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 10 (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!

10. It Has to be Dynamic

“Variety is the condition of harmony.”
– Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) British historian and essayist.

“Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure.”
– Petrarch

All dojo have different kinds of students. There are kids, teenagers, young adults and those of middle-age. Some are older or have disabilities. No student should be pressured or forced to do kumite, but there should be encouragement to do so.

At times, a class can be divided into a kumite half and a kata half. Those who wish to do kata that night can join the kata half. Those who wish to train in kumite can join the kumite half. And those who wish to observe the kumite should be allowed to do so as well, rather than being forced to do kata just because they do not want to do kumite.

The fact is, and more importantly the point is, a fight is dynamic. The preparation and training method for this must also be dynamic. The environment/atmosphere and option to participate in kumite should be regularly offered to students. Real self-defense or fighting is larger than any one style of martial arts. If a dojo cannot offer training that deals with the major parts of a real fight, then I would suggest that they are not offering self-defense, but instead an incomplete training program, or simply an “art” style.

It is not realistic to expect students to be members of two or three different dojo in order to fully develop skills in self-defense. But it is realistic to expect a dojo, which claims to teach self-defense, to offer realistic training experiences. Furthermore, it is not realistic to expect well-rounded self-defensive skill to develop through only one mode of training (such as kata) or when not partnered with another student who is resisting and being uncooperative.

I do not deny that kata and waza training assists in developing fighting skill, but I do believe that only kata and waza are not enough to maximize one’s potential. While performing kata may help to calm one’s mind, it cannot prepare a person for a violent experience where an intelligent opponent’s actions are unpredictable. It also does not address the natural reactions of the mind and its chemical productions while under stress. Kata does not teach a student how a punch or kick feels, nor to have a backup plan in case one’s main strategy fails. Only kumite, through standing strikes, throwing, tripping, and grappling on the ground can best fill in those gaps. No matter how skilled a person may be, they cannot know the skill of one’s opponent(s) beforehand nor can they expect their techniques to be perfectly carried out.

In addition, stamina is not developed in kata. In a fight, a person will exert themselves against an opponent who likewise will be doing the same, if not more. This clash of fighters, if the violence is not brought to a quick end, will require stamina in order for one to survive. This is body against body. In kata it is only body against air – no resistance. Bunkai cannot really be seen as a clashing of bodies. This is more of a controlled exercise by both parties, so there is no great sweating or trying to outsmart your opponent. The end is decided before it begins. Bunkai by itself is inadequate as a complete fighting training method.

And if the martial artist comes to believe that the end is over before it begins, as the kata may trick him into believing, then he is living in a delusion. Furthermore, hitting the air in kata training or even planned striking and blocking in bunkai, is not the same as hitting a body. How the body and fist reacts in these two different cases is totally different. The dynamics are just not the same.

The main principle of self-defense training is to be prepared; that is why we train. If one is relying on kata with its predetermined victorious outcome, then one is not being prepared. If one is overconfident through years of kata and other karate training without a back up plan developed through kumite experience (doing stand-up and ground fighting), then what they are doing is a limited and narrow version of fighting, not complete self-defense.

In art, beauty is decided by the observer and is different for each individual’s experience. I suggest that self-defense however should not be described as art. Its basis is in actual fact. Either one is the winner or loser. The final outcome does not depend on an observer.

“Arts” in martial arts has come to mean style, and now it is the situation that students of many karate styles are almost defenseless on the ground. In other words, the perception of karate as art has undermined the ability for one to effectively defend themselves.

Should karate concern itself most with the method of victory, or victory itself? Certainly, the method could be considered art, but if it does not result in victory, then where is its value? I suggest that if the method has borders around it, then creativity is limited. Why would one impose a limit on creativity if such an activity was meant to defend you or your child’s life?

Furthermore, speaking of the duty of a mother or father to defend their child in an attack, those who study karate, aikido, jujutsu, judo, etc, should seriously consider the meaning of “self” when describing their art as self-defense. The fact is, a situation may not be just about you. “Self” is selfish. It is too narrow. Martial artists might be reaching for a more noble goal if they thought more about using their skills for others who find themselves as targets of attacks.

A more meaningful expression of one’s study might be “fighting system”. So rather than say “My style of self-defense is karate” one could say, “My fighting system style is karate.” The latter is more expansive in its use, and language can be a powerful tool that shapes our thoughts. I maintain that it’s a better character trait to be thinking of serving others with one’s skills rather than oneself.

Karate needs to expand its definition of itself by being more inclusive in its training and techniques, and regularly train those newer additions just as much as kicks and blocks. It will still be karate, but one that has evolved, just as past masters were creative and added new techniques to what they were taught from their previous master. If they did not freeze karate’s development, then why should teachers and students of today’s karate freeze its development? By freezing karate’s development they are insulting the memory and tradition of dynamic change that was embraced by past masters, if not also insulting those masters by not learning from their example of continued innovation.

Would it be bad for today’s sensei and students to create new kata? If so, why? Is it the traditionalist mindset that prevents such newer innovation from coming to be? Is one’s dojo tolerant of students creating their own kata? Why don’t they encourage that as creative exercise? Surely, one does not think everything is perfect the way it is, do they? Is it not humble if one thinks they can improve karate — not just one’s own karate, but karate itself? Does one’s dojo encourage questions and actively listen to suggestions?

Why is it considered “superior” for some dojo not to include kumite as part of the training method when knowing that being hit for the first time in a fight could be a traumatic experience? How does the body move differently in clothes versus a gi, barefoot versus shoes, and how does it affect the whole dynamic of a fight situation as well as the effectiveness of a fighting system? If one is using their body to shield another person while fighting at the same time, how does that change things, and does one’s dojo instruction study such a situation? Wouldn’t a mother or father or even a stranger who is protecting a child find such training very useful?

The possibilities are numerous and students and instructors of fighting systems should be concerned with it enough to create dynamic training methods. Yes, the main points of a fighting system should be kept, as well as kata training and waza. But letting those become inflexible routines ends up defining a style or dojo as a prison rather than a dynamic system which is able to meet a variety of situations.*

*[Editor’s Note: For more on dynamic systems, check out Margaret Wheatley’s excellent book, Leadership and the New Science.]

“Diversity creates dimension in the world.”
– Elizabeth Ann Lawless

End of Part 10

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Zombie karate


I just read the most recent KARATEbyJesse post the other night and I wanted to blog about it here because I think Jesse clearly articulates a phenomenon that can be difficult to describe to karateka and laypeople alike. It’s the reason I decided to call this blog “the Quantum Karateka” and have one of its many taglines be “In pursuit of a living karate”.

The kind of modern karate training I have a foundation in, while ostensibly being “traditional”, seems to have been more about keeping the student in a state of conformity than it was about revealing the keys to individual mastery. In order to “master” something, I believe students need a clear understanding of basics, or principles that are inherent within their discipline (think about playing an instrument for example). Unfortunately, it seems much of modern karate has confused this mastery of basics with mastery of form. Of course, considering the oral tradition and underground development of this art, it makes sense that we karateka don’t really have a clear understanding of basics. From my observations, it seems to me that what we call “basics” in modern karate training have to do with basics of form derived from how the kata is literally performed. So if it looks like a “block” or a “punch” or a “kick”, then that’s what we pick out from the kata and then subsequently learn to perfect. This isn’t necessarily true for all dojo of course. And I’m not trying to imply that my teacher or anyone else’s is conspiring to hold us back from understanding the “true” karate. This phenomenon seems to have its roots way back when karate was first being introduced to the masses. It’s in the pedagogy man.

What’s significant about Jesse’s article for me is that he is getting at something which I have found helpfully articulated in the field of quantum physics by the author Margaret J. Wheatley. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, her book, Leadership and the New Science was the inspiration behind the philosophy of this blog. I haven’t read any other books on the subject of quantum mechanics and I’m definitely no expert in that area but I can tell you that the insights she points out are what made me realize why we need to revolutionize the way we learn and teach karate. There are a bunch of things I could quote from this book that speak to what I’m trying to get at here, but a big insight for me and the reason I think for all of this “zombie karate” is what Wheatley says in the chapter entitled, “The Creative Energy of the Universe – Information”:

For a system to remain alive, for the universe to move onward, information must be continually generated. If there is nothing new, or if the information that exists merely confirms what is, then the result will be death…The fuel of life is new information –  novelty – ordered into new structures. We need to have information coursing through our systems, disturbing the peace, imbuing everything it touches with life. We need, therefore, to develop new approaches to information – not management but encouragement, not control but genesis.” (pg. 104-105)

When it comes to martial arts, just what exactly is this information? I could be wrong, but I think it has to do with what martial arts was designed to deal with in the first place: violence and conflict. Of course, violence and conflict are not the only sources of information. What if you practice martial arts for competition and sport? Then your information is gonna be different. You’re not going to spend hours reading or watching how violent criminals attack because that’s not how it’s gonna go down in the ring. You are going to focus your training on the arena in which you are looking to be prepared for. The problem is when teachers begin to blur those two realms and talk and teach as if preparation for one arena is sufficient for the other. For example, you might practice a jumping spinning back kick in class (which I’ve done in an Uechi-ryu dojo; or I should say “tried” to do – almost fell on my ass). And it could be implied, either by the culture of the dojo or your instructor, that the kicking exercise you just practiced is a tool you’d want to have in a real fight situation.

Do I have to tell you that’s bullshit for you to know that’s bullshit?

That’s right. BULLSHIT.

And I’m not saying that just cause I suck at doing that kick. I mean, could that technique go over really well in a demonstration? Or in competition? Or in movie stunt choreography? Hell yeah it would. It’s athletically spectacular, well-executed things like that which get people to wanna do martial arts in the first place (well, for some people anyway). Show some people video of a street fight or a violent criminal assault (or witness or become victim to a real one) and I don’t think you’d get the same amount of people signing up at the dojo door. Real physical violence is fast, ugly, brutal, and traumatic.* If you wanna know something about it without necessarily having to go “through the looking glass” yourself, read Rory Miller’s Meditations on Violence – it’ll blow your mind (or at least make you question what you think you know).

My point is that information seems to be the key missing ingredient in what can distinguish a “living karate” from a “zombie karate”. It’s also what seems to be the key ingredient in what can make a martial arts organization stagnant and politically divisive versus a collaborative effort of people who seek to find ways of improving/understanding the techniques and strategies that make up the body of their art. That latter quality reminds me of the impression I get from reading the historical research done by Patrick McCarthy on how Okinawan karate came to be; in other words, this is nothin’ new. In fact, go over to Jesse’s website and download his free ebook, “The Matsuyama Theory” to get a sense of what I mean. There just ain’t no such thing as pure when it comes to what we do. We’ve all been borrowing and stealing from each other forever. Like Seth Godin says in, The Icarus Deception:

Artist pirates steal in order to remix and then give back.

Are you a martial artist or an automaton?

Read Jesse’s article here.


*For the record, I’ve never been violently assaulted nor have I ever engaged in a street fight so most of what I’m saying is coming from an intuitive understanding of what guys like Miller are saying. If you think I’m wrong, then well…correct me goddammit!!!

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