Saturday, February 27, 2010
I'm sure the answer is like everything-"it depends"-but maybe we can be a bit more specific.
When I was first practicing Hawaiian Kenpo, there was no strict preference for this matter. It was very important not to have your thumbs out so that they don't get broken or grabbed. I remember one member who always had his hands in fists like a boxer, but I didn't like that because it felt awkward, and I would rather parry or do something else initially besides punching; so I always kept my hands relaxed in my fighting stance with fingers directed towards the opponents eyes.
My first Tai Chi Chuan teacher (Kwan Ping Yang style, ever heard of it?) always made an emphasis on keeping your fingers stretched out as much as possible. It was something I had trouble maintaining, but I thought it looked good on him when he did the form, and he was very powerful and relaxed.
I've also read from and internal source that is important NOT to have your hands strained as it blocks the flow of chi in your hands.
Now, in my Aikido class, one of the black belts, who in my opinion is probably one of the dudes I would REALLY not want to mess with, he moves well and all his wrist locks are just deadly and don't let up in transitions...anyway, this guy always has his hands stretched out before a technique, and I think it may help him.
So, at this point, I don't want to have unnecessary tension in the body, but may give the extended fingers a try. One interesting thing I thought can be related to punching, or any movement actually. So, if you are flexing your arm when you punch, first, your body will have to relax the muscles in your arm, and THEN be able to punch. However, if your arm is relaxed, you can skip that and get to business! If you have your fingers outstretched and are going to grab someone, your hands will naturally just close around what it is you grab, INSTEAD OF having to extend your fingers around whatever it is you're grabbing AND THEN grab.
I'll get experiementing, but please comment on this with your ideas and experience!
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Next to the YKK factory was advertised a "Science Museum", so I decided to check it out. Judging by the parking lot it seemed quite empty, and maybe even closed. I wasn't intent upon going in anyway really, just wanted to give it a look and maybe return. I started walking my bike around a small park with a stream through it that was on the property of the center. I was wandering alone, and was a bit nervous as maybe I felt like I wasn't supposed to be there, and was then shocked to see a young woman from the center jogging towards me giving me a loud mix of "konnichiwa" and "hello". She was also followed by an older man in the same dress. Their urgency confirmed feelings of unwantedness, but was then surprised that all they wanted was me to come into the center! The girl said they saw me through the window and wanted me to come have a look. If the people here are not walking with their heads to the street in their own little worlds, they're running at you pleading to talk or go somewhere with them. Surely I made the right decision to take this adventure today.
After that I climbed back on my bike and continued my journey seaward. From the center I could of course see YKK, but then also a lot of other industrial factory-ish, buildings all around me as well as rice fields. Before coming to Japan, I imagined central Japan, Chubu, where I live, would be all industrial and a very unattractive and menacing manner, but after coming to Kurobe, I didn't see any of it really. However, if you stray far enough from the main track, you WILL see this side of Japan. Actually, en route to snowboarding in Niigata prefecture just north of Toyama, you will see many many small towns built around their factories, most pumping gasses of some kind into the air, and some completely abandoned due to the recession. Kurobe is certainly enough of other things to make this a bit more exciting, but I should not forget that this is a hard working region with the majority of its young people in factories like YKK, and the older generations in the rice fields that dominate the area.My eyes eventually left the factories, and observed the rice fields surrounding it to find about 40 cranes wandering picking for food. Japan is a country of extremes, and its dichotomy was displayed pretty well here with majestic cranes flying from the decrepit factories. As I got closer to the beach things started looking nicer. More greenery, more water, and shrines!
Though Kurobe isn't known for having famous shrines, I am amazed at how many it does have, probably as many as it does convenience stores! Which is a lot, and actually I bet there are more shrines. Each has its own individual quality, and can appreciated as long as the viewer can last. The area closest to the beach is definately my most favorite in Kurobe for a mulititude of reasons, of which would require another blog entry, but today it was my favorite because of the hawks I saw hovering in the wind almost motionless, searching the beach for prey. Just thirty feet above me was probably five of them, and it was pretty cool.Actually last time I went to the beach, I had left at dusk and was walking through a small forest park and heard an incessant whooshing above my head. I looked up and in the dimming light was maybe twenty hawks fluttering from tree to tree to find their resting spot for the night.
As a side note about many people that belong to the same generation as me, there are quite a few inside jokes stemming from recent popular culture like facebook and the TV show "Arrested Development." As a result, I have a lot of peers who only know I exist if I'm their friend on facebook and make some reference to "Arrested Development" at least once an hour. I think it makes for a specific demeanor and sense of humor that was ubiquitous for the duration of the seminar.
OK! What does this have to do with the Ten Commandmants of English? Well, this was a wonderful gem that I found amidst a desert of a two hour speech about teaching English. In a handout given to me, there was this list of "commandments" for English learners as well as teachers, but I went with the one for learners, as I think sometimes teachers understand better as learners. Anyway, I lost the paper after copying the list down, so I don't know who to cite or thank, but whoever came up with this idea is a very smart person.
The "Ten Commandments of Learning English" read as such:
1.) Fear not! Osoreruna!
2.) Dive in. Tobicome.
3.) Believe in yourself. Jibun wo shinjiyo.
4.) Seize the day. Isshun isshun wo ikikire.
5.) Love thy neighbor. Rinjin wo aiseyo.
6.) Get the BIG picture. Kousho kara miyo.
7.) Cope with the chaos. Konran ni taishoseyo.
8.) Go with your hunches. Hirameki wo ikase.
9.) Make mistakes work FOR you. Machigai wo ikase.
10.) Set your own goals. Jibun no mokuhyou wo mote.
I had many epiphanies in this seminar, but realizing the importance of this was one of the biggest. Learning a foreign language is hard for most people, and being reminded of these ideas can change a whole lot about one's attitude, which is a whole lot of learning. I believe if I would have had this when I was taking Japanese language classes in college, I would have been a better student and would now be better at Japanese. But that's just hindsight. I use it now and am slowly reaping the benefits.
BUT! This epiphany manifested into a great project, which was translating these into Japanese (Thanks to one of the greatest Japanese Teachers of English on the planet, Mr. Terao whom I work with) and then making a small personal copy for every student at my high school. It was an epic quest in and of itself, as I printed nine copies of the "Commandments" onto sheets of orange paper, cut each one out by hand (the school's big paper cutters are absolute crap) and then lamanated them with a lamanator that the past ALT bought, which is awesome by the way. Yes, two weeks later, about 700 were made and sitting on my desk.
THEN, I gave them to the students. At first they looked at it in a very confused manner. I explained that it was a present for them that I made in order to help them with English. Some were happy, some were bored, whatever. Well, this wasn't just another hand out in English class, this was a precious treasure made with the sincerest of intent for the great task of learning a foreign language. So I began talking to the class in Japanese. I have NEVER had a class so quiet and focused on what I was saying. As soon as I said "watashi" (I), I had them. I explained that I have studied Japanese in college for three years, and practice diligently every day, but I still make mistakes everyday and get very frustrated. But, if you mind these commandments, things can be a little easier. Everyone was very happy to receive them, and I'll be happy to give another round to the upcoming freshmen.
I'd love to explain why I think each of these commandments are so important, but I think this entry is long enough, and who knows what you can come up with on your own.
That night we were working on kokyuu nage, which is a very important move in all Aikido styles I think, and very very difficult for me I know! Anyway, as you step behind your opponent and place your hand on their neck to pull them around, I was getting really close to the opponent and started naturally using the ox tongue I had learned before. Not that its wrong or necessarily bad, but it just wasn't the technique we were working on, and that's cool. I like them both and look forward to someday being able to do kokyuu nage with some grace and efficiency.
This does make me think more of the similarities between Bagua Zhang and Aikido. Both focus on the utilization of circles, flanking your opponent, and using soft power, but I'm beginning to see many differences. Actually one of the biggest differences I feel is that while practicing in the internal arts of Tai Chi Chuan, Bagua Zhang, and Hsing I, all the movements come from very small details of positioning and posture IN your body while I feel that in Aikido right now, more emphasis is put on the movement itself. Also, the internal arts seem to work their best in great proximity to one's opponent in order to execute throws. Of course, in Aikido the focus is often throws, but they seem all done at a bit of a greater distance from your opponent.
Also, my own training habits account for many biases. After spending most of the past couple years on internal aspects, I got used to dissecting techniques down to very small details with my training partners, and also allowing for a lot of creativity in figuring out what worked for each person. Now, its strange for me to be in a class where repititions have priority, and there is less explanation of each technique's minute details ... not that I would understand them! Ha, actually, Sensei does explain quite a bit, I just don't understand his Japanese yet.
I feel kokyuu nage and the ox tongue reveal great differences in the two arts of Bagua Zhang and Aikido.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010
While amazed at the intricate snow structures, I was surprised to what was a large amount of soldiers at the event. After asking fellow gaijins, I gathered it was the national guard, putting their time and large funding to use by having them build the ice structures and strut around casually in their uniforms.
Who: crazy Japanese person and Gaijinexplorer. What: random one man band and interpretive dancer (not shown) spreading smiles and confused looks. When: About three pints deep. Why: I have no idea!
I've never been to a festival in Japan without fireworks, and this one didn't dissapoint.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
After my last Monday class of frustration I decided to do three things: First, drink a beer ... then practice for an hour ... and then buy 6 books about Aikido in Japanese from Amazon.com! If I don't understand my Sensei because he's using Aikido vocabulary all the time, then I'm going to learn it. I felt immediately gratified after ordering them, even more so when they arrived only about two days later, but am now looking at them a bit apprehensively trying to judge exactly how this is going to work. For all those students of Japanese, I think you'll be able to sympathize. There is a large amount of kanji to decipher. Thus far I have utilized my fellow teachers at school to help me with kanji translations, but they are getting busier and my novelty factor is wearing off, so I'm not getting as much help these days. I have a great kanji dictionary, but to struggle through finding the radicals and such for every single word in these books may take me about 80 years, and that exceeds my contract here in Japan, so I need to find something else. I did hear from a friend that actually the best option may be to buy a Nintendo DS because it has a game you can buy that has a great kanji dictionary, and as long as I get the stroke order right, it's about the fastest and most effective way possible. However, it will be expensive, and there is a great looming threat I will satiate a deep desire to play Zelda and thus neglect teaching responsibilities, studying Japanese, practicing Aikido, getting out and exploring Japan, and hanging out with friends. Mmmmm. Any words of advice is GREATLY APPRECIATED.
Class the other night actually went very well. I showed all the books to my sensei, and he was certainly interested and maybe even a bit more shocked. I think he was happy to have an enthusiastic student, but confused as to how I'm actually going to read these books, or if I'm just crazy. As for being tossed, I certainly ate a lot of mat while feeling new pains in tendons I didn't even know existed. As for throwing, I am already seeing small improvements.
Buying these books and having a positive and thirsty attitude I think are great fruits blossoming from studying about Taoism and the internal arts of Tai Chi, Bagua Zhang, and Hsing I. With life in constant change, the universe and its manifestations are always vascillating in a wave like fashion alternating from up and down, positive to negative, and so forth. My life and training are no different. However, I believe our role as rational and sensitive humans is to see these patterns and be able to hasten those less enjoyable parts and longer enjoy the time in the sun. In Japan I have made so many mistakes and rode already through a lot of less than ideal experiences, but the best thing I can do is to get on that horse and ride as fast as I can into the next adventure.