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.


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):

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):

– Quantum


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Some more thoughts on teaching

Just some more thoughts I had from this past Sunday’s study group session.

It’s interesting to me that teachers are under-appreciated in civil society and over-appreciated in the martial arts. I feel like the teacher is only half the equation; the other half being the hunger that the student brings to the table. That hunger is essentially what teaches the student. You start off with a teacher because you want access to the knowledge, whatever it is. Reading or watching things can only do so much. But your teacher is nothing more than a gateway into something that you bring your enthusiasm and willingness to explore on your own. When I say teachers are “over-emphasized” in the martial arts what I mean to say is that they are looked at as final authorities on truth. As though they are the perfected ideal of what you came there to learn. Well, sometimes you start off thinking that way perhaps. But no, they’re the doorway. You went inside on your own. Now it’s your job to keep going, keep expanding your understanding. You are here to learn something for yourself. So that’s what I was feeling the other day at the study group: I’m in a teaching role, yes. But it’s more like I’m a video game level boss intended to be defeated (albeit a pretty easy one); I’m a guidepost pointing the Way (although it’s possible I’m turned completely in the wrong direction and all graffitied up); I’m here for the student to eventually move past, not enter into a life-long co-dependent relationship with.

Hmmm. Just a side note here: I’m wondering if “mentoring” is something else entirely? Like, it’s related to teaching, but it’s more about noticing and bringing out what already lies within the student. Or maybe it’s all the same thing?

When I say teachers are “under-appreciated” in civil society, what I’m saying is that to be able to clearly transmit knowledge to another human being takes skill and it takes patience and dedication. That’s not something you can just go to teacher school to learn how to do. That’s something that comes from within I think. Teaching is under-appreciated I think because it’s so invisible. It happens so many times in so many places, in big and small ways, everyday, and not just in traditional “school” settings of course. Like when a friend shows you how to dance. Or when a parent shows you how to cook a healthy meal. The point of teaching someone is to help them, essentially I think, to become functional on their own. Without teachers, where would the human race be? We’d still be thinking we live on a flat planet. We’d still be thinking the sun actually goes up and down. We’d still be literally in the dark (cause fire right? Someone had to teach someone else how to make it). Teaching is under-appreciated because it’s so commonplace, we don’t even see it happening. Like, we take it for granted or something. But the individual doing the teaching, they really have to be able to take this large body of knowledge, sometimes really complex stuff, and make it make sense so that it can be useful to someone else. That’s no small job. Maybe that’s what Krishnamurti meant when he said:

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.

Just my thoughts.

– QK


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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Karate nursery rhyme

“Karate is like…”

…a lift-gate slamming down on your toes

Or like the misfortune of getting caught in some farm machinery by a piece of your clothes

Karate is joints bending in the wrong direction

And other extreme damage that’ll totally ruin fuck up your complexion

Eye gouges and testicle grabs

Definitely unsportsmanlike

This is dirty fighting down to a science

Not about looking nice.

– 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