Shihan Cameron Quinn regales the Tyger with insights into why – and how – a rock climber comes to qualify as a warrior.
The Tyger: In the film ‘Free Solo’, Alex Honnold says, ‘The warrior’s path is about disciplining one’s fear and getting it out of the way in order to attain one’s goal’. What do you think?
Shihan Cameron Quinn: [Paramahansa] Yogananda’s teacher, Sri Yukteswar, wrote a book called The Holy Science. In it, he describes how there are a number of different hearts of man, one of which is the ‘propelled heart’.
He wrote that, “When man becomes a little enlightened, he compares his experiences relating to the material creation gathered in his wakeful state with his experiences in dream. Understanding the latter to be merely ideas, he begins to entertain doubts as to the substantial existence of the former.
“His heart then becomes propelled to learn the real nature of the universe. And struggling to clear his doubts, he seeks for evidence to determine what is truth. In this state, man is called a warrior. To struggle in the manner aforesaid becomes his natural duty.”
There’s a point in natural spiritual evolution where you’re propelled to struggle for truth. For Honnold, Rock climbing is his expression of warriorhood.
Coming from your background in combat sports, you’re talking about free climbing as being an endeavour where one mistake means the end of your career. Which is basically the end of your learning curve. Is that an acceptable level of risk?
We look at it as risk, but there are just as many people who would never climb into a ring and fight someone. They think that is just crazy. Risk is relative to your preparation. Alex Honnold had prepared from when he was a kid. What we see as risk, he sees as challenge.
Most of the film is preoccupied with Alex studying El Capitan; he does everything he can to mitigate risk. Remember when he was trying to traverse that horizontal section for days? They’d climb all the way up, get there and lose it. Then they’d have to swing down and start again.
The bottom line is, you mitigate risk through training, metal preparation and technical ability.
What do you do when you’re too old to fight, or climb? Risk is the rhythm of the pulse in all of this, isn’t it? How do you practise a meaningful discipline when you’re too old or injured to confront that measure of risk?
If you’ve lived a reasonably healthy, righteous warrior’s life, then all roads lead to Rome. What we’re seeking is those deeply personal experiences that lead to inner peace. If you approach any of those processes properly, you’ll come to your answer.
It reminds me of that quote from Miyamoto Musashi: ‘If a true warrior understands one thing, he understands all things.’ You’re relating not on the externals; the techniques of rock climbing and fighting have nothing to do with each other, but the psychology of the warrior behind them has. The courage required for both of them is identical.
The Bhagavad Gita points out that although the outer expressions are many, the theme of life is essentially one: a spiritual journey seeking victory in the inner battles on every level. The experiences of a fighter lead towards courage and fearlessness. All good paths do the same. So the battle is a lifelong one and the inner challenges renew themselves every day. We just have to keep on keeping on, a step at a time.
The Bhagavad Gita lists twenty-six noble qualities which make a man godlike. The first of those qualities is fearlessness. All other qualities are built upon it. Yogananda describes fearlessness as ‘The impregnable rock on which the house of spiritual life must be erected.’
First and foremost, a student must be fearless. Any life of purpose takes you away from a state of comfort, and that requires courage. Martial arts schools are filled with people who will never go outside of their comfort zones. If I extend myself [and] accept the challenge to be better inside, then I will be better outside too, to improve my technique and confront strong opponents.
Above: Quinn in his heyday.
Shihan Cameron Quinn is, in the Tyger’s estimation, a true luminary. A graduate of the University of Queensland with a Bachelor’s degree in Japanese as both a written and spoken language, he also holds a sixth Dan black belt in Kyokushin Karate, known for its foundation in full contact fighting.
After graduating from high school in 1975, Shihan Cameron travelled to Japan, using study as a pretext to immerse himself in Kyokushin Karate. In 1976, Mas Oyama, founder and president of the organisation, asked Cameron to work as his interpreter at the 8th All Japan Full-Contact Karate Tournament. In this way, he met and nurtured relationships with many of the most senior and significant figures in the organisation.
Upon returning to Australia and beginning work as a customs officer, Cameron became interested in Paramahansa Yogananda after reading ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’. He then travelled to Los Angeles where he lived for a year, working at the Self Realisation Fellowship Mt Washington Centre, studying and learning about Yogananda and his teachings, eventually contemplating becoming a monk himself.
He felt he could make a greater contribution by continuing with karate and in 1986, took over the Brisbane Kyokushin dojo. Cameron continued his close relationship with Mas Oyama which allowed him to continue to train and operate at the epicentre of international karate, propelling his students among the strata of the world’s finest fighters.
Kyokushin karate holds that full-contact fighting is the essential proof of a martial art. Shihan Cameron has competed at the highest level. At the Australian Championships, he has placed third (1987), second (1980 and 1984) as well as first in 1986. He won first place in ‘The Battle’, the Australian teams championship. He was selected to represent Australia at the Trans-Tasman Cup in 1987, which he also won, and went on to represent Australia at the Fourth World Open Tournament in Tokyo in 1987.
In 1986, Cameron wrote ‘The Budo Karate of Mas Oyama: Philosophical Foundations of Japan’s Strongest Fight Art.’ Written with Oyama’s full support, it remains one of the quintessential books on Kyokushin and the martial way generally speaking.
Finally, if he can be simply described, Shihan Cameron has illumined the warrior’s path with the scholar’s mind, which makes for the most pellucid of teachers.