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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吹禅 – The gathering

Two years ago, about, more or less, I was looking to join a shakuhachi club. I thought that was the way to go to get lessons. However I found out that is for already knowing how to play people. Then I came across my current Sensei a short while later. Lead by the hand of the Universe I encountered him. Major stroke of luck, or blessing…depends on your view-point!
 
Skip ahead…
 
Now two years later I was introduced to someone who is in one of those Shakuhachi groups. I was invited to attend a meeting. The cool part was that this group was/is in some remote way connected to the Kumoso players in Kyoto. Major Shakuhachi luck strike! I had gone to a concert by some of the members of this group. I do think I wrote about the concert, maybe I did, but do not feel like checking right now… So a little recap now. There were 45 invited players to this concert. Different styles and schools. It was interesting even though I did not see all the players. Which was kind of good, since it would have been a loooong day. Also some of the styles I did not really care for. Eg: the really breathy style. I like the note sound not the breath so much. 
 
Ok, the meeting was small. Not all the members attend all the time. There were six of us this time. Several of the people there were Shakuhachi makers, one of them a professional. That guy also makes Tengai, for Komuso. He had one with him, the cost was about $1,000 US. Store brought in Japan about $400! Today’s Komuso have money I guess. I have heard about some of the parts for the Komuso-wear are also very costly. Quite shocking for a group that traditionally went around just begging. Most do not beg any longer, so yeah, times have changed. The Komuso ( not all ) have money.
 
Another two people had their own self-made Shakuhachi with them. Each of them gave me one to try out. This group plays the large Shakuhachi, not the standard size you see Komuso with in pictures. I was told that if I like one it was mine to take home. I was quite shocked! I was told before arriving that one of the players wanted to gift me a shakuhachi as he had plenty he made. I was thinking, one of the small one simple made. However….no this was a big flute, with an inlay at the mouth piece not just cut. I was shocked, I said that, right? So yeah, way cool, I like the big shakuhachi, anyway. I prefer the deep tones. 
 
I was given a bunch of music that they were going over. The notation was a bit different from my Kinko style so I easily got lost. My musician ear and watching another player helped keep me somewhat stay up with the group. The first song, the starting off song, I already knew from learning it to do the Komuso walk. So that was not really a big deal, other than playing it on a really big Shakuhachi that I was not accustom to playing. It was good, no one really cared.
There was a point were everyone played a piece solo that was going to be in the next upcoming concert. They went around the table, each one playing a song…and came to me. I tried to pass, but was unable. I was told it was ok to replay the song I knew, Cho Shi. Hesitantly I did. There were times I could not get the note out. However following my sensei’s advice I just kept going like it was part of what I was doing. Over all it was not bad. Not good, but not too bad. I thought well at least I did not embarrass myself. I was told it was impressive I could play that well, with a new instrument. I felt relief, yatta!
 
I was asked to tell how I met my Sensei. I was taken back for a bit, because the guys there did not speak English. I surprised myself by just speaking in Japanese. I did not even give it that much thought, to how to explain. I did somewhat ok, until I started to think about what I was doing, then my words got mixed up. Still, everyone understood, and that is more important than the correct word is the communication. Heart to heart communication, like in Chan transmission.
 
After a few more songs we closed the room up and went to a local shop for dinner. These guys are Shakuhachi freaks! The whole time the conversation was about Shakuhachis and playing, for the most part. I did not get most of it, but my friend translated, that was a big help. My small shakuhachi from the recycle shop was checked out ( looked over), and given a big ok. Some had one also by the same maker. It was not a cheap flute. I felt grateful to the Force for leading me to it.
 
So we shared food, drinks and laughs, then called it a day. I was invited to return anytime I wanted. The guys were all nice, and low-key. I will be returning as a regular attenders. I am pleased with the path my Shakuhachi study is taking me. Also grateful for the guidance from others. _/|\_
From the Izakaya, after dinner, 3 or 4 glasses of wine, 2 cups of Sake (none of which were full) I went to Kyudo practice. I did terrible, which was not surprising. It was really more about me doing it, than how well I did it. Sometimes just showing up is the training._
_/|\_

吹禅 – Kobe Classical Shakuhachi Concert

 

Fuke today…

 
I was contacted by a friend another Zen practitioner, Shakuhachi player and blogger. He told me of another player and who lived near me. There was going to be a shakuhachi concert in Kobe. I could get in touch with his friend about the details. The timing seemed perfect, I had plans on being in the Kobe area on that day. So it was a well timed fated notice.
 
The concert was to consist of 45 players all hand picked to play. They came from different styles of playing. The Myoan school was to be represented. The Myoan school is considered from what I understand the Headquarters of the Komuso group. Well at least in this area. The temple is based in /Koyto/Nara. I have not yet visited but it is in my plan. A couple of years ago I contacted a sensei from there, looking to buy a flute. When it was made clear I did not want lessons, but to make a Shakuhachi purchase, the communications stopped. Weird, but…oh well. I found out more about this sensei later.
 
It took me a while to find the location of this concert venue. It was not an easy to spot location. However with the help of a friend I made it. It was all day affair with 45 players that is to be expected. I did not stay for the whole concert, I had other stops planned for that day. I was able to get a taste of some styles. I am not a fan of the very breathy style of playing. I enjoy hearing the pure note more-so. The breath tones to me are good for accents, drama, etc, but not on every note so most of the sound is breath. Like what I do when I can not get the note to sound. I wonder the reason behind the development of the sound, at least the heavy use of it. Perhaps the commitment to the issue of the note and not the note was the root.
 
I noticed many of the players were priest. Most had worn some type of traditional clothing, at least of those I saw. I did not check out all of the people in the room, but myself and the guy I went to meet in the first place were the only non-japanese. 
 
The room was a small hall. I have to change my understanding of the term “Live House” . I thought it was just to with a bar or club that had a live band, or music. Mostly I am thinking bar type place. This place was also called a Live House, but, not what I imagined. Mind expanded on term! WhooHooo!
 
It was a worthwhile little excursion. I learned more about styles and Hearing the differences. I like the Kinko style I am learning, More than the ones I heard this day. It is a good starting point for me. I would like to know more about the Myoanji philosophy and how /what is the inter-play with Shakuhachi and Buddhism in their sect? What is/are the Myoanji other practice forms? I have been wanting to ask Mutake-sama the Komuso of Nara, but we get busy with other topics of the moment. Slowly, small steps I am getting insights into the Fuke of Now.
 
 
 

吹禅 – Birth of a Komuso


A Komuso is born…

 
It had been my plan for a while to do some type of shakuhachi pilgrimage every year. The anniversary of my formal shakuhachi lessons is in April /May, so I am late this year…if doing it on the date matters.
 
I set off fairly early on the pilgrimage. I was nervous, and dressed in a traditional Zen monk’s work clothing a Samue. Even then I was a bit self conscious, no one noticed or cared, they were dressed in western fashion, me the gaijin was dressed in traditional wear. It is an interesting world view.
 
The trip to Nara was simple, and fairly quick. I was traveling ahead of schedule so did not feel rushed at all. I arrived and looked around for a locker to stash my backpack. However even though early the coin lockers at the station were full. Oh well, thanks to my Sempai, I was shown another place that was setup for people to drop off luggage. He had arrived shortly after I did. I found a toilet room and changed into my kimono, after which I put on the borrowed Komuso gear from my Sempai. He had given some basic directions about what to do while wearing the “basket”, theTengai. Do not talk while basket is in place, remove it on the temple grounds, when speaking lifting the basket was ok or taking it off. I found that a bit hard to remember, lift and talk. I forgot many times and thought oops! I rather liked having the basket down, I was anonymous and hidden. A no one, people saw the clothes, and heard the sounds, but me as me not so much. Not the Black guy in Japanese gear. At least in my mind.
 
We started slow, I followed Sempai’s lead. With the Tengai in place I could listen to my playing and his. Not see the people watching, or at the least ignore them better. I was pleasantly surprised we were able to play in harmony. I have heard recording of other Komuso playing and many times the tones do not match. In the Komuso world it is not supposed to matter. My Sensei also told me that in traditional Japanese music it is not about being in tune, harmonically with other players. It is more so with Shakuhachi Komuso Playing. However my musical roots come from a different place. Disharmony of tones can be an accent but not the norm. So, I was told that it did not matter, but to a musician it did. So yeah, not having to fight a tonal discord made it easier to follow the lead of Semapi on his phrasing of the Cho Shi melody. 
 
We played first near the train station, then slowly walked toward the park, stopping every so often. People always took pictures. Being in the basket, I did not care. I was not me, who I was did not matter, what I was doing mattered and I could do it faceless. There is a Kyudo ceremony I have seen that the archer covers his face while shooting. This way it is not about the shooter but the shooting. Here it was not who was sharing the dharma, but the dharma. The Dharma in this case is the musical tones of Cho Shi.
 
Once we reached the park we had our first negative encounter. I was told negative encounters happen. Not always, but they are out there, where there is Yang there is Yin. This is the Tao/Do of life. Sh*t happens! they say in the street.
A security guard or sorts made us the target of his day’s power trip. He basically told us we could not play there on the street in front of the Park. Even though we were not IN the park, it was considered part of the park. At least in his view. Sempai was quite surprised having been doing this for a number of years. Rather than hassle with this “rent-a-cop” on a power trip, we moved on and crossed the street. There was fewer people traffic, but it could not be helped. We walked on.
 
We made several stops to play after that without any further incidents. Our next encounter came from a couple of tourist girls. They said we were Co-playing. Sempai corrected them that we were in fact real priests. He was from a local temple. They were surprised and wanted pictures taken with us and them. The first of several group pictures throughout the day.
 
I noticed most times we stop, there was always a small crowd gathered taking pictures, even as we walked some times, pictures were common. This day much much more than donations. I was not really concerned about the donations, for me it was more about being out there. Playing and doing the practice. Turning inward and doing the song under the “Tengai” got easier as the day went on. I could block out, the photo ops crowds and just play. A couple of times a few people would get really really close like they were trying to see inside. Perhaps Chinese tourist, they are not known here for being subtle. I rolled with it. When you stand in the wind, you have to expect something to get in your eye.
 
One of the more difficult parts was walking and playing. That became a real challenge. There was the timing of the song, the musician me was concerned about the rhythm of walking and the playing of the song, the martial artist me was concerned about the rhythm of the breath while walking and playing. Should everything match? Meanwhile my Tengai was slipping down over my head and covering my eyes, and other parts of my Kumoso wear needed constant adjustments from slipping. Add to that some knee discomfort and foot discomfort. As with sitting Zen there was more to it than meets the eye. It is not Just sitting, it is not just playing, one as to over come distractions, internal and external. One can not attach to the distractions, one just does the practice.
 
I noticed during our travels, the different reactions to us. Tourist took pictures, kids pointed and had kid reactions, some just ignored us. Some of the older Japanese surprised me with their reverence. They would stop and bow. That was to me touching, not seeing me, but the spirit I represented.
 
One older man spoke with Semapi upon hearing us play. He said the sounds returned him to his childhood during the war. There was a legless Shakuhachi player in his town. He wanted to learn from him. However the cripple said he ( the kid) did not want to go on this path (of suffering/sadness? ). Later he was able to take lessons, but had not played in many many years. He said the spirit that we conveyed was beyond and more important than not being Japanese. I found that comforting.
 
In most of the tales about Komuso, it is about them wandering around playing. However it seemed the playing was about and for their enlightenment or money. They did not really do Buddhist Priest type of things. When I see and have donated to other Priest on the street they give some type of blessing to the giver. I was told when receiving a donation as Komuso, one bows and keeps playing or restarts the Cho Shi song. After the day was over, Sempai said to me, the donations you received it would be good when you got home to put it in your sacred spot and say a pray or chant over it to honor/bless those who gave. For me that struck a good cord and really gave a purpose to the collections outside of self to buy lunch or the train ticket. It was also doing something as a priest since I do not belong to a temple here or do outside charity work, here in Japan. I have not seen much of other Komusos other than for special events, so this to me gives meaning to being a Zen Priest. Something to support my vows.
 
Overall it was an educational and enjoyable experience. I enjoyed having a spiritual outlet for playing and being a “Ronin” priest. I have decided to do more of this and make it a part of my Lohan Chan practice. Even if nothing happens via teaching Budo and sharing dharma that way, there is this musical dharma outlet, that is not just me playing for self enlightenment. The Modern street Komuso playing touches people, more so the elders, perhaps they need it more these days. Perhaps also praying over the donations adds positive energy to the world conditions. Maybe on some level eases someone’s suffering… even if just in their or my head having a Priest pray.
 
 
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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”.