It still sorta feels like it was recent. Like, Really? A whole year has passed since then? Wtf? Still reading the Einstein biography. There is no absolute time. No “God’s clock”. The metric of time is an illusion. Helpful yes, for meetings and business and such things. But one year ago, one day ago…what does that look like on the clock of the universe? A blip. A flash. Poof. Gone. We’re here but for a moment. All we ever have is right NOW.

I’ve been so engaged with the schedule I now have that I haven’t had the “time” to sit down and blog. “Accumulating positives” my therapists call it. This is my pleasurable moment of the day. It’s Friday. I’m clean and showered and off from a hard day’s work. I’m grateful for this moment. Typing these words. It’s been really hot the past couple days. Wonderful Southern California fall weather. Yeah right. I can’t say I miss Detroit snow or Seattle rain though, so….again, I’m grateful.

Today and yesterday I was listening again to Eckhart Tolle’s CD “Finding Your Life’s Purpose”. Primary purpose: Am I still breathing? Good. Secondary Purpose….I don’t remember him actually touching on that secondary purpose actually. I wonder if secondary purpose has anything to do with the work we do; the jobs we have? But yeah I like how his talk is counter-intuitive: Great! We get to find out how to discover our life’s purpose! What? Am I breathing? Of course I’m breathing. Wtf? You mean my purpose is to be here now, in this moment? That’s my purpose? No! I don’t wanna be sitting here. I wanna be somewhere else doing my purpose! You don’t surely mean to imply that my purpose is simply to exist do you? To be alive? What???

I’ve also been reading Studs Terkel’s Working. A really great collection of individual voices of people talking about what they do for work. Thought I might find some inspiration/insight into my own search for meaningful work. The book opens with a great interview with a steel mill worker by the name of Mike LeFevre. His frustrations and musings are so palpable and contemporary for me (the book was published in 1972 mind you), it makes me want to scream in exasperation every time I hear a presidential candidate talk about “Jobs, jobs, jobs”. Dude. Let’s talk about what James Boggs’ said already: A job ain’t the answer. Why? Because jobs are not sustainable. Why are we the only species on the planet standing in welfare lines? Have you ever seen a bird standing in a free worm line? Obviously, what we’ve conceived of as “work”, for the most part, isn’t actually work. It’s mindlessness. Mindlessness geared towards accumulating money/property/wealth/material goods/etc. Towards the accumulation of shiny things. This is nothing new here, I know. We have a materialistic society. We value things. Not people. Not our environments. Not the sky, land, or sea which allows us to exist. We value things. What? Mindlessness. Are you breathing? Yes. I am alive. All we ever have is right now. Neither past nor future exist. They are conceptions. There is really a portal into revolutionary solutions there. Into the Now. Our present moment. Alert presence. When you are in this state, you are slower, more careful, more deliberate. You stop often. You notice just how much is going on around you, where before it was just autopilot, a blur, background noise, static. It’s funny: around my area here you’ll see people standing out on street corners, dressed in their Sunday best, with bibles to give out, waiting to give you the “good news”. What if you had a guy/gal sitting at a table there, on a street corner with a banner or sign that read: “STOP. BREATHE. REFLECT.” haha. That’s it. No political or religious or other organizational motivations. Just a reminder to be more fully human. Question: What is the opposite of a terrorist? A terrorist brings death and destruction as a means to understanding God. This is insane and twisted. What is someone who brings awe and wonder and a sense of aliveness? I think that is the revolutionary task of the artist.

– QK