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.






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.

Monday, October 15, 2012

the "Art" in "Martial Arts": Part One of Many

I think in images. They are followed by feelings. This is largely how I make decisions in my life.

As a young boy, I was a drawer. Of all the childhood activities that were scattered through my time, it was putting a pencil to blank white paper where I practiced with the most enthusiasm. I remember it well: the complete freedom of a blank page, that one simple instrument. I didn't erase much. If I did, the previous line would be replaced by a better one, and I would move on. I would draw a picture for maybe thirty minutes to an hour, then put it somewhere never to be seen or thought of again.

I don't draw anymore. Since then I've attempted several returns to that age, but they just don't work. So, I don't try it often. The great change came with puberty. A maturation of muscles and development of desire in a social world ushered in an age of physical activity: namely organized sports and skateboarding. A creature of activity, satiated only by physical motion. But not just physical motion itself, physical motion with a goal. I'll get back to that in a second.

I am still like that, I think. My life is largely determined by physical motion. The difference is that it started in organized team sports and has evolved into practicing Japanese martial arts; namely aikido and kyudo. (One interesting constant though has been board sports, skateboarding when I was in middle and high school, and snowboarding now in Japan). I said "Japanese martial arts", because it's a very specific practice within the umbrella of "martial arts" as a whole: its differences greatly affect my experience of martial arts. One of the most intelligible differences can be found in the suffix "dou" (karate-do, aiki-do, kyu-do, etc). But that is a topic worthy of another post to come. What is relevant to this discussion is the image of Japanese martial arts, and the feelings produced from those images and its practice. I express my tendency to images by being interested in the image of Japanese martial arts, and by most of all being the image by participating. By participating in the art, I am using my physical body in motion, and the combination of my imagination working with the images and my body with the physical world, a certain feeling arises and exists. Kind of like the kokyu that arises from correct form in aikido, or a clean hanare (release) built from proper form in kyudo. Everything together is the picture of art that I make, each segment playing its respective part, yet totally inseperable from each other as the whole. This is my art. I practice for a couple hours at a time, consciously making corrections by the guidance of my peers, and forget the experience after I'm finished.

So there's my current practice of martial arts which I consider to be a legitimate medium of creativity. There's the little boy who used to love drawing pictures. There's sitting zazen. These are like islands of definite something rising above nebulous mists. I don't often try to draw anymore because I just don't know what to do. I sit there for an extended period of time, draw a few lines I'm disgusted with, erase, try again, and give up. I have such a strong desire to "create", but it doesn't come through. When I was a boy, I had a strong image my hand just seemed to create with purpose. Now all of those pieces are hopelessely disparate. I like writing. Actually I love writing on this blog. I always carry a pen and paper with my and on average scribble about 2 to 10 pages a day of varying levels of nonsense. Sometimes I write uncontrollably. Sometimes only a few words a day. This tendency is very important, but its focus also belongs in another post. What's important is that sometimes I want to write something poetic. Then ... blank whiteness. I'll have some kind of image, and the intense desire to create something of worth in writing, but all else is lost. I'm sure other writers must find this strange desert in the imagination as well. On the contrary, writing on this blog is where I feel best, and within all of my range of blogs, it is the ones of very specific detail that I am most fond of. Usually either communicating specific realizations found from training sessions in aikido or long stories of bike rides in the mountains. (Funny thing is that I haven't done that much in the last year) What is the difference between my desire to write poetry and the documentation of my blog?


My personal expression of art needs this kind of purpose. If any of my writing could be called art, or skilled in a kind of art, that is other than just relaying facts, it is not of conscious design but merely an effect of the overall mission to write. If there is beauty or art in my movement of martial arts, it is not for that purpose, but merely an effect of that specific technique. This truth is not built by thought, but an effect from my life. This is very important, and it finds its way snaking deep down in the depths towards some kind of core from which the roots of other arts blossom.

The other day I visited an ikebana (the art of flower arranging) exhibition and was absolutley blown away. First of all it was just beauiful; and there were so many different kinds. This is a kind of art that is designed for beauty. It's different from my arts. But it is all art. I don't know ...

I don't really know what it is like to create art for the sake of beauty; I wonder how much I can relate to painters or practitioners of ikebana. I think of music as well, an art designed for creating sounds. That is very different as well. That is very interesting to me. That is all.

The "art" in martial "arts"; it's real.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How Do You Commit To Your Art?

Well, a lot of kyudo people do this by paying lots of cash for gear. Like me!

So much to say.

So little time.

I got an off-shade of red because they looked the coolest and they reminded me of the red hair that demons have in Japanese stories. Also it's probably the least likely color I would usually pick ... a kind of way of consciously courting the unknown. It can only end up well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

There's Fungus on my Tree

I'm on the quest for the Holy Grail, but no one really cares about that goal. As if one day I'll finally have it, but no one will care.

But as a matter of fact, there's a lot of different holy grails I'm after, more than there's time for. The one I really love. The one I really want. The one that others want. The one that I already have ... etc.

I want to go home, but when I do it's over, and so am I. This is "life", and it's so fragile; that which I can see at least. But in the end it doesn't really matter, right? All those dreams of perfection: clouds around the mountain.

My way of living is a struggle over mountains, broken by periods of waiting in the valley. Is it the only way? If life really is about "the Path", then the definitions really don't matter. Why is it that I care so much? Why am I constantly reminded by blissful experiences that my efforts are so small?

Questions. Memories. You can't remember the experience of perfection. I think about aikido, and sometimes its good or bad. When I practice again I experience and remember that feeling of happiness ... and it's not the same thing as what I remembered in isolation. If life is just to be lived, why all of these thoughts? Emotions.

There was once a time that I believe I was sufficiently content. But I know more now than I did back then. It seems simple now looking back. I want to go back, but I can't, because I'm here and need to move forward. But there is some kind of return that I feel is necessary. I want everything from back then, but I want it with all the stuff I have now. It's too much. Now I'm faced with a puzzle: I need to make less with the too-much I have now. It's like a magic disappearing act.

The beauty of Japan is limited and asymmetric. There are minimal ingredients, and they aren't "perfect". It's in this limited and assymetric world that we paint a picture; one in which we live. By making the most of those ingredients available to us, and leaving space for the perfect to form in an abstract image, or emotion, we find some kind of sufficient contentment. If there is a perfect symmetric world that really exists, I don't see it. I read about it, and think about it, but I don't see it.

In this forest, I will pick the pieces for my picture. A few modest entities that won't be so much too fill one's whole view. Just enough objects to tempt further dreams, but give sufficient work to tire my efforts. So at the end of the day I can look at my forest garden content, but excited for tomorrow's work.

A green background. Carefully placed blots of grey. A slice of flowing blue. And one red flame.

A beer, and a moment of hazy elated calm before falling off to sleep. Tomorrow will come after a full-night's rest. I can do this.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Relaxation, Tension, Chaos, Me

Aikido, relaxation upon the form of the spine and situation

Kyudo, tension built to explode

the World, myriad chaos manifestations

Me, a malleable entity instantaneously constructing form around all else

Islands we see. There's still the ocean connecting it all ... and the sky ... and the clouds ... and everything else. Budo is everything pointed in a direction. To the relative, yet ultimate position of myself, aikido isolated is not Budo. Niether is, kyudo, the world, or myself. Everything exists. Not-everything also exists. The sum of it all is unrecognizable. Focusing the mind alone on this painting with the goal of understanding is misinterpretation, or frustration and torment. Our focus finds a point, the rest falls into the periphery. Engage the object. Fall into its failure: Real failure.

Leaves fall frail while the trunks of their former bearers come to freeze. Frailty dies. Hardening survives. Can we forgive ourselves for the dead? Walk upon the bridge of the fallen.

The result is a falling parade of red, orange, and yellow.