Archive for the ‘art’ Category

If there is a disaster, but I can still make it to the dojo, I train. If I have to go to another place, I train. If I feel lousy, but what’s getting me down isn’t viral, I train. If I have a rough day at work, I train. If some knucklehead says my taijutsu sucks, I train. If some dude says I’ve got great taijutsu, I train. If sensei is late, I respectfully bow at somebody and I train.

 I asked my friend, a nuclear physicist, would the increased levels of radiation above background in the Kanto region over a prolonged period mean that I might get relief from acne. He said, sure, a lethal dose will cure that, easy.

In the last seven days, earthquakes have rattled through Kashiwa City while I’m teaching in elementary schools. It is hard to continue with the lessons. I look to my partner teacher, and we wait for the shake to subside. And then we continue with the lessons, ready to drop what we are doing if the principal comes on the PA to announce emergency procedures.

Barring lethal dose of radiation or catastrophic damage of a major earthquake or tsunami, I train and work and carry on doing what I’m doing.

This post is a kind of prayer, a mediation on heijoshin, the every day heart you need to stay stable. It’s akin to 不動心, fudoshin.  It wasn’t always something I could do. I was not quite frozen with fear on March 11th, but I sure felt as though I were crawling, cringing, whincing.

I don’t know how much I can take, but I think my capacity has increased.  Isn’t that what it’s about, being able to survive the changes, and in turn, experience change within yourself?

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The executives of 日本美術刀剣保存協会 The Japanese Artistic Sword Protection Society is alleged to have neglected rules regarding the registration of swords in Japan. TBS reports today

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Am I learning something? Or am I practicing what I already learned but haven’t fully incorporated. And does it matter?

In training I was told, “Just feel it. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do it.” And then a few moments later, “Well, just try it. See what happens.”

I think I’ll take that advice.

The video is called Yuki, or snow, by the Korean and Japanese artist collective AUJIK. What’s going on? Are the children playing? Is it a dance, or a game, or a form of communication? Is the robotic tree leading, or are they? Is the robotic tree simply something they stumbled across in the landscape, or is it part of their routine?

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The Moon

Sensei talked about how the moon’s disk changes from night to night and that we can henka like the moon. It comes and goes, and it’s a little far away, somewhat like taijutsu.

Here’s Glenn Gould’s henka of Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. He was a curious person, insisting on always using his creaky piano stool, audible in recordings, and disdaining applause as “evil”.

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太刀 The Tachi

Hatsumi Sensei told us last year to bring a tachi to training in 2010. Tonight he reminded us that although 太刀 tachi, 剣 ken, and 刀 katana are all translated to sword, each of these close arms are in fact different things, and he is now teaching us.

What distinguishes these different blades, as Hatsumi Sensei tells us, is the era in which they were developed and used.

To appreciate swords better, I visited the 刀剣博物館 Token Museum in Tokyo, which houses ken, tachi, katana, tanto and other sword fittings, many of which are national treasures.The museum is not very big, and only the most essential points about the blades are indicated on the labels in Japanese only. The receptionist handed me an English language pamphlet with essential information. However, the beauty of the blades and the elegant sword fittings speak for themselves.

The association that runs the museum has also revived the tatara, the ancient tradition of producing the kind of steel, called 玉鋼, tamahagane, or treasure steel, used in sword production. The furnace is a joint project of the government, the sword preservation society, and Hitachi Metals have run the furnace since the 1970s, and the Hitachi Metals website chronicles its history in great detail in the Tale of the Tatara.

What distinguishes the way a tachi is used? I’m looking forward to this year’s training as we look back to the elegant curved blade that was first forged in the 12th century.

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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:






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:






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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神眼 Seeing

Last year, Isabel spent a lot of time in the dojo, training and shooting photographs for Hatsumi Sensei’s books. You have likely seen her work – two of her images appear in Japanese Sword Fighting: Secrets of the Samurai. She’s opened her own studio, IB Imagery, in Lancashire, England. The Bujinkan photo slideshow shows her skillful use of negative space in the way she manipulates her own photographs. Sometimes her images seem to be viewed through a foggy window you have just wiped your sleeve on, and other times the image is like paint platters on canvas. She skillfully uses these spaces to isolate the movement and expression on Hatsumi Sensei and his various ukes.

When you come to Soke’s or the Shihans’ trainings, you will see there are various people shooting video. That does not mean anybody permitted to do so. Sometimes the Shihan has assigned someone to shoot photos or videos. Other times, known photographers are allowed to shoot for the purpose of producing art for books or other publications.

If you want to take photos or video at a dojo, you should ask the students of that dojo who will be able to advise you. If you do not know who present is in fact a student of that teacher, you ought to think deeply about this. If you cannot see the people that are regularly instructed by the sensei, how do you know what is important to shoot with your camera? If you are very busy running for your camera, looking through the viewfinder, finding a safe place to set it down, are you present in the moment of the training?

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Sensei talked a lot about harmony, how to find peace, how not to fight, how to end struggle on Tuesday night.

This brilliant short film by Kosai Sekine beautifully expresses the idea that all of us, no matter our quirks, hangups, weirdneses can find a place where we’re in harmony…

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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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