Archive for the ‘black pyjamas’ 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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This morning, before the alarm went off, there was a 4.1 magnitude earthquake right under the northern Chiba area. I rolled over and pulled the pillow over my head. The rolling motion of the quake irritated rather than scared me.

On waking and checking the news, I wasn’t feeling so safe. NHK  and ABC reported this morning that TEPCO revealed that the Fukushima reactor had melted down. Greenpeace began last week to sample water and seaweed, and concluded that there was highly contaminated seaweed tens of kilometres from Fukushima.

Meanwhile, the government is going to help TEPCO pay compensation money to people who were affected by the disaster.

On Tuesday evening, over dinner, our girlfriend Skye,who was a resident of Fukushima some years ago, went on a weekend relief trip to Sendai City. She tells us that, while volunteers swamped the area during Golden Week, there is a worry that volunteer numbers will diminish. She’s got contacts with a UNESCO team that is bringing short term volunteers to pick through the rubble. A number of us are eager to go, but G had some serious reservations. Her first question was, “How far from the water is the campsite?” She’s a survivor of the Indian Ocean tsunami. She knows first-hand the destructive power of a tsunami, having been swept out in the tsunami that struck Thailand.

While looking for UNESCO information on the disaster, I found that the US Geological Survey posted an April bulletin detailing disaster statistics. Most of the outer Boso Peninsula, Chiba Prefecture, was inundated during the tsunamis. Even some of the inner peninsula was swamped.

The massive scale of destruction of the tsunamis is still hard to imagine, even after reading and seeing Shawn Gray’s account of the relief trip to Ishinomaki. I’ve helped raise money for the Red Cross in Vancouver and I’ve given money to the relief funds here, and to Shawn and Doug Wilson to help with this trip. But after seeing the video of the destruction, I realize the recovery of the region will take years and billions of yen.

I hope that people keep Tohoku in mind, and take heart that every effort counts towards cleaning up and restoring life to people there who lost so much.

On Mother’s Day, I figured that, though I couldn’t be with my family, I could go see another mother figure, the Kannon bosatsu Rakuhoji Temple in Sakuragawa City, Ibaraki Prefecture. Despite being on the seemingly solid flank of Tsukuba Mountain, the temple’s gate was damaged, as were the retaining walls of the steps leading up to it. The shrine below the temple, Amabiki Shrine, lost some monuments, too.

Nevertheless, it was very peaceful up there and gazing over Sakuragawa and Tsukuba cities, the green mountainsides showed me what nature can give. In the afternoon, the monks chanted the Heart Sutra which tells us that suffering will pass.

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A theme that came out of that session was the importance of three “hearts”, 残心 zanshin, 不動心 fudoshin, and 無心 mushin. Each of these words ends in 心 shin, a word which encompasses heart, mind and spirit. 

The first character of zanshin means remainder or balance, and together the two characters conveys the meaning of always being ready to follow through and attack again, always alert and ready for the next thing while maintaining good kamae. When you attack your partner, you need not only the intent to connect and move him, but also the intent to attack again.

Attacking is not a one-punch deal. You keep attacking and defending while protecting your center on two axes – your spine is the vertical, your hips are the horizontal.  Correct attacks, proper distance (don’t punch short, don’t punch over your center, don’t punch wide, and don’t track) and good defenses of your own tsuki are vital to help your opponent do the technique and feel where the technique is efficient and effective. We train both sides when we stay alert and ready for the next attack or defense in good kamae.

Fudoushin means being immoveable and imperturbable. No matter what happens – a physical attack, a snide comment – or where it comes from – an external force or your own mental state – you keep going.

Mushin, literally no-mind, refers to both the Buddhist concept of non-attachment and to innocence. Mushin is neither the feeling nor rational thought. Nor is it the negation of these two modes. It is a freedom to move while not hanging on to any one movement, moment, intention or emotion. An untrained, “innocent” person, early on in the dojo, may move with no thought and spontaneously and freely move. As we continue in our training, we may get stuck in the feeling and technique, focussing on the subtle places of tension and slack or obsessing on perfect technique. It takes practice in zanshin and a lot of determination to develop fudoshin in order to get back to this no-mind place.

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Vancouver August 2009

I only had a week for the trip home as the Obon summer holiday is peak travel time (airfare is out of my price range) and I had to return to some obligations here in Tokyo for September.

The trip began with crashing the gracious Amebushi – Rain Warriors dojo on Vancouver’s east side. These guys train rain or shine outside in the park. Their Thursday night session is for basics led by C. When we were done, on short notice, I asked if anyone wanted to train the following morning, and was surprised and impressed to have four takers. Despite the threat of rain, all four came to training and we put in two hours working on ukemi, receiving ichimonji, being free with our hands (not holding on like grim death), and attacking.

Saturday, Amebushi , Namiyama and Momijiki Dojos and friends came together for a three hour training session. I brought my “homework” from Hatsumi Sensei’s training – the rope theme. Staying connected to your opponent with or without weapons. Most of the movement we worked on came from receiving ichimonji. How, you wonder, can you do a three hour session on just 一文字 ichimonji? Receiving attacks from swords, kicks and punches turns one into three right away. When you start doing different directions, 八方 happo, front, back, inside, outside, and even down, you have 15 different ways to move. Concentrating on this one kamae meant that we could look at the ropey part in detail.

I sometimes suck at the use of the actual rope. I like using it, however, because it challenges my kamae. Put the rope in my hands and I agonize over my own errors in movement. Take it away and suddenly it feels a lot easier.

steven picSaturday night was more training. Namiyama Dojo walked through the wandrewmikeoods into to a secret clearing and we trained with mutodori until the stars came out. The biggest adventure was walking out of the clearing back through the woods with no moonlight, dense westcoast canopy blocking out the light, and no lights with us. The guys know that route well, but it was still impressive to be led out on a winding, hilly path and over bridges at a good pace in complete darkness. One of the highlights, pun intended, was spotting a bioluminescent fungus at the foot of a tree. No, I didn’t lick it.


oma and IThe last few days of my trip, I stayed with my 82 year old grandmother, Margareta, known to family and friends by the German endearment “Oma”. Oma is a tough, intelligent, big-hearted, practical woman. She raised six children in two countries, speaks four languages, is a master baker, capable homesteader, needleworker, charity volunteer, and always surprises with her insights and ingenuity. The last few years she has downsized the baking and gardening, and spent a lot of her time globetrotting; earlier this year she went to Jordan and Israel with her church group, this winter she’s off to Panama, and next year, she wants to come to Japan. I told her, she’s got to be ready for the training, so each morning we did 柔軟体操 juunantaisou, stretching, with a mix of yoga stuff and isometrics that she routinely does. Oma is in her tenth year of recovery from cancer. She has amazing strength from her faith, family support and sheer power of will. She’s my inspiration.

Thank you to everyone who came out to train, and to Bill, Colin, Steven, Mike and Davidd for being such tough opponents and kind hosts!

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縄 Let Loose

Bujinden nawa

On Tuesday night, Hatsumi Sensei talked about the concept of 縄の空間, nawa no kuukan, or the rope space. He alluded to the ritual use of rope in Shinto practice, and said that an alternate reading of the kanji 神, kami is nawa, homophonous with the Japanese word for rope. He said we bind ourselves to the kami with the nawa. Some months ago, he told us about 縄の関節, the joints of a rope, something which Shawn talked about on his Shlog

The concepts that Soke leaves hanging in space are opportunities and provide lines of research, and this nawa/kami idea got me looking. Curiously, there doesn’t seem to be any verification by either the people knowledgeable about Shinto or any dictionary. That doesn’t mean that he’s wrong. I just can’t confirm it. Whatever the case, he got me onto a line (pun intended) of research about the meaning of nawa.

Starting at the beginning, 古事記, Kojiki, the ancient record of Japan’s mythic past and the early imperial line, opens with the generation of gods from which Japan descended. Among the first gods is 神結びの神, kami musubi no kami. The verb 結ぶ musubi means both bind and produce, and in this context, the deity is a “Divine producing deity”, a procreative force. The logic of this is apparent – bind two creatures together and you get a third one.

At Ise, there are two rocks, called 夫婦石, Meoto-ga-seki, The Spouses, which are bound by a massive 注連縄, shimenawa, a rice straw rope of the kind usually used in Shinto to mark the boundaries of sacred space or living things like trees and sumo wrestlers. From the beach, you can watch the sun rise between the stones.

Sensei reminded us the other day about the fact that things are not as seperated as they seem. There is not one, and yet not two. Musubi is at once the binding of two things and the outcome of that binding.

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Tuesday training at Ayase, Hatsumi Sensei talked about 虚空, kokuu, which is the name of a technique in 玉虎流骨指術, Gyokko-Ryu kosshi jutsu.

But what is in the kokuu? The word 虚実, kyojitsu, means falsehood and truth. It starts with the same kanji as kokuu. The 虚 part of the word means variously empty and false, and can imply the empty thing is something abstract. The 空, ku part of kokuu is about emptiness, too, and often indicates a void in a object.

In Japanese, people often refer to the sky as 虚空. Hatsumi Sensei remarked that a dying person will grasp at the kokuu as they are departing this world.

He tells us again and again the same words – use the air as your shield.

He also made a comment to the effect that, one moment, you think, “There it is!” and the next moment it is not.

Here is a shakuhachi performance of a piece called 虚空. The sound is created essentially by air, shaped by the movements of the player’s hands and breathing, through a reedless bamboo tube. What makes the sound? The player, the air, the bamboo tube, your ears catching the sound, or your mind?

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A martial artist is called a 武芸者 bugeisha in Japanese. Yes, the  last two kanji and the pronunciation of them are the very same as geisha, and the three kanji together mean “martial art person”.

The geisha and the bugeisha have a lot in common. In order to become profficient, both practice long years at both form and art. The geisha spends years practicing dance, music, voice, kimono, makeup and conversation, and the idiom of being geisha. A bugeisha must practice learning the waza, fine control, building composure and learning to take care of all the gear used in training.

A maiko is a junior geisha, and her charm and growing repertoire of skills make her alluring even though she is not as accomplished as her senior geisha. A naive attempt at some difficult dance or an innocent response to a customer may reveal stunning genius unencumbered by preconceptions of the right way to do things. Likewise, the junior budoka free from preconceptions about how some movement should happen is able to be free and sometimes do remarkable, natural movement.

Either discipline leads to greater skill, freedom and self expression. It’s not just about skill but about drawing something out of yourself, a reserve of power that each person has. Hatsumi Sensei has told us that we expand our 器 ki, or capacity, and in turn we push our 才能, sainou or talents.

Today, I’ll put in about four hours of training. 頑張っています。 I keep going.

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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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What an old lady knows about looking like and being:

My German-speaking great grandmother was not impressed by post-war fashion worn by the young ladies of a house she worked in. They were impeccably dressed but their rooms were filthy, which outraged my usually reserved Oma so much, she remarked, “Oben hoi, und unten foi.” The nuance of this expression is hard to translate, but it means that the outside looks hoi, classy, but the underside is foi, lacking redeeming qualities.

When you hold a rank in our art, in principle you  should have sufficient skill, and when you don’t, to admonish yourself for not hitting the mark. You need to know when you’re hoi or foi.  

I’m working on my kihon these days so as to be not foi. How about we start there?

And now, a haiku:

The waza slips out

Of my hands this time but I

Know spring comes again

On to some art:

Lyssa, budoka and artist, has now got her prints, often inspired by her trips here to Japan for martial training, at Okami Press on Etsy. You can see her remarkable rendition of Fudomyo, the immoveable wisdom king.

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A Love Letter from Hombu

The last three weeks, I’ve been insanely busy on holiday. I’m off to Hombu now…Too busy to blog about it. Meanwhile, here is a love letter from LA to Japan and back again.

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