My Whole Life I Wanted to be Hip – Part II

My time in the Marine Corps

You might think that boot camp and the subsequent discovery of my athletic self would have had a direct impact on my inner narrative. It did change the way my life flowed forward, but it didn’t resolve the root cause of the physical and emotional trauma left over from my childhood. I still heard those kids taunting me in everything I did, still saw myself as a lazy and unmotivated person, and considered my success in boot camp a way to hide that “truth” from everyone around me. The Marines did help me break through some of the barriers I had placed in front of myself, but the experience wasn’t enough to repair the cracked foundation of my personality.

Boot camp has changed a lot over the past thirty years, but back then, they would “tear you down” by insulting and berating you. They’d tell you that you are worthless and unfit to shine the boots of a “real Marine”. They’d dress you in awkward clothing, make fun of you, and randomly do crazy things at odd hours to test your ability to respond to chaos – and to throw you off kilter even more. Once you were sufficiently torn down, they’d begin to set you back up for success, providing character-building exercises and opportunities to essentially “out-do” your drill instructors.

The problem with me was that they didn’t have anything to tear down. The belittling I suffered at the whims of my drill instructors mirrored the language my parents used throughout my childhood, which laid the foundation for my hypercritical and self-deprecating inner voice. Try though they might, nothing the drill instructors said or did rattled me; I actually thrived. When it came time to participate in the character-building, I was already primed and eager to please. So without really tearing anything down, they simply gave me physical, mental, and emotional challenges that I easily accepted and conquered. I didn’t understand it at the time, but it seemed the universe was giving me two choices. The first was to question the base assumptions I had made about my own worth in light of my empowering success in boot camp. The other would be to modify the narrative of my success so it would match up to closely-held personal beliefs. To go the first route would require the success of my three months in boot camp to outweigh all of my eighteen years of experience at that point. The second path came much easier; I simply had to see my success as cheating or gaming the system. I was a good liar, and I was fooling everyone who saw me as successful. At this point, I was still deeply wounded, but I began to see some of the cracks in the facade of my world view.

After boot camp, I was stationed in Virginia Beach at the Armed Forces School of Music. I spent a year on the East Coast, and I loved music school. Compared to the physical and emotional intensity of boot camp, music school was so easy and chill and even fun, it made me feel like I was cheating again. Was being a Marine supposed to be fun? It felt like I was getting away with something too good to be true while many of the recruits I’d met in boot camp were being shipped overseas to fight in Beirut. Again I found myself excelling past my peers; my high school experience in civilian Drum & Bugle Corps had set me up for success in military marching music. But you can’t stay in school forever. What came next, actually being in the Marine Corps, proved to be the hardest two years of my life.

Once I was stationed in Twentynine Palms, CA, I found myself in a truly strange situation. Instead of joining the USMC Band, I joined the Drum & Bugle Corps during a radical reformation of the music program in the military. In the decades before I enlisted, all musicians wanted to be in The Band. Only if they failed music school were they assigned to the Drum & Bugle Corps, which at the time was not considered a legitimate musical group. In the early 70’s however, civilian drum & bugle corps like the one I participated in as a teen were undergoing an artistic renaissance. By the early 80’s when I enlisted in the Marines, these civilian drum corps were performing amazingly complex shows on a level that was unprecedented. But my superiors in Twentynine Palms were part of the generation that had failed the basic music course, and they felt threatened by the throngs of talented young musicians showing up at their unit with more drum corps knowledge than they possessed. To make matters worse for them, the Marines had issued a directive—they all had to go back to school and pass the basic music course, or be transferred. They were technically the ones in charge, but they had trouble finding authority in musical matters in front of this shiny new breed of military musician. They made up for it by latching on to the things that gave them legitimacy—their rank and status as Marines. Similar to the behavior of the boot camp drill instructors, but more maliciously motivated, they berated their musicians and made it unbelievably hard to do what would have otherwise been a simple and rewarding job, playing music for the Marines. At nineteen years old I was arranging music at a level my superiors were incapable of, and instead of building me up as a talented young musician, they wrote me up time after time for showing disrespect. After my incredible success in boot camp and music school filled me with confidence, I ran head-first into a group of senior officers who were threatened by my success. In the end, I was court-martialed and reduced in rank. By the time my service years were up, I felt like I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

My martial arts journey

During my time in the Marines, I rediscovered my passion for martial arts. I had adored Bruce Lee as a child, and although I briefly tried martial arts in my teens, nothing stuck. With an underlying broken sense of self, and still living in my parents’ house, I had a very hard time understanding how to apply myself. But after my athletic success in boot camp, I was ready to try martial arts again, and one of my first priorities when I got stationed in Twentynine Palms was to find a dojo. Having the community of my dojo truly helped me get through the years of struggle in the Marines’ Drum Corps. My karate teachers and training partners were encouraging and supportive in a way I’d not experienced; they exemplified leadership in a way I’d expected my music leaders to in the Marines.

After I earned my black belt in TKD in early 1986, the physical imbalance in my body became more worrisome to me. Being a black belt puts you on display; people look to you as someone to emulate. My left leg kicks were terrible, and my whole left side was out of balance. When I stretched, there was an enormous amount of pain. I remember complaining once about how much it hurt, only to have a teacher respond to me that “we all hurt when we stretch.” I had already accepted that I was lazy and afraid of pain at that point, so I looked for ways to hide my discomfort from others. I was out to fool everyone into believing that I was a hard worker, and I worked really hard at this.

Martial arts made me feel as close to my authentic self as I’d ever experienced. I didn’t fully understand why at the time, but I felt as though martial arts was a life jacket for me after treading water for a very long time in the open ocean. Going to class not only gave me the physical release that allowed me to consistently mitigate the buildup of stress, but also showed me exactly how I was lying to myself. You see, I am a hard worker, and I always have been. The pursuit of martial arts revealed a good chunk of the truth about my journey, but it took years of diligent discipline for me to come face-to-face with what happened to me in the summer of ’69. I worked hard at balance in my body, but there was no way to make that happen on top of my forgotten injury. The indelible stamp of the metal frame of that horse trailer and all of the emotional fallout that rested in my broken body continued to resonate within me, and my amnesia for the event continued to make the case that my imbalance was caused by my laziness.

Decades of martial arts training and my devotion to healing eventually made their mark upon both my movements and my psyche. My movements became more fluid; my ability to take on opponents much larger and stronger than me and throw them to the ground while barely breaking a sweat showed me I was doing something right. My body felt more grounded, more resilient than I’d ever experienced. I realized that I had a choice, and it was one that I could make at any time. The stark realization of how strong I’d become through hard work of training, and the truth of the person I’d grown into as a result, came into direct opposition with that old voice in my head telling me I was lazy. It was an easy choice to make, as my investment in the truth-telling properties of my training were immersive – especially while physically present in the dojo. My “lazy side” never stood a chance.

But it didn’t happen overnight. It still took me many years to go from the moment of realization that there was no “lazy one”, to truly internalize that in truth I’d put in a lifetime of hard work and come out the other side a leader and pillar of strength. Even when those around me all saw me as someone in pique health and fitness, the inconsistency between my outer and inner self was still a powerful force in my head far past the point of making the decision. Quantum is a testament to the tools I developed to release myself from bondage – another way of saying that the Quantum Style is a vehicle for change and transformation.

Quantum SF doubles space, increases classes, and introduces 4 new summer camps

Quantum Martial Arts Philosophy to “Leave No Child Behind” Thrives in San Francisco; the USA’s Most Expensive City —

SAN FRANCISCO (May 16, 2018) — Quantum Martial Arts, one of the only non-profit martial arts centers in San Francisco which teaches a non-competitive version of Tae Kwon Do, now has doubled its size with two studios to accommodate up to 240 students.  The Dojo, which has been operating since 2007, is located on the top floor of the historic El Dorado building in San Francisco’s Mission District.  Starting today, Quantum will now offer 16 weekly classes for kids ranging from ages 3 – 13 years old, eighteen adult classes for people ages 13 years and up, as well as four summer day camps.

 

“Thriving kids are so essential to the health of the community, and yet there are few places where kids can process life lessons, explore social skills, and develop self-awareness, particularly in the center of the city,” said Rachael Evans, Quantum Dojo Master and sixth-degree black belt who has been teaching martial arts for more than thirty years. “We believe that all kids should have equal opportunities and our dojo reflects the diversity of this city. With scholarships and sliding-sliding scale tuition, donations, volunteers, and mentoring programs, we are committed to making a place for everyone in our Dojo.”

For the first time ever, Quantum will offer Martial Arts Summer Camps (with before and after-care available) allowing kids of all ages, levels, and experience to develop a deeper appreciation of martial arts with both practical lessons and fun activities:

  • Leadership Camp: Kids 11 years and up will focus on how to become a mentor, teach and assist others. (One week: Monday, June 11 – Friday, June 15, 2018)
  • Superhero Stunts Camp: Kids ages 6–16 will create superhero characters and learn how to coordinate stunts and fight scenes that look cool while staying super safe. (One week: Monday, June 25 – Friday, June 29, 2018)
  • Martial Arts Movie Camp: Kids 8–14 will collaboratively create the plot of a short karate film, including scripting, stage combat moves, acting and behind-the-scenes production – lighting, audio and camera work. The camp will include field trips to Dolores Park and watching a classic karate film at the Alamo Drafthouse. The campers’ film will be screened with a release party at the Dojo a few months later. (Two weeks: Monday, July 9 – Friday, July 13, & Monday, July 16 – Friday, July 20, 2018)
  • Karate Camp: Kids 6–14 from beginners to all levels, this karate intensive camp will be filled with Tae Kwon Do lessons and physical games. New students will learn stances, blocks, punches, kicks, and the Basic Form, and have a chance to test for their first belt promotion by the end of the week. (One week: Monday, July 30 – Friday, August 3, 2018)

“For my eight-year-old son, Jaja, Quantum Martial Arts is so much more than a Dojo—it has become like his second home,” said Maria Young, a native San Francisco resident and single mom. “I have seen so much personal growth in him since he started taking karate two years ago. He has developed a greater sense of self-awareness and confidence which extends to all other areas in his life. It inspires me to see my son’s strength and self-discipline grow as he deeply progresses as a martial artist. I enjoy watching the children have fun in class as they are engaged in learning such a highly refined and developed art form.”

About Quantum Martial Arts

Quantum Martial Arts is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit community dojo offering martial arts classes for all ages focused on self-actualization, total body healing, and strength. Our goal is to help people tap into their potential, seeking balance and grace through movement, while establishing a strong foundation of integrity and self-discipline that will facilitate personal and professional success. We believe the inherent values of our core tenets: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit, can guide any human to create a rich and full life of endless possibilities.

Master Rachael Evans opened her first martial arts dojo in 1995 in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and began creating a unique style blending Tae Kwon Do, Wing Chun, Jiu Jitsu, and Arnis, among others, all examined through the lens of Quantum physics and Eastern philosophy.  In 2007, Master Evans began teaching the Quantum style in San Francisco’s Mission District, and in 2015 broke ground on the San Francisco Dojo.  In 2018, Quantum SF doubled its size and renovated its 1740 square foot space offering two training rooms, more than 20 weekly classes for kids, teens, and adults as well as a youth summer camp program.

For more information about Quantum Martial Arts Camps, please visit: https://quantumsf.org/summer-camp or watch our YouTube video: https://youtu.be/a8No85wEs9Q

For information and schedule information about Quantum’s daily martial arts classes, please visit: https://quantumsf.org/

Media Contacts:

Carmen Caricchio                                                                    Amy Popovich
CoActive Communications                                                     Quantum Martial Arts
415-350-7050                                                                             415-676-7217
carmen@coactivepr.com                                                       amy@quantumsf.org

 

 

My Whole Life I Wanted to be Hip – Part I

hide-and-seek

My hip odyssey began during the summer of 1969. I wasn’t quite five years old, and I was just a few months shy of starting kindergarten. The day began innocently enough; I had finally been given permission to play with the “big kids,” and hide and seek was the name of the game. I thought I understood the game correctly. One person turns around, covering their eyes and counts to 100. During those 100 seconds, all the other kids would find a hiding place and wait to see if they were found. I found the perfect hiding space amongst the trees next to the red wood fence that ran all the way around the Aurora Drive-In Theater, just up the street from my house.

After what seemed like hours (probably only 20 minutes…), I emerged from the tree line only to find myself abandoned. At first I thought that I had hidden myself so well that I had stymied all of the big kids, and they were looking for me somewhere else. Furtively, I crept out of the woods and up to the side of the street. With no one else in sight, I pondered what to do next. Should I go and find them, sneak up and yell surprise? I knew about the secret code “All-y all-y in-come-free!” – the signal that whomever was “it” was at the point of giving up, and it was time to re-start the game. But was there a secret code to call out if no one found you?

I walked across the street to one of the kids’ houses; they had a two-wheeled horse trailer parked in their yard. Like any two-wheeled trailer, it was perched on the tongue of the trailer hitch, the back side of it way up in the air, suspended over two wheels. I used to love watching my dad work on cars; he would jack the car up, grab a bunch of tools, then slide underneath and proceed to get his hands greasy and dirty. I liked the idea of being a mechanic and fixing things, so I dove under the back end of the trailer and began getting my hands as dirty as I could while I was “fixing” the vehicle.

I was completely unaware that while I busied myself under the trailer, I had actually been “found” by someone still playing the game. Only after all this had happened did I find out that the goal was to ditch me from the beginning; finding me under that trailer was just another opportunity to torture me. My oldest brother was the ringleader at the time, being virtually the oldest child in the neighborhood. It was his idea to surprise me while I was hidden under the trailer. They all snuck up to the tongue side of the trailer and rammed into the side of it in tandem, sending the back end crashing down, crushing my right leg under the weight of the vehicle. As soon as it was knocked over, they all clambered up on top of it to really smash me into the ground.

While they jumped up and down on top of the trailer that was crushing my leg, I could hear their laughter at the great practical joke they had played on me, oblivious to the terrified screams emanating from beneath their feet. While the whole incident probably only lasted a few seconds, it felt like hours to me. They jumped and laughed and I wailed and writhed until the ruckus brought out the mother of one of the kids who lived next door to the horse trailer. The kids instinctually fled and she immediately drug me out from beneath the vehicle. She scooped me up in her arms and whisked me in to her living room where she lay me down on the couch and proceeded to ice my already blackening leg. Within a few minutes, my entire leg turned black beneath my cut off jean shorts. The edge of the vehicle had impacted on the upper part of my right femur, but the discoloration reached my toes. I remember the intense fear of not being able to feel my leg coupled with the discomfort of being in a stranger’s home, surrounded by strange smells and a language I didn’t understand. She and her family were immigrants, having recently arrived from Greece, and the strange and foreign nature of those surroundings plunged me further in to panic. It was my first time in the home of a family from another culture.

My memory after this is quite fuzzy; somehow, I was ferried back to my mother’s house less than a block away, but I have no recollection of it. I don’t remember going to a doctor to have my leg examined (my mother has no memory of this either…), nor do I remember being immobilized by the incident. I’m certain that I must have spent some time after this sitting still, icing, limping for a while until it healed enough for me to start putting weight on it again, but I can’t say for sure. Somewhere over the next few months, this entire incident had been filed under “horse trailer” in my mind, and nothing else was said about it. I remember when the last of the discoloration left my body; the lingering bruise was at the point of impact, an indelible stamp up high on my right leg in a straight, horizontal line. Along with my persistent limp, that scar should have served as an inescapable reminder of that fateful day and how it would affect me for the rest of my life.

What happened next is a little difficult to explain. I never really forgot about the accident, but it shifted in my memory from this horribly traumatic violence that had been inflicted upon my body to something benign, even banal. The damage that was done to my leg left a deep swath of scar tissue in my young muscles. My quadriceps had been “pinched in half” and the scar tissue was deposited along a broad, thick  horizontal band in a desperate attempt at keeping the upper and lower halves of my quads together as one piece. The resulting tension in my leg needed to be balanced, so my body recruited surrounding muscles to keep everything in tight. This was all put in place as my body was initially healing, and as a five-year-old, I had no idea that I needed to release that tension. My limp simply became a part of my world and my injury’s importance faded into the background of my memory along with the emotional trauma that had inflicted it.

Through my martial arts training experience, I have come to understand the relationship between fear, trauma, and pain. Muscles recoiling against a painful event (like having a trailer dropped on your leg) often are later recruited by the afflicted area to help immobilize the trauma site. This can assist the body in preventing further injury to the affected site. Wincing away from pain is more of an emotional response than a physical one. Most people naturally recoil from pain, pull back and scrunch up their brows, maybe even yell out, and understandably so. When the physical trauma couples with the emotional response, the outcome can be a materialized emotional blockage that becomes physically stored in your body. This is how my body responded to this event, albeit without my knowledge or consent. My right hip lost a significant amount of range of motion; the scar tissue on my leg became buried deep under new muscles, and I eventually forgot how traumatic the whole experience had been.

There was a lot of violence in my childhood; but this was the most extreme thing that happened to me as a child. By the time I was eight or nine years old, I had effectively buried the whole experience in my subconscious mind, a kind of PTSD. While my mind had blocked out the event, my body still carried the scars – and the effects of those scars. It was always hard to move in my body; I ran funny (or so I was told over and over). I wasn’t particularly graceful either, often tripping and hurting myself. I was also lopsided; I always walked a little lean to the outside of the outstep of my right foot. But I never knew why I limped, it was just a difficulty moving that I had. Had I remembered my experience at the bottom of the horse trailer, I may have put it together that my imbalance was due to an extreme event in my life.

The human mind is a curious thing. When our world doesn’t make sense, our minds will fill in the gaps to come up with a relevant story that explains it to us. We need to make sense of our world, and if part of the information is absent, whatever is left is assumed as the whole truth. My mind came up with the only answer that it could at the time. I never realized that I limped, nor did I remember the scar on my leg. I did know that I had a lot of tightness in my hips, and it was painful to stretch. The only possible explanation was that I was lazy and afraid of pain.

I didn’t think there was anything different about me; I assumed that everyone had the same pain when they stretched. I thought there were simply those who had athletic prowess, and then there was the rest of us. I spent a good chunk of my childhood with my nose in a book. I stayed as sedentary as I could, and I was further teased mercilessly for it. Chided as uncoordinated and lacking any gift for physical activity, these taunts helped me explain my inherent klutziness. I always tried my hardest; but since my very best efforts yielded milquetoast results it became increasingly clear to me that my agitators were correct – I was better off in the corner with a book. This root part of my personality became an integral part of the bedrock on which I began to build my sense of self. It would take Marine Corps boot camp to help shake some of this illusion apart.

I was able to walk in to the Marine recruiter’s office on my own two feet; no one ever questioned me about my limp. The physical I was given at my inception did not include MRI’s or X rays of my legs. No one noticed, and I had not thought to tell them about my scar tissue (had I known about it, undoubtedly they would have looked). I was destined to be a musician, having auditioned for and been accepted by the USMC Drum and Bugle Corps. Boot camp made me punch through every physical barrier I had ever known before. I still ran funny, but I could finish 3 miles. Many of the psychological hurdles I had inadvertently placed in my own way had to literally be kicked out of the way for me to make it through the physical rigors of boot camp. On the surface, I just kept doing everything as fast and as hard as I could, but deep down I still heeded my tormentors’ words – I would be better off in the corner with a book.

Part II coming soon!

Commitment and Discipline

Commitment and Discipline

I know that when I consider these two words, they spark feelings of accomplishment, pride and satisfaction. Commitment means to hold faith; it is an opportunity to act honorably. It is often used when describing nebulous ideas like patriotism and family. It is alluded to when faced with a long, arduous journey, especially one that has the power for self-improvement or service to your community. Commitment to self, commitment to a cause or ideal, and commitment to see a thing through – all of these ideas engender the spark of self-confidence and the glow of a job well done.

Discipline is a closely related word. It certainly takes a level of discipline to see a thing through. You must make time for it, create a strategy for successfully navigating the path to fruition of a goal or action. It takes discipline to go to a gym and train every day. It takes discipline to see your way through college. It takes discipline to keep your anger in check when faced with harsh criticism or violence. To embody this word is a badge of achievement, and it brings with it a standing in your community and within yourself that sets you apart from those who lack drive and spirit. So much self-esteem tied up in these two words!

When I see commitment in my life, I envision my plans and the path to see them through. Now in my mid-50’s, commitment has become far easier to embody.

After years of starting and stopping different paths in an effort to know myself, commitment comes at the end of your search for self, as well as the beginning. Once you know what it is that you are here to do with your life, you at least know what it is that you want to commit to; indeed, this is the most crucial aspect of developing commitment in yourself, only superseded by your commitment to be committed to finding your path – this is where discipline comes in. Discipline allows you to commit to your actions and ideals. Discipline gives permission to seek the integrity of matching words and actions in your life.  But I think that the greatest gift of discipline is freedom. Freedom from doubt, freedom to choose that path that resonates within your being, the freedom to relentlessly pursue your path.

As a teacher and community-builder, I am often seen for these attributes. They are attractive traits, and to the outside perspective they are desirable. I often receive feedback about how impressive the twin feats of discipline and commitment resonate within my words and actions; I can certainly see how these things must look to everyone from the casual observer to students that I share a great deal of time with. I have found that it leads people to think that I have achieved something desirable and noble; something worth having. While it is true that discipline and commitment can take you far in life, there is one other ingredient that must be present for these traits to bestow their positive affects upon those who pursue them – balance.

Commitment without balance is a dangerous thing. When searching out the meaning of your life, you can stumble upon that which triggers passion, joy, connection and growth. We have all encountered something in our past that has fueled these feelings within ourselves, only to find later that it was temporary – or possibly through our own emotional needs, we imprinted upon them a level of importance that is difficult to walk away from. I think it is especially difficult when this new-found experience not only resonates all of those positive emotions, but there is community and connection involved. There is a call to serve, and to be of service. All of this can create such a strong connection that there may be a loss of agency when surrendering to the whole. This is how cults can thrive; through creating the illusion that the individual needs the group when really the group derives its strength from the individual. When members cease to function as individuals, the needs of the group seem to outweigh any personal needs; when mixed with the commitment that arises out of the discovery of something powerful, this can further lead to confusion and discomfort.

Discipline without balance is also a dangerous beast, probably more so than commitment. When looking at history, discipline to see a thing through without the moderating forces of balance has been a recipe for tyranny and fascism. Some of the most unhinged world leaders that followed a fanatical philosophy with great discipline have arguably created most of the world’s pain and suffering. With the unfettered will and determination to see a thing through, people have committed acts of atrocity in the name of an ideal. This may seem like an extreme example, but it is an apt one. Without balance to see how your idea holds up to the rest of your life, discipline can be your undoing. The question that arises out of all this – how does one apply the moderating force of balance to the enviable qualities of discipline and commitment?

All things Dojo-related must have this aspect of balance as an integral component in their creation, execution and objectives. This is encompasses everything from the execution of a simple technique to managing a big fundraiser for our kids program. The reasons for balance in a technique should be obvious; without a balanced approach, the technique ceases to function. It cannot be integrated in to combinations with other techniques; at least not in a functional way. Our blocks are not simply there to stop a punch; they are designed to intercept, interpret, and forecast what that punch is doing. There is a deep sense of understanding the force presented within the block and subsequently building a response that incorporates all of this information in to a usable strategy. Balance within the movement evokes a balanced connection to other movements.

Everything we do in the Dojo needs to reflect this concept and embody it to our fullest abilities. Without this striving for balance, we are not actually pursuing martial arts; we may still be going through the motions, but this component is essential for understanding application, efficacy and usefulness of our training in the way that it really counts. No, I’m not talking about getting attacked by a band of ninjas in Chinatown (although that might be cool…). I’m talking about how we use the tools developed on the Dojo floor to enhance and understand our lives.

This concept of balance must be extended in to our entire lives, not just when we step on the mat. Indeed it is our striving for this context that actually brings the meaning of our training in to focus. At first, this may seem contradictory; isn’t it best when struggling for mastery to devote more time to that which we seek? The answer lies in context and perspective; for without the ability to understand how your training sits within all that your life represents, it cannot be mastered. One of the foundational qualities of balance is its ability to bring life in to focus. When a toddler finally learns to stand up without falling, they are now free to explore their world that is no longer spinning out of control.

In the Dojo, there is a constant call to arms. Our Dojo is a community-run organization, and volunteers are the life-blood of our efforts. When students are constantly being asked to participate, help, donate and work in an effort to keep the Dojo growing and accessible, it can seem overwhelming. Students should keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of people involved in our dojo now – If one person cannot help, there will always be someone else who steps up. If a student fails to bring the principle of balance to their life, it will also be absent from their training. When balance is missing from martial arts, it is no longer effective.

One thing that can be confusing is when witnessing others in the Dojo relentlessly pursuing their martial arts. They may be rising in rank faster than others; they seem to be at the Dojo all the time and they are always present at every turn. For some, martial arts is the thing that brings them balance; for others, it is the balance that martial arts brings that allows them to find what they are truly passionate about. It is an easy thing to be confused about; the thing that brought clarity and purpose may be the thing you need to leave behind once you find what it is that truly rings your bell. Never be afraid to stay and train; but never be fearful of walking out the door. It is an equally unbalanced position to over-train, leading to burn out or injury. The Dojo is an open door; one that goes both ways. There are many paths in life, and there are many other ways to stay connected to friends and community. At Quantum, we help to alleviate this by creating and hosting external events; street fairs, art projects, awesome stage shows, movie outings and parties – all are ways of staying in the warm circle of friends without the need to practice. The door to a Dojo is always open – there is no karate season. These are all crucial elements of creating a clearer idea of balance within the Dojo.

Life in a Dojo is a balancing act to be sure; there is equal difficulty in balancing a training schedule to include all of the different kinds of classes offered. If a student only shows up for sparring, they are missing crucial information designed to help keep themselves and others safe. If students try to give more than is possible while maintaining balance, they will cease to be of service. That lack of balance will find its way back to the Dojo and will affect others. This can cause unhappiness and suffering, causing a feedback loop that will bring this lack of balance back in to everyday life. Many find that in their eagerness to belong they end up over-extending themselves. While commitment is admirable, it is misplaced if it doesn’t embody balance thereby diminishing its power to help others. There will always be a sense of accomplishment in the discipline earned by seeing a thing through to the end; but again, if that discipline is not tempered by balance the outcome will cease to reflect intent, instead playing out through cultivated unbalanced actions.

Strive for balance, in and out of the Dojo. Efforts should be used wisely, time and energy spent in a sensible way that wastes nothing and provides the greatest return. Isn’t that the very definition of technique?

What Makes a Dojo?

I’ve spent the better part of my life in a dojo; more accurately, I’ve spent a good deal of time in many different dojos. There are numerous attributes that each of these training halls had in common – and some glaring differences. It was only after accumulating thirty years of retrospective data that I truly began to appreciate each one of these places and their impact on my life and my training. I might even say that the dojo itself left just as indelible a mark on my journey through the martial arts as some of my teachers or training partners.

So What is a Dojo?

Literally translated from Japanese, “Do” could be interpreted as many different English words; Art; Way; Method; and Path to name a few. The word “Jo” is a little less complicated; it simply means “Place.” The Dojo is “The Place of the Way.” When looked at in this light, it almost takes on a mystic quality, invoking misty mountains with cypress trees and a narrow winding path leading to a temple with upturned Pagoda roofs and a Shaolin Master sweeping the front step. This kind of imagery has always appealed to my identity as a seeker, and I have an almost archetypal relationship with many aspects of this mythical place.

Shaolin Monastery

There are many different kinds of Dojos in the world; you’ll notice that there is no mention of “martial arts” in the translation, so the “Place of the Way” could be any place where you pursue yourself. This could be a music studio; a writer’s desk; a pottery wheel; a meditation pillow; the inner space of your mind. Any place where you are finding your craft is a dojo, and that place has a direct impact on the way your craft is formed.

Finding your craft requires a great amount of letting go; releasing preconceived notions and old matrices in favor of a new paradigm previously unknown. This can be frightening work, to say the least. At best it involves deep encounters with your sense of self; essentially finding ways to re-write your story in the unfolding fable of your life. Finding yourself in unpalatable surroundings can have a profound effect on your ability to hone your craft – which for many pursuits is commonly done through the crafting of tools with which to pursue the art. Think of the painter; she doesn’t simply start painting masterpieces; she spends years refining tools to paint with. There are brushes, pots of paint, empty canvas awaiting a new idea to come to life; each part of the experience beckons something previously unknown to spring out of the painter’s mind and on to the canvas. Indeed, art is the concept of coaxing something new out of nothing; making tangible and visceral that which was previously ethereal and nebulous. It is the act of creation.

Add to this the all-important muse along with the artist’s study and the stage is set for the masterpiece of a lifetime.

Painters Studio

This same concept can applied to martial artists; but the end product is not something necessarily tangible to the casual observer. The thing that is teased into existence is not a painting or a sculpture; it is not a piece of music, but is in fact a new sense of self. With all art forms a new sense of self is realized upon the creation of any piece of art; something that transforms the artist from that point forward. Once the picture is done, it becomes part of the canon of the individual artist; a marker along the way to finding what comes next; which in turn becomes another marker.

Martial artists also encounter this sense of newness; but with the martial artist, the act of creating art is one and the same to the journey; in essence, the martial artist becomes the art. The tools needed for the culmination of this journey are not unlike the tools necessary in other art forms. But since the martial artist’s movement is the art, the quality and availability of their tools affect the martial artist in a profound way.

Snowy Dojo

The dojo is a blank canvas; every day you come to train, you step out onto a blank canvas. This is not to say that you erase the previous picture that was there; rather, that picture becomes a permanent marker along the journey. Instead, there is a new layer added every time you enter the dojo. Creating an environment that facilitates this journey in a real way can have a profound effect on the possibilities that are pursued within the context of your training; this is why the dojo should look like a blank canvas. The floor, ceilings, and walls are all blank, creating space for  the mind to open to new possibilities of the picture to be painted today.

The pursuit of the martial way is a group activity. You cannot learn martial arts alone – you must have others to push off of. That said, it is an incredibly personal experience, one that involves your search for the authentic self. This is why there are mirrors everywhere in the dojo; self-reflection will be clearly seen in the mirrors while self-reflection is experienced pushing off of others. Mirrors are not only a valuable training tool, they are revelatory in their function as an unveiler of integrity; you may think that you’re standing up straight, but the mirror will tell you the truth.

As humans, we unconsciously cultivate our tendencies toward self-delusion; sometimes it seems to be necessary to withstand the rigors of this world. Our collective inclination to color our experience with half-truths is likely propelled by the need to balance our perspective with what we already know to be true. This is akin to balancing Newtonian and Quantum Physics; there is no way for these two concepts to exist side-by side; yet they both tell a part of the truth. From the perspective of each theory, each professes to tell the whole truth; and yet there are times when each theory completely fails to explain the natural world. The search for integrity is on par with ferreting out your fears and preconceived notions; they are what block you from seeing the truth. Mirrors allow you to compare your inner experience with what you can empirically observe.

This brings me to the last component of a dojo – the training surface itself. Again, having a vehicle for unadulterated feedback brings perspective. Nature provides one of the best surfaces to train on; it is alive, and responsive. You get feedback from the ground all the time. But without the appropriate framework, there is no way to decipher the information that you receive. Nature is expansive, unbridled; connecting to the ground is literally just that – connecting to the ground. When I built the floor in the San Francisco dojo, I was looking for something to emulate just that – something that provides an echo; something resilient and alive; something that moves when you move; breathes when you breathe. The compression active floor not only provides the safety that we all crave, but also provides important feedback to the practitioner.

Bruce

A floor that invites active participation is one that beckons you to train. I knew I had a piece of the puzzle right when we were visited by two 3-year-old girls. They walked in the dojo; stopped, mouth agape. They looked at each other, and without nary a word, proceeded to kick off their shoes and run on to the floor and proceed to fling themselves into what they perceived as an obvious play-space. Their raw and genuine response rolling on the padded floor, jumping to see the floor spring back invoked a deep sense of play in both of them, and they ran themselves in circles until they fell over in exhaustion, laughing and giggling.

This is the training partner I want to spend time with. A partner that can help me see myself; one that has nothing but a genuine response to me and all that I do; one that encourages me to look for the truth; one that allows a new picture to be painted every day. This training partner is the dojo.

Come and discover your true passion.

The Source of Fear

Fear is insidious. It permeates our consciousness, drags us down, gets blamed for bad decisions, and perpetuates its existence by subtly disguising itself as religion, relationships, jobs, families and addiction. For such a powerful nemesis stalking us, we consistently invite it into our homes to have dinner with the in-laws and ask it to sit with the kids. We surreptitiously give open permission for it to bury itself ever deeper into our psyche, nestled somewhere between identity and self worth. Our culture is ripe with fear, and its very close cousin, pain. Watch the gawkers on the freeway rubberneck their way to a virtual standstill, ostensibly to show compassion and empathy for others in pain, but truly the hope is to gain a glimpse at something gruesome; something to continue to feed our desire to live in fear.

Traffic Jam

What is this vested interest in fear? Why do we, as a race, perpetuate its existence, even in the face of our own annihilation? The outward signs of fear are obvious, and in the extreme sense take shape in the form of intercontinental ballistic missiles and chemical weapons. These armaments are cruel and terrible, in both their ability and method of taking human life, as well as damaging an already crippled ecosystem.

The person that taught me the most about the root nature of fear wasn’t a person at all – it was a dog. A pit bull/lab mix named Bill. Before I knew Bill, my only real relationship with a dog was when I was a child, a mutt named Lu-Lu. She was such a mix, that it was virtually impossible to tell her breed; with the exception of a permanent pink stain on her nose and front left paw from one of her forays into the unknown, she was mostly black with some white markings on her nose, belly and paws. Being the family –and neighborhood – garbage disposal perpetuated her indistinct, rotund sausage shape. Lu-Lu was a scrounger; a dog that will do anything to get into your garbage can in the hopes of finding some putrid piece of rotting refuse to gorge herself on – and that is exactly what she did every chance she got. She had her little route she would go on when she would break the chains of her imprisonment at my parent’s house. It was good that she was so predictable, as it always fell to my brothers and me to find her following her daring escapes. My impression of her at the time was that of the thing that lived under the table, and the reason I would be forced away from my “legos” to go outside for intervals of no more than a block or two at a time, to allow her to deposit the reeking excrement that was the result of her gluttony. There was no personality, no perceivable consciousness, no one home behind those dull, brown cow eyes that would not hold yours for more than a brief fleeting moment.

Scrounging Dog

Years later, Lu-Lu was in the driveway and sliced open her leg on some broken glass there. Mom took her away to the vet, and came home alone. She explained that the damage was too severe, and that, given her age, would not heal properly. Consequently, Lu-Lu was sent to the happy garbage can in the sky, ostensibly to eat all the rotten festering food she could lay paws on – and that was that. My first experience with death had absolutely no affect on me – I had no idea that Lu-Lu was even a living entity that might have to die someday. And so my ideas about dogs remained – until Bill. Bill had a personality; he knew tricks and played games that only a being with a certain level of conscious thought could be capable of. I had many amazing moments with Bill in those years; but my favorite experience with Bill was when he taught me about the root of all our fears.

One day, I accompanied Bill and his person, Brenda, to get a puff pastry at one of our favorite little shops on Broadway in Seattle. Brenda was on the injured list at this time, still reeling from a recent knee surgery. She tied Bill to one of the small metal tables outside the shop; more as a formality than to actually restrain him. Bill obviously outweighed the table, but with a little resistance on his leash, he was easily coerced into patiently waiting for us to retrieve our pastries. Besides – he always got the last bite.

What happened next was a little blurry, but something startled him, and he jumped back just enough to topple the table behind him. The loud racket startled him even more, and he reacted again to the loud noise by moving away from it – something virtually anyone would do. What happened next was a mixture of insane comedy and horrible panic – Bill tried to move away from the sound of the metal table being dragged behind him. Of course, with every step he took, the sound continued to follow him. Completely spooked at this point, he broke into an open run, dragging the table, clanging like a four alarm fire, down the sidewalk. Brenda can’t run, so it was left to me to chase him down, screaming at people to stop him as this wild eyed, terrified pit bull was racing directly into the intersection – and oncoming traffic. Passers by watched with amused detachment as, at the very last second before Bill plunged into the road and certain death, the table got caught on an empty bike rack, boomeranging Bill backwards with an alarmingly ferocious snap.

Runaway dog

I wasn’t sure if I would find a dead dog at the end of that leash; he could have easily broken his neck – all to escape a table. Luckily, he was fine, and having survived his horrible ordeal, seemed no worse for wear and tear; just a little shaken up. Brenda came hobbling up, muttering curses under her breath at all the people that just stood there as Bill went running by, ignoring my frantic pleas for help. Why didn’t anybody reach out and stop the flying table, or at the very least stand in Bill’s way? There was no confusion as to what was happening, nor to what we were asking for – what stopped them? A freaked out pit bull is not something that just anyone wants to get involved with. There is a stigma surrounding pit bulls that they are ferocious, vicious beasts with locking jaws. Nothing could be farther from the truth; by nature, there aren’t many breeds friendlier than pit bulls – and their jaws do not lock.

The obvious answer is fear. Fear is the root of prejudice; if you read one story about a dog attack, and the breed is mentioned, that breed gets marked as dangerous and undesirable. A few years back, Rottweilers held that distinction; today the illustrious title of “worlds deadliest domesticated animal, ready to snap at any time” belongs to pit bulls. Onlookers that witnessed our microcosmic tragedy did nothing to help because they were afraid. Our nomadic ancestors probably stayed alive due to fear; indeed having a healthy fear of the bear cave probably steered them completely clear of danger, allowing the tribe thrive long enough to eventually create us. For that, I am eternally grateful.

But now that we have the combined tools of reason with the faculties of higher consciousness, it would seem weird to take the long way around a bear cave if there is no bear in it. Fear is irrational by nature, but it is a completely irrational notion to be afraid of a cave. We have the ability to keep ourselves alive by using our minds. Fear is an evolutionary tool that beings who lack higher consciousness use to stay alive; another word for this is instinct. Instinct seems to be a word that is overused; to some, following your instincts is the same thing as instinctually being afraid of bears. But thinking, conscious beings do not need fear to keep them away from bears; indeed, they know better.

Bear in a Cave

This is where the line begins to blur, because where fear would tell you to avoid bears, so would logic bring you to the same conclusion. Let’s see – long claws, big teeth, a whole lot of mass, working on instinct – hmmm; yes, stay away. But if you listen to fear, it would tell you the same thing – hence it would also appear that fear has the power to keep you safe. Fear is not a product of higher thinking; indeed it is a primal mental construct that has its deepest roots in the autonomic reptilian region of the brain. The very existence of a fear depends on you staying afraid, and in order to do this it must also foil reasoning – so for it to function, it must also keep you stupid.

None of this makes any difference to poor Bill. In his world, it would seem that fear kept him alive long enough to outrun that blasted clanging table that was chasing him. And he knows just where it lives – in that little pastry shop on Broadway. For years after this happened, every time Bill went near the pastry shop, he would whimper, pull away at the leash, look worriedly around him – lest that table chase him down for an encore. Looking beyond the fact that fear would definitely keep Bill out of the path of any bear, there emerges the idea that fear is what keeps him safe. The truth is, it is Bill’s blanket response to fear that appears to keeps him safe; but Bill doesn’t have a lot of options. Humans on the other hand have the ability to reason; yet still we respond to fear as though it is our master. After all this time; haven’t we learned better?

Next time…the Physiology of fear.