Thursday, December 19, 2013

Excellent New Books

Perfection is not impossible.

It's right here in front of us.

In the myriad things we do, we are enacting that perfection.

When our breath stops, and we sense that we are not,

when we cannot stand, and choose to fall,

we curse our own special gift of perfection.

That is part of the gift.

Just here, in this moment of knowing without a mind,

there is perfection.

I really am going to tell you about some interesting books, but first I'm going to talk about something else.

It's very clear to me that I do much more than kyudo. Shooting a bow and arrow in the Japanese fashion of kyudo is one of the things that I do that is part of my Way ... but then again what I do is not limited to just "the Way" we think of with calligraphy-like writing, Asian characters we don't understand, and an all peaceful illusion. What I do runs deep into the veins of the earth, stretching like my arms across the art of various generations, then down my torso like the tribal and intellectual traditions of the past, and sinking through my feet into a volcanic core of rocks and gravity and exploding suns.

It's very clear that putting my faith into a religion called kyudo, or aikido, or Japanese, or writing, is a superficial illusion I manipulate to satisfy my own insecurities.

What I have is a feeling and a direction, from that follows the physical characteristics of the world, like kyudo, aikido, Japanese, writing, etc.

I don't know.

I move throughout my life sniffing the paths and making lots of subconscious decisions based on the vibrations my hair and skin pick up. I do my best to honor what I realize, and mistakingly trample upon the treasures of others. I look at people in the eyes and when I like what I see I stick around. I ride my bike past telephone wires and pachinko parlors ... I don't ever buy anything in the shopping malls because they are all empty to me.

My life is one of art. By that I mean expression and experience and interaction. It is a life of great love, great frustration, great searching, and deep sleeping. I look to the sky to try to fly and jump, and in that highest moment of false belief I fall to the ground and crack.

It should look strange, because no one has ever done this before. This is my style. I'm finding my style and it's bigger than what's ever come before.

Moving on ...
I went to kyudo tonight and had an good practice. I have never described a practice like tonight's as good before, something has changed. I've thrown away a lot of insecure egotistical trash I've been bringing to kyudo, thanks to many failures and the acquisition of inspiration from new books.

Basically, when I say I'm practicing kyudo, I'm practicing kyudo. Before, if I didn't like my practice, say I wasn't feeling good, wasn't hitting the target, or wasn't receiving praise others, I would call it not-kyudo. I became picky about what I called kyudo, and so that black non-kyudo side of my practice took over all else. I've been doing non-kyudo for months, just waiting for some good fortune to come by and bless me with skills.

That is trash. Everything I do in kyudo, is kyudo, and my failures are a part of it as anything else. It isn't about hitting the target. It isn't about impressing people. It isn't about justifying your life.

It's about doing your best.

That's all.

It's about doing your best in a very difficult practice. I will no longer expect perfection to bless my bow and arrow, and rather just work ... but it's not just work ... "work" just seems like a humble word to go about putting effort into a great project. It's really more like creating, or expressing, or living through a labyrinth of puzzles that test various parts of our existence.

As for the issue with my hand, it's healed pretty well, and until I'm confident with its condition not deteriorating again, I'm wearing a kind of leather cover over the thumb. It's not ideal, but it's all I can do at this point. I went with it tonight and had a good practice, being able to focus on other things.

I went to a meeting with the other English teachers I work with in Oita Prefecture, there are seven of us in total. We might and talk about various things with our job. Usually a large part of that is sharing games and methods of training.

It's wonderful. We escape our own routines to see different, necessarily fun and effective ways to do the same thing we've been trying to do on our own. It's never about making things more detailed or complicated ... it's about simplifying and making our methods more fun and effective.

There is more than our one way that we get stuck in, but sometimes it's impossible to see. Perhaps we benefit from individual practice and experimentation within our discipline, but in order to advance we must meet with others.

When we do so, it's not just about going to a teacher and asking for specific answers. It's about meeting as equal artists simply revealing our own ways of doing things. It's like a buffet where we are free to choose what we like at our own discretion. It's not a button we press to receive immediate sure success ... this isn't McDonald's.

One other thing, I had a very interesting revelation during that meeting pertaining to budo...

We were practicing songs/dances that we do in class (and yes it's embarrassing as it sounds. It's funny the things you can get used to) and there was one point when we got together with a partner and did a kind of patty cake action. I was paired with a guy from Ghana, a few inches taller than me, and athletically built (I think he's really into soccer), but not necessarily huge or skinny or anything. Anyway, while we were doing the patty cake I noticed he was overwhelming my slaps with his. His hands were so relaxed and heavy, just like the wet towel/ox tongue/etc analogies we try to emulate in a lot of martial arts. I don't think this guy has martial art experience, and yet he was doing this patty cake in a way that revealed great ability ... he'd probably be an amazing martial artist (maybe he is!) I don't know if he noticed it, but I did, and I noticed how light and weak my hands were. After all the years I've trained in the arts, I wonder if that is some kind of conditioning, or just my natural reaction that has remained unaffected by my training. Maybe it reveals a tendency of mine, for better or worse. Regardless, I was surprised, impressed, and jealous of this guy.

So what I was initially getting at is that there are many ways to go about doing something, and I've been in my own little shallow rut for so long, going to kyudo with a fresh mind to listen to my teachers and the protective gear to do something other than worry about my thumb allowed for a great training session. I was able to look at other things, more important things perhaps.

Specifically, my back. I won't go deep into the details, but I need to stretch my elbows out in the beginning, not just to stretch them, but the stretch my back. I need to keep that tension as I rise into uchiokoshi, maintain the tension by turning my elbows slightly in daisan setting up the draw, and then pull that draw with my elbows and back. Also once you do this, just spreading sideways isn't enough and will warp your stance and inhibit your release. You must also focus on stretching up and down with your spine as well. This small focus changes everything for the better. I didn't do it perfect, but that's not important.

I've started chiseling. With sensei we started pounding on this issue and I felt my back cracking inside. We will continue to crack until one day the shell falls off and my new soft skin will bring life into the bow and my kyudo.

Kyudo is like we are statues, slowly cracking away at ourselves until the shell one day falls and we arise natural and soft and advanced.

It's also like getting past a wall.

The wall is so high we cannot climb over. It is so strong we cannot burst through it. We must walk through it ... like magic. It takes a kind of magic faith to acquire such other-worldly abilities in this art. We walk through the wall, perfectly calm.

So, I've got some new books, and THEY'RE EXCELLENT!

2 of them are about kyudo, which is the really shocking part for me.

"Zen Bow, Zen Arrow: The Life and Teachings of Awa Kenzo" by John Stevens.

What I like about this is that it talks about this master, Awa Kenzo (1880-1939), who is responsible for having a huge effect on kyudo in a time of great transitions in Japan. The information on him is a bit short, but the stories are great and very helpful to my practice. The later half runs similar to "The Book of Peace" about Morihei Ueshiba's teachings in that it is a bunch of one-liners or small paragraphs about the practice. It's something I'll read through at first, but then surely revisit from time to time.

Next is, "Illuminated Spirit: Conversations with a Kyudo Master" by Dan and Jackie Deprospero.

This is a great read because it also focuses on the teachings of one particular master. It is written by Dan and Jackie Deprospero (who have written other good books on kyudo) who write from great experience and humility. It's good writing and based on the personal experiences of a master so you can get the first hand teachings along with a subjective interpretation of it all. I'm finding this book very helpful in looking at my own experiences in kyudo here in Japan.

Last is, "Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki" by David Chadwick.

Perhaps many of you are already familiar with this book about Shunryu Suzuki, author of my favorite book on Zen, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind", and person largely responsible for bringing Zen practice to North America, though his life is much more than that. I don't know much about the man beyond this book, Shunryu's other book, and a few other stories, but it's interesting to learn about his life. It's great because it's one of the first books in a while I can casually read through.

Next in the line up is: "There is No God and He is Always With You" by Brad Warner. I haven't started it yet, but I'm very excited to get to it. He lived in Japan for 11 years (I think) studying Soto Zen and returned to the states to practice as well as write and do lectures and play music and many other things it seems. He is the author of a few other books I really enjoyed, and with each work it you can really see the progression of an honest man searching for the answers that come up with Zen, and really life itself. You can check out his fabulous blog at

So there it is. It's been a long time since I've read such interesting books in English, and with these I can only think of more I'm just waiting to order. I'm not much of a book reviewer, but I'll surely continue to post interesting titles that come up.

Thanks for reading.

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