Sunday, December 30, 2012

Going Inside

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

In the PNW, the indiginous peoples built longhouses.

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

the Great White Fear

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

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


Now for a story about kyudo the other day.

The Great ... White ... Feaaaaaarrrrr!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do I do all of this?

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

Why is this happening?

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

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

I don't know!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

It's all just relaxing

In aikido we learn to relax in movement.

In kyudo we learn to relax while doing something impossible.

In zazen we learn to relax while being human.

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

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

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

Why can't we "just relax"?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lying Down Into Winter

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Moment We Stand

You want to take away my answer.

We've come here by no accident.

I stand in front of you. Now what?

I've never turned back before.

I can feel some warmth inside.

It only ends in sleep.

By my own hand?

By another's?

By fading time?

We always wake up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


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

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

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

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

But you know what? It all takes too long.

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


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

Me? There's no such thing.

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

The reaper watches.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

To a Point: Part II

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

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

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


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

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

To a Point

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I Still Don't Know

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, this is all for now.

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

I don't know!

(Picture found at