What a Long strange trip it’s been…Happy New Year 2018

What a Long strange trip it’s been

あけましておめでとうございます

It is almost a new year as I start this writing. Maybe it will be the New Year, year of the Dog by the time I post this. Year of the dog, btw, is suppose to be a good year for me. I am not dog year, I am Tiger but we are compatible. Going by Chinese horoscopes. Which I have dabbled into. But that is another story time… This one is about the changes in life, paths we walk, the many lives, not just one. I am writing a book about the sailing adventure. I had not put in much background about before sailing, maybe this will go in the book…

 
I was going through some old pictures trying to clean up my iPad which is on the blink 😦 . I found this old shot from when I was in boarding school. A photo of me and my posse. We were a collective of gang members, who formed a mini “club” inside the school. More like, part of a club. We did not form it, not the founders. There were two groups/clubs. We all got along, but just had different members. I never did “get” why the two groups. Human tribal thing?? All the members where from different gangs out in the “world” ( The streets of Philly ). It was at times unpleasant being in this school of thugs. Like when the dorm header, an adult was gone for a weekend off. We the students would get called into the rec room , by the senior in charge for “boxing” which was really just a time for people to get out their grudges they had with other people.
This is were the “clubs” came in handy, making sure things were kept fair. There was a certain style of boxing one followed. I believe the reason for this was so that the school counselors could not see the marks/bruises from fighting. The style was called “creek boxing” two people would bend over, put their heads together and slug it out. supposedly no face shots, but sometimes it did not stay that way. One benefit of these clubs and the school really was that one met members from gangs all over the city. You became friends with them thereby could travel all over the city and drop names when you needed for safe passage. Within “Yin there is always Yang”
 
I am pretty sure that 90% of the guys that I hung out with there are dead or in jail now. I was not really a formal member of an outside gang perse, mostly in it by default of my area, but I knew most who were. Knowing the guys at the school was a big (hard earned) benefit for my loner travels about town.
Then there was going to sleep and waking up with my toes on fire. Everyone thought was funny watching me wakeup in terror thinking I was going to burning up, from the little fie they had set on my toes with lighter fluid, as a joke…that was really funny to all involved.
Anyway I survived, that, those and other “interesting” times and places in the city of brotherly love. Although many times I thought I would not.
 
So all this from the picture, got me to thinking, how many, “trips”, “paths” I have been on in this life…
 
I spent time in Virgina. That was perhaps my favorite part of being a kid. Living and working on the farm and properties of my grandfather. I had no fear of gangs, or people having come from the big city. Also my grandfather was well-known in the area and I was his oldest and favorite grandchild. He owned a farm, a gas station, and beer garden ( sort of like a bar). I worked on/ in all of these places when I stayed with him. I loved it. Open space, greenery, I learn to drive on a tractor and that was my “car” since I could drive on the road with no license. Sometimes it was sort of harsh , and Gramps was pretty strict, but I liked the environment much more than city life.
 
The layout of my gramp’s places. I am taking this picture standing in front of the service station, on the far side of the house is the Beer Garden, to the left of the house was the farm.
Living in both places gave me a real taste of the yin and yang of living, city vs country, and I could survive in either. Adapting to both when needed is an important lesson. Being at one with your environment is very “Cha’n”, it is how you survive in bad times. My siblings could not, most disliked the country life.
 
At that time other than playing music from time to time, I was all about fast cars, and wanted my own repair shop, which I had gotten a taste of from working at Gramp’s service station.
 
Once in LA, where I had always been drawn toward. So fairly young I moved. I worked as a mechanic until the music bug hit me again hard this time. I set out on the musical path, mostly for a time doing R&B. As I started getting more into the California hippie life style that changed over to Rock. Living in Hollywood, and being a musically hippie. Yoga, meditation, camping, skinny dipping, etc etc. I did some coffee houses soloing, trying to get discovered and get a contract. Never happen. But I had fun, I learned stuff.
 
My next turn-step when I figured out being a working singer songwriter guitar player was not going to happen for me. was to play bass. I really started playing because I wanted bass on some demo tapes I was doing and it was hard to find someone to play what I wanted. This taught me there were a lot of guitar players around but not many bass players. I started playing bass and started getting work with bands. From there went on tour a few times, got some small studio gigs, night clubs, road tours. yeah it was fun. Not much money but some.
 
The not much money part lead me to think what to do that I could make money and still get to play music. With this thought and a chance encounter with a well-known Martial Artist and TV person put me on the martial art as a teacher/ business path. I had been involved in Martial Arts since my days in high school but never thought of it as anything , but a way for me to protect myself. This person showed me the business side of things. However told teaching was not the way to make a living easy. He ran a health food store, martial art supply store and a MA school. I became involved with the business, ended up as the general manager as well as a teacher there.
This educated me into the world of health, business, herbs, healing, and Chinese Philosophy. I pretty much put aside music at this time. I was all about M.A., and the like, and training. However I still recall clearly a time playing a bass for something at the dojo, and someone saying wow, your whole face being changed when you started playing, you should get back into that…
 
After a time I was ready to move on from the Dojo, I wanted to set out on my own, I remarried and moved to Va. I became manager of a moving company, taught Kung Fu part-time, worked in a health food store, and played in a band for a very short time. I felt really, really out of place in Richmond, Va and ended up moving back to Ca. having found a job with the same moving company I was with therein Va. The main headquarters was based in Ca. The branch I was going to work for was in the S.F. Bay area.
 
I opened another Kung Fu school and took up training again with my last Sifu/Sensei. He was from the same style I had been teaching so it was a continuation of my past training. The Chinese Philosophy studies continued, with the addition of Feng Shui, and slowly music came back, with bands and schooling. Slowly becoming more dissatisfied with the business management life of a moving company, I took up graphic design training. After putting myself through college and receiving a degree in design, I became a full-time graphic designer with much struggle, and still playing music when possible.
 
The Kung Fu school slowly was dying. I was not really a good business man, a good teacher but not a businessman into promotion and the like. I finally got a good job in a large cooperation as a designer and put most of my money into maintaining the school/dojo. This went on for a while, in hindsight too long.
 
Do to the need for a place to live, I had been living in the back of the Kung Fu studio. I ended up buying a boat, and from that getting involved in the sail boat world. The economy collapsed and I lost most things including my job, condo, etc.
 
At this point getting up in years it was not easy to find a designer job in a bad economy. I became a security guard, a part-time assistant harbor master, sailing instructor and still taught a small Martial art class at a community center. We lived, now re-married again, in an apt on the beach for a while before moving on to the boat at the marina where I worked. It was the plan at this time, for the last four or five years to move/sail to Japan. The music life had pretty much stopped when after the last band I was with, for several years, the leaders moved to Hawaii. Now it was for me mostly water world, Boating, Kung Fu, Kyudo, Chan/Zen and making ready to go to Japan.
 
During the disastrous attempt at sailing to Japan, after making it down the coast of Cal., we spent a stormy Christmas in Half Moon Bay Ca.. We were lucky to just make it into the Marina.
Afterwards continuing down into Mexico. There we lived on the boat for four months. From Mexico we set sail for Hawaii. We ended up using the last of our money to fly to Japan after having to abandoning our boat during the rescue at sea. This was our was our home, and dream plans for a new business in Japan, we had to leave it at sea. Having lost steering with at sea with 6 meter waves approaching from a storm, the environment was in charge. There is a saying in Tai Chi Chuan, and the Tao Te Ching “Yield and overcome”…
 
So now, here we are in Japan, that part really did happen, but not without help ( some of which from people I have never met ) , sacrifices and a lot of effort. What a long strange trip for a little colored boy who grew up in the gang streets of Philly and the farmlands of Virgina to be in Japan, a Chinese Zen Buddhist priest, musician, sailboat instructor, gardener, martial artist, and Komuso.
Life is change. Life itself is interesting and what we want to make of it. Some of my dreams are gone, some are just dormant, some are just out of reach, some have yet to speak. It took a while to have dreams again…now even small dreams are good. They are seeds for life and growth.
Now 2018 is here. I recall thinking when I was a teen how old I would be when the numbers changed to 2000. Now 18 years into it. Back then I did not see me where I am now, in no dream…
All in all though what a long strange trip it’s been. Still the road continues and the river of life flows. One can not control the wind, you can only adjust your sails.
Next …the New Year Kyudo 108 arrow – 2018

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Winter…

Winter is coming…

 
Technically winter is here, but in Osaka I do not think of it until really January. Then we have two months of, ugly, for me cold. It has started a bit early this year with some yukky days. 
So on other fronts, the breath of winter is here, I am now laid off from both of my jobs, until business is better. The boat yard is fairly dead, at least for me. My wife is still working which is lucky because we would be in a world of hurt otherwise. For me zip, nada there, other than the lost of income, I am fine with not working there. My spirit for being there is still damage from the owner sending me out in the Typhoon, almost getting killed, and not so much as thank you, from someone who is suppose to be a friend! So much for that my respect is zero.
I got a call the other day my work for the silver center is done for the season. Until maybe late spring or summer. Although I was just asked to work Christmas day. After that it will be dry. So cuts backs are in order. Mostly food, which is ok since I am, not working I do not need to eat as much, also it cuts into my travel and other stuff, oh well. Oh well. The strong survive. “Trump” happens. Yeah I am not a fan of Trump. Mostly because he lies and has zero feelings for the non-rich. But I am not going into that, it is just my view. I have friends who love him, blindly. There is more than enough of that political talk else where. Sickeningly so. So I will not go there.
 
Yeah so with no work and less money my activities will be reduced. I had a session the other night with a possible new forming bad, from the owner of the Red House club. It was a fun session. A small trio, we drink ate chatted and played. I hope we can do it again with a plan.
Either way I am continuing my quest for a solo career. I applied for a spot in the Sakai Blues Festival in the spring. There is no money involved but it maybe good advertising for me, getting my name out.
 
So as I was saying with limited funds, it is time for me to go inward. Winter training. My Kung Fu, needs work, a lot I have been really slacking with that without the external motivation of having students. I need to get back on it for myself, just like doing meditation, just because I can. Music wise, I get some piano practice in everyday, so more time and songs are part of my training agenda. Oh musically I had a Major bummer the other day. My shakuhachi developed a Major crack. It was heartbreaking to see. The weather change , plus a combination of heating my studio, then getting way cold when I am not there, whatever. Big time crack it will cost I was told by Sensei about 2-300.00 dollars to repair. ouch!! This takes away half of my saved money for a new Shakuhachi. Sigh.
On a better note someone in my long shakuhachi group said they could make me one for a reasonable cost. However the problem is I do not know if he can make the type I need, with a “western” tuning. The maker does not speak English and the person, who will translate the conversation is not sure how to explain, nor am I. So this maybe a dead end. With half of my funds going to repair my crack one and the other left over is enough to pay this maker, but, can he do it? A lot is up on the air on this, maybe I do not even need it, as the “band” playing idea for this type of music is not happening, and someone else says I can do it with my current Shakuhachi, but my sensei says no. So it is all up in the air right now.
 
Kyudo, training I can step up with not working, but it will need to be at home with the Makiwara. Hmmm, I guess I can make some difference in my form with mostly home practice, but it is difficult to judge until I can actually shoot at 28 meters, if I am making a difference. I believe the finer points I need to work on, form wise will to be as big a factor as hitting at this point. But hard to tell, oh well, just shoot, because I can, like Zazen sitting, just because I can.
 
Yeah, winter activtiy, is all about training. Music, Budo, Cha’n. 2018 is suppose ot be a good year for a Tiger living in the year of the Dog. Good I can use a break!

弓道 – Kyudo World


Kyudo world
It has been a while since I have written, mostly because nothing has really changed.

There have been a couple of Rae-kai and Tai-kais. They have been fun and I have gotten some great pictures. I have taken my serious camera a couple of times and got some cool shots, cooler shots than I had been getting with my yumi. I have been doing ok there, not really good, but getting at least a few hits out of a couple of rounds of shooting. Nothing to write home about or blog.As for my practice, still at it. Although much less intensely. I have taken that pressure off myself as there is no reason for me to have it. There is a saying in Zen, “before enlightenment one chops wood and carries water, after enlightenment one chops wood and carries water.” The Kyudo version : before Shinza one trains and practices, after Shinza one trains and practices ! One’s life does not change with or without a new rank. Unless maybe it is getting Hanshi-Dan ! Even then it only matters in the small world of Kyudo.I practice a few times a week, sometime twice or more sometimes once. It puts the fun back in Kyudo for me not to be focused on the Shinza but the moment of shooting.

I have changed my training days and due to finances most times these days I go to the dojo once a week and shoot makiwara at home on the other days. I am pretty flawless on my tai hai. There is the kimono tai hai practice on Tues. it is rare that I get a correction, and then it is something small. My big challenge is hitting, or to narrow it down my shooting form. Daisan to Hanare is my problem area.

At a recent practice session with the main sensei He was having some problems with his shoulder, some pain. I did some accupressure on him. It helped. At the following Tai Kai he came to me and asked for help again. I have noticed a change in the amount of attention he gives me when I am there at the dojo during his teaching time.

Finally the other day I felt like I was making some progress. Usually when that happens it is gone the next time I shoot. However this time over the last few times I have noticed improvement. Not so much at first with my hitting , but with my grouping and arrow placement. I have narrowed it down to my right elbow. I was pulling it far back in order to keep my arrow flight straight. I was told no, that is too much. I need to raise my elbow more in daisan and not pull it out of line with my back in Kai , but keep everything in line with the mato.

The other day I was shooting with my favorite sensei I there. He is now Nanadan. He is the one introduced to me by Nagomi Sensei, before he passed away. Every time he is there with me, I get some helpful adjustment, tip, suggestion. He explains well even though not in English, I get it! So I am shooting and surprisenly to me I am hitting well. He comments his aprroval and then gives me a tip for the day. Having to do with tightening my triceps at release and closing my left fist. He says I am going too limp upon release. Something new to add to my practice.

I have changed my attention on my tracking my shots. Instead of how many I hit, I watch how many I hit in a row. The other day was my best. I got six in a row! Now that I consider real progress. Now the question for me, the test is can I do it again, or even close to that. A consistent three in a row would be nice. Consistent being the key word. Maintaining that would be a real indication I am nearing Shinza time. My casual goal is not spring but the Summer session. Spring session will be at a dojo I dislike due to stepping in is done with the right foot and leaving with the left foot and it is not through a doorway but just lines on the floor. I think the summer session will be once again back at my first dojo. I would feel extra good passing there. However it is too early to tell where it will be. Maybe by late Febuary I will feel confident enough to go to the spring Shinza…maybe.

Meanwhile it is just steady training, and keeping a mental mindset of shooting because I can shoot. Not to get a reward. Like doing mediation not to gain enlightenment, but because I can do meditation. My ego feels some redemption in the fact that others who I have tested with in the past are also still trying to make it off that San-Dan plateau.

The beat…


The beat goes on…Dec 17′

 
It has been a while since I did a post. Fairly too busy and lazy to write. I think it is a good practice of some of sort to do the journal thing. It may matter to one of the kids one day, or even an internet traveller. One never knows what effect will, rarely knows what effect we have one someone’s life, by something we think is a small thing. 
  
I would say my life is pretty different from many coming up in the hood. Besides the being alive, and not in jail part. I guess my mother’s prayers worked on that section. Thanks Mum!
 
So yeah, here is this Black Zen Chinese Buddhist Priest, living in Japan, retired, low-income, aging senior dude. His ministry is Music. He plays Jazzy Blues in Clubs/bars and Zen Buddhist traditional shakuhachi songs as a Japanese Komuso Priest on the streets of Japan. Did I mention this guy also teaches Chinese kung fu. Yeah, I know it sounds sort of far fetched but hey, I like Sci fi and fantasy stories. So that what this blog is about this character, named Fa Chuan Shakya. 🙂

For the cause of understanding, I, me the writer will put myself in his place, so I can get a real feel of this story. There is a Cha’n enlightenment thought to this if one thinks about it. 
 

Ok yeah, so moving on. I have been busy musically of late. The Snafkin master passed away. I went to “wake” after the cremation. There was a fairly big turn out. Many did songs, including me. I did a couple. I played a Buddhist Shakuhachi song, it had to do with prayers, an offering for passing/passed spirits into another realm. It is more complex than that but that is a simple break down. It was my first non-shakuhachi related playing of this song. I had done a recital a couple of weeks earlier and played this song then. I was somewhat nervous about doing this song, but I pulled it off with no mistakes and it seemed everyone enjoyed it. So that was a success.

I next did a song on the piano. A New one I was just working on. I am getting more comfortable playing the piano now after many years of being shy about it. I have had enough practice and figured out I only need to play well enough to back-up myself singing. The cool part was my favorite Sax player sat in with me. I am not a big Sax fan , but I really like her tone. To bad it was not recorded. A few people were surprised I played the keys, including of couple of piano players I had jammed with in the past. I was surprised I did it with no errors for my first playing of this song.

Another spot, I was invited to do a spot by the percussionist I play with from time to time at a small concert he was putting on locally. It went fairly well. Not as planned. Life is like that. I had packed up my guitar and new ( to me) keyboard I had purchased to bring. However I was told there was a piano already there so no need to bring mine. The problem it turns out with that was it was not on stage. So after I did my guitar songs and moved to piano. I had no drum tracks, so I had to wing it with the beat. Not as effective as I had planned. Even though I have done it beat-less before. Also something sounded off to me. unknown if the piano was not just in tune or I was playing in the wrong register. Anyway I cut my play time on the keys to just one song instead of two. Which was ok, because the show was long already. I had a total of three songs instead of four. No big deal. I got good feed back for my key work from another pianist. That is my new musical challenge to up my Blues keyboard skills. That has been a desire of mine for a while, now I am making it real.

The doctor asked me to do a small session with him at his favorite club “live house” they call them here in Japan. I agreed , but under conditions. I was not going to sing all the songs, he needed to do that. Another was I wanted a song list before the show not on stage at he show. I gave him two days to do that. Even then morning of the show he wants to change things and do a couple of song I had never played before or sang. I refused! So we stayed with the original plan. It went well, in fact we sounded pretty good, I was surprised. The drummer filling in is steady and the keyboard player listens to me and the drummer. So the three of us are listening to each other to stay on track, the doc not so much. However it was ok. We did not embarrass ourselves (me).

I was asked by a club owner called the Red House, to play bass for a guy coming into town on tour. He is sort of famous being Japanese, but living and studied Harmonica in the states. It went well. We had a short rehearsal before the show, the day of the show. It made for a long day, but we rocked the house. It was fun and I got paid. The two guitar players were great and the drummer was steady. The Harmonica player is good , but I did not think he was all that. I do nt think I am all that, but I am truthfully better, even when playing bass at the same time. Anyway, it was fun and I got paid.

last week at the same club I entered a contest. I played a couple of songs on piano and one of guitar. It went over well. I got a lot of positive feedback afterward. I did not win, which is not a big deal. I did not expect to do so. The majority of the bands were hard rock, myself and one or two other people were the only ones not doing hard rock. I was also the first act, that is never good in a contest. Still it was a success to me. My purpose was to just get out and play live keys. The other bands were loud loud loud, after I played I went outside and stayed until it was over. When it was done I listen from outside. I heard clapping and not my name so I left after chatting with a few people there.

The next day I sent the club owner a note. Thanks for the spot I would settle the entry fee with him next time I saw him. Also said I was planning on doing more solo spots, did he had any suggestions for my act. He said he loves my vocals and I would have more impact with a band. I said yeah, band are more fun, but I am limited with my Japanese. I did most of the singing in the past for the Doc’s band. However he does not like to practice or care about being organized for a show, so I limiting my playing with him. A couple of days later I get a note from the owner asking if I wanted to do a session with him and a friend. Sounds like there maybe a new band in the making. I had mentioned before I was looking for a band that needed a singing bass player. He had said he was looking for one. Now it seem like it is going to life. If I couple get with a serious group that worked even once a month I would be pleased and feel fulfilled.

Another venue…It had been a while since I went to this club. It was where I first got the first Japan gig with the Doc’s band. We worked there for a couple of months, then did not get asked back due to lack of people coming out to see us. This club has a couple of Jam sessions a month. I had been not going. However as of late I decided to show up for one. I can see other players and also get my “rep” out more. The club owner was pleased to see me and I was recognized by a few. Even though arriving late I was given a play spot. At first just for playing bass, then the owner told the organizer to have me on the mic. It went over well.

My actual purpose for attending this jam was to meet the person doing the organizing. He was going to be the drummer for the band I was sitting in with for the touring Harp guy. He is pretty well know and I see him playing a lot in the Blues circle here in Osaka. I wanted to meet him before hand. This writing is not really in order of how things went down over the last month, but it is the general idea. This was before I did the bass only gig at the other club.

I went again to this club the other night for another session. It was my plan to play keys, but it did not work out. I was called up to play Harp on a couple of songs and sing. Later called up to play Bass. When it came my turn again to play this time of the keyboard that had been setup. I had to cancel in order to catch my train home. If I missed it I was screwed. The train stop at 12:00 am here. Which sucks! I found out when in Taiwan it is the same there.

So lastly, there is a Big Blues festival which is held yearly. The Doc’s band played the last couple of years. He asked me if I would play with them again this year. I said ok, however if it would not interfere with my playing on my own in the festival. I had asked the organization committee if I could perform with a band and also as a solo artist. I got the ok. This is a non-paid event, mostly just PR. I still have to submit a video audition, but I can can do that. I have been told in the past my vocal are my strong point. I am finally accepting that and making use of it. I like playing the piano and singing blues more than playing guitar and singing. I like the fuller sound of the keys, even though I am not that skilled with them …yet. With the drum machine and the combination of piano and harp it sounds reasonable enough to step up and out. Being one of the few Blacks here, and can sing and play gives me some marketability, I think. So I will see how things go from here. Possible new band, new solo act. Some progress.

On the Shakuhachi path. I spoke to my Sensei about my wish to be a full real Komuso, not just a dressed up player. HE in turn spoke with a friend of his. This person turns out to be on some board for the main temple in Kyoto that deals with Shakuhachi Komuso affairs. It has been arranged for me to meet this person and he will “sponsor” me for membership into the main headquarters temple. Only thing is I have to wait until spring. This priest lives in a fairly far off place and he says it will difficult to reach in the winter. In the spring there will be a large Komuso gathering in Osaka. I should attend and he will give me the details on joining officially and make the arrangements afterwards. I will be “In like Flint. “Yatta!

Next Up Kyudo world…