Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jousei Holiday!

That's another one my English Japanese jokes that nobody has laughed at yet. Jousei means female, and holiday is of course, a holiday.

Why would I think of such a phrase? Because that's what I'm going to be doing for the next three weeks! Tomorrow I'm going to Tokyo to meet my mom who is coming to Japan for two weeks. We're going to spend two nights in Tokyo, one night in Koya-san (famous Buddhist mountain temple complex in the Kii Penninsula), three nights in Kyoto, and then come back to Kurobe. AND THEN... the next night, Jolene my amazing and wonderful girlfriend is joining us for two weeks as well. Thats one week traveling with my mom, one week with both Jolene and my mom, and then one week with just Jolene. Am I ready for all this jousei??? Oh yeah. I'm feeling pretty lucky. But this means no posting probably for three weeks. Well, maybe I can pop in for a quick word or two here and there, but there won't be much aikido though. I definitely want to show my mom aikido though by bringing her to the dojo to watch practice one night.

So yeah ... ittekimasu!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Lesson 35: A Night for the Whities!

This was definitely the funniest practice ever.

It was Sensei, Ueno-san for blackbelts, and then me, two lower ranking white belts, and one girl who had just started a week ago. When someone new comes in, sensei and Ueno-san take times working them one-on-one for a couple weeks on the side until they feel like they're ready to keep up in the main group. So, for the first hour or so it was us three whities with sensei and the new girl with Ueno-san.

I guarantee you have never seen so many strange awkward movements and positions ever done in the guise of aikido ever. One of the other whities has been training for a couple months, but probably comes once or twice a week, and is, with no disrespect, one of the most awkward and less-inclined toward beautiful aikido movements people I've met. The other, is someone who started a couple months ago as well, and has for the past month been coming to every single practice and has started spending extra time with sensei doing kenpo ... but he is naother one of the most awkward people I've ever met ... again with absolutley no disrespect. And then there's me who, because physical movement through sports and martial arts has been the primary focus of my free time since I was 10 years old, only barely manages to rise above these other two, but it was definitely shown that I am very much still a humble whitey.

We would be doing really simple movements, but for throwing and being ukemi both, sensei was either dead silent or tersely commenting:

"What are you DOING?!?!?!?!"

"Sorry sorry sorry!"

"Other SIDE!"

"OK OK sorry."



"Like this!"


I couldn't count how many times I had to cover my mouth from revealing laughter at this entertainment. And niether could Ueno-san from the other side of the mat when she peeked over from time to time.

Eventually we switched to having Ueno-san working with us and sensei with the new girl, but it was more of the same. I don't know which was funnier: sensei in all is skill and glory working with us who were so comedically incapable, or tiny Ueno-san wiping us all with the mat.

Sensei's not one to let a dry joke end, so we ended up practicing an extra twenty minutes past the end time, seemingly to Ueno-san's slight dismay and the other white belts elongated embarrassment ... but I absolutley loved every second of it. It's definitely one of the most memorable and most fun practices I've had.

In the end, on of the white belts said, "Gee, that must have been really boring for sensei." But I told him that I felt this is one of the best experiences to have as a white belt from time to time, and I had a lot of fun." I know everyone was having fun for the most part, and I am so grateful to sensei and Ueno-san ... and every other highly skilled practitioner who will continually and unconditionally offer their teaching to whoever shows up.

Thanks everyone.

This was a night for the shiro-ebi.

Anyone laughing???

This is one of my favorite original Japanese-English jokes I've come up with.

White belt in Japanese is shiro-obi ... but there's a famous shrimp here in Toyama called shiro-ebi ... white shrimp. So I always call myself a lowly shiro-ebi ... but Japanese rarely laugh at this joke, I don't know why because I think it's brilliant.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lesson 34: Not From A Book

My sensei doesn't think you can learn aikido from a book. With him it's always "kankaku de ... kankaku de ..." By feeling ... by feeling. Tonight I was able to make a connection between this inclination and his disrespect of another sensei in Toyama prefecture by listening to some stories about how my sensei learned aikido. It answered a lot of personal questions I had about him.

For the past year, there's been attempts at uniting all the aikido dojos in Toyama under a certain Toyama Federation of Aikido, and sensei has been to a few meetings about it, but he has always been more than a bit unconcerned about it. I wondered why at first, and thought it was just a Japanese way to handle things for someone of some status ... taking a long time and a bit reluctantly.

Since I started aikido, I slowly learned that my sensei and Ueno-san (who just received her godan [fifth degree blackbelt] by the way) started training together about 20 years ago in Toyama City. They have trained together non-stop since then. When I asked why they still don't train in Toyama City with the same teacher, Ueno-san always says that he's not very good.

In a month or two, that teacher in Toyama City is having a bit of a get-together/seminar which may possibly include things about the Toyama Aikido Federation, and Sensei includes news about it often in his post-class news bulletin. He brings it up often to let people know, but he's not going, and always seems to play it down less than a little bit. Often in the Wednesday when we're working on more advanced stuff in small groups and get talking about "kankaku" (learning by feeling), he'll bring up this Toyama City teacher and say that his dojo doesn't do it at all. Slowly, I've been asking more information about this other sensei, and one particular thing that has come up a lot is that the other sensei doesn't do anything with a ken or jo (wooden sword and short staff), and is lacking a great facet of understanding the workings of aikido and whatnot. I'm forgetting now what other specific details Sensei compares his aikido to the other sensei's with.

But then tonight on the drive home, after a great Wednesday class, and we were talking about the different methods of training we use between Wednesday and Mondays and Thursdays and Saturdays. Basically, Wednesdays Mondays and Saturdays are "standard waza (technique)" training days, where we go over what could be considered the standard curriculum of aikido which should probably relate to all other aikikai dojos. But Wednesday is about more advanced techniques ... or not so much more advanced techniques, but a different way of seeing the same techniques in a way that is more difficult. Anyway ... I asked him if he got these Wednesday night methods from Kobayashi Sensei (who he claims to get the most influence and affiliate with the most and what is considered the Hombu Dojo), and he said no ... he mostly got it from various other teachers. I asked from what places in Japan and he named off some various places. Now I got really interested as I was starting to learn more specifics of my sensei's aikido past. Apparently, he started aikido (after doing Kenpo for a few years in college) in graduate school in Fukuoka for two years. Then after that, he came to Toyama to train with ...

THIS SENSEI HE SEEMS TO DESPISE until he was a nidan (second degree black belt)! (I put this in caps because when it was told in the story this is when I made the big connection between him and the other sensei in Toyama). In my mind, I had some image like he trained with Kobayashi Sensei for like 100 years or something and then met some other people blah blah blah, but it wasn't until after he was nidan that he met who he considers his main teacher. He said, when he became nidan, he felt he was better than his teacher who was a yondan (fourth degree black belt) at the time, and left to study under different people ... and actually now this part has become foggy again. He must have met Ueno-san during this time, but then went to study with Kobayashi Sensei, as well as meeting other extremely influential teachers in Osaka ... and probably way more other teachers that he doesn't think too highly of.

Mmmmm, more questions for Sensei...

Anyway, as for this other sensei in Toyama who was his teacher for a while ... how is it that he has trained for so long, and is looked down upon thusly by my teacher? Generally, my sensei said this was so because he learned everything from books he read, and not from a teacher.

This must be why he always comes back to "kankaku". This must be why, after my second month or so of training, I came to him with 6 books in Japanese about aikido that I had just ordered off amazon, and he wasn't very impressed. (All of which I planned to read. I've started one, which I've been doing for A LONG FRICKEN TIME very slowly and inconsistently and painfully and without yielding many useful gems about aikido ... but I do like this one in particular and have learned helpful terms in aikido ... but those other five will probably never be read by me ... anyway).

So yeah ... a lot of really valuable information came to me tonight in the last two minutes of the car ride of the night. Why he looks down on not learning by kankaku ... details about his aikido history ... and also a great night of training with thousands of other very kankaku-ish gems ... that I cannot explain.

Let's try one ...

You shouldn't use strength in aikido.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lesson 33: Too much SUSHI!

Tonight I ate too much sushi before practice.

It wasn't so much as too much sushi, just too much too close to the time where I roll around hundreds of times vigorously for two hours. Because aikido practice is conveniently right when I like to eat dinner, between 7:30 and 9:30, I have two mini dinners, one before and one after. Actually, it's more like a medium dinner before and a big dinner afterward. Usually my first dinner is around 5:30, but when I do sushi, it's never enough and I'm starving half way through practice, so tonight I ate around 6:30 tonight instead.

I knew right as I pulled up to the dojo on my mamachari (granny bike) that it was a bad idea. My stomach was too full to handle the next walk up the stairs. Anyway, I went on with it and went through stretching verrrrry slowly, trying to concentrate all my energy on digesting the food peacefully so that I could have a normal practice. About 15 minutes into practice, we started practicing normal techniques, and I thought I could wait after one round of a few minutes before I excused myself. We did sawari waza and it was alright, but every movement was one that made me clench my rear end just a little more. We finished, returned to watch sensei demonstrate the next technique, and there's very little else in the world that could have kept me from going to the bathroom than embarrassing myself by leaving in the middle of this part of practice. It was actually really bad. I tried to think of how a proper shodan should handle themself in this situation and use their discipline to take their mind of the bathroom for the two minutes it was needed, but the second sensei had us start the technique, I immediately fled into a brisk job across the gym by the karate class, past the parents watching, down the stairs while I undid my gi and belt, and began what was the second worst way I've ever started practice, which lasted about 20 minutes.

The first ... well that one's hard to beat. How about, before the second night I showed up to aikido ... the first night I participated ... I was looking around the supermarket for a small fruit drink and I found one ... one that also happened to be a laxative. I drank that minutes before putting on my gi for the first time to join aikido in Japan.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lesson 32: Sometimes Words

Being in Japan and not understanding so much Japanese, I've come to learn aikido mostly by "kankaku" (feeling/perception) and have grown to deem this mode of learning superior to words ... but those key words every while can really send things to a land of great understanding. Tonight, they were words I had alone with my Sensei before class. I actually showed up early because I saw him going over some Kenpo stuff with someone else last time, and I'm sure because the student is an eager early comer, so I thought I get in on some of the education. I showed up, and lo and behold, there sensei stood alone putting on his hakama. But we got started talking, and it really had little to do with aikido itself. But this 25 minute conversation we got to have before class really set some things straight with me, life, and inevitably but indirectly, aikido. It would be silly to think we should learn without using words, because we're humans, and that's what separates us from animals ... and the cultivation of beer. Speaking of ... time to do more non-aikido oriented activites that will enhance my ability in aikido.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lesson 31: A Slight Emphasis on the Wrist

A while ago I attempted to write an entry after every class under the varying titles of "Lesson X: blah blah blah", but it seemed to have dropped off because ... blah blah blah. It is difficult to do so everytime, but if there's anything my aikido has taught me, it's "bochi bochi" ... little by little. In fact, it reminds me off the first proverb I learned in Japanese, which I have also forgotten to think about, but its coming back ... "senri no michi mo ippo kara" ... A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. So let's call this large interim "Lesson 30.5: Small Accumulation" (Isn't there a chapter in the I-Ching called that? No rip-off intended). But without trying to be too dramatic, (which I think I tend to do in my writing), it's time to write these like it's to save my life ... or at least my sanity. Ever since I decided to leave Japan about 5 months again, I have searing mental anguish concerning leaving my dojo after every practice. I don't know how I manage to forget it and ease my soul before I go to bed, but now it's time to do so by way of these "Lessons", a productive and therapuetic way to think about my training. So enough of all that. Let's get on with the lesson. And let's try to keep it brief, to start off on a solid foot. A couple months ago for a couple months, I was avid about training with my jo (short staff), and was determined to nail the two kata I've been shown, 31 and 13. Now, things have changed, and I've come to want to focus more on the ken (wooden sword) instead. It could be for many reasons, but namely, because my sensei said it was his favorite. If there's any large lessons I've learned in aikido, it's to find a good sensei and copy everything he does. The original intent wasn't consciously meant to follow this method of learning, but is a natural side effect I guess. Though it seems to me there are less options, or at least less movements I've learned with the ken compared to the jo, sensei seems to emphasize these movements in our empty practice a little more often. As a matter of fact, I see more in the action of lifting the ken in our empty handed practice than all of the moves of the jo combined. This is particularly evident in the waza kokyuhou. It comes in various applications, but these specific attacks and defenses aren't as important as paying attention to raising your arms in the manner of doing so as if you held a ken. But to even say "raise your arms" is a huge misnomer because if you were to just literally raise your arms, you would be so absolutley very far from the technique. One must do so from the hip, which starts at the legs, and transfers through the torso, through the arms, wrists, and opponents body. But that last sentence I wrote is so cliche and well known, that it kind of pisses me off I wrote it, but it is true. Perhaps if I could focus on one thing it's the wrists. I've been infatuated in how the wrists move in this movement, but to emphasis some movement in the wrist would be to put too much stress into it. For me, it helps to think of it more as an extension, or last tweak to the whole form that makes or breaks the form. Just try and pick up your sword, raise it over your head to a place where the sword almost drapes down your back (but doesn't because you're keeping good form). HOLY CRAP! This is why when we raise the ken over our heads, we let it go down our backs a bit. The first post I wrote about the ken in this blog addressed the problem of how we should hold our ken in the upright position ... 1.) Like kendo where it's a 45 degree angle shooting upward and backward, 2.) parallel with the ground, or 3.) draping down the back (the one I thought was the obvious worst form!!!) But we do so partly because of that very subtle twist of the wrist. There you go, back into the "Lessons". No pictures, frequently off on a tangent, and starting from a point where I have no idea where it's going ... here it is. For my sanity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Break from Martial Mania

Hisashi buri!

Long time no post eh?

I returned from an epic trip to Yakushima Island in south west Japan with many tales of folly and adventure! But alas, chronicling such matters for the blog seems to be taking a lot more time than I'm willing to offer at the moment. It is a work in progress, and maybe, just maybe will manifest into a readable format. Until that time, I will resume somewhat usual blogging matters after what has been a couple weeks now.

Not only have I been away from the keyboard for a couple weeks, the actual 8 day trip itself kept me away from the dojo, and has greatly affected my psyche concerning martial arts as a whole. Generally speaking, I've spent a little less time thinking about martial arts, and a lot less time obsessing or worrying about them. The period of time leading up to the trip, I found myself in a month of increasing stress (both eustress: "stress that is deemed healthful or giving one the feeling of fulfillment", and distress: "that which causes pain, suffering, trouble, danger, etc." [or how about this definition of distress: to dent, scratch, or stain (furniture, lumber, or the like) so as to give an appearance of age.] [definitions found at ""]) Time was also frantically spent at school reading blogs concerning martial arts and ordering martial arts books. Time spent showing up early for training to practice ken and jo, and time spent after training at home practicing ken and jo. All the while, images of black belts and hakamas haunted me, making me stare with tunnel vision 10, 20, 30, 40 years into the future ... with little attention to 99% of everything else around me. On the one hand I felt my physical level in aikido rise noticeably and immediately in certain ways, but like I said, ignored about 99.9% of everything else around me. I've been here many times before, and even predicted the fall that would follow my ascension of this spike of sorts.

I knew Yakushima would make a lot of my martial concerns dissipate around me as I explored new streets and climbed mountains loaded with a heavy pack, and it certainly did. But this is not to say I forgot at all about martial arts, it was just from a very different perspective ... one that was looking in on it all. After the camping/hiking adventure, I came back down to sea level and poked my head back into the budo blog realm, and watched it with a squinch in my nose and brow. Judgements and revelations as well as innocent endeavors cast across inter-web space in every color and direction. I looked at all the blogs I have listed in the sidebar of my own, and was swamped by the shear amount of information. What did this have to do with me? How relevant is this to my life? I cracked the frosty asahi that was waiting next to the keyboard and stepped outside onto the porch of my hostel to watch a cloudless sunset.

When I finally came back to Kurobe, I had somehow contracted a debilitating stomach flu, that sent me to the hospital, and vomit all over the walls of my bathroom. I had to take two days off work, and inevitably miss an aikido class. I thought it would be a nice time to relax and slowly reorganize things from my trip before returning fully to my life of routine... but I spent all the energy I could making a 20 minute trip to the store, and keeping my eyes open to watch a single movie. The rest of the time, lethargy allowed me nothing but the desire to find the womb silent half-asleep, half-awake in my futon.

When I did return, it was with great enthusiasm to conduct my life with consistency and moderation for the things I love in my life, and leave a lot of open space to explore what things may flow in and out. I found a book that has proved to be very therapeutic to my current martial condition: "Watch My Back" by Geoff Thompson. Instead of my usual textbook-like rotating library of strict and serious accounts of well-established traditions, this book is the story of a young man finding his way through the mayhem of being a doorman in urban England. (Something I would never want to do! But it sure is interesting.) This auto-biography of sorts is a refreshing change. However, a week and 100 pages later, I have already found myself clouding my view with these encapsulating stimulations concerning martial arts again, and am recoiling a bit at the moment.

I'm beginning to ramble, but I guess the point of putting these thoughts onto this blog for people to spend time to read ... is to mark a reformation of martial arts in my life. Not a revolution, but a reformation; and one made from the general standpoint of "my life" ... instead of one happening to my life from the standpoint of "budo".

Why do I spend so much time in my white superhero outfit, reading about ancient traditions and recent occurences of violence, and swinging wooden sticks around when I'm alone?

I don't really know, but I'm sure I will continue to think about it ... with consistency and moderation.