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Archive for October, 2009

photomeijigateA few times week, I walk the grounds of 明治神宮 Meiji Jingu, the grand shrine in central Tokyo dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.

The emperial couple were famous poets who composed about 130,000 poems in the classical Japanese form, waka.

Emperor Meiji was born mere months before Commodore Perry’s ships arrived in Japan. He represents the modernization of Japan, taking the recently unified states of the Japanese islands form a closed feudal society, to a modern country capable of economic power in a global economy. Here is Emperor Meiji:

さしのぼる

あさひのごとく

さわやかに

もたまほしきは

こころなりけり

As clear and refereshing

as the rising sun –

Thus might it always be

With the human heart!

Empress Shoken was a powerful, forward looking woman. She championed social welfare organizations like the Red Cross. She was a child prodigy who had mastered Japanese and Chinese literature at an early age. She introduced a court edict which required the wearing of western attire, since, she believed, Japanese traditional garb was outmoded. She wrote:

むらぎもの

こころにといて

はじざらば

よのひとごとは

いかにありとも

If you consult your inmost heart

And still need feel no shame,

then let the people of the world

Talk on as they please.

At the 内苑 naien gate, for 100 yen, you can get a fortune paper with a waka poem on it written by these two prolific and wise poets.

I often look in at Shiseikan, the martial hall on the grounds of the shrine. Shiseikan has a school of Aikido and battojutsu. In the reception hall, a massive screen has kanji characters as tall as I am reading 武神, bushin, or warrior gods. I asked a senior Aikido practioner, why is there a budojo on the grounds of the shrine? She told me that the shrine authority wishes to preserve important traditions of Japan, and that the Aikido and battojutsu practiced there are protected by the gods. 

Meiji Jingu is about looking back, to respect tradition, and looking forward to imagine what will be. Budo and the sprit from which it came has its roots and protection at this shrine. The shrine preserves these traditions for the future.

Meiji Jingu celebrates Japanese traditions in October and November, showcasing budo, mounted archery and other arts. The big day for budo is November 3rd, 文化の日 bunka no hi, or Culture Day, which was Emperor Meiji’s birthday.

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自由な変化: Free henka

A 先輩, sempai, senior was beside me today in training. I struggled to interpret what Hatsumi Sensei was showing us, and kept looking at sempai. What could I steal from him, stealing from Hatsumi Sensei? My 相手 aite, partner, is awesome to train with – so balanced, really hard to throw, and quite strong. I felt like I sucked at the waza.

I kept looking at sempai. What possible meaning could I derive, how could I get the better of my worthy opponent?

After training, my sempai took me aside and told me something . I struggled to understand what he was saying. Sometimes it’s not my comprehension of Japanese that slows me down. It’s my comprehension of meaning.

He was telling me something about dealing with a balanced opponent. He said something about not using power. Yet he crushed me to the mat when he did the waza on me. What?! This guy has never even talked to me before…

And then I got what he was saying – that sometimes, the waza as is doesn’t work. You have to henka. Everybody, “every body”, is different and requires the freedom of a different approach.

After we bowed out, he demonstrated on me what he was saying.

Why did he bother sharing with me? He’s got a generous heart. And he didn’t worry about my lack of comprehension of his message. He just kept going. He didn’t agonize over whether I’d get the message or not. He didn’t assume whether I had heard this before or not. He just understood that I needed to hear it in that moment.  

Right on, sempai. And thank you.

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As far as I can tell from what Hatsumi Sensei does, it is not a method, but an approach. A method is a prescribed way of doing things. His budo is an approach – chaotic, free, thoughtful, problematic, steeped in history and myth, and based on a shared 基本 kihon of the 9 schools collected together under the Bujinkan banner. He gives you room to do what you’re going to do, either adopting or adapting what he does, or completely ignoring his message. He doesn’t prescribe. He shows.

These days, I put in about 6-8 hours a week into training – with Hatsumi Sensei, my sempais and friends – and practice – on my own, or practicing with people. My budo, if you watch me, isn’t that remarkable. I’ve only been training in Japan for seven years.

But the insights I gain about the process of learning and teaching, of acquisition of language, meaning, efficiency of movement, space and timing are precious and are part of my everyday life. When something really resonates with me, I  integrate it into my work or personal life.

Budo, for me, is also a tool to learn about knowing. What is real and what is merely an artifact of individual or collective anxiety?

For me, it’s a message about patience, too. So often, I want to take my partner down right away, anxious to get “there”, but if I take my time, breathe, and have some patience with the waza, and my own ability to comprehend,  I learn a more efficient way to get there alive. It brings to mind  the Japanese proverb 「急がば回れ」, isogebamaware,  The fastest way home is the long way around.

It’s a long trip. I like it.

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