Saturday, November 30, 2013

Am I a Fool?

(I know this art was on the last post, but it's way too cool to be over-rided by another post a mere hour later, and deserves more time:

I'm not calling out, but merely speaking: Am I a complete fool for practicing a martial art that produces such a small amount of fun?


For a while kyudo has become the main budo of my time, and it is certainly the deepest I have ever found myself in experiences produced by the martial arts, in a good way.

But it's like, I go to aikido, or any other empty hand art and it's fun. Even if I haven't learned much, it still is. In kyudo, it is unbelievably fun when you realize you have learned something, because god damn you know it when you do, but you can lose it just as easily, and enter long periods of not knowing, and all else I leave the class cursing myself until next opportunities at the target.

Maybe I'm just in the transition and this kind of shit takes so long in Japan to get used to, new places and people and all, maybe I just need to roll it out some more,

but right now,

in this exact moment,

I feel like a fool and a waste, to be spending my time in it's art.

I'm ready to run, but I'm just getting beaten down.

Who knows what life is supposed to be like anyway.

I'll just figure it out.

Does Honest Budo Exist?


But there's a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Cause that's the point.

With something that orginated as life and death: one person killing another ... the end point is most important ... or the only thing that is important.

But somehow a transition was made, and it doesn't matter whether you live or die, but how you live and die.

Certainly that has some clout ... but if you're dead, nothing really matters anymore, eh?

Dude all of this, martial art stuff, started off and survived as killing. Whoever put the name of art to it. I can consider it thus, but really? The art of killing someone and the art of ... whatever it is martial artists really do ... is really different.

I for one, am very concerned with how I live my life, so it's natural I've been attracted to budo. But then nothing in my life has ever depended on budo-learned life-or-death skills ... and in that respect, I am so completely unrelated to the origins of budo ... perhaps my use of "budo" is improper.

Maybe I have no idea what I'm doing.

One thing I do know, is that I practiced kyudo when I got to Nakatsu and got a blister on my hand and took a week off. I focused so badly on kyudo technique in that time in my head ... and when I came back to the bow I was weaker. Ever since my last in depth time with a teacher my kyudo has crumbled considerably.

This is my current life in budo ... the warrior.

Point being, my ideas in isolation have very little to do with actually getting something done, or being a warrior at all.

And yet a lot of beautiful art is created in isolation.

But anyway,

Is budo honest?

As budoka, we fail along the path, and that defines the whole, but when put it into words or something real, that loss is subjugated for the potential of the future.

Maybe failure is just left to reflective periods when we're old.

If I focus on the failure now, it takes up time to cultivate the new, so I don't.

But if I spend too much time in that optimistic climb, I forgot all the skulls I've climbed upon and it feels fake.

How could martial arts possibly survive in a world where profits are the only focus. No matter how high we stack data and expectations, the earth will condemn us with judgement, equal pain and success.

How could anything survive in our future world?

In kyudo I shoot an arrow at a target for the purpose of hitting it.

In society, an arrow is shot into the future for a goal.

In kyudo, if I miss, it's still all good.

In society, if an arrow is missed, it makes CNN news, which doesn't report anything correctly anyway.

Thank you for indulging in this rant, since it's the only thing I can post.

Still on the path of budo, and life, but the distinctions feel so much like limitations, and anything at all seems like just a little too much trouble.

(art presented by

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Benefits of Fear

Fear sucks, but it's often said that it can help you improve.


I'll give you a few reasons here stemming from one example: the string pre-releasing in Kyudo.

First you raise the bow in front and above yourself in uchiokoshi.

(Dude, I think I know this guy! I found it off a website from Oyabe which is in Toyama. I'm 99% sure I've seen this guy at tournaments. Pictures found at

Then you pull a third of the draw moving into daisan.

From there you perform the draw, hikiwake, and settle into the full draw, kai, in which you stretch yourself out in both directions for about 8 seconds.

It's usually in the drawing process (hikiwake or kai) that the string can slip out of your grip and slap you in the face. I went through a phase of chronic pre-slipping, and it still lingers everytime I pull in the guise of fear. When the string slips, it either completely ruins the technique or most likely slaps you in the face which really hurts, is a huge shock, and is incredibly embarrassing. This sucks. The prospect of this happening sucks. There is fear, and that initially sucks.

However, that fear can help us improve in two important ways.

First, the fear makes us smarter.

When I enter the draw, I know that if the string slips it's a direct result of bad technique, specifically, not turning my right hand inwards enough to hold the string. When that fear flushes my mind, I know that I must turn my hand to the right degree. So, I do so and my technique is improved by the fear. I have overcome the fear with reasoning and can rest easy with my manipulation of physics in the draw.

Second, it gives us courage.

It's often said that we cannot be brave without fear. I'm not sure if it's exactly that simple, but in this case, that fear does in fact directly give us courage.

After understanding that the string slips out because of mis-applied technique, I should be able to rest easy knowing that the string will not slip out as long as I adhere to the fundamentals. However, that fear still slips into my being. Even though we know that what we fear will not come to pass, we are still afraid. We can overcome this fear with faith: trusting with complete confidence that that string will not pre-release. To take it a step further, we must pull the string with the faith that it will not release even though we don't know for sure if it will release for some reason or not. At that point we must realize that anything can happen and accept that no matter what happens we will be OK. If you're not OK with any potential mistakes, then maybe you shouldn't be doing Kyudo in the first place, or whatever it is you're doing that induces fear.

I've overcome my chronic sting pre-releasing, but still fear it, and so I often go into the draw with the string a few inches in front of my face and then after I have entered the full draw I bring it to touch my cheek, which is definitely not good technique. Instead, I need to make sure my hand is turned sufficiently, and then pull the string back in a straight diagonal line from the daisan to the kai.

Fear can make us smarter and give us courage, but that's only if we're willing to take the time to analyze it and prepare to make our stand against the pain.

Interestingly enough, we could be talking about "failure" and it's the same dark Sensei that threatens our success.

Be brave and smart! That's what budo is trying to teach us.

Friday, November 22, 2013

My Two Halves and the "Shaho Kun"

I live in two halves.

One half does this so the other doesn't have to.

One half does this so the other can do the opposite.

Even if this side dies, the other lives on.

If one side dies, another will grow according to that other existing half.

If both sides disappear, it's over.


Because one half isn't doing it, I'm not doing it at all.

But if both halves are spreading equally in opposite directions, there can be one purpose in the center.

So, as a whole, I am fully doing this.


In kyudo we stand firm deep into the ground while also stretching our spine like an ivory tower through the clouds. Our hands must be so supple as to handle towels and flowers and babies, must have the intelligence to know exactly where to be, and must be strong enough to hold the position for all else to bloom. Though those hands have extreme similarities in shape: tightly curled pinky fingers, straight extending thumbs, connection between the thumb and middle finger, they have just as many differences: spiraling in different directions from the arms, one perpendicular to the ground while the other is parallel, connected to the back and elbows one hand is pushing will the other is pulling ... or maybe it's all just pushing.

So much of the time in shooting technique is slow calculated movements of not releasing the arrow. Yet, at the very climax and arrow-head purpose of it all, there is that electric snapping release where finally that shooting action is experienced.

Before you shoot, you sit, before that you walk, before that you bow, before that you enter, before that you practice.

All of these opposites, both equal and not. For what? All for the physical purpose of shooting an arrow. All for the spiritual purpose of perfection. All for the plain existence of us with the universe.

I practice kyudo because it is a way of expressing myself that utilizes civilization. I use my conscious mind and will to practice this one thing over and over again which I learn from others who have done the same. It is cultivation in the purest sense. It is the development of human society. But I also don't practice kyudo in case it's all just a false dream. I put everything into kyudo, and then take it all out. Like blood flowing in and out of the limbs in varying degrees. I do this because one is not enough. Maybe I'm lost.

I step too far mentioning and purposes and such. It's funny that we build a practice around a purpose, when really the purpose may be the last thing we understand.

For more credible wisdom I present below the Shaho-Kun, "Principles of Shooting", written by Master Junsei Yoshimi which is contained within the Kyuhon, official Kyudo Manual. I'll talk more in the future about the Kyuhon, but for now, we'll begin with the Shaho-Kun.

"The way is not with the bow, but with the bone, which is of the greatest importance in shooting.

"Placing Spirit (Kokoro) in the centre of the whole body, with two-thirds of the Yunde (left arm) push the string, and with one-third of the Mete (right arm) pull the bow. Spirit settled, this becomes harmonious unity.

"From the centre line of the chest, divide the left and right equally into release.

"It is written, that the collision of iron and stone will release sudden sparks; and thus there is the golden body, shining white, and the half moon positioned in the west."

-Master Junsei Yoshimi

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why Nakatsu?

 (Nakatsu Castle)
My new home, Nakatsu.

(View of the middle of the city from the castle.)

(View towards the ocean from the castle. My apartment is probably in the very center of the picture, but of course you can't see it.)


Good question. I'll start from the beginning.

Disclaimer 1: This is a bit of a long post with lots of various information about different locations in Kyushu. If you've got a map out and ready to learn about the island through the filter of my mind amidst the move, then read on! If not, at least check out the pics of the area below.

The company I work for has positions all over the counrty excepting Tokyo City and Okinawa. I wanted a drastic change of Toyama, which would preferably take me to another island. Hokkaido seemed a bit too separated, and too cold for my current moods. Shikoku looked great, but maybe it was a bit too country, even for me. I've had strange callings to Kyushu, and being the furthest south, it would be a huge separation from what I've known of Japan while still having loads of interesting new places. In fact, it kind of started as wanting to travel around Kyushu, but from Toyama it's incredibly expensive and time consuming, so I thought I might as well live there.

Interesting mountains, old culture, warmer temperatures, lots of countryside, proximity to Shikoku, interesting mountains, separated from the mainstream, and lots of martial arts. This is what comes to mind when I think of Kyushu.

Initially I had a lot of room to decide where in Kyushu I wanted to go. Basically, there are a set number of positions in each area, so if someone leaves, I would be able to replace them. Knowing that, I had been in contact with the main gaijin in the company working together trying to find the right time and place.

In Kyushu, there are seven prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Oita, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. That's quite an area to choose from, so where in Kyushu did I want to go?

First of all, I didn't want to live in a big city ... or anything remotely close to being a big city. That poses a bit of a problem because most positions in the company are in the big cities. Often, most teachers will be located in the biggest city and then maybe a few others in the next biggest. Fukuoka Prefecture has the biggest city in Kyushu, Fukuoka City (aka Hakata), and its size seemed to dominate most of the prefecture, so that ruled Fukuoka out.

Nagasaki seemed a bit too disconnected, dominated by the city, and also home to a large American military base in Sasebo ... so I said no Nagasaki.

Saga lies between Fukuoka and Nagasaki, is small, doesn't have any famous mountains, and it didn't have anything to pull my interest when investigating, so no Saga.

Further south is where I started to get more interested. Basically I was most interested in the three prefectures in the middle of Kyushu, Oita, Kumamoto, and Miyazaki.

(View from my apartment balcony: left side. In the middle looming in the distance is the one of the most famous mountains in Oita, Yufuin-dake.)
Kumamoto seemed to be the heart of Kyushu in a lot of ways, which was the biggest draw for me at first. It is rich with traditional culture, seen most obviously by its famous castle, and so it would seem to have a lot of martial arts as well. It has the most famous mountains in Kyushu, most notably Mt. Aso, and also some interesting looking islands just off its coast. It also lies right in the middle of the shinkansen line connecting Fukuoka and Kagoshima which would make it relatively convenient for trasnportation within the area. The city also seemed to have a strong culture of its own, but it definitely is considered a big city, which is not what I wanted. At the moment there are no positions outside of Kumamoto City, which would mean I would have to live there. In the end I didn't choose Kumamoto, but I'm dying to get there and see if I made a mistake or not. Plus, its famous for horse sushi. Whatever area is famous for eating horse has my male agro attention.

Miyazaki certainly seemed to have a feel of its own. Famous for beaches, surfing, and being very small town, I was really drawn to this place. For the beaches and countryside, Satomi was most interested in this place as well, which weighs considerably in the decision making process. The downsides were that is very separated from the rest of Kyushu, and Japan as a whole, doesn't have a big city to escape to if I wanted, and may have the least amount of chances for Budo. Also, it can get hit pretty hard by typhoons, which is not something I was excited about. This is definitely a place I'm looking forward to visiting though.

Oita seemed like the best fit in a lot of ways. It was centrally located between the biggest city in Kyushu, Fukuoka, had Miyazaki Prefecture just to the south, its closest to Shikoku Island which I still want to visit, and backed by the big mountains that are shared with Kumamoto. It's definitely small town, and also holds possibly the biggest draw of all: its considered THE place for onsen in Japan, which is a huge priority for me.

(View from my apartment balcony: middle. The mountain towards the right is probably the most iconic of the area, Hachimenzan.)
Furthest to the south lies Kagoshima. Interestingly enough its the only place I had been to in Kyushu when I took a trip to the amazing island of Yakushima about three years ago. It certainly has a strong characteristic of its own, and I found the city captivating when I went. If I was looking to be separated from all else in the warmest place possible with a colorful culture, Kagoshima was it. But, all positions open were located only in the big city of Kagoshima itself which was a big drawback. Kagoshima's poster image is always that of the giant volcanic island of Sakurajima, which is in fact super impressive when seen in real life, but it seemed to be the only thing I ever saw in pictures of Kagoshima, which made me think it would get old quick. It's also notorious for erupting, sheeting the city in ash.

So basically it was like this: no Fukuoka, Saga, or Nagasaki ... maybe Kagoshima ... definitely interested in Oita, Kumamoto, and Miyazaki.

In the end, it really came down to time and locations.

I was told Miyazaki would never be open because there are only three gaijin down there, and they're all married, settled, and avid surfers who will never leave.

Kagoshima was open in December, in a way it was perfect timing, but it seemed too separated, too dominated by Sakurajima, too big of a city, and without enough mountains (though some of the coolest looking mountains around in Kirishima lie on the border of Miyazaki).

Kumamoto was a huge draw, but I would have to wait through the winter to potential openings in March or April ... which was just too long to wait, and I'd probably be in the city.

(View from my apartment balcony: right. Sunset over mountains in Fukuoka Prefecture, Inugatake. And the construction that started a week after I moved in.)
So in Oita, there is a town called Nakatsu. It seemed the perfect size being a small to medium city (80,000 people) which means it would have all the necessaries without congested populations and traffic. It lies in a string of small towns right on the ocean geographically between the cities of Fukuoka and Oita City, which means weekend trips to either wouldn't be a big deal. Its famous for history (a big castle, and home of the guy who's on the 10,000 yen bill, Yukichi Fukuzawa) and has famous natural spots inland towards the mountains. The drawbacks were that is was farther north than I imagined being, and not the closest to the bigger moutains. Other than kyudo, I'm not sure about finding other martial arts. Also, for better for worse, it came abruptly forcing a fairly hasty decision, which would get me there in the Fall.

After waiting and planning and thinking for so long, it just couldn't have been drawn out any further, and considering all the above info, the decision was made: Nakatsu in the Fall.

Disclaimer 2: All of this research and mind wandering was done without ever being to Kyushu other than Kagoshima City and it's small island Yakushima. Simply ruling out places like Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, and Kagoshima was less about criticising and falsely judging, and more about just trying to find out what would be the best option for me. I feel as though I will have to do justice to these other prefectures by going to them all and seeing for myself. Furthermore, I find Japan an extremely difficult place to define, all its sights included, as so much of it is defined by how in depth you'll go to each area. Toyama is a great example of this. If you look in the Lonely Planet travel guide you'll find a measely two pages for the prefecture. One of them describes the depressing atmosphere of the city and lack of interesting sites, and then one page for the Alpen Route across the moutains, which is very amazing. Considering that, I lived there for four years and truly consider it my second home. It's unbelievably interesting, and not just beacuse of the mountains. I will always hold the possiblity in my mind of returning to Toyama, which is in fact a huge reality since Satomi's family and home are there. So, it's all good or crappy everywhere in Japan depending on your disposition.

(Towards the mountains in Nakatsu.)
OK, so I finally get to Nakatsu, and I think we're all a bit worn out here, so maybe it's a good place to stop. However, I don't envision writing another general piece on this town where I live and want you readers to have an idea of what it's like, so I'll quickly mention a few of the points I want to convey.

-I really like it.

-It is big enough to have all of the conveniences I need (aside from a movie theater) while being small enough to avoid the undesirables of the big city.

-At first glance it might not be as interesting as it looks when researching.

-The castle is super cool, but the inside is completely redone and disappointing. I'll look forward to events they have there, or light ups, or the sakura blossoming.

-It is even more isolated from the rest of Oita Prefecture than I imagined, which means Oita City, the most famous of onsen, and big mountains are more of a hassle to get to than I imagined.

-Fukuoka City is way further than I imagined, but instead of that, Kita Kyushu City is the closest big city to the north, and is actually pretty interesting.

-As for this region, it really doesn't feel like Oita Prefecture. Nakatsu City being on the border of Fukuoka Prefecture, I can ride my bike for five minutes, cross a river, and I'm there. In the past this was an area connected to Kita Kyushu, and it has that feel today.

-My apartment is not huge, but absolutley perfect, located next to the ocean and a bit isolated from the main part of town. It can be my perfect haven away from it all, and I so much look forward to making this a home with Satomi.

-A week after moving in, they started construction on another apartment right in front of this one, which I was absolutley-super-hair raising pissed about, but am coming to terms with day by day. Now I understand why they were giving a huge discount on the initial key money. Thanks guy who showed me the apartment, kinda wish you had told me about this ... f%#$"#g salesmen.

-I have a fully operating TV for the first time in 10 years.

-I have a bed for the first time in 4 years.

-The mountains aren't so big, but really funny shaped ... lots of cones.

-There's lots of old people here ... I mean even more than Toyama.

-There's lots of motorcycles and yanki punk kids, which is kind of cool, but also kind of annoying.

I think that's about it.

Welcome to my new base in Nakatsu, from which all will begin.

(Inside of the Nakatsu Kyudo Dojo.)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Version 3.0: Enter Kyushu

Wings burst from my back and tore apart paperwork chains. So many scars made in waiting, forced to sit. But on that day, the train doors spread apart and I boarded the vessel perfect. Toyama gone. Riding the spine of Japan far to the south, I've come to a land of a different color. Enter Kyushu.

I made it! Actually, I did a little over a month ago. Yesterday I finally got internet. (Why in a country so technologically advanced does setting up internet take so long? Is it like that everywhere? I've forgotten.) So now blogging may resume.

But I warn you, it won't be the same. Because this is Version 3.0. I want it to be different. Surely something has changed in the transitions. It's only half true humans desire security and routine. That other half, the unreasonable need for something new, for everything to be new. That wretched creature is what brought me across the country, for that prophesied New.

Anyway, for simple introductions, I'll just give you the facts.

I've moved to Kyushu,

to Oita Prefecture,

to Nakatsu City.

It's nice. It's what I wanted. But as I'm not exactly sure what I wanted, I'm not really sure what to make of this place. It is going to take time. Much of it is veiled away from me, and so I'll patiently walk, eat, sleep. This is OK.

Every morning I wake up, and I'm not really sure what to do. I like that. It's going to be a bit more simple, and slower here. The last two years in Toyama City was an experiment in overwhelming action. "Everything all at once, now, and forever because I said so!" I'm not sure how much I accomplished, but I do know it was way too much. Now that time has passed. It's actually gone. And that gaijin is dead, off in whatever heaven he wanted. Behind white curtains, in this new simple white and earth-tone apartment, on a late fall overcast afternoon, a new gaijin sits.

I'm continuing Kyudo, but it's been a bit of a rough start. Probably the most exciting part of all this moving is the new introductions. I walk into the dojo and everyone is new. They see me and we talk, and they seem impressed, that's interesting, but my timing and technique are not settled. Though I've been going to the dojo for two weeks, I barely feel I've started. I was careful to not go too hard at first tearing blisters in my hand, but the blister came, I didn't wait long enough for it to heal. I went anyway, and it's torn open again. I want so badly to push through it, but I know it won't work, because I've done this before and it didn't go well.

Should I go despite all cautions against? Sometimes I really want to. But I have the experience, I have a thinking brain of my own, my life is based on my own decisions, I do kyudo because I like it, so I'm now making an executive decision. I'm passing a law that reads: I will not go until it is healed.

There, we are our own gods.

I remember the last time I hurt my hand and I asked people what I should do. I just wanted them to tell me I should rest, because it's what I really wanted and I wanted it to be accepted by the others. I wanted to take out my own responsibility of the equation so if something went wrong I could point the finger.

Fuck going to kyudo because I want my hand to heal and do kyudo when it's fun.

Fuck begging for others' permission because I am the one responsible.

So yeah, I'm going to take a few days, which should probably be more like a week so I can go in with new skin and start over. What's the rush anyway? I'm the one I do kyudo for. I have my whole life to practice. What would I do with an even more serious injury? I'm just training myself to push through pain though the results are not worthy. I can take a week off.

The dojo is huge, clean, and full of talented kyudoka (people who practice kyudo). However, most everybody goes at night when I have to work. I now realize how lucky I was in Toyama having the main sensei show up in the mornings at the same time as me. But, I'm sure things will work out. If I want them to, they will, I trust.

But for now I wait.

I also wait for a much greater prize. That treasure that defines my move to Kyushu more than any other single phenomenon, my wife, Satomi.

She will finish her job in late December and then move here. That leaves me two months to be in my apartment trying not to dirty it up or do anything too stupid, which may be impossible. Satomi came here for a few days last weekend and it was amazing. It was what this place is supposed to be for us, but alas she returned for the month long homestretch. More than dreams, ambitions, and chores, there is a person I love. That human life to me is more than priceless. It is worth such an invaluable amount that all else could burn and I'd still smile to be with her.

I'm here. Things have changed, I'm just not sure exactly what and how ...

so stay tuned! And welcome to Kyushu.