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.

The Roots of Quantum – Part III

There are other aspects related to the search for technique; the second part lies in the application of movement. There is a purpose for the technique to exist, and that is found in its function. Traditionally, many empty handed Martial Arts (those that do not primarily use weapons) have matured as a system of self defense. In other words, the underlying purpose of the technique developed by these styles is to ward off a potential attack. There are many reasons to study Martial Arts; some seek exercise; others desire a more spiritual path; others want to compete, while still others wish to develop self defense. But no matter the reason that an individual chooses, if the impetus of that style is based in self defense, then the movements are going to reflect that idea in their structure. Certainly the philosophy that guides the progression of any basic strategy employed would also be affected, as would the general direction of the style itself. The thing that troubles me and seems to put these martial arts at odds with themselves is this: Self defense implies victimization.

SF Dojo

I would most certainly classify victimization as a fear. I was constantly put in a place of victimization as a child, hence I lived in fear – it was one of the things that drew me to the Martial Arts to begin with. After years of studying, I would still think strategically like a victim; afraid of going to strange new places; always on the look out for my potential attacker. I never left the country because I was afraid. I wouldn’t try new restaurants, or go places that didn’t seem safe to me (which was pretty much everywhere). It took years of unraveling to see that I was creating all of that myself, and it had been reinforced in my movements; stored in my muscle memory; locked in to the very structure of how I thought. As a Martial Artist, I study my movement to perfect my technique. In order to use your mind to break down and refine your movements, you must think in terms of how and where you get your power, consider distance, leverage, trajectory, physiology, targets, and of course application. This means that if you continue to refine a technique that is rooted in fear, then with each refinement and iteration of that technique you bury your fear even deeper in your consciousness; in essence, giving it a nice comfortable home complete with whirlpool bath, gourmet kitchen and 400 thread count sheets to lay its head on.

Of course, the deeper the root of your fear is buried, the harder it is to find, realize and begin the long unraveling of its insidious hold on your life. Over the first ten years of my martial arts career I continued to hone my thinking around these fear-based movements, and eventually my power was so tied into my fear that the two were inseparable. Making the choice to leave behind my fears at that point required a complete revamping of how I saw myself and my source of power. The outcome of that transformation was the birth of Quantum Martial Arts.

The Roots of Quantum – Part II

Although I had pursued martial arts for many years, it took over fifteen years for me to see myself as a competent martial artist. This sense of falling short of my expectations was nothing new to me; I had played the trumpet since 4th grade, and picked up the guitar in my sophomore year, but even after 25 years of doing that, I never saw myself as an artist. Even though it was me playing that trumpet, I believed that I was cheating in some way; at the very least, I was falling far short of my potential.Trumpet

It is my contention that we are all moved by forces unseen. Some of us state that we are only a particular way because of some circumstance from childhood, or that we come up with logical reasons for doing what it was that we do. But my reasons for continuing in the Martial Arts were all based upon my experience of the world at that time. I didn’t want some individual to “pass me up”, or I was afraid for my safety, or my self image was so fragile that it needed the propping up that Martial Arts seemingly provides. Then there were times that I continued and had no idea why I was still doing it – I just was. It is only with the grace that hindsight gives, or that time affords us, that I can see so much more clearly now. The truth of my life is that I have a gift, and that gift has brought me to an understanding of movement and timing. As these concepts gradually increased in depth and scale, they also brought me to pursue the gifts of truth and leadership. But mostly, I have developed the gift of sight. At the time, it seemed that the motivations I conjured up were the truth, but only because I was covered in fear. Fear stops you from seeing who you are. Fear disconnects you from your body and your mind. The very life of fear depends on you not knowing the truth –

Nothing can touch you.

Nothing can own you.

Everything is going to be all right.

Master Evans gives a 'grasshopper talk'
Master Evans gives a ‘grasshopper talk’

None of those ideas can exist while fear stands in the way. But oddly enough, fear plays a central role in the development of those ideas. While fear can stand in the way and block your view, it takes an act of faith and courage to move past your fear – hence a chance to see that while fear can present itself in a visceral way, it also allows the opportunity for exercising faith and courage. Fear can cause us to hide away from ourselves and try to stay the same, or fear can give the impetus to grow and expand beyond all previous limitations. While it can be the one thing that stops you from living a courageous life, it is also the one thing that allows it to exist.

Or, at least I thought that I had fabricated it.

We are moved by forces that we will never understand, but the more fear that you have to block your way, indeed the more investment in fear that you have, the less you will understand those forces and how they exert themselves on you. I did not make up the idea that I train to heal; I actually do train to heal. While it was true that I was already experiencing those aspects of my training, I was incapable of seeing or realizing their existence. By coming up with something that sounded reasonable to me at the time, I started down a path that I can never turn around on, and have since found all of these amazing resources tucked up inside a good reverse punch.

But it is quite another concept to seek out technique. The search for technique can be thought of in two parts.

One is the search for unhindered energy running cleanly through your body that is articulated as a dynamic expression of accurately focused power. This is the very real, physical attribute of technique; one that can be tested on boards, concrete, target pads, heavy bags. But there is also a look to good technique. When energy runs unhindered through a physical body, the path that it travels is beautiful. A true expression of power without need, want, or fear has the grace of dancing along with a full exposure of self; indeed there is a nakedness to it, for those who have eyes that can see. For me, the look of a fully supported leveraged movement virtually invokes a portrait by Davinci, with angles and vectors written out on aging parchment, showing ratios scribbled in the margins. But even for those who are not adept at seeing such things, there is a profound difference between a raw beginner attempting to contort their body in what would seem a very unnatural way to force energy out and a seasoned practitioner who has learned to release the things that stand in the way of that flow of energy and allow themselves to be naked. A question that I have asked myself over and over again is this: Is it the practice of the technique itself that refines that movement? Or is it the releasing of that which stands in the way of the natural flow of energy in the human body? In my estimation, it is both; and it is neither.

More about technique next!

The Roots of Quantum – Part I

The pursuit of Martial Arts has defined my life. My entire adult life has been spent passionately following a thing of great interest to me. When I first walked into a Dojo, there was no thinking involved. I simply did it. There was no impetus, no conscious motivation, and no driving force that I could discern at the time, nor that I can currently recollect. I simply walked in and never considered not doing it. After joining the Marine Corps (as a bugler, no less) I was stationed in Twenty-Nine Palms, California, affectionately known as “The Stumps” to the Marines who inadvertently found themselves there – you can only imagine why. Twenty-Nine Palms is in the middle of nowhere, located in the High Desert of Southern California. The closest city that resembles civilization is Palm Springs which lies down the hills of the Morongo Basin and about an hour and a half away. Other than that, there were jack rabbits, Joshua Trees, scorching hot days in blistering heat, mosquitoes, tattoo shops, bars – and one Martial Arts school.

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park

At that time, Twenty-Nine Palms consisted of about two thousand people living in town, and about eight thousand Marines living on a base 4/5 the size of the State of Rhode Island. The Marines would run what they referred to as “combined arms exercises” out in the desert, far away from civilization. These live fire exercises were conducted in conjunction with the Army, Navy and Air Force as well as services from other countries. Some of our favorites were the Koreans. As the only Tae Kwon Do school in town, when the Republic of Korea (ROK) Marines landed, during their time off they would come and seek us out.

Unfortunately for me, I had put about as much thought into joining the Marines as I had in taking my first Martial Arts class; basically none. This was a very tough time for me, full of the kind of inconsistencies that only the military can justify. Some of our favorite jokes at the time now seem very Zen to me, such as the term “military intelligence”. While I was enlisted in the Marines, I played a lot of taps in cemeteries for broken boys in boxes. I also was used as a recruiter’s aid at high schools and such. We performed in countless parades and field shows and traveled extensively. Some of the gigs we showed up at were weirdly bizarre, but for the most part my three year odyssey in the hands of the United States government was a time of conflicting ideas and non-sequiturs. There were many days when absolutely nothing made any sense. Looking back on it, although I was not what you would call a “model marine”, the people in charge of our unit were mentally unstable and full of self doubt. Without going into greater detail, suffice to say that I was seeking something to keep my sanity. It has been my experience that the human mind grasps for anything that it can to help maintain a semblance of balance, especially during trying times. Most of the young marines stationed on that base did one of two things in an attempt to maintain that balance. Some became alcoholics and lived at the bars out in town, participating in the intense drama that is small town life. Others became “PT monsters”. PT stands for physical training, and many of us found solace in going to the gym, lifting weights, wrestling, or, for some, Martial Arts.

Bugler 29 Palms
USMC Bugler, 29 Palms CA

And I trained hard. Every day, without fail I would show up for class, often staying until all hours of the night. I volunteered to clean the toilets at the Dojo so I could have a key and let myself in after hours. I would sweat, yell, hit the heavy bag until I was hoarse, only to turn around and do it again the next day. Acquaintances that I had on the base would invite me out to do something, but I would always turn them down, because I had to go to school. It simply never even occurred to me that I could take a day off. When I did take someone up on the occasional offer to go out and do something else, I always found myself wishing that I had attended class instead; feeling guilty and often daydreaming about whatever lesson I was missing that night.

One might assume that I would have understood that I had a passion for this activity, that I was a duck in water. But that is the queer nature of Martial Arts. Like my childhood, and Marine Corps boot camp, you are never done. There is always something else to do, and you are always left lacking. The intellectual idea of perfection always has a gap between where you are and where you are attempting to go. One of the main attributes that makes an individual a Martial Artist is their acceptance of this fact. More than their acceptance, it must become a welcome facet in their life; something to be embraced, not feared and pushed away; something that, by its very nature, invites change and transformation. Although I felt that I would never be a proficient Martial Artist, I continued to strive with all of my effort and intention on pursuing the elusive way of the warrior.

Master Karasek 29 Palms 1984
Master Karasek 29 Palms 1984

My main teacher at the time, Mr. Mark Karasek, worked as a night security guard at the local hospital in nearby Joshua Tree, California. His shift would start at 11:00 PM and go to 7:00 AM. I would drive up at about midnight when I knew he would be free, and ask him to show me more forms. I asked him to show me things I was not required to know in his school, picked his brain for everything I could come up with. “Why do you want to know this stuff?” he would ask. I would reply with the truth; that I didn’t know; I just wanted to learn more. He would show me a few moves, then go back in the hospital for his rounds, then come back out and show me another few steps until I had leaned the whole thing. I remember the sun coming up many times in those days, still fully energized and ready for more karate the next day. I thought I had no aptitude because I thought that aptitude was measured by prowess and ability. But my gift was not in the form of innate martial arts skills, but rather in the realm of understanding how to pursue something. And pursue I did.

To be continued!