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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弓道 in the Shinto Temple’s shadow


弓道
I dislike getting up at 5:00 am. More so when I do not have to go to work, hmmm maybe that’s not right, more, like, when I have to go to work…perhaps. Either way I dislike it. It was at least holding the gift of not being cold. So there I was up and off to the train station.
I was heading over to my first Japanese Kyudo training Seminar. I was told someone there would speak Japanese…maybe. I had my concerns about that. I figured I would just float, listen and keep my eyes open.
 
I made it to the practice hall without any problem. As I got off the exit, so did a couple of other people going to the seminar. Nice! I figured I would spot some people down at the location. This was a plus this early. As it turned out, it was a short walk to the Kyudojo. As we got nearer, I became awed by the grounds. I was not sure just what kind, but it was a temple, of some type. Just not sure what. There seemed to be some type of what I thought was a flea market being setup. But no, I find out later. It was not. This was also the weekend Matsuri festival may have something to do with that. I was told later by a friend.
 
I was the first to arrive. Although I did not think so at first. There were others there, they all spoke and bowed. Kids, well high school age. People were coming and their was a van which seemed to unloading. I figured out this was the place. I did not know what was going on. Someone announced to the kids, to give the speaker the yumis. Then they started to load them into a van, I watched… no one paid me much attention…I paid attention to everyone.
Then one guy, a grownup asked me a couple of questions, in sort of
both Japanese and rough English. He tells me the kids are going to another Shrine to shoot. Hmm ok, he then took me where to changed into my Dogi. Oh, this was part of the “oops” thing. I did not bring my Kimono, I was not sure what was going on, but I did not think about a Kimono was needed as I test now in Kimono…duh! So I asked this guy and he spoke with another both figured, well you can just make do , should be ok. Ok, I was relaxing more now. I was treading water, and not floating away. I changed into my gi. Another woman shows up, someone bows to her, she looks like she has some knowledge, another sensei, she is in a Kimono. I question her. At first she looks at me and says go upstairs. Ehh I say! Ok I need to get my Yumi and stuff. Then she says, ohh, you are doing Kyudo, yes you are correct here. Then point into the room I was in from the start.
 
We chat a bit, I get more of a low down in what is happening. At least for me not messing up. This was taking some effort, she spoke no English. Anyway, I get signed in, numbered and setup. Slowly others started to arrive. I saw a few people I have met now from other dojos. Not a lot but a few. One of these friends speaks English. We were sort of in the same group. But did not train together, as I hoped for. I figured she could translate if it was important. We only spoke during the event briefly on a break or something. As it turns out, the men trained mostly with the men and women with women, with the Sensei of the same gender leading each. Unlike in the states. However at the end we were all just shooting and walking together not being in a lecture type groups. Although the Nindan’s Senseis just dealt with that group. Oh, oops, wait, I will explain, there were two main groups, nidans and sandans. Then that was split into men and women. So, two groups of women two of men.
 
So I am in my group. Then we are split, sort of into Resha and Kisha, (standing or kneeling). I am asked if I speak Japanese. I think I was asked in Japanese, he did ask some thing basic in very broken English. We figured out I could sort of follow, with 6 yrs experience. I could just copy the movements for wearing the Kimono. They said in the opening statements what was being covered and done in the seminar. That was pretty much, well mostly over my head. Other than hearing Kihontai, the rest was lost. No matter, I was rolling with it. It was working so far.
 
We went through the routine of putting the Kimono on and off, kiza, foot placement, hand placement in bowing and standing, how much juban should be showing under the Kimono, turning with the Yumi, toriyumi, that kind of basic stuff. It was a good review.
We took a lunch break. The sensei I saw from Kishiwada, my dojo went out and got his lunch then came and sat down with me. I had brief moment of panic as my peaceful non-thinking lunch break was over. I had to now small talk in Japanese sigh. I like this sensei though so not a big deal. We hung together before at the Tai Kai in Kyoto. We chatted a very little bit and ate. Still it is a struggle for me to make chit chat in English much less Japanese. After a short while another lady from another school I had met a couple of times and knew sensei. She joined us. We chatted more, and I met another couple of people who stopped by to briefly speak to sensei. Including the Sensei I first encountered when trying to check in. The main thing is I pulled off the encounters. yatta! yeah baby!
After lunch we walked, and walked, turned, walked forward , backward. Finally did some shooting. I was able to shoot four arrows, two each turn. Not really much correction there. Elbow a little more back, a little more tilt in diesan. I missed all for times. I pretty much of expected that. I was using my “at home” Mikiwara yumi. So my sighting was off. I did not see my where my second set hit. However the first two were in the target area but just both too high. Yet next to each other. I will take that as a win.
 
After that the lineup and bow out. Everyone went to change or just left. When I came out of the dressing room most everyone was gone. So I did not get a chance to speak with the Sensei for my group. Oh well.
 
I went over to the temple grounds next to explore. Big big grounds and a lot of buildings. It was also just before closing so I did not get much chance to look around, as I was walking in one area my friend and her posse run up behind me, and breathlessly explain to me about one of the shrine alters. You look through a bunch of stones inside a fenced area, if you find three with certain marking, you get good luck. My friend helped my find what I needed and gave them to me. Cool I thought.
We said our “mata ne” and they took off, I as well just behind them, as the guard was urging us to move. It was a good day, over all. I did not get the level of corrections, instruction as I had thought, but I was checked over and received no big No no’s for my shooting forms. So winner! Yeah. 
I made a mental note to return to the Temple ground the next day to explore at my leisure. That I did and got some really nice shots, with my camera. Since I am running low on disk space I am cutting back on my picture posts. A link to Flickr if interested.
Anyway I was going to say. I found out from another source he saw the temple photos and said, I got my Kyudo Nindan from a priest there. Ehhhh? I said. So it turns out there is another Kyudo group that is within the Shinto temples, but not part of the All Japan Federation. Wow, that was a bit of a surprise. I will research more on this, just for my own edification
…to be con’t
 
 
 
 

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.

弓道 As the arrow flies

 

As the arrow flys…

 
I had heard people say that Kyudo is difficult. When you see learn the first 8 steps, it is doubtful you really understand the complexity of doing those first steps and sending and arrow into the target. When you first become aware of the shakuhachi and there is only 5 holes to learn, basicity 2 octaves and breathing right, one could think 8 things. Simple. You could also even compare the sound of the note, as the target and the breath the arrow…

it is doubtful you really understand the complexity of doing those first steps and sending and arrow into the target”
 
My quest to consistently get that note continues. Of course I am that stubborn kind of guy.
 
It is understood in the music world the extreme difficulty of play a shakuhachi. Some take a month(s) just to make a sound. I hear a lot of comparisons between Kyudo and Shakuhachi in my Shakuhachi sensei’s talks. He is not doing the comparisons, it is happening on my head from listening to him talk. The other day for example he was talking about technique and spirit. One can have good spirit and be a technically poor player, and the other way around. To be a “player”, master, you need both, you must have both. Once you have technique, then your spirit must excel forward, beyond the technique. Something like that. Anyway I am hearing the Kyhon ( kyudo bible) in my head. 
 
Since starting the Shakuhachi I have at times wondered which is more difficult…
 
Both can be considered a spiritual journey, beyond the flight of the air-row…
I have decided it is Kyudo that is more difficult! One can throw off an off note, as style, expression. However the flight of the arrow only tells the truth. The smallest detail un-balanced, off tone, makes a big difference the flight of the arrow. Hits… truth or not.
 
I have been picking away at my Kyudo, like a scab on a sore. With sort of the same results and sensations on the path to a bloody tender mess, when done too early. Yeah, anyway still training. I was starting feel like I was making some progress. I still had a way to go, but even I felt like I was making progress. A couple of the Sensei had even given their approval on some of my shots and I was hitting more often in pairs. Still a way to go but there was hope, in my mind. A seed…
 
Next month is a Shinsa at my dojo. All other Shinsas this year have been and will continue again after this up-coming one, at a dojo I dislike because entry and exit are done opposite. As this Shinsa is on my home turf, I started getting the lets give it a shot thoughts, hope, dreams…
 
Recently I go to the time spot when the main Sensei teaches. I had been given some changes, pointers over the last couple of days/week, even by him. So I felt reasonable good going to practice. I also needed him to check over my paperwork for the Shinsa. 
The paperwork was mostly ok, a small change was needed. He also said something about a section, that I did not understand. I said I will have my wife call him. So I practiced…
 
As expected I got corrections, a good thing always. Even more so by someone in the upper levels. Parts of the adjustments were on the same issue, the tenouchi. One of my demons. Ok, I made mental notes and practiced. I could not put in long hours that day, as I was expected elsewhere. I decided pretty much by the end of the day, the up coming shinsa was not a good idea for me now. Still more training was needed. I figured I would see how I did in the up coming Tai Kai, to make the final decision, dependant on how the arrow flew. 
 
I found out later that the section on the form, Watase Sensei was referring to was about workshops , seminars. Sensei had said I had not attended any since the states. I should have some time with them on the form. I did not even think I was suppose/needed to attend those if I was getting plenty of help in the Dojo, it was a personal choice option only. I am still not sure if I NEED/MUST attend. I will anyway at least one. I figured it would be too difficult following group instructions in Japanese. Well I will found out. In Oct that is when the next section is held.
 
Ok on to the TaiKai. It was a hot hot day. There was a typhoon on the way arriving the next day. It was humid! There were four other dojos in attendance.  
My job for this day was the photographer. I brought my serious camera along for the day. I love my long lens! I also had some great light in a spot for a while. Even though hot hot hot, I got some pretty good shots. My shooting the bow was not as good as shooting my camera…
 
Sensei was watching me like a hawk when I shot. I could feel his eyes! After the second round he comes over and tells me how way off I am on things. I had only one hit by then after 8 shots. After lunch I have one more round, I get two out of four. It was settled for me after the first round I was not ready yet for Shinsa.
 
After everything was cleaned up there was still some practice time available. I took advantage of it. Yamasta sensei was still there helping. He gave me some instruction as did my other Sensei. Then just he helped me after Watase Sensei left. Some of it was things I had heard before but part of it was new. I was told I was overdrawing A LOT!!! Ehhhhhh! This was a shock as I always hear I was not drawing big enough, so I thought. He explained more, where I should stop drawing, with my elbow not my hand, and just expand and drop shoulders and body into the Yumi. Once I understood what was being said, it made a difference in being able to relax in Kai. The Kaicho had always said I was too tight. I thought how can I draw full maximum and still stay relaxed!? Now I get it there is a point you draw to, which is not the full maxed out size of the Yumi. 
Part of the problem with my training is not being fully in control of my language skills. If I was fluent enough to understand the full details of these lessons I have been told, instead of just a small section, my progress would be a lot faster…I think so anyway. My slow progress is not so much a lack of technical skill coordination, but a lack of understanding how to use that skill, how it functions. 
Yamashita Sensei said, I think you will be ready for YonDan Shinsa soon. I said hmmm, next year I think. He said nothing else really, more of a sound, Ummm ne, kind of thing.
 
Anyway, onward, keiko keiko keiko…Winter is coming.
 
 
 
 

吹禅 – Komuso: The good, bad and the ugly

 


Komuso : the good , the bad, the ugly

 
It was to be another hot weekend, in Osaka. This meant even worse in Nara. Yet that is where I was headed. It was the time I picked to make a second round as Komuso.
I was feeling much more relaxed and actually looking forward to it. Well, except for the Heat, which was going to be brutal. I had that set in my mind, but also knew I could survive. I work outside in this doing labor, walking around playing would have it’s issues, but still for me a cake walk compared to raking cut foliage on the side of a 45 degree or more hill and loading that onto truck, in the sun.
Now do not discount the unpleasantness and potentially dangerous issue with the sun and heat. I had already been told by Sempai, that he had been out early the other day and was beat down by noon. He does this every weekend and was beat down the last few days by noon. Nara can reach 95 and above in the summer, with high humidity ! That is what makes you feel heat!!!!
 
 
Ok, stage is set, I was mentally prepared to suffer, I was in the severe training mode mentally. I set off rather early to get started early. That sort of went to plan, other than me taking the wrong train, therefore arrived late.
 
I meet up with my Komuso Band members as they were heading out of our planned meeting spot to see if I would show up on the way. We returned to the Inn since I needed to check my stuff. So there at this Inn I got organized. I did not have the Kimono on this time, so I did not need to change. I was wearing my Samue, which was agreed upon. The visiting Shakuhachi player, a Shakuhachi sensei from Hawaii was also wearing a Samue, Sempai was wearing his white Kimono. The summer look for the Komuso. A wise choice in the Osaka area Summer. Our Sumae although dark, were open much more to air flow than a regular kimono. I felt this was a good balance, him in a kimono, us the novices in Samue, Sempai being the real Komuso.
 
I prepared my gear, this time I was more prepared for what was ahead. I had purchased shoes that were not only good for walking they looked proper.
I had heard several remarks about my sandals on the last Komuso walk. I also had a small towel, which I would wear on my head. It was thicker than my Japanese head scarf, so I figured that would take of the slippage I had to deal with constantly on the last venue. Another helpful item were the several paper clips I brought along. They kept things in place on my clothes, without damaging them or being noticeable. It worked out just fine!
 
I was set. However the visiting Shakuhachi sensei from Hawaii had a much more challenging time. Besides the heat really bothering him, he was struggling with wearing the sandals and walking with them. That was his challenge for this training run. We took things slow due to the heat and his sandals. We walked, played, and chatted. We saw the rent a guard from last time, who said nothing as he passed us. We were not stopped at the time, so there was no chance to see if the mistake, his, was corrected.
 
We spoke among ourselves about the role of a modern-day Komuso, interacting with the community, being an ambassador for Buddhism to the public, who do not in Japan get to interact with Priest generally. As before the elder Japanese were much more receptive to the “Komuso Priest” others were just curious and wanted photo OPs. Which is ok, it is getting the Modern image of a Komuso out there in regular life, not just for an event, a show…entertainment one could say. Since people mostly do not see Komuso except for some “event” where they parade to a temple, or through one. That is when the Komuso main force turns out for the “show”, to speak honestly.
One is hard pressed to find a Modern Komuso out doing engaged Buddhist practice. Then on the other hand according to many accounts, one did not generally find them doing that in the old days. It was about playing for food and for their own enlightenment. At least this is what most historic accounts say, I have read. There was some engaged buddhist practices but not like the other sects as much. The engaged Buddhist practice of Sempai seems to be a new development and in my opinion, which means little, is needed. Buddhism is waning in Japan. Which one of the topics we discussed on our walk. The engaged Buddhist practice is not alive in Japan. Temples are mostly closed places, or off limits. Hard to get questions answered, Buddhist priest mostly show up for funerals, etc. There is very little out reach to the public. Some Buddhist are understanding that and are trying new ways to engage with the public, doing rap, running bars, and in Sempai’s case being out there doing Komuso practice regularly, not just for events.
 
The day was good, even with the heat. Crowds were small because of the heat, which was to be expected. When I got off the train the sun was brutal! I found that being inside the Tengai was much more a relief.
 
Last time we had some negative experience from the guard. This time the negativity came after all was over. I posted picture of me, on Facebook as a Komuso in a fighting pose with the shakuhachi.
It was rumored that since many of the Old Komuso were former Samurai they used their Shakuhachi as a weapon. This can be seen in some of the old  Samurai movies. So I posted a pictured, with the good-natured caption Shaolin Komuso, since that is my Background training. It was commented on by the former Sensei of our little ronin Komuso band. Former because of a damaged ego by the Sensei. It said basically, Komuso practice is a serious study, it is not for entertainment! Wow! That pushed the wrong button with me. I did not think I was being disrespectful at all. I wrote a somewhat sharp reply for my wife to post in Japanese, since that is what he did. After some breathing and thought, I decided not to post that, and just did a simple response, “I am also a Zen Priest and requested any further comments be done via private communication”. I also posted a few pictures of Komuso in Art, and Movies by Japanese. His only reply was he understood and acknowledged me. I am not sure what that meant. However he had no further comments online or privately. My wife followed his link and said. This guy is strange, he said he was going to the police! I said so what? I did nothing wrong, nor did anyone else in our group. It was said to me later by the Sempai he may go tell the Abbot in Kyoto. Sempai said also but again so what. “I will continue what I do and follow my engaged practice. Even if I have to be associated with another temple or start my own.” It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I resently found out my Shakuhacho Sensei’s former student, who I will meet in Oct is a high Komuso in another temple in Wakayama. I will be checking with him on how to become officially connected to this temple. I need to have some official status before I can go out on my own and do this type of engaged practice. The down side, this may take years. Paperwork, licensing is a big deal in Japan. I can understand the reasoning behind this, fakes are everywhere.
This thing with the remarks from the Komuso Sensei on FB reminds me of the time a group from the East Coast of the US came to California and gave a private seminar to a group of us, who were having problems getting instruction in California. Well the local Federation had a cow! Even though we could not get help from them, were not in anyones school/ dojo turf, still it started a fire storm! It was both funny and sad. Egos are so fragile. No matter the title, rank, people are people. Ego is ego, you can control it, or it can control you! Zen master, Kyudo master, Kung Fu master, President, I have seen them all be ego puppets.
 
 

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Two forward, one back

Steps, forward and backward

 
We at Kishiwada Kyudojo had a Rei Kai the other day. I finally got the name right. Rei Kai not Day or Dae Kai, but Rei Kai. That is an improvement. The days or a couple of days before that I thought I was making good improvements with my Kyudo shooting. My hits ratio were improving. I had figured out what was needed, so I thought. I thought I would do ok at the Rei Kai, and I sort of did. I got one hit out of four every time I went up. I have hit 4/4 before a couple of times in the past and also 2/4. However that is in the past. That was Zen this is now. These days I have been sucky.
 
After my first round of shots, my head sensei comes over and asked, basically what the hell was that with the way I was hikiwaki as did another Sensei. I thought I had it figured out…wrong! The other Sensei told me what I was doing wrong. I was way off in my thinking. So I went back to the old way on the next round and was told that was better. Then the head Sensei told me my bringing the Yumi down and back to my hip sucks. Not in those words but it meant the same. So he showed me how to do it. i had been told before I was doing it wrong, I had too much curve in the travel but no one explained how I should do it. So the last few classes I have been doing it the new way and no one has complained…so far.
 
Ok, so Tues are Tai Hai days, so far I have been getting very little correction with that. The other day, I was corrected on my Rei which was too low, and my timing on entry steps. Other wise I seem to be ok with my Resha use. I feel pretty comfortable with that, no matter where my placement is in the Tachi grouping. We get random picks on in line placement, by having our arrows selected like drawing straws, but drawing Ya.
 
The other day another of my Sempai Sensei comes over to help me. He has done so in the past and although he does not speak English I get it he recently helped with my Tenochi and I finally got it, I can feel the difference. I got another adjustment the other day. He also watched my Hikiwaki and I think I got it. I was having issues with my right elbow placement. I had figured out if I push my elbow forward in Kai, my ya would travel straight and my arm would travel across the top when unfolding and not change my ya travel angle. However this was completely wrong. I was told my elbow should be back and in line with my back and not facing down as much as I was doing, my arm on release should travel not over the top but sideways…ehhhhh, ohhhh souka. Fist distance in between my hand and shoulder. In Zanshin my right thumb should point to the rear, my left thumb should point to the front. I have been watching the Kaicho, his does not do that in Zanshin. This sensei told me it is not correct, it should. Ok So I started trying this, my hits when down at first while I was working it, but after a few shots and sighting adjustments, it started to make sense.
 
These details are a bitch, but they make the difference. I keep working on them. I am of the mind set, by the time I pass Yon-dan I will be ready for Go-dan. I have found out there is one Shinsa at my dojo this year, I will attend in Sept…maybe if I can make some solid advancement by the registration date in Aug. if not then I will wait until next year. There are other chances, however, the dojo where the shinsas are most of this year, I do not like. The setup means one has to enter on the right foot and exit on the left. I have enough to deal with without having to switchup my foot work. I have done it, I took my San Dan under those conditions, but really dislike it.
 
At the Rei Kai the other day, I had to do really stuff in the event. I was told I would do something, but I had no idea what they were talking about. Part of it was being a score keeper. That was easy now that I have done it already at the last Tai Hai. It is just flicking switches. The other thing was taking the Ya from whoever turned it during the final shoot off, showing it to the judges and then to the shooters who were lined up waiting. I was walked through it by another of the Sensei, so was not so bad. The actual function was not so bad to remember but the word to use to the judges I do not remember. I think it was something to do with being the second group. Anyway, if I have to do it again I am sure I will get help.
 
So yeah, slowly I am making headway a couple of steps forward, and step back. Usually when I start thinking I got it, I don’t, but that is ok. A Zen master said once mistakes are opportunities to learn. 
 
So onward, little by little. Like the turtle, not how fast to reach the finish but reaching it is the goal. We were told in my old Chan class about turtle breathing. Slow and steady, this helps give them long life. A dog breathes fast and has a short life, turtle breath slow and have long life. So I think of my Kyudo training as turtle breathing, slow, and deep.
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Kyudo…The Saga contiues

Yeah, not much writing on Kyudo these days, however, it has not stopped. Day before yesterday I went to practice. I did fairly well, a couple of days before that I did better. So I was thinking, ok finally I am making some improvement, small but headway is headway. Like having. Dollar is better than having a dime. I was it getting cocky, but still feeling better at least I was taking a step forward. This was Sat. Sunday There was. Tai Kai. I was thinking ok, well I should do better, not get but better than I have been in a while.
 
Sunday’s Tai Kai, I had a been given a real task to do. Usually I just take photos. I am comfortable with that. I understand that it is my thing. This time I was assigned the job of being a score keeper. Well a switch flipper, score keeper. I watched, when the shooter hit the target, I would flip a switch and on the light board it would show. I was nervous. Did I understand the directions right. It seemed simple but, what if I made a mistake, what if I could not see clearly when it hit on the side. Another woman and I were to work together. Her first time also, she was also nervous, so I did not feel so bad, but at least she understood Japanese. Mine was iffy. I looked at the switch board the day of the Tai Kai it did not seem to complex. Just flip the switch, X or O, simple at least that part. Did I have it right , O is a hit, X is a miss? Seems like X should be a hit, O a miss, I was thinking too much! Just do it.
 
Another thing on my head was getting there on time. I missed the last Tai Kai, and another time before that, hmmm last year, I was late! This time I was there early, and already dressed. I did at home and worn my Gi on the train. A couple of the lead Senseis, one of which was the Kaicho, said, ohhhh ! You are here early!! Desho ( yup, that’s right! ) I said and we laughed. We all gathered outside before the dojo building opened.
I took a few pictures. I took a shot of on of the Sensei with his school group. He was giving them directions and whatever else. He saw me taking a picture and said Ohayo! All the kids turned looked at me, bowed and said Ohayo! Wow! I was not expecting that. Kind of shocking!
The building opened and everyone entered. I grabbed a spot for my stuff and went to look at my assignment area. My partner also showed up shortly afterward. I had talked with her outside also. Ok, we got some final directions and things were simplified a bit. She had one section I had another. A third person on the other side had another. whew, I was thrown off for a bit thinking we had three sections.
 
The event started, the usual opening stuff, then it was on. At first it was scary, but after a few it was ok, not really a big deal. There were also I found out backups, checking what we posted and another also doing it on paper. So the three should all match. Ok, i felt better and better. Then I found out that I did not have to sit there the whole time until it was my turn to shoot. There were also high schoolers, taking shifts with us. So I really only had to sit there maybe for three or four lines of three shooters, with four arrows each. After that I could hangout or whatever. I used the time to take pictures. I did not bring my Nikon since I thought I would be too busy score keeping. I only had my phone cam, which did not do so well with the sun light coming in at a bad angle. Oh well, I rolled with it.
 
I had one guy come introduce himself to me. I did not really figured out what was going on until afterward. He had said something about a boat, and sailing, and nice to meet me. Afterward, it came to me that he was the one that I had heard about from the boatmaster where I work, had a boat there to get a bottom job. He had seen me then and wondered if I was the gaijin doing Kyudo. So yeah, afterward I got what it was all about.
 
The Tai Kai went smooth. It was not as big as some of the others there at my Dojo, but that was ok. There were 87 competitors. I was #84. I have no idea how they come up that. No matter. I got three round of shooting, four arrows. I got two hits! Sad, but oh well, no matter. More training is needed, but I already knew that. I got to see a couple of classmates I had not seen in a while. One of which has been testing with me for Yon-dan. He was still San-dan also. Another woman who was trying for san-dan was still Ni-dan. Ok, so to is not just me! I felt better, I was not left far behind with my choice not to test for a while.
 
So anyway, the inter action with my classmates is very comfortable these days after almost 4 years. I am really one of the group in many ways now and share some laughs and small chats with some. They tend to look out for me, on things I am not sure of or missing, they have my back as part of the “wa”.

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.

World Naked gardening day

NNGD…

 
It is said that working in dirt, feeling it, helps cure depression. I can see how that would happen. There is a certain feeling that comes from working with clay, doing ceramics, bring something to life from dirt. Gardening is bring something to life from dirt. I call it the God complex, they have I am sure other names. Anywho, yeah, doing gardening is therapeutic, very Zen active mediation kind of thing, Kyudo, Tai Chi, shakuhachi, kind of Meditation. Other faces of Chan. I heard one of my Chan Shifu recently say that, along with every day life is Chan, Chan is everyday life.
 
So my Chan gardening meditation project, spring session has started. I thought it would be a one day project but it has turned into three. It is a good golden week project. I will be working with reduced hours for a while, so on another level it is good to be planting food. Helps to eat fresh, save money, eat healthy. I do not have enough space to really be serious about growing. However herbs, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, teas, can be grown easy and enough to be worth the effort as harvested.
 
It took me travels to three places for soil, food, misc. It was a large undertaking.
I am putting more effort into the garden this year. Last year was weak, very weak. The first year was better. This year I am adding more organic fertilizer, but of a different type. We’ll see if that makes a difference. I am also setting up a computer sheet, showing what was planted where, and what date. I will not rely on guessing what was growing. I tried labels, but they come off, get wet, something. This is a better idea…so far.
This time I have a chart with pictures as well. This way I can recall the seed. Don’t know if I can find these again, i got them from a place in northern Ca called the seed bank. It is an old bank changed to a retail seed store. I have my oldest in contact still friend living in the same town, so there is a chance of a repurchase. God be willing and the creek don’t rise.
 
I finished up the planting yesterday. It was a three day task. The downer of two of those day was my trip to the dentist. First time in many years. I need work. 😦 Three shots on day one! My mouth was a wreak trying to take a Shakuhachi class afterward. I also ended up chew my cheek flesh a bit, when eating and not being able to feel. It made the evening not too pleasant.
 
On the third day a cold struck ! Maybe from the dentist…the chill change in the weather, stress from being in the chair, holding on for dear life. Actually, I started thinking about Kyudo, if I can remain relaxed while this guy is digging in my mouth, I can easy stay relaxed when at Shinsa. Although, being relaxed at shinsa is not my issue, hitting is….I digress
 
So yeah the third day. I heard that May 2nd is World Naked Gardening day. I thought, wow, perfect timing. As I am finishing up today. So I joined in the celebration. I took a couple of photos, because you know the saying, if there is no pictures, it never happened.
 
So the first picture, I could not find my tripod, so I took it while holding the camera.
 
 
I was called away afterward so I could not get back to working until after the dentist, and my shakuhachi class via skype from Chicago. That is kind of different iznnit! Lesson from Chicago on a Japanese instrument, while I am in Japan. I am learning one certain song that is why. I need this in order to get the Komuso experience …coming soon. Oops , digression, the picture, yeah, so I got back out to finish up, I found my trip so I was able to get a full shot, it was a little dark though. Oh, well…
 

I am looking for a good harvest this year. I have some ideas in place that I have been thinking on from the last couple of plantings. The practice is evolving.
_/|\_

Pilgramage – Kamakura

Engaku-ji

 

 
I had been looking forward to this for a while . Even though my original hope was to be able to shoot there were dashed. It still had the making of an interesting trip. The agenda was, watch Kyudo, visit the temple, go to another temple to see the Great Buddha.
 
We catch a late bus out of Osaka. It was some 9-10 hrs ride. The bus trip was smooth, another still I /we were unable to sleep much. Me less than LZ , much less. The seats were uncomfortable, space was cramped. I watch a movie on my Ipad, “Logan”, Xcellent flick. Then tried to sleep.
 
Finally we arrived in Yokohama and had to wait for something or another, plus grab some breakfast. Finally we got the train we wanted, and off we went. Dropped off our bags in a coin locker and went to the fist temple. Engakuji a old Zen temple, were the Kyudojo was. We had no idea if the dojo was going to be open or when. I was prepared for that. Even if it was closed I could still look at some of the facility somewhat. When we arrived at the gate, which was a surprise to be right almost next to the train stop, they were just opening. We enquired about the dojo. We were pointed to it and told , if the path was unblocked we could go into the grounds. 
 
We made our way over to the area which was just a few steps from the entrance. Luck was with us and the path was un-blocked. There was a grounds person just starting to open it. We asked. Few question and were told the would be practice at 10:00a.m. Currently it was 9:30 or so. We said our thanks and our we’ll be back words. We headed out into the main temple grounds.
 
The grounds were huge, clean. It was a perfect time to visit. The temps were comfortable, it was not crowded, and there were some Sakuras in bloom. They were not in full glory yet but enough to give the sight a nice charm. We walked around checking out misc.buildings. For me interesting. LZ is usually not so into the old temple stuff but she seemed to find these grounds interesting. It was nice pleasant not having the crowds. As we were leaving more people started to show up. It was now 10:00 a.m. So we headed back to the Kyudojo.
 
As we arrived the shooter were just getting warmed up. A few of the older guys were doing some stretching. Another couple or so were getting their equipment together. I watched from outside as we were supposed to do. Aa couple of guys started on the makiwara. I noticed behind them were one or two people doing meditation or praying.
I think meditation, this is a Zen based Kydojo. I walked back and forth to view what I could. Finally I could take no more and asked one the shooters. “Are there different ranks here now? What is the average? Something close to that. I was told there are no ranks, they only do it for personal development. Then I remembered they are not part of the Federation. I was told we could have a seat off in the side yard. We were was ok, to move the barrier and go in the other area. We enter and Got a better view of the shooting area of the dojo.
 
More people started to arrive. Some noticed we were inside the yard and also moved the barrier and came it. I watched for a while, took more pictures from this angle and then we left. I found out later that some of my dojomates, upper ranks had no idea there was a Kyudojo in Kamakura. I was kind of surprised, but since they are not part of the Renmei they go unnoticed by the group.
 
The Great Buddha
 
Our next stop was the Great Buddha. It was only a short trip to the Temple of the Great Buddha. It was now around 11:00 am, the crowds where out. The “fun” quality of the trip diminished with the size of the crowd. Side stepping, dodging, we made our way to the Buddha. My only reason was just for historic value. It was big, I got a few good shots and picked up a few small omeyage. Then we headed back. A few stops were made at a couple of local shops. We had planned on visiting one other temple but changed or minds. Instead opted to go right to lunch. The Thai place LZ had picked was closed. However there was another within walking distance. It was run by real Thais, it was right across from the beach. I was surprised there was such a nice beach there. LZ said it is a famous beach , used as a back drop for many many Movies, TV, etc . The food was ok, so far I have yet to find any Thai as good as the place I was a regular at in Ca.
 
The next stop was our hotel. There we rested and had a great dinner. The room was small but comfortable. I say small because it was picked as a placed for LZ to do a report on. So we could basically write off our trip for the most part. There was a private jacuzzi time. The Jacuzzi over looked the water, it was only so so, to me because the weather was still chilly, so not really enjoyable. However the dinner as I said was good.
 
Yokosuka
 
The next day we visited, long term friends of ours from NorCal. Another mixed couple like us. The husband currently works for the Naval base there at Yokosuka. He took us to a spot that over looked the placed where Admiral Perry first came and threaten the Japanese.
Trade or die! We next went to the Military base and technically went back on American soil, by foot! We had a bit of an issue getting on base, we needed passes, and LZ did not bring a photo ID. It took a while but we were able to get a pass for the day. On base we got a tour, and did some shopping, of food stuff not easy to get in Japan. A gold mine score.
Next to their house for wine and cheese, chatting and laughs. I was given an interview for the website and facebook site, “Black Toyko” .
 
After all that we hustled off to the train/bus for the long trip home. Overall to was fun. It was good to hang out with our friends and kick it like we did in Cal.
It was a long trip but worthwhile in my mind. Even though could not shoot at the Kyudojo, it was still worthwhile to visit the temple and grounds. It was nicer we thought than Kyoto. The Great Buddha was “Meh” but ok to see once. I picked up a small gold plated Buddha statue for my home shrine.
more photos here –> X