The “Do” of Kyudo no ikiai

The Way of Kyudo breath

The breathing issue has been on my mind a lot lately when practicing. Breathing is key to life, it is key in playing Shakuhachi, it is key in
doing Chi Gong, TaiJi, sitting Chan/Zen and it also states so in the Kyuhon. In my first Kyudo school breathing was touched on in one class, even then it was on doing “Kiai ” at Hanare and a little about breath when doing Kai. When were told to do two different style then choose which “felt” best. For me it was the breath that matched my Kung Fu/Tai Ji (Tai Chi) breath. Perhaps because I was already trained in that. 
When starting practice Chan, we had the same breath as M.A. So it fit. Basic it was low and slow. Expand the navel area “Hara” in inhade, contract on exhale. Because we were sitting, or standing, we did not have any movement to match or think about what so ever. There are other things the mond is dealing with but movement is not one of them. Ok, so basic breath, what is called Buddhist breath. There is a Taoist breath that is pretty much the opposite.
The read some things on breath in Kyudo, the Kyuhon speaks about matching them is to bring harmony to your movement. I figured I must have missed being told what to do in my Renmei based class because I just keep doing what I was doing and no one said anything. The Kyuhon says about inhaling when starting a standing or starting motion. A couple of other bloggers on both side of rank as myself also where seeking fuller answers for their own breath and Kyudo practice.
The other day I was at a night class, I was told more about breath upon entering the dojo floor, when doing Tai Hai. This later prompted me to ask about Uchiokoshi breath through Hanare. The head Sensei was busy, so I asked another Sensei there. He said inhale raising the bow, at top, exhale, go into Daisan inhaling, when complete, exhale, start Hikiwake inhale, when in full Kai hold breath, then it was release breath then ya or release Ya and breath. This was Japanese so did not get it all. Start inhale when lowers arms from Zhanshin…
Ok, I thought ok, I had gotten enough to try, I could feel if something needed timing adjustment when I practiced. Another High ranking Sensei who was introducted to me via: Nogami sensei had told me after Shnsa testing my breath was just as it should be timing wise, not rush, not shollow. It was good. So I had a good sense of my basic need to do, breathing do. With the new Shakuhachi class breath is a current major thought issue.
Right, so I went to Sat class for practice. There were a lot of people there practciing. I was suprised. Once settled in I gave thought to breath amoung the other stuff planned for the afternoon. Yamashita Sensei was there, ( Nogami Sensei’s aquantance) he was watching my shooting as said my grounding was good, however i was dropping my arm on Ya release. He went on to explain to me, my hand and forarm were to tight, the tension should only be in my triceps area and chest rib cage, then grounding out through my base. He should me how relaxed my had should be, this tensio was also causing me to open and close my hand to get “yogari”. He gave me a few visual aids to show me the difference including having me push hand tention and none. Focusing my “power” at the elbow not the hand. Ah I said, ahhh, like Tai Ji! Yes he says. Power and support from here (body to elbow ) not from here ( hand/forearm) . From the hand and forearm cause your hand to drop on Hanare. He gave me a demo, using my hand. ALso the other way, the correct way, my arm did not drop it went forward. Hand should be relaxed.
Great something that will help, more to work on, but the results will be more than worth it. Once I get it. So I had been on and off that morning thinking about asking Sensei about breath. He had a while back gone over breathing with me whilst doing the knocking and yukiokoshi. I was hesitant partly because I did not want conflicting answers, also I felt like I was checking over another’s help. One the other hand… I had though, already gotten a little change, when questioned on the Kaicho’s direction, which turned out to be correct over this Sensei. I overcame that thought after this arm drop and power transfer talk. I asked and demo’d what I was doing. Sort of right he said, and went on to explain the way he did it.
Basically he said was he followed a 7-3 or 70% -30% pattern. Inhale 70% , exhale 30% each movement. Movement and breath he said should be like a smooth wave not a sharp one. Sometimes a small wave, sometimes a short wave. Uchiokoshi, Daisan, Kai…he also said there was not just one Zanshin, but several one at/after each move. It reminded me of what is called “Sung” between each move in Tai Ji. He, Sensei says With this in mind, and doing it, your Tai Hai would look perfect, this is how the masters do it.
I tried it today at my Makiwarajo. 70-30. If felt comfortable. Some small timing adjustments and it felt more natural. A much better feeling of actually doing Nobai and expanding on an Inhale. Kai felt much more steady through Hanare. Next I will try. It at the Dojo…yosh! 

Chicago Rock – May

O.M.G. !!! This should be the theme of this month’s CR gig! At club INZT it was W.T.F.! This time, O.M.G!
However in the guys favor, it was not my guys fault this time. Our first set was somewhat decent, considering we do not practice. I have simplified my playing and look at playing more as a Taiji ( tai chi) push hands drill. I stay sensitive to where they or he is going and play to support that, wherever it goes. I was doing that before but now more so, knowing that someone will not follow set protocol for starting and ending. Basically “I just roll with It”
Ok, so yeah our first couple of songs were decent, not great but decent. The crowd was small and it was still early so, just warming up it was ok.
Tonight the drummer had invited a friend who wrote a song. He wanted to perform it and the writer was going to play and sing with us…no rehearsal that made it even more challenging, he did not bring a music chart, lyrics, guitar, nothing. He relied on the Doc. to provide. Hmmm, I said nothing, but thought, WTF?
Ok, we went over the chord progression somewhat before hand and then started. It was sad!! Not the song, itself, called peace, not a great song, ok, but the playing of it. Thankful there were not many people there at that time. If it was me singing and my song, total embarrassment. However, no way I would have done it without everything in place and everyone knowing what was going on, yes a rehearsal by all means! Otherwise no way playing live! Ok so in short it was embarrassing, less for me, because it was not my song, I was not singing. However I was part of it. So there was some embarrassment there of the sad, lame performance.
Ok, next. We are going to do a blues standard with this guy, it was so so, better than the other song, but still so so. He played too loud and not really that well. He was very nervous. I could see his hand shaking. I am thinking poor guy, but this is not good. Ok, next I was pressed to sing something. So picked Mustang Sally, the guy was going to play along? OMG! OMG! He was all over the place. He did not pay attention to what I singing, or what anyone else was playing. He had his own version in his mind and was in his world only! He was deep in it and loud about it! Wrong cords, wrong changes, wrong timing and loud. I had to shift my singing on one verse to kind of fit with his playing, but it was not the song! Ok, it is one thing to not know a song, and to try to follow, but not to listen to what the band is playing is a sin! More so when you are just a guest and not singing! Wrong cords are not a sin, but playing wrong cords louder than everyone else is !
After. Bit of this, I had had enough and signaled my guy to end the song and called for a rest break! O.M.G. It was painful! Doc. M, and I spoke outside, we were on the same page as far as this guy’s playing. That was enough for tonight!
The last set was better, I carried most of the singing and
Layed back on the times when the Doc was doing his thing and pushed the envelope some on my singing style and playing. I felt I needed to make up for the first set. I think for the most part we did.
It was not perfect and loose, but that looseness is becoming our style since we do not practice. More like a “Jam band”, then a regular working band, there is some appeal in that, it add some degree of freshness to the songs and sets. At least I did not feel embarrassed afterward. All things considered, that is enough for a good ending.

Painful Gains

The Kishiwada Kyudojo holds, a night class/workshop two times a month. The night class is a more formal class. The day sessions are come in and shoot, ask questions, practice, someone will help you. I have never gone before to the night sessions, as I figured I get plenty of instruction at the day sessions. One night last month or so I was there at night forgetting about the workshops. I watched and made a note it seemed useful specially before a Shinsa. The other day a Sempai reminded me about the night class. I decided with the up coming Shinsa I would go. I knew they went through the whole TaiKai as a group.
Tonight I went. We went through just walking as a warmup, round and around. Then went through TaiHai from entering. I was selected to be Omai. It took me about five attempts before getting the timing right. Lesson one right off the bat. Part of it had to do with the language. They were saying fast, I thought I needed to go faster but it was meant I was going too fast on my bow in. Ok, so it was explained the correct speed and count.
Next was the arm out of the Kimono phase. Several corrections there.
Oops back up.
Before the thing started in the line up, I had to get some direction on my kimono, it was sitting weird on me. Several helped make adjustments and told me where I went wrong. Ok ,back to the one arm, thing. Small stuff mostly, elbow, pulling the sleeve, tucking the sleeve, changing hands on the Yumi, raising the knee.
Ok, on to the line up and shoot. Do not move the elbow forward on the right arm in Daisan. However lift it higher and curve outward more going into Daisan on the lift. Otherwise i was so so ok.
Next round I was ochi, (och -iiiiii). Waiting for the group in front, then waiting for my turn. Pain pain pain. I am seriously considering doing the standing form. Ok, other than shooting crappy, I pulled it off, painfully but I did it. It was serious suffering, as I waiting whilst others received adjustments and took their time to shoot. I was suffering, Buddha was right !!
Ok, another round was up coming, I was Ochi again . Sensei took me on the floor and explained my kimono errors. I figured afterward need to take my Inner Kimono to my tailor and have the sleeve adjusted. My elbow gets caught because there is not enough opening. I made it work before, but only because I did not do proper form. So off it goes to the shop for tailoring, it is not acceptable as it is, it sucks really!
The second round. Er, third round went ok. Still not a Hit, but I was not expecting one. Another something was happening with the group but I had questions, and a couple of Sempai had some adjustments for me. When raising the Knee ( ikasu, I hate ikasu!) . Do not move the foot, it is all balance and lift, no foot placement/shift.
Elbow should not pre draw the Yumi, my right hand Tenouchi is off. I said the Kaicho told me this way, ehh said a couple of Sempai, I brought in the Sensei, he explained I was more right than wrong , however I was too much in the other extreme from my first suggesting Sempai placement. The placement is in the middle digit of the finger, not the last as I was doing, and not the first as the Sempai was doing. We all made the adjustment.
My last question for review was breathing, where and how, since I was told where the breath should be on the entering steps, I wanted to know about when shooting. I figured this was a good time to find out. I questioned another Sensei Senpai. He gave me a full break down. Finally it seemed like a natural timing. I did not get a chance to shoot with it, but I am looking forward to trying it out. It is close to what I was figuring out and was doing but now I have the blueprint. Which thinking on it seems to apply for everything in Kyudo. Basically the reverse of TaiJi/ Kung fu, exhaling on each movement, in Kyudo one inhales on each, even Daisan and Hikiwake, where I was exhaling. This may change everything!
The session was painful as far as my knees, even with the kiza practice I have been doing at home, however worth it in learning. I really need to decided about the standing form, or maybe nature will decide for me. I used my Chinese Kung Fu medicine ( dit da jow) on my knees last night after class, this morning they are ok. We’ll see.
So I am really more getting into the mind-set of the Sept. Shinsa will be the one I will be fully ready for, this one up coming another practice run. There are still details I need work on to feel “ready”. One the other hand, there is always the other hand, ( yin/Yang) well unless you are the One Arm swordsman. It is said if you wait until you are ready to have children, you will never have them.
So that was it for the night, and I headed home. The session was productive and painful. I will return. I guess the no pain, no gain thing is true at times. Yosh!

Swords n Arrows


I brought my Chinese swords into the Kyudojo the other day, to show one of my Sempai who does the Japanese sword drawing thing. He is a Godan. I always forget the name of the art. He brought in his Japanese swords. One was the real deal and old one. Serious steel. He showed me a few moves. I in turn showed him how they would be handled in Kung Fu, Taiji and Kali. He was impressed, he says I am dangerous. I laughed. Of course in real life, it has to do with the speed and the person not just the technique.It is interesting becoming closer to my dojomates. I found out another sempai (sensei). Is a Shorin-ryu kempo Sensei as well as a Shakuhachi player. He is a serious type. Sometimes, I thought he did not like me. However then I noticed he is somewhat reserved to others not of a long time standing as well, even some who are. That is his style. He has though given me help out of the blue and said friendly things and even even smiled…Once. He is the one who told me he taught Shorin-ryu. So yeah, he is just one of those reserved types.



So, my practice I am just at it, just doing my thing and the head Sensei gives me a correction, as well as a couple of others who are giving me direction. It is very helpful, but sometimes too much. I can not just work on one thing when I get three of four things said to me that need to be corrected. They are looking at the big picture of my development, I am just trying to get through my practice today of one item. Of course one can only bow, and say thank you and try to make the correction. It is really really nice when I can come in and everyone else is leaving. I can just practice without adjustment eyes other than my own.
I finally found out what the board on the wall with a bunch of names in Kanji means. I happened to see my name , which was quite a surprised. I at that point guessed it was a member board. Still I questioned a sempai. He said it was just that, it also showed the ranks of the members. That part I did not figure out, so it was interesting. I knew I was not at the bottom of the totem pole, but was surprised to see just where.
Another thing checked the other day was my Yumi draw weight. I noticed my hits drop a lot after my first shots usually. I figure, felt it was I am getting tired. I brought in my home practice Yumi which is only 13 k, to work with that some. I can hold my kai and form longer whilst making checks and adjustments. My regular Yumi is only 15.5 kg. I do not think it is that much, but I can sure feel the difference when holding Kai. I would do Shinsa with the lighter one, if it was not so ragged looking. Drawing my 15.5 is not the issue. I can draw more and have, but holding steady in Kai is the issue. Maybe I just need more form adjustment, or my strength is the issue. It is said I should be shooting with the bones, not my arm strength. So I guess my form is still not correct, therefore I fizzle downward after the first couple of shots…usually. Perhaps I am just not ready for the next level yet and need to just back off , slow down and develop more.
Well for now, I am just going to bed, and tomorrow is another day of practice. I will stay the path and let thingS unfold as they will.
Some days you are the windshield
Some days you are the bug
…Dolly Parton.
Next day…
I went to the Dojo today. When I first arrived everyone was at lunch, however all returned before I had a chance to change and start. No matter. I chatted with a couple of Sempais about meeting up again at the coffee house near us for another musical Jam. Then was on FB setting it with my band. All systems are go with that, my Shakuhachi Sensei is also attending, it should be fun. Once that was done I was ready for some Kyudo. I shot a few times uninterrupted. Just trying some things. One of Sempai checked my left Tenouchi for opening my hand to get the spin. Which is a No-no. One of the things I had been working on, not doing. I got the ok. I am better with that, I am starting to get the hang of it, as long as I focus.
Next the Kaicho is preparing to leave he comes over and changes my right hand tenouchi fingering. That made a big difference in feeling comfortable. Slowly slowly I was almost alone, only one person a kid. I was able to just shoot and shoot. I checked my body alignment and lowered my sighting point as most of my arrows were going low, that made a difference. Another change, at least something I paid more attention to was making sure my Daisan was set better, also turning my head more so I would not have to once I was in Kai, which always throws me off target. All that helped. Another thing I started to experiment with was breath. If I exhale sharply upon release it threw my shot off. Like doing “faJing” with a TaiJi strike. Exhaling smoothly gave me a hit, to at least closer to the Mato and a smoother release.
I noticed I felt less tired after a couple of hours than usual, when I setup in Daisan high and aligned better going into Kai. So yeah, part of my energy effort was fighting the bow with my strength instead of using my body frame. The Kaicho has told me several times I have too much tension upon release. I should be relaxed, elegant. Another Kyoshi has told me use the Yumi power, not my own. Finding that balance of pushing, holding tension, and relaxing is Musugashi ( difficult). I suppose a lighter Yumi would help, however it would not help understand the technique, or find the balance. Perhaps even making one lazy. I ended up staying for 3 hours instead of the usual two.
Tomorrow there is a mini workshop with the head Sensei, which is held monthly. I have not been attending since I see him on my regular day. However tomorrow I will attend. They deal more with the full TaiKai in Kimono not just shooting as the regular sessions. I will get as much preparation as possible. It will not be from lack of effort if it is another no pass day at the Shinsa. Anyway, it will lay better ground work for the next one. Three is the charm as they say in the States.

The arrow speaks …with no words.

Training, the unending saga…
While I think

Thoughts about this n that…
The arrow speaks the truth
With no words

I have zero confidence for the upcoming shinsa. However as Zacy Chan says on the Black Arrow Blog, it is not about Confidence, it is more about having a calm mind…(maybe)
He lists it as this :

Heijoushin. ( also used in the Kyuhon: a condition of calmness)

But I ( he says) like these less than the understanding I get from seeing the Chinese characters: 平常心。

平 means: flat; level; even; calm; ordinary; common; peaceful.

常 means: ordinary; calm; normal.

心 means: mind; core; heart; soul.

(Definitions found in “Kodansha’s Essential Kanji Dictionary.”)

(Perhaps, at least partly)…Yeah, so a Calm mind is not really my issue. Form is more mine, at least this is what I gather. I had a going over the other day, about my right shoulder rising up too much in Daisan, and Hikiwake and not laying flat when in kai. Those are not mind relaxing issues. Well at least they were not, noW they are as I am so focus on that, my hits , small as they were have gone to hell. So poor form causes inconsistency.
I am reading a book, called “Zen Mind, beginner’s mind“…by Shunryu Suzuki. it is not about Kyudo, but in a way has a lot to do with Kyudo. Form and formless, these are things I was told in Chan study. A bit to complex to go into here on a short blog post. Anyway there are things said in this book that relate directly to Kyudo. A lot of things!! It is just a matter of switching words. Kyudo for Zazen. A great book on Kyudo, that is not about Kyudo. The more I read, the more I relate it to Kyudo.
Another thought, not from from the book, but from my personal teachers…when doing Zen /Chan, if one does Zen to achieve, calmness of mind or enlightenment, you are already set for losing what you seek. Do, practice Zen because you can do Zen, not for any goal. ( I found later this also in this book)
The goal, the prize as said by Chaung Tz is the glitter that blinds the archery and takes away his skill. 

When an archer is shooting for fun
He has all his skill.

If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.

If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind

Or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind.

His skill has not changed,
But the prize divides him.

He cares
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting –
And the need to win
Drains him of power.

~Chuang Tz

Shoot for fun. Yet the shinsa, the quest for a Dan, the carrot takes away that for “fun” equation. So the goal is over coming the attachment to the goal, yet is not that in itself still a goal? Having “fun” a goal? Shooting with perfect form, a goal? Only being in the moment, focus on each motion, each breath, another attachment? A Zen master once told me, when I asked about stopping all thoughts. He said, can you do that? I can not, it is the nature of the brain, the function to think! I used meditation to clear my thoughts, to see the good and bad of myself…clearly
With that thought it could be the nature of humans to have goals. I tell my students, in doing meditation, thoughts are a natural function of the mind. Do not try to stop them. Threat them like traffic on the street, the cars come and go.

The thing, I figured out later is not to be “attached” to them. Carrying that thought over to Kyudo. Our challenge is not to be “attached” to the outcome of the shot. When it is said “hitting does not matter”, perhaps it is better interpreted as be unattached to hitting. Because if hitting did not matter, why have a target? It is a waste, a distraction from the “fun”. It is said in the Zen book I am reading, sit proper (form ” Outward Appearance…Raiki-Shagi”) the rest will take care of itself. I have read elsewhere, on Kyudo, “be” (my word) within the proper form, the hit will happen.
It is said that meditation (Zen/Chan) practiced in the city is superior to that practiced in the mountains. There is a Zen story about a monk who went into the mountains to study Zen. He achieved what he thought was enlightenment, calm. He was told by his master, go back to the city to test your “enlightenment”. There in the chaos of the city he “lost his cool” .
There is value in Shinsa, Taikai, as with the old monks of Shaolin the “combat” of Shinsa, shows your true mind under pressure. There is purpose to the Shinsa/TaiKai. Perhaps testing, is the wrong state of mind for it. More like self evaluation under pressure.
I am just thinking out loud in written words here, to release my training frustration. There is no one answer. How does one seek to perfect the form, but not be attached to perfecting it. What is the sound of one hand clapping? If a man says his opinion in the woods and no woman can hear him, is he still wrong? 🙂 What came first the chicken or the egg?
There is the thought in Zen practice of doing the “right” thing, having the “right” job, attitude, etc. in Kyudo, one can make the right adjustment and hit the mato, however without the “right “form” attitude, spirit, you are classified as crude, a target “whore” is the common vernacular. You can fail your Shinza With that, you can win (hit) and still lose. This at Hanshi level shinsa is common. It is complex, yet simple, very much a living Zen Koan. Yet there are those who would have a cow at the mention of Kyudo being Zen. Of course these same people have never studied Zen, but that as they say is another story.
So, yeah, back to confidence, I am fairly sure everyone who goes to their Shinsa has some degree of confidence. Right now the only confidence I have about it is I will not lose face and carry myself well. Perhaps that is enough, and when it is my time ( whenever that it) to hit, I will. I have decided that I will attend this Shinsa and do my best with each movement and breath, focus on form, and unattachment. I will continue to train in the full spectrum of my studies for this. Meditation, Kiza, core strength, Tai Chi, reading. I will do this Shinsa and the next which is also at my original school in Sept. Then I will take a training break from the mental pressure of the exam until next spring. The winter shinsa is at another location. Besides it is not like I have a time table to beat. My only time factor really is death, and like the second coming of Christ, but with more certaincy, who knows when that will be.
Next year in spring my original school will again host the shinsa. Or perhaps I will just pass on it and attend the April Nagoya, as it is only my trip of wanting to pass Yondan at Banpaku. Nogami Sensei is beyond caring about such things and no one else cares, it is really just my “trip”. As is for that matter even passing to the next level. Passing levels in Kyudo is a purely personal journey. It is not like you can open a school and make money, like Karate, Judo, etc. Teaching Kyudo really is about sharing the Love. Well, at least that is so teaching as part of the Japan Renmei. Outside of them, “The Black Bamboo Eastern Martial Arts Academy, featuring, Tai Chi Zen Kyudo Kung Fu”. Maybe possible, even for a San-Dan. Hmmmm maybe a move to Spain…
As far as Nagoya seminar, perhaps there is some bit I can pickup from an English lesson Or being able to ask, that will take me over the hump to the next level. Language is another challenge I have, since I am no where near fluent in Japanese, kind of like The German guy from “Zen and the art of Kyudo”…or I really just need more practice time to break through my bad habits. Over at Black Arrow his Japanese is way better than mine and he is also “suffering”. Interesting side note we are both working at the same Dan level. So it is very interesting to read his thoughts at this time.
Anyway there is no simple answer to any of this, perhaps which is why Kyudo is such a challenge, as an internal martial Art. ( more on that thought later)
I asked the head sensei the other day, how long he had been practicing Kyudo, 20 yrs he said. I asked did you, do you practice everyday? No, said he, 2 or 3 times a week. He is Ryokudan Kyoshi. He still misses. He hits more than he misses, but he still misses.
We are as the days
Some are sunny
Some are cloudy
Some it rains
Some the winds sleeps
Some it roars
Sometimes we miss the mato
There is no duality
We are the days

Music – East/West – prt2

Music – West

Yeah, so continuing, I was off and running, well walking at a brisk pace to the train station. I needed to hop the train and go about 5 or so stations to the my next stop to a club called Overheat.
Again I had vague directions, but my iPad and smart phone maps and GPS. I figured I would find it. I got to the station and went down on to the street, to get my bearings. I got a message from Doc. M, saying it was behind the 7-11 and he hoped I could find it. Ok that was a big help, my map showed the 7-11, so I felt at ease about locating the spot. I sent him a picture of the train station so he would know where I was. Smartphone is sooo helpful! One of tHe better investments we have made in Japan. Not only for directions, but for translations for me to/from Japanese. I can even translate signs if needed. so yeah , it rocks!
Ok, so the map says I just needed to walk about 4 stop light direct from the station to get to the 7-11. Cool, very cool, I set off, at an easy pace. Just as o was approaching the 7-11 i see the Doc. He is coming from the side direction. He waits for me at the front of the club. It is good he was there. Even though the place was easy to find it did not have an easy sign. Ok so we enter together. I am a bit taken back that they are charging 1500 yen to enter for everyone! This includes a drink. I am not pleased but say nothing as the Doc covers the fee. However I am thinking, WTF. When we played in Kobe at the Mosrite. There was a fee for everyone also, it was 1000 yen, which included a drink, however that was for charity the entrance fee, most of it if not all. This was just for the club. I thought that was kind of tacky. However, there were several groups there, so it must be considered normal. Still WTF. Ok, roll with it.
We enter, get our drinks and have a seat. A duo is playing. They are doing very Japanese pop type songs. The guitarist is good, the singer so so. We listen, and wait. The next group up is very hmmm, Japanesey, cute kind of act. They are joking around, sort of like a mild comedy act. They play…I am not impressed. The guy’s electric guitar, very distorted rock sounding, the girl plays a small guitar with an open tuning. For the most part all the songs sound the same. The crowd seems to enjoy them. I am unimpressed. 
We are up next. We set up. It takes me a little while to get organized, once again the Doc is ready and just starts. 😦 ok, I roll with it. It no longer matters. I play harp as that is ready to go since I have the key. Once I get the Bass in order, I come in with that like it is suppose to be that way.
We do a couple of songs, fairly well. The Doc is having a good time, he is clowning a bit, the crowd like it. I am requested to do a couple of songs, because I have the “native” voice for these blues songs. I do a couple, but mostly let the Doc. be the show. He is the front man, I am more laid back, and serious.
All went well, in a way it was easy without the drummer. I just needed to blend with what the Doc wanted to do, and not be concerned about where or what the drummer was going to do. I could tap a few beats on the Bass body. Having the acoustic Bass gave me a different sound from tHe electric and the hollow body gave a different feel when using that as a drum or beat enhancer. We played for 30 min, and were the closing act.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the blues set. I heard someone asking about where they could see us play, they liked the Blues. We were asked about coming back also about sitting in on a Jazz Jam since one of the songs was Watermelon man, in a Jazzy format. People seemed nice, we , the Doc made arrangements to return next month (He would cover the fee). I later had to cancel since I was working. We took a group photo with everyone before leaving.
So nice folks, a couple later asked to befriend me on Facebook. So little by little I am making other musical connections here. It was a fairly long day however pretty fun, overall.
We have another gig at Chicago rock this coming Friday. I have given up pushing for rehearsals as I no longer expect to go anywhere with this group other than these local dives. Interesting the Overheat Bar, calls itself a dive Bar. Anyway, it is good to play and meet other players. For now I guess that is enough of a goal, other than for me to do my best. Kind of a “be the change you want to see for the world” thingy. In a sense it is like doing musical Tai chi push hands. I need to have myself together to be aware of the other person and go with their flow/energy. Merge, flow, ebb, and wax with that, whilst maintaining my own center and balance. We have a saying, everything is Kung Fu, everything is training. 
Therefore it is all good, roll with it!


Music -East/West prt 1

Music – East 

It was to be a long day ahead. It was nice it did not start early. At least from a getting out on the road kinda early. I was still up early, Chan, Kiza, planking, Tai Chi, Hsing Yi, Mantis, morning drills, breakfast, then off to the train station. Once I get there , my head music box always has some theme song going, Simon and Garfunkle, “homeward bound”, mostly Hendrix, “Hear my train coming”, once in a while the Stones, “love in vain” . It is not really their song but, Robert Johnson, however I like their version better.
That morning I was off to a Shakuhachi Concert performed by my Sensei and some of his companions. It was located in a historic house of some sort. my first trick was to find it. LZ and i had been in the area before visiting the Ceramic Master, however I did not have clear directions only a vague idea of where I was going. It was going to be a little tricky even with my GPS. I would get close enough I could hope to ask someone.
I made it to the station and to the old mall walkway which was near by. I checked my finder, and looked around, to get my bearings. I saw a guy walking from the direction where I thought I needed to go. He was dress in a traditional Japanese working/casual suit. Kind of like a Karate gi, but more dressy and no ranking belt. I started to ask him about directions, but once he got closer he looked like he was looking for directions or someplace as well. Therefore I did not. I started down the road and a couple of people passed me, I asked one youth. About a landmark I was seeking. It was just down the block he said and pointed. Perfect! This was a place on my GpS and what LZ said I should look for. We had passed it before. Ok, now at this intersection, again I looked around, checked things, sent out the Zen sensors. I noticed a guy just down the block on a bike stop in front of a building, he was checking something like a paper. Coming up the other street were a few Obaachans I passed on the way there. Sumimasen I said and asked if they knew of the place. I showed them the flyer, and the name LZ had written. Ahhh, hai they said and told me right where the guy on the bike is. Perfect!! I was there with no problem. yatta!
I walked in and peek around. There was a guy who looked to be giving a couple of other a tour. Hmmmm. Maybe the place, but it was more like a house than a concert place. The guy and the people ignored me. I walked around, checking out a few displays and then I heard shakuhachi sounds.
I followed into a courtyard and there saw i sign saying Shakuhaichi concert and an arrow pointing. I did not really know what the sign said, that was my guess I did understand the Kanji for Shakuhachi. I continued on and in another section found my Sensei. Yatta!
 Sensei was pleased to see me. He showed me around the room, meaning I was shown the displays of Shakuhachi, also the prints on the wall. These were prints of 100 yr old posters for shows, events. I was also shown some money from the Meiji period. One was the real things the others were copies. It was an interesting mini tour as he explained the things we saw.

I was then left on my own as he needed to prepare for the concert and was speaking with some of the other players. I walked around some more and took in a few sights. A while later I heard sensei warming up in another section. I could see him from where I was. It would have made a very cool picture if I had my good camera. As I only had the Phone camera it did not have the same effect as I saw and hoped for, Oh well.Before things got started my Sempai from Kyudo also showed up. Sensei spoke with him a bit, and let him try out a few of his Shakuhachi as he knew he could play, having heard the recording I did at the Snafkin coffee-house.


Finally the show started with Sensei opening on his large Shakuhachi. What a lovely sound the big one makes, so Mystical sounding. Next he had some of the others people come up to play. One guy was so nervous he was shaking, poor thing. One guy was Sensei’s student, so my Sempai.
Another player who came up I recognized as the man I saw on the street earlier. He was introduced as Sensei’s Sempai. I was shocked! He and Sensei were the best players of course.

Lastly Sensei played a few songs with a Kyoto player doing duets with her.
She was quite good. The last song he had everyone sing along as they played. It was a famous folk song everyone knew. I was familiar with it, but did not know the words.

It was a worthwhile outing, I was quite pleased I attended. My next stop was over to a nearby, “Live-house” they are called here in Japan. We call them bars or clubs in the States. I was to play with my band, minus one, the drummer. So it was to be Dr.M and myself. I headed out I only had a short time to get there...


Awaji Road Trip

Awaji road trip

Before I start On the road trip saga. I have to say, I find it weird that people are still signing up to follow my old blog, when it states I have started a new one, and that one, “Zensekai I – by land” is finished. I have been getting notices. Is it just me who finds that odd? Not the notices but people signing up to follow. Not that it is bad, just sort of weird. Oh well, whatever…

I was invited out to Awaji island for a BBQ. Last year or really less than that, the guys from tye band went out to there friend’s house and played. They all belonged to the same translation group. The posted a vid of them doing a song. So this time around I was invited. I do not know the host and felt i was really just invited to play for them with our guitarist. I was not all that thrilled about going. LZ said it was a long involved trip to get there. I hesitated. The guitarist said he would drive and I could ride with him. I was still not all that thrilled, the memory of the IZNT embarrassment was still in my mind. An attachment I needed to release, but was not there yet. Also I kind of felt like the invite was just to be the entertainment.
After a while I agreed to go, since I did not have to do anything but ride. I was thinking, ok a couple of hours by train, by car it should be about 1 hour. WRONG! I boarded the train to go met up with “M” the guitarist & “H” his girlfriend.
We met up at about 9:30 a.m. I am thinking, wow so early what are we going to do getting there so early. Since I was getting a free ride, I rolled with it. It was three of us, M, the guitarist, his girlfriend and myself. The drummer was out of town, and LZ was not up for it, she had to go help her mother and worked late the night before. So off we went in M’s electric car, a Nissan, Leaf.
About 1 hour onto the trip we stopped for a pitstop at a highway rest stop. I was a bit surprised to hear Stevie Wonder playing over the sound system. It was just like, well almost like a road stop in the States. We did as one does at rest stops then set off again. I am still not use to having a woman cleaning the restroom whilst I answer the call of nature.
Another drive for 30-45 min or so, and we stop again. This time at a Nissan dealer to charge up the car. Wow who knew! We needed a 30 min charge stop.
The dealer offered us , tea, juice etc, free as was the charge. I am again surprised. Wow Japan! Oh , there was also a charge station at the earlier rest stop but we did not use it. It was also free!
Ok, we are off again, city turns onto countryside and still we drive. I am thinking now, wow this is a road trip! I Was not expecting this. This place is far! We stopped again at a convenience store, for a break and again did what one does at such places.
M, calls the host, he says we are about 30 min., away! I am thinking, whoa! This is far, it is now close to 12:30. The party starts at 1:00pm. So we are on time. More driving, over a bridge and through country countryside, down some side road and we arrive.
Nice little country home , big yard, rose garden, wood piles, etc. the owner come out to met us. There are people already there. I am introduced and start scoping the place out, the yard and garden.
The host’s wife comes over with arms opens and gives me a big hug.
I am taken off guard, this is not very Japanese! I roll with it and like her right away. She reminds me of someone I know.
I am taken over to the food, shown what is veggie and told to help myself after having been giving a glass and had it filled with champagne.
Ok, I am feeling not uncomfortable. People came over and introduced themselves, it was a mixed crowd, Japanese and foreigners. I loaded myself a plate and sat and listen to the chatter. A few questions here and there about me, mostly just talk. Everyone knew everyone else as they had all been here before. Everyone was nice and growing nicer as the bottles became less full.
After eating and a couple of glasses of wine, I was asked by “M” if I felt like playing? Asked after he got his guitar out of the car and was carrying it past me. I said ok, let do it. The host said, only if you feel like it, do not feel obligated. I thanked him for that and got my gear, I was feeling fairly comfortable by now. I had spoken some with the co-host earlier. privately, about flowers, nature, spirits. I liked her, she spoke of being friends with the area crows, and how she/they were just renting the place from nature.
The house was small but comfortable, they did not need a lot of stuff. It was big enough for an overnight guest, a small dining party in the living room and a big yard for gatherings. Simple life was good, life is not about gathering stuff. I was comfortable with her spirit.
So M and I played for a while, easy tunes, I stayed in the background as much as possible and just supported him. I was asked a few times to sing, I did for a couple of pieces, but wanted for M to have more of the attention. Anyway it fun, the people enjoyed it and seemed really to appreciate it.
Afterward a little more chatting about this and that, Japan, the states, Australia, etc. it was good conversation, nice it was in English so. Could easy follow. After a while it was time for us to head back. We said our goodbyes, and hit the road. We did not go far before stop for a sunset picture. Interesting shot of sun setting over a field of solar panels, I did not get the huge windvale also in the picture. that would have been epic.
Then a little further up the road, we stopped to re-charge at a station. It was also a stop for a group of bikers on a road trip. Across from the charging station was a hot springs, hotel and restaurant, there we took a snack break whilst the car recharged. Then got back on the road.
Long drive … Before another stop at a roadside rest area, then onward to the Nissan dealer again for another recharge. The electric car is nice, but the milage is not that great. It however nice that there are free charging stations all over. You can even check on the built-in GPS where they are located. ONe things though you have to plan in time to sit and wait for the recharge. Also if someone is there charging you have to wait even longer. As we were leaving the dealer another car pulled in behind us.
Ok, so finally after a long drive we made it back. I got on almost the last train home and made it back just after midnight. It was a long day, but interesting, pretty fun, overall pleasant. It was a worthwhile trip in social meeting experience kinda way. I would go back to the next one, as long as I did not have to take public transportation.

Now for something completely different…Zen Farming

Zen Farming

As a youth I spent most of my summers in Virginia. For most of what can remember all, in fact cept maybe one, which was in Upstate NY. However I am not really sure about that. I always wanted to and loved going to spend the summer with my mother’s father and mother, until my grandmother passed away, then it was my step grandmother.
The Davis clan (90)

Gramps and his kids ( all grown )

She was nice, but my cousin and I refused to call her grandma, but called her Aunt Unita. Not that we did not like her, she was kind to both of us, but she was not Grandma. My grandmother was my favorite person in the world. It hit me hard when she died. But that is another story.

My cuz, sister and brother, in the late 1950’s

My grands had a gas/service station, a beer garden ( like a bar but served food and had some dancing), and also a farm. This was located at Cooks Corner in Virginia. it looks so different now. When I stayed there I worked at/on all three. I did a lot working at the service station, but I would also help with the farming. For a while in my early days there were some farm animals, chickens, pigs, a horse, little by little they went away. However the farm land was still there. There was corn, beans etc etc. there was also a home garden in the backyard. I helped with that sometimes. I learned to drive on the tractor helping with the big fields but sometime I would do stuff in the small veggie garden. As I got older I would drive the tractor more and more, it was my car.
At one point helped build his retirement home, and almost got killed doing it, when I did an unplanned wheelie on the tractor digging out the basement. I was fast enough to push in the clutch before it reached the tipping point. Scared the heck out of me, also another story

Gramps new self built house

All this to say I never dreamed I would be doing some home gardening in Japan. I never even heard of Japan at the time, much less thought I would be living here doing home gardening. Anyway, last year i started a few misc garden projects. The front “Bamboo-Zen Garden” I am still quite pleased with that. 
The Bamboo are growing nicely. Last year they grow one new branch, this year all of them are growing two new shoots. I have three of four types growing. A black Bamboo, a golden bamboo and a couple of other which are general types. There are two maples and a some misc herbs in a couple of vertical planters. 
The pallet herb location I tried a couple of veggies as well they did not do so well. Not enough light or soil base to really grow. This year i decieded not to go that path with the veggies and just stick to the herbs. Although i am trying a few seeds in a very small space directly in the ground by the gate. There were some flowering plants there that never flowered. I do not have much expectations from that space, so may end up changing it, if this planting fails.
However anywho, I have started some planting in pots on the back balcony, “lanai” as it is called in Hawaii, “Veranda” as it is called here, and English word. No doubt since they are not native to Japan houses, I have a few items started, lettuce, spinach, Kale, bell peppers, eggplants, some kind of bitter thingy like a cucumber, tomatoes of course. Everyone grows tomatoes. Home grown tomatoes are the bomb! 
I am trying to grow some basil to make pesto, but they are not spouting. I may have to get some baby plants and go from there. Also the cucumber seeds did not grow.
So yeah, stuff is planted and mostly growing. I have been getting a few salads out of the Lettuce and kale trimmings and I am quite pleased with that. Growing one own veggies is like growing money. 
I read about a “Brother man” named Ron Findley in Compton, California who has started a big and growing neighborhood veggie growing project, and doing quite well for the hood. Grownups and kids and involved. It is a very positive step for the hood and getting away from buying junk foods, processed foods, heavy chemo sprayed foods. We are what we eat! Food is our best medicine. Growing our own, buying from local farmers is the best way to save money but also to get the best quality substance for our body maintenance. It also make us aware of our connection to the Earth, the planet, interdependence. It is all very Zen.
Zen is not just about sitting in meditation, living in touch with the, Earth, Sea, people and the Universe is Zen.

After Kyoto…

After Kyoto…

Training resumes.
It is now a couple of days past the Kyoto advanced shinsas. All reports are in from my Dojo, no one advanced. I will get the full report shortly everything and everyone will be done. It has been interesting to watch the advance people’s attitude. Oh well, seems to be the general consensus. Maybe it is easier to feel that way when one is already up there, they have embraced the ” fault is within ” more training is needed, attitude fully. But then what else can one do. Or it is only a small step, not a big deal once the main step(s) are over. Or are good at covering disappointment. Anyway…whatever, there is some lessons to be learned from watching them. Sato Sempai was pretty intense with her practice the day before her Renshi Shinsa, that is a big step! The Kaicho spent a lot of time with her the day before, more than usual. I also got to learn something, a couple of things really, but one was indirectly. He showed her about checking the balance of her Ya. That was interesting.
A side benefit of his time with her, was that her and I were the only two on the floor for a while . While she was doing something he focused on me. It was pointed out what I was doing incorrectly in Daisan. Not extending my arm, he was telling me I should have it ( left arm) straight in daisan then just bring it around to the target. I was still straighten my arm after Daisan Into Kai. I am getting little points here and there that adding up. Hopefully to a better shot. Time will tell. My average is the same, but perhaps my form is improving. I am still not relaxed enough, says the Kaicho. I can do it at home with a lighter Yumi, but I am not there with my daily bow…yet. Also my tenouchi needs reworking, yet again…sigh.
I think one advantage I have from other past trainings in my favor, is that perhaps my seniors who are better shots in the practice hall, is I do not get rattled when the pressure is on. My average stays the same, perhaps improves some. I noticed my Sempai’s hit quota drops when at Shinsa or TaiKai. Speculation really on my part. That and 2.00 will buy a cup of coffee and a donut…some places 🙂
So with the shinsa drawing nearer, I have stepped up my training. Shooting daily, even just a few shoots on the home Makiwara. Will it really make a difference…unknown and of no matter, it keeps me focused and working on details with no pressure or eyes, but mine. Daily meditation is always on-line, now have re-added Taiji back into the mix, along with some planking to help my core strength, and daily Kiza. Of course these will not help with hitting but, it helps my mind and that is what controls everything else. In a Zen way of thinking, it is the interdependence factor. Even playing the Shakuhachi, is not just about playing the flute, it is Zen training, it is Kyudo training. Relaxing the mind, controlling the breath, posture…the perfect note/tone, the perfect shot, each note has a life. Each note is music, each arrow is music, each Ya has a life. Everything is training, everything is Kung Fu, everything is Zen, everything is Kyudo. Awa Kenzo said, about his peeing blood, even that is training.
I have also been reading more, besides the Kyuhon, old books I have on Kyudo, some parts have taken on a new life at this time. I read with new eyes. Will it make any difference when I face the mato, maybe , maybe not, life is full of maybes, maybe I will make it to the shinsa…Living Zen is being fully in the moment, each moment is music, each moment is the one arrow, the one note. Prepare for future moments, by living fully within this one.
The interesting thing about the Yondan shinsa, is on one hand it really makes no difference pass or not, the next dojo visit is a return to practice, on the other hand it changes everything in this small world. Very Yin and Yang, it changes nothing and changes everything, unlike the San-dan shinsa.
One thing I got from the Kyoto TaiKai is everyone misses. Well unless you are another Awa Sensei. Another thing I have learned is Kyudo is perhaps the most difficult physical martial art I have studied. Taiji is difficult. It looks simple, moving slow, staying in balance, the breath. When moving slow, going Yin to Yang, one can not cover up mistakes like in doing an external Martial Art. Kyudo is like that but more so. It is both Yin and Yang at the same time, controlled tension under relaxation. As I said before once upon a time it is the line between Yin and Yang. Tai Chi chuan flow back and forth. Kyudo is on the line of not one or the other but both.