Trips around the Sun…

 

It has been a while since I posted. Life happens! Since today is the anniversary of my Sun orbit cycle for this passage, it is as good a time as any to do a new post. Maybe the best timing.

A lot has passed since my last entry. It is hard to find a beginning spot that matters if any does. The last thing I recall here is I was just ready before going back to Nara. I did I bit of Takuhatshu there, before going to the temple to play for OMatsuri at Sempai’s local temple. That was interesting. I always enjoy these small local things. They are like a small mini time travel session. I did my small bit of playing shakuhachi for the group. which was larger than I thought. They were as always impressed that I could play and was there. Everyone was nice. Details are on the Komuso Blog.

Shortly after I went to the Kobe Blues session. I do not go often do to the distance and cost of travel, besides the next day hassles of early the night before if I do not stay over at a friend’s. It is fun the session, but there is usually a feeling of empty at times. Hard to explain sometimes it is great, other times…lacking

And now after my birthday dinner and most of a bottle of sparkling wine, I can not recall must of that time anyway.

Ok, so rather than trying to fill in what I do not recall I will start from where I do. Yesterday, for my birthday my wife took me a Greek restaurant. There have been very good reviews from the locals. There are very few Greece places in Japan. This is one of 3 that had good ratings. Also, they usually had a mix of Italian food not just Greek. Coming from The bay Area where we have a lot of Greek deli type places I give it a rating of 6 on a 1-10 scale.  10 being the best! it was good and a nice change, but the Greek in better in Cal. Even from the Deli. I really wanted a Falafel !! Oh well.

The other night there was a session at Snafkin. It was really a night were the IYO band was playing. However, we were going to slip in a practice session for my band, which was performing in an upcoming concert at the beach for Snafkin. It is an annual thing. So we were going to get in a practice before and after the AYO band played. He, the keyboard player, plays for them mostly and a solo acts himself. That is the thing in Japan no one just plays for one band unless that band has a national name.

We, my new band, got in some practice time and it went fairly well. One song sounded like we practiced it more than just once today. I was surprised. I was expecting to play once more or so after the AYO band finished, but I find out I am requested to play as a part warmup act for the IYO band. I was not expecting that. Ok quickly considered what to do. I drafted the Bass player from IYO’s band. He was very hesitant! Saying he did not know the song. No big deal I said. It was weird. He was reacting the same way I do when asked to sit- in on a Jazz piece. This was just a Blues and I gave him a chart. Anyway, he agreed finally. I was going to play a song where I got to use Shakuhachi. I always need the practice live. We started the song slowly, I was having a lot of trouble getting a sound from my flute. OHG, so embarrassing!! This was a was my Zen and Kung Fu training kicked in. Do not panic, breathe, think! I fiddled with the mic and tried several times to blow but no sound. Ok, I got a drink, as if I needed it, then just started to sing. As I sang I gave the flute a few tries, and finally was able to connect. I played for just a small bit, and then I lost the sound. As in Kyudo when you miss the shot it is usually something about “you” that is the issue, not the equipment. In the case of the Shakuhachi, this is so very very true. the problem was me! There are no parts or anything with the Shakuhachi, it is a tool of truth, you can get a sound, or you can not, it is not the lacking of within the flute.

I play a little then again lose it, I did not panic, never panic. I decided to switch up and play the Harmonica. I went over to the table to get my harp and as I reached for it, I knock over my Bass which was next to it them. I laughed, the keyboard player laughed. I rolled with it and kept singing and made the switch. Things went well… of sorts. I Kept having issues with the Mic adjustment location. As the Keyboard players were doing his solo, he started dropping papers and stuff. Again we laugh, but the song goes on. That is how we roll. LoL!!

Overall even though I still had a few issues with hearing myself, we finished the song and for the most part it turned out ok. I did not realize that until afterward when I listened to the video. All that stuck out for me was the suck parts when I could not get a sound! After listening to the recording I find it was not so bad 🙂

Our next song, was really just the new band. Really a trio today as we had no percussion. We did a cover song by Stevie Wonder. This our second time playing ever, today. Surprising it turned out good. Like we knew just what we were doing, helps when the band members lesson to each other. I did this same song with one of the other bands, the Kuruzeders, we did not sound as good then as we did with this Trio!

The next day I am chilling, very limited Facebook interaction. I am planning to enjoy my birthday break. I spent the day, a small bit of gardening, mostly just working on my ceramic pieces. I hope the person in charge of firing at “club”  did /does so over the break. I now have about 8 pieces that need to be “baked” before I can take the next step and do the glazing before putting them up for sale and seeing if there is any interest. That would really really give me a boost if there was interest in buying. I could actually have something artsy that was marketable. Music is a difficult Art route for more than pleasure.

Speaking of music that is the other thing I did over my Sun circumnavigation trip anniversary. I discovered a song I want to do as part of my solo set and maybe with the new band, I am just recently asked to Join. So I worked on that song. I put down a beat track and a bass track on my looper to give me something to work from. It went well, that another song which I started with one of the other bands.  I just realized I am connected to several bands: The Kursaders, The Saki Band, Mr Joe’s girl band, and my Kaze Band, oh and sometimes the Dirty Deal Blues Band.

The other big musical thing I did was some work to my Bass. I have been thinking about changing my bridge to a Gold Brass one. I have been putting it off and off, finally, I went for it. I was nervous about doing it correctly, there are many adjustments to set and this was my first time. I took my time and it went well. I could tell a difference in the sound right away.

After all my years of playing, this is the first Bass I have made truly mine! Not just mine as in owning, but mine as in changing stuff just to my taste. Cool it is!

So all in all at this time in Life, things are pretty good. Making music, Kyudo, Ceramics, My WaterWorld life is pretty much a wash:-(, as is my Kung Fu teaching. I guess I should just consider myself retired from those fields. Oh well, one can not have everything they say. I am sort of getting a new change of plan for Japan travel. Since I can not do it by sailboat, perhaps by motorcycle. Since I have had my eye surgery I am pretty sure I can pass my eye test for a Japan drivers lic. However I do not have a motorcycle, but it would be easier to get and keep than a boat. Still, there is the money thing and with a set budget, it is pretty much in the same realm as a boat…an out-there-dream! Yet, things change as you live and breathe. One never knows what the tide ( Heaven ) will bring in…Amituofo

 

 

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The local news…July


Wow, time flys! I just noticed it has been a while since I posted. The blog quandary, if you do nothing there is nothing to blog about. If you do stuff, you are too busy to blog. The last post I see was the monthly Shakuhachi meeting, and now that has just past for this month.

 
So I will need to backtrack and do a multi-section update.
 
Starting from the last post. This month’s meeting of the Shakuhachi Society was interesting. There was another new person and one less than last time. Our group is growing. The new person this time was another new player. My new friend the priest returned again. He will be a regular I am guessing. I have been invited to return to his place next month for another dinner after the Zen Cafe. I am thinking, I will need to miss this next month as it will be held on a Friday. Bummer. Oh well another month, if God wills and the creek don’t rise.
We went through our range of songs a usual at the meeting, then had drinks and snacks. It was fun. I had thought briefly about not going. The only English speaker was not going to be there this month, so I would have no help. Then I thought that is ok, I can deal. I am glad I went. It was all good. I got by easy and I was given a new Shakuhachi by Omoto-San the flute maker. It is different from my others. It has a large bore. It is also cracked. Which is why I was given it, free! It has been repaired and still plays well. Once at home I went through several moods with it. At first, I liked it, then not so much, then liked it a lot.! I have a spot of it in my Shakuhachi arsenal.
 

On other Shakuhachi music and such. I was asked to play at the club one of my bands has as a home base location. I was asked to play in a Bon Odori event. Sort of Japanese summer festival.

I was asked to play bass with the band on three Japanese folk songs. Also to play something on Shakuhachi as a solo. Ohhhhh. I was surprised by that but agreed. Learning the Japanese songs was tricky, but I was able to pull it off. One song I only had a couple of days to figure it out. I was lucky my wife was able to find the song music chart.
The Shakuhachi solo part was interesting. I had to speak to the people as an intro. That is always scary for me. The groups always have a chatty section, my Japanese is not that good. So I always shy away from that but get in a few words an have some type of connection with the viewers. I played two songs. One song I explained was an old Komuso song, I would play it two ways, once again n a traditional style, the second time with a hip hop beat from my “looper”. The second song was a classic American song, Summertime. I played all the backup instruments on the loop beforehand so I was set. Both songs went well.
 
On other band news, things with the Seiki band have been quiet. However, there was an event with the Kuseders band at the pub Chicago Rock. That went over ok. We had fun. I did not think we sound that good. We really need to practice more. Still afterward, listening to the recording I did, parts were good. We had a sax player sit info a few sets. I am not a big Sax fan, but it did give a nice another dimension to our sound. It would have been better if the Sax player had also done a rehearsal with us.
 

I have been told the sax player with be joining as a member another band the keyboard player is forming for a show in Late Aug. I do not know if it will be a one-time affair or what. This is the idea of the Club owner to form this band for a show there at the club. The keyboard player and I will carry all the lead vocals for this project. It will be nice to have a bit of different sound.

In other news, I have been going to the ceramic club for two months now. It is ok. I am pretty disappointed in the speed, of the firing sessions. I have completed three forms that have been ready to fire (bake) for the last month. I can not continue with the next step, the glazing until they get the first firing. Now we are on break until Sept!! Crap! I want to get at least these three (four, soon) done so I can see if there is any interest in them. I have figured out to market the items under the Osaka Lohan Chan Charities, as a way to help bring in donations and support for the organization. Seems fitting, a charities setup via donations from Shakuhachi, also support by another Art form dealing with shakuhachi. I will not go into what that involves because I do not want my idea taken as yet. So no pictures of the Projects.

I will a fair supply soon, enough to test the interest. Time to give some thought to what other things I want to do. in clay. Perhaps it is better not to have a wheel so everything will not be based on having to “throw” something. More interesting things can be built by hand. I do wish I could mix my own glaze like we did in school. Also being able to do Raku was nice. Anyway it is all new here and yet old having done the foundation in college.

I did pickup something the other day from watching one of the members. I got the idea to make my own slab form press. I did a quick one as a test the other day it worked well. I just need to get the right size sides. The test was thicker than I wanted but still usable.

 
I am back to labor work for the city for the summer. Two days a week. It is helpful for the house budget and me getting up and out early. I have been lucky so far and the temp has been reasonable…so far!
 
Kyudo, no change, just practice…daily! Even just three arrows, same as with the Shakuhachi, even if it is just 5 minutes of one or two notes. Like Meditation even if just 10 min, daily discipline is the key to improvement.
 
Amituofo

The Bamboo path


The Bamboo path

The Classical Shakuhachi Society
The Shakuhachi journey has various roadside stops. It is interesting along with the people one meets. We had our monthly Classical Shakuhachi Soceity meeting last week. This time we had a full house. I had invited a new aquitence I meet, via my Komuso Sempai. He is a priest, of a Jodo Buddhist temple, as is another our of group. Another member had bring along someone who had contacted him and there was a new player/student of another member there as well. He was new to playing Shakuhachi. In total there were nine. Three more than usual. It was a nice size.
We did a round of introductions, I got very little of the info, of course. However it did not matter I got the gist of it! Afterward we played together a few songs and individual songs. Afterwards we had the refreshments. Misc foods, wine, sake, words and laughter. I am not suppose to be drinking, but I still had some. Just did not over do it. Once in a while is ok! It was a good session, we all had fun. One nice thing about this group we are all about the same age.

Zen Rhythm Cafe
The following Sat, my new friend the priest’s temple held their monthly Cafe session. I went this time. It was my second visit. This time I had prepared some songs. The cafe is held inside of his temple on the second floor of a wonder building. There are a few tables set up for buying gifts, coffee, a small meal, foot and or back massage, and fortune telling. Also there is floor space for music acts.
I arrived later than I planned, but still in time to do several songs. I played Shakuhachi with myself as backup. I had made a recording of myself on Sansen, piano, bass, an guitar. I wanted to test how it would go, as part of my plan for solo performances. As I arrive late there were not late many people there, but it was well received.
I hungout afterwards and spoke with a few people. I spoke with the fortune teller as she was starting a group session. I learned she was doing the Japanese version of Tarot Cards. She said she is the only one in Kansai who does them. She also said it is a Shinto tradition, I did not know that. I passed on joining and just watched.
Another guy comes to me, he is a friend of the priest. This person speaks English. He is like a Japanese Caropractor. He studied in the states. He was invited by the priest to act as a translator so we could speak easily. The guy was interesting. We spoke of natural healing and energy flow as well as sound vibrations.
After all was done, and the “cafe” was over, we went downstairs to the kitchen. There the priest’s wife made a “Hotpot” ( Nabekura) meal for the priest, his friend, the new student from the Shakuhachi group who had also come and myself. We ate a lot and drank. There was a lot of wine and some sake, but I did not feel over loaded. We chatted and drank. After eating we went to the garden area and sat on the porch and listen and watched the rain fall on the garden. We spoke spoke of gardening and life. The priest’s wife brought us dessert and tea, the men sat and talked. It was very Japanese.
A nice way of spending a Sat night…Amituofo

Focus shift : External to Internal

External to Internal

 

In the world of Kung Fu, there is a false calcification of Internal and External Kung Fu. Hard (external) and soft( internal) Kung Fu It’s really all Kung Fu, with the purpose to arrive at the same place, top of the same mountain you could say. The difference is one trains from the external development toward internal development. The other Is the opposite. Example, Tai Chi is considered an internal art it works from inside power to outside power. Ki, breath, centering, then develop external power/strength. Shaolin is an External style working on outside power first, then to an inner power.

What this is about is Kyudo. I consider Kyudo and boarder line art. It is both external and internal at the same time. My opinion. Up until now, I have been focused on the external part. Fixing my form. In Zen there is the thought of form and formless, practice, action. etc. The form is chanting, sitting Zazen, reading sutras. Formless is acts of kindness and compassion, sharing.

In Kyudo I believe the stances, the grip of the bow, the draw, elbows, all forms. Formless would be the breath, the Ki, the mind, the spirit. After much time and frustrations in advancing. I have decided to change my approach. After reading the Book from the Chozenji master, where he states Kiai first, I figure I need to change my training direction. Even if it is is wrong, it can not hurt. I have decided once again to put off the next Shinsa. I am not ready.

I am now putting my focus into my internal workings, the use the building of chi, internal balance on not just shooting, but on all things.

More focus Chi and the waist when doing my Chuan Fa, more focus on Chi, Tan Tien, Hara when playing Shakuhachi. More focus on centering when doing Kyudo. Compacting the breath in the Hara, expanding from there and not the muscles. Sinking more.

I have been at this for the last month since returning from Hawaii. My wife says she thinks I will pass the next exam, my “Ki” has changed, I have leveled up. I do not know about that, but even a small step forward is a step forward.
It is easy in Kyudo, well Federation Kyudo to get caught up in the goal, seeing the rank as the purpose for shooting better. Not just to shoot better, just to shoot better. It is challenging to keep one practice pure. That is one of the nicer things about Kyudo study outside of the Federation. That rank distraction is removed. Practice is simple, you practice to practice, you practice to better your self. Sort of like Soto Zen, when you sit you just sit. In Rinzai there are Koans, breath focus, in some sects, Chi building and movement and just sitting, but the posture needs/should be “right”.

So yeah the struggle with Kyudo continues. It is sort of my Koan, passing to Yondan. I dislike koans! The result of my pilgrimage to Hawaii was I wanted to understand the connecting link between Kyudo, Shakuhachi, Kung Fu better, now it is a matter of applying it, better. That was my lesson from the trip. Everything is connected via the breath, Kiai, the spirit. Really a reenforcement, not a new revelation. As I retrace my shooting past, I shot better when I was focused more on the Formless of shooting instead of the Technique of hitting. Even now, when I just go up to the line and shoot, no care if it hits…I hit. When I care and I get lost on the parts, the mechanics of shooting, I miss. My thought I need to stabilize my Chi more, sink and balance. It is said if one is missing, then it is an internal issue. I am finding inspiration from re-reading some old books. The One Arrow, One life book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and the Ten Shin Myo book.

Overall I am rebuilding my lost budo “spirit”, restoring some forgotten Kung Fu, in front of the Makiwara daily, more walking meditation. Even making shakuhachi practice part of that oneness training. There is no separation, no duality, even though one is not one or two. The whole is not one thing, it is many things, but it is one thing. I have understood this mentally but I believe I need to put this more into actual physical practice when practicing.

ok so I am giving this a shot (hahah), let’s see where it goes…Amituofo

 

Ten Shin Myo

Ten Shin Myo
The Mysterious Wonder of the Universal Mind

Since I have returned from my pilgrimage to ChoZenji I have been piecing together the value, the lessons of the Hawaiian Shugyo. More thought to my Practice, the parts and whole. In recalling some of the words of those I was in contact with during the visit come from the late master Tanouye Tenshin.

After reading his book Ten Shin Myo, I have come to understand more of his path, his philosophy.  I think purchasing the book was the next best thing to getting the classes I wanted. Perhaps in someways better.  I first saw this book and thought it looked interesting, but was not going really buy it, based on what I just glanced at. I am glad I asked the “Resident Priest”, the young one who I thought was … well never mind. He told me the book was a new release and was the life story of the Roshi and how ChoZenji came to be now. Ok, I thought it could be a good read. I was not really expecting alot from it, but, I was wrong…

After I read the book a lot more made sense about the Center. and words the instructors used. One of the things, were Posture, Breath, Focus. These things were part of the core of the Roshi teachings. Also after reading the Ten Shin Myo book I re-read the book by his student, Kenneth Kusher who runs the Wisconsen Chozen archery program. The book called “One Arrow, One Life”. It was the book that got me interested in Chozen. It had been so long, I had forgotten. In re-reading the book, I recalled the desire to study there. It was kind of sad to understand having been there, that part of the study there is gone. Although if one is looking for this Zen/Budo/fine Art training via Kendo or another Art other than Kyudo, I say go for it!
The is no real place other than the Wisconsen for this type of Zen training in Kyudo. At least on a live in bases. There are good programs and teachers around. Such as Sensei Rick Beal out of Ca. Who holds workshops and seminars around the globe. He is a Zen Priest, a Martial Artist, and a Kyudo Sensei. If he was a musician it would be perfect, but no! 🙂

A far as Hawaii Chozen, and the book “One Arrow One Life”. A lot of things said in the arrow book made much more sense now. Not only because of having been there, read the master’s thoughts, but my own Cha’n and Kyudo growth.

I had gone to Chozen with the hope of improving my Kyudo. Then with the off chance hope of making some connection with Kyudo, Shakuhachi and Zen. Other than my own mental theories which I could not quite put into words.
Unexpectedly I was able to find that link in training. The thread of spirit that runs through them. It is partly in the statement of Posture, Breath and Focus, a good training focus for everything, but it goes deeper than that. As the Roshi said “Kiai first”, with that in the front, Zazen, Kyudo, Tai Chi, Shakuhachi, Sword, Ceramics, Tea are all linked tightly. All are expressions of one’s CHI. How you tap into that is via, Posture, Breath, Focus.
In Kyudo when I focus on drawing, opening the Bow only… my muscles are used. I can feel my power balance high. When I focus on Tan Tien and expanding that, my muscles are more relaxed power is lower, expanding is a full body experience not just a muscular,  balance is more stable. It is said in the Kyudo handbook that proper breath within the moves of Kyudo brings life to all the movements and shooting.

With Shakuhachi, breath is stronger, but more controlled, note has life, is stable.

In Kung Fu/Tai Chi, Movements have more power, spirit when used with the breath, center is lower, stances are more stable.

The Arrow, the Music Note, the punch, the kick, the clay bowl, the grouping of flowers, the brush stroke, the pouring of Tea, all are outward expressions of our Chi. The stronger our Chi, the better our control of it, the better, clearer, more accurate, sublime, colorful is it’s expression. The core of understanding, tapping into, controlling that is meditation.

Another unexpected meal of knowledge from the books came in the form of the Roshi’s speaking on Sound, vibrations, and connecting with people. He spoke of touching their spirit with sound, with the vibration of the sound. He was also a musician, so his understanding of it was in depth. His referrals to sound were in his thoughts on chanting. He felt not enough focus was given to chanting to older people, beyond the age of starting a hardcore physical Shugyo. or even as a “DO/Tao” !

Although aimed at chanting as a “Tao/Do”, Shado, Kendo, etc. All he was saying to my mind also related to Shakuhachi playing or SuiZen. The sound as was something I had thought of about when doing Komuso practice, a wordless transmission of dharma. However I had not thought of it in terms of vibrations as a label. I had thought of tone effecting Chakras, and healing, but of course that would be in the realm of vibrations. Some tones vibrate the head more than others. Bass is a low vibrations, earthy, one feels it in your body. This is how one touches people with sound, matching their vibrations. We are walking electric patterns and vibrations.

When doing Komuso Takuhatshu something ( the vibe, sound, note) “touches” people, something harmonized with their spirit, personal vibe enough, they feel moved to donate. Even if not the sound pleasure, vibe, was their gift for that moment. Maybe some vibration was given to them that was helpful, up-lifting in some way. Some songs can do that even without having words. It is the cords, the tones, the vibes of that/those tones. That is the Modern Komuso Takuhatsu, we give, without asking for anything. It is the Buddhist giving to humanity, being engaged, through sound. Abiding in the Law of Cause and Effect, engaging the Six Paramitas. The Komuso Takuhatsu is also our Shugyo.

According to Tanouye Tenshin enlightenment is not limited to a mental experience. It can be via physical as well. Once one goes into the “field” or Mindset of Samadhi via whatever the means, meditation Sitting, motion, picking weeds, doing Kung Fu, washing the dishes, the break through comes because you are in a receiving state of mind.

So in a final wrap ChoZenji was a worthwhile pilgrimage. I did receive some enlightening insight from it all. However not the Sensei for Kyudo I hoped to find in the flesh.

Another good note from Kyudo acquired from the trip is I did receive some helpful advise from a Senior. What he told me about the thumb pressure I would not have been able to understand in Japanese. It may not be a big game changer for getting to Yondan, however little things add up. So I ended up with something for the outside and inside to work on to improve my Kyudo.

For the Kung Fu efforts in Hawaii. I was able to get a vid of a Sihing doing a form I wanted to relearn. It was done slow enough that I could follow and review. Some parts are a little different from my Shifu. but it is ok. Reactivating this set, will help fill out my personal training “Tao”.

I do feel more reactivated myself for training since the trip. So it was good to get me re-energized with training.

So although not as I had planned, the Pilgrimage was successful. It just took me until now to figure out just how it effected me. While I do not recommend Chozenji for everyone. To all those doing any form of Budo, Art and Zen, I do recommend their book:

Ten Shin Myo
The Mysterious Wonder of the Universal Mind.
The Way of Zen Master Tanouye Tenshin

 

“Zen is to transcend life and death (all dualism), to truly realize that the entire universe is the “True Human Body”, through the discipline of ‘mind and body in oneness’. Miyamoto Niten (Musashi) called it iwo no mi (body of a huge boulder-going through life rolling and turning like a huge boulder), Yagyu Sekishusai named it Marobashi no michi* (a bridge round like a ball- being in accord with the myriad changes of life). Besides this actual realization, there is nothing else.”

Zen without the accompanying physical experience is nothing but empty discussion. Martial ways without truly realizing the “Mind” is nothing but beastly behavior. We agree to undertake all of this as the essence of our training.”*

…Omori Sogen Roshi

Gathering @ Tofukuji

 

What is Tofukuji you ask? click the link. It is the main Zen temple where Myoanji is located as a sub-temple. There was just held a Komuso gathering. It was sort of low key as there were no Tengai. It was a nice event to attend for my first playing attendance to Myoanji.

Good weather, not crowded, nice after mini party with other olds school Komusos.

Since it is Komuso I am just giving it honorary mention here as a place marker and doing the full writeup on the Komuso blog for those interested.

The next day a visit to the second hand Kyudo shop was in order. Since I was in Kyoto and not too far away. I headed over to the shop. We took the Japan version of Urber. Only I went to the Kyudo shop.
The shop was open I only had one interest. I replacement Makiwara ya. I had broken mine at home and wanted another Bamboo. I found it and was surprised I had a even had a choice this time in my size. I made my score and called it a successful journey ended.

…Amituofo

…and Now for Something Completely Different

 

 

Shakuhachi Blues in the Temple Cafe

Now getting back to Japan life. There is a lot going on, it has already started a few days ago. Several band performances, Just finished one at the Sakai city Blues festival. Maybe a post about that…maybe. Up coming a performance at My SuiZen temple, Myoanji and just finished a small prayer, and visit and performance at the temple of a new friend.

Via my Komuso Sempai in Nara I made the acquaintance of another Priest Shakuhachi Player. He has a temple that is not too far from here. Just below Kobe. I go out that area from time to time, because of the Band, or Boating. Shibata Sensei’s temple runs what they call a café, once a month. Hot drinks, snacks, misc items for sale, neck massages, card telling, musical entertainment. It runs all day. From 11- 5:00. Very casual and low key.

This Priest is looking to bring more of the Shakuhachi into his Buddhist practice. He already plays at some of the temple services. He is not Zen he is of the Jodu sect. He holds formal weekly services.

I contacted him via FaceBook and made arrangements to attend the next Café, so we can do a face to Face meeting and chat. He spoke no English and my Japanese is basic and poor. However, I have nothing to lose by going and giving it my best shot to communicate. What could go wrong…

The day arrives I get directions with the help of my wife and I set off on a mini Shakuhachi adventure. I found the location rather easy and entered the Temple Yard. I was taken with the large Buddha statue. That was my first stop, bow then on to the temple. I heard voices when I enter, but I saw no one. I looked about a bit and saw through some glass and reeds people leaving a small garden. They were just on the other side of what could be a small tea room or sitting room.

I made my way to the door they were heading toward. There I met Sensei. We did the intro formalities and I was taken up stairs. There was more people than I expected there. A few sitting around a large fire pit, roasting coffee, then in another connecting room which was a large space, there were several small booth tables, food, etc out from there chairs. Next an open space which was the “stage area”, off from that a table with chairs. It was quite the place. The Sensei introduced me, then we went into another section. This was the temple “Heart”, where the ceremonies are done. We talked there for a while. I might have been asked to join now or the next ceremony, would I play?? or something. Anyway, a pray/chant, something started, a few people came. We took places at the “fish” drum/beater. Sensei explained some things, I did not understand also about following his beat.

OK we started he started chanting, then started the beat on the drumette. We followed. those who knew the words or could read them chanted along. Me I made the sound and beat the drum. It felt cool. I did not feel out-of-place, for some reason. It felt very “Native”, very basic beating this drum and chanting.

Next Sensei asked me to play. Hmm ok. I did the Tamuke offering, Fuu style. I was not bound by any “rules” on what or how to play. I was able to use a headset, which was cool. I could hear clearly what I was playing as could those in the temple hall. I dig that I could hear and so I did not think I just played.

I did not clearly know what was going. I said, I would play another tune and did something contemporary. I thought this was all part of the ” TempleCafe“. Even though I was not asked. I thought something for the Buddha, something for the folks, since I was there. Turns out I did not have that over my head.

I finished the second song and then the guy managing “the club” came in and ask would I also play in the Cafè. I thought that is what I did. Now I had used up the one non-hyukyoku I had prepared. Oh well. ON-ward, breathe…

Ok I said. We then, all in the temple hall, moved to the other section were, others sat, drank, ate, listened to the ukulele player.

I met a few other people there , one of who spoke English. I grabbed a chair and watched the show, also chatting with Sensei some. Also with the show “MC” he spoke just a little English, but we communicated. He would like me to play a song after the next act. Did I want the Ukulele player to help me? I said sure let have him and I play together. I had been thinking that for a few moments after listening to him. I felt I should have something other than “Fuu’s Tamuke” to play or any Honkyoku. Also I had done Summertime already in the Temple. Having thought I was doing the performance. Yeah, so I was only planning to do one song this time. I figured quickly to jot down a few simple cords changes on a paper and give it to the guy. Basic I/V/IV.

I said yes, we can play together…ok.

I sat through the next act. This was the Ukulele player and a woman who played an old style flute that was like a “gourd”. She was/they were pretty good.
I was up next. I was not nervous, I felt pretty relaxed during the intro…and then show time. I counted off and we started. The guy played pretty good and I tried to blend into his pattern and the changes. It went ok. The people enjoyed it, I was not that please, as it was “all just then”, birth on the spot.

It is kind of a “Mindmelt” with playing with strangers and a new piece of music. Even if it is just two cords, behaps that is more of a challenge. One reaches out with your spirit to touch another(s) and create another form, eity. This song, this vibration, and share it, giving it to humanity. It is weird, interesting amazing when one thinks about it…

I was ok with the piece. I heard a small bit of the recording. It was i the beginning, unsteady… Like a child walking. It started to find it’s balance just as the film was cut.

The people enjoyed it, it was one time vibration they experienced. So it was successful. I was asked to play one more. ehhhh,

oh snap, what am I going to play now? I thought…

Ok I fell back on Summertime. Since no one there heard it before other than Sensei. Also I never play it the same way. A little longer version with a bit more “flavor”. So it was done. People were impressed I think. Surprised for sure. Good chi was raise, so…cool

I was just pleased they enjoyed it and I did not lose face. I figured I would be asked to play that is why I brought my shakuhachi. This whole meeting was about Shakuhachi. Ok I was done. I played in the Temple for the Buddha offering and I played in the Cafè for the people. It was very Buddhist in for the benefit of society way. It was engaged, but private, sort of like doing Komuso Missionary.

I hung out for a while longer afterwards and just watched. When leaving I came across Sensei in the temple Hall with some others. He was telling them about … something to do with the shrine there. He brought out a couple of long Shakuhachi for me to look at. They were quite nice. He played a song for the couple. Amazing Grace. Japanese seem to like that song. Hmm gives me an idea for the next visit.

I put the wraps on my visit and made my way out.
I will return…Amitoufo

 

mourning and the lost of greatness

There are not many people in your life or have come into your life that you can say made a big difference in the course of it, for good. That can stand out. Also not just your life but in the lives of many. Usually, in my case at least it is an older person. An Uncle, teacher, coach. Rarely is it a peer. Rarely does one think of any of their hanging out buds as great people.  I do not mean great as far as a cool friend, I mean great as to humanity. It is rare to know someone who has helped change many lives positively.

 

I had the honor and blessing of knowing one such man. He recently passed away. A shocking wakeup to impermanence. I have been reading over the posts to his FB pages and I am continually touched by the remembrances from his students and friends.  His name was Steven Baugh (Da Shi ChuanSheng). We trained Northern Shaolin Tai Chi Praying Mantis together since the ’70s. Even though I was his technically elder brother, I held great respect for him as did everyone. I watched him develop his art through the years and expand beyond just the several styles of martial aspects of study. He returned to the basic roots of Spiritual Shaolin and studied deeply the spiritual side of Chinese Budo. He studied and graduated as a priest from the Hsu Yun Chan Buddhist temple in Hawaii and afterward founded the Lohan Buddhist templeSpiritual and cultural center in Las Vegas. He was already schooled in Taoism and Native American spiritual practices. Being part Native American he had inside access to that training path.

His past, training, studies, and heart gave him insight and connection to the minority community, which in many cases is overlooked when spiritual teachers are going public in Mainstream America. He told me once his teacher told him to go back to the mainland from Hawaii and teach because he was able to reach out to a large variety of people. If one saw his school, students and temple members, one could see this right off.

Once I moved to Japan, I had little thought I would see him again. I found out later that we had one of the same Chan teachers, and she held him as one of her favorites. Saying she had little to teach him as he was already deeply knowledgable. I found out he was coming to Osaka as a treat from one of his student’s who’s wife is from Japan. We arranged to meet up, and that marked a serious changed in my Chan path even after over 10 yrs of study and later became ordained through him in the Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun. 

For the past three days since his passing, I have been usually sensitive and mournful. It took me some thought to figure out it had to do with not just losing a friend, kung fu brother, but my abbot. I received direct dharma transmission from him. That gave us a different, more Spiritually Psychic connection, I am guessing.  I suffered a grave sense of loss at times over the 3 days. I made a pilgrimage to a local Buddhist/Shinto temple complex yesterday. I prayed at each of the Statues, burnt incense, and played Tamuke ( a Komuso offering song for the departed ), tearing up partway into the song unable to finish. However, it was enough. I was told by my Shakuhachi Sensei it is not important to play the whole song in this type of case. I recalled my first really public playing was as a “thank you” offering at the temple after my ordination.

This post this time is about something, someone more important than me. My Abbot, my brother, my friend ( 35 yrs + ). May you have completed all cycles and now be free of suffering.

Most who chance to read this, will not know who he was or will it matter. However, it matters to me in some small way I can honor him and ease some of my sadness with this post.
…Amituofo

 

“Koten-shakuhachi-kenkyuu-kai”

“Koten-shakuhachi-kenkyuu-kai”

Society for the Study of Classical Shakuhachi

 

We had our monthly meeting a few days ago. The day before my return to Shitennoji to play. So it was another good chance to practice in front of serious ears.

Today we were supposed to have a guest. A student of Oliver, a sempai to me of course. He is a college prof and a writer. You can read his blog/webpage here on Komuso, shakuhachi,  Ok,  so his student from China who is visiting in Japan was going to be there. Hopefully, she would bring her Chinese Koto and play.

I was coming for sure that day. I came from another part of town than usual, I wanted to attend a Buddhist meetup I had been pushing off for a long time. A spent a lot of lost time that morning searching for the location. However, all of that is another story. I arrived at the Shaku group meeting a little later than planned but not enough to have missed a lot. I needed to pick up food to bring and grab something to eat then.

I slipped in and joined in the song that was upcoming on the agenda. A short while later another elder sempai bows his way in. We continue and also repeat Cho Shi together once more.

The way is made around the table for everyone to play a solo piece. I did Tamuki as a test for the Komuso offering event at Shitennoji. ( FYI: that whole story is on the Komuso blog). It went over ok, no one gave up any corrections except do not move the flute around so much. ( I was trying to find the sweet spot). The correction I was given last time I got the ok nod from another sempai when I asked him it was, ok? So ok, past that. I am feeling better about the performance on Sunday.

The visitor is up. She says she will not play shakuhachi but will play her Koto for the group. Perfect! we all some questions about the Koto as she was tuning. We all looked it over from all angles.

When she played it was heavenly. We all loved it. It was suggested that since I was the musician that she and I do a song together. If there was the time I would have liked that, however, I was feeling a bit shy about that at the moment as was she, so neither of us stepped to make it happen. Thinking back now I should have tried. It was not like a big deal to sound bad. Hahahah. It would have been all in fun. Sometimes being humble and shy is a fun blocker. I still need to step out of my comfort zone more, yet another personal challenge to work on….Amitoufo

 

 

…and so we are here.

Life can get in the way of blogging. LIfe rules. Life goes on, blog or not. You can not blog without life. I am in the deep post stage of healing now from the operation. No side effects I can see. ( hehehe) . I am so glad it is over. My eyes sight is still recovering, I am told about a month for vision to stabilize. Even I am so much better off now, visually speaking.

…In the world of bows and arrows.

I will get back to Kyudo training now, I can see clearer. Visually and mentally. I think I should make some progress now. I do not expect a lot of change because of the vision thing, but because I am understanding more about alignment, holding it, without tension. The other “seeing”. I can go back to shooting now, the weather is warming up a little. Summer shinza will be here soon. I will pass this year! I have signed up for a Tai Kai at Osakajo park dojo. It is the end of the month. It has been a while since I have gone to a Tai Kai outside of Kishiwada. I have not felt confident. I am better now and improving. This will help strengthen dojo ties, focus, form and be fun…I hope 🙂

…In the world of Sounds and beats.

I have been working on a couple of musical projects. Oh, wait did I tell you the drummer with the Sieki band quite. Not a big deal, I did not think he was that good. Ok in a limited scope. The leader has found a new guy. I do not know if he is long-term or filling in for the spring Shows. I hope he is a good player.

Then there is my stuff. I have a Komuso Shakuhachi memorial coming up this weekend. This is the one had to play at in front of the masters last year. to have my sponsorship announced. Now I am back,  I have been putting some extra time as possible. Trying to memorize the song. Having eye surgery and no job kept me time free to get some practice in. I decided this year to go with the long length Shakuhachi. At first the 2.0 now I am thinking the 2.5. The sound is much richer and fitting a shrine performance offering. Also, I seemed to have improved because now I can hit the higher notes. Sensei said to me today at my lesson. If you miss a note, let it go as part of the performance. In other words, It is done, let it go. Make the wind part of the note. In short, roll with it.
That’s something that every musician learns. Life is Zen, Music is Zen.

Life (Sound) is impermanence. When poo happens ( bad notes), learn and move on. The moment like the sound has faded away…Amitoufo

Ok, yeah I am doing the long flute. Another point today in class, I was shown more than told the answer to a question I did not ask but had been thinking about. Did I have to play the way it was written? No, I play what I feel, that is the point of an offering. I was corrected on a way I played a line at the Shakuhachi Club when I was giving a demo of me playing for the temple. Sensei gave me an example of playing the song as an offering in the temple. Much more in keeping with my thought, although much much better! LoL! So my main key to mind is playing to enjoy it, the feeling is more important than the notes!

 

The other project also involves the Shaku, but in a completely different setting. I had not been to the Ozaki Jazz society session in a while. I wanted to make a point of going this month. I organized 4 songs, to play. with whoever wanted to join. I also arranged for a friend who plays Mandolin to attend and another woman friend who attends regularly was going to be there. She agreed to play piano for me. I like her playing. So she and the mandolin player knew in advance what I wanted music wise. So I felt pretty set. The rest of the players could be sorted out on their parts as they felt them.

When I arrived it was quite crowded, I was surprised. Many faces I did not know. I greeted all I knew when I came in and had a seat near my friend. The session was lively and interesting. It was my turn…

I thought I had things all worked out about the sound. The last time I played the Shaku with a band I could not hear it well. I brought along a small amp and a clip-on mic holder, this time. I thought I was set. I explained things to the drummer and keyboardist how I wanted the beat and tempo. Turns out they both speak English, the keyboardist I knew did. I counted off and we started. slowly fleeing the groove. I got organized and stepped-up up to the mic for a note check. BLahhhh. Weak !  Weak! sadly weak I signaled to the MC for another mic to switch with the one I brought. We did a quick swap to the house system, I could sort of hear. I had to make do and just roll with it. I could not get into the feeling I wanted because I could barely hear myself, I am flat or off, or what. I suffered to hear. I could hear a few notes and I could hear some shouts of approval from the crowd. so I played on trying to hear by feeling, by sense. We made the timing change in the song it was a tricky part. The drummer blew it but we got past it and went into the next groove. I kept my Shakuhachi playing low-key, like background strings. Once in a while, I throw in a few solo bars notes. We made the tempo switch again this time the drummer really blew it, I was able to reset the time and get it back up to beat. Listening back on the video, it is not too bad. Some parts were even good. The attendees seemed to love it!

I was only able to do the one Shakuhachi song, then another song on the Bass, two total, because of the size of the attendees. No matter I found out what I needed to know, it was an experiment. It went well, it is no longer a question if I can play well enough or if I can pull it off mixing the sounds. The next issue is being heard. I mentioned that also to Sensei today. He told me the correct position to place a Mic and the best angle. I was way off-putting it at the end, it needs to be next to the mouth like a metal flute. Duh!!! ok, Now I know so it was a successful mission. Next, I will take it to the Blues club for a run. If the sound issue is solved I should be good to go. If you want to hear the cut-instrumental cut of the song, you can click here.

next return to the temple