Archive for the ‘Japanophilia’ Category

Last night, the Smiling Assassin brought back some nuggets from Tuesday night’s training with Soke. He talked about 間, ma meaning interval, and how you have to manipulate the interval yourself by changing the timing. Not by being faster than the other guy, but by manipulating the space through your footwork, and drawing your opponent’s attention. There is nothing new here, but perhaps, with turn after turn, the way to make this effective and efficient gets clearer. It is to be hoped.

Sensei talked to me about KY a bit last night. This is an aspect of life, Japanese, budo and otherwise, that I need to work on. So many slang phrases and words that Japanese teenagers use soon trickle into general usage. ケ-ワイ KY, the abbreviation of 空気読めない kuuki yomenai, meaning ‘read the atmosphere’, is one such frequently used expression. Sometimes, people do or say things for reasons you can’t fathom. Sometimes they say something very subtly and indirectly, and it is up to you to figure out what they mean. When you don’t get it, that’s KY.

I’ve made mistakes with this before. There are those moments in the day when someone says something obliquely, and much later, I have an aha! moment when I realize what the person was trying to tell me.

I realize that I, too, sometimes say things indirectly or not at all and expect the other person to read the air to figure out what I mean. If you ask me a question, and I don’t answer, the answer is probably no. This is typical of Japanese culture, but it’s also something that coincides with my own way of communicating.

It gets more complicated for actions. I did something to appease and make ammends to one person, and another person who doesn’t understand the situation thought I had offended him. Such is KY.

Soke has talked about KY in the dojo not a few times already this year. Can you read the atmosphere he creates, or that the dojo as a group creates? What’s really going on? What are you being asked to do? What openings are you being given to either shine or look foolish?

I can’t say I know, as I’m just as KY as the next guy.

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This morning, Mr. Gray was busy at work, and ML was away, so that left me, Jrock and Swedish D to train with our Men in Gray regulars. We each brought some ‘homework’ from Soke’s Tuesday and Friday night trainings, and from Shiraishi sensei’s midweek trainings. J, D and I took it in turns to demo movement, and T and I took turns at interpreting English to Japanese after we presented techniques.

Welcome back to Jrock, who is visiting from Canada after a few years away from Japan.

On Tuesday night, Soke was out there in space, showing us amazing things, difficult things, things that were hard to grasp. Sometimes I think he’s out there on the edge of the world, the edge of understanding, bringing back stuff for us to see and do that we have the potential to someday get, but struggle with today. He just dances out there, artless, elegant. Inspiring.

It’s a rainy night in Kashiwa, and I’m listening to Fantastic Plastic Machine…Here’s another musical interlude.

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Hiwatari at Takao-sanThe view from Takao, the highest spot within Tokyo, takes in a magnificent forest stretching away across the mountain ridges to the north and the south and the towers of Shinjuku. I really feel like I’m flying above the city when I’m up there.

Kotengu at YakuoinAt one of the taikais, a yamabushi’s costume was displayed in the tea room of the Tokyo Budokan. At Takao, yamabushi, practioners of  修験道, shugendo, have been doing ascetic rites for over 1000 years. Enshrined in Yakuoin Temple at the top of Takao is Izuna Gongen, a fierce-looking, beaked man wearing the shugensha’s costume and bearing a sword. His cult originated at Togakushi.

So many expressions of Japanese religiousity and esoteric practices are deeply syncretic; the mountain asceticism combines old Shinto practice, Shingon Buddhism, and Taoism. At Yakuoin Temple, if you have the time to take in the tapestry of symbolism and sacred words decorating the statuary, temple buildings and the mountain itself, there are so many messages from these traditions.

In the Shinto vein, the Shugendo practioners honor the natural cycle, and in the Buddhist practice of letting go of things that hinder you on the path, they mark the early spring with a ritual to burn away attachments and evil in the form of 火渡り, fire walking.

The ritual, attended by thousands of people, priests, monks and nuns, weekend shugensha in white ritual  garb, young people, old ladies, lasted a few hours. The chanting of the Heart Sutra (I like Alan Ginsberg’s translation of the Japanese version) and various mantra, including the Fudomyo mantra, continued as the fire burned, and the monks crossed on the glowing embers barefoot, followed by the throng. When we took our turn, the monks and nuns were chanting as fervently as at the beginning, and the ashes were still warm. Guided and protected by the monks, we stood in salt before and after the crossing, and then knelt to be invested with fire from the head priest.

So many symbols and meanings came to me as we were participating. Salt is used to ritually purify in many cultures, but especially in Japan, it’s used to negate bad luck that might follow after a death or funeral, and little piles of salt are placed at the doors of businesses and houses to keep evil out. To my mind, we died a bit there, crossing the fire. I think some of the baggage got sloughed off. I feel lighter now. And I felt really cared for by the monks. They are present for each person as they emerge from that Fudo-fire.

I’ve been looking for an explanation of the meaning of the Fudomyo mantra, “Noomakusaa mandabaa zaradansen damaka roshada sowataya untara takanman,” for some time, but as yet have not found an English translation of the orginal Sanskrit. So for now, I’m satisfied to chant it and as I do so, think about all that Fudomyo embodies.

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Sunday, violent winds across Japan disrupted the train lines. The Joban Line trains couldn’t cross the Arakawa and Edo Rivers until the afternoon because the winds were roaring down the channels.

By late afternoon, I was able to get to Spiral Hall on Aoyamadori to take in the drum solo concert by Akira Hino. Hino sensei lives an amazing life in motion, blending his martial arts study with contact improvisation dance and drumming. His concert blurred the line between performer and audience by having everyone sing Sakura Sakura, a haunting Japanese folk song often invoked to represent Japan. We sang the second verse as the lights slowly dawned on Hino at the drums bringing us into a 40 minute thunder solo. After, he was joined by a pianist and standup basist for a medley of jazz standards. Amazing that he could sustain that energy for so long, first beating out that sometimes blinding and often tender solo, and then working within the trio, riffing off the base and piano.

He’s so part of the music, it all becomes one. Our nature flows out of us to other people through music and movement.

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