Zazen with the Yakuza


It had been awhile since I went to the ZaZen session with Yoh Sensei. Partly because I have been busy, and party because I had not wanted to. The sessions are not really interesting, unlike my Chan sessions, where there is something more than just sitting, even though doing Zazen is about just sitting. A paradox of sorts. In Chan we share experiences, do some Chi Gong ( breathing drills ), sometimes listen to words from the master. On this Japanese Zen session we just sit. In Fairness that is just what it is about. What I am getting at is, with my Chan session there is a balancing of mind and body, with Japanese Zen it is all Mind. In Chan we do some Chi Gong type drills before sitting. Then whilst sitting we focus on our Chakras. In Zen we just sit. Sometimes the Sensei will come and whack you with a stick, if requested. There is a walk break after the second set of sitting. We walk on a circle. There is a bit of discussion after sitting. Everyone introduces themselves and then there is some chatting. Not about Zen , just about whatever. Since my Japanese is so poor, I dislike the intro part.

Sensei and I arrived just ahead of starting time , there was already a car there with someone waiting to start. It was a little weird, as in really different seeing the temple ground in the day light , or sort of daylight. It was nice I grabbed few shots with my smart phone. Nothing really cool since there was no light to add contrast to the view.
Our sessions started. I was somewhat concerned about how my knees where going to hold up, as they have been hurting more as of late. They turned out not to be an issue…for the most part. Just the standard aches and pains from sitting. I really had to focus on my Tan Tien a few time to over come the discomfort a few times. Over all besides the heat it was ok. Even the mosquitoes stayed at bay due to the coils being used. Yokatta.
After the sitting we went to the tea room. Where the temple head monk greeted us and had tea and snacks waiting. He is a very nice man, I like him. We had some edamami cream and mochi dish made by his mother and some cold tea. 
The week or so before when I was at the Aoki Yacht school helping with a sailing event. Sensei told me there was a new guy at the Zen sessions who was a Yakuza member. The man did not come out and say that though. Sensei figured it out from him saying he had learned some Zazen on his own at a certain city location. This location has a well-known large prison. So from his conversation with him he figured out this guy was an imprisoned Yakuza member.

When I was going into the tea room, there were several guys who acted different from the others. Not in a bad way, I could tell they knew each other and had some kind of relationship. I sat next to what seemed like the head guy of this group. He was polite, gave me tea first, before himself but had a serious vibe about him. I noticed that during the introductions almost everyone said what they did or do, he and his companions, just said their names. To myself I just said hmmmm.
On the ride home sensei and I spoke some aboit it, with humour. Sensei said it was his first experience having Yakuza in his Zazen sessions. I said yeah, I guess staying balanced is important in their world as well. Like old Samurai needed that also.

Kyudo the long & winding road


With starting back to work for the Silver center I did not get a chance this week to go into the Kyudojo on Tues and Thursday. My days now have switched, but also there was a Typhoon this week that threw my timing off as well, I passed on going in on Thursday because of the rains, Friday, I could have gone however, I needed to use the non-rain day to work on Yoh Sensei’s yard. This pays for my Shakuhachi class. Anyway I went in on Sat and Sunday. I did some repair on my Yumi this week also and wanted it to set well before using it. Ok, so I went in Sat. It was hot! There was some people there, but not a lot. I went in sort of early because I wanted to attend Zazen that evening. Which is another post after this.


Sat. at the Dojo was good. Yamashita Sensei was there, as normal, he gave me pointers. Over all my shooting was good for the most part. My average is still 50% not great, but ok. The repaired Yumi held up well and shoots ok.
It still looks funky , but not as funky as it did with the black tape. So it is usable. The Kaicho and Yamashita Sensei looked it over. I explained why I was using it and they nodded. Only thing said was I needed to add another wrap of bamboo, so that the number of bindings is odd not even. Some kind of Japanese tradition thing or maybe superstition. Wakadimasen.
So my lesson from Yamashita Sensei was, how far to raise my arms in ushiokoshi and the amount of bend and placement in Daisan. Also I was adding too much twist to my left arm in Daisan which caused my shoulder to raise up. I spent most of my time the rest of the day working on that. Another thing he showed me was the principle of Nobiai, by having me push my finger into his chest without out using force, just expanding.
Sunday I went back. At first it was just me and one other person. I brought out a tube holder for my ya and just shot. I did not even put on my full Gi, as others had done on Sat. I came in just after lunch most were packing it up to leave as I arrived. After a while Yamashita Sensei shows up. At first he says nothing, other than greetings, that is his way, I could feel him watching quietly. He changed clothes and after a while came on the floor and gave me corrections. My right arm was better however. I still had too much tension in my shoulders. I worked on that for a while. I did not put much effort into hitting just form. He told me at this stage the number one thing for me is getting the technique. 
Another thing brought up was I had way too much tension in my left shoulder starting at Daisan. I needed to relax it more. I was pushing to hard. The Kaicho had told me before I needed to push more in Daisan , however I guess I was overdoing it causing my shoulder to lift and tighten. Another item was I was not balanced on my hikiwake. I should be lowering/expanding my shoulders, chest evenly with a small lead on my left ok. I was pulling right, then pushing left, then right, etc. instead of dropping and expanding both shoulders evenly, balance. My plate was full on what to work on. 
But wait there more…
He explained and showed me how and where my Jumonji is in Kai and Zashin. I thought it was rigid and perfectly straight. However he said no. It is a relaxed cross. My shoulders should be level and straight, but not my arms. Elbows are not out and locked, out but with the natural curve they have. That was a big revelation. This post is mostly to help me remember what I was told.
In Daisan my right arm is in line with my body side line. Relax my left shoulder in Daisan and maintain that into Kai. Push expand from the shoulders and back not the hands and arms. From Daisan lower shoulders and expand evenly, balanced. My right hand is just at my ear line, wrist is not locked straight, but as if there is something it is resting on. Right elbow is not inline with my shoulder, and bicep , it is just below them. Both hands should be relaxed. Expand out from the body, but do not push with power causing tension and lift in my shoulders, expand and relax. I am sure there is something else I am forgetting already. However, repeating repeating, is not only the learning process but the teaching process as well.
On another note. There was a guy there another Sempai I see him and his wife, I guess she is, from time to time. I think they are part of the group or they come to practice. Anyway, Sensei tells me he is shooting Yumi made in Kyoto by Shibata XXI. That is the son of my first style’s leader. However what is the trippy part that made me sort of feel like a wimp is, the Yumi the guy is shooting with is 30k!! I was given permission to hold his 26k. I could not even open it more than an inch or two. This guy ( in Kai) was shooting the 30k time after time like it was nothing. Whoa!
Another something today was, I asked another Sempai was he attending the TaiKai next week at the Jhinger (shrine) dojo. He said yes. I told him I first went to that dojo when I moved into the area and tried to join. I was told no. He said yeah, that is a small group and they want to keep it that way is what I got from his Japanese. Ok, I felt better it was not me personally that was rejected Be a foreigner. It is the way of the Dojo. I said, well it is ok, Kishiwada is a better place anyway, so Yokatta!

Jazzy Ozaki

Ozaki Jazz fellowship

LZ came across a local website hosted by a local Jazz band group. More like a social Jam group than just a band. There are some 30 members. They are quite close to our house. lZ contacted them for me and posted my basic info. They were quite pleased to hear from me. They were in need of another Bass player, and were quite delight to have an American to make them more international. 
I made several contacts with them and there was one member who spoke English well, a couple of the others spoke only a little. I looked at there song list on-line. There were song I was familiar with from hearing but not from playing. Not really an issue though. Much more Jazz orientated than i have been doing, but doable with some music charts. There was one song posted by the group thAt a member wanted to do and old BoB Dylan song, done by a Jazz group. Ok, no problem easy to do.
I made arrangements to come by their monthly session at a local Karaoke spot. I arrived just after starting opening time. No had started plating as yet. I was warmly welcome by all that were there and introduced around by the English speaker. Everyone was VERY nice and friendly. There was free food laid out by the club owner. Everyone paid a small entry fee of 1,000 yen and that included one drink. Well worth it, with the food and use of the room.
I went over the song list and had a sit. I was going to sit over by myself, however several people insisted that I sit with them. After a bit of chatting, i was taken over to the snack table and they made up a plate for me. Soon it was time to start. Everyone or almost everyone was introduced including myself. Then the session started. I was brought up first which was a surprise. I did a song with several of the members,
Afterward I played along reading the music for another couple of people.
 I am rusty at sight-reading, but I made it through ok, partly because of my Shakuhachi lessons. I have to read music score for that. No one was expecting a paid performance type show, so mistakes were ok.
Then bass players switched, I had a seat again and enjoyed watching an chatting. 
The musicians in attendance were good, some better than others, but everyone was good. Everyone was pleasant. I was surprised at the amount of female sax players, most that were there though sang. A couple sang and played something, Sax, flute, or piano. It was good to met up with other musicians right in my area. It gives me some incentive to step up my game. The blues band is getting old, they do not want to develop their sound, so this is a good outlet for me. I will continue with the Blues Band , but this gives me another music outlet.
Later the club owner brought me some snacks, then later gave me a free drink. I was quite surprised at his kindness. I later did a jam with a couple of sax players and a conga player with me on Keyboard and singing. It was short but fun.
Finally things were a wrap and I said my goodnights to all. everyone asked invited me to return, I was quite touched. I walked to the train station with another member who was also leaving and catching the same train.
I have been asked to submit some songs I want to do for the next gathering which is once a month. I am looking forward to it. I enjoy have the full band sound. This is turning more and more into a good location for us to have moved to, yokatta!

I can see clearly now…

I can see clearly now, the rain has gone…

The Typhoon has passed it was wet but thankfully not that windy. Everything here survived. Allah be praised! No I am not Muslim. Just another word for the Great Spirit.
Not what the post is about… So onward…
I went out today, on a Kyudo mission. I figured I would make a pilgrimage to the Kyudo shop here in Osaka. I have never been there on my own. Since the typhoon pasted and it was a sunny day, I figured , why not! I got the directions planned with the help of LZ. I was at first going to go to Kyudo shoot some , and see if the bow really made a difference, then head over to the shop. I reversed the plan at the zero hour. I headed to the shop first, it was simpler for other reasons. 
I got there and encountered the owner in his warehouse. He followed me to his shop and right away helped me. I first got a new Makiwara ya tip put on a ya, and got a couple of extra to go. I needed to replace some at home. Next I set about explaining what needed with the Yumi. He looked it and after some things I did not fully understand, but enough he suggested what could be done and said it would take three day before I could pick it up. No problem I said. He then went on about some other thing, I did not fully get. Anyway he suggested that I could do the work myself , just buy the Bamboo strips.
He located some bamboo strips, told me how to do it, wrote it down how to do the work and I was good to go. It was simple. I did not plan on doing the work, but it will work out better. I can do some finer support work with fishing line, then cover it with the Bamboo. The work will look better and be stronger than just having the damage covered up. So it work out for the best. I picked up an extra string, extra makiwara arrow tips, and the strips of bamboo, besides being able to check the shop a bit more, I saw some nice Ya I will buy as part of my new equipment makeover, once I make Yondan…Yosh. So for the day, I was good to go.
I stop for lunch at a local Subway shop, and was surprised to hear some serious Hip Hop on the speaker system.
Next stop was the Kyudojo for some practice. When I arrived the dojo was completely empty. completely. I got the locker key from the front desk and got things set up to shoot. It was nice being alone, I felt like it was my Private dojo. I shot with the light Yumi. My first shots where the best ever!! It was great, other than the serious smack in the face with the string, and I do mean serious on the second shot. My fault for not being fully in the moment. It did wake me up completely!! I got down after that with the best score ever, at least for the first four rounds. The next group were still good just not as much since I was putting more effort into locating the right sighting spot. I was feeling like I was on the right path using the lighter Yumi. Working my form instead of working the Yumi. Thing went slowly downhill as I continued to shoot, experiment and fatigue set in. Which was no matter I felt I was on the good foot.
So with this in mind I could feel the soft glow of some confidence for the next Shinsa. Next week will tell. I will also hit up the Senseis about the standing form instead of kneeling. I can get down but the longer I stay there the harder it is to get up smoothly. I will ask for some feedback from one of more of my Sensei.

Calm before the storm

Calm before the storm – Pre-typhoon training

I got my chocolate butt in gear early today and hustled on over to the dojo. I needed to get there early to meet my Sempai, the one who plays Shakuhachi. I decided to bring my lighter 13 k yumi. It is beatup, cracked, fiberglass and shorter than my Sansun, but it works. It is also forgiving of my long draw since it is a glass. 
My reason for getting in early was two fold.
One: a Typhoon is coming. Osaka is on Typhoon alert. It is due to hit tonight. I wanted to be home and settled in way before it was due, just in case the trains stopped running.
Two: my Sempai is lending me his extra Shakuhachi ! Cool, cool cool! I have been looking forward to playing on a real one for a while. The PVC one on loan from my Sensei does the job, but the sound quality is lacking and the feel of real Bamboo. Somewhat like shooting with a TakeYumi over a Fiberglass one. Transfer that feeling to sound and you will get an idea what I mean. That went well. He gave me a couple of points to know about it then said Ganbattemasu! Awww yeah. Real quality Bamboo Shakuhachi are like quality TakeYumi, expensive! This was a good score to get. 
On to Kyudo…
I saw another club member had his Takeyumi wrapped on bamboo at a couple of places because it was over 50 yrs old and coming apart. He told me the local shop in Osaka did it. The sempai group saw my taping of mine and got a laugh. It is funny looking. I will take it into the shop next week or so and have them bamboo wrap it. It will at least look better.
So I shoot with it for my two hour practice today. I must say, my score did not really improve, however my grouping did some what. I need to adjust my aim to the new Yumi.
Also it felt better. I was able to correct my form from DaiSan into Kai and my release was smoother being in the right position. I also noticed much less dropping of the left arm when shooting, and less opening of the hand. Yeah, so using a light Yumi is the way to go for now. Watase Sensei was in today, his correction on me was not the usual, relax your shoulders that I get and was reminded of at the TaiKai the other day. Today it was only draw more and lower my right elbow. I was going too high backward and need to give it more downward angle. I tend to make my Kai parallel to the floor. However it is not. There is a slight angle upward from the right elbow to the left tenouchi. Another thing I found when a another Sempai corrected my tenouchi is that it is easier to adjust my thumb angle pressure with a smaller diameter Yumi. Also easier to adjust and hold my left arm correct in and out of Daisan. Yeah, I need to switch Yumi. At least until my skill level improves. Depending on the next three weeks, shooting with the light Yumi and if the repair cover up looks better, I still may join the Shinsa in Sept. I have to decide by mid Aug.
The wind builds, the typhoon cometh.
I have prepared the garden on the back forty best I can without moving things inside. This is another type of test for the home garden.

July Tai Kai

Kishiwada Monthly meeting – July – TaiKai

As the title says, every month my dojo has a monthly meeting, there is also a club Tai Kai at this time. I have not been in a while due to other commitments, however today I was free. I was unsure about the time so I went in early. I figured I would spend the day or most of it practicing. I needed some intense practice. So I was there at 10:00 when the dojo opened. The Tai Kai started at 1:00.
I got in a few rounds of pitiful shooting, I did not let that upset me, I was there to work through my issues. The only way to do that was by doing it. Slowly people started coming in. It was nice to see some people I have not seen in a while, besides the regulars. Yamashita sensei also came in. I was surprised and pleased to see him.
I continued to shoot a bit, and took a break. Sensei came over and gave me a correction. Do not push the yumi from your arm or hand. Push from your shoulder, from your body, you hand(s) should be totally relaxed. This is why you are opening your hand on release of the arrow. Ok, easy to say hard to do. But it did give me something to work on.
After a while I recalled something the Kaicho was telling me, I was coming down to straight from Dai-San I needed to angle more. I watched a few other people shoot including Sensei. They did not seem to be doing that as much as I was trying to do. Some did not seem to be doing it at all. So I asked. Sensei said that my body and the Yumi come together, from pushing out with the elbows, flating the back, opening the shoulder blades ( something Zacky Chan was saying on his blog “Black Arrow” ) it was kind of a complex explanation, with hand motions, diagrams, words , touches. Another thing easy to say (sort of) hard to do.
The Tai Kai started, my first round I hit one or two, not great but ok. Next round a hit zero. I was trying to bring into play the corrections. Usually that throws everything off and it did. The rest of the cycle with four arrows I hit zip or maybe one. I had the Kaicho, Watasei Sensei and Yamashita Sensei all say something to me, about why I was shooting poorly. Each time I knew why as well. Mostly too much tension in the shoulders. The Kaicho is alway telling , relax, relax, flow, be elegant. Sigh. I am pretty sure I need to use a lighter bow. That way I can really focus on my form and not how much I am pushing or need to open more the Yumi. My 13 kg Yumi really looks shabby, but with it I can work on relaxing, expanding, etc, without worrying about collapsing under the Yumi pressure, and maintaining tension. Relaxing and maintaining tension are at odds right now. It reminds of trying to do circular breathing. One must hold pressure (somewhere) exhaling to blow, but relax to inhale.
So yeah, I got a lot of good tips today from the TaiKai, and more and more I keep sensing, I am not ready for Yon-dan Shinsa. In a way backing off from that, is like shooting with a light Yumi. it takes the pressure off and lets me work on better form.
I thought after everyone had done thier four arrow shots and made two or maybe it was three rounds. The day was over. However no. We had another shorter cycle this time with one arrow. Surpisenly I hit and ended up in the finals. I did not make it past that but it was a nice spirit lift.
It was a good day at the dojo, hot, very hot, but good. After two years being there, there are a few of the regulars I can mini chat and joke with, that also adds to the pleasure to be part of the “Wa”

Earth connection, life connection

There is something grounding (pun intended), spiritual about growing one’s own food. Even if it is just a small amount, besides the benefits of being organic if you chose. and why should you not, food is medicine, the taste is most times 100% better. Even in the case of just herbs, for seasonings and spices, having fresh herbs on hand is outstanding.
My front garden is doing well. I have added another mini water pond to the collection, so it is now complete as far as wanting to add stuff. Well stuff that grows anyway. There is always upkeep, weeding, trimming, but the rewards are internally great. That connection to growth and life force, priceless. With planning and some effort it is not really costly, or I would not have it. It is a living art piece, project. Other than the mosquitoes it is pain and stress free.
This year as I have said I have added a veggie garden to the back balcony. It is working out. In ways better than the front for growing veggies as the bugs are not there eating away my efforts. I planted a couple of things in a small space in the front, the bugs attacked them badly! The basil was pretty much killed. I save a couple of cuttings and planted some in a pot on the balcony, it has been reborn. The shiso was also attacked, but it seems to be recovering now. Growing faster than the bugs can eat or they have lost interest, or the natural repellant I sprayed is working. Whatever the reason it is growing fairly well now.
I so far have gotten three eggplants , some lettuce for several salads from the back garden. Yesterday I got a small amount of Cuttings from one of the basil plants and made pesto. I took it to my Japanese class with some Humus chips, they loved it!
I also served up some basil, tomato, olive, mozzarella lady bugs, which also went over big.
Yeah I do other things beside, Kung Fu, music, Zen, Kyudo, Sailing, blogging. Life is short I intend to enjoy whatever I can, while I can. Sometimes things do not work out, like the sailing to Japan plan, and sometimes they do. Some days the sun shines, some days it rains. THe trick life is finding joy dancing in the rain, not just waiting for the sun. Enjoying what you have, not lamenting over what you do not.
In Kyudo it is not just hitting, it is the act. Life is not just the destination it is the journey. Victor Wooten says in his book that each note, is a song. This is in keeping with the philosophy of Shakuhachi, enlightenment lies in each note. Enlightenment lies within each arrow, each shot, in the art of Kyudo, each sprout of a new seed. Everything is connected. 

Form is emptyness…emptyness is form

It is late, I can not sleep as I have been napping on and off a couple of times today. I knew it would be a bad move, but oh well.

I have formally started my first book. “The lost of Zen… A sailing odyssey” I think I have the first chapter done. I got inspired to really start after reading two books recently. One is about a couple with no sailing background voyage around the world. I am actually still reading it. They were giving away free e-copies of it I found out via another sailing couple. Not really exciting, sort just their trip long/blog. I can see why it was being given away, at least so far I see. The other book is called Blowing Zen by a guy named Ray Brooks. His was a very interesting story. About his stay in Japan and learning Shakuhachi and in an off hand way Zen. It covers how all that shaped his life now as a concert Shakuhachi player. He did not really plan on this path, he was sort of lead to it. 
So those books, coupled with a recent question from the son of an old girlfriend asking if I was doing a book and he would buy it, got me started. Even though I have a good deal of it already written on my old sailing blog it will take some time to bring it all together, so I figured I might as well start. I am not going to think about who would buy it, want to read it, a target, for now I am just going to work on the form, putting all the pieces in the right place then just as in Kyudo release the arrow.
Speaking of Kyudo…great segway or what?
I went to the Dojo the other day, I passed on the Weds night Taihai intensive. It was pour pour pouring rain. I figured, why go through the pain? So yeah I went in for the regular Thursday class. The same Sensei is there along with the Kaicho, so I just work on my shooting form, as I am still considering next year as my target for Shinsa.
I make it in , there are the regulars, after greetings I start my practice. The first 6 shoots all hit the floor before the Mato and bounced into the dirt below. Ehhhhhh, WTFukushima! I did manage to it one, the other was way high. I thought, OMG I am falling part here, I know everyday is different but this is silly. I made some adjustments, but still my shooting sucked. Ok I thought i am not going to trip on it, and just continue to work on what I was doing, the left arm twist in Dai-san and Kai and the right forearm twist in Kai.
My planned workout these days is hour at the mato and one hour at the Makiwara. I was ready to switch to the Mato when a Sempai says, you are not holding your arrow level. Ok i thought that explains why all my shots are hitting well below the Mato. It was kind of funny to see almost a perfect line of arrows just below the target. I went to mirror and looked at my draw seeking to see the right level so i could reprogram the feeling in my body./mind. 
I questioned the Kacho, where my arrow should be hitting on the Makiwara. I recall Nogami Sensei saying something about that to me before. So the Kaicho explained it to me from my being in Ashibumi. Ok that helped. He also said I was holding/ tilting my head down I need raise my chin more. Ok, all good info. I practiced more just at the Makiwara.
While there that day my. sempai who did the Yon-dan Shinsa was there. I had not seen him since then as i have been coming in later after he has gone. He was watching my shooting and said, think more expansion and more elegant. Ok, thanks i said. I asked him why he thought he did not pass the Yondan shinsa even though he hit both arrows. He said not elegant enough. I thought back about watching him shoot at the shinsa. I could see where that would be a point dropper in his case. He did hit, but did not look good doing it. Not elegant. Funny thing is I was told by several I looked good, but I did not hit. He hit but did not look good. He did not look wrong, just not good.
I have about four week to decide about the summer/fall Shinsa. There is a winter one, but it is near Nara. A fair distance away, I already for sure decided that one is out. So it is the upcoming one in Sept or next year March/April…Banpaku or Nagoya. I am leaning towards Nagoya, thinking an intense few days under the eyes of masters can only help. Also there was something in the Blowing Zen book about intensive training. Deciding factor will be money, if I can make enough this summer to swing it. So far work at the silver center is slow, with all the rain as of late. Meanwhile I will persevere with training here. I have over-hauled my home Makiwara and will get back to working on that more since the Kaicho has given me some pointers that part. 
Ganbrimasho ne!

Cross training, different medium, same lesson

When one these days hears of cross training one generally thinks of karate, with kick boxing, or Judo and Muy Tai, and weight lifting, something along those lines. However I am not referring to that. I was speaking with a Zen master the other week, he had said I am perhaps too busy to do my Zen practice these days, at least go by and sit with him at the temple. I said not at all, do my Zazen every morning. He said ah sou ka. Also with your study of Tai Chi, Kyudo, Shakuhachi you are getting the Zen exposure, ne. I said, yes, when I practice my Shakuhachi at night I can feel the same state as doing sitting Zen. I understand how the old monks of Fuke sect used the Shakuhachi as a meditation method. Focus on the breath and the purity of sound is like the focus on my Chakra in Chan .

Recently with the frustration of my Kyudo practice it is a mental and somewhat of a spiritual challenge moving forward. Not as far as continuing, that is a given, but the motivation to strive forward. Overcoming the plateau I spoke of last post. More so now fully understanding it is not just about hitting, technique, the form. There is very much the formless as we call it in Chan. The “form” need is strong, but the formless is stronger , harder to gasp. Still at my level it is more about the “form”, but can not forget the formless, otherwise the form is empty. This point was raised in my Shakuhachi class yesterday. It brought to mind a saying by Jimi Hendrix, ” it is easy to play the Blues, but hard to feel “. In Kyudo it would be it is easy to shoot a bow and arrow, but it is hard to do Kyudo. In TaiJi (Tai Chi) it is, doing the outer movement, the “Form”, without harmony of mind and spirit, the “form” is empty. 

Back to the frustration part. My Shakuhachi Sensei has a lecture with me after each class on the history and “spirit” of Shakuhachi. This latest lecture had this element in it on the difficulty of producing a steady, solid tone on the Shakuhachi. It said many times it can be so discouraging and frustrating one want to throw the instrument at something out of sheer desperation. Yet, he says it is precisely these moments of frustration and disappointment where we make our most progress. Really profound, deep music is born out of these experiences of frustration, sufferings, and disappointment ( failing a Shinsa) and well as from the joy of living and experience of happiness ( passing). A Kung Fu uncle said, on pushing hands “sometime when we lose we win”.
Another interesting item was brought to my attention last night about sitting. I was sitting in the chair for my lesson and Sensei stopped me from my playing and said, your posture is wrong. You should sit like you are ready to stand. In the way of the Sword you are seated as though you need to stand and defend or attack at any moment. The same attitude is with the Shakuhachi, it is the sword. He then showed me the motion of standing whilst playing and standing whilst defending with the sword. Same footing, body position, attitude. Back straight, flowing up, maintaining Douzukuri. This brought to mind Kiza in Kyudo, and the Chan thought of inter-connection.


New days, same practice…

A work in Progress.

The other day I went to the Dojo, it was kind of late in the afternoon, so I ended up for the most part practicing alone. Just working on some basics not really a lot of things just a few small things. Little by little I could feel frustration creeping in. It started slow, like when you can feel a cold starting as some little tingle in your throat or sinus. By the time everyone left, I was getting fairly dishearten about my lack of real progress. I know on Kung Fu we have what we call plateau in training, that one reaches and really has to struggle physically and mentally to get over, out of. knowing this did not help, I no way would stop as some do when training, but I was still feeling less than motivated. The Kaicho was ready to leave and asked me to close up things when I left. He then asked me when I was leaving , which was just about 30 min later. He changed his mind about leaving and turned his attention to me. He watched me shoot and gave some small normal corrections. Then after a bit he told me where i was in major error with my Dai-san to Kai. My Dai-san was not setup enough, mostly it was my left arm position. I was not turning, twisting my elbow outward enough. I needed to line my thumb and the muscle on my forearm better. I had my elbow downward this was causing my Kai to collapse somewhat. He went on to explain more and show me better to make sure I understood, then watched me shoot more. It did not solve everything but it did help my not dropping my left so much when shooting and also my yugari. He also said my right elbow was being pulled behind me instead of direct back in line with the Ya. Ok, so I had a couple of items to focus on. I felt a little better as my shooting improved some. Not a lot but some, I did now have something concrete to work on, inside of guessing what I was doing wrong. I practiced some, then called it a day feeling somewhat better.
A day went by and I returned, this day was the day when the Renmei head is there, W. Sensei, plus the Kaicho. It was somewhat slow, by the time I arrived. Many were making ready to leave. I was told about an up coming TaiKai in Aug. It is at the Kyudojo that would not allow me to join. It will be weird to go there again. I found out also one on my favorite Sempai, the guitarist, that is his Dojo. Ehhhh! Well, whatever, maybe it was true about not taking any new members, and not that I am a Gaijin, hmmm whatever. Kishiwada is better for me anyway so it worked out for the best…still it will be weird going there. I have shot with several of the members at a couple of TaiKai’s elsewhere. As I have said before the one woman is always friendly, the others, not so much. Whatever…
So yeah, most left shortly afterwards, the Kaicho checked me over again then he also left. Now it was just me and the head Sensei. He gave me some points to be aware of, showed me the wall chart, explained what I was doing not correctly. I made note of what he was saying, and made the effort to comply, it was not easy. How does one turn / twist right forearm but not the hand when doing hikiwake. I tried, and tried plus the other stuff. Sensei left after while and I was alone with another Sempai who just came in. I shot for a while then pulled the plug and went home. Not happy , but not depressed, sort of netural.That was earlier this week. Today, Sunday I went in again. Kaicho was leaving but he took the time to remind me of what we talked about. He is a really helpful person. The Dojo closes early on Sunday around 5:00, it was 3:30 about when I started. It was my plan to do my two hour practice, however, being tired and knees hurting, I changed it to one hour. There were only a few a couple of people there at this time, those two left and were replaced by another two. I spent the first 30 min on the makiwara. I figured to do without the distraction of thinking of hitting and just work on form and those matters. Afterwards I worked on TaiKai and holding Kiza. Even with spending everyday on some Kiza practice I do not feel any stronger. That makes me sad. I can do it, but I can not hold it, if I hold it long as possible, standing is a chore, shaky …sigh. I ended up shooting only six arrows, I thought it was two that hit but upon gathering them it was only one, two were rim shoots…sigh.
More and more I am thinking to wait and just practice until next year. Work out these issues, be certain of my skills and feel ready. After all it is all on me, my trip.
“Before Zen chop and carry wood, after Zen chop and carry wood.” Or is it chop wood and carry water…whatever.