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


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Essay by Greg Leisure: Part 3 (of 11)

The following essay was written by Greg Leisure, a reader of this blog and a fellow karate student from Okinawa, Japan. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are presented here in order to provoke intelligent thought and discussion. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Quantum Karateka. Readers should be thinking for themselves and asking questions.  – – Enjoy!

3. The Anatomy of a Fight

“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

“Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune. ”
― C.G. Jung

Kumite training should begin with acting just as a real fight may: a sudden attack or escalation.

There should be shouting and shoving by the attacker, getting into each other’s personal space, right into their face. It should be intimidating. It should be as scary as possible. Remember, the goal is to train for a situation becoming violent, and usually violent situations begin with loud and rude threats. There is fear. This is the street, or bar, or park. This is real life. It is not the dojo where everyone is polite, having good manners and a calm heart beat and steady pulse rate.

If martial arts dojo are preparing students for self defense, then it is crucial that the whole anatomy of a violent situation be examined and experienced in training in order to prepare for it, not only the physical aspect, but the psychological and body’s chemical reactions as well. Because, the mind and the body’s dump of adrenaline will affect one’s ability to respond.

I do not believe that kata training only is enough preparation to handle the effects of adrenaline for most people. I just do not believe that a lifetime of karate and kata training can erase millions of years of evolution and its creation of fear. It’s not humble to insist that kata training alone can overcome millions of years of evolution. People may need to defend themselves before a lifetime of karate study and do not have such luxury to wipe fear from their mind. They must accept and deal with it when attacked. Self defense training must accept this truthful situation and provide training to prepare for it. All victims of attacks do not have twenty years or more of training to keep a calm mind, as it is said kata training is a part of achieving, but may need the ability to respond with only a short amount of karate training experience. It is irresponsible of a dojo to not address this need of their students and acknowledge the physiological effects of an attack that they could experience. They should prepare for that through training that tries to replicate those physiological effects in the students.

Doesn’t a medical student study the anatomy of the human body so that they are prepared to treat it? So why should a martial artist believe one may study just kata, just waza, just body mechanics, just kumite? The anatomy of a fight is more complex and deserving of extensive study than just one or two aspects of the previous points mentioned. The whole body of a fight extends from the meet, the escalation, the first strike, follow-up strikes, the ground, the end, to total disengagement. Each one needs to be examined and practiced as if one were a medical student intent on becoming a doctor.

Furthermore, in real life it is quite probable that one could be attacked by two or more people. Even though kata training visualizes multiple attackers in order to teach techniques, it is not a realistic substitute for kumite against multiple fighters. Fighting one and more than one fighter should be trained in kumite. In kata, as mentioned before, there is already pre-knowledge on what direction the attacker is coming from, and success is already known. So of course, in such a training style it is easy for one to keep a calm mind. But that is a delusion if one thinks it is guaranteed to be transferred to a real fight.

In a real fight no one denies that attackers will be coming from different directions and moving in unexpected ways and really trying to win. Unlike kata, one will not know when and how they will attack, so one cannot expect anything. It is chaos! And kumite training should try to recreate such scenes.

Kata training is like studying our galaxy, its stars and its planets. It simply is not enough. Around our galaxy exists the universe, a much larger field of study. A fight and everything it can include surrounds kata like the universe surrounds our galaxy. Isn’t there more knowledge in studying a larger, more inclusive system and its parts, than just studying a smaller, exclusive part? Which student will most likely have a wider range of knowledge and abilities?

Finally, as martial artists we must accept that violence from the beginning to the end has no specific style or form. As said above, it is chaos, or it soon will be chaos, or parts of it will be so. And, therefore, the defender must accept that they may not be able to control the flow of the fight and its form. While a person who has trained in karate may prefer to stand at a distance in order to utilize strikes, there is a good chance the fight could go to the ground. What then?

If the karate student has not developed any ground fighting ability through his or her training, then there is a good chance that all the many hours they have devoted to martial arts will be a huge waste. They may soon be folded up like an origami paper crane. Is a karate student a piece of paper who is perhaps waiting to become an origami crane?

Fighting without any ground training could make someone feel like a fish on land. Or perhaps a more fearful image is that the ground is water, and scary things exist in the seas.

“I am a Shark. The ground is an ocean. Most people don’t know how to swim”
— Rickson Gracie

Do you know how to swim? What if after having fallen or been thrown into the ocean you do meet a shark? What are the possibilities of you being eaten?

End of Part 3

Reflections on a play-date

The best way I can think of to describe Rory is like a friendly wolf.

And rolling around with him on the mat is like grappling with a boa constrictor.

Lots of new little things learned tonight at the Rory Miller play-date, the last day of his weekend long seminar. Again, I am reminded of the seriousness of what we are playing with, but also the extreme fun factor. Grappling is hecka fun man! I have little clue on what to do when I am rolling around but something about trying not to let yourself get choked or locked out is seriously fun for me. Invigorating. Adrenalizing. I was all grins after.

What makes Rory a good…great teacher for me is that he allows you to learn for yourself. He sets up the format, the exercises, etc. in order to give context, but he doesn’t hold the “right” answers, nor does he pretend to; merely solutions that he’s had personal experience coming up with and that have worked for him. He is very much a facilitator in the way that some people only pretend to be. Rory is the native guide and we are the intrepid explorers (his words).

Three great things to note here that I learned tonight (not necessarily new, but a great reminder from the last time I took his weekend seminar):

Everything about self-defense has to do with violating social taboos. Hitting someone, being rude to them when they cross your personal boundary, potentially hurting their body or their feelings or both, etc. All those things are what my mother told me NOT to do. It’s what we teach our kids not to do, at home and in the classroom. Ingrain it in them. Condition it by way of punishment, expulsions, detention. So yeah while Chojun Miyagi sensei’s maxim, “Do not strike others, do not get struck” still stands, there are those people out there who aren’t interested in being civil. Who aren’t interested in being considerate, kind, well-meaning, well-intentioned, polite, sensitive, etc. A Predator doesn’t care how nice your mother raised you to be. They think like a hunter. You are their prey. You are sub-human to them. Can you hit them? Hard? Full force? In order to incapacitate them? Stop them from assaulting you?

Social experiment: walk up to a complete stranger and say “you’re stupid and ugly”, then walk off. Rory said, if you can do that, he’s not worried about you being able to defend yourself in a surviving violence situation. What he’s saying is, if you can practice being able to veer off the social script, then you have a better chance of not getting caught up in a Predator’s trap (the “interview”). Like the above point about violating social taboos, a lot of this is psychological more than it is having some kind of elite physical fighting skill. As Rory also said before, “there is more skill in talking someone down than there is in fighting”. What if that was the norm for MA training? What if your Sensei sent you out on assignment to do just that? What if MA class was half like psychological lecture/discussion and then half training? Then of course, why do I have to have a Sensei tell me to do something? Why can’t I think and learn for myself? Better yet, what if MA training was like 1/3 acting class, 1/3 con-comm, 1/3 physical training? That acting part is really the one that gives me the greatest anxiety. But I act like I was never a kid once, acting out all kinds of silly characters. I’m learning that self-defense also means how quickly you can transmogrify into someone completely unlike your everyday (fake) self. How often do we practice that in the dojo? It seems like the only acting going on is old men wishing they were 25 again.

I don’t want you guys fighting, I want you hunting. Like I said above, Rory is a wolf. He’s a friendly wolf, but he’s a wolf. Nice, well-meaning people who’ve never gotten into a fight in their life can learn something from a wolf. But I think too, it’s really just about simply acknowledging that we all have this Predator capacity within ourselves. We just act like we don’t have an amygdala. That to me is really the gist behind Kisshu Fushin (鬼手佛心 – Demon’s hand, Saint’s heart).

Thank you Rory.

Rory Miller seminar 1

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até

Not a fighter

I just got home from a “play date” with Rory Miller.

He’s back in town again doing his thing. I’ve decided not to go to his all-weekend training this time only because one, my funds are tight and two, I just went through his course back in October and so I don’t feel I need a refresher just yet. But he’s coming back in the fall so I’ll plan to do it again then. What happened tonight is what he calls “play dates” because literally that’s what we do. Someone has a question about something (“How do I escape from being pinned against a wall?” or “How do I block a knife attack?”) and then we partner up and make it live. Really fun to do and always I feel like I’m learning something useful. Which makes me think of a great point Rory highlighted tonight (another Rory-ism):

We teach what’s easy to teach, not what’s useful.

He was referring to martial arts schools and the tendency to focus on things mostly UN-related to how actual violence occurs and what skills I might need in a criminal assault encounter. Really good point to consider for MA students and instructors alike.

Anyway, so I was just processing what happened tonight and I’ve got this inkling inside me that feels true because it feels honest.

I am not a fighter.

Not that I had any feeling that I should be, or wanted to be. But I was trying to figure out why I felt a bit “out of place” tonight. Definitely not because of the people there. It had more to do with a sense that, this isn’t where I feel at home; these people are not my “tribe”. What Rory represents to me is real fighting. What he is teaching is vital particularly for people who have never been in a real fight but who are students in the fighting arts. For those people, Rory is one big really great (and rare) reality check. But Rory is a fighter. That is the language he speaks and intimately understands.  I am not a fighter. I am appalled by violence and scared of it. Part of the reason I wanted to take up MA training is to overcome my fear of violence. Overcome my fear of aggression and bullying. I would much rather do my quiet little creative projects than participate in any sparring contests. If there’s any “fighting skill” in me that I would like to develop, it has to do more with what Rory is teaching rather than what most MA teach, that is, surviving violence (and conflict communications). That has more to do with acknowledging and accepting the lizard brain parts of ourselves; the war-like parts; the aggressive, evil, brutal parts. This is animalistic to me. Primitive. Predatory. I personally think of Okinawan karate (and perhaps most MA) coming from that inner-animal place. Why I like MA though is because it has the potential to be holistic. Like, not only is it ideally this “surviving violence-fighting” part, but it is also connected to fitness and a spiritual philosophy that respects life (karate ni sente nashi).

So, while I may be a student of the fighting arts, my interest has really nothing to do with fighting and whole lot more to do with, how do you develop real self-confidence and self-esteem in a person so that they can overcome fear, the same fear that drives most human violence in the world and is the main stumbling block towards world peace…? How do we develop what Margaret Wheatley calls, “warriors for the human spirit”? That is what I’m really freakin’ interested in. That’s why I thought teaching MA to kids would be a great thing, cause that’s a great age to develop this.

Hmmm. If I’m honest, I recognize that there’s a lot of work I still need to do with myself before I can have more clarity about how to develop this capacity in others. Actually, I’m not too concerned about teaching this to others as I am in wanting to teach this to myself first. If I cannot embody that capacity, who the hell would I be helping?

Looking forward to another play date on Monday night.

Elbow SMASH!
– Hiji Até

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