The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.


The death of the Oracle and the end of this blog

Greetings my fellow citizens,

Yesterday, October 5th, 2015, the eminent philosopher and activist Grace Lee Boggs died at her home in east Detroit. She was 100 years of age. As you may or may not know, this blog was begun during the last month of my time in Detroit. I considered it a kind of creative expression of my thoughts, much inspired by the literal journey I began there and the new sense of self it had given to me, not only in relation to karate. The graffiti I once saw on a wall there sums it up best: “There is no try in DetrOIT”. In other words, DO IT. Whatever it is…a spiritual journey, pursuing your passions, or starting a blog. Do it. Now. Don’t wait. There’s no time. The world needs you. We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.

And so, with the death of the great Grandmother – the old woman who has seen epochs – the great sage who admonished us with the question, “What time is it on the clock of the world?” – with her passing, comes the passing of this blog. A small pin prick in the vast universe of the internet.

Thank you Grace. For bringing us together. For inspiring me with your ideas. For living long and being brave enough to change with the times…

“Don’t get stuck in old ideas.”

– The Quantum Karateka


10,000 steps

Not sure where I first read this or heard it, but they say it took Thomas Edison nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine attempts before he finally invented that little thing we all take for granted…the light bulb.

I was thinking about that today after coming home from a job interview where I taught “karate” to a mock-class of about twenty kids (6 – 7 years old). To say the least, I think I pretty much bombed the interview. While I generally really like the silliness and playfulness of children, them playing and being silly while you’re supposed to be teaching something just looks like they’re running all over you. But I gave my best effort from what I know how to do, so I’m satisfied with that. It occurred to me afterwards though as I drove back home processing all the little interactions that had happened, that I’m simply making attempts at finding what kind of work fits for me. Perhaps, like Edison, it’ll be another 9,999 times before I find or finally realize what it is that I want to do. And looking at this interview as a “failure” is really just not realistic. There’s nothing “wrong” with what I did. If anything, my way of being and teaching doesn’t fit into the standards and parameters of what this place was looking for (Boy’s & Girl’s Club). That doesn’t mean I’m not good with kids or I’m not good at teaching martial arts or I’m not a good martial artist. It just means my style and what they want didn’t fit. You get me? That’s how this isn’t a failure. Because I didn’t fail at anything. And even if it does mean I’m not actually suited towards teaching, whether of children or otherwise, then great! The more self-knowledge the better. The less bull-shit about yourself the better. I have simply found another way of how not to spark my own light bulb.

I’m not saying that the Demons in me haven’t tried to tear me down, rip me apart and spit on my grave. They’re trying. It’s so easy for me to lapse into this conditioned thinking of, “F—. I’m just a piece of sh– no-good failure at life“. That’s how I’ve thought of myself most of my adolescence and into my adulthood. When and how I began to ingrain this kind of thinking into my system I don’t know. But it sure is a strange concept when you think about how our own minds can be totally not on our side. You’d think we’d have like a built in corner-man or something. Not the case. That’s why I whole-heartedly agree with 9 out of 10 Okinawan karate masters* that the only real enemy is your Ego-mind. The only real defeat suffered is in your mind. The only person who can really hold you down…is yourself.

I’m reminded here again of something Joseph Campbell once said:

Life is a guy trying to play a violin solo in public, while learning the music and his instrument at the same time.

I’m definitely that guy.

– QK

*This is a totally made up statistic but hey, you know. Whatever. Sue me.

The end of an era

June 12th marked the last official day on the job at United For Success Academy as an after-school martial arts instructor. It was just a staff meeting that day. As a way to have some fun, each of the employees was given a “paper plate award” which highlighted some unique achievement or attribute. I got voted, “Most likely to be found with a plate of food in the front of the school” award. It’s true man. Had to take advantage of that free school dinner!

The title of this post refers to something I mentioned to another teacher after we had our end-of-year student showcase where each of the after-school classes did a presentation for parents, students and staff. It truly did feel like the end of an era for me. Not sure why. I was only on the job 3 months. But I can definitely say that this was perhaps THE most challenging (and significant) job I’ve ever taken up. During our end-of-school individual employee evaluations, I was surprised to hear my supervisor ask me if I had any interest in coming back next year. I had thought that the funding for this program was on the verge of being cut because student enrollment in my class had drastically gone down (like to about 3 or 4 kids; ideally should have 15 – 20). What happened is that the funding grant for this and other programs lasts for two years and so next year will be the year where enrollment really counts if martial arts is to continue to be funded as an enrichment program.

But I turned it down.

Something’s not right with me and this setting. Don’t know what it is exactly yet. My main concern was that there were shadow sides coming out of me with these kids that I thought I had some control over. Things mainly to do with anger and aggression. It really takes a “bigger” person (i.e. grounded) to not let insults and physical defiance cut you down. I thought I had a good amount of patience with kids in general but I found myself  snapping at them in ways that I felt could be harmful. I’m not necessarily surprised that these things arose in me, but I don’t like them either, at least not around kids. Kids need a safe and supportive environment as the regular school day and the society around them is toxic already. And perhaps it was the school environment itself that helped to trigger these things?

I’ve given it some considerable thought about whether or not I’m prematurely leaving a job like this. Maybe I’m just too new and inexperienced? Maybe I’m just not seeing that “it’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit” as the poem goes. I think both of those can be true, the first one definitely. But I also know that teaching “martial arts” specifically is also what I’m still having a problem with. That’s not where I’m gifted. It’s something I think is highly beneficial and important and deep and profound, yes. But it’s not where my genius lies.

I believe that education is the key to beloved community and world peace. I believe that even though I’ve never actually experienced this first hand. I believe I still may be involved in the educative process of young people as far as jobs go, but I feel like I would need to discover what my “subject” is. I mean how does one teach “broadening minds, becoming world citizens, perceiving commonalities and thinking outside of the box“? I can intuitively sense that by exploring the door of one subject (like karate) I will be able to open the door of many more subjects. But I think I would need to have creative control over my curriculum and the administrative support behind that. Or start my own thing with some like-minded people.

Not exactly sure what my next steps will be for the summer. Still boxing. Need some income to support that. I will say that I am extremely fortunate to have the parents I have. They have been supporting me since my soul decision two years ago to travel to the Motor City. Without them and without the friends I’ve made along the way, I don’t think I could have survived as well as I have all this time. I am truly grateful. Thank you.

I’ve decided that from now on I’m gonna sign-off on these posts as simply the Quantum Karateka. I think “Hiji Ate” was gettin’ a little too esoteric for me.  And besides, it’s the name of the blog itself that speaks to what I’m really about, so why not sign-off as such?

Don’t think. Feel.

– the Quantum Karateka

A worried, stressful confession

I think I made a mistake with teaching martial arts.

After two months of doing this, I still feel like I’m not connecting well with the students (or some of the staff for that matter). And not really feeling enthusiastic anymore about what I’m doing (especially when, like today, a student in my class mentions to me that another former student of mine has been spreading a rumor that I am a “pervert”). WTF? That can easily become a serious matter. And I’m not even sure what basis she has for this other than to just shame me. I am of the belief that this student, who transferred out of my class after my first month of teaching is trying to “get back at me” for a hurtful comment that I had said in frustration during that time. It was something like, “why are you even in this class?” in response to my inability to get her and others to do some exercise or drill in class. I did try apologizing to her immediately after, but it was too late. Kids can get hurt so deeply and easily. I know. I was a kid once. I remember lots of hurtful things that were said or done to me (and that still affect me). My only interaction with her since then has been a conscious effort to say “hi” every time I see her in order to try and make things friendly. Apparently that has failed. I guess I should have known better not to say “hi” when her response every time has been “Ewww. Don’t talk to me. I don’t know you.” Wow. That’s hurtful. Our world has become so fearful and divided and fractured that small interactions with human beings like this (and kids for that matter) become cause for paranoia (why does that man keep saying hi to me?). For sure there are real perverts out there. Mean and vicious ones. The kind that kidnap and rape and molest and kill. While I can recognize my human shadow and my capacity for brutality, I never thought I’d be accused of it like this. Honestly, it worries me a little. Rumors can get out of hand. And sometimes we’re more inclined to believe our children than we are our adults. But I’m also kinda not worried because I haven’t done anything wrong!!! Jeezus fucking christ. What the fuck is wrong with these kids spreading rumors like that?!?! Don’t they know that’s a serious deal for adults?!?! Oh wait. Sorry. I do know what’s wrong (or at least I have an idea). But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

Don’t get me twisted though; this job has been good exactly because of these challenges. How would I have known what kind of work this is had I not applied for it? I still would be carrying around all these fantastical ideas in my head about teaching karate to young people.

I do have this little feeling in the back of my mind that this idea of thinking I wanted to teach karate to young people, as something I thought I had gained clarity on in Detroit, is in fact FALSE. Something makes me think that it’s not karate that I need to be teaching (if teaching at all). What that thing is I don’t know.

I can tell you this: what Detroit represented for me was a spiritual journey inside myself. This “spiritual” aspect is what has the most draw for me in all of the things I am interested in and plan to do in my life, whether with karate, music, or etc.

Exactly how this spirituality will manifest itself tangibly is yet to be seen. I feel like this whole past year in Oakland has been a difficult time for me. I am lost and I am feeling worried, sad, anxious and unclear about everything. But I still feel hopeful that something will click for me. Something as yet unseen.

UGH. Something is getting serious.

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até

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Mr. Hughes…

Langston that is.

Saw this great quote posted by some of the students at United For Success Academy where I work now here in East Oaktown. They had a bunch of creative displays posted up on the hallway walls in honor of Black History Month. The quote caught my eye mainly because it speaks to how I was feeling about this new job as an after-school “martial arts” instructor and my feelings of inadequacy with it. Whatever the truth may be about where my genius lies, at least I know I must be doing. There is no try.

“An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.”

Langston Hughes

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até