Friday, August 30, 2013

Shinobu 忍ぶ: Patience

So I asked my kyudo sensei what I'm supposed to do in the draw just before I shoot, and he answered 忍ぶ (shinobu).

If you notice one thing about kyudo, it's that you hold the draw position (会, kai) for a pretty long time, about 8 seconds. For a lot of beginners, or maybe even well-seasoned practitioners, that 8 seconds can last a really long time to stand there holding the bow at full draw. In fact, your arms are probably shaking from the pressure and in your head you may have already finished and want to start the next arrow. This summer during my trip home, I tried archery for the first time and was totally shocked at the lack of time you hold the draw. I found best success actually when I pulled and immediately released. But in kyudo that definitely won't fly.

So you hold the draw for about 8 seconds. In that time you're very slowly breathing out ... very very slowly ... through your nose. You're also looking at the target, and just that with your eyes; not blinking, not thinking, just looking. You're also spreading your arms apart from the chest. This is in fact probably the best answer to the question of: "What are you doing in the draw?" You're spreading your arms apart, from the joints in the shoulders, from the center of your chest and your whole being extending towards the target and equally away with the other arm, as you're also stretching upwards and downwards from your spine.

 But ...

what the hell are you really doing in that 8 seconds?

My sensei read my question exactly as I meant it (the wonders of a good teacher/student connection), and he said: "忍ぶ, shinobu".

忍ぶ translates as roughly as "to be able to stand...", "put up with...", "to endure ...", and also "to hide."

For all of those kanji nerds out there, you probably noticed that the character 忍 also means "ninja." When I talked to sensei about this, he said they shared the same kanji, but what he meant by 忍ぶ wasn't exactly connected to ninja.

There is a more commonly used word in Japanese that has the exact same translated meaning as 忍ぶ, and that is 我慢 (gaman). At face value, or literal translation, I don't see a difference between the two words. However, I do in fact sense a deep difference. At my level of Japanese (or arguably anybody's level of any language) is largely intuitive. I listen to the words, hear how often they are used, see who uses them, look at the kanji, and infer my own meaning from the experience of the word. Perhaps there is an exact and very specific and literal difference between the words shinobu, and gaman, but all I can do here is make the best intuitive guess I can.

Sensei said one must "shinobu" in the draw. I looked up the word in my dictionary and saw "patience", and asked him in Japanese:

"Is it like being able to wait until whenever? Is it like gaman, being able to put up with anything?"

"Well, yeah but ... it's also about putting up with a lot of pain. Even if it hurts, you shinobu. Even if you don't to, you shinobu. No matter what, being able to "shinobu" is important."

Sensei mentioned pain, but he's not some kind of masochistic freak that thinks pain is necessary for progress. I don't think this is a conversation he can have easily with all students. I think many would be turned away from the pain, or others would start training until everything hurt. The everyday practice of kyudo is different from this. It shouldn't be painful. But, perhaps this is where the deep cords of kyudo hang down far into the abyss of budo. Down at the very bottom where it is black and we deal with issues ignored in our daily life. Down in a very real place we exist as spirit, where decisions are matters of life and death, and where we must take full accountability for our lives while accepting the void.

To be aware of 忍ぶ, is to walk at the bottom of the kyudo ocean.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back to Japan

I'm back!

What a trip.

Beloved family. Friends as close as family. Showing my origins to the girl of my life. Exploring the lakes and forests and mountains and towns of my youth.

Shooting bows and arrows and drinking beer around a campfire with fellow dojo rats. (Maybe a picture or two will show up soon).

After that giant whirlwind of a little less than two weeks, just when I was getting used to it again, I found myself again flying in a gargantuan machine across the sea. Now I'm back in Japan, and it's very strange. I find myself falling back into the unconscious steps I've made hundreds of times before, but my mind is off. A lot of stereotypical complaints about Japan are coming up for the first time in years: so many people, cold interactions, staring at foreigners, students not speaking English in class. But then I guess it was the same when I arrived on American soil for the first time in a year and a half. Giant people in the shape of bugs, carrying Starbucks coffees the size of my carry-on. People standing in the way of everything shouting at each other through phones.

These are all generalizations of course, but with the immediate shift of realities this is what I see.

We find the weirdest times to look on the brightside of things. Now that I'm back, I'm in awe of the beauty of that home where I was raised. It's the most beautiful place I've ever seen. Each dear friend has an individual world and style of their own. People live for a high quality of life. And I have the best family in the world.

But now I'm back in Japan. I feel as though I've changed a great deal, but this place is the same. The day I returned Japan was experiencing record high temperatures, about 105 degrees fahrenheit and super humid. For the past couple days it's cooled down and enormous amounts of rain have poured from the heavens. Now the pavement reeks of birdshit, dropped by the masses of crows.

I'm back, and nothing has changed.

Why is that? I've had this great break and all of the epiphanies, and yet this unchanged world is pulling me, dragging me back down to where I was. I can actually feel myself slipping back into the cracks far below. What the hell? I've changed!

Why? Why is my mind reverting back to the cave?

Things are amiss, and it's time to get hands-on.

But not without relaxing, and giving each moment the mind deserved. That's what I saw at home.

I love stepping back and looking at it all from afar. I love the great patterns and realizations . I like planning and getting motivated to begin. When we escape our patterns we can better evaluate what is important and what's not. This is the real beauty of a vacation. We all really do need vacations.

Looking at myself in Japan, it seems to have lost a lot of color. Going through my life without thinking or passion. Sure I'm thinking, but it's way too much, obsessed. Sure I've been in rage, but that's not passion, just confusion. I've just been putting my body through motions to satsify the Plan.

So being home, I've realized a few things.

The first big realization was that I'm trying to do way too much here.

Two years ago when I decided to stay in Japan, moved to Toyama City and started working for my current job, I decided to do everything I wanted. Since then I've been planning and running and building and amassing.

Now I'm living with a 20 headed monster in my tiny apartment.

I have to remember, this is what I wanted.

I thought that I would build it all up, see what happens, and move.

But I haven't been able to see. I've just been overwhelmed and consumed. Instead of focusing on one at a time, I've been scattered between them all, they have become terrifying and impossible.

Basically, I can't do it all.

I suppose a big part of it is in the mind. By just changing my perspective and not wasting thoughts in unneccessary places, I can save a lot of time. And yet, it's not enough, because I'm doing too much.

Something has to die.

Surveying my activities, I find that a lot of it is really not what I want, or at least, not like this.

I love many things about Toyama Prefecture, mostly the mountains and small towns, but I don't like living in Toyama City. I don't like my apartment. Aikido is fucked because I do it at such a rate it's just a tease. I'm battling through kyudo with scar tissue in my thumb. My Japanese study is slow and numb. I'm tired of my job and want to try something new. I want to write more.

I want to write more. I'm finding good places in my head and a small forest path is opening. I want to go down there as far as I desire.

I want to get better at Japanese. I've been here long enough, I've had the resources, I've reached a certain level, but it's not enough. This is something that won't grow without focused effort. That is another place I want to put my time.

As for martial arts, I believe they are necessary for me, like some food I need to survive. However, it is not the main focus of my life, and never will be. It is necessary, but not dominant. So I will treat it as such. Martial arts are my spiritual food, training my body and concentration, making me happy, allowing me to adventure in the world and introducing me to amazing people. But I believe it will be the Japanese language and writing that will carry me into the future.

This is what I feel right now.

Writing is a honing of the mind, complete freedom, indulgence in the imagination. It is indeed much mightier than the sword, and I feel like I belong with the pen.

So I will make martial arts small, like a whisper, like a wonderful meal. It is my great training, but really just a part of the whole.

Now, I'm carefully stepping through my life, looking at it all, feeling, and then deciding how to move. I will gently unravel this knot I've created, plan for the move to Kyushu that will happen as soon as winter. We'll see how it goes. This is the new plan.

Thank you America, but it's not just that. Thank you home. But more so, thank you people, family, friends and unknowns. Thank you universe, for giving healthy doses of hope and despair in necessary quantities.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Goin Home!

Going back home to the great U.S.A. tomorrow! For two weeks. So instead of posting on the blog, teaching English, going to the dojos ... I'll be with family and friends, drinking high quality beer, and hanging out at the lakes.

As for a few notes:

We learn much more when we lose, drowned in the experience, we can see the other side, and all that happened in between. Losing is a certain kind of gift that winning cannot understand.

If you're having fun in your practice and looking forward to the next, then you've already achieved the highest goal.

See ya'll in the afterlife.

Friday, August 2, 2013

In the Deep Dark Green there is Lightning

Deep inside I run, deep to where it's quiet. Dark green growth. Now it's so hot we drip with the trees.

I say alone, but we're together. All who want to be here are. This sacred group, cloaked in their own desires. Adventure. Cultivation. Suffering. Sacrifice. Happiness. Each stands, with roots of the other twisting up the trunks of legs and arms and branches. Atop mountains, each one nameless and defiant. The names are a communication with others. I'll forget your name. I may forget your face. The memory won't be revisited. Only in this place do we meet.

Utilitarian form. No money. Gear. Survival within the chains of humanity. Concrete blocks in the forest. Channeling forces. I am nature. I am not nature. I am also Death and Destruction. I am also responsible. I am also life. God? What does that mean?

Leaves forever. Dripping green cloaks. Why did this happen here? Why now? Of all places. I can't remember. Just breathing, dreaming, demon. Just this life. Just this nameless forest. A general form with the infinity of design. Bubbles fluid full. Make one long sever and we would pour forth, never to be refilled. Throbbing, pulsating, every second is necessary.

For what? Just a path. The desire to walk. It is this path. I will walk.

At some point the scenery changes. I've been walking the whole time, but I've come here. White green. Higher. Further away. In winter here most everything dies, hides, or sleeps. But today I'm here, sweating and heaving. I remember now. I want it all again. My reasons return. I'm not here anymore, but half in town, with the rest of the apes. Barking along geometrical lines for finely designed beverages and larger paychecks with an applause because they exist. We exist together.

So far away. I climbed this tree for you. Otherwise I'd have no reason. I'd have stayed on the ground. Through the center of me, hanging between my legs, down into the tree, through to the center of the earth, there is a point where nothing moves. I wonder how small it is. Deep within that dark stillness, reverse lightning strikes up to heaven. My eyes. This wolf, hair raised and hackles back, one could not lose ... not against winter, the mountains, civilization, or time itself.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Being Stuck, Getting Lost

I've been feeling stuck lately, which is different from lost.

Stuck is here and nowhere else.

I feel stuck because ...

blah blah blah ...

it's not important, anyway.

So I get lost, because that's fun.

If it's not fun, then I'm stuck, and nothing really matters, so ...

 I follow a small wooden sign to a cafe in the middle of nowhere up a hill to a forest further than nowhere ... there I found a woman in the field who said the cafe was closed today, tomorrow, and the day after ... she offered water and I declined, so we continued our own stuff ... I found somewhere I want to be my house, but I've got to go, so maybe later,

It's like we ride and ride until we find something that strikes a smile ... this pile of wood,

We pray and pray at the base of towers, the greatest monuments to mankind, and the gods piss, so that us at the bottom might maybe find the trickle down ... the rest build a hut in the bush and cut its grass ... well they probably didn't build it, but they definitely cut the grass, and certainly nobody comes but me ... once in a lifetime,

I also come to those that have fallen. Art and nature, and art and nature, and art and nature, I don't know, I just see, and I am interested,

It's like I'm trying to find one lane roads with no markings. I didn't know that. To return ... I don't know what that's like, maybe. Crawling on broken heels ... that's what "return" sounds like,

Sweet Izanagi! Another house ... I want. Love at first sight, if only it was for a girl. But this is it, a dirty shack on the edge of the woods,

I'd rather carve my own postbox as well,

Cluttered with tatami mats and ... other stuff I could throw away. But look at the windows! I could live here,

This is why! What has become of those who don't know, the magic of fire. This one treasure, without it there is nothing ... only cold,

Bigger than my kitchen,

An unused loft is sin, give it to me!

After walking in the palace of your ancients, you find a trace linking all areas to a point, this mighty point called Yarigatake ... perhaps the mightiest point in all of Japan. This cabin had not a single picture but this ... here I learn techniques of focusing the whole to a point, this picture,

Snakes in jars, maybe I don't know everything,

I'm most interested in the points where I don't want to talk anymore,

Where everyone shuts up and I'm just flying, like if the wind was loud enough and we could just be allowed to be in silent madness,

All to a sudden stop. Humans don't go past here,

So we find a way,

To have lunch in peace. Here, I had lunch. Lunch was had staring at this hole, it was a good place to have lunch, sitting on the pavement staring at everything, numb from the ride, hungry,

A belly slightly full and muscles rested, 5 minutes riding left to the end of everything, happy, sad, we can go home early. Cancelled on account of rain. You made it. You didn't do anything. Nature cracks and we're left to define,

Right there I walked into the woods, I walked and stopped because I probably wasn't supposed to, I walked further and stopped and then I walked further, and then stopped, there's no point, but I'm glad I came this far,

We came here for a reason, on the backs of others,

Why here?

The edge of nature was enticing but impossible, here, at the edge of man, the cicadas screamed and at the edge of the forest laid a castle, I wouldn't go up, because I was intimidated, a big man lived at the end I'm sure,

My home in Toyama, you probably can't see it well. I really don't care. There's something amiss, I'd rather not go home. I'd rather just sit here, burrow ... or maybe set up an outpost to go further. Yes, I'd rather go further away,

I ended up just where I needed to be, at a point of which I've never seen.

If you're stuck, get lost, then no one cares where you go.