Archive for the ‘budo’ 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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Going beyond your safe zone

On Friday night, I was standing in front of Hombu talking to a visiting sempai about the disaster. My sempai asked me what I thought about the safety of people coming to train, and I outright said, “No, it’s not safe.” To my surprise, my sempai agreed with me, and went on to say that, before you come here, you have to educate yourself and be aware of the risks.

Saturday evening, I was catching up with my sempai at the sushi shop in Kashiwa’s front street, and while we were deep in conversation, we didn’t notice the 6.0 aftershock that rocked the area. The effect was slight enough at ground level that we didn’t notice it, but earlier in the day, at Hombu, I noticed a sensation like a buzz in my feet, and looked up to see the framed pictures above the kamidana move slightly. We’ve been warned about aftershocks, and we must be vigilant as we may see quakes as big as magnitude 7.0.

Now, some people think it is exciting to experience an aftershock of the Tohoku earthquake, but each time I feel one, I realize that we are far from the epicenter where people’s lives are in danger, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant workers’ efforts may be interrupted or even set back. The big April 11th aftershock, a 7.0 magnitude quake,  killed some people near Sendai. At that time I was on a Kashiwa-bound bus, stopped at a traffic light, when the bus began to rock side to side, and then the main force of the quake struck, and the ground seemed to roll for a long time. My first thought was of the people of Sendai City who were remembering the one month anniversary of the quake and now living through this major aftershock. I nearly cried, knowing that so many people grieving were experiencing yet another violent shake.

And then there is the nuclear disaster. Yes, it is a horrible disaster, with consequences that will last for lifetimes. The 20 kilometer no-go zone has been delared around the Fukushima plant, and radioactive water was dumped in the sea. The economic and evironmental consequences of the nuclear disaster are not entirely known, but all the same, devastaing.

But I think that the reality of environmental radiation has been overblown for areas outside the Fukushima area under the conditions we experience now. You can see Tokyo’s low radiation, measured in microsieverts indicated here on the Japan Times website, and you can read about water radioactivity here. None of this stuff is threatening right now. However, it is important to keep in mind that the Fukushima reator shutdown plans will take six to nine months, and I can’t tell if those projections take into account possible major aftershocks or tsunamis. Things could change.

So, no, it isn’t safe here. Not for a while, anyway, as the aftershocks subside, the economic consequences of the disaster recovery are realized, and the nuclear issue continues.

When we wrapped up training on Saturday, Oguri Sensei turned to me and said that we human beings tend to go where it is safe, operate within known limits, and do things that we find we are comfortable with. He said that we don’t need to train things we already know; we need to train on things we don’t know well, and go places we don’t feel comfortable going. He says please practice what you are not good at, what feels uncomfortable.

Isn’t this where discovery happens, where people find answers to what they don’t know, by going into the unknown out of a need to push limits?

Keep going.

To keep up to date on the aftermath of the disaster, see Japan’s Times earthquake news updates and watch NHK World English.

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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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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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礼儀 Reigi Courtesy

Courtesy, 礼儀 reigi, is ingrained in the Japanese way of doing things. The word 礼 rei, means everything from giving thanks to saluting someone. When you visit a shrine or temple, you put a little money in the offering box. It’s a symbol of giving more than a payment.

The second kanji, 儀 gi, means ceremony. Japanese culture is very ceremonious, and you may wonder, do Japanese people ever relax? But manners have a high value with most people in Japan. I think you will set your dojo mates at ease when you observe proper reigi in the dojo. It means that everyone is sharing a common language of gesture. If you don’t know exactly what to do, don’t worry. People here see your foreign face and they know you don’t know. Careful observation and listening reveal a lot. This is part of 空気を読めること, kuuki wo yomeru koto, or reading the atmosphere. If you can anticipate what someone needs to hear or observe to be relaxed, then you have a key to open the door of learning the budo, too.


When you walk into our Hombu Dojo, or any dojo for that matter, place your shoes in the genkan carefully, and point the toes to the door. This makes for a graceful exit when you leave. You can bow before you step onto the mat. You may think, why bow to empty space and to no person, but this お礼 orei, or giving thanks to all the people who have preceded you.


Japanese culture is all about being 綺麗, kirei which is a word that connotes cleanliness, purity and beauty. My keikogi was out in the sunshine yesterday and there is a fresh tshirt in my bag. In the hombu dojo, my Canadian training partner straightens his gi jacket and I catch the scent of the 香袋 kobukuro, a sharp, spicy incense packet that he keeps in his training bag. My gear bag, which I place on the wooden floor of the dojo, doesn’t get placed on the mats. Mats are for training on, and ought to be kept clean. You might have placed your bag on the floor of the train, or set it on the ground when your hands were full, so it’s not clean.


Sensei makes a gesture to indicate he wants me to be uke, demonstrating the technique. I bow my head,  “Yes, please!”. When Sensei is done demonstrating and explaining, I bow my head again. When sensei comes around to show me again because I’m not getting the point of the movement, I say thank you and bow.


When you do the technique the first time, I say nothing. We each take a turn. Didn’t work the first time? Don’t fret, you’re practicing. If you can help me identify some tweak, a tipping point, a dangerous 突き tsuki, I’m grateful. But my teacher is right there. If we get really stuck, I put my hand up to ask sensei, but more often than not, because he is attentive to his students, he will likely notice and come help us out.

There is an expression in Japanese, 「親しき仲にも礼儀あり」,”good manners even amongst friends.

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No women’s budo

There is no such thing as women’s budo.

There are women in budo. There is budo in women. But a human being is a human being. Hatsumi Sensei has impressed upon us the concept of 才能魂器, sainoukonki, which means we need to work with our minds and talent, our spirit and our capacity to develop this budo. Does budo have anything to do with a man’s sexuality, his masculinity, or his physical size or strength? No. So why should a woman’s sexuality, femininity, size or strength be a detriment to her budo?  Budo isn’t about being masculine or feminine, soft or hard, weak or strong. We push our knowledge, talents, spirit and capacity no matter our size, sex or shape.

Keep going!

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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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