Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tenouchi: A Grip on Life

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.


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."


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 ...


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?


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.

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

          -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

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