Saturday, July 21, 2012

2 Month Kyudo Course: Complete - Enter: Real Training

Yesterday I went to the Kyudo dojo for the last time as a member of the two month course I've been attending thus far. Soon I will join regular classes and solidify this as an activity of great importance in my time here now. I say "soon" instead of "tomorrow" or something a little more immediate because I will be on a month-long hiatus due to mass invasions of high school students in the dojo during their summer vacation. And that's OK. This gives me time to mill over the mass download of information from the past two months, research outside sources on this practice, and experience the peak of summer with full participation in its fiery onslaught.

The changing of the seasons is huge for me. I sense great meanings in their passing and am deeply affected, and thusly interested, in their quintessential characteristics which bring about certain aspects of our personality, the surrounding environment, and existence as a whole. Summer. It's always been the most difficult one for me to find clarity in. As a kid it meant summer vacation, fireworks, going to the lake. A time where the schedule of school is temporarily burned off ... but only temporarily ... and that's something I think every kid is conscious of, or at least I was. In college it meant coming home to work a manual labor job and run around the island with the crazy wolf pack that are my hometown brothers. In Japan it means enduring temperatures and levels of humidity that take me to the limits of my north-western North American raised, northern European blooded self. It means joining my friends on camping trips which seem to end up feeling more like circus tours. And it also means that the snows melt in the high mountains and I get as close to them every chance I get. ACTION ACTION ACTION. Heavy metal and ice coffee accompany this well. Aikido time suffers a bit as a natural casualty and studying is difficult to maintain. Reflection? I'm sweating everywhere I go whether I'm under the blazing sun or not. A strange heat boils inside of me in the humidity. My friends are offering me more whisky than I asked for. And I've got things to do! Not much reflection during this time. I knew this going into May when things started warming up, and I expected just to pack the summer full of epic adventures and think about them later. The two month Kyudo course was part of that plan, and though the summer is still building to its climax, I'm already thinking about the next season: Fall. This is where my imagination thrives. A cooling down and returning to official study; preparing for the hibernation of winter. This time will be ushered in by my return to Kyudo.

Yes. Back to budo! Sorry about that little tangent there, but it is incredibly relevant. It seems I'm enjoying this little reflection period and will continue to do so just a bit more.

Dammit. I lost my train of thought. Oh well ... When in doubt, grab a rock.

The picture above is ... ME! And that stick in the bullseye, that was my first arrow to hit the target. The whole time leading up to it I wondered what it would be like; to have some kind of sign that you did something right. Well, I got a disgustingly huge smile across my face. One of those that are impossible to hide or subdue. The fact that I hit the bullseye sent that smile to infinity. How could I hit the target any more than I did? But by no means am I gloating about this though. The next two arrows I shot went flying in just as strange directions as all the arrows I shot before that fateful one. It's as if our success is completely random, or at least far beyond our own logical comprehension. Before I hit the target, I tried as I could. After I hit the target, I tried as hard as I could. That one shot I hit the target, I tried as hard as I could. Why, when all the other times I failed, did I hit the target that one time? I don't know.

But seriously, I know so little about Kyudo. What this two-month course has done is taught me how to stand. There are so many small details about this art, like our body's motor skills, that to be able to simply shoot an arrow at the target on your own is the managing of a lot of little things that those who have accomplished have probably long forgotten. After two months, I went from a babbling baby crawling around on the floor, to a toddler who can stand without Sensei holding me up. I think he was just as happy as the students while we all drank tea and ate crackers at our little graduation ceremony. Thinking about this now reminds me of the personal bonds you form with your teachers, students, and fellow practitioners. Through the incredible physical, mental, and spiritual struggles you encounter together, things just seem to settle into a family. I don't remember the context or the exact words, but my first teacher told me when I was 17 years old that the bond between a student and his teacher is like the perfect father-son relationship. Saying that to me had a great affect, and surprisingly even more so now. I'm sure he was aware at the time that I was raised without a father, but this idea is free from the limitation of having your father in your life. Free from specific circumstances, yet steeped in emotional goo.

I don't know. I don't care so much either.

A cloud passes over the mountain. How could I see every blade of vegetation around the river?

Anyway, my Kyudo sensei is cool and I look forward to continuing this journey in the art under his supervision and guidance.

I just stepped outside and heard some dude playing the guitar and singing next to the river. A brave artist. I wonder what it would be like to do the Tai Chi form in the park for everyone to see. That's not going to happen now. Hey seasoned martial artists, does that get easier to do? And why are these damn Japanese apartments always hotter than outside?

Check in soon about more budo experiences in aikido, my new study of kyudo, zen meanderings, and maybe some mountain adventures. If any of you practice kyudo, please let your voice be known in the comment section!

Have a nice day.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kyudo: My New Study

Almost a year has passed since I shifted jobs and locations here in Toyama Prefecture, Japan. That's also how long I've been away from frequent and consistent Aikido training. For almost a year I've been in exile here in Toyama City, visiting children's English classrooms instead of dojos after nightfall. I had a lot of ideas about how this new chapter would run, and how it would transition to the next phase. I suppose I was accurate in the presumption that I would take advantage of this new situation by cultivating a solid independent study of martial arts and Japanese. Those have been successful I'd say. But I didn't foresee the large amount of time ... wasted(?) ... perhaps that's a little harsh ... time spent ... worrying(?) ... or maybe just brooding, on my life and current situation. What I have with my new situation is a large amount of free time in the mornings and afternoons. With that I've climbed mountains, literally as well as figuratively with my own studies ... but I also went through a lot of swampy terrain in my head, which I'm not sure was necessary. Well, it is what it is, and without digressing too much, it is enough to say that I haven't taken the time to find new budo practice with my free time; at least until about a month ago. It all started with a conversation with one of my sempai, a coworker-mentor of sorts; English doesn't seem to have a good word for this particular relationship.

Sempai: "Dude, I think I'm going to get back into Kyudo. They're offering a two-month course at Kojo-koen in Takaoka."

Me: "Really? Can anybody join?"

"Yeah, doesn't matter who you are as long as you pay the cash."


"Wanna join? It's Tuesday and Friday mornings from 10 - 12?"

(Thinking to myself in my head: "Mmmm, Kyudo??? I'd rather just worry about aikido. And 10-12 in the mornings? I'm kinda trying to do my own English lessons on the side for cash, I can't be starting Kyudo as well right?")

"Nahh dude, I'm kind of busy."

"Whatever, dude."

After I went home ... with a lot of that open time I have, and just thought. I thought and thought and thought a lot. I guess that's how a lot of my time has been spent. It sounds boring, but when you drown it with coffee and think about all the other little details of things you should do, it really feels pretty busy ... hectic even ... actually apocalyptic at times.

So I thought, and then a part of me stood against the rest of me:

"Are you f$%#ing SERIOUS!?!?!?!...

 You came to Japan exactly for this reason! You would have done tea ceremony if it was offered from the beginning, but instead you found exactly what you wanted in aikido. Well, things changed, and you're trying to get back ... but are you seriously going to whine about not being able to practice budo in Japan while being offered this course in one of the coolest budo of all? TAKE THE FLIPPING CLASS!!!"

I then talked to my sempai face to face about joining and he took me immediately to the park to sign up.

And so now, two mornings a week, I practice Kyudo and I absolutely love it. Should I have started it earlier? That's a stupid question. I'll just write down some of the details about the class now, and elaborate with funny stories and revelations later on.

Location: Kojo Koen, the most beautiful park in Toyama Prefecture in my opinion, located in Takaoka City, the second biggest city in the prefecture and a 20 minute train ride from my house (close compared to aikido practice). The dojo is a beautiful building, with a long grass lawn until the 5-target set up.

(a picture of the Takaoka Dojo, the grass is more overgrown right now and looks cooler I think, also there's usually one more target on the left side)

Cost: 5,000 yen for the 2 month course, 2,500 yen for the small essentials like a rubber practice apparatus, string, guidebook, cloth that goes over the hand underneath the glove you use. (once I get more familiar I'll probably use the official Japanese terms. But I don't expect you guys to be familiar with the terms either, so maybe it's for the best)

Class Members: Tuesday mornings: Me, my friend, Sensei, and three of his senior members present solely for the purpose of helping me and my friend. Any of you budo practitioners should be messing your pants after reading that, because it's an unbelievable oppurtunity! 2 students and 4 teachers! All to ourselves for 2 hours! Friday morning, there are two other members, which hardly affect Sensei's time. If that's not enough, there's an evening class offered as well, which has 18 students. I don't even know how they all fit in the dojo holding bows. And, there's only Sensei and one senior member helper. I guess I'm pretty lucky for my open mornings after all.

Sensei: Strong, funny, aware. Excellent qualities. I've come to like this guy a lot, and have built quite a bit of trust with him. In my budo experience, the people, and for a student's sake, the teachers, are what are most important, and with that, I progress happily through this two month course.

(this is a picture of the actual inside of the Takaoka Dojo)

This morning I realized we only have three classes left in our 2 month course. Due to prior obligations, my friend will return to his prior dojo at the end of the course in another town. But as for this gaijin, I will be taking measures to make Kyudo a very important practice in my life with this dojo.

But not too important. I still have other things to do ... like drink beer ... or at least the cheap imitation stuff I can afford to consume.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

the Return of the Gaijin

Hello! Konnichiwa! Hola!

The hiatus has been long. Winter snows have long since melted. I have things to say: Tales of mountain quests, dojo battles, and myriad contemplations of what exactly is ... happening. So much has come to pass since words were last typed onto this online medium, but a recounting of those events is not necessary. Long have I contemplated a return, a period frought with doubts of whether I can maintain consistent participation ... but that is also not important.

This is not a place for whimsical thoughts; ones thought on idle clouds. Like farts in the wind, I let them pass. Rather, this a place to discover meanings by plumbing depths of shadowed psyche. One born from a need to know. Many trusted texts advise inactivity and restraint, but to follow only what is written is to misread everything else. So I've sat. Mass erosions of expired cliffs have fallen into the sea of elsewhere. Demons who lept back for survival were timely executed. Now what remains holds great meaning. Only so much can fit in a pack that travels up mountains.

There is a need to know.

What I think is me, but I can't see it clearly, so I write. But writing hidden pages whose only company is a trash can is little more revealing. So I write here, throwing rocks at your walls. Will it make a sound? Let me hear it and comment!

Yes. Thank you. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.