The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.


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Martial Arts and Masculinity

The way men express themselves in daily life is a topic of interest for me. And particularly how that expression manifests itself in the dojo/gym/etc.

Many times, on the job or in the media, I hear the expression “that’s gay” or “you’re gay”. Oftentimes it’s meant to be humorous and said in a nonchalant sort of way. Then maybe another guy will make another joke based around that theme. And then I sort of shake my head at the idiocy of the banter and grimace.

I think it’s accurate to say I’ve always been a quiet and sensitive child. My mom likes to tell the story of when I was a baby, they thought they had left me at a restaurant because I was so quiet sitting in the backseat, it was like I wasn’t even there (I mean, how could they have known I was simply practicing my ninja skills?). I might have dabbled in sports like the other boys (baseball, basketball, soccer). I even started martial arts briefly as a kid:

karate kid 1

I’m staring directly into your soul.

But my greatest strengths have always lied within “softer” or “internal” expressions, i.e. within the arts. I wasn’t particularly good at or all that interested with sports; I’ll refer to those things as “external” expressions. [Side note: even though an art like dancing could be considered external, I think it has more to do with what’s internal and feminine.] So it makes sense to me why, in my mid-twenties when I started seriously practicing karate, I was always more complimented on my kata rather than my “sparring” (I don’t use the word “kumite” here because, to my mind, that means something else). Kata, without function, is basically dancing. I have no (more) illusions that its performance is about fighting (only if we’re gonna break it down and examine its essence does it become something entirely apart from dancing). I am definitely not saying here that my performance of kata was anything special, it’s just to emphasize that my internal expression was stronger (kata) than my external expression (sparring). Even when I was trying out boxing briefly in Oakland, I remember being complemented on the form of my punches. And yes, I’m probably capable of hitting hard, but inside I know, if I’m being completely honest with myself, that when it comes time to put those punches in action (in a sporting context), I’m just not…interested in that. In four months at the gym, I never spent time sparring in the ring (besides doing body-shots with a partner); never a full-on spar. Much of the time was spent learning hand and footwork, the fundamental punches, and focus-mitt/bag work. The intention was always to eventually build up to go into the ring (to overcome the fear of getting hit). But I just didn’t stay long enough. Plus, because I’m a four-eyed dude, I would have had to buy contact lenses, which I didn’t make enough money for at the time. Yeah, excuses, excuses. Plus, it’s just scary to go toe-to-toe with a boxer. Peyton Quinn is right. But I mean, my intention was to get in there and go at it. I just didn’t like rush it, if you know what I mean.

(pause)

The point of what I was trying to say there was that these “softer”, “internal” pursuits are often what is shoved under the “gay” category. Besides being used homophobically, that term encapsulates for me the denial-rejection of everything feminine within a man. When you’re with a group of insecure men (despite however secure they might try and project themselves as), you fear being singled out or perceived as “gay”. It’s equivalent to being called a “girl”. Which is equivalent to being associated with being “soft” and thus “feminine”. I say “insecure” men because I believe, men are essentially living in a time of great flux with identity, not just gender. The old standards of what was considered to be a “man” are really no longer applicable and relevant in the 21st century (in my passionate opinion). The persona of toughness, not showing one’s feelings, not feeling period, etc. are, in my mind, highly corrosive to a healthy psychic well-being. Men may act as though they feel secure in their masculinity, but deep inside, great things are shifting. In times of such great shifting, I believe fundamentalism and rigidity start to become even more prominent. I think too that the reason for my “social anxiety disorder” which I underwent therapy for back in 2011 is partially the psychic result of feeling so much of this tension and shifting and change (that’s right, I make these claims cause I’m a metaphysical scientist – a metaphysicist).

Perhaps you’ve read by now of the recent shooting in Orlando, FL. A friend just recently sent me this article entitled “Toxic Masculinity and Murder” (which is the inspiration for these thoughts), which I think touches on a lot of the issues that have concerned me in recent years, in particular the mention of the shooter’s belligerent attitude towards homosexuality and his abusive domestic behavior. It also made me pause and reflect on my own toxic words towards a former friend (apparently I had called him a “pussy ass faggot” in a moment of now-forgotten context), as well as my physically abusive actions towards him. Everytime I think back on what I did, I cringe in shame, thinking to myself how entirely possible it would be to equate what I had done as the prototypical behavior behind such murderous rampages like the one seen in Orlando. This may sound disturbing but, I feel as though I am that shooter. That is to say, I feel as though I am in touch with the same psychic stress which caused him to erupt in that way. Carl Jung apparently once said, “Behind the wound lies the genius.” My own wounds as a male, in relation to my father, to society, to other men, have all informed me of what great sadness and tragedy there is in men who have not found initiation into a thriving, vibrant, and generative life. For men here, without individuated elders to guide us in life-giving rights of passage, we are left with the death rituals of suicide or violence.

For me, the practice of martial arts or karate or whatever style you want to call it, is of no use if it is not counterbalanced with an attention towards human spiritual development. This does not mean sitting in zazen posture for 5 or 10 minutes before or after practice; it does not mean entering tournaments and competing so as to gain “confidence” and “self-esteem”; it does not mean endless sweaty repetitions of kata, the function of which is not clearly understood; it does not mean quietly obeying your Sensei/Master/Hanshi/Guru/Professor/etc, because you believe that this constitutes “the Way”. When I use the phrase “human spiritual development” I am mainly referring to the psychological processes by which we can access and thus openly discuss the psychic disturbances which affect our individual and collective lives. For me, an innovative program might be something like: a Client comes into the center seeking or because they have been assigned therapy. The two-phase program consists of individual sessions with a psychotherapist/mindfulness-based instructor/etc, to determine the scope of these disturbances as well as to provide a safe container with which to work through them. The other half of the program is a skills-building course within a physical discipline such as karate. To my mind, this would be something similar to like someone enrolling in a technical/trade school or even like a music college, where they are taught the fundamentals and principles of their particular discipline. In sum, an inner and outer gōngfu (hard work to achieve skill). A modern-day Shaolin Temple.

And again, the emphasis is on men here. Not to say women are themselves not in need of such balance, but the main trouble here, the violence, the abuse, the destruction of our homes and ecosystems is primarily the result of misplaced male energies. I do not currently have on hand any scientifically tracked and researched data to support that claim. All I have is the wound. The wound that lets me know that men today are in great trouble. And we will continue to be, so long as we do not make greater efforts to re-define what masculinity means in the 21st century.

– QK

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Education…What it is a good for?

Just some thoughts about education and teaching that I’m not sure how to coherently arrange, so I’ll just hodgepodge it…

Young people spend at least 13 years of their lives going through “public education”. Thirteen years is a long-ass time. That being said, what those kids and young people are learning and how they are learning (that is to say, how they are being taught) seems critical to me. I mean, who was it that said that the real social revolution we’re looking for starts in the schools. Krishnamurti? Whoever said that was right.

Education is not merely underfunded. That means it is undervalued, underestimated and misunderstood. If money is this society’s material measurement of what it deems valuable, what is this society spending most of its money on?

In my personal opinion, the relationship between student and teacher needs to be one in which the student feels comfortable (i.e. safe) enough to ask critical/challenging questions. This does not mean the student needs to feel all buddy-buddy with their instructor. It means that, the student should feel un-intimidated, un-threatened.

“Practice Means Failure” should be the motto of every school, martial arts in particular. Practice should not be getting it right to perfection and being criticized for every mistake along the way. Mistakes are what get you to the goal. Without mistakes there is no learning happening. Just automatonery. If your instructor is criticizing you for doing something “wrong”, then find another instructor. You can do no wrong in learning. There is only right and wrong in application, and even that has no definitive boundary. There is only what works and what doesn’t. And through live application, the student may get their own sense of how to get to the goal.

– QK


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Get tough for what?

I was in Frisco the other day (that’s right, I called it Frisco. Not, San Francisco. Not, the City; am I like totally uncool yet?) to meet up with an old Detroit buddy and we were going to simultaneously hang out while I also helped him and his friend paint a banner for a “NO SF JAILS” protest next week. Not that I am a part of the protest or a part of any group associated with that; it’s just that my circle of friends happens to be on the “activist/radical/community organizer/political” side of things and that’s just what they do.

So we was there chillin’ and painting this banner and talkin’ shop about a lot of things and one of the things that my friend’s friend brought up (which is the subject of this post) has to do with her recent experience with sexual harassment on the street. What had happened was that she was about to cross the street on her block and there were some “techie” type dudes standin’ around with their techie-type bags waiting to cross as well. (*NOTE: When I’m talking about “tech”, I’m talkin’ about Silicon Valley High Tech. Dig?). There were four of them and they were all Asian, except one guy who she said looked to be like mixed-Black. And as they all crossed the street, one of the guys shouted out something like “Hey let me see you shake it baby!“. And so she turns around and gets “livid” (her words) with them and starts threatening that she’s gonna go and get her knife and start shanking these mutherfuckers cause who the hell do they think they are talkin’ to her like that, in her neighborhood. And eventually I think she said the group of guys split off and then it was peaceful again. But the point she brought up and which really made me stop and think was when she asked (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Whenever a woman is being groped publicly or immature sexual comments are being made, why don’t other men who are standing around ever say or do something?”

And in my head I was like Damn, why don’t we do anything? I mean, for those of us who don’t treat women with disrespect, why is it that we don’t check other so-called “men” when they comment like that? I’m not sure I completely understand why, but I think it has more to do with the fear of straying from social norms (i.e. “the monkey mind”, the fear of standing apart from the crowd, the fear of speaking up, and maybe for men in particular, the fear, real or imagined, of being violently humiliated by the same group of monkeys they stood up to) than it has to do with the lack of mature men. And yes, I think men do also have the privilege of not paying attention to that kind of harassment in the first place because in our patriarchal society, it doesn’t threaten us.

But so then it also got me thinking about martial artists (males in particular). For example, all these Okinawan karate teachers who can like break boards and bats over their toes and take punches and kicks to the stomach and who look real mean and fierce and I’m like, what’s all that display of toughness really for? Are you trying to prove to me that you can break my ass? I’m sure you can, I believe you. I’m not gonna test it. But if you’re so tough then why not use that martial prowess for some social good? I mean, either the martial arts is helping you to become a “better person” or it’s helping you to get good at breaking bats over your arm. Why not come here to east Oakland and help make this a safer community goddammit. You got all that martial prowess and what you gonna do with it?  Stay tough in a part of the world where the crime and social violence rate is significantly lower? How tough does that really make you?

And so that got me thinking even further, you know, like what the hell purpose can martial arts and karate serve in this time on our planet right now? I mean, these Okinawan karate masters talkin’ ’bout “world peace and karate” and I’m like alright, that’s good but how does it really manifest? By perfecting character? Bullshit! We’ve had at least a good solid century of martial arts “perfecting character” through the sweat of the dojo and what kind of world do we have? I don’t think so man. Naw that ain’t workin’ for me. Something has seriously got to change in the way we are educating students, and not even just within martial arts schools of course. But I mean, I’m targeting martial arts here not only cause I do it, but also cause it’s like the most stereo-typically associated with kickin’ ass and protecting the ones you love. And so if our training is really about that in a physical way (i.e. self-defense, fighting, etc), then why ain’t we usin’ that for something other than just protecting me and my own? You dig what I’m sayin? Martial arts were created to conduct violence. It’s about fighting. It’s about learning how to, for lack of a better phrase, seriously fuck somebody up. Or at least, that’s where its origins lie. Only in modern times (starting from around the 20th century) do we have these “” type arts which emphasize the character development and the peace and the non-violence and all that jazz. So, what I’m saying is that either modern martial arts really is just bullshit, or it’s not being taught in a way that involves men in a discipline that helps them to integrate their aggressive nature in such a way that is not self-destructive or human-destructive. Yes I think it’s beneficial for women to learn martial arts and have self-protection skills, but it is disproportionately the men in this world (actually, not men. They are boys who have grown up without a corresponding growth in their maturity) who are the ones wreaking the violent havoc, emotionally and physically, in our cities, neighborhoods, etc. So can we please re-define, re-imagine, re-invent martial arts education so that it can actually help contribute towards a more humane society? Please?

Jeezus christ.

End of rant.

– QK


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Karate and Religion

For those wondering, I do not equate karate with being a religion. Although, for those that do, I think “cult” is the more appropriate word.

Just wanted to pass on a piece of wisdom here that, much like this previous quote, says much about the direction of karate and martial arts generally in the 21st century:

“Honor the tradition but expand the understanding. That’s what religions must do right now if they hope to be helpful to humans in the years ahead.”
Neale Donald Walsch

Honor the tradition

but expand the understanding.

That’s what karate must do right now

if it hopes to be helpful to humans in the years ahead.

Oh yeah.

– QK

 


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Teachers are everywhere

This is something that’s been on my mind for a while now. Even more so now in Oakland as I’ve searched around for martial arts teachers and schools.

You know that phrase “Those who can’t do teach”…?

Bullshit.

haha. Yeah, I mean seriously though. Who came up with that phrase anyway? I believe knowing how to teach is as equally as important as the doing. There are plenty of “doers” out there who can’t teach worth shit. And there are plenty of “teachers” out there who also can’t teach worth shit.

Why do I sound so harsh?

It’s because teachers are freakin’ important man! Any “doer” first had a teacher. And teaching to me is not simply a brain dump where knowledge is regurgitated into the willing student. Teaching to me is probably one of the most delicate processes a person can experience. To teach another human being something, a skill, a theory, an activity, etc. requires patience and focused attention. In addition, the teacher must also be attentive to the particular needs of the student, their inherent strengths, their mental weak spots. Teaching is a transmission, a sharing of knowledge, of ideas. It is an intimate relationship between teacher and learner. Without a teacher, whether they be human or in nature, there is no gateway, no opportunity for the student to potentially expand their horizons.

If you’ve ever read “Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters” (which is a great book by the way; and ridiculously priced on Amazon for some reason), or if you think about famous martial artists like Bruce Lee, what is common to all of them is that they started with a teacher. Someone had to initiate them into the learning process. Even self-starters, self-learners like Okinawan karate legend Choki Motobu for example, eventually had a relationship with a teacher. And both Lee and Motobu eventually became teachers themselves.

Another phrase comes to mind: “When you’re ready to learn, a teacher appears.” To me that articulates the importance of first knowing in your heart what it is that you seek to understand. So, the learner too is equally as important in this process, because without their enthusiasm for learning, the teacher has no “job”. And perhaps, the right teachers appear for the right student…? I don’t know. I’m struggling with that one. I’ve come across some lousy teachers, who while extremely knowledgeable, seem to lack interpersonal skills. So I keep wondering to myself, “maybe this martial arts stuff just ain’t for me? Maybe I’m doing something that is inauthentic to who I am which results in finding teachers who seem to dislike me?”. I guess I’m thinking this because I am of the belief that if one follows their heart, their bliss, they come to find like-minded souls on the journey. Not to say there won’t be assholes, but that they radiate an enthusiasm for learning that catches the eye of the right teacher.

Oof. Maybe I don’t really know what I’m talking about. What I really just wanted to articulate in this post is that teachers are extremely important. Their necessity and their ubiquity is probably why public school teachers for example, are so undervalued. Teachers become babysitters for busy working parents to drop their kids off with. It’s like we’re thinking of schools as some little factory where you put your child on a production line and hope that they come out successful. We never think, “Hmmm. I wonder what goes on in that classroom? What is it that they’re learning? What is the relationship between my child and the teacher?” Okay, maybe some parents definitely think that, but I mean for the most part it seems to be that teachers are entrusted with a task that so few parents (and perhaps even the teachers themselves!) really understand.

Teaching is the greatest vocation in life, though now it is the most despised; it is the highest, the noblest of callings. But the teacher must be utterly dedicated, he must give himself to it completely, he must teach with his heart and mind, with his whole being; and out of that dedication things are made possible.

Krishnamurti

– QK