Sunday, December 30, 2012

Going Inside

You'd think people living in places far from the equator would have a very strong relationships with their internal selves. Away from that great center line of the Earth, daylight dwindles from the expanding grip of night as winter waxes. Inhabitants of such distant lands reach the solstice and enter a cold that won't retreat for months. Snow, wind, freezing rains. Humans are not meant to venture out in the winter dark, and so, people amass inside large communal dwellings. I think of my two respective homes: the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., and the Hokuriku Region in Japan. Both have very distinctive homes designed to provide cover in the winter.

In the PNW, the indiginous peoples built longhouses.


Hokuriku is famous for gassho-zukuri houses; their construction unique in Japan for resisting the heavy snow falls that come every year in this region of the Sea of Japan.


 
 
Next to the largest shopping center in Toyama City is a print shop. In the window is a large black and white paining of one of these gassho-zukuri houses in winter. There are a few people inside huddled around the fire, and a few people outside in twisted forms. I once sarcastically said to my girlfriend who isn't particularly fond of the snow, "Look, they're dancing!" But it's obvious they're not.
 
Winter is a time unkind to those who cannot find such lodging. For people who have lived in these regions for so many generations, a way of life evolves around the invincible winter. Though I live in this area, I've been to these houses, I'm not sure what the people really did inside. For my home in Washington though, I'm well aware of the dances and art that were created and performed for and by the people during their long winter months.
 
 
My mind also goes to a region that may know long dark winters better than any other culture: Scandanavia. Memories I've never had of pagan rituals come to mind as I visualize their unique art.
 
 
 
In these cold regions, a vast pantheon of gods inhabit each regions' mythologies. My ancestors hailed for who knows how many centuries in such countries of northern Europe. I was raised in the dark and cold pacific north west. Now I live in a region of Japan famous for harsh winters. I can't help but feel a connection to such places known for unwelcome climates. I feel most ... something ... when looking at a dark green forestline blending with fog into a dark afternoon overcast sky. I relax when it rains. Somehow, like one cannot tell what time of day it is in such conditions, I could be there forever, as if the clock has stopped. Somehow, excitement floods in at the sight of snowfall first thing in the morning. If it's dark at five p.m., I wonder in anticipation what I will do for the long night until I sleep.
 
But I also enjoy this due to some kind of happy lonliness. People of old most likely had quite an opposite feeling of winter at times: given that everyone was stuck together in these small dwellings. "What did they do?!" I often ask myself.
 
I think now of a place that is never empty in winter: a gargantuan hall of heat. It is also a place that is never empty in summer, or fall and autumn for that matter. It is the pachinko hall. Pachinko is the most popular form of gambling in Japan. No matter the time of year, the inside will never change from the stimulation overload it provides. The people of often inhabit such places, know the same life, no matter the season, no matter the location.
 
I have a deep fascination for winter and crappy weather, but I wonder if it's all just an image fix. As a modern, my physical dealings with the elements are increasingly limited. Would a screen saver suffice?
 
I turn one one machine to fix it all. It gives me heat, it gives me cold. I turn on one machine to find it all, videos, music, my friends, the news. I have a drink to get up, and one to get down. At this great control panel of modernity, our Great Choice may be just a Great Farce. We want to be up all the time, so when we make choices, it's to maintain that higher location, and change does not occur. Only when going down can we feel something, and scrambling we hurry to find a way to get back up, usually through a means of cash, which we earn from our "sweat"? Our "hard earned pay"? Is that what most people encounter at their work? Winter is a kind of down to many states of humanity, but our control over the beast is more able every year.
 
I think of my kyudo sensei. He goes to the dojo and pulls a bow every single day of the week. Every day he goes through the weather to arrive at the dojo, which is a half open compound: The place from which one shoots is under cover, but the face is open to a field the arrows fly over to a covered target area. If it's cold, he's cold. If it's hot, he's hot. If the weather was erratic and was sunny for a bit, but poured rain for 10 minutes, he knew about it. If he is feeling crappy, he will probably shoot crappy. If he's happy, the bow will tell him. He is a man who knows pretty clearly what is going on every single day of his life. If he doesn't know, at least he's out there trying, in a world with such varied circumstances that at least one source is bound to tell him.
 
I wonder how many days of my life have been a haze, cursed to some inside of myself where I don't really do much at all.
 
I wonder how many winter nights I've been able to go inside of myself and uncover mysteries I think I would never find under a warm starry night in a hamoc.
 
How much are we products of our environment?
 
Very much I would say, and yet there is something that lives, untouched by the outside world. Something that we see only in a dark place where snow and rain cannot fall, where sun cannot light.

Thank you again for reading a post that may seem to have nothing to do with budo, living in Japan, or anything in particular at all.
 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

the Great White Fear


First of all ... MERRY CHRISTMAS from a white snowy Japan! All is well here. I wish the best for you all on this very special time of the year. In Japan you'll see lots of Christmas advertising and decorations, there's tons of Christmas cakes everywhere, and I'm sure that the occasional gift is given, but it's just not the same as I'm used to back in good old North America. Though there's more than enough plastic back home too, but there is also a delicious Christmas feast, a decorated tree, a fireplace, and a family to make it all real. It may not be for everybody, but it's a special time for me. I had a skype with the parents, a Christmas feast of sorts, presents exchanged through air-mail, and time with the people I care about most here. It's definitely snowing now.

If only I could get that fireplace ... and a dog.

...

Now for a story about kyudo the other day.

The Great ... White ... Feaaaaaarrrrr!


The string in kyudo is slapping me in the face again, and I'm terrified to the bone.

Lately my biggest problem has been not drawing far enough. Everytime I draw back Sensei says the same thing: "Pull more! Farther!"

That's usually OK but, last week I bought a new kake (glove). Today was the second day I've used it. I'm not used to it yet, it feels weird and so I'm doing weird things with my hand inside the glove which makes it slip out prematurely and slap me in the face.

Usually the main reason this happens is due to not twisting the hand enough in the correct way, but it also has to do with relaxing my hand at the same time. But because I'm afraid of the string slipping out, I'm not relaxing my hand. Sometimes when I pull the string, something feels wrong deep inside of me and if I relax the tension I believe it will slap me in the face.

I need to relax, but I can't. With this, naturally, the further I pull the string and the longer I wait in the draw before the release (two things I should be doing more) the more likely the string will be able to slip out and the more force it will have to hit me. So now my pull is very small and full of tension, instead of large and relaxed. My energy is raised to my shoulders and I'm just waiting to brace myself against the slap.

Today the arrow slipped out about 4 times. When this happens, everyone turns their head and stares at me half in horror, half in confusion. They are shocked, feel bad for me, and don't understand why it happens. I am equally shocked myself, embarrassed, and even more so frustrated. One of the older guys told me to ice my face after the first one. I could care less about a growing red welt on my face, I just want to fix the problem, but I took a break and iced it anyway. Later I shot a few more arrows, and then it slipped out again, early enough not to hit me in the face. That's not painful, but's still hell, and the frustration compounds exponentially. I walked back to take a break for a second and two women asked me some stupid question about it I don't remember exactly like, "It slipped out again?" This was like another slap in the face and I gave a very intense nod of affirmation trying to hide the rage and we just stared at each other for a second. "Why are you talking to me!? I just want to fix this!" is what I was thinking.

Sensei told me to take a break and have some tea. He said I need to change my attitude and that I'm too afraid now. Damn straight I'm afraid! So I took a tea break and talked about completely unrelated things for 5 minutes. I went back to put on my kake, but nothing had changed. All I could think about was the prereleasing sring. I shot a few and then it loosed again. Sensei came and took a look at what I was doing. I pulled the string back full of tense fear, but the arrow luckily didn't come out early. He said, "See! It's alright, don't worry. Just pull back as far as you can." But it doesn't change anything. I hurried up and changed and went to catch my train.

It was the most frustrating walk I've ever made from the dojo to the station. I had this very rare desire to scream as loud as I could. Traffic lights turned red as I approached them. I walked into a bakery to grab something before the train, but a mother, father, and three small children were stopped dead in front of what I wanted so I just turned around and walked out. I climbed the stairs and high school boys were standing in the way looking at their cell phones. After passing thorugh the ticket booth a crowd of high school girls passed giggling in their hiked up skirts talking about absolutley nothing very loudly. Getting off the train and facing the crowds I suddenly remember that everyone stares at me. I think about all the time I put into kyudo that isn't about shooting an arrow. Waking up early and getting ready, walking to the station, spending the money on train tickets, riding the train 20 minutes one way, walking to the dojo, getting dressed in the hakama, getting undrssed out of the hakama, walking back to the station buying another ticket, riding the train again, walking back home just so I can get ready to ride another train to work.

Why do I do all of this?

I love kyudo. It's one of my favorite things in my life now. But now it has been poisoned by the absolute feeling in the art.

Why is this happening?

Is it just because of one small thing I'm doing in my wrist? I don't understand. I know it would be better if I relaxed, but if I do, I know I'll get slapped.

I'm afraid, but just "not being afraid" won't fix this. I cant just say "Zac, don't be afraid," and everything immediately fixes itself. Or would it?

I don't know!

If you get in a car accident and become afraid, just telling yourself to relax and not be afraid won't work. You still have to pay attentiaon to all the same things when you drive. You still have to notice things that mayb be dangerous so you can avoid them, so you still have to be awake and aware. You can't just "Relax, don't be afraid."

I'm now remembering a car accident I was in in high school where I was sitting in the back of a jeep. The completely sober, incredibly stupid driver was going way too fast on a dirt road through the forest. As I was riding in back the tension was on high alert as I felt we were going way too fast. All of a sudden we we skidded through a turn and SHOOT! ... there Zacky Chan flew out of the back of that jeep. I'm now remembering the image of a fast approaching fir tree, then waking up in a hospital. It's the uncontrollable factor that may be the worst. Zacky Chan the passenger flying into this horrible near death concussion from this machine someone else was driving. Zacky Chan pulling the string while it can just slip out at any moment.

But I'm the one holding the string! I could have told the driver to slow down! There is an element of control involved. Where is the line?

I need to consume something. That's what I thought walking out of the dojo. I need to eat or drink something ... but I don't want anything.

Why do I want them if I don't want anything? I don't know, but it's a very clear feeling. I attribute it all to issues of control. I spent all morning getting beat up in kyudo, now I want to take the power back. It's fear. I'm so afraid I'll do anything. It really is true, the caged animal is the most dangerous. No wonder people have addictions to eat, drink, smoke, beat, molest, kill. It's because we don't know how far we control the world, so we don't know how much we're worth, but we want to be good and important, so we're afraid, and take action to compensate. But none of that works, because the problem lies at the root of not knowing and having desire. There is no way we can know, and desire is a natural part of life. Perhaps I'm misguided, but I don't agree with people who say if you meditate through the desire you will come to find enlightenment and know. I don't agree with people who say we need to cut off all desire. I also don't think "just relaxing" is going to fix my problem. But honestly, I don't know how I'm going to fix this problem. I'll do my best to relax, try to return to a place where I wasn't getting slapped in the face, do some researching on the internet and then go to practice ready to try again and ask for help.

I used to get hit in the arm, but that problem has been solved. I've gone through phases of hitting the target a bit, to times not at all, and back up again. I want to be better. I don't want to be afraid.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

It's all just relaxing

 
In aikido we learn to relax in movement.

In kyudo we learn to relax while doing something impossible.

In zazen we learn to relax while being human.

It's all just different kinds of relaxing, and all you have to do is just ... relax.

But you can't "just relax". I went to onsen today, and I didn't have anything to do. There was nothing directly in the world that I could say was interfering with my relaxing, and I was arguably in the most relax-easy place in the world. Yet, I was still holding my body instead of letting it go as I've experienced before, and I had something in my mind I couldn't let go of, but it wasn't anything in particular.

You have to practice "just relaxing", but while doing something else. I think "just relaxing" in its essence is sleeping. But when we're awake and we want to relax, we are essentially doing something as well, right? Even if we're sitting there just thinking. It's not "just relaxing", but relaxing while doing something else.

Why can't we "just relax"?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lying Down Into Winter

I've been away for awhile. If you're into categorizations, you could say I've been in a phase. Almost a month ago I went to a very eye-opening aikido seminar, one that made me think about what is "good aikido", "bad aikido", "why we do aikido", and how I fit into all of that. This was all just after an aikido test. Somehow I had transformed pace into a violent scurry through unfriendly brush straight up the side of the mountain. Exhausted I collapsed, still very far from the top. So I sat, and thought about all this racing. Last night I went for the first time since the seminar, ending an unusually long three week hiatus. Why the absence? The world sucking out my Saturday nights. But actually, that's a bit much. That was me a year ago. In the beginning I could tell aikido to respectively "bugger off" on Saturday nights because I had things to do which didn't include productive effort. Then a year ago, Saturday night became all I had for aikido, and it became a treasure for me to hoard and defend. "Aikido: good. People: bad." Well, I've tried that for a while, and that's not what I want to do anymore. I still certainly love doing aikido, but it's not going to consume any more of my fear. My mental progress chart is a farce. So I burned it, and I won't write another. It's amazing how we go to sleep every night, maybe even in the same futon (bed, what have you) and yet everyday is so different, we cannot go back; we cannot go back. Now I'll go to aikido when I can. If it dwindles to nothing, that's the world turning; something much larger than aikido.

I've been going to kyudo consistently and feeling very good in the practice, but due to winter break (which means high school students invading the dojo) tomorrow will be the first and last practice of this week, and maybe I'll go once or twice for the next two weeks. This is also due to my own holiday: about 10 days of no work, and no obligations but a few end-of-the-year parties and an overnight snowboard trip. This is the first holiday season I've stayed in Japan. On the one hand I'm incredibly excited to have as little stress as possible, and as much opportunity to crawl into my own winter world. Yet that winter world is in a hole, quiet and sparse. I have a very warm home in the mother country of the U.S.A., one I honestly cannot imagine being any better. But instead of being in that home with undoubtedly the most important people in the world, I will be here, in my hole with the few things I have insulated as best I can from the Japanese hive I live within.

In this winter hole, just beneath my mind, ancient subliminal forces glitter in the darkness. They are real, and I wish to know better what they are. So I'll sit and attempt to conjure them out by whatever means I can. I am not dead. I am not frozen. I can change. But that change will not come about from more maddened scheming. I'll need to take a walk, then sit in a tree looking down at the snow. There are beasts to tame. In that realm, we will see aikido's true worth.

 
P.S. Signs of absence from aikido are a tight back, raising of center of gravity, and lack of connection/reaction to your partner. In kyudo, it's not being able to do anything at all.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Moment We Stand

 
You want to take away my answer.

We've come here by no accident.

I stand in front of you. Now what?

I've never turned back before.

I can feel some warmth inside.

 
It only ends in sleep.

By my own hand?

By another's?

By fading time?

We always wake up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hero

 
I discovered I didn't have, so I began to quest.

I found the masses: slaves following smiles and applause. FEAR.

I looked up to God: shells of the illusory oversoul.

Now I search for teachers; not perfect, yet better than me.

But you know what? It all takes too long.

I'm ready to go, be, explode the center..

NOW!

You want an audience? Go ahead and find one, go find your heaven.

Me? There's no such thing.

Practice is a myth. So be a hero and kill to protect: a mortal's bane.

The reaper watches.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

To a Point: Part II

I love my senseis because they don't care if I haven't come to practice, or if I won't in the future. They can't. When they see me, they only just see me; an entity blinding the rest of illusion. There I am asking for specific help, and they can't help but teach. This unmistakable focusing of mind, so pure, is the center of the painting. And yet it is not the only part. All else flows from this center of honest movement in a direction, creating a background of elaborate detail. It is like a mountain; all of the initial focus gravitates without reserve towards the peak, though it has an elaborate base of rock and vegetation, and an infinitely greater space of sky surrounding it.

I am a teacher and am the same way with my students. I mostly teach young elementary school kids a language they don't completely (and often hardly) understand. They are just kids. Their behavior is very often counter towards the kind that is desired in a classroom. In fact, when kids have "bad behavior", they are just going to get worse. ...

Geez, I realize now why I never talk about teaching English on this blog. Though it's a goldmine for relevant material, it's steeped in political correctedness; what I'm supposed to say, or at least how I am supposed to go about doing so. So, I'm just going to write giving you the image I have straight from the source. Forgive any offenses for the sake of brevity and artistic license. I am honest and if you have an issue I will write you a book on my ideas complete in proper decorum.

Anyway...

When kids are bad they are only going to get worse. So very incredibly rarely are you going to have a bad kid come in one day and be good. They are the way they are, and if they are bad enough to get my attention, they are really bad, and probably that way because an overwhelming amount of things in life which are affecting them to be so. So all of these kids of varying levels of misbehavior are like little moles in the dirt digging around. If left alone, these moles will have their feet in the air behind them while they just dig down to hell. It's my job as a teacher to spank them on the ass to get them to turn around, and then dance to keep their attention, hopefully foster genuine interest through fun, and eventually create a habit of good behavior which maximizes their ability to learn English while also being successful parts of their societies and making my life fun too in the experience of teaching. If they are showing me their ass while digging downward, I don't care who they are, where they've been, or where they're going, they need to turn around immediately, and so I am concerned only with the object of getting them to do so. After that, if I have their attention, I am only concerned about maintaining that connection. Afterwards, I only care about helping them upwards, out of the hole, and into some ideal space of learning they can float towards.

Whatever is happening at that particular moment requires all of my energy. We are all looking at the same point, though in different directions: a point of focus.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

To a Point

Even though I'm fat and disgusting, my mind is focused to a point.

Even though I'm clean and beautiful, my mind is focused to a point.

I don't know what the point is, but if your mind is there, that's all that matters. Whatever you are: looks, physical constitution, environment, karma, whatever, if your mind is to the point, it's there. It doesn't matter where you've been, where you're going, what you're supposed to be, or what you're not supposed to be. If your mind is there, it's there regardless. If your mind is there, it's quality.

My mind goes to martial arts quite often, and practice follows. When I'm there, I'm there. When I'm not, I'm somewhere else, and I really don't care. Being there doesn't require you to have always been there. Being there doesn't require you to be there always and forever in the future. What a big giant ball of blasphemous mind poison, these thoughts of needs and requirements. There's enough of that in the social world humans have created. I deal with that everyday when I go out into the world. I deal with it from my own mind everymorning I wake up. I do martial arts because I choose to do so. I make that choice because I like it.

My mind is there when it is. When it's not, I don't care.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I Still Don't Know

 
 
I don't know, so I say "onegaishimasu".

In English, it translates as "Thank you in advance." This is true, but it's a literal translation one thinks about; and so it's not quite understood with words alone. If you don't understand completely, it's not because you're stupid because you're supposed to understand, it's just you probably haven't had much experience with the term. We also certainly don't need to repent. Just go into the world and say onegaishimasu. After being in situations where you onegaishimasu, you begin to unfold understanding. Onegaishimasu is a kind of "please." You say this word before you start something with another force in which you will commit yourself to understanding. When you say this word, you humble yourself, and make yourself an "empty cup" as the saying goes.

After you say onegaishimasu, you begin a process of uke. As an uke you receive something. One could say we are an uke when we watch or listen to media, ride in trains and cars, or consume things like food, drinks, drugs, etc. For modern people living in first world nations, we spend a lot of our time in uke, but I don't think many people notice this phenomenon. That's OK. Again, if one doesn't understand, it's not because they are stupid, they just haven't had experience saying the word, or abstracting about the concept. That being said, it's not like we as moderns are redefining uke with all the stuff we are receiving. This is an ancient term that applies to all humanity from it's beginning, which is nature; past, present, and future. When we uke, we are essentially receiving, but we are not completely passive. Our participation depends on what and how we receive it, but no matter what, we are participating. We are uke when we are sitting on the couch watching TV drinking beer. We are also uke when we are fully engaged in an aikido technique being thrown or put into lock. We are uke when we taking notes in a classroom. We are also uke when we bow before entering a shrine. It's a term that applies to a wide variety of situations, and yet it's a very specific part of the universe.

I don't know, so I go to a teacher and I say, "onegaishimasu." Then I begin uke. This is very easy for me because I don't know much. It's very easy for me because I've had a lot of good teachers. A good teacher is a balance of intelligence (practical ability) and benevolence (honesty).

I went to an aikido seminar today, and I'm absolutely overflowing with things I want to say, but it's too much right now. This is what has been written. As time passes, I will grow farther away from the experience and may not discuss all of the different aspects of the experience. But that's alright, because it's all the same.

Anyway, this is all for now.

Be conscious of your uke! Are you thankful? Dissatisfied?

I don't know!



(Picture found at http://landsofwisdom.com/?p=3073)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tenouchi: A Grip on Life

(tenouchi)
 
I want to go high places so I look up.

I want to go far places so I leave.

I want places I don't know.

If I already knew a place, I wouldn't want to go.

I want to go, and I don't know. So, I study and build a plan. In order to achieve the goal I protect the plan. A man with a plan in the world: a precarious situation indeed.

How I deal with my plan largely depends on how I fix my tenouchi (left hand grip on the bow in kyudo). As I've mentioned before, budo is often simply just putting the right things in the right places at the right times. This has very little to do with mere physical strength. Nor does it concern the kind of tenacity that blows through obstacles no matter what. It's a game of sensitivity. My teachers tell me specific points that will help me improve my technique. I listen to them and do my best to imitate, but it's not perfect. This is because I try to do what they do utilizing my strength and determination; they do it by just doing it. They utilize only what is necessary to complete the goal while I bring the whole toolbox. "But what if you need more?!" "But you don't."

"Relax" they say. "Strength will not help you."

I watch my teachers do their tenouchi close up on a small-scale and I see exactly what they mean. Their analogies make perfect sense. But, when I stand up there in front of the target, I find myself wrestling against the strength of the bow. This is the part that is hard to explain, not just for me on a blog but also teachers in the dojo.

Very mysterious stuff, this kyudo. And yet, it's all just putting the right things in the right places at the right times.

Oh yeah! I almost forgot about my apocalyptic struggle to understand life and do everything right. So, it's obvious that what isn't going to help me in life is pure strength and determination. A bit of those two things are necessary to be alive, and used in the right circumstances will greatly contribute to my growth, but beyond what I need, I don't need. Instead of blowing through life in order to protect my goal, I need to sit a bit, quietly watch, and treat my actions softly. Holding the bow in kyudo should be like just holding anything. If you're holding it, you're holding it. You don't need to squeeze it as hard as possible. If I'm living, I'm living. I don't need to live as hard as possible, or whatever. I have goals and plans rooted in my imagination, and I will continue to formulate and execute them, to much failure and suffering I imagine, but acceptance of those kinds of circumstances is paramount, just like vision to understand the situation and adapt as needed.

Fundamentally, this is the soft overcoming the hard. We are malleable entities, engaged with other various substances in the world, many of which stronger than us. We can choose to confront them with our own strength which only has two outcomes: breaking ourselves or breaking the other. Personally, I want niether of these. Perhaps we don't notice it so much when we break others (stepping on bugs, intimidating others from confronting us, our immune system fighting off viruses), so for now I'm more concerned about the possibility of me breaking under others, which is something I don't want. If I can't use strength, then I have to use something else. Here we have many options. I can creep into the cracks of the strong and break it from the inside. I could ride the strong and use it's power to my advantage. I could get out of the way of the strong and not even deal with the hassle. (Aikido analyzes this well with its geometric philosophy concerning the square, circle, and triangle.)What I am concerned with is being weak, because I am so, concerning my points of focus. I cannot break my goals like I may think I want. (Isn't it strange that initially we want to be stronger than the world and we never want to lose, and then sometimes, often subconsciously, we don't want to win, and in fact want to lose?)

Perhaps one of the biggest faults of the Hard is that it has a very warped vision of time. Either there is no time and things must happen now, or there is time and things must happen now. For the Soft, there is either no time so nothing needs to happen, or there is time and nothing needs to happen now.

"Need." What do you need? This need will make you hard and easily overcome.

We are human. We have needs. We will die because of link with need.

In order not to end on such a morbid note, I'll tell you about something interesting I learned about my kyudojo the other day.

It's a place of wonder, our small kyudojo. It's in the center of Kojo Koen, a large park that used to be the site of a castle (I'm 99% sure), and it's by far the most impressive park I've seen in Toyama Prefecture. It has a giant moat and indirect walking passages through it, some of the more notable features of it's feudal past. It's full of beatiful vegetation, some natural and some intentionally placed. There are rivers, small hills, and a few wide fields. Also, there are various centers, museums, and even a small zoo. In the very center of the park is a large shrine. Next to that shrine is our dojo. Because it's located in this kind of park next to this kind of shrine, I assumed the dojo had a very old history dating back before the modern periods of Japan, an innocent time before contact with the West. But I was very wrong. It's actually not that old of a dojo at all with respect to my deep imagination of Japanese history. It's about 40 years old, and was built from the pocket money of one man. (!!!) One of the first things I noticed about kyudo was the need for so much expensive stuff and places. The person who explained this to me told me the price, but I've already forgotten it. To be sure though, it's an unbelievable feat. After it was built, the man said that it should be a place for people who want to come to kyudo. Nobody has to do kyudo. If one comes to do kyudo, it should be based upon their own individual desire to enjoy the experience.

I will walk into the dojo from now on with that thought in mind.

(this is not Kojo Koen)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stupid Gaijin: You Do What You Want

I usually make a point not to swear when writing on the blog, but it may come out tonight.

I had my aikido test tonight. It went well. Yet feelings are greatly unsettled. Maybe it's the feelings of a birthday as well mixed in. Definitely it is, but it's not just that, it's so many things; too many things.

I have some very Japanese goals, but I'm American. This can complicate things.

I feel like I'm eating some of the words I wrote two posts ago about seeing my budo goals in Toyama through to the end, that me with the blazing optimistic side that chooses a path and pours forth all energy to its means in the moment. Tonight I asked about future tests, and the answers were less than I desired. But what do I desire? My black belt as soon as possible. That's not a good place to start from. Specifically ... actually, I don't have the time to talk about specifics. I want the belt as soon as possible and it may not come as quickly as I imagined, that's it. According to conversations I had tonight according to papers, it looks like it may take until next next March. That pisses me off. If I wanted just the black belt, and I enjoyed it all, then it would be easy. But I don't. I want to do a lot more: so much more listing that as well just annoys the shit out of me.

Thinking about doing budo annoys the shit out of me right now. Thinking about all the other things I want to do annoy the shit out of me. It's the thoughts, the schedules, those that I've built around the thoughts I think; this intricate world I've created; a world where only things I have created exist; trust me, it's really boring.

Back to aikido for a second before I digress for a while: it pisses me off about testing times, and that's not good because we're not supposed to focus solely on that. So one ideal version is a me that just continues to practice naturally and the ranks follow ... but I'm not progressing much, at least not as much as I want. So even if I get the belt, it will be the product of time instead of the ability I want. Anybody can get the belt according to the time. This nullifies its special nature I believe it has. This is fucked. So I leave, and see what happens. But that burns the castle I've built. If I really want to be good at aikido, this is not the place for me now. But if my thoughts mean anything, then I must stay.

The path of budo is freedom. It is without limitations. And yet it is in this world of limitations. This is the puzzle we live in. It's not supposed to make sense. We aren't supposed to understand aikido, and yet we are. This is so much more than words. So much that the words disgust me a bit at the moment.

Budo is about a feeling, an intuition. But isn't it also about success? Isn't success the goal: the target we shoot at? I feel a lot, a lot of different things. So which do I follow? I don't know. That's not really all that much of a problem, except there's a lot of things claiming they do know, and they're all dictating different information. I listen to a lot of them intently. I believe none of them know and tired of being led on. I guess this is the reality of existentialism. There is no god, there is nothing. Budo is bigger than I thought. It says this, it says that, then it says it's nothing.

The problem is we follow our instincts into these holes that aren't exactly where we want to be. So what do we do there in the middle of the dark tunnel? We walk? I guess it's more like a dark forest. Or maybe just dark space, where walking doesn't do anything, and we just float.

I've been in dark forests before, and what feels good is just running. Then you wake up and you're not running anymore, that doesn't feel good.

I don't want to be boring. If I could settle on one thing maybe that's it. Fuck budo. Fuck the castle I've built. Just because I want it to be good, and have invested so much fear into it doesn't mean it's great.

The Apocalypse doesn't amaze me. It makes perfect sense. I've said this before. Especially concerning young adult males, the violent mass destruction makes perfect sense. No wonder history is filled with wars. For what? Who cares. Most people don't think that far. We just crave the feeling of the Ultimate ... something. Preparing everything for death. Living everything for life. It goes both ways. But each time you invest in one you discount the other, limiting yourself: wrong. So you need to balance the impossibility of both. People bash Christianity for its emphasis on faith, and yet that's exactly what any other holistic belief system relies upon (budo, buddhism, what have you). Not even religions, what does science show us? There is an answer to everything, but we cannot know all the answers. What do I know, I always sucked at science anyway.

It amazes me how much we need each other as the human species, because we are who mislead each other. Again, this terrible knot.

Sometimes it makes sense. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I feel like I can understand without understanding. I keep making the cycle, and it looks like I won't be getting out anytime soon.

Maybe that's what pisses me off so much: I keep learning lessons, but they get forgotten so fast. If my purpose is anything in particular, it renders life sterile.

Art comes in many forms. Does that include taking my laundry down? Because I really don't want to fucking do that right now.

Sleep. Clean the tiny apartment (I dreamed it grew bigger last night, it was awesome). Go out to dinner with the girl to my favorite restaurant. See what happens. Ladeeda.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Art in Martial Arts: Part 2 of Forever

 
I like music. I like music that consumes me. I like music that effectively transplants feeling. Because of this, I happen to like long songs with powerful feeling; heavy metal, trance, ambient, classical, as opposed to three minute and thirty second pops you here on the radio. When I get that feeling from music, it's like I'm participating. I guess that's what dancing is. Music is art, dancing is as well, due to the participation? What about when I sit there motionless listening to music? How is that anything different than the art itself? Would it not be art because I am without conscious action? What about artists who claim that they create art best without conscious thought?

I also love visual art. Who doesn't? Rather, I guess it's not about "loving" "art", but being affected by it. Anyway, I'd say visual art is a big driving force in my decision making progress. It's a big reason why I came to Japan. Maybe not for paintings persee, but visuals as a whole. In a way, my life is just chasing images. I don't create visual art just like I don't play music, but like music, when I see art, I am consumed with feeling from which thought and action arise. Again, it's a kind of participation. When I am with art, I feel something and create experience. When I don't have these things, I look for them.

Or, I even try to create them in my own life. How can I represent or express the music and art I love in my own modes of expression of writing and the martial arts? How can I make you feel Opeth's "Deliverance" while doing aikido or writing on Gaijin Explorer? This seems to be a very difficult concept to materialize. There is music which is created by people making sounds. There is visual art created by people who manipulate things to make an image. There is writing where people write words to do ... something (maybe that answer is the key?). There is martial arts where people use their bodies to some aim relevant to warfare (is that really what I do?). They are what they are, and I can't play music while doing martial arts without actually doing them both at the same time. Well, actually you could play a guitar while also doing iriminage... that's an interesting image.

But again, without actually playing music, I want to communicate its power in my arts of movement and description. Where do these arts connect? In thought? In feeling?

Again I come back full circle to music as basically someone playing an instrument, etc.

OK, here it is:

Art is Mind. Mind is conscious action in a direction. Skill in an art depends upon time spent participating and an amount of Mind put into the time.

Skill.

We come out with honesty of expression, enthusiasm in creation, a lack of mind towards things that are not that art.

But that last bit sounds shady. Can you say art is not something? If so, what are they? These agents of non-art ...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Year Without a Test: Now I Get It

Actually it's ben a year and four months since my last aikido test, a long dry spell. After my last test I changed jobs and aikido time dropped from 3-4 times a week, to 3-4 times a month. It's been a dark time indeed for aikido. Once I started this life over a year ago, I had one supreme goal: get back to a day job that would allow me to resume a plentiful aikido schedule as soon as possible. Everything focused to exit the purgatory I had slipped into.

But things have changed.

Primarily, I've found kyudo, a wonderful art I never imagined beginning. Spend enough time with something and roots will grow. Now I have another plant to attend to.

But back to the whole job thing. As far as I know, the only way I can live and earn money to live on in Japan is as an English teacher. So, I've looked for English teaching jobs. At first I thought of Interac, a public school job not unlike my last job with the Jet Program, but without the pay, vacations, and other various luxuries one enjoys on the Jet Program. Come the new school year in March, this was my ticket back to aikido. That is, until I set my eyes on teaching at a foreign language college that became the dream. I could definitely get a job with Interac in Toyama, but the college prospect is uncertain. Thorughout the year I've participated in various events to get acquainted with the school and staff (including an hour and a half presentation on how martial arts can benefit your life, focusing on Hawaiian Kenpo, aikido, and tai chi chuan, something I'd love to talk about here, but just too far in the past now). Due to application deadlines, I ditched the Interac idea in order for the college to come through. Well, I've continued participation, but I have learned nothing about the college's interest in me, past the fact they like me doing these various jobs every once in a while. One thing I have come to learn though is that it is a well sought after job by other various gaijin bums in the prefecture, and I am probably not at the top of the list. Could I get the job next March? In the next couple years? Who knows? Frankly ... who cares? The idea has grown cold; vines have already wrapped it in the history of a past me. I'm still signed up for things through January, and if something works out, I'll see what happens. Regardless, it's definitely not going to consume any more of my excessive attention. These employment puzzles have made me think a lot about getting my blackbelt in aikido here in Toyama, but always without an answer.

Until last week.

Out of the dark depths of the universe I don't usually think of, my current boss notified me of various other opportunities within the company which would move me elsewhere in the country, and upward in various judgements of "better".

I could leave it all behind and start anew. New place, new budo. I've been in Toyama for three years and wanderlust has grown quickly inside of me. It's an exciting thought: change.

Saturday night I went to aikido and had an excellent practice. November is a month of testing, and Sensei asked me about getting back on track.

"Eh? Would that be OK with my infrequent practice lately?"

"Of course! Hurry up and get your black belt and hakama! Three years of dedicated practice from you is more than enough, but I can't give it to you now. Take the tests as they come and you'll get the hakama soon."

Wow. In my mind I had some very dark images. "There's no way I can get a black belt with this schedule. My further aikidoka look down on me for it all." Stuff like that. When I go to aikido I receive everything but this, just great practice with great people who have become my family, but of course that's not what I think of on my own. Yosh! I can take the tests as they come, and I can get my black belt in Toyama like I've dreamed of. I'll take the nikkyu test this month, ikkyu in March, and then shodan (black belt) in July. If I need more time or something happens, then I can push it until next November, which is no problem. I can do it.

The next day I went to kyudo for a trial ikkyu test. It was a huge ... uneventful experience; a great example of some of the more frustrating parts of Japanese culture which require long periods of waiting. I practiced the test for 5 minutes, and spent about 3 other hours just waiting around. Anyway, in this period I realized how much goes into the tests in kyudo. I thought of Sensei who watches me everyday, doing everything he possibly can to teach me quality kyudo. It's unbelievable. He's an excellent teacher. My aikido teacher is the same. So are my past martial arts teachers. But without going on a sappy tangent, kyudo is not just something I do to pass the time until I get back to aikido. Well, maybe it was at first, but now it's my main practice, something I've become very attached to. I can't leave now. Sensei says I should be able to take my shodan test next May, and if not then, then next September. Yosh, I can do it.

I came to Japan with the dream of practicing budo in it's home country. When I started, I consciously put the idea of belt testing out of my head, leaving it up to circumstance. If it happens it happens, but I will not bastardize this experience with the desire for status. It's been less than pure to be honest, but I still hold on to the fact that focusing solely on the belts is a folly. However, it is an important part to the experience.

You take the tests because it's what you do. You take the tests because it is a manifestation of your goals and a materialization of your efforts. It's recognition from your teachers and peers, who are an absolutley irreplaceable and necessary part of budo.

It's like going to school for for three years and then dropping out senior year. Not that I believe it is wrong, just not my style. I have an opportunity to complete this story. If I do, it will be just that: a complete story. If I can finish this, it will be my greatest project; a giant mural of expression and devotion. Martial arts is art, and oftentimes it looks a lot more like an epic Western painting rather than a black and white product of Japanese calligraphy.

So, I've realized I want to move on from this place and time, but not without the fruits and closing initial chapters of the journey. One more year of snowboarding, going to freezing rain hanami parties, sweat drenched summer inferno, and then come fall, I may depart afresh.

It's all so clear now. Do budo to the best of my ability. Have fun when I'm not.

But I'm going to need a few things: some interesting books, new music and TV shows, and a lot more beer.

...

(A week later ...)

I passed the kyudo test. Will take aikido this Saturday.

After rereading this post, it doesn't quite communicate the feelings of frustration and devotion I usual feel, I think. Truly there is a large gap between worlds, inside and out. But who needs disclaimers. There is only understanding. What we see is real.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ruins of Ambition

Half-read textbooks and novels falling off shelves.

Neglected futons scattered on the floor.

Accumulated incense ash blown across the low table.

Cheap beer cans in bags on the balcony.

Martial arts curriculum sheets stacked atop unpaid bills.

Wooden sword, staff, and arrows leaning against the wall in the corner.

Mountain maps on walls looking at me, begging the hours of my days off.

How did this happen?

The many products of my myriad minds, all maniacal mice scurrying to make plans. Fueled by honest black coffee, streaks of white milky fear, illegally downloaded grains of brown sugar. They are all potential futures like all of the unused food spilling from my midget shelf space.

White rice, brown rice, rice a roni.

Spaghetti noodles, lasagna noodles, macaroni and cheese.

Miso soup, corn soup, cans of chili beans.

Another unopened bag of potatoes has grown fungus.

I usually just eat fish.

Whose apartment is this? Standing in the kitchen under obnoxious lights, it's all ridiculous. It's someone else.

Crack the whisky, pour half a tea cup full. I can't believe she thought I'd like Jack Daniels.

Something is different. All those worlds. I don't want to go back. So I'll just sit and look at them for a bit.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Burning Castles

 
 Stone set in the earth,
 

then, crack!


The gravity of Change,
channeled to a point.



Another castle is burning.
 


How long does one wait to flee its flames?


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Points of Focus: Kyudo

I need to be sure my back is straight and that my body weight is on the balls of my feet. I need to suck in my butt and hips so that they don't stick out the back and contort my spine.

When I hold the bow with both hands before the uchiokoshi (raising the bow) I need to keep my elbows out so that I stretch my triceps and create tension.

When I go through uchiokoshi I need to keep my right hand slightly higher than the left.

When I move into daisan (turning the bow and spreading the arms a bit before the draw) I need to make sure I move my left arm before my right creating the right tension and preparing my tenouchi with the correct turning of the bow in my hand while keeping them connected at the appropriate line in my palm. In this position I must not bring my right hand too close to my head contorting my wrist, and maintain a slightly downward angle of my arrow to the target; so that water could just slide down the arrow.

When I start the kai (draw of the bow) I need to pull the string way over my head as far as possible, without bending the wrist too much at the full draw. In the full draw I need to touch the string to my chest and the arrow to my face at the level of my mouth. Then I must aim; see the target hiding behind the grip.

I must hold this position until I can't anymore, then it's all quiet; hanare (release).

There are many more things one is doing when they are doing kyudo, but these are the places my mind must be to ensure correct shooting at this moment.

Is this not the same in our daily lives? It's as complicated as managing all of these steps, all of these steps which may be more than our attention can be given too; so much in fact we can't get it just right. And yet there is so much more going on, but belonging to things we do which we need not put much conscious thought into.

Then it's so simple. You just do it right, and you do it to the best of your ability, but you don't worry about missing the target. This is kyudo. This is what my life feels like.

I have my first test this weekend for ikkyu. So instead of worrying too much about the actual shooting, everyone is concentrating on the approach; all of the ceremony leading up to and following the shooting. And that's a whoooollllleeee 'nother pile of cheese.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Nightmare Kake


A kake (kah-kay) is the glove you use on your right hand in Kyudo.

There are a few variations, according to the number of fingers go into the kake, but generally a three-fingered kake is used (thumb and first two fingers.)

Since I started I have been using one of the dojo's, which is standard for beginners. But, I was planning on buying one a few weeks back when I went to get the arrows and a kyudogi (white under garment and black hakama).

I met Sensei at the dojo and from there he drove me to the kyudo store about 45 minutes away in Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had him as personal escort through this unfamiliar territory. During the drive I asked him may questions about kyudo; this art I was just starting and he had been practicing for decades.

Concerning the kake, he said it is a very important part of kyudo and can greatly affect one's shooting. If you have a good kake but are bad at using it, you can deform the kake and make your shooting worse. Also, as one can imagine, a badly fit kake can also be detrimental to your shooting. As with most equipment in kyudo, there is a wide range of prices and qualities. The cheapest kake can be around $150, but you can also get custom-made ones for about $1,500 to $2,000. After about ten years of experience, Sensei decided he was going to get one of the really nice custom made kakes. He got it and it was perfectly snug ... but that was exactly the problem. The perfect form of the kake was too tight for his shooting and was horrible for his technique. In kyudo one uses the kake to sense what is happening. The kake teaches you how to shoot in a lot of ways. With the new tight kake, he couldn't feel anything. Now it sits in his house like a cursed treasure.

After Sensei's custom-kake experiment, he traveled around Japan for years looking for the perfect kake. He worked for a company which often sent him on business trips around the country. When given the chance he would drop by a new kyudo store and look through the kakes. Eventually he found the perfect one in the store closest to his hometown of Takaoka, Toyama in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, the very store we went for me to get my own kake.

He tried on a kake and said, "This is it, I'll take this kake!"

"But Sensei, I'm embarrassed to sell you such a cheap kake."

"Ehhhh?"

The kake that fulfilled my Sensei's dreams was about as cheap as they get, around $150.

So we got to the kyudo store that day and I started trying on kakes. The kyudo store owner looked at my hand for a whole two seconds and brought out a few kakes. I tried one on and began to wrap it when Sensei said, "No, no, no, not like that." So I did it differently and Sensei said, "What are you doing? Like this..." So I said OK and did like he said.

I requested to try on a bigger one, which the store owner seemed surprised about, but Sensei said go ahead. I came all the way and am about to drop a lot of money on this equipment, I should at least be able to sample all of the wares.

I tried the next size up and both Sensei and the owner watched me wrap it with silent dissatisfaction.

What the hell was I doing wrong!?

Sensei asked me how it felt and I said it was too big and tried the first one on again. Sensei said he thought this one looked best and I said it felt weird. Some silence followed and then some grunting. Finally he said, "You suck at this. You shouldn't buy a kake today."

I was a bit disappointed, but something wasn't right. In the end I'm glad I didn't buy one of those kakes that day. The time will come when it does.

Sensei thought about the day's happenings and decided to give me one of his old kakes instead of having me return empty handed.

It certainly had a worn-in feeling to the soft parts, but the harder ones were harder than usual and restricting to certain movements. A kake isn't just one piece of material, but many different materials sown together in particular sections, each with their own qualities.

One thing Sensei warned me about the kake is that the string will slip out easier than the last kake I was using. This is a very serious issue that I didn't fully understand before using this kake.

In kyudo, the string is held by a very small notch in the kake. When you release, you are letting the string slip through that notch and fly forward. On this old kake of Sensei's, that notch is incredibly small, hence the easy release.

One you "knock" the arrow (attach it to the string), you turn the kake inwards so that you can feel contact with part of the string. As you raise the bow up, the back of your kake hand should be flat with the ceiling, all the way until your release. This contorts the string. I'm not sure to what purpose exactly, but it certainly puts additional pressure on the string.

Anyway, I don't remember exactly what the first few shots were like with the kake, but they couldn't have been too bad. Soon after though, I experienced my first premature release of the string with this kake. ... And I thought the string slapping your forearm was painful, just imagine that string hitting you just behind the ear or on the cheek instead. The shock might distract you from the pain, but only ice will keep the black welt from rising on the impact point. If you were lucky, it happened early and the arrow would just fly out early, which is definitely not a good thing in any aspect, except maybe that it hurt a lot less than when the string slips out when you're at your maximum pull of the string.

So this happened a few times, and I just hid the pain to see if the problem would fix itself after a few more tries. Sensei would watch and see, giving me corrections and advice. I basically understood what he said, but putting that into physical practice was something I couldn't do successfully at the time. He didn't seem shocked or have me stop using this new kake after the initial impacts, he wanted to see more just as I did.

There were some amazing effects from using the kake though. As I've mentioned before, what seems to be my greatest fault in shooting so far has been my tenouchi (left-hand grip on the bow). The flaws in my tenouchi resulted in the string slapping my forearm and of course, my arrow missing the target. For some reason, the problems concerning my tenouchi immediately fixed themselves upon donning the new kake. My arm wasn't getting slapped, and the bow was rotating much more than usual in my hand after the release, a sign of good shooting which takes a while to develop.

One other benefit to the kake was also responsible for it's negative qualities. As I mentioned before, one is supposed to turn the wrist so the top of one's hand is facing up. One must do this sufficiently, but not too much. With this kake, the string was slipping out of my grip because I wasn't turning my wrist enough. When I tried to fix it, I was slightly adjusting my wrist, but those intermittent slight movements also made the string slip. Then I tried again, turning my wrist as much as possible, but of course that made it slip while adding more uneccessary tension. It seemed no matter what I did, I couldn't keep the string from slipping out of this kake and slapping me in the face.

I then thought maybe there was a problem in the placement of my first two fingers on the thumb. Since the string was slipping out, I thought that I should place the fingers further up on my thumb, which put more uneccessary tension on both the string and my hand. This really made things worse for my shooting and my hand.

When I pulled the bow, I was putting an extreme amount of pressure on the string due to the that tension, and my shoulders flexed making me very top heavy and very uncomfortable. From the moment I would start drawing the bow, my mind was consumed with fear. Every milimeter I pulled the string I anticipated the vicious whip of the string. The fear on my face, the tension in my body, and the weakness in my draw; all effects of this nightmare kake. The fear kept me from drawing the bow as far as I should. Sensei told me I needed to draw it further, but I was too scared. Another Sensei who is always around came up to me and told me that I needed to relax, but I couldn't relax any further if I was to protect the shape of my form from letting the string pre-release.

The worst time I had with it was when I was aiming at the target while an older woman of a high rank was shooting behind me. I drew the bow almost to the full extent, and microseconds before I planned to release, the string sprung forward slapping my face and sending the arrow prematurely forward into the field not far in front of me. I dropped the bow in shock and the woman behind me shrieked. It was the most unpleasnat feeling followed by the most unpleasant sound. I looked at her and she had this speechless look of horror. Had she not noticed this happening to me before? In her long years of experience had she never seen this happen before? Had she never felt this pain before. The pain was less than some unexplainable disappointment I had in that woman at that moment. Sensei saw the whole thing completely unfazed. I appreciated this. In such a situation, the reassurance that everything is OK is paramount. In a look, Sensei told me everything was OK. The woman told me that something horrible had happened. I found some strange realization of budo in this moment.

I tried this kake for two days. Towards the very end, the Sensei who mentioned I should relax informed me that I need to place my first two fingers on the kake hand further down the thumb, releasing some of the excess tension in my shooting. Things instantly got a little better, but I was still terrified of completing a full draw, and the arrow still prematurely flew out far too often. Early that morning, Sensei saw me faltering and said, "Alright, you should go back to the old kake."

I was a little disappointed because I felt like I was just starting to get a hold on the new kake, but I was much more relieved that I wouldn't have to live with the fear of being slapped in the face while doing kyudo again.

When I returned to the old kake, it was very strange.

First, the fear generated by the last kake was so ingrained in me that whenever I pulled the bow, waves of terror filled my head and my body tensed as I expected to be slapped at any moment. I've never really felt this kind of fear before. Sensei assured me the string wouldn't slip out like that last kake. I knew he was right and told myself over and over again, but that fear was too strong. It wasn't for another two days with the safe kake that I finally could shoot without that fear again.

The other thing I realized was all the strange movements I was doing with my wrist on the kake hand. Thought I coudln't get it perfect on the last kake, the wrist piece was so stiff that it prevented me from making a lot of strange unecessary movements with my wrist. The kake I returned too was so loose that my hand was free to move however it wanted. When I pulled the bow, I could feel these mistakes, but physically being able to fix them is still something that escapes me. This is a big part of my focus now in shooting.

Also, all those tenouchi problems that fixed themself with the nightmare kake, returned with my old kake and the string was slapping my arm again; but that's nothing compared to the face, plus I wear a guard on my forearm to shield the pain. I have no idea why the kake affected that part of my shooting, but I'm aware of the problems in my tenouchi and I know how to fix them. Again, it's just putting it into physical action.

This seems to be a common thing, if not the life of a practitioner of kyudo: being able to see our mistakes cloud the ideal way of shooting, but not physically being able to put it into practice, and striving every day to bring the two together. It's a connection between body and mind. It's a focusing of our limited attention on the parts that matter. I'ts about having the spirit to maintain a positive attitude and the confidence that you will succeed. It's about having the discipline to go everyday, though some days you may not want to.

But above all, it's about having fun. Nobody has to do kyudo. We don't need kyudo in our lives. We do it because we want to. If you have this feeling of fun, then the rest will follow. If not, you are in some strange form of budo hell. I pity those people most of all.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Fall Routine: It's a Revolution!

 
I can only get two days of kyudo this week.

Just like last week.

I can't study Japanese like I used to.

What the hell am I going to do on the rush hour train to aikido tonight?

I can't save money like my friends.

All the complaining.

 
This is not OK.

I am "bad".

No. Fight.

But I won't be able to relax?

Shutup. You'll have skills.

I'll be tired.

Then drink coffee.

But what about having fun?

Drink at night.

What about something new?

Schedule it in.


The other weekend I went out drinking all night with the other English teachers after a seminar. I realized how amazing some of them realy are, especially one. He'll be leaving soon, and it disturbs me that I totally overlooked his presence. I wish I could have hung out with him more. There's just no time.

The other morning I slept in with my girlfriend and had all morning and afternoon to hang out, and we did. I struggled to relax as my mind searched for ways to make the day useful.

I'm waging a war with life and it's costing me everything: My health, my sanity, my friends, and anything else that isn't part of my megalomaniacal scheme to be different, better, or worthy.

The stagnant gargantuan summer humidity has dissipated across the sea. Now, red autumn razors fall from the sky. The early night breeze slices eyes and I see that I have never been here before.

 
There is so much of me I don't need. Collections of habits and modes of thought I've been reluctant to let pass. I've just been collecting and adding them together, conscious that it is too much, but negligent of the results it will bring. Well, it's time for a revolution. Not just a reformation, but a complete turning upside down of the central mode of thought. Until now the idea has been to fill every second with something contributing to my betterment. It's been a year. If I actually upgraded skills as I had planned, then I guess I have them. What I see now is that what it really did was create or reveal a lot of monsters. What I have learned is that it cannot go on like this. Now I understand what needs to happen: relaxation, enjoyment, Truth, being.

 
How does that sound? A bit too much like the New Age section in Barnes and Noble?


Well, lets get back to budo.

If there is one most fundamental and ultimate principle I've experienced in my martial arts experience, it's ...

 
Relaxation.

But relaxation alone won't get things done.

There's focus. It's in a look. The spine is straight. There is tension. They eyes are open, focused on everything; the essence of looking is found in just "looking" itself. No extra anything is being used. Deep breathing.

I didn't really talk about budo there, but how about here. I have never had a teacher tell me to tense up before a technique (with the exception of kiai, but even that isn't a simple tensing of muscles, or even contradictory to relaxing). If there's one most commonly used phrase from all of the budo teachers I have ever had, it is "relax." Looking now at any budo skill I employ, all of them would be instantly improved by more relaxation. In fact, it seems that what martial arts are trying to teach us is that it's about relaxing and then putting things in the right place in time. If I could learn to do this in the martial arts, it would help my daily life, and vice versa wouldn't it? That's the idea at least.


Then there's "fun". I remember listening to my coaches in sports give long explanations on strategies and the need to give it our all, but they always finished with, "And don't forget the most important thing to do out there is have fun." I didn't think much of it then, but it's starting to make sense.

Fun is really why I continute to put so much time and effort into martial arts. I perform my best when I'm having fun. But it's not just that immediate feeling of fun, it's also propelled by interest. If you are interested in something, and having fun, then you are already in the best possible position to progress. Interest is what really allows me to practice consistently. Practicing consistently is what leads to progress. Progress is what I want. So I must follow that small gem of "fun" if I want to get what I want, or perhaps good things I've never even thought of.


Let's go back to relaxation for a second. Relaxation isn't merely the physical relaxation of muscles which will enhance the physical movement required in martial arts, it opens up one's awareness. If you are full of stress, then that is all you have. If you fill your mind completely, then whatever it is you filled it with is all you are going to see. How are you supposed to react to violent physical threats if you can't see them coming? How can you experience anything new at all for that matter? It's the same with our bodies, if your arm is tense and you want to throw a punch, you first have to relax your arm and then move it. This is a big waste of time and energy. However, if the arm is already relaxed, it can freely move to it's target. Economical action of the body, and mind, are what allow for survival and growth.

With my new adoption of relaxation and fun, I've been playing my Nintendo 3DS on the trains. The other day I was playing the new Super Mario. It was frustrating. In video games you operate within a limited world of places you can go and things you can do, etc. You have to do just what you're supposed to, but why do you do it? The answer usually is because you want to, because it's fun. Otherwise you just wouldn't play the game. This human life is just like that! But it operates on a much broader scale; one we are submerged in and cannot escape from.

 
So why do we do what we do? Because we like it? What about it do we like? How do you know?

There is so much in my life that I don't have to do, but I do anyway. A lot of those things I am convinced are needs ... but how do I know if I really need them or not?


By seeing them.

Seeing is separating yourself from yourself, creating a space in which you can breathe and see. From that space you can see patterns and causes and effects more clearly, you can see better what is really needed. Seeing is the key.

In order to see we must wait. In order to wait we must be patient. In order to be patient we must relax.

In order to wait we must be OK with not-doing, not-having.

This runs contradictory to myself, and every human being I suppose. This not-doing, not-having, not-needing self. If there's space, then you fill it. Space is nothing. "Space is waste!" they say.

But this seeing is wisdom, this separating ourselves from ourselves. This is a good thing. And yet, it is still a small picture, because we are one and everything, we really can't separate ourselves from ourselves. So, the commonality is being. Just being itself. This being is "us" no matter what, in a direction of absolute honesty, absolute survival. No matter which "ourselves" we are looking at or thinking about, I believe this is true. We can do it well, or we can do it not well. I'm not sure how to explain it, but something is better when our wise effort is utilized.

 
I'm rambling into the pits of things I cannot accurately describe. But do you see what is the logical result of this discussion? Do you see what action is needed to put things right? That action to see, to relax, to be?

Zazen.

But I'm not going to say zazen anymore because it is a very specific word with a particular practice and image, and I don't follow it exactly. But the basic idea is the same. What I do is sit; sitting Zacky Chan style. Perhaps I'll describe it in a post in the near future, but for now, this is fine.

This is the revolution: A dropping off of the need to need all of these things that I really don't need, and in that fertile ground that is left, sitting. From there, seeing those things that I want in my life, and seeing what kind of routine follows, which is certainly not empty.


So here is my fall routine.

     Do:
          -kyudo and aikido
          -sit everyday
          -read what I like (English fantasy novels and Japanese manga) and play Nintendo 3DS
          -write on the blog

     Don't:
          -have my own personal martial arts routine
          -have a Japanese study routine
          -fill up every second of time
          -do extra eikaiwa for money
          -buy food and drinks just to distract or energize myself
          -worry

 
Nobody knows these mountains.
Where are the bears and boars?
It's so simple. I'll never get bored here.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Like Sensei When He's Angry

The other night at class Sensei came in and looked pretty normal to me. He gave a short greeting, got changed, and started stretching. On Saturday nights our aikido group shares a already too-small dojo space with a karate class. Over the past three years, that class has been pretty small. They have their own world of budo, we have ours. I don't usually have problems with good karate, but most of the stuff the teacher does with this particular group usually makes me grimace or laugh. I pity his older students who diligently follow his instructions into dangerous techniques, ones that will get them pummelled by stronger opponents in a real altercation. But anyway, that's none of my business. What pissed Sensei off that night was the abundance of toddlers who seem to have joined his class. For a warm up, this karate teacher was having the children get into uncomfortable positions and hold them for durations of 10 seconds. For example, maintaining a push-up position with their hands as fists. This isn't even the problem. The problem was, the teacher counted each second with a loud kiai followed by the students screaming counting from one to ten.

"Ai!"

"Ichi!"

"Ai!"

"Ni!"

...

Sensei looked up from his stretching position with a look of utter disbelief. The second in rank in our class did the same, a few others looked up with a little less disgust, and I kind of just looked on with a more matter of fact reaction. I'm a kids teacher after all; such screaming is a kind of everday occurence for me.

We are all adults in aikido with day jobs where we put up with a certain level of things we don't want to. When we come to aikido, it's because we like it. Screaming children changes the atmosphere more towards the "not-liking" section. "I didn't sign up for this." is probably what a lot of people in the room were thinking. But the kids were happy screaming as loud as they could, and the karate sensei seemed impressed that he had all the students happily doing what he told them to do, and who's to blame him, if I had that in my classrooms I'd be happy too, minus the irritating sounds: OK I guess I wouldn't want screaming kids no matter what. Sometimes when I teach English and have the kids repeat after me they think it's funny to scream the English as loud as possible ... not a big fan.

This infuriated Sensei a bit beyond his normal levels. He showed and explained techniques to us in a raised voice to be heard over the nieghboring chaos, which irritated him more. This isn't the first time our class has endured background children screaming noise. Two days a week we are in a much larger gym which we share with a children's karate group on one day and a children's kendo group on the other. Can you guess where our problem is? It's with the kendo. Sensei got so tired of trying to talk over the screaming little demons, training has changed locations on that day. If you ever really wanted to know what screaming goblins sounds like, I recommend you visit a children's kendo class.

Anyway, when Sensei gets frustrated like this he gets very impatient. Wazas are practiced at a much faster pace, but that's the part that I like. I start pacing when people take too long in front of me, so this for me is just go-go-go and that's good. Another part is that he usually won't give anything with uke; which means if you're not doing the technique right, he won't just go through it with you. He'll make you do it right. Usually he focuses on one aspect and tells us to do it. The interesting part is that often the people he tells don't understand what he's saying. Given it's usually easier to see this stuff from the outside, but I couldn't believe a few of the other students that night. Sensei will give them instructions on what to do, show it on them, show it on someone else, give another example, but a couple people were just not getting it. Finally when someone does something right he gets really happy.

Frustration and budo, so much could be said about this relationship. We all react to negativity in different ways, or not just negativity ... what's the right word? In Japanese I call it "iya", いや。 "Iya" is when there's something you don't like or don't want to do. This is frustration. How we deal with iya more and more seems to me to be each of our defining characteristic. When I am confronted with iya I usually react with frustration and activity. The sad thing is how I often deal with this is ingesting things like coffee, food, or alcohol, depending on the time of the day. Zen says to sit with it, but for me the easiest and best way is to practice budo, particularly aikido. I often go to aikido frustrated and it fixes it. Often times I go to aikido happy and come out frustrated, which is weird but OK because I'll go back to aikido and it will probably fix itself. A big part of this is that aikido takes so much of my physical energy, I'm often too tired to be frustrated. With kyudo, it's different, but also very good at dispelling frustrating. You don't exert so much physical energy in movement, but the concentration required takes up all the space in your attention and you just don't have the time to be frustrated. Then when it's over, you're usually OK.

But what about the bigger iya, those bigger issues we plant in our head that aren't quelled so easily?
For the problems that don't go away, and always seem to come back, your budo practice needs to be just as consistent if not more. Everyday put the budo in and it will be stronger than the iya just by its time alone. Or maybe not. That could be bullshit. If we have real problems what needs to be done is dealing with those specific problems. Maybe there are stronger problems than budo can help. I don't know. This post could go on forever.

More to come on budo vs. iya. My life depends on it.