Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Checking In: Planning the Revolution


How could I be surprised? Out from the deepest hole of a lonely winter night, I awake to rumbling street-cars for alarms, and the streets hurried by people running for late trains. And it's sunny. Somewhere I forgot that winter lasts beyond the first snow, and that Forever may not respect the calming realizations of before. What was quiet, is busy now.

Specifically, I've acquired a temporary part-time job teaching English to a hotel/train company: two mornings a week for two hours each, for a period of two months. I took it because it pays great, seemed easy, and would be a new experience. I found out I'll be working twice as much as I first thought, but will also be making twice as much money. It is not easy. And is more of a new experience than I had expected.

But the details of the job itself are not so important for this conversation. What's more, is the extent to which it has affected kyudo. Already, two mornings a week gone. Boom. OK, well there's three left, and three days a week for kyudo is good enough for me. Well, that is if I do the weekly preparations for the new job in a timely matter. As in, not leaving them to be done on Monday morning, which would interrupt kyudo ... which has happened the last two weeks. Now, two days a week. Well, every other Friday there's a meeting in the mornings for my real job which get in the way of kyudo. ONE DAY LEFT! Unless you have a drinking party with fellow teachers on a Wednesday night, and you can't wake up for training the next morning. That happened last week. Aside from the physical actual being able to go to kyudo practice, there's the added stress of added activities. I need time to rest. Just bearing through a lack of sleep to put the hours into kyudo ... isn't always going to work. If going to kyudo means I'm ragged the rest of the day, I will often not go.

So until mid-March, my kyudo will be limited to three days at best, but often two, sometimes one, and rarely none.



What's that?

A sad sad story indeed. This beautiful beast has been romping in the garden, slowly turning to stone from lack of attention given. I haven't been in five weeks, and I'm not sure if it will be another one or two until I can physically get back. Ribs: these are an important part of your body for aikido. As every ukemi beckons me to fall or roll on the ground, impacting the concerned area, I will not return until pain has relented. We shall see. I wonder if such flowers can return from stone.

Writing? You've seen how often I've posted lately. Spare bubbles of time are popped by other necessary ... things.

Again I face an issue of freedom. How is it I am young, without kids, a significant other, financial debt, sickness, and drug addiction ... yet I seem to be spending a small amount of time doing what I really want?

So many times I've harped on this topic, yet deflected blows keep me circling around the edge. Already I've written this much without saying what I want. Let's see...

If you are given a plate of food, what do you eat first? I eat what I want last.

I usually start with the bread and butter, because I want that butter immediately before it melts. Then I go on to the salad because I see it as a chore. Then I may allow myself finally to enjoy the main steak, which has probably already cooled too much, along with the rice.

I don't go for what I want first.

Well, that's one particular approach to the things we do, and one I seem to have adopted for the past while. How has that been working out for me?

I think it's kind of stupid now.

There's often a set way of doing things, which delays the main course to a later time, and that can be beneficial. But the habit of delay just keeps our dreams out of reach, leaving us in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. Welcome to America! Where everyone has what they want, yet cursed to a perpetual state of dissatisfaction! OK, that's a generalization, and I don't even live in America ... but one with truth. Anyway, let's get back to where I am. I'll try to be a little more direct.

I'm moving to Kyushu in the summer.

Yes! It's been in the mix for a couple months now, but I'm not sure the topic has come up on the blog. It started as an idea that emerged from an unexpected source, transformed into a dream, and has now been confirmed by superiors who are working to handle the logistics.

This changes everything.

I've spent bajillions of hours in my mind, and who knows how many scribbled pages on the topic, what can I say here to do it justice in brevity.


I've started to tell a few people, and the first question people ask is, "Why Kyushu?"

"Because I don't know anything about it."

This threw people off, because that's kind of a stupid way to make a semi-life changing move. But the reality is it's only half true. I've come to know a lot enticing details about Kyushu. But one thing I didn't quite realize is that it really is at the far south western part of Japan, drastically separated from most everything I've called home for the past three years. It's basically as far as I can go without moving to another country, geographically and culturally.

I want to stay in Japan, but I want everything else to change completely. I plan on putting all of myself into one bag I can carry, and razing the rest. For the readers that know me well, this has less to do with the physical things I try not to clutter my space with, and more so those entities that draw energy from my Mind. Let's look at some of the specifics through a list:

Budo: I will go to aikido as much as possible before a departure as soon as my ribs are better, but will certainly not take another test. In kyudo, I will continue with it as my budo focus, and hopefully test for a shodan (blackbelt) in May. I plan to move to Kyushu with no thoughts to continue budo. From there, I will look around to see what's happening and resume training given it's availability Definitely no more obsession to do budo at the cost of everything else, and no more commutes that take longer than the actual practice time itself. Though one thing about Kyushu is that it is a bit of a special place for kyudo, the center according to many practitioners. If there were a place to do it, it is where I'm going. In fact, for budo in general, Kyushu doesn't seem to be a place lacking. Though, as I said, I will move across the country without the weight of it's ... stuff. For about ten years martial arts have been my primary focus of my free-time energy (though it's shared a large plate with a lot of other foods), it's time to see what it really is to me.

Japanese Language: Well, I'll still be in Japan! This is kind of a ridiculous thing to include in the list generally, but I'm speaking towards a regimen of disciplined studying I have employed for the past year or so going through various textbooks. By the time I leave I will have finished all on my plate, and will move on without some idea of a necessary level of Japanese I need to acquire. I will go, see my true abilities, and move from there. It's an amazingly complicated ability: proficiency in a foreign language. People ask, "How good are you?" "Are you fluent?" "Can you read kanji?" Frankly, they are questions without simple answers. I started studying this language in my first year of college 9 years ago. Now I'm here. After one more large stint of concentrated effort, I will step a bit back from this as well and see what's going on. I've only recently realized the mountainous task I've taken on by challenging this language. "This is said to be the most difficult language in the world. So, I will give it 10 years to master." That's interesting ... I'll see where I am at that point in time.

Bike Riding/Hiking: This is the ultimate expression of my physical freedom. I love budo because I love physical activity. But underneath it is just going as far and fast as I can alone up mountains and into the forests. I will be doing this until I physically can't, and will do so until then whenever I have the opportunity. I look forward to exploring this especially in Kyushu.

Writing: This shall grow! The one physical practice I plan to nurture. However, I will not be publishing a book, attending a school, or calling myself "a writer" as if I'm it and not a lot of other things. So basically, I don't know what this means. To make it even more vague, it's not just writing I hope to focus on in my next life, but ART in general!

HA! Hail the right brain! I had to look up which side it was for sure, that's how uncertain I am of the details that run my life. All I have is a feeling, and one I want to follow. At the peak of the feeling is a desire to create. I've considered martial arts to be my art for the past ten years, but I need something where I can feel a little more ... free.


My life is one marked by significant shifts in location and activity. The next is due.

It's OK to do what we want, to do what we love. It's OK to challenge the world. It may be good. In fact, it may be the greatest thing we can do.

Stay tuned for more infrequent posts on the details of my move to Kyushu, reinventing the self, practicing aikido and kyudo, and the nebulous search for the meaning of life/art.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Meeting Fear on a Winter's Morn: The first practice of the New Year

(Why can't I post any friggen pictures?!)

It's been a long three and a half week hiatus from kyudo, and I really didn't want to go this morning when I heard the alarm. However, every day that struggle grows larger, and the fear monger inside scratches deeper on the inside of my skin. Sitting up in my futon, I made the courageous decision to confront all, and put my feet beneath me, gripping a slight pain in the ribs from my two week old run in with the tree on my snowboard. But after I'm up I'm all good. Today is the day. I can sleep when I'm dead; or just take a nap when I get home before work.

It was an uneasy morning. The excitement of returning seemed overwhelmed by an unexplainable anxiety. I didn't know how my ribs would hold up to the bow. I knew I owed money to the dojo. I spent the dark hours of early morning anticipating the alarm. I have extra preparations to make for work this week. I had slight feelings of a stuffed nose which usually come before a cold. And most of all ... my last practice in kyudo was full of getting slapped in the face by the string. In my time away from a real bow and arrow, I've been practicing a bit every few days on a small rubber apparatus meant to replicate the feel of the bow (hey, now), trying to get over the fear of the impending slap, but it doesn't directly help; at least it didn't feel like it this morning.

I was a small brown leaf of holes floating down the river today. Absolutley powerless to the current, I felt like I was just drifting weakly towards the dojo. The only difference between me and the leaf is that I knew there was a waterfall at the end. How it would treat the little leaf left me less than relaxed. All I could do was go through the motions and hope for the best.

While walking through the park towards the dojo I noticed a goofy looking old man crusing on his granny-bike from the opposite direction; certainly not an unusual sight in a Japanese park early in the morning. But after he passed I realized he was one of the usual early-morning kyudo guys. Did he not notice me? I got to the dojo, took a deep breath, and reached to pull the sliding door back ... to no avail. It was dark and locked. Did he ignore me? Avoiding the hassle of explaining to me nobody was there or something else? Probably not.

So I sat and read. This was pleasant. For the first time in a long while I actually have a book that's hard to put down. Not five minutes later I saw Sensei coming in the distance and pretended not to notice, reading to the end of the page. I looked up and we met each other with big uninihibited smiles. Now thinking about it, I'm reminded of this same experience when going back to aikido after a long break. Budo buddies are not just normal friends, they're partners bonded together by very physical and emotional experiences. I say less but feel more with them. I like that.

Anyway, to get on with it so this post doesn't stretch on for another week, my first few pulls at the makiwara (practice hay-barrel you shoot at before the real target) went well. I was anxious about the string, but went forward with a relaxed courage and kept the string farther from my face just in case it did slip out. I was doing it more than one should, but until I get used to shooting without the fear, I'll make that small compromise. Doing that allowed me to pull back almost to my full potential, and Sensei gave me looks and words of approval.

WOW! I don't have to get slapped in the face to do what I love! The string pre-released only once today, but given my expectations, that was happily accepted. I calmly took a break, iced my ear, retrieved my arrows, and started again. In fact, today I hit the target maybe 35% to 40% of the time, which is excellent for me, especially considering the three weeks of no practice.

I left practice with a big smile on my face, and look forward to going again tomorrow morning.

Let's sum up with some bullet points:

Dealing with a hiatus from your practice:

-Just get back to it when you feel like it! I could've gone yesterday, but did have some things to take care of and decided to tend to them and worry about kyudo until the next day. It's just one day. No big deal. If you got stuff to do, you got stuff to do. Budo is supposed to help my life, not replace it ... or something like that.

-Just get back to it! The last point doesn't condone needless avoidance, which will actually enlarge any fears or worries about a return. Who cares about little details that find your mind in the morning just before you leave? Just go. Budo depends a lot upon discipline; this is one of those times you put it to use. Just get to practice.

-You and your training partners/teachers should be happy when you see each other. I'd say returning to a good budo practice should require that big smile you can't hold back when you see each other. I respect my teachers, and trust we are working on true technique. We are all there together to practice this very serious and important skill, and often do so with the strength of our will through great adversity. However, "fun" is the perhaps the single most important factor, I choose to be there, and genuine feelings of happiness underlie it all. Perhaps it's different with others. But I would be dead worried if I walked into the dojo to scowl at those around, and face a disapproving grin from Sensei.

Dealing with a pre-slipping string:

-Practice with the rubber on your own safely in small bits to build confidence. Do so knowing you will not get hit in the face. Breath deeply, relax, and visualize yourself completing the release of the arrow just as you planned, not getting hit in the face.

-Don't compromise the pull of your draw. It will put strange pressure on your hand which will make the string come out early more so than anything else. One must pull with the elbow, and must do so as large as possible. If you don't, your shot will be weak and inaccurate.

-Instead, you can try keeping the string from your face a little more than usual when you initially pull back. After you have pulled back as far as you can, then touch the string to your cheek before you release. Aim. Then release. The movements are supposed to go in that order anyway. During that time, don't blindly forget the possiblity of the string pre-releasing; be ready at any moment to release in case it happens. One shouldn't be afraid, but aware and prepared. (However this is just my opinion and experience now. This is how I am dealing with the issue. Sensei didn't teach me this, and it may be compromising the technique more than I notice. If I find further problems with it I'll post it. Don't take my words here as Truth.)

-The problem is in your hand, specifically, in not keeping the top of your hand flat with the sky and instead letting it turn away from your face allowing the string to slip out. If you keep your hand straight as it should, the string won't slip. I suppose it could be do to other strange things you're doing with your hand inside the kake (glove), like inserting uneccessary muscle tension, but essentially the string slips out because your hand rotates. If you recognize it is this very simple physical act, and not because you suck at everything or are doomed at kyudo forever, or some other imaginary unexplainable phenomenon, things are much more simple. Just take a breath, and practice keeping your hand straight.


When you're standing in front of the target at full draw, the cold winter and lack of coffee you had in the morning don't exist.

Kami bless all of you budoka out there on your quests in the new year!

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Years Gaijin: Small Things and Relaxation

Today I went to kyudo. But kyudo didn't happen. I walked out of the dojo with surprising clarity. Perhaps it was the white sparkling of snow under morning light. So I walked deeper into the park, away from the train station.

Last week I went snowboarding and hit trees twice. Finally my greed and speed caught up with me in the form of large wooden unmoving objects. The details are unneccesary, but I've been left with some terribly sore ribs and a right butt cheek I can't sit on. Last night I practiced the motion of a draw with empty hands, probing to see whether I could make it to kyudo the next day. Since I was a boy I've been constantly involved in the kind of physical activity that often produces injuries, and I've had my share in a wide arena of pursuits. Surprisingly, my mock drawing of a bow produced no pain. Everything that hurts is just the normal things I have to do in my day of walking, getting up, sitting down, turning, etc. So I decided to have a go with it. Trying to compose an explanatory text to Sensei or living in question whether I could pull the bow or not while idling away in my apartment were much more bothersome than just getting up and finding the truth in front of everyone. I went to sleep, and then I did what I always do in situations where physical feats will be tested the next day: I woke up in black fear throughout the morning. In that state of daze, I told myself I wouldn't go.

Then Satomi's alarm went off. I sat up, practiced the draw one more time in the air, and decided to get ready for kyudo.

So I went through the process of getting up, getting ready, and making the transport to the dojo to find it full of high school students. The holiday season in Japan is officially over, but apparently high school students don't go back until tomorrow. I remember working in a Japanese high school and being completely baffled by the schedule around holiday times. Students will finish regular classes and enter a strange half-day schedule of final exams. Afterward they'll come back for another two to three weeks, with another altered half-day schedule (what for?). Then after asking my coworkers and confirming the holiday had started, there were still loads of students around school for club activities or some other kind of classes. Finally holiday would start, usually on a random day during the week, and everything will begin as confusing as it ended. I don't know why. I don't care. I guess I'm like everyone else here now. I just go where I'm supposed to be when people tell me. You may think this a mundane and disreputable skill, but it's one that's taking me a long time to hone. I'm now perfectly comfortable going places I must without any idea as to what I'll be expected to do. This is a big part of Japanese life and education. Thank you Japan! I'm only a little sarcastic here.

Anyway, I walked out of the dojo and roamed. Free in the wonder of nothing! I walked as innocent as the snow is white, just trudging through boot tracks to wherever. It's fun. I've been away from work for two weeks. I got lucky with my schedule this year, and while some of my peers were called to classrooms as early as last Friday, I'm not due until tomorrow, Tuesday. My last day of freedom, made even more open thanks to my misjudging of kyudo schedules. Winter for me is a time of introspection and reflection. But of course this isn't just me. We all tend to crawl inside of ourselves when surrounded by dark snow. And if there is any real tradition in the changing of years, it's looking back at the one we've just finished and planning for that which we will soon fall into. I had two long weeks to do this, but it really isn't until today I've been able to look at things like I imagined. My first week was spent locked in my apartment indulging in the recesses of myself with the help of too much coffee and cheap Japanese beer. The second week was spent at my friends' house in another town and a snowboard trip: a time of excess, sickness, injury, and constant company: not friendly catalysts for honest introspection. The last two days I've spent alone with Satomi, watching Japanese variety shows, going to onsen, and eating home cooked meals. Those have undoubtedly been the most enjoyable days of this whole hiatus from work and budo. Now I am clean, warm, healthy; I can see.

So yes! Let's reflect a bit. I'm a week late for official resolutions, and no doubt you've heard more than you expected by now, but what the hell. Everything in it's right time.

Last spring I knew I wouldn't be leaving my current situation for a year, so I took advantage of that knowledge and filled my plate gargantuan portions of everything; more than I could really do. I told myself, "Don't worry that it is too much. Just do everything. Don't think. Do!"  Well, looking back, I'd say I did a pretty good job of it, and I'm glad I did. I've made deep paths down all those I've treaded. I've had some time to bend over heaving, regaining my breath. Now I sit, and look down the mountain.

I've destroyed a lot of goals I had throughout the past year, necessary victims of wise selection. Now, I'd say I still have enough that shouldn't be able to fit, yet I know it will.

I can do it if I relax.

The last year I bulldozed through it all. A minotaur sprinting to escape his own labyrinth. But I'm not out. It's going to take more than physical determination. Perhaps I've discovered my Mind. All of those unneccessaries I destroyed to make space, where much less physical things than mental barriers. It really is all in the mind. If you can control this one piece of yourself, you can unlock all else. Well, kind of. It's a pretty important part of existence to say the least.

Our lives are Mind. The quality of Mind determines life. That quality, which is a kind of clarity, depends upon relaxation. That relaxation is affected greatly by our physical habits. If we can know this, we can effectively encourage our physical selves to enhance our ability of Mind. This I believe is one of the great keys of martial arts, and one I have been ignorant of for the past year in a lot of ways. I thought if I just "did", the equation would work. It did kind of, but I spent a lot of time running around with my head on fire. A lot of tension and fear emerged. If you can relax, that fire extinguishes, and your Mind can see. Relax, mind the little things, and your judging mind can be used for good instead of folly. So this year I'm going to relax and mind the little things; the details.

Generally, first I'm going to do what it is I need to do, but not without relaxation and thought. As much as I can, I'm going to be careful utilizing "no" and "slow" instead of "now!" and "I have to!".

Next, I'll work on tweaking the small details of my body. Specifically, all the input that goes in. This means trying green tea in the morning instead of coffee, and reading books at night instead of watching TV shows and drinking beer. We'll see how it goes. I love beer, interesting TV shows, and coffee more than just about anything else in life, but that's precisely why they're going to be tampered with. It doesn't need to be a strict black and white regimen, but I'll at least think before opening the beverages and media.

So yeah ... that's my New Year's stuff.

Last night I told myself, "Maybe I can do kyudo, but definitely no aikido." Thwarted from kyudo this morning, I slowly tricked myself into forgetting about my realization concerning aikido and damaged ribs, and have been planning to go to aikido tonight. Before publishing this and heading off for the dojo I just practiced one simple ukemi (fall) on my carpet ...

NO F$#%&)G WAY!

Wow. It makes sense though. All the key things you do in aikido, especially concerning ukemi, require uninhibited use of your core. Rib injuries now seem to be one of the worst in this field. And I know they aren't fast to heal.

Maybe tonight I'll indulge in some forbidden fruits.

Look at that! 10 minutes into the written resolution and he's already forgotten!

Perhaps it will take a while to shake the "young" and "dumb" off this gaijin.