Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Current Kyudo

At two months of traning I've learned to stand by myself and shoot at the target 99% sure I won't send an arrow flying over the roof of the dojo and into the nearby park. It's not that you couldn't learn to do it quicker, but this is my experience. This simple of act of shooting a bow and arrow in the tradition of kyudo requires a lot of skills that need internalizing. Like there's so many little things going on, you really can't just say, "OK, stand there, look there, pull the string, aim at that target, and shoot." It's not like that at all.

It's kind of like aikido in that you don't worry about getting all of the details at once. In aikido you get to a point where you can manage through techniques with others and then slowly work on the little details over a long period of time. As a millionth degree black belt, I think you're still going to be working ikkyo, one of the most basic of techniques.

The difference with kyudo is that you don't have a partner who can help you through a technique if you don't do it perfect. In kyudo, you're the only person holding the bow so its all on you. Also, in kyudo you're only doing one thing, and that's shooting at a target at a standard distance and height.

The thought of doing that same one thing over and over again until the very end is a bit ... something. As a beginner, this is realy hard to imagine. In other arts you practice something until you can do it well and then you're teacher will show you something new. But in kyudo, no matter how far you go, you're still just shooting at the target (as far as I know). Some say we're never perfect in our technique. I agree with this. As martial artists we reflect with this thought in mind. But man, kyudo focuses on this point.

Now when I practice shooting there are specific problems I need to assess in order to improve my shooting. There are so many of these problems that I think kyudo will be like this for quite a while. Maybe it will always be like this. I imagine it changes, but I can't see that from here.

A lot of reading material I find about kyudo is spiritually oriented; one could say the same about aikido. However, my experience in aikido for the past two years has been extremely practical. This has changed my perspective on the arts. It was largely due to the spiritual aspects in aikido that interest was sparked, but when starting to learn and practice the art, those spiritual aspects only seemed to get in the way of learning technique. I don't consciously think about the spritual aspects of aikido when I practice. My creed has been to watch Sensei and do exactly what he does. This I believe is the best way to "study" martial arts.

So, this is naturally the mindset I've brought into the kyudojo. It seems to be working well and my teacher appreciates it. Funny thing is that the friend I started kyudo with is completely into the mystical side of it all. As long as it helps you it's good I think, but I've noticed that it often gets in the way. For example, there is one analogy related to the pulling back of the bow. After lifting the bow in front of you, you push and lower the bow in front of you with your front hand, and pull the string and arrow back over and behind your head. The resulting arc can be related to a rainbow. However, if your hands do this in attempt to make a circular arc, your wrist that holds the string may bend excessively, which isn't good. If you're wrist is bent too much, it means you're pulling with your hand and wrist instead of your elbow and chest. Rather what you should do is just pull the string in a straight line from beginning to finish, and it will naturally arc. The final product looks like a rainbow, but trying to imitate a rainbow in practice disfigures correct form. I think the most important thing to realize is that you are not a rainbow. You are a person shooting a bow and arrow in the fashion of kyudo. It is no more related to a rainbow than an ice cream cone. So, I try not to employ these analogies and metaphors longer than their appropriate use. The only constant in my practice is that I watch Sensei and try to do exactly what he does. After building a solid base though, I do look forward to indulging in some of the spiritual aspects of the art; though it will not be without a critical mind.
                                                       ("uchiokoshi" raising of the bow)

("kai" completing the draw)
So that's generally what's been going on. Continue below for details on technique and masochism in kyudo.

The technical problem I must fix which is at the top of my "stupid-gaijin-can't-do-kyudo-right" list has to do with my front hand during the release. This I think is one of the strangest aspects of shooting, but one necessary in order to keep an arrow straight towards the target. At the time that you release the arrow with your right hand, your left hand which holds the bow must rotate to the outside. Just before shooting, your hand should look like a big "Y", and after you release it should look like a little "y".



When I first started practicing, I took this very literally and just rotated my wrist. For some reason, it kind of worked at first, maybe because I had a very weak bow. But after a couple weeks, I got a stronger bow and something changed. Now when I shoot, the string slaps my front forearm causing a sharp pain followed by a fat welt. For a couple weeks it's gotten increasingly worse. One of the most important aspects of kyudo is zanshin. After shooting the arrow, one is supposed to keep their eyes on the target watching, seeing, being ... empty, and full. However, many people let out grunts or reveal faces of dissaproval at missed shots. That is not good zanshin. Their zanshin sucks because they take their failures personally. My zanshin sucks because after I shoot I inevitably feel this stinging whip in my arm. Usually my eyes bulge wide open and I let out an under-the-breath grunt. After this I prepare my second arrow in great fear for the next shock. Thinking about it now, it must look really funny and sad. Anyway, in attempt to turn my wrist appropriately, I simple rotated my hand, which is the problem. What you're supposed to do is propel the bone that connects the thumb to your hand forward, as if you're launching the arrow forward with your thumb, and you hand will naturally rotate. Sensei and I realized this just before finishing the last practice, so I am looking forward to a future in kyudo that doesn't involve injuring myself everytime.

One interesting aspect to this is the need for communication with a teacher. Though you shoot the arrow alone, to progress in kyudo alone seems impossible. I shoot the arrow and realize there are a lot of problems, but what they are and how to fix them is largely lost to me. Sensei's pointers launch me far ahead into the future. However, Sensei couldn't see this particular problem in my technique on his own. Well, he might of, but maybe it didn't seem so high on the "stupid-gaijin-can't-do-kyudo-right" list. I had to tell him a couple times that it hurt when I shot, and then showed him the welt, and I read the look on his face: "Wow. OK, let's solve this problem right now." And from then we began to dissect the problem relevant problem in my shooting.

In aikido you wear a normal dogi (general Japanese martial art uniform) until your black belt and then you wear a hakama (usually black extremely baggy legged piece of clothing that looks more like a skirt) over the pants of your dogi. It looks really cool and has been demonizing me since I'm still just a stupid white-belt. However, in kyudo you generally wear the hakama from the beginning. Until now I've just gone to practice in track pants and a long sleeve shirt, but since I've joined normal classes I thought I should probably follow suit and get the hakama and kyudogi (the top is a white short-sleeved dogi). I asked Sensei about when I should start wearing the traditional wear and he said, "When I stop coming into kyudo with huge revealing welts on my forearms."

Yosh! Next week I'm going to begin consistent practice in kyudo and fix this painful problem. Then, I can don the hakama without embarrassment and enjoy kyudo as a safe practice.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lonliness on the Budo Path

This morning I realized I practice martial arts to interact with people.

However, it is one of the most isolating interests I have.

My life is very big. Let's say it's a 360 degree circle I am standing in the middle of. Standing there, I cannot see my whole life. I can only see what I see, and that is what is in front of me. I know what is happening in front of me because I can see it, and I don't know what is happening behind me because I can't see it. There is nothing else in front of me other than what I see, and anything can be behind me because I can't see it. I could spin around in attempt to see everything at once, but there will always be a "behind me" that I cannot see. I could sit and close my eyes in attempt to subconsciously "see" everything around me, but that is nonsense; I would see nothing but what my imagination manifests. So, I can only see what is in front of me.

Of what is in front of me, I discern between things that I like, things that I don't like, and things I have little opinion towards. Depending on the situation, I am focusing my attention on some specific thing of what is in front of me. I engage these particular phenomenon and create relationships and reality.

I consider myself a fairly normal and healthy human because I like and try to spend time doing those things that I like. So, of all the things that I can see, my attention naturally drifts towards what I like. That area of "things that I like" is a microcosm of my reality. In that area, there are many different things that I like, and even some things that I don't like. Of the myriad things that I like, I could make one great polarizing distinction by separating everything into things that incorporate other people, and things that have nothing to do with other people. (Though I have to mention here, that in this 360 circle world I am describing, there is no area of complete lonliness or complete anti-lonliness, and often the disctinctions we can generally call alone, or not alone, can often be interpreted conversely as their opposite.)

Of all the things that I like (naturally bring my attention towards), there is one major activity for each category of  "things that have nothing to do with other people" and "things that incorporate other people." For the former, it is exploring mountains. For the latter, it is practicing martial arts. So, according to this analysis, practicing martial arts is my #1 social activity.

After this string of logic concerning my 360 degree circle world, I confirm this conclusion with a passionate intuition. "Yes, practicing martial arts is my #1 social activity." When I practice martial arts honestly with other people, inhibitions are dropped and I love the people I interact with. I look forward to practicing with other people, my martial arts skills improve with other people, and I feel lonely when not practicing with them for long periods of time. In this place, martial arts are a world synonymous with social interaction, and it's something that I like.

However, this is often a very small part of what I see. If viewed from the other side, that one of social obligations, martial arts become a lonely world where one must practice in the shadows of isolation. My world encompasses many different types of social interaction that I am supposed to like. I am supposed to like my coworkers, varous other acquaintances I meet regularly in shops, even people I don't know. What really gets tricky is that I am supposed to like the friends that I have, those whose initial purpose in my life was precisely to be enjoyed. They are separate from the martial arts, and so to them, my martial arts world is dark. This is no little thing, because in my favorite world, martial arts is king. Through this dichotomy I move with difficulty, and my stamina for the world separate of martial arts is not so enduring. In that social world, my focus is incredibly distracted, as well as everyone else's. The more the merrier? More like, the more the fuzzier and disparate. Intimate conversation is limited to small random snipits amid piles of fart jokes. Skill is determined by domination of others through witty rapport and social manipulation. Physical excercise designated to 10 minute periods of frisbee or swimming, niether of which are to be done at full exertion. Change and happiness to be found in mood altering substances.

Now, this world looks pretty dark, and some of you may be thinking, "Dude, you should get some new friends!" but that is not the case. I love my friends and enjoy what I do, but sometimes it carries this feeling, and because I think it, it is real. Anyway ... enough of the disclaimer and back to the discussion at hand ...

My martial arts world is one considerably different from the main circle of friends I frequent. Because my friends haven't visited that world, they don't know anything real about it; only what the media produces through Hollywood movies and video games. I don't look like Bruce Lee or Jean Claude Van Damme, so this is strange to them. Because they don't know, they don't understand. Because they don't understand, it's usually met with guarded views. Those guarded views make transitions between worlds very difficult. This is the exact reason why I practice martial arts: to be able to traverse new worlds. If I can make my mind sharper, my body more able, and my will stronger, then theoretically I can be functional in different worlds, namely those more difficult to endure or understand. Now, after about 7 years of practice, I see that those desired effects have come true, but I've rarely noticed it until now because I'd say most places in 1st world nations don't require such a high level of ability. I went to college ready for the world and found that the most highly acclaimed experience is getting wasted at a party or club. The pinnacle to many was ingesting drugs and doing ... what? I've also been to concerts to see incredible artists, and yet, all I'm doing is paying a lot of money and time to go stand and listen to something. Now I pay a lot of money and time to go on camping trips where I sit in a beautiful place in a chair and wait for meat to cook. Are these the pinnacles of human experience? Paying money to receive beautiful places, skillful art, and delicious food? In a world where that is true, I feel uneasy. Lately I've been looking around at everyone around me at their respective jobs and 98% of the time I think to myself, "Wow, I would hate doing that."

I want to work hard and become something great. I'm young, white, American, and male, does society have an answer for people like me. YES! Skilled professions requiring higher education.

Dr. Zacky Chan...

That sounds like it involves an extreme amount of money and time. A lot of lonely time reading complicated texts I may necessarily not be so interested in, and a lot of social time with people I didn't necessarily choose to be with. I already have to fill up my time and money on things I don't necessarily want. I'll pass.

It's funny. Every once in a while I'll be riding the train and a fairly young intelligent male will start a conversation in English with me. I'll soon learn that they are engaging that highly respected world of specified professions and concerned about living a full life.  Computer technicians, robotic engineers, molecular biologists. I ask them about their lives and compliment them on their achievements. They ask me about my future and I tell them that I'm not really sure. Furthermore, I don't really care so much. I am living in Japan to practice Japanese. But these Japanese are already practically fluent in English and have other professions they are addressing. Foreign language seems like something that you should just know on the side. So the fact I'm learning Japanese doesn't seem so interesting to them. My interest is martial arts and hiking, but these are things unrelated to the innovative technologies that are defining the modern world; more a hobby than what one should devote their greatest efforts towards. And it doesn't make money. That is always where the conversation ends, and I think they eventually pity me in a way. But the feeling is mutual. For us, we who have such high ideals on the meaning of worth and happiness, will sometimes have difficulty with others who feel the same way but translate it through different means.

This professional world that society puts on a high shelf, just doesn't interest me. I don't judge it negatively, it just doesn't correlate enough with what I like. Unless you're rich and famous, I don't think martial artists and hikers are so important in their world either.

"What should a human do their life?"

The professional world says get a Ph.D.

"What should I do?"

My friends say sit down, get a beer, and say something funny.

Riding a bicycle up a steep hill or carrying a heavy backpack up a mountain just doesn't have much place in this world. Concerning budo, learning how to manipulate someone physically or utilizing archaiac weapons to achieve the same purpose isn't so popular either.

Let's go back to the 360 degree world I'm standing in the middle of. There are people that I can see in front of me. There are people I like, people I don't like, and people I don't have much of an opinion for. Of those people that I like, my favorites have been martial artists. Because of them I have continued on this budo path. I call that beauty. Where do they fit into the world? I don't think any of them have Ph.D.'s, and none of them spend all of their free time just watching the world in a lawn chair with a beer in their hand. However, they are all incredibly intelligent and know how to have a good time. In society's eyes they are probably incredibly normal people dwelling somewhere in the middle. None of them have been very rich or famous, but in their respective worlds of martial arts, life is unimaginably full. It's not that having a respected degree or big money are undesired, but there's just not enough time, and a big part of life seems to be choosing what we do with the time that we have. I generally choose to do what I like, which is exploring mountains and practicing martial arts, so I guess in one world I'm lonely, poor, and uninteresting.

The end of summer is in sight. My friends are busy scheduling camping trips with the remaining extended weekends, but I already have plans:

1.) 2-day aikido seminar with my sensei's former training partners from Tokyo.

2.) 3-day solo hiking trip to Haku-san (Mt. Haku) in neighboring Ishikawa Prefecture.

Nothing is going to mess with these plans because I love them very much.

When my friend's are sitting in their camping chairs I wonder if I'll be mentioned. In the mountains and dojos, I will think of them fondly.

Man, I can't wait to start consistent practice with other people again and get out of my head a bit. I guess I miss my budo friends.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Standing in the River

A crane stands in the river, doesn't move much. A lot of waiting. There are fish, but not enough to swoop down and expect immediate gratification. A crane waits in the river, staring at the river. Sometimes distracted. It's not a machine.

One could stare at the river for a fish. Clear flowing river until fish. Simple. Exact. The clarity depends upon the concentration. If you become good at concentrating, you are good at catching the fish. If the goal is the fish, then you are a success. If the goal is something else other than that fish, then you are completely lost. If there is no goal, then it really doesn't matter.

So the question is, what do you want to do?

Don't think.


I wonder if the crane knows that there is a family of fish about ten meters behind him under the bridge.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Morning Budo Routine

1.) jo (wooden short staff) - 10 minutes

2.) ken (wooden sword) - 10 minutes

3.) striking - 10 minutes

4.) stretching - 10 minutes

5.) standing meditation - 20 minutes

"No one messes with my mornings." is what my first tai chi teacher in San Francisco used to say. He is very much a great inspiration for my morning routine. This is a man who slept on average of three to four hours a night. He would wake up long before dawn and begin his four hour morning routine of various meditations and internal Chinese martial art forms. I asked him how he managed on so little sleep, and he said "naps." But he also mentioned the energy he gained from his morning practice, and that he didn't like sleeping anyway. Since meeting him, I've strived to create my own morning routine, and have generally been able to do so for the past year. The primary motivation for this morning routine is to not only maintain, but advance my practice as a martial artist since I've been away from regular training at a dojo. Above is the skeleton of my training. Below are the explanations.

1.) jo
    - basic techniques
    - 2 forms: "31" and "13"

I begin with the jo to wake up into the practice.

2.) ken

    - basic techniques

Ken practice comes after the jo because I think it is a little more difficult on the body. This is due to the stop-and-go nature of the sword which ignites certain muscles more than the jo, as well as an emphasis on deeper front stances.

The jo and ken practice are mainly used to maintain the fundamentals of aikido without practicing with a partner. For example, the movements of irimi and tenkan, and empty handed movements that utilize the same movements used in ken and jo training. I also focus on keeping my back straight, not igniting unneccessary muscles (especially the shoulders), smooth breathing, using my hips to generate power, and being as rooted as possible through movements. But all the qualities in that last sentence are something that I focus on in all parts of my martial art training. In my eyes, this is often all I'm doing when I'm training; it is everything.

3.) striking

    A.) upper body
          - right/left (r/l) jab
          - r/l cross
          - r/l jab - cross combo
          - r/l front/rear (f/r) hook punches to head and body level
          - r/l f/r uppercut punches to head and body level
          - combos chaining all previously practiced strikes

          (Generally I practice these with closed fists, but will often introduce different methods such as
            open hands, elbows, etc.)

    B.) lower body
          - r/l f/r snap kicks
          - r/l f/r roundhouse kicks
          - r/l f/r back kicks
          - r/l side kicks from neutral stance
          - r/l step behind side kicks transitioning into each other with one step
          (all kicks aimed at various targets throughout practice)

     C.) shadow sparring with all previously practiced strikes

This is the odd-ball of the group. Striking is the seemingly least relevant to my daily life and current formal martial arts practices. However, I maintain this practice for various reasons. First, it's a way to remember the techniques I first learned in the martial arts with Hawaiian Kenpo. Second, I feel these really help the self-defense side of my training. What if I'm in a situation where I need to use a strike to stop an aggressive attacker? Nothing seems to work more effectively in distancing an opponent than using a side kick, or turning the lights out on someone like a cross. However, this is also dangerous concerning the law, which I am constantly made well aware of thanks to the Isshinryu Blog by Mr. Charles James. Don't want to lose my case for self-defense with bloody knuckles, right? Perhaps it is really anti-practical ... mmmm. Thirdly, the training makes my body feel great. It gives my muscles the kind of workout I just can't feel with aikido and tai chi chuan. Some days I go through the striking at tai chi speed, and others I rage through it with all the power of a young adult male, and that is good.

One big flaw with this training, is that I'm never actually hitting anything. You could also say the same with the jo and ken training. Also, there is never a living partner across from me to work with. This is something I'm very conscious of. There is no way to effectively simulate a training partner in my opinion. However, I make efforts to imagine partners as clearly as possible. What this does is acclimatize my mind to practicing these against an aggressive opponent.

The other day my friend playfully reached out his hand to slap me. My instincts caused me to reach out and slap his slapping hand out of the way. Is this good? I'd answer, "No". In fact I was quite upset with myself afterward and thought about it over and over again. I wish I had just stepped out of the way. Much more simple and effective. The point of my martial training is to condition me to move in a relaxed and effective manner in the face of aggression. What I did was meet that energy, and inflame my muscles and mind reacting to it. Hopefully, if I imagine aggressive attackers in my morning routine, I can practice conditioning calm and effective movements. It might not be perfect, but it's better than not.

I really wish I had some dummies or bags to hit during the ken/jo and striking practice though.

4.) stretching

          -various stretches I've borrowed from all different martial arts practices

This is one aspect of my routine I wish I could spend more time on, but given the circumstances of time, it is what it is. Nothing makes my body feel more immediately better, or allows me to do everything else just a little better like stretching does. My tai chi teacher from San Francisco said to do the form everyday. But if you can't get to the form, at least do your stretching. I don't abide by this, but I trust his opinion, and this proves how important stretching is for someone who's main goal is to use their body more effectively.

5.) standing meditation

          -stand in the zhan zhuang posture

Could it be any more simple? Just stand. However, this is by far the most difficult aspect of my training. It's also gone through a lot of phases. This is another practice that is inspired by my tai chi teacher in San Francisco. He would have us stand everyday before practicing the form, but only as long as we wanted. I asked him about it more, and he said he stood for forty minutes everyday, and that it was arguably the most important part of his training. "Well, if that's what he says, then I'm going to do it too," I said to myself. Well, it definitely wasn't a consistent practice for me at the time. About 10 times in a couple years I stood for the full forty minutes. Without a consistent practice, that seems to me now and incredible feat for myself. One that was matched with unbelievable sensations in the body and mind. About a year ago I tried to make it a routine, and so I started at 5 minutes, and added a minute each day until I got to 40. It worked! And I did 40 minutes for about a month. By far the greatest self-practice I've ever had. It helped everything in my life, and I think I was learning aikido to my maximum potential. But, that practice fell off. How do we explain these things? I don't know. I've reinstated it into my practice in my morning routine. Just doing 20 minutes. Cake compared to the 40 minutes in some ways ... but that doesn't diminish it's difficulty. No matter the circumstances, sometimes standing for 1 minute is killer. Just standing for 20 minutes hasn't exactly been consistent. Some days I'll stand until it drives me crazy and then I'll sit half lotus until my unadjusted legs can't stand it, and then I sit in seiza. Some days I'll start moving around a lot and do small tai chi chuan form practices. Other days I just say fuck it and hit the shower. After all the frustrating transitions, now I just try to stand. Without any unneccessary pressures or worries, I just try to relax and stand where is comfortable. I think this is good, and a progression in my practice. But I don't really know. Someone with more experience may say differently. Anyway, I'm starting to ramble and could write 10 posts worth on this practice alone. So I'll leave it as is. Standing for 20 minutes.

The funny thing about this morning routine is that in September when I resume kyudo training, I plan to abandon it. If you would have asked me a week ago I would have said differently. Proud of my morning practice, I was planning on waking up ealier in order to do the practice before leaving for kyudo.

But then it becomes work.


A malignant chore in my mind that infects everything around it, like a spike into sweet mother earth. Some might call it "worry".

With this spike in my mind, the workout is an unpleasant routine. Getting ready in the morning with a shower, shaving, eating, preparing a lunch and class materials become work. Studying Japanese becomes work. Going to kyudo and actually doing the practice becomes work. Then actually going to my job after that is just superwork. Then I get home and the only way to balance the excess of the day is to drink an extra beer and watch more media. Then it's of to less sleep than I need in order to start it all again.

It's amazing how much one hour can affect your day.

How do you martial artists do this while raising a family?

Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic again. But I've gone into new routines trying to arbitrarily insert this hour of self-budo practice more than a few times, and it's never done anything but stress me out. Going to kyudo, aikido, work, and getting enough sleep and relaxation are the bones of my life that I will settle everything else on top of. If there's space, I'll happily accept it. If not, well, then it's just not for me.

I like most of the things I do in my day, and just maybe it can be enough. I don't need to idealize about something else really cool, asign it a slot in my day, and then tell myself I have to do it or I'll be a failure. The world is too big for me to spend it bouncing around my apartment anyway. It's been a good year with this practice, and it's served it's purpose as martial art stimulation in my relative vacuum of formal training. But I've found something new. It's time to move on. I'll put this morning routine to rest, and resurrect it again one day in a new form when the time comes.

My life is a painting to experience instinctively with fluid excitement. Not a science textbook to copy all the details under the sun.


Friday, August 3, 2012

When Aikido is More Work Than Work

Summer is absolutley the worst time for aikido. Actually, I'm convinced it's the worst time for any martial art. A combination of beautiful weather, summer events, and friends who don't fill their free time with activities that depend on consistent practice all make for a difficult time in getting to the dojo. I've been able to rationalize setting aside that 6:00-10:30 pm block of time for budo on a regular schedule during other times of the year, but it inevitably suffers in the heat. What should we do? Abandon our practice for the immediate callings of now? Or devote ourselves more intensely to our art shutting all else out? I used to think there was a "right" and "wrong" answer, but have come to realize that we in fact create the answer, and "right" and "wrong" are only involved if you allow them to be.

Monday day off. My one day off sandwiched between two four-day-periods of "Summer School", intensive courses for the children's English school I work for. One of those experiences that seem to make people say, "Fuck it, I'm doing exactly what I want on my day off." For some people this means sleeping as much as possible and watching lots of TV. For others it means utilizing every second of daylight for physical activity. Both are worthy reactions to heavy work schedules, I just tend to choose the latter. I had plans for a long ride into the mountains and then go to aikido.

On the train home the night before, I got a text from another English teacher who lives in the same building. She wanted to go out for a drink to celebrate our halfway point in Summer School. I had already been thinking of how to walk into my apartment and fall straight onto the futon for as much rest as possible before my adventure, but I really couldn't refuse such a request; especially since I rarely do so with the people I work with. (Perhaps another topic worthy of a blog: Self-inflicted lonliness on the budo path) I went out, and long story short, I spent more money and got less sleep than I had hoped for ... oh well. These days off also have a way of destroying inhibitions concerning the little things. This event did push my morning departure an hour and a half later though, which may or may not have changed the entire trip.

The next day's adventure was an epic journey; just what I wanted. But in a sense, one full of a lot of "failure". The biggest of which was the failure to decide fully what I was going to do with respect to aikido. Theoretically, I could go on an all-day adventure and make it back in time for aikido. Practically, this is a horrible idea. First of all, my body physically can't take it while maintaining a good mood (perhaps a topic worthy of another post). I've done the summer bike ride followed by aikido when I used to live in Kurobe, but I am lifeless and usually have some kind of stomach ache because I didn't eat enough or I ate too much while my body is trying to adjust to the heat. Secondly, the bike rides I used to take would last about 6-7 hours, whereas now they run 10-12 hours. "Why don't you just take a shorter ride?" one of my coworkers says. Yeah ... that's not going to happen. Thirdly, what really kills the bike ride + aikido equation is the commute to training. Walking 15 minutes to the train station, riding for 30 minutes, walking 20 minutes to the dojo, followed by a return trip just as long, kills it. No one wants to be a soggy baked potato for an hour train ride. If I was really being nitpicky, I could complain about the $15 cost as well. Even on regular days, this taxes my mind: 4.5 hours and $15 for 1.5 hour training that I already pay monthly dues for. Well, if training in aikido is really what you want to do, then you should just bear up and do it right?

If you really want to ride your bike in the moutains you should just do it right?
If you really want to do both you should just do it right?

Then it's work.

I think it's hard for people to accept martial arts into their life as just a hobby. It's got something to do with the standard of perfection: Utilizing everything to achieve a goal, aiming for "mastery", kill or be killed. I don't know exactly, but the tendency is there. If work, like your job, is something that you have to do to live in society, then martial arts becomes something like super-work. You can have your job, lose your job, but throughout, if you want to master martial arts, you have to always be practicing. It has to be as much as possible all the time if you want to be your best, right? I think we can see a lot of problems with this mode of thinking, but the one that resounds most with me is that, it's just not fun anymore. I really want to go to aikido, but I REALLY want to go on a bike ride. If I'm going to spend my day doing exactly what I want by going on a bike ride to the mountains, forcefully shoving other plans into the equation just ruins all the fun. If that's the case, then screw perfection. It's kind of like, "Hey, if you want to master the sword, then you should practice the basic downward strike 10,000 times a day. But I want to super-master the sword, so I'll do it 20,000 times! YEAH!" Doesn't sound like much fun right now.

So I've become familiar with this quandary of how to fit aikido into a days off like this, and pretty much have it reasoned as set out above, but I still wasn't completely convinced at the time of my last ride. I set out that day 90% sure I was going to skip aikido. I tried to keep the prospect of going to aikido in a small corner in the back of my mind, but unfortunately, it was an ugly super-work monster sitting on my handlebars staring at me all day. "Man, that mountain looks really interesting, but if I go then I definitely won't make it back in time." "Whoa, look at that onsen, but that will add another hour and a half probably." Each major step along the path was marked by looking at my watch and contemplating an early return for aikido. I think I physically went all the places and did all the things I would have done even if I hadn't been worried about making it back to aikido in time ... but those thoughts were a big waste of time ... or at least they weren't fun. In the end, it didn't matter anyway because I didn't end up going to aikido, though interestingly enough I made it back in time to be able to catch the train if I wanted.

That day's trip was particularly far away, and included a lot of flat land riding through towns. I don't like this. But it usually isn't so difficult and is just a pain in a time consuming way. So on the return, when I reached what I would call the beginning of the home stretch, I stopped at a conbini (convenience store) for a road beer. This was a kind of subconscious sabotage against aikido, and would make me 99% sure I wasn't going ... but there's still that 1% lingering. Anyway, riding my bike through the town's extremely ill-maintained sidewalks while trying to drink a beer was really unpleasant, so I stopped to enjoy it in front of some apartment complex. I sat on the concrete next to a small stream and stared up at the clouds which was incredibly relaxing. Hot summer afternoon after a long epic ride, drinking a beer in an unknown place ... heaven for me. But what about when you finish the beer? When the music's overrrrr ... Shit, I need to get home. Oh well, saddle up and just get through it. Let the beer's effect on your mind put you at ease and just cruise home. Well, along with an elated mood, the beer also made my legs feel like rubber. By drinking that beer, I told my body "Congratulations! You did it!" But then my body said, "Then why the hell are we getting back on the bike?"

Well, the return reminded me of one of my absolute least favorite things about Japan: the roads. I don't mean the conditions of the roads, they're usually very nice. It's their ... roundabout way of getting places, probably due to the fact that the towns are centuries older than the roads, and there's 10x as many people and things as back home. I was in one major city, trying to get to another, one could easily draw a straight line between them on the map, but you can't just get a straight road there. You wouldn't believe how many times I'd be on a straight road headed directly home, and then all of a sudden it starts veering off to the side. "Whoa whoa whoa, what the hell!" Then I'm winding around small hills, ones that feel mountainous after 12 hours on the bike, faded by beer, and still thinking about making it back in time for aikido. Certainly some form of hell.

This ... is crazy. My mind is in knots. I'm Thesus in the Labyrinth with my string trying to find my way, but before I know it, the Minotaur shows up in front of me. I find myself fighting, but all I want is out.

But do I?

I'll take a leap and say that this is some kind of addiction ... addiction to excess in the things I want and the struggle involved. A megalomaniacal pursuit of what I consider to be the good life, further provoked by the rationalization that there is nothing standing in my way. Perhaps I love the beast that is too big and hairy and nasty for me to even see ... and it's probably getting bigger. I want to change, and yet am skeptical of it's absence.

Perhaps I'm letting the goblins run loose on this blog post.

In the end of the day, I got home and watched a movie accompanied by bottles of Asahi, and got a long night of sleep. It was a painful day of riding in many ways. I won't let all this processing go to waste.

I learned some huge lessons that day:

1.) Don't underestimate the ride from Takaoka to Toyama.
2.) Don't drink beer until the end.

and most importantly ...

3.) Don't try to go to aikido when I do these day-long bike rides.

Why do rules so often become "Don't ..."?

One last thought.

When I was a kid I used to play a lot of video games. Two of my favorites were the Legend of Zelda, and Mortal Kombat. Not only did I enjoy playing them, but the stories and philosophies behind them captivated me, and have continued to do so years way beyond playing them. One could say a large part of my motivation to learn martial arts can be found somewhere in the thoughts of Mortal Kombat. The same could be said for exploring new lands and going on adventures with Zelda.

I guess Zelda always was my favorite.

(The pictures in this post were taken from the bike rides I've taken this month.)