Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thanks Dainin!

I have just finished reading Dainin Katagiri's book on zen called, "Each Moment is the Universe." In the second to the last chapter, I read an incredible passage that seems very relevant to me as I feel like I've been living in the Apocalypse lately. Maybe you will find it interesting as well.

"When I think of my life, I realize there are many things I haven't done yet. In Buddhism it is said that there are eighteen thousand scriptures. Can you read eighteen thousand scriptures in one lifetime? Well, I became a priest at the age of eighteen, but there are many scriptures I still haven't read. My mind says that I want to do it, but practically speaking, I don't do it. In my lifetime I cannot finish all the things I want to do.

No matter how long you life, you cannot satisfy all your desires. Your lifetime is not long enough. So I think you should have a next life. You should practice and study now but leave the unfinished job for your next life. In your next life you will see lots of unfinished jobs too. So carry them to your life after the next life. Then you feel relief. If you try to finish everything in this lifetime, you become nervous, irritated, and uneasy. I don't mean that you can be lazy. Of course you should study Buddhism and practice zazen, because you have to understand the human life that is going on forever, moment after moment, life after life."

Have you ever had a deadline that had to be met, and if you just had one extra week, it would make everything a lot more pleasant, relaxed, and allow you to make your product better? How about another lifetime? What about all of your goals and the anxiety you have in your life considering you may not achieve those goals? What if you had a whole nother life to carry these on? How about all of eternity?

One of my goals is to be fluent in Japanese. So how about I don't become fluent in this lifetime, but become a Japanese person in my next lifetime? Hooray! I did it! Instant fluency. But that's not what I want. Because then I would just be a normal Japanese person, and would probably want to learn English even more than I want to learn Japanese as an American. What I really want is to be fluent in Japanese right now! But that's not the case, so that's a pretty silly desire. I don't want to be fluent in Japanese just because I'm a Japanese person and any normal Japanese person can speak Japanese. I don't even want to be fluent in Japanese when I'm old, because that just means I spent so much fricken time practicing it and I'll just be an old Japanese-speaker. I want to be fluent in Japanese right now because that would be cool! But again, not the case. You know what's really cool? My situation right now striving to become fluent in Japanese as a goofy white dude and the experiences I have on this quest. But I don't really appreciate that very often.

Apparently the issue is not being fluent in Japanese, but something else much deeper ...

If some form of reincarnation does occur, I think it would be that "something else deeper" issue as opposed to the Japanese language concern. So when I die, if the above scenario of being born a Japanese person occurs, it wouldn't surprise me at all.

What would carry on through our lives? What would not? I think it would be the deep issues of concern or psychological tendencies that would carry on, but the specifics and details of our specific situations that would die off and change. Does this mean that our deeper issues are more important because they are the ones that last? Perhaps, but I can't help but think the opposite here: it is precisely those things that are fading, those things that we will never be able to experience again, which are so precious. I have all of eternity ... or more accurately ... as long as it fricken takes to get over the things we need to get over, so there's no need to worry about it happening. It either will or won't. Personally, I would like to get my head out of this dungeon of spiritual angst concerning the dragons that will chase me into my afterlife, and rather appreciate that I'm typing for this blog and I have plenty of time on this sunny day to get to work and do a great job because I want to be a good teacher and the students are young kids who want to have fun. Me making mistakes or one of the kids being a little punk are much less frustrating than they are the beautiful process of the universe ... but again, I don't appreciate this very often; I usually feel like saying really mean things to that kid and feeling bad because of my failings as a teacher and the ignorance of masses of the world who don't spend time trying to understand their lives through Zen Buddhism and Aikido, and how they rather throw bouncy balls at each other in the middle of class when they're supposed to say the target phrase of the day.

So thanks Dainin, for writing this piece in your book which helps me understand myself and the universe just a little better. The book by the way is one of my favorite books I've read about zen and recommend it to everybody, so check it out.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Beef with Taosim

Here is the newest edition to my developing abode. As I was walking to aikido one night, I passed a used antique-esque store and found this small-medium sized something which pulled me into a kind of vortex. I picked it up and paid the 500 yen convinced that I had just made a huge score with a small price. But it's more than just a decoration. From the moment I saw it, I've felt an extraordinary connection that borderlines some kind of idol worship. It's all unexplainable for me right now, but this wild boar figure and I will be going through this winter together. You could call him a kind of mascot, but that's too limiting.

My beef with Taosim is that it has way too many systems. "Huh?!" You shriek in utter amazement that such a phrase could be used to describe the philosophy that rejects the concept of systems altogether. I suppose I have confused myself as to what exactly I'm talking about again. Maybe I mean that the practices that rely on Taoist theory are too ... too something. Too much? Too complex? Well, that just makes me a whiner. An American baby who wants the satiation of my spiritual angst to be given in one free guaranteed swoop of comfort ... right now and forevermore.

I look to Taoism for inspiration, and so I read about traditional Chinese medicine, martial arts, meditation, diet, and cosmology. It's damned interesting, but I continually find myself stuck in an idealistic philosophy where all of these must converge on the highest level in order to reap the benefits. What benefits? Perhaps this is my problem. Somewhere after I am motivated by interest, it becomes obsession, and there arises something that I want. Until I am a skilled practitioner in all of these fields considering Taosim, I feel I am a waste. Then I'm back in the mud with all of my peers who I subcionsciously seek to separate myself from. In some philosophies, we are advised to cultivate emptiness. From that void, what arises is our true character. Is this conglomeration of obsession and competition and need the true character of my spirit? Am I misreading the signs and texts? The result of this is fear. My exploration of Taoism often agitates this psychological tendency of mine.

Various interpretations of Buddhism will do the same for me as well; requiring high levels of purity and perfection and abstention in order to realize one's life. I just can't understand the "why"s and "how"s of it all anymore. It's like a glass palace in the sky. The fear of it shattering render me sterile.

Perhaps I'm too deep in the woods to see above the treeline.

And so I walk with my oribobo. (When I bought the small statue, one of the girls at aikido said I should call it oribobo. But then I showed it to my girlfriend and she said it was usually a name for something smaller and cuter. I mentioned the name again to the aikido girl, and she corrected me with the name, but I don't remember what it is. So, until I find out what I'm really supposed to call it, it will remain oribobo, a name I've gotten used to and find it quite fitting. Apologies to any Japanese proficient readers who recognize clearly my stupid gaijin mistake.)

I walk through the woods with my oribobo. Everyday we forage for food and search out adventure. It's a quiet companionship, but I like that. We have no home to return to, so it's always onward down the path, wherever we may find that weakest part in the grass which delineates our direction. Need is determined by necessity. Thoughts vanish quickly if the environment calls for attention. The next meal isn't worried over, because if we die, then we're just dead, and won't need to eat anyway.

I'm not sure about that crystalline palace in the sky, but I'm not going to try to look for it anymore. Maybe one day I'll see it again. Maybe the forest will burn down. Maybe I'll eventually find myself in the plains. But down here in the woods, it's just me and my oribobo.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Does it work?" Part II: Your system is weak and dying

The foliage here in Toyama is particularly lush. The rivers are particularly full. Things feel very thick. It is a complete ecosystem, full of everything it needs to expand and contract appropriately with the seasons. And yet, it doesn't have everything in the world. It is a "complete system" of the world, but it doesn't contain deserts, the highest mountains, tropical beaches, or elephants. How can it not have "every" phenomenon the planet has to offer, and yet be complete?

Many modern martial artists yearn to have a "complete" arsenal and understanding of the martial arts, so people idealize about being a grandmaster in literally every style ... mastering every technique known to man and nature. Surely this isn't just a modern trend, every martial artist has surely pondered this matter at some point. But in today's world we are provided the illusion that it is possible to do so. We can study the different styles and master different approaches; the kicking of tae kwon do, the softness of tai chi chuan, the striking of karate, boxing, groundfighting and grappling in bjj. Theoretically if we were to be black belts in each of these, we could have everything. We could have Mt. Everest right next to Costa Rican beaches with rainbows shooting up from 8 foot walls of powder snow, with lions and polar bears sitting next to each other drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ales.

That is strange. There are philosophies in the world that embrace the idea that we can be one and everything at the same time, but I think this is different. I don't want some freak of a zoo of martial techniques to convince me I can do everything.

I can't do everything.

Personally, I'm not so tall and have relatively short legs. I will never be nearly as "good of a kicker" as others better physically built for such activities and who have spent the time training so. But that's a farce of an idea anyway, because what defines "better kicking"? Perhaps I won't have the range or strength or speed of another, but if I have better timing, and my kicks hit when others' don't, then mine are "better" right? That's not specifically tae kwon do, or the "best style" of kicking, but it wins.

Nature is composed of seemingly separate but complete and interconnected self-sustaining systems. We can easily find a kind of perfection in this. Mankind's buildings and contraptions are different. Leave civilization be and it will deteriorate and eventually disappear into nature, which will keep thriving. Actually, I'm not so naieve as to push this analogy the whole way through, because there are holes. But the general point it is, there is a huge difference between "nature" and mankind's constructions, and the limitations of the latter are staggering in comparison ... in my opinion.

What are our martial art systems like? When we say that we want to have or embody a "complete" system, what do we mean? Do we mean being "masters" of every martial art ever mentioned, more like my analogy of Mt. Everest on a beach, or a complete system more like that of the wilderness of Toyama? Tai chi chuan can be considered a "complete" system, and yet it doesn't seem to have the same advantages as some other "complete systems", which in turn have aspects that tai chi chuan does better. To some extent, I would say that there are things we could call "complete" martial art systems that stand similar to the different ecosystems of the world. Each contains enough of everything to survive and flourish, and yet don't have "everything" in the world.

But we still run into a problem here; the issue of man's logical tweaking and design. This is lessened by the influence of many instead of one, a vast range of generations instead of one moment, and the employment of intuitive motion instead of purely calculated design ... and yet it's still limited, as a system. There are differences between one man who has practiced for a year in ten different styles and set up his "Rex-kwon-do" dojo in some stripmall, and a man who practices a style like tai chi chuan that has been developed for centuries in local traditions, but they still stink with a name. Our systems will always be in the realm of the design of name. As long as the system has a name, it has a limitation. As long as the system has a thought, it will die. Take humans out of the situation, systems don't exist.

Is it possible to be nature instead of a system? Can we be something even if we don't exist? Can we be ourselves, and yet be like a particular ecosystem, and thusly be complete? If there is thought, it is not it.

It's not just Mt. Everest and beaches, lions and polar bears, rainbows and snow. Perhaps we could trap all of these in our laboratory, everything science has ever tested ... and yet we will never ever know if we have it all ... because we are thusly limited by our thought and apparatus. It is an illusion. Our thoughts are illusions. They are dying pictures, and so are dead.

My body has limitations. My experience has limitations. I will die. And yet, I am everything; infinite and invincible. But I will die.


Why do I practice the martial arts?

To realize a relaxed spirit.

Why do I desire to have a relaxed spirit?

Because everything happens in that flow of relaxation, and the feeling is good.

When this is experienced, it doesn't need an explanation. It doesn't need blackbelts in every style. It doesn't need to be able to dominate everything physically. It doesn't need to be worshipped.

It just is.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Does it work?"

This is HUGE!

We spend all this time practicing martial arts - no wait - anything, any hobby! But I'm going to talk about this in the context of martial arts right now because it can be a particularly judgemental arena on such matters. SO! We spend all this time practicing martial arts; punching and kicking the air, throwing each other around, dressing up in strange clothing, paying large amounts of money, occupying our incredibley precious free time ... for what?! Well, many people do it because "it works."

What the hell does that mean?

Well, it means many different things, depending on what "it's" working for. Lets simplify and specify this a little more. Let's say the point of martial arts is to be martially proficient: fighting, defending yourself, or controlling others' bodies. If a technique works, then it's a good technique, and was worth spending the time to learn, practice, and ingrain. BUT HOW DO YOU KNOW IT WORKS!?!?!? Some people go out looking for fights to practice techniques, and however much I may negatively judge that approach because I wouldn't ever do it myself, you gotta admit that's a pretty good way to check if a technique works or not. But what about for the rest of us? Because you have your buddies give certain fake (no matter how well your friend simulates the attack, it is never the real thing without intent) attack, you think that's battle-testing it? I would never contemplate a defense against an attack if it came, #1 because I probably wouldn't have the time or peace of mind to do so, and #2, because my natural reaction, no matter how much it may violate the ideals of stances or balances, will do a better job because of my conviction and instincts rather than a contemplated technique.

Anyway, I think I'm getting a little off track. This whole question and realization actually started in the context of iaido. Just the other day I found an extremely interesting flier about iaido (the art of drawing the sword, generally) in Toyama. It actually looks like it's part of a big organization called, "International Batto-do Shizan Association Ryuseiken." (So if any of you have any stories or opinions on this, PLEASE let me know because I want to get as much information as I can in case I decide to join.) Anyway, I've always wanted to try iaido, and I've talked a lot with my aikido sensei about iaido because he happens to be a third degree blackbelt. He's practiced in Toyama, and maybe even with this particular group. I'm not sure, I'll ask soon. But the problem is, he says there are a lot of contradictions between iaido and aikido, and that it can really end up being a minus for each other to practice them both, at least in his experience. For example, do you swing a sword with your hips straight ahead or tilted at a 45 degree angle? This is really important if it's the most basic of concepts you're trying to incorporate into your body's subconcious reactions. Moreover, he mentioned that a lot of iaido schools are supported by kendo practitioners, who practice iaido to get a better sense of using a "real" sword in "real" situations, but that the iaido gets manipulated and changed to better serve the kendoka. This is a real turn off for me.

So I was thinking about practicing iaido, and judging for myself whether the techniques were good or not. Well, what's the criteria?

"Does it work?"

"DOES IT WORK?!?!?!"

What do you mean!? The "purpose" of using a sword is to cut and kill people ... I will never cut people!!! Never say never, I know ... but seriously, I'm way more likely to try and kill someone with a bad joke than a sword (you dead yet?).

Do you see where this is going?

If "working" iaido is the kind that enables me to cut someone in half with a traditional Japanese sword, that's a pretty fricken worthless skill isn't it? Or at least more worthless than learning how to kill people with jokes, which is a better technique based on the fact you spend less time around a traditional Japanese sword than you are able to tell a joke. Furthermore, for empty handed techniques, if the sole purpose of "working" emtpy handed martial arts is to be physically invincible, then I'd say you're spending way too much time on this task when you should just get a gun or ... oh my god, how about this ... how about you train your awareness so you can avoid danger before it engages you physically?

So, if you follow my logic, the purpose of practicing martial arts lies outside mere physical abilities in martial activities. I just watched an interview of Tim Cartmell  (a prominent figure in modern martial arts particularly in the arenas of TCMA and BJJ) provided by a certain dojo rat where he is asked various questions about his opinions on the martial arts, and guess what, the question of "why do we practice the martial arts" came up. His answer? Self-cultivation. A person can acquire in a pretty short amount of time a good enough arsenal to protect them in the majority of physical altercations. So why then, do so many people stay at it? There's something else. Tim Cartmell labels it "self cultivation". In a book I'm reading now about qigong, "The Way of Qigong: the Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing" written by Kenneth S. Cohen, there is a very memorable quote that states, "The purpose of practicing tai chi chuan is to have a relaxed spirit." A fairly simple idea, but how many people physically realize this? Lately, this has been the most recurring idea in my mind, and one that lies at the center of this issue.

In addition to the many wonderful physical benefits, a lot of which include martial phenomenon despite my peaceful agenda, the primary reason why I practice martial arts is to have a relaxed spirit. Self-cultivation is part of it, and actually, may be bigger than merely having a relaxed spirit, but for some reason that quote is too relevant to me right now. The number one reason why I put all this time and energy and thought into practicing martial arts is to have a relaxed spirit.

So now here comes the big question:

"Does it work?"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Toyama City

This is where I live: Toyama City. Since I won't be going to aikido nearly as much as I used to, I will probably be writing a lot more about this very strange and interesting place I live in. That being the case, perhaps an informal introduction to the place would be a good way to start.

There it is! Right exactly in the middle of it all. Well almost. Actually, I'm pretty sure the geographical center of Japan is located in the prefecture south of Toyama, Gifu. But anyway, Toyama belongs to that green region on the map which is usually called Chubu, central Japan.

Here's a little closer look at Chubu. To get a little more specific, Toyama belongs to the Hokuriku region which is comprised of the prefectures in central Japan that are located on the Sea of Japan. Starting from the left of the picture, Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama, and Niigata (kind of a swing prefecture that is sometimes considered Hokuriku and sometimes not.)

Here's the prefecture itself. Homely don't you think? Enclosed by other prefectures except for one side which is the Toyama Bay. The blue line going from left to right is the main JR railway. Basically, to the south and east of it mountains rise like a giant wall cutting Toyama off from the other side of Japan. Though there is one train line that goes south right through the center of the prefecture and into Gifu towards Takayama and eventually reaching Nagoya. For two years I lived in Kurobe City, which is located at the top right section of the Toyama Bay just before the coastline starts running to the east. In Kurobe if you go to the beach, you're pointed west looking across the prefecture and the bottom of the Noto Penninsula of Ishikawa. Kurobe is a small to medium sized town located conveniently next to great access points to the mountains for biking, and close to Niigata prefecture for snowboarding. But now I have moved to Toyama City (which is usually just referred to as "Toyama", which I may do as well, please excuse the confusion), the capital of the prefecture located directly in the center of the map around the railways.

And here is my humble abode, an average size mansion (apartment) located on the 7th floor. No three tatami room palace like I had in Kurobe, but for Toyama it's a good setup. Other rooms in the complex face brick walls and are smaller in size. Mine at least is one the 7th floor providing an interesting view with a river famous for cherry blossoms just below. It's taken me a while to get used to it, but it's starting to feel like home. Except one thing ... the sinks stink. I've poured drain cleaner down them, have air fresheners, but it still lingers. I'm contemplating the next step ... recommendations for dealing with putrid drains would be GREATLY WELCOMED!

Ja JAA! My balcony view. That portion of the road you see is actually a bridge, and the greenery on either side are the cherry blossom trees that line the river below. If you follow this road to the left for a fifteen minute walk you'll arrive at the train station. This is a pretty ideal location for a bum gaijin with no car. At night you only hear the bugs and the wind; thanks Toyama for really not being that big of a city. However, from the morning on, the thundering blundering of the street car which runs on that street is heard every five minutes or so. Oh well. I'm trying to wake up earlier anway.

 Another benefit of my location is I'm right next to Toyama Castle. It doesn't have the fame of Osaka or Himeji, but it certainly adds to the charm of the city.

The funny thing about living in Toyama now, is that for the two years I lived in Kurobe I dismissed the city as the biggest waste of time and space in the prefecture. The proximity of the ocean and mountains offer some amazing things particular to Toyama Prefecture, but Toyama City? It seemed just a grey sprawl in the center of the prefecture. To live in the city, separated so from the natural wonders was inconceivable. And yet, here I live, right in the center of it. But you know what, it's better this way. I have a special affinity for western Toyama inaka country towns, and I actually do most of my work there, commuting to Kurobe and its neighboring towns of Uozu and Nyuzen three weeks out of the month. But for living? I have a lot more options and inspirations here in this strange city. Strange because of its seeming incongruities; a phenomenon that is applicable to Japan as a whole.

Anyway, I look forward to doing experiments in the city in order to more fully understand it's constitution and direction. Maybe you can learn more about it or your own home in the process as well.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Assaulting the Japanese Language

Perhaps the title was a little strong, (a product of more metal in the itunes playlist maybe) but it actually fits my mood concerning the issue pretty accurately. I majored in Japanese language at university, and have lived here in Japan for almost two years, but am continually appalled at how inadequately I can express myself and how far I still am from reading Japanese texts. Hands down and a round of applause to all those people who can just live in a country for a year or two and become fluent by just "picking it up", but that ain't me. If I'm going to become fluent in this language, it's going to take a well calculated mass conquering strategy operating on all fronts in all terrain. Time to move to the next stage of Gaijin's invasion of Japan!

I contemplated taking Japanese classes in order to give this aspiration some kind of tangible form, but that seems absolutley ridiculous to me. I have stacks of Japanese textbooks to study from and Japanese friends to consult with questions. Tens of thousands of dollars were already put into a college education, so throwing more money at the problem isn't the answer either. Besides, if I'm looking for a class to support my system of discipline, then I should take a better look at the two things which interest me most in the world: martial arts and zen. The core of these two entities are qualities of self-responsiblity and self-empowerment. I know that I can pack a lot more learning that is directly applicable to me in one hour of self study than going to a class for the same amount of time. If this is something I really want to do, then I can devote that bit of time everyday to it's cultivation. So anyway, I'm pretty well set on that.

One hour a day; three 20 minute sections.

Section 1: 20 minutes reading through old textbooks reviewing grammar. This is invaluable. After two years, I'm conversational, and I've internalized a lot of the nuances and casual phrases necessary for a flowing comfortable conversation, but I know I'm misusing a lot of the particles and grammatical structures, making me communicative, but extremely gaijin. As an English teacher, I can see a HUGE difference in those who can use the correct grammatical structure versus those who continue to speak their own strange internalized version of the language. Even the simplest grammatical structures, I still mix and match a bit, so it's time to clean that up. This is addressing the cognitive and critical side of my learning.

Section 2: 20 minutes memorizing and mimicking Japanese sentences. A set of textbooks I received while teaching with JET presents particular grammatical points and accompanies them with about ten different phrases, and so in this section of my learning, what I do is I read these and memorize each sentence until I can say each one five times in a row from memory. This is to incorporate the subconscious learning from repeating and mimicking. I do this all the time in daily life by listening to the Japanese spoken around me, but I really feel like I need it written in front of me to totally understand. Listening to Japanese has made me a great listener, but I really need to see this stuff. In my job we focus on tailoring lessons to different learning styles; simply, 1.) auditory, 2.) visual, and 3.) kinesthetic. We all have different ways we assimilate information and often times our preffered method is some combination of these. For me personally, I'm definitely a kinesthetic learner, which may be why I'm so inclined to the martial arts. Give me body movement with something I need to learn, and I'll get it quick. A lot of my language assimilation has happened in aikido because movements are always incorporated with movement. Next for me is visual. If I can see the language that's being used then I am way better off, which is probably why my weakest part is listening. Have you ever played that language game where you listen to a paragraph of what someone said and repeat as much as you can from memory? I am the worst; borderline handicap if you ask me. Just listening is not enough for me. So, in this method of practice, by reading and repeating various sentences, I am internalizing proper Japanese by reading, repeating, and hearing myself ... and as a kinesthetic learner I try to incorporate as much gesturing as possible. One interesting trick to this part is that I'm usually struggling by trying to practice a difficult or new grammar point, but the whole while, what's really being internalized are all those particles and simpler grammar forms that I know pretty well, but have yet to really ingrain in my subconscious.

Section 3: 20 minutes kanji writing practice. This is arguably the most frustrating part of the language. The Japanese uses three different alphabets: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana is composed of forty six characters, and is relatively simple. Katakana is another forty six character alphabet, but very similar to hiragana. Learning these two is not too difficult. They are phonetic and can be memorized in a couple weeks. I did it a long time ago in the first term of Japanese class in college. But kanji are 1,945 Chinese characters that are used in Japanese language. This is what I'm struggling with. We studied this in college, but I never made much of an effort to seriously learning them, so it was largely a memorize and regurgitative process. Being in Japan I've gone through a couple phases of seriously studying kanji, which did help, but it's always been random and infrequent, so I've again forgotten a lot of what I've learned. And again, just being here and seeing it is just not enough ... for me at least. So, what I'm doing is going through kanji in a textbook I have, making flash cards, and practicing writing them down. I'm not really sure how good of a practice this is though. The problem is that I'm not directly relating it to any other aspect of the Japanese language, and am still going about it in a relatively random and chaotic manner. The good thing is I'm being exposed to a lot of kanji and processing them through writing, which is something I want. One can learn to read a lot faster than you can learn to write, but if you learn to write it ... you can write! That's what I want.

So, as briefly as I can explain it, that is the skeleton of my plan to conquer Japanese. But it's not enough. There are two more aspects that are necessary for it to fit my ideal of self-education.

First, which goes with the kanji practice, is reading manga (Japanese comic books). If I want to read Japanese, then I have to practice reading Japanese right? There are tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of interesting manga out there, which I am more than enthusiastic about reading, and by reading manga, I can practice reading kanji as well as reading casual conversation through the dialogue. But I'm having some real trouble getting started. There are two different ways to go about this. Some manga, which are often more directed towards kids (which are still incredibly relevant and interesting to adults, a huge difference between Japanese and American comics and animation) have the hiragana characters for all of the kanji. With this, I can read everything and can look up the words I don't know in a dictionary. Two problems though, are going through paper dictionaries which take up a lot of space and time, and always looking at the hiragana translations instead of the kanji. The other option is reading books with only the kanji, which is more difficult, but in the long run will teach me kanji faster and more efficiently(?) The big problem with this, again, is the dictionary. It takes a lot longer, and requires a lot more energy to look up the kanji than regular words. So, in an attempt to have a casual time of enjoyably reading Japanese through the medium of manga, I'm spending my whole time leafing through giant dictionaries. I'm sure already some of you have already began to think of a solution while reading this entry, but the big answer to this problem of dictionaries can probably be found in technology. I've heard that for the Nintendo DS, they have a kanji dictionary where you can just begin writing the kanji in the correct stroke order and you'll get the word ... which would be a giant answer to my question. But do I really want to throw down the cash for a DS, one that will inevitably be a huge distraction for someone like me who has a natural affinity for video games? There are also loads of electronic dictionaries, but I haven't come into contact with one thats really good for processing the kanji. Another answer could be found in an iphone app. I'm not really sure about this, but there's got to be an app for looking up kanji right?

This is probably a fairly simple problem to fix. I could probably fork over the cash for either a DS, electronic dictionary, or an iphone and be on my way to faster language acquisition ... but it seems like a huge technological boundary for me. Maybe I need to just go cry about it for a minute, think about all the money I throw at beer, and just accept I need to upgrade this part of my life in technology and spend a little less money on those things that aren't so important.

OK, last issue with my Japanese invasion plan: review. In my study, I'm going through a lot of grammar structures, vocabularly, and kanji, and I love learning new things, but if I don't review, I'll lose it. This has been my biggest problem in studying Japanese from the beginning. I need to devote some time to this, but reviewing flash cards while on trains or waiting in lines has never worked. It just becomes a fat stack of something I always have to do sitting in my pocket wherever I go. So do I add another 20 minute section to my routine??? I think I max out at an hour of hardcore textbook, flash card learning a day.

I've been operating on this plan for about a month at maybe 70%, due to the fact I'm still getting acclimatized to my new life and schedule, but I'm already feeling the benefits. Perhaps the bugs will naturally work themselves out as I go along ... but that kind of thinking is not really what I'm going for. In this routine I'm setting up, I'm attempting to use my discipline and concsious cognitive workings at a maximum level. I want this language and I want it as soon as possible.

Once I get it, I will now longer be thrashing around in the water struggling to stay afloat, but will gracefully swim along, eventually by a boat, and be a pirate sailing gloriously across the Sea of Japan!

PLEASE post if you have any methods or recommendations for my studying of Japanese.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Zacky Chan Version 3.0

The mountains are my body,
the clouds are my thoughts.

 How's that for wisdom? When I took these pictures it was a real "Whooaaaaa ... duuuuddde." moment for me.

 I've been foibled by the blogging gods over and over again trying to put a first entry in over the past couple days, and so now you're getting a very very condensed version of what I imagined. Screw it, look at these interesting pictures I took on a week-long hiking trip from Tateyama in Toyama Prefecture to Kamikochi in Nagano, drink your preffered blog-reading-beverage, and read some ramblings about my recent transitions and thoughts on martial arts.

 First off, I have left my old job working as an assistant language teacher with the JET Program at Sakurai High School in mid-smalltown Kurobe to be a children's eikaiwa (English conversation school) teacher for Peppy's Kids Club in small city Toyama City. This means I moved from the rice paddies to the grey concrete blur to work for less pay and reduced vacations for a job that's 100x more challenging ... oh yeah, and I work nights so I get to go to aikido once a week maybe instead of three to four. But things couldn't be better!!! They also couldn't be worse. That's just the nature of existence, there is only the now, right?

But seriously, everything is just mountains and clouds.

 And here's my friend.

And his friend. They were cool and liked to drink beer. They saved me from realizing my week of "purity" and bought me a very expensive tallboy Asahi from one of the mountain huts.

 Anyway, everything is different now.

The old thoughts aren't interesting anymore, the don't make sense anymore, the images, the smells, my clothes even, it's all dead history.

The beautiful thing about the New, is that you can't really expect what it will be, and if it really is new, it will be accompanied by new feelings. This is really how you know something is new. It's that easy! You just do it! Right?

Well, not ... really. Our mind, the tool that it can be, categorizes and starts inserting all kinds of opinions on the matter ... which becomes more your habits and tendencies than that new experience itself. For example, your at a festival seeing something you've never seen before and it's great with all these new feelings, but then you start to think ... which is stupid ... "Oh, I know how to make this better" or "I know what this is" or you say some stupid joke that is half-relevant you heard but your friends probably haven't. If this occurs long enough without being checked, then you'll just have a long history of you masturbating all over these passed up new chances. And that's not all that cool.

There's got to be a better way.

Most likely, between the abstract polarities, you find yourself in your specific situation, which is amazing and completely independent and new in and of itself. So, let's get specific here. Concerning this blog, and myself, I will be writing about being an American living in Japan, because that's what I am, Zen and Taoism and mythology because that's what I'm interested in, teaching foreign language, because that's what I spend a lot of my time doing, and then of course, like a giant masterpiece standing in the center of my grand cathedral, exists ... martial arts ...

What an extremely difficult thing to describe.

 A lot of my time is spent on this topic of "martial arts", and I think that goes for a lot of readers here too. It is a beautiful kaleidescopic mandala we form together at "martial artists", with all different kinds of styles and beliefs and directions and histories ... including all our brothers and sisters in the past who punched the air and moved around through imaginary opponents and liked it. One of the particularly interesting things about the "martial arts" that I like to think about is the timelessness of it all. Someone centuries ago may have been doing these same movements and thinking these same things. In a way, we can excuse ourselves from the modern world by engaging in such activity, which is cool! But we do exist now, and are an integral part of the modern world of October 2011. In this respect, we have some very interesting trends in the "martial arts." (I hope the quotations aren't bugging  you, because I must persist until the end of this entry).

We have UFC cage fighting featuring mixed "martial artists", and people practicing "martial arts" who have never encountered violence in their life. The great disparity between "martial artists" leads us to one very big question:

 "What are the Martial Arts!"

And then we have the emergenceof the blogosphere, an electronic voice translated through 0's and 1's given to all with access to a computer with an internet connection.

So let's get talking!

Well, actually that might be enough for now. We certainly don't need to solve the Problem right here an now. Rather, let's discuss over months or years of snipits of discussion. We're so very far from the end anyway.

If I could make one last comment though ...

Recently, there has been great debate over what constitutes a "martial artist." A lot of the people I tend to side with, but don't totally agree with, accuse some of not embracing the "artist" side of the equation. For example, UFC fighters are only just that, and can not be considered "martial artists". But lately I've been looking at the other side of the phrase. I'm comfortable calling myself and artist in my practice ... but martial? Am I martial? Are you?

It's all just mountains and clouds ... and flowers.

I happily look forward to more conversations with you all. Thank you for reading.