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You already know by now about the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that struck Japan March 11th.

Watch this blog for info in the next two weeks about relief efforts, nuclear crisis information and analysis, and my impending return to Japan after taking shelter in Vancouver, Canada for two weeks.

For now, here are some things I’ve been reading.
http://www.kyivpost.com/news/opinion/op_ed/detail/101084/

and

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/tohoku-kanto-earthquake-news.html

Please see the project Quakebook, a fund-raising and cathartic effort on teh part of an Abiko City resident, to document people’s quake experiences. All proceeds go to The Red Cross. See the Quakebook blog here.

A huge thank you to the Coastal Buyu for welcoming me back and receiving me on short notice, and to my sempai Shawn for a great seminar last weekend.

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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

What’s going on?

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?

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”.

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.

明けましておめでとうございます。I wish all my fellow budo-ka a very happy Year of the Tiger, 2010. 頑張ってください。Keep going! 

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.