Archive for September, 2008

On October 12th, Hatsumi Senei will present an 演武会 embukai, a martial demonstration, in celebration with 東海時 Tokaiji Temple and 布施弁天 Fuse Benten. This year marks the 1200th anniversary of the founding of the temple in Kashiwa City, Chiba Prefecture.

At this temple, Benten, the Japanese version of the Indian deity Saraswati, is enshrined. In either guise, she is a goddess of poetry, music, art and learning. She is often depicted holding a biwa, protected by a dragon, as she is at Enoshima Island, or white snakes, which are said to live at Fuse Benten, and near water as, in her native India, she is a river. Of the 七福神 Shichifukujin, Seven Gods of Good Fortune revered in Japan, she is the only female deity.

Whenever I go to Fuse Benten, I always intend to give, as the name of the temple suggests, and I always think of 不滅の布施 fumetsu no fuse, or endless offerings, the first line of the 悟宝 the Goshou, the five treasures that Hatsumi Sensei so often alludes to:

不滅の不施    Everlasting giving

真道の持戒  Vow of the true way

自然の忍にく   Natural resolve

自然の超越     Transcendance of nature

光明の悟り  Illumination of the awakening

Each time I go, I make my offering of a prayer and a bit of coin, maybe buy an amulet, or bring a friend. The balance in the giving is receiving, and every time I go, I am given something. A few years ago, on an early spring day, I was invited in for tea and to see devotional paintings in the rectory.  Other times, Benten has yielded beautiful spring flowers and fall leaves, little glimpses of local history and Buddhist lore, and always some image in the temple’s decoration emerges, something that illuminates an idea encountered in budo.

On a visit this summer, my friend M and I rode 20 minutes by bicycle from central Kashiwa to Fuse Benten. When we got there, we saw a big basket of eggs set in front of the altar. The eggs were wrapped in paper on which blessings were written. While we were admiring the altar and the statue of Benten, a little grandma came in, knelt on the tatami in front of the goddess image and talked to her like you would an old friend, “Honorable Benten, thank you for everything. Might I take one of these eggs as your blessing? There’s a dear.” Benten is well-loved by the local people.

When M and I asked for our fortunes, the priest also handed us each an uchiwa fan with the details of the October 12th celebration in honour of the temple’s 1200th year. On the back, we saw the Togakure Ryu name on the bill. We explained to the priest that we are members of the Bujinkan, and we would do our best in the presentation, and he gave us a few of the blessed eggs. Every time we give something, energy, time, good will, something comes back.

What offering can you bring to the embukai? If you are in the embukai, your offering is your art, your budo, and your ability to create suspension of disbelief in the audience. Benten in return inspires us with art, craft, flow and beauty. If you are watching, you bring your wonder and support for those in the embukai, and respect for Japanese culture. On the day, besides the budo demonstration, there will also be taiko drum and dance performances.

Some things to bear in mind when you visit – Tokaiji and Fuse Benten are places of worship. You should wash your hands at the basin.  This is a way to show you are purified in body and mind before you approach the temple and shrine complex. Ring one of the bells with vigour. This is how you let the gods know you are petitioning. A good coin to throw in the offertory box is 五円 go en, which is a homonym for 御縁 good relationship. As a sign of respect, bow in front of the altar. The usual Shinto formula is two bows and a clap, say your prayer, and bow when you take your leave. 

To get to Fuse Benten, follow George Ohashi’s directions.

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Lyssa is an amazing woman. She can knit, sew, design costumes, dissasemble, paint, reassemble and ride a bicycle, grow plants, cook great food and be help desk diva to others. And she’s also a Bujinkan student. Lately, she’s been applying her artistic talents to the production of Ninja Gears, an online shop featuring her designs for budoka. The design that appeals to me most is the 眠り猫, nemuri neko or sleeping cat.  The original cat, a wooden sculpture by a left-handed artist, is to be found at Nikko‘s Toshogu Shrine, and is said to both represent the spirit of Nikko itself (a shrine complex designed to honour Tokugawa Ieyasu) and the healing Buddha. Sleep is a great medicine, sensei reminds me, and says that, when you’re injured or sick, lie down and rest yourself as long as you need to.

Lyssa’s graphic of the sleeping cat captures the shape of the sculpture beautifully. Hidari Jingoro, the artist who created the original, was fascinated by cats. Cats, like any animal that hunts, have natural 無心, mushin, or no mind. They are completely aware and ready to react. The famous tale, 猫の妙術, neko no myojutsu or the Uncanny Skills of the Cat, tells us about a feline who has mastered the ability to react out of no mind, and totally unnerve his opponent.  Lafcadio Hearn’s Japanese folk tale, recalling the theme of Neko no Myojutsu, about a boy obsessed with cat illustrations in The Boy who Drew Cats, brings to mind this uncanny quality of the cat.

Lyssa is a girl who draws cats…

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In his new book, Unarmed Techniques of the Samurai, Hatsumi Sensei included some of his calligraphy on 色紙, shikishi, the coloured boards, often with gold edges, that are so often used for keepsake Japanese writing such as calligraphy or haiku. One of them featured in the book is 忍友, ninyu. I suppose one of the meanings could be keeping company with fellow learners, helping each other to persevere. Sensei has also used the word 武友, buyu, or martial friends to encourage us to learn together.

Two people I consider 先輩, seniors, are writing insightful blogs. Doug Wilson’s Henka and the Paul Masse’s Goshinjutsu pick up themes from our budo, the authors’ life experiences and study of 文武両道, bunbu ryodo, or book and martial learning. Paul’s artistry comes out in his photography, too.

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My Mum shot some video of me training in Vancouver some years ago. It was a treat to bring her to dojo and have everybody show her what we do. The photos and video were quite clear and I was pleased with myself. Ooh, look at me!

Last week, I watched some recent video of training and I was caught on camera in the background. I hated watching myself, as every flaw, all the weird kukan and timing I displayed was so clear to me. The difference between Mum’s video and photos and this video is a few years. I don’t even want to look at that old video. The horror!

So I told Sensei, oh, I look awful! And he said don’t sweat it, we all feel like that when we see our own movement. And what a useful tool video is for finding your flaws and good points.  頑張ってください, gambatte kudasai, do your best, or as so many Bujinkan people translate, keep going. 頑張りましょう!If I can stomach it, I’d like to shoot some video of myself. I’m my own best (or worst?) critic.

We’re preparing for an embukai this October 12th at Kashiwa City’s Fuse Benten Temple, and video will help me hone the movement, tighten up timing and kukan. Closer to October I’ll post information about Fuse Benten where and when. For now, keep your eye out for information on George Ohashi’s Bujinkan Dojo website.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying every minute of my time on the mat, whether it is “play training”, as Shiraishi Sensei calls it, or working on waza, or playing up the drama in the embukai practice. Embukai preparation is a good chance to look from the other side, imagining how others will see us. Now for a musical interlude – Nouvelle Vague‘s cover of Dancing with Myself by Billy Idol.

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