尺八 – Komuso and the Shakuhachi-Do

The way of Chan and the 尺八 Tao

Since becoming a Chan “priest” I have been on a search for meaning a purpose for it, for me. Not the standard idea, actions, path. But how to express the label, the responsiblity, the vows, the “weight” in a way that gives meaning to my spirit. Some purposeful outlet for the title, the mantel, honor the linage. My Martial path under different circumstances would be ideal. IF I was in the States or even maybe Mexico or Canada, I could establish myself, my expression of the Chan Dharma, fairly easy…so to speak. Here is Japan, no. The ground is not fertile, over planted. There are many many Tai Chi “clubs’ who’s teachers speak Japanese. Kung Fu, well, that is not a real interest in the land of Karate, even less so here in the countryside, and “burbs”. The few that have expressed interest fade after a few classes, for what ever reason. Let’s just say they do not have the spirit for the effort involved.

When speaking of Meditation (Zazen here), that gives rise to the wall staring hardcore Japanese version of Zen. People have that fixed idea about it. So having a more low-key yet more encompassing holistic approach to Zazen is not understood. Education takes time.


I expressed to a recent new friend, who speaks English, that I wanted to become a Komuso and why. Historically from what is written, the komuso, did little in the way of actual Buddhist practice. Perhaps a few, however what most stands out about them is they just wandered around earning food by playing shakuhachi and the shakuhachi was their tool for enlightenment. Their practice was really all about themselves. Few were actual Buddhist priest. The “aura” that is around Komuso these days is romantic history. 
Komuso these days are more organized, but still from what feedback I am getting it is still just about the playing and themselves. The playing as a social gathering club, or for some as a meditation tool, some for just the music. Then there is my Komuso Sempai in Nara. He is all about being a true “Buddhist Priest” Komuso. It has been educational and interesting going out to do Takuhatsu with him. I can see me doing this in my area. With Takuhatsu No real language issues, no space to rent issues, advertising issues, no identity other than a Komuso. Brings several things together and serves multi-causes. The problem, license, certification, affiliation.

In speaking with my friend about my desire to be a Komuso and why. He said you do not need to be a Komuso to do that. Japan is a Buddhist country if they see you as a Buddhist Priest your color will not matter. You can wear whatever and do not need to be under a Tengai. It is considered fortunate to encounter a Buddhist Priest/Monk especially by the elders. It maybe more to your advantage being who you are, than you think. That got me to thinking…Hmmm. maybe…in all Black robe…

.
Yet there is still the issue of License to do Takuhatsu
( beg) in Japan or perhaps a street performer license. Although that would put it as entertainment not as a serious Buddhist practice. Something to think on…
I have a Shakuhachi recital up coming in two weeks. I will met a shakuhachi Sempai who is a former Policeman and now a Komuso. I was told by my Sensei he does not look at Shakuhachi as a Musical instrument, but only as a Zen Tool. This way of thought, I find interesting. I planned on asking him about license, begging the law, Buddhist Dharma and Shakuhachi. This could give me the final answers I need or a door to where I need to go.
Shakuhachi Club
 
Once a month there is a meeting of the Classical Shakuhachi group. This group plays the long Shakuhachi. I am new to this group having just met some of the members over the last couple of months. This is the group my new Friend, who is from Germany belongs to. As it turns out these members are all Komuso or mostly all, belonging to the Myôan-ji in some form. A general statement. The point is that they are affiliated in some fashion with the Myôan-ji in Kyoto. I made my way to the meeting on my own this time. I was able to located it ok, with a little effort.
There were six of us attending. Once started, there was a little scale drill as a warmup. Then playing two versions of Cho Shi. I finally figured out one of these version I already had learned, the writing style was a little different. Although I needed some playing adjustments, I knew it. Afterward, there was some chatting, then everyone went through the study piece everyone is working on taught to them by their former sensei. Next up everyone played the song they are performing for any upcoming concert. In this case the big show in Kyoto at the Myôan temple next month.
It is at this time period where I play a song. I did Cho Shi even though I am now finished with “Tamuki”. I am more comfortable with Cho Shi, I can play without reading. I was listened to and asked to play again with no breath vibrato. I tend to do this from playing Harp and flute. Afterward it was said it was much better, more like Shakuhachi. There were a couple of corrections I needed and was told about also a point about my breathing. There was some other talk and I heard we’ll teach you. Ok, Cool. I am getting some real lessons from this. Perfect since I need to cut back on my formal classes with my Sensei. I had originally looked for a Shakuhachi group to learn from, but It seemed at the time it was only for people who already could play. Now I am one of them. I can make musical notes, and read, poorly but…still, I can. I have made some progress. Though it does not seem like it to me. I guess this is a real milestone marker to be accepted into the group. ( Thanks Dean for the intro).
So after almost 2.5 yrs of study, I am where I wanted to be when I started…well sort of. I wish it were so with my Kyudo, but that is another story.That evening I receive an eMail from my friend aka “Big O” in the group. He says he spoke with the group about what wanted to do. basically it was said no problem I can join and get set up through them. Wow, great news! Fairly simple, smooth and cheap! I had heard that doing this official Komuso via the Temple was costly! I had an alt plan of speaking with a Kinko Sempai about joining the Kokoku-ji group in Wakayama. I was expecting even there, pay a monthly fee to a sensei plus the extras…
The Myôan-ji seems to be more active and the new Abbot is rumored to be more interested in raising the meditation aspects of the Komuso group.

I do have a sense my Sempai is of the more hard-core Shuizen mind. Which could be perfect for what I want to learn. Wakayama is much much closer. I am going to continue to flow with the force and let the Tao work. I am hopeful with the Sakura in the spring a new Komuso will bud in Osaka.

 

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Chan, Music and Food: The Taiwan tour, pt 2


Chan, Music and Food: The Taiwan tour, pt 2

When we last visited our hero he was down with a a/c cold…

 
The night before once I returned to the hotel, rest, a hot bath, glass of wine. I was out for the count fairly early. The next morning I was feeling better, not perfect but better. We started the day with another great buffet. It was not fully vegetarian but there was enough choices that I could again eat my fill. I did not stick with the Chan teaching of eating 75 – 80%, I stuffed myself, not to an excess but at least 90-95%. It was worth it. I needed the body fuel to help heal, I figured.
 
It was still somewhat early, but I chose not to redo the plan to visit the Heart Chan group, rather to just rest. I think I went with LZ out to a couple of places she wanted to go to. It was hot out, but for me not uncomfortable. Since I was not bothering anyone with my small sniffles at this point, going out with her was fine. One of the places she wanted to see was a tower called , 101.
 
Afterward back to the hotel and just hung out in the lounge. There we could eat and drink in under relaxed conditions. There was some food set out, not a great selection but I was still able to top off my breakfast from the morning, enough to hold me over for the evening. Then I was off to the club.
 
My friend the musician I met in Sakai, Japan and I met up at a place call Jazz/blues spot Swing. It had a bit of trouble finding it once I was nearby. With some help from a local I was able to get there. My friend also brought along a friend of his. She had lived in the States for a few years, so her English was great. We because friends easily. She had an interest in Qi Gong and Chan. As it turns out she was just finishing a book by the grandmaster of the Dharma Drum sect, founded by Sheng Yen. My current teachers school and teacher. Also the place(s) I had just went to the day before. So as it turns out I am her Sempai/shrxiang, elder brother. Funny small world. So we three hd a pleasant evening at the club. I spoke with the owners some who also spoke Japanese. The husband played organ. At a later point he, my friend and I did a couple of songs together. I did not have my Bass, so I played piano on one song, and just sang on another. Fun. When settling my bar tap I meet another person from Japan, Tokyo, he is Chinese, speaks Japanese, English and Chinese. His wife is Japanese. A nice fellow who also plays Sax. We exchange info Facebook and Cards. He says he often comes to Osaka, so we may meet again.
 
I find out trains in Taiwan also stop running at 12:00 so it was time for me to head back. My new Chan Sister and I walked back together chatting about Chan and enjoying the walk. At the station we went opposite directions.
 
The next and last day, LZ and I went to another recommended vegetarian restaurant. It was big! Food thing we had reservations so got to go in among the first. This place was the best of the stay. Lot and lots of choices both western and Asian. I saw a group of Buddhist Nuns there also filling up. Once again I did the 90% fill up. Maybe 95, I knew it would be the last meal there so I enjoyed. There were so many choices I got a little of almost every thing.
 
From there it was back to the hotel to make ready for our early evening flight back home to Osaka. It was nice the flight was not too late and it was only a little over 2 hrs. Seats were tight with no leg room. Still I was able to sleep most of the way, by the time I was getting too uncomfortable the flight was over.
 
It was a good trip. lZ said she had no interest in going back the food was not as great as she hoped for. Japan had more variety. For me it was great . Japan is not so great for vegetarians. I did get a website that list Veggie places all over. Some not too far from us, but still some travel involved.
 
Would I go back, hmm yeah, if I could get a good flight price and hotel rate. Also with a purpose. Like a retreat with the Chan group, or a Kyudo seminar, something like that. I still like feel and sights of Japan better. If there was a Tai Chi Mantis sifu or Chen Tai Chi teacher there in Taiwan that would push me into a visit sooner than later. I heard there maybe be a Kyudo Seminar there, maybe that will be my return reason…it is up to the Dao. If God be willing nd the Bombs don’t fall.
Oh, if you wish to see the photos…click here X
 

Sixty something…

Sixty something, wow…

Wow, I did it. I beat my own personal best record for trips around the sun…that I know of. Go me! Hahaha. Yeah, it was that time of year, “Hime” and I had our birthdays. It has been about 20 years, but I still miss her. My Akita named Hanako Hime., we had the same birthday! That really makes it a special day.

I had wanted to spend part of my day sailing. Go down to Snafkin, have lunch then sail back. However The boat I wanted was in use that day for a class, so. Out of luck sort of. It was not a day as I planed but I still made it work…

Otherwise it was just another sun trip for me. Although this is the year I really understood, “time is almost up”. Beside the fact it could be so, as I write this. I am though just speaking about our limited “vision” of our time. I spent the day quietly in meditation. 🙂 sounds very monkish ne?!
Well, in a meditative state would be closer. I was up at 6:00 am, I wanted to get to the shrine, before the heat! 
 
It was a peaceful scene at the shrine, mornings are extra nice. I took in the calm of the morning and the vision of what had changed since my last visit. The clearing was larger, a tree gone, the boulders moved. I adjusted my spacial sense and made my plan. I would practice first then, do some blowing Zen for the Shinto spirits.
 
I stretched a bit, and absorbed chi and the pleasure of muscles being awakened. I started with some Chen taiji, wanted to feel a sense of quiet power to set the tone for my day. I followed those with Hing Yi, some Mantis and sword work. I had some ideas of how using the could work and blended some moves, ideas, principles from Mantis, Kali, and Shaolin and so was born : The Tao of Shaolin Chan Lohan Flute. In Japanese Shorinji Zen Rakan Shakuhachi Do. Sounds kinda cool ne!? I was just messing around, a joke. Still sort of fun to say I have created my own system, style as it were. It reads well, even though there will never be any students of Shorinji Zen Rakan Shakuhachi Do. My martial art legacy .
 
Ok, so back to real stuff…
About the time I was finished practicing the mosquitoes came out. When I first arrived I tried to light a mosquitos coil thing. I could not get the lighter to work. I figured it was the Shinto spirit saying, ohhh no, not here! So I did not push it. I took a few pictures, a grandpa’s birthday, then I was going to play flute. I got a few in, my sister-in-Law posted them on her FB page. Captioned my Brother-in-law. The unspoken part was the weird old grandpa! Hahahahah
The Mosquitos increased their attack and numbers. I thought to the Shintos Spirits well you guys don’t want me to kill here then you should keep them (the mosquitoes )at bay, WTF! Even with no smokey stuff they are dying from me splatting them. Nothing is changed. Ok, screw it, I went for the smoke thing again, thinking it will keep them away not kill them. I got the lighter to work, I tried to light a coil, it would not ! After several tries it did , burned a couple of seconds then went out. Several times of this a gave up. Ok ok I get it, I say to the Shintos!
 
I tried to practice then to shakuhachi. I was being attacked by a horde of mosquitoes. Ok ok, I am out of here. Done! I bowed and left the shrine grounds.
 
I walked back home, and needed to jump right in the shower. I was hot, sticky, and bitened. After a nice shower with some Dr. Bonners lavender castle soap I was feeling refreshed. I started my regular day from there, Zazen, short chant, breakfast.
 
From there on it was pretty much like that, a bit of this and that a lot of shakuhachi playing, some other instruments, some gardening, a movie and nice NAP! Pretty much a cruising day. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings of gratitude. With the thoughts of aging came some goal settings for next year, and five. All personal achievement stuff except for becoming a modern Komuso. An Active, engaged practice. That is really more of my Buddhist path direction, ministry, something for the world, rather than something just for me, like getting that Yon-dan status. So I am feeling pleased to have gotten some sense of a spiritual life direction, I lost that with the Zenamaran and have just been re-centering, seeking a course.

The day full thoughts and gratitude had very little, if any thoughts on how to make money in my senior years. My wife would not be happy about that. I should be more thoughtful of that as I see the world change and the sands of time drop. Logically I should be very concerned, my working years I spent concerned and lost it all. Now aging, wiser(?), why do that again…all my possessions can fit in one room, rely on only the Universe as my support. So far it has worked for these years. Basically I am just along for the ride.

吹禅 – Lohan Shaolin Shakuhachi


Lohan Shorin Shakuhachi

 
My two-year of formal shakuhachi study was last month. I have yet to make my annual anniversary pilgrimage. It is coming though. I did have a small one of sorts. Rather unplanned.
 
I finished learning my second traditional Shakuhachi song this week. Golden week here in Japan. It was a struggle for me. The first two days I spent in pain and a numb mouth from dental work. Which was just hours before my scheduled Skype Lesson. I believe I already said this on my last post. So I will not again, if not, just imagine, numb mouth shakuhachi class. Next two-day a cold! Anyway, I persevered. My fellow Zen path follower was kind enough to teach me the song I needed to do a day with a Komuso upcoming later this month. I am grateful for the help to make the trip possible. Now I need practice! 
 
So any-who, I decided on Friday the weather was great, I was feeling almost 100% normal…for me. I make the choice to go out, get some practice in, some fresh air, some exercise. One of the things, that stuck me holding the shakuhachi was its feel as a weapon, having a martial art background. I read that some of the old Komuso, being former samurai also felt the connection with the shakuhachi as a weapon and they at time used it as such. With that in mind I had been thinking about training with it with a different mind-set. In my shaolin studies, we have a short staff “form” or kata as it is called in Japanese. This lends itself well to use of the shakuhachi as a a short staff. However, i was thinking more in terms of sword. I have a Tai Chi sword form I am re-learning, this I felt would be perfect for use with a shakuhachi instead of blade. In Japan I can not freely go out and practice with my swords as in the states. So I use a cane, or a collapsible sword or cheap meal. Both work , but lack a feel, which I am sure is a mental thing. I decided, practicing with a shakuhachi would give the practice a different feel, something unique. A different feeling than with a sword, but also different from a fake sword. That would be part of my practice for today. Physical, mental, spiritual, audio. Formless and form. I could also Practice Kali with the shakuhachi. But really unnecessary due to the nature of Kali. Also the limits of a two-part Shakuhachi. None of the training is really suitable for a two piece shakuhachi, however the Tai Chi jhian form is the least of being chanced harmful to the shakuhachi.

So I have my plan. Go to the temple grounds near our home. This is my favorite temple in the area, Chokei-ji. The grounds over look the area . I can see to the Osaka Bay from over by the large Bell, which is next to the grave yard. The place is usually quiet. I can practice some of the faces of Chan, in peace. Movement, stillness, sound, as well as take a few photos. Practice my photographic art. I wonder sometime from something LZ said if people think I like posting pictures of myself on FB. Really I have started being able to separate myself as the model and as me. The model is just there, because I need a subject or as part of the subject really more a prop. My photos are more about the shot than about me, or a graphic to support the story.

Off I set on the bike heading for the temple grounds. It is about a 10-15 min bike ride to the grounds. Then there is a climb of 100 steps to reach the main ground. It is said that a wish is granted after climbing the 100 steps at the main entrance. I also feel a charge going up the steps , then passing through the entrance gate with the two spirit guards on the sides. I am guessing the entrance is very very old from the looks of it.

 
I make the upward passage to the entrance, I bow and enter. Today I am being extra respectful as I have a motive from coming. I go to the main temple and to the incense burner and forever candle. I light a stick of incense I brought with me. I pass my Shakuhachi through the smoke of the incense after a small thanks of gratitude for the use of the grounds. Next to the altar and bell. I made an offering , bowed, small prayer. Now I felt I could do my practice, after giving respect to the spirits.
 
I went over to the large bell and changed my clothes. There I took few shoots, and practiced Tai Chi, hand and sword sets. Then I walked around a bit and took some more shots I thought would be interesting and fun. There were some that thought would be great, but I did not want to walk on certain parts of a pagoda, it did not seem proper. I was made more aware of that when I visited the Kyudojo in Kamakura and I was stopped from walking on an area near a prayer spot. This was also in my mind from watching the visitors there today. The pagodas had some meaning as they prayed at them. So I figured the best way is to avoid possible lost of face. I grabbed a few shots from here and there , changing my on some planned shots.
 
I picked a spot overlooking the main grounds and had lunch among the rocks. I was not sure if I should be eating there so I kept a low profile. Afterwards, I played the Shakuhachi songs I felt fit the place. One was the new song I am learning. My Sensei said when I go to visit temples, the amount that I have learned is proper and enough to pay as a “gift”, offering. I also played the new song I was just taught. I did not play long but what I felt was enough. Then just sat for a bit before making ready to go home.
 
This day was the first I had ever seen any of the temple staff. A couple were out doing gardening, another couple went in and out of the housing area. I watched them closely to see if I was doing something wrong. I was pretty much ignored the whole time.
After I had finished my audio shakuhachi practice and was packing my stuff. I did not think I was playing that loud, or noticeably. I thought I was pretty on the “under”. Someone came out of the housing area, a woman, on her way to someplace else. She looked over at me directly and did a small bow. I did not notice at first, she did it again, I returned the bow, she left.

Mind shift

Mind Shift

 
I am getting to embrace the temporal mind matter shift concerning, not only my Kung Ku but Kyudo as well. At least so it seems now. Things change, including my idea, because I am open to learning.
 
More and more I have been cross circuiting Tai Chi and Kyudo. When doing Tai Chi, I recall I need to do this or that, when doing kyudo, or just being aware of carrying to much tension in one muscle group or another. Stretching the spine. It works the same Kyudo to Tai Chi. Recalling I tend to carry to much tension in my shoulders when doing Kyudo, I make a point of relaxing them more doing Tai Chi. I was surprised the first couple of times how much I was carrying even in Tai Chi.
 
I have been going through some mind trips about my Kung Fu. My Shifu would say to me at times, as you are carrying on the linage…blah blah blah. So I have always felt some kind of responsibility to teach. In a way to pay back my teachers for their efforts. Sometime which came for free. I felt a “duty” to teach. Of late I have been thinking more on the lines of, I should think of this more as a gift to me, for my use, my health, my spirit, part of my practice, for my practice. Not to be concerned about teaching or feel guilty if not. I am not just wasting if I am putting it to use, in some form or another. I suppose thinking logically I am the main priority for it’s use. My health. If I am not healthy, sick, weak from not doing my physical, “Form”, movement Chan, and doing it can can help then, I am wasting the gift, several in fact. That is the thing I need to not let escape me, not the teaching.
So much I can spend time on self-improving. I had stopped trying to improve and was just maintaining. It can be easy to fall into that mode when one is not training with a teacher. I had a classmate also a sifu, say yeah, everyone once in a while we need a kick in the pants as a student to keep moving. Also at this age, this maybe one of the things Ling Sisuk told me about at reaching this age. Another challenge to one’s motivation is not having any peers, classmates. I am really just out here on my own. I can be difficult, It takes more discipline I think to hold the course. I do ok, but I can do better. I have to bring back more priority to my “Fu”, “Motion Chan” use that more as a training aid for Kyudo. They can support each others and me. I kind of felt as a teacher, as a Lohan Priest it is selfish of me to focus only on myself and not seek students, but, as I said before the Universe puts us where we need to be, for whatever reason. Sometimes that reason is right in your face…
If there is a student(s) who is in need of me, the universe will bring him/her to me. I will no longer “trip” on it. another case of I am where I am suppose to be. In a way it was kind of like being attached to passing a Shinsa instead of just improving one’s self. As said in Zen, “the answer is within”, seek within not without. That also means motivation, the prize. Find it within…
 
I have been putting more effort back into my Kung Practice as a solid part of my overall “practice”, like part of daily meditation. When I was working with the city I did some warmups before going out on the truck. I have started Taiji/Hsinyi before going in now to the boatyard, unless it is raining. Training like this is good as well for Kyudo. I notice this or that position in Tai Chi gives balance, strength, pressure to this or that when doing Kyudo. More so using some of the weapons. The control of the muscles in detail. Kyudo is big on details. I am starting to understand true cross training.
 

One of the things I wanted to do when we moved on here was to have a wooden dummy setup in the yard for my practice use. That did not work out space wise when LZ added the a/c heater, with the blower right in the front yard space where I was going to put the dummy. That stopped that.

Just recently with this new influx of training ideas, the dummy has come up again. I have figured a spot for it , inside in the laundry area. Perfect, day or night, rain or shine, I will have a practice partner…sort of. Now to just figure the how of getting one in Japan, without it costing a small fortune. At least to me. I will give some meditation time to planing on building my own. I have seen it done, with varied workable results.

 Another thing I need to get on is improving my Japanese, it is a big deal to advance now. That is also needs to be part of my training. That will advance me in other areas here as well as with the music field…yosh

On such a winter’s day


This n that….on such a winter’s day.

 
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I have been looking forward to going to Kamakura. A visit to the Engakuji, not just to see the old Zen temple ground but to see the Kyudojo. Dream perhaps dare to dream of a chance to shot there. We have friends from the states that moved nearby, so besides visiting the Great Buddha we were going to hang out a bit with them.
 
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LZ has made the arrangements we are set for April! It will just be a short stay , but even with the disappointment of the Kyudojo at Engakuji, the trip will, be interesting a short pilgrim for me to the Zen Temple. 
Oh, what’s that I did not tell you about the disappointment of the Kyudojo ? Well, I had Lz do some research and ask a few questions about the Dojo. It turns out it is there and anyone can view it from the outside. The club itself has changes as the an old priest who ran it passed away. The new priest does not do Kyudo. The space it rented out to a private club, not taking new members. Sounds like the shrine I tried to join when I first arrived in this area. They, the temple staff, say they do not know how to get in touch with the club. Of course that is BS , but I get it. Oh well. Another life item to be viewed with non-abiding awareness. The Great Buddha I just want to see for the photo op and say I been there, kind of thing.
 
So yeah , it will be fun seeing our friends. It has been awhile.
 
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Shakuhachi,
Recital next week, I know the piece but not by heart. I still have a week to focus. I have also been working on a another piece called Cho Shi. I am learning this to play with my acquaintance the Komoso in Nara. He has been kind enough to offer me the extra gear, hat, sandals, etc, I need to be a kumoso for a day. I was able to score a plain black kimono. I need to learn the piece now. I am slowly getting it. I will be able to focus more after the recital. Also not having a Yon-dan shinsha staring at me will help. This will come I think shortly after the Kamakura trip…or before. Which will be in April.
I was pleased to find out Golden week is in May, so I may make it to the Kyoto Tai Kai this year.
 
Waterworld
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The weather has really sucked down at the marina as of late. That is hail in the picture above this.
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However it is good to have the couple of days work. More so since the City Park work has dried up for the season. Working inside the boat on some bad weather days , really reminds me of my own boat owning past. The rain on the cabin, the sway of the boat, the comfort of a heat small space. Watching the boats through rain streaked glass, in the marina dance with the waves. I wonder some time will I ever own again. I have noticed a pattern with things I have “owned”. They all go away. My clock is running out, as has my build-able income. Yet, one must stay open to gifts from the Universe, because one never know what the tides will bring.
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Kung Fu dharma world is once again quiet. Not surprising, disappointing but not surprising. This is a different world here, and I am in a way different area. Anyway it is ok, I still keep my feelers out, but return to having my practice for me, improving me. It seems selfish when I say it like that but, that is reality. Use this knowledge and training to keep me healthy and supported in my other practices…
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Music, Chan/Kung Fu study, Kyudo, these are part of what I wanted for my retirement years. So I am mostly there and I am indeed feeling blessed to be able to do this. More so with the oncoming darkness of the Trump years ahead. I am missing the sailing part, but I also have that sort of since I can borrow a boat from Aoki Corp if I want a day sail. So mostly just missing doing ceramics. I ant at some point get back into doing some clay-work, however Kyudo is my big challenge right now. Even though Shakuhachi, is also and will most likely give me more payback as far as actual use. Kyudo remains my big challenge. So mostly things are as I hoped for in Japan, it is rare anything turns out just as one plans, but in life like sailing , one can not control the wind, but one can adjust your sails.
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Anyway with approach of winter all one can do is hold on to their inner light as long as they can have faith in whatever one believes in, even if is just duct tape. Then see what the universe has in mind for you.
 
…for now, it’s winter
 
 

Akimashite Omedetou – 2017

 

Akimashite Omedetou – 2017

 
…And we are off on a new adventure. It will be an interesting time ahead. I am not going to even go into the political stuff. It is way too much and like poopers, everyone has an opinion. Like poopers, some are pretty crappy.
 
As for me…sigh. 
 
The student that I thought was going to be fairly dedicated, quit. He said he was going to just do some basic exercises. I do not understand, what it is with people they want , well they say they want to learn something, but then find out, yes one does have to practice. They quit. Art any art does not just happen, there is no Matrix like pill you can take and suddenly you know Kung Fu, Karate, Kyudo, play an instrument, paint, dance whatever. Yeah, life happens but you deal with it and find a pace to study, practice that you can work with and keep on keeping on. 
Then there are the people who sign up to stuff, or even to get info, but do not respond to questions, like, what are your goals in doing this? I am tired and a bit depressed, I will get over it. No matter, I will retain my practice for me as always and not concern myself about passing on any knowledge. It does make me feel I am letting down my Shifu though, but I am sure he understands and has most likely been there. It if is meant to be more, it will be.
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My Kyudo practice status does not help my mood. I thought I was improving, but my last few days of shooting went down hill again. I will not give up, I will not even think of it. However I am developing an attitude of acceptance, this maybe as far as I can go and just shoot to shoot. No thought of Shinsa, pass or fail, just better my form and shoot. That being my only goal, perfection of form. Hit no hit, no matter. Sort of like doing Zazen.
The goal is the journey not the destination sort of thing. It is said when you sit and meditate and your goal is to be enlightened, you move further away from it. Sit, meditate just because you can, not to gain anything. Perfect one’s form, back straight, breath, slow smooth and deep, non-abiding awareness of mind, no goals, no attachments, perhaps other than just sitting, connecting to all that is. Still that in itself is a goal, no?
There are times when meditating, that one disconnects and yet connects to the source. It is the briefest of moments, because when it happens and one because aware of it and thinks, this is it, you disconnect and it is no longer there!

Yet, I see people shoot and hit and hit and hit. However when one just focuses on the hit and do it, they are classified as target whores. They are not just letting it happen, they are focus on making it happen. One has to focus on not focusing to make it happen…headache come from analyzing that thought too much. Still, it is frustrating knowing I shot better before, years before now, yet now after all this training and effort, my shooting sucks. I am walking the “plateau”

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I did the annual 108 arrow shoot at my home dojo. It was interesting… again. I go through sections of the shoot with a different mind-set. Not on purpose, but it just happens. I observe. Starting with attention to every detail. Focus trying to improve my form, because working with the makiwara is all about one’s form not hitting.

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Then counting and shooting to get it done then back to focus on detail, mindfulness, a return to purpose, not just to shoot. It is over all quite the learn experience. Touching on the spiritual meaning of doing it. A stand-on for the 108 strikes of the bell at the Buddhist temple for the 108 “sins”, distractions. However done with arrows instead of a gong.

Shakuhachi, there seems to be a couple of ways to approach playing. Perfection of a sound, a note, the melody, as music does not matter. It is a spiritual tool. Perfection of a musical piece, the musician way. The expression of the song, the melody. Another, the use of the breath. The flute is a tool to controlling the breath, the variables, benefits, associated with that. Sound does not matter, melody does not matter, only the breath, the source of life matters.

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The Shakuhachi is a tool for controlling, developing that. The breath is our connection to the universe. We live because of our breath. God breathed life into the clay and gave us being, it is said. There is yet another side, that of the sound, the music being an offering. This was mentioned to me by the Komuso in Nara. I spoke to him of doing my yearly pilgrimage to some Komuso Zen temple and was told, there os one in Kyoto. I could visit the ground, I could not enter without a teacher, permission, a pass from the teacher something like that. However I could sit in the garden and play, make a “musical offering”. I had that “sense” when I visited the temple in Wakayama last year, and played at the hall entrance, but I did not put it into a named thought of making an offering. Giving something of myself, my breath in to sound as an offering to the Source, to Buddha. Not Buddha as a “god”. But Buddha as the Spirit of life. We do not worship Buddha as a God in Zen. Buddha is an enlighten being, an awaken soul, Buddha is us , we are Buddha, Buddha is everything, yet nothing. Form and formlessness.

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I am not sure what I am doing these days and sort of frustrated, sort of depressed, sort of goal-less with a sense of time fading away, being on a fruitless journey. The Journey is the fruit and that is all there is until the end? I guess. I do not have that many years left, to figure, work, achieve, what? Maybe 15-20 if lucky or unlucky depend on one’s view-point. WWW 3 happens, the world in left a bed of ash, poison and radiation, doubtful if surviving would be considered lucky.  
 
“The purpose of life is service to others”. Nice thought. I thought I had found my way to do that, several times. I had more of a plan, a dream before coming to Japan. However the path keeps dissolving, and the dream fades away with the tide of life. So it must not be the “right” path. According to the 8 fold Buddhist path, to lessen/reduce suffering, one needs the ” right” job. Easy to say, difficult to do. There is no one “right” for everyone. With limited language skills voluntary work is limited as well. I had thought of free meditation, or Tai Chi classes, those skills I can share. Yet people put little value on things that are free. Perhaps the answer lies with being a faceless Kumoso giving pleasure via the sounds of the Shakuhachi, sharing my life force for donations, which in turn would be given to charity. A faceless service to those who suffer and giving some value to my appointment as a priest and talent as a musician. Well the quest continues, as does the New Year. All I can really do is continue to step, train and keep my heart, mind, spirit open for guidance. That is all any of us can do really. Strive to improve, to take another step, stay linked to the Universe, stay healthy to take that next step and be ready for whatever is on the path.
Happy New Year! Strap in for the ride. May we all do better. _/|\_
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TnT

 

This n that, that n this – Dec,

 
Wow, 2016 is almost over. Kind of scary if I think too much about it…”time waits for no one”. 
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I have not said much about music world these days, not much happening. I have not been with the Doc’s Blues “band”. He is really into the “OverHeat club” me not so much, not at all in fact to be honest. I have said why so I will not repeat. Another reason is the Doc does not want to practice, he just wants to get high and have fun, not a drop of concern about how we sound. lets just have a good time is his only thought. He has admitted he is does not have a professional attitude…sigh. He is a Doc, he has never paid musical dues. Oh well.
 
Anyway speaking of music The Jazz band had an end of the year session on Christmas night. I went by and did a couple of songs. It has been several months since I have played there. They are nice folks. Everyone that knew me seemed pleased I was there. I got applause just walking in the door from those who knew me. The people who did not, seemed taken aback, by the attention, to some gaijin showing up and getting a hand just walking in the door. Kind of funny seeing some of the expressions. I just did a couple of songs in the blues realm, since that is where I am comfortable with no rehearsal and unknown players.
 
 
It worked out mostly well. I did one song at the piano and one song on the bass. Both went mostly well. The one on the Bass , “merry Christmas baby” I thought was fitting for a Christmas night. The ending was bad, as was one part in the middle. Which I expected. These folks are good players, but they lack “feel” for just playing from the gut and following. However their technical skills are good. If I had everything written out they would follow well. I did not, I gave them a basic cord chart and just let them do their best. While I kept it simple.
 
 
Anyway it was fun, and everyone seemed to like it.
 
One nice thing about this venue, is they have food. We pay 1,000 yen, to use the club. With that we get one free drink, and a small buffet.
I am always told what is ok, for me to eat (non- meat).
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There was a surprise cake this time for the Christmas party. I went to the table to get a slice, but as I was there near, it was being chopped away. There was only two pieces left as I got up to plate. I gave my spot away, I did not want to take the last piece or get there as the last piece was given away. I sat back down. Surprise…The manager came over a few minutes later and gave me a slice from another cake they had stashed in the back. Way cool of him. He had before all this came over and gave me some type of sea food in a shell. He said, “but you eat seafood right’? I said …er…thanks but no!
It looked like a giant great snail!! I passed. I thought about what my Abbot had said about as a priest I am not suppose to refuse gifts. Hmm. Well sorry, I was not going there with that “thing”, it looked gross. If I was starving yeah, but since I was not…passed!
So that was my Christmas night.
 
Christmas day, at least the afternoon, I taught my Tai Chi student. Some practice time for me before-hand then class for him. 
 
 
Finally a student who seems serious. He is struggling and finding out it is not as easy as he thought. So far I am just having him do basic training. Stretching, Chi Gong, sitting meditation, stances, Tai Chi walk. He is not bad, but he is not good either. He wanted to do Shaolin Kung Fu. I suggest he train Tai Chi instead. At his age starting Shaolin will be difficult. He is in it for health, I steered him to TaiChi. Even there I do a fair about of external style training, stances, kicks, etc. It is not a YMCA- new age type training I have my Tai Chi students do. They train as a Martial Art with health benefits.
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He needs work ( so do we all), however his attitude is good. Slow and steady he will do ok. I am not rushing him nor do I have reason or plan to do so. I see his pace for understanding and doing and will work within that.
 
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Christmas Eve, I spent some of it at the Kyudojo. It was not crowded, but not empty either. A few of the regulars were there for a while. I mostly just work. On my form. There was one of my Sempai-Sensei there who gave me a few pointers. The main one was I was not lined up properly with the mato when shooting. Another thing I made a point of doing was focusing on the center of the mato, not just the mato and the yumi placement. Once I did that, my hit rate went up! I will be keeping that in mind again from now forward. I had not been doing that for a while, putting to much thought into aiming the Yumi. The next few weeks will tell how much I improve. I have to sign up for the Shinsa mid Feb. I am determined to make Yon-dan next year! It will not change any thing, except my pride in myself. Sometimes that is enough, to have a confidence boost.
I have a hope though as a sideline though. I want to visit the Kyudojo in Kamakura. I heard they will not let the general public in to shoot. I am hopeful as a Yon-dan and a Chan priest from their sect Rinzai ( I think they are ), the head person or managing person will let me shoot. That is my hope. however first I have to make Yon-dan, because at Yon-dan you are taken serious as a Kyudoka.
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Shakuhachi wise, I have a new goal for next year. I had planed on another yearly pilgrimage to a Zen temple. However, I will change-up some this year, I was given a basic Komuso song to learn and an offer for instructions. Once I learn this I can go out “begging” with my acquaintance, the Komuso monk from Nara as an apprentice. I had heard it was a life changing experience for the acquaintance who offered me the lesson, to go out begging as a Komuso. So, that will be my pilgrimage and challenge this year, …er. Next Year. Go public playing and visit the Kyoto Zen temple.

 

LZ has a job doing hotel reviews. Sometimes they are very fancy places. She has been taking me along on the more interesting ones.

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I have not been writing/saying much about them. Mostly for me , unless there is some place nearby of interest, I just chill in the hotel and practice Shakuhachi.
LZ has mentioned that I can write and get paid for an article from some publisher dealing with the foreign readers.
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I do not consider myself a writer, even though I am doing this poor blog. However, I will start thinking along those lines, nothing to lose. So look for some small travel reviews upcoming on this blog. It is something we are doing as part of life in Japan and the Blasian experience.

Shaolin in Fuji’s Shadow

Shaolin in Fuji’s Shadow

Getting my Chinese Martial art footing in Japan has been a challenge, has been and still is really. However I am speaking more the space of a toe hold. So it seems rich as I write.

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I have gotten a space that works comfortably for now at least with the new student that has started. It also gives me time before and after his class to have another class or two for the same slot I am renting. 
My Shaolin student has been out sick for a while, I do not expect him back until after the holiday to see if he can work with the new parameters. Really the only issue is he wanted it later on Sunday but that can not happen, so he seems serious, if he is, he will make the earlier time slot or the later one.
 
There is also a mother who has been wanting to start he son, I can offer him a 30 min slot same day earlier. If all works well, i can have two or three sessions on Sundays. That will be my regular Kung Fu teaching day. Or as I have to come to think of it as Shaolin Dharma training sessions.
 
It is also nice to have a space to call a center, rather than just a Park or Shrine, give the teaching more of a rooted feeling. Besides, “winter is coming” hard enough to get students, but being out in the rain and cold is not training that most want just starting out on this path.
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It is also great for me to get my own regular practice time, before the class starts, I can get in my own hour or more of training. No bugs, cold, rain, snow, extreme heat, nice. I am not that young any more some comfort is good. Life, enjoying life is living in Balance. That is the Buddhist way, the middle way, in all things.
 

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As it was my first real settled in class at the new place today, I made a portable Altar for my Late Shifu. I burned incense in his honor. It gave the space a sense of being a school, not just a rental room.

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One other thing I came up with as use of the space is to offer a free meditation class, a 30 min beginners class for anyone. That would be another real method of spreading Shaolin Dharma. As part of my forming of the “Osaka Lohan Chan Temple” .
That would help some of Priest Vows on a couple of levels. 
Marital Arts/Chan
 
I am finding the path for me under Music/Chan is more difficult to understand, locate. I am finding more interest in the Komuso path, however it is hard to find concise info on the Path, what one does, other than play, is this a purely solo a Yogi type path or does it have a “show compassion” to other side as well? What is the real link between the sounds and the playing, just the breath, or the breath plus certain tones, to activate certain Chakras. Do the sutras have a certain, breath pattern , tones that translate to Komuso songs. Many question few answers. More research. Somewhat limited research at this time. I could just track down a teacher and do whatever to join, and find out just what is what with the Komuso of this day. Are they all about the show of some festival? Are there others who really care about their spiritual path. Anyway, as said my time with this research is limited. For now I still need to practice , not only my shakuhachi, but my Kyudo. The goal for next year is to pass Yon-dan. That is my focus, really to get Go-dan. Then, I can consider other items, other challenges…like A Komuso teacher and get some in-depth Shakuhachi spiritual training. 
 
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Anyway there is is still also develop the Osaka Lohan Chan Temple, home of the Shaolin Dharma: Martial Arts and Meditation
 
 
We’ll, see what the tide brings next year…because
 
“man plans, God laughs”
Happy Festivus.

Kung fu in Japan…the path less travelled

 

 
I have been here a little over 3 yrs now. I started teaching Kung Fu and Chan meditation at a local community center at the mall, near home. It was not a big success but there was some mild interest. I knew it was going to be a challenge when going into this.
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Some three yrs later I am still at it, still struggling, like with my Kyudo practice. Hmmm maybe that is going better. I have finally found a decent affordable location to hold class. Only problem is no students. I have a “ad” running in the “meetup group” website and was quite surprised at the number of people that joined. Mostly “gaijin” ok, I thought I have found a nech . I tried to make that work, asked questions about what they were seeking, any goals. Hmmm about 3 out of 12 responded to just basic questions, what are you looking for? Ok I focused on those, I travelled to a spot closer to them rather than have them come to me. That happened once. The next time people had stuff come up, or something, although stating how interested they were. So yeah, that fizzled out. 
 
There are still,people “joining” the on-line group, however, it seems they are just Lookey Lews…window shoppers. Sigh. Oh well.
 
There came out of now where one student, who came to me to learn, so far twice another American. He seems interested, he did travel to my area twice. However we’ll see with the next go round. One big issue I am running into, is a place to teach. Having class at the local shrine is ok, but with it getting dark earlier now that will be an issue, as the new student prefers a later in the day class early evening. I have found a place that is affordable, however they close early on the day I needed and on the other day they are not open at all…sigh. Road blocks…
 
The is a former Chan student who wants me to teach her son kung fu, I am invited to dinner sometime to discuss that . This maybe another serious encounter, since it is the son’s idea, still he is young and it maybe a combo, Kung Fu and English class, which is ok. She speaks English.
 
A friend of hers is/was interested also, but now says she is working way too much, so will have to put it off.
 
Yeah, it is an up hill battle here. Distance, + laziness + lack of motivation + language = very low student turn out. Still I will continue to reach out. Even of there is just one student it is worth to hold the mission for my part in spreading the Shaolin Dharma. Even the one student gives me enough motivation to practice and hang in there.
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I forget the modern day illness of wanting convenience, and instant progress. Life is not always like that. Over coming that is part of the training path.