The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.


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Reflections on the study group

I don’t wanna write this down
I wanna tell you how I feel right now
I don’t wanna take no time to write this down
I wanna tell you how I feel right now…

Mos Def

So it’s been a little over a month now since I’ve started my study group. We’ve had eleven sessions so far. What began as a once a week thing then doubled into twice a week. What originally began in my Sensei’s dojo has since moved to another location. And what began with one person has now become three people, albeit not all at the same time.

So I should be pretty satisfied with this fair amount of progress in such a short amount of time, shouldn’t I?

Kinda sorta.

I always feel sad and mildly disappointed when people have to cancel or don’t bother to call when they don’t show up. It makes me feel like I suck, that I’m not doing enough or that maybe I’m following the wrong path in life. And there’s always this smoldering anxiety, more intense on some days than others, that I’m just not good enough or skilled enough to even be doing what I’m doing, despite my explicit intention not to make this group be about that. The way I like to see it sometimes is like: I’m in a punk band; I can only play three chords on the guitar; my voice quality is less singing and more screaming; and I can only play songs at one tempo…barely.

But I happen to like those qualities actually. I’ve always enjoyed tinkering and putting things together. I like making do with what I have. I like the idea of being a “bastard”/DIY martial artist, musician and filmmaker, but kicking ass none-the-less. I like proving to people that you don’t need tons of money, prestigious degrees or loads of charisma to bring your vision forth into the world. I mean, those things can help you of course. But the quality I find to be most important in any endeavor is integrity. Why do you do what you do? What is at the root of your pursuit? In a world where just looking like the part can get you the part, who or what is the real thing? It’s like, you can have big name actors in your film, a big budget, a big studio to financially back you, a big everything, and if your basic script/storyline sucks, then what do you really have? You have a lot of make-up to cover over the blemishes. A lot of chemical freshener to cover up the smell. A lot of paint to hide the rot.

Well, like I said, I like the idea of being a DIY-bastard artist, but shit ain’t always so fluffy if you know what I mean. My analyst wondered aloud at my last session why it was that I seemed to lack self-confidence and self-esteem. Together we speculated that maybe it had something to do with the fact that I’ve always moved around as a child and into my adolescence. Always a feeling of instability and uncertainty and temporality. Settling down and making friends in one place, only to move and have to do it all over again. Yeah, it would be easy to blame my father for this, for it was his job that forced me into those circumstances. But, no. It’s not anyone’s fault. Viktor Frankl could have easily blamed the Nazi’s for a shitty life, but then he wouldn’t have had the impetus to write Man’s Search for Meaning.

Anyway, back to my study group reflections. I’m really curious to know how far this will go. I’m surprised that things have actually been working out well. Having a space to do this in was the biggest thing. Where we’re at now is on the second floor of a music rehearsal studio. The guy who owns it is a guy whom I used to know in my early twenties when I rented out a drum room from him. I never thought over a decade later I’d be using his make-shift gym for my training or that he even did martial arts at all. And if I hadn’t gotten this job I currently have, then I wouldn’t have jammed with my co-worker at this very studio which is how I found out about the space in the first place. It’s really kind of a trip actually. I mean, if I just rewind all that, I wouldn’t even be doing any of this if I hadn’t made the decision to move back to Torrance (aka, the little village from which I left back in 2012). It’s really quite amazing actually.

Wow.

So wherever this group is going, I don’t know. I certainly do have a better, more evolved vision for it than I did back in Oakland. I think it lasted about a month over there before I stopped it and then made my way to Seattle. If anybody’s interested, here’s a link to the Meetup site I created (again):

www.meetup.com/Grappling-Hands-Circle/

Yeah, that’s right, I graphic designed that fairly cool logo myself. Although I basically copped the format from something else. Well, cool compared to the original logo I had, which now just seems like a stick-figure drawing in my eyes. The logo doesn’t matter anyways; I just needed to have something that could visually represent the group. Although, I always have an eye for aesthetics. I mean I think form is less important than function, but form can look good too no? It’s like the logo for a band or the font titles for a movie. You could have the best made album/movie in the history of music/film, but if your packaging sucks, then I don’t wanna own that shit. Sorry, digression…

One last thing to leave you with: a video clip of me and my training buddy Anthony tinkering with some made-up applications for Fukyukata Ichi. Not sure that Nagamine Sensei incorporated any combative strategy when he thought up this kata; not to say he didn’t. But we decided to pick apart this kata because it’s so basic and because it’s so stereotypical of what karate looks like to laypeople (down blocks/upper blocks and straight punches in the air). Here it is (it’s okay you can laugh; I’m new at this applied stuff):

Peace.
– Quantum

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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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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