Progress in small steps

Even small steps forward, is still progress, it is not the size of the step, it is the direction.

I am starting to feel like I am making some progress on several endeavors. Since I just came in from Kyudo practice I will start with that.

There was a Rei Kai today. It took me a while to figure out it is Rei Kai, not Dae Kai, not that it really matters, it is just a label. The event is important, not what I called it.
The ReiKai today was small as most of inner dojo events are. It was cold, I continue to be grateful we are inside dojo. I would have really suffered had it been outside. Still during break many were standing around our one little space heater, or had on their outside coats.

The day went smooth, it was a relaxed day. My shooting was not great, I was able to hit one out of the first two sets , then as I made adjustments I hit two out of the last set of four. After that time one of my Sempai Sensei said something to me, as him another Sensei who often helps me had been watching my shooting and discussing it. The second Sensei, the senior seem very reluctant to say anything, but the other spoke up. My balance when shooting was off. I guess I was leaning into the shot too much. My pushing toward the mato was turning into a lean toward the mato. I made a note of it.

The main shooting was over now was the time everyone shot again but instead of 4 arrow, it was one, per round. If you made the shot you continued, if not bye bye. I applied a correction to what I had been told. Instead of just pushing, I lifted my head and stretched my spine upward, like when doing Tai Chi, or sitting Zazen. Also then push toward the mato and away from it with the opposite hand. So as I had been told before or read, that it was more of a circular expansion not just vertical. To the Heaven and earth, and to the sides. So I guess not really round, but all around. I also did the tightening of the triceps as Yamashita Sensei had told me, upon release. The other thing was to place myself “in between the bow and the string. Aonther thing I had heard or read about, but I finally figured out the feeling. When I do it the ya goes straight, like an arrow :-). It is sort of leaning into the bow to place yourself in the middle. Technically I am not between the bow and the string, but it feels that way. I am not supporting the pull with my arms, and chest, but “body”, Bam , a hit, I thought I was done for a while. But I was called up again, Bam! hit, and a another time. I was in the finals. I missed my last rotation shot, maybe everyone else did as well. However, wow I was doing good. I am finally starting to understand, things are starting to click. Usually when I think like that, I find I am wrong, but so far this time it has held up. I still have a way to go, but I am making progress and have found the spot to aim from on my Yumi. Now more and more practice and I should be ready for the Shinsa this summer. Sato Sensei asked me was I going to the shinsa in March I said no, more practice yet. But I believe with continued practice Summer will be it. If not there is Autumn, and Winter. Also next year, if God be wiling and the creek don’t rise. Maybe these days it should be If God be willing and hte bombs don’t fall! Either way I am feeling good about this being the year of Yondan. The “Dog” is with me!

The day before I had my monthly meeting with the Shakuhachi group. A cold and rainy day, once agin we met at Oota- Sensei shop. This from what I understand maybe becoming out regular meeting spot. It is a bit rustic, but comfortable and no hassle to be there and no conflicts with other groups wanting to use the space.

We went through the usual drills. I was able to play along on a couple of piece that I had not done before. For me that was a personal victory. Then everyone played the individual pieces they are doing. Finally it was my turn, I was not really excited about, but I did Choshi. The Yamamoto, version. I received some corrections and tips on playing. Then asked to do it again so I could practice. It was better, still needing work but better. I could hear a Sempai grunt an approval of parts I did correct. Afterwards he says, I do the last phrase well, I did need to work on the small adjustments. Another Sempai showed me how to correct one part. Later I was told I have good potential my tone is good. That was good to hear…yatta!

I also decided on the Shakuhachi I wanted Oota-Sensei to make for me. I heard a couple of different sizes being played and my ear was most pleased with the 2.0. It was told to me later by another Senpai about having six hole instead of 5. I had not thought of that, but upon hearing it said and explained why, it is a good idea for my experimental flute. It will take some time before it all comes together. Oota-Sensei will have me select the Bamboo I want as the next step, now that I have chosen the size.

I was given the application for joining the Myoanji temple. This was helpful. I can fill out the form before meetinG with Matsutani-San next month. The Sempai who gave me the application, told me later that he would be my sponsor if needed. I thanked him told him that Matsutani-San a friend of my Sensei said he Would sponsor me. The Sempai said, ohhhh, yes, you should go with him as a sponsor he is very well known…Yatta, Another plus for me!

After the practice meeting, as is the custom we went out for food and drinks. I have never done that in the States, hanging out with the guys at a bar drinking and chatting. Even with my Kung fu family. We did that at the Dojo with Shifu after our closed door classes. My brother and I when we went out it was to eat Chinese food. It was not that often like a ritual as it is with the Japanese. It is a normal custom in Japan, at lest with companies. It was fun, even with my limited Japanese we had a good time. One Sempai is heading to Hawaii soon and wanted to practice some English. They made sure I had what I could eat and we had a good time talking misc stuff including, Shakuhachi technique playing compared to feeling playing,

So process is being made. The new band is feeling positive, Kyudo is feeling positive, Shakuhachi world is also feeling positive. I need to crack down on my Japanese study next. still…The year of the Dog is off to a good start…Yosh!

 

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Cracks, Bamboo and Blues

Well travel time is over for a while, sort of, a couple of small trips still on the horizon, but nothing to write home or blog about.

On the Music scene …thankfully my Shakuhachi has been repaired. My Sensei took it to his friend, who he says is one the of the number top Shakuhachi makers in Japan. This makers usually does not do repairs on other makers instruments, but as a friend he is doing/did it. The maker did and outstanding job also much much cheaper than the original repair person I took it to. That guy was really more into selling me a new one than repairing mine.

So now I have a nice whole flute again. He not only fixed the crack but the joint as well. I like the wrapping he did. It gives the flute “character “ and that cool old school Shakuhachi look. Sensei and the maker said even though my shakuhachi is not a professional level model it is still a good flute. Especially says Sensei for playing Honkyoku songs. He says it is rare to find this type of flute these days as most makers are making “modern” sounding flutes. Tuned to western pitch and louder playing. So I am pleased to have it back. I have also learned to take better care of it when it is resting.

Now I can really crack down on my practice for the up coming event I am scheduled for in March. I will be doing my first public performance in front of serious players at a Buddhist temple event. This a big deal for me and it sort of coincides with my 3 years of lessons anniversary.

At this event I will meet a Komuso who is to be my sponsor for joining in the Miyonji Temple as a “real” Komuso. Again something that really only matters to me and in the large picture of life means nothing. Isn’t that the same with most of our individual ego trips, adventures. Gives a little boast to our own self-image.

On the other hand, who knows what help, lift  it will give someone when out as a Komuso to someone who hears the music.

Lastly, I will be placing my order for a new Shakuhachi this weekend. I have settled on what I want. I will order it from one of the members of the classical Shakuhachi Society I play with once a month. This is the member who gave me the large Shakuhachi which I enjoy. I have decided on one in between the 2.5 and the 1.8 cm I like the deeper tone of the larger flute over the smaller. The larger one though is more difficult to play, more so I think with “modern” songs I want to play. If I am wrong I will just make due with it and adjust to the song. At least that is the plan. Man makes plans, God laughs is a saying.

On the band scene, we have had our second rehearsal with the new band. A keyboard player has joined us. It really helps round out the sound.

 

Another plus with him is he also sings so we can work on some vocal harmonies that really adds to the band sound. I heard from the blues  “Doctor” that the band has been selected to play again this year at the big city Blues Festival, however we will be once again in the small club. Reason being our vocals are weak. Quite understandable. Really we have none. The “Doc” is a weak singer and we never practice on vocals, well on anything really. I have on a couple of songs tried to “hear” a harmony with him but he is difficult to harmonize with, not really an expressive voice, he plays better than sings. Which is ok, for the blues, but limits the band appeal.

I am still waiting to see if I have been selected to do a solo act at the festival. The choices are selected and posted on Sat.

Can’t stop the music

 

 

The beat goes on …

 

Last week or so, I had a showcase event with a new band, “Sakai Sieki”. I have played at this club, The Red House, a couple of times. The owner had made suggestions about us playing together. After our first meeting I had said I was looking for a band to join, he said he was looking for someone with my skill set. Nothing else was said for a while. Then again after I did a small spot there as a solo we spoke again briefly. After few days afterward I was asked if I wanted to join a jam session with a friend of his. Sure I said let’s do it. It went ok. It was easy and fun, we played, ate, and drank. It was a pleasant evening.

A few days afterward I am asked if I wanted to do a show with them at the club. It was not a paid gig, but a showcase. We were to be the opening act for a couple of known groups. A test run as it were. I was asked about getting together for a practice session the day of the show. I said it was better to have a couple of practice sessions more so since it was our first time together. He agreed. The practice went well. I learned of their weak points, we all have them, so I adjusted the songs I wanted to do, to their skill set. Again overall it went well. The day of the show we again met and rehearsed. We were set. After rehearsal The drummer and I went to get something to eat. He is also a quasi Vegetarian, so we went to a place that I had gotten soy burgers from before. I was not really looking forward to going to eat with the drummer. He is a nice guy, likes to talk, but does not speak any English. That means I have to deal with only Japanese and figuring out what he is saying. Work!! We went to the restaurant, called “Mos burger”. Bummer bummer! They changed their Menu, no more soy burgers. Crap! I took a fish sandwich instead, as did the drummer. We spoke some, about Kung fu, a blues club nearer to my house, music, etc. it went ok. I did not get somethings, but I got enough to communicate. I am always surprised when I can do that. We ate, and went back to the club to wait.

 

We had several hours to kill before show time. The other two bands showed up, and did their practice. I knew a couple of the players in one of the other bands, and one player in another. The one band where I knew two players, is a smoking hot band. I think for what I have seen the best Blues Band here in Osaka. It is good to be an opening act for them and not to follow them. They would be hard to follow, they are a tight sounding band!

Show-time came, we were up. We did 6 songs. The one song I have been really wanting to do good, did not turn out so well, as least parts of it. The drummer forgot about the breaks I wanted, and I messed up badly once. Some parts were ok. With some more practice it could be a good song. We only really practiced it a couple of times. The other songs, went better, not perfect, but still ok. They were simple blues type songs. We played through the errors and just rolled with it. When it was done, we got a fair share of approvals.

I figured out how to set my smart phone timer camera to record video on a start stop, start timer. That was cool and helpful, as well as painful to hear the mistakes. A good training aid. I did some editing and put together a sample vid, which can be seen here.

 

A few days later after things settled and such, it was suggested we keep the band together, we could be good with some more time together. So officially I am with a new band now. One thing I have noticed about bands and players in Japan, players often belong to several bands and no one cares. It is normal, in the states, usually one is with just one band. A player can do more than one, but unless they are just floaters usually just one band is the focus. Another thing I notice is more people here just play to play for the music, not to become stars or get a gig. A gig is a Paying job, not a freebie showcase or something of that sort. Work is the goal not just playing to have a good time, that is what jam sessions are for, in the States.

So this new band could be good, it may give me some possibilities of different expressions in sound. It is not a “Blues” band per-se. The term I heard was Neo-soul. Good, I like being able to do other songs other than just blues. I do hope we can get one other member, a pianist would be sweet, but a good horn or guitarist would also be nice. So this is something to look forward to for the upcoming year. I still will pursue my own solo path as well, but the band with give me a different musical outlet. I will still play with the Doc’s band when asked, but is a minor priority as he does not want to put in the work and time to be more than a “fun” time playing. I want to do more than play some little dive live house bar. I may never make it past that, but…one needs goals to be more than you are now…ones spirit, at least mine needs to grow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

弓道 – Hatsukai 2018

 

Hatsukai – 2018

 
This is my 4th Hatsukai, I believe, if my count is correct. This year there was a new years gift exchange, of sorts. Everyone joining the Hasukai this year was suppose to bring in a gift of more than 1,000 yen ( $10) to give away. Nice idea, it was just our club, so it was sort of intimint.
 
It was a fairly cold day, but not too bad. If I say it, it true. There is a sailing expression, no bad weather, just bad clothes. So I was dressed for Kyudo, and keeping that thought of being ready I had on several layers of understuff, then silks, for outside travel I had my big long coat. Socks inside my tabbies, and long johns legs were long enough to cover my feet to the toes. Yeah! I was ready, freddy.
 
I arrived a little before the 1:00 pm start, and did my New Years geetings and got in a couple of shots before things started. Now after a few years of these things I can follow along easy enough even though sometimes, well most times I do not know what is going on. I just roll with it. This times was not different. I thought I knew what was happening at times, like the start, but I am corrected and adjust my sails.
 
After everyone is signed in and ready there is the opening ceramony and annocement stuff. Then a “Sharei” of some sort, then round of shinsa shooting then the taikai rounds. I fall into my regular routine, I watch I shoot, I take photos, repeat.
 
My first two shots missed, maybe I hit one, of the set of four, that followed. Maybe two, lost track. When I was warming up, Watase Sensei, I could feel watching me. As I was leaving the floor , he intercepts me and give me a correction on not drawing enough right out of DaiSai, I was cutting to short. Arigatou I saw and bow. I ask is my elbow height arch any better? He shook his head, said something I did not know but “knew” it meant no! He laughed, as did I as I bowed and turned off the floor.
 
Later after my Tai Kai round, Yamashita Sensei intercepts me and says. Good job! I say, eh?! He was talking about a correction, adjustment he had given me last time I shot with him. It is a blessing to have these Sensei caring for my progress, even though not in a formal class. That is real concern for the student and honoring the practice from the heart.
 
Ok, so moving on, things started warping up we are down to final shooting. Small targets, a single arrow per turn. I got in three shots, all misses. I did not care, I was in a it’s a practice mode. For some reason even though small than a regular mato, I expect the good shooter to make quick meals of this, but no, it was taking some time even for the good shooters. I was up again soon. Ahh, yes, it was taking shorter time between rounds becaus eit was only our dojo there not several for the area. Anyway…I digress. I am up again, I shot and bam, I get a hit. Lucky, it was a causal event, and subconcously I knew that, so when I hit I put up both hands, yatta! Thoses that saw smiled.
I could not help but smile as left the floor… my posse’ was happy for me! So was I. My day was made. I had a “feeling” it was the day I was going to hit one of those mato. Yatta!
Although it was not really skill, more of a calulated luck shot. Even still though, it is a sign I am improving, it when mostly where I planned. I should be ready by the summer to make my bid to breath the air of Yon-dan altitude 🙂
 
So yeah, it was good start to a new year of Kyudo.
 
 
*Next up the new band “Sieki”
 
 

古典尺八研究会 Koten-Shakuhachi-Kenkyuu-Kai

 

古典尺八研究会

 
This is the name of the Shakuhachi group with whom I hang -out and play. More hang with than play, my skills are still weak on the 2.5 shakuhachi. We had our monthly meeting the other day, and make shift New Year’s drinking party.
 
Our practice is usually at a community center but this time it was full so we had it at the “header’s” workshop. There was suppose to also be a joint meeting that day with some group that had something to do with Komuso. That was postponed for whatever reason. I am glad I have the hookup with my Sensei for the Komuso entrance, so I do not feel a set back from the meeting cancelling.
 
I uad a map and direction to get to the meeting location, even still, I had some difficulty finding the place. Japanese can be very helpful just out of the blue. A woman leaving her home to go somewhere, saw me looking looking lost with a large case on my shoulder. She asks, am I looking shakuhachi gathering, shop, sensei, something. I say yes, she takes me to the shop just around the corner. Not where I would have looked, at least right away. 
 
I enter and see a bunch of shakuhachis on the floor, I am thinking they are just things Oota Sensei is working on. There are a lot of song books on the table. Most of the meeting time was spent on these items. I was told several times about checking out the Shakuhachi on the floor, at least what I thought. This is what I understood. Once another sempai showed up I got more details. The former sensei, or his master this was his stuff, the flutes, the books, the music. The books had ink drawings with kanji, of which I had no idea. The pictures looked interesting, Sumi style ink drawings! Made by the master or friends on his who wrote in his books?
I took a bunch of pics of the art and sent them to my sensei to translate the writing. I also had my wife look at them first. She said no way she could understand this old writing style! However my sensei can read the old style, it is his hobby. I will find out tonight what they say from him at class. Maybe some cool Zen things. There is one drawing of a flute player riding an OX. This is part of a Zen series of drawings. I think it is called Ox herding
 
At the meeting that day, most of it was spent looking over this wealth of info, only a little time spent actually playing. Then it was only the one song, which I think is one the group is playing for and anniversary party for one of the members. From what I was told, Oota sensei is making everyone new 2.5 shakuhachis to play for this event in Oct., that would be cool!
 
As time moved on, so we also made ready to do so. We packed up and head to an izakaya(bar n grill) for drinks, food and chatting ! Snacks, sake, shochu flowed freely. Not being a hard drinker, I almost had too much. On the way home and once at home I was on the edge of the too much tilt! Laying down and a nap helped when I arrived home. It was a fun and different for me as I do not usually go out drinking and hanging with the guys. As my Japanese improves, it will become more interesting. With all of us sharing the bill. It was reasonable at 2,500 yen ea for as much as we ate and drank. LZ was surprised at the cost she was expecting about 5,000 yen. I can not do the eat drink thing all the time, even at the low price since not working. However sometimes it is good, and it comes out to about the same as taking two classes a month, which the minister of finance says is ok to do. Since I have cut back to once a month on my class, it comes out to about the same…about. On the other hand it is still part of the Shakuhachi study and learning Japanese culture. Maybe I will have a book one day, my life and retirement times in Japan. I do not think any old farts like me have done such a thing as I am doing with Shakuhachi, Kyudo, Komuso, sailing and modern bands.

 

 

4/4 New Year 2018

 

Four days…4 Temples

Temple (shrine) 1: Kakuta- Hachiman.
I had not planned on doing this, it just happened. The best adventures can be had doing that. Even if not outstanding, good is good. The better ones leave your spirit buzzed…like this one. 
Dec 31 evening was spent at the Kakuto-Hachiman shrine, there was the New Year event, praying and shooting of which I posted. Been there did that. FYI : Shrines are Shinto, Temples are Buddhist, I am calling them the same here…deal with it!
Temple 2: Myikojo/Shikoji
 
The next day LZ and I went off to see her Ookasan. On the way there she says to me, there is a temple right next door to Ookasan, can we stop? It is supposed to be famous, historic Buddhist. We can pray there, I do not usually do it, but… Ok, we stop by. It is larger than I thought, but still small. The yard is well done, I like the ponds. We looked around a bit, prayed and then moved on to see Ookasan. The temple yard impressed me. There were a couple of spots one could sit, meditate. I am envisioning this as my staging area when I start Komuso in this area. Go there first sit, meditate, play, then, do the walking practice from the temple gate. Down the street and back, then expand as I get my nerve. Hahaha.
 
Temple 3 – Chokei-ji
 
The next day was to be a mostly home day. The weather was great, cold but not unpleasant. I had an appointment to see my Shakuhachi sensei, after my morning. practice. He was concerned about my not having a flute and the repair, replacement on mine. He offered to go with me to see the person, who suggested I buy a new one’s wares. If I choose to go that route and did not have the money to spend on a basic one from his friend a major Master Shakuhachi maker. This person’s beginners flute started at $1500.00. Wayyy out of my league with no income.
He also checked with this person about repairing mine. He was going to see The Master Maker this week to make a pickup of an order of his. He would take my shakuhachi along for him to check. Ok, I go along as he is my sensei. We met after a mixup of going to his house not his studiohouse.
 
Sensei and I connected and he served tea, we spoke about the shakuhachi. I put a limit on how much I would spend after, It was clear what was happening. This Master Maker maybe doing this, or will do this as a favor for sensei, from the way he spoke they are more than just customer/ client, more friends. I am going with the flow on this.
 
But back to the temples, I digress.
 
After visiting sensei I told LZ to my favorite temple in the area. She had never been there or even know of it. Not really her thing old historic temples. However with the NY on us she was into praying. This temple is about 10-15 bike ride from our house. It is really more of an actual pilgrimage feels like, because we have to really make some physical effort to get there to say a prayer. So it felt kind of cool, without planning it to be that.
 
When we arrived LZ was blown away and was taking pictures like a tourist to show her sister. She was amazed at the size and scope of the grounds. She is not and old temple person. Topping that off with how close it was to home. There. Were a lot of people, but it was not crowded. It was the second day of the New Year, i am sure it was crowded the first day. Still there were ceremonies going on. I heard drums and horns from the main temple. We went around to most of the smaller temples, paid respects and ended up at the big bell. LZ wanted to ring it, another surprise like a tourist. So we both did. Ringing in the new year is the saying. There maybe some Buddhist meaning of releasing, illusions, sins…
 
Temple (shrine) 4
 
The next day, I again was up and going to get into my morning Motion Chan. The last few days I have been in the parking lot, which is comfy. However I thought I would like the shrine vibe for practice since it was the Near New Year. Perhaps it was finished with the crowd there by now, an I can get my practice spot in the back.
 
It was starting to rain a bit as I set out, I thought the trees at the shrine maybe enough, the rain was light. I arrived there were a number a people and a few of them looks rather busy doing something in the yard. I started not to go in, but thought I would anyway since it is my local Shrine. I would not practice but I would pay respects. The caretaker and I spoke and bowed for the NY,. I kept it short at the Temple and bowed and left. Activity was in motion there on the sidelines. I went of off to the lot and practiced. It dawned on me as a was walking , I had done four temples over the last four days. I found out later it is an old Japanese custom to celebrate the first three days of the NY.
I fell into that easy enough, with my own flavor. This maybe my new, New Years Tradition, added to the 108… hmmm maybe as komuso training/ offering at the temples.
 
 
 
 
…. …. …. …. ….

弓道 – 108 ya – 2018 yr – Scent of the Dog


108 ya – 2018

 
As I have been doing for the last several years, I shoot 108 arrows for the new year, same as the Buddhist ringing a bell/gong 108 times…cerimony. A friend started it I have taken on the training. 
I was set this as in the past to do my shots here at the Bamboo Mantis Hidden Makiwara Kyudojo. 
Out of nowhere a sensei, who I am friends with and have played music with, he asks if I wanted to come to his dojo to join a New Year shooting. It took me a while to get all the details correct and figured out. 
Sempai’s (the sensei) dojo is the one kyudojo that I tried to join when first in this area. They said no, after telling me yes, and me showing up, changing and ready to shoot. Then they dropped the no bomb. I was told that the club owner said no new members. I am thinking hmmm yeah right…but let it go. Still I was bummed out!
 
I was told I could go to Kishiwada, which I did and I am pleased that that it worked. Trusting the force to provide for my best. As it turns out several of the Senseis and a Sempai that help me at Kishiwada are from this other dojo. I have heard on other times that the story is indeed true and not a “me” issue. Ok, onward, so this Kyudojo is connected to a Shinto Temple. So this turns out to be a local New Year event. The dojo opens, we shoot, there is a ceremony of some sort, then the windows of the dojo are opened so that the locals that come to tthe shrine to pray for the new year can also watch us do Kyudo. I was told this was to be an all night thing basiclly. Someone give me a ride home. There were a couple of other people from Kishiwada going as well. Cool I thought. After I got all the infor sorted out, I was all in.
 
Now there were some things I still did not know, but i would just go with it and see. I knew the basics, I show up, I can shoot, dress really warm, there will be something hot served, there is a cerimony, do not worry about the train home. I was set.
 
I planned for a full day, a long full day. I figured to do my 108 at home since I had no idea how much I could shoot or how long it would take taking turns, getting the ya, etc. Where they also doing some version of the 108? Hmmm. Ok, i figured, whatever this is a training day a, purifying day. First off some Zazen, and then breakfast. Next out for some physical Chan, and some tea. I am ready to start now. I figured to cruise through this, I the full day to do this, so I would pace myself. I did a four sets of 5 before taking a tea break. This then back at it. This time going just a point past halfway. Break time.
 
I took a lunch, some tea, FB’d a bit. I notice now, my tenouchi hand is hurting. I had been griping wrong, to tight maybe, it is right where, just below a callous from work is located. It is like a little pebble in your shoe…
So yeah, now it is hurting, there is a new little bluster, and torn open on my palm. Warrior training spirit says ” there is no stopping until finished, deal with it”. After some thinking, I had a pair of gloves I was going to use for komuso playing when it was cold. The finger tips are cut off. I dug these out and tried on the left glove. Perfect, white cotton, l with just enough cushion. I tried it out it worked so. i went back to practice.
 
I shoot for about 5 min before it started to rain. Wow, I am thinking, the force is testing my resolve. It was not raining hard. I continued, since my yumi is fiberglass and bamboo. Weather is not and issue. Great I was able to have the blessing of two Yumi, bamboo and hybrid-glass. It rain little on and off through my next set of shots. During my next tea break, the weather app said the rain would be fully done about now.
 
Yes after my break the rain was no more. I continued, shoulder and chest starting to feel the strain now, still, I pushed. I tried to stay focused , a mindful practice, attention to each detail of each shot, not just shooting for the numbers. Kishi sensei says don’t just play your shakuhachi to make sounds , notes, make the note have the best quality. As I neared the end of my 108, I had another break pre-planned , bit decided to press on and just do it. I stopped when I had completed 106 shots. I figured no matter how many people there was at the dojo tonight, or the order of things, I would have time to have at least two or three sets of shoots. I would wear the glove, I would try to anyway. It was plain white, this was not a class, so it should be ok, I thought. I will removed it if I have too. Another reason to do most of my shooting at the makiwara, no one tells me how to dress.
 
So for the most part I was finished my 108. I got things organized for the evening. A shower, some food, a bit of sake, then practiced some “Suizen”. It was a great day so far. In the back of mind I was thinking about what to expect tonight at the dojo. Really the main concern was how cold would it be? I was dressed for some what I thought would be fairly serious, at least for me, I am a cold weather wimp. I had on maybe for or five layers of tops, silk, and cold weather poly things, plus leg’ns . My main concern would be for my head, with no hair. I had a silk kimono, and coat, we were going to be inside, so that part should be ok.
 
I arrived early to the shrine, way early. I walked around, did few New Years prayers, took pictures…facebk’d, killed time.
 
Finally someone arrived. I did not know him, he asked if i was from Kishiwada. Shocked I thought everyone knew that. Maybe just checking. He made a small joke about me being early. I did know him so I continue to wait outside while he opened up the dojo. Short while later my dojomates showed up. I went in with them. Slowly others arrived, we all settled in as they lite the heaters, and setup the bean soup, made ready the yumi and ya, everything set to shoot.
 
Little by little they started, there was nothing official happening everyone just went up and shot. All was very relaxed, many sat by the heaters chatting and staying warm. Little by little things got more organized and more started shooting.
 
Near 11:30 we were instructed to go to the next building, to where the ceremony would take place. We all went into the main temple, the Shinto priest where all ready. We all had a seat on small folding stools, no kneeling. That was a relief, my knees could not have taken it. Ok, i wanted to take some photos but I thought that would be not cool. I resisted! There was a little bit of chanting, incense, bowing, usual stuff. However short and fairly simple. The priest blessed the group everyone bowed and it was done. Everyone went back to the Dojo. I got a few photos outside.
 
Once back in the dojo, the sweet bean soup was ready. Mochi was added a short wait and it was ready. Bowls were handed out. It was not to have something warm and sweet, perhaps a little too sweet, but it was still welcome and good! I had a second, but small helping.
 
Now people really started shooting in earnest , it was almost 12:00 now. I heard someone start the happy New year phase when it was midnight. Everyone said it to the group and continued to shoot. It was not a 108 shooting, just a New Year’s shoot. 
 
I made my final shots earlier and surprising hit, my last (108) and the first shot (109) of the year . Really surprised because i could not tell where my first arrow of the night went. Where I was off. My ya are black, it was dark, dim light by the mato, and my growing old man eyes issue. So I was focused on my position and alignment more than “seeing”. Those were the only hits for the night, I think I shot 5 times, three I needed for my count. My last shot for the night came just after midnight. I had thought earlier that I would change my string for the New Year. I had taken it off to adjust the tension, and it looked shabby in a couple of spots. Then I got lazy let it slide. I forgot about doing it
Just after finishing my home shots, when took some time to do SuiZen after the 106 shots. Anyway, yeah, the string broke, i had a spare, but since it was so late i just stopped. I was under the impression that something opened at 1:30 am. But what it was , the Dojo was closing at 1:30 am. So my string bit the dust at 12:40. I was done for the night. All worked out. Good I did most of my shooting at home for my counting goal. I couple of people asked about my glove, did I hurt myself, or what. i explained, they said ohh. My Sensei asked, when I told him I was screwing up my tenouchi in my practice. He laughed as did I .
 
My sempai came to me as everyone was packing, and said he would take me home. Argatou. It was a good experience. I am pretty sure the first Gaijing involved and attending.
 
So onward into the New Year. I am feeling this is the year I will go to the next level of understanding. I can feel some improvement when I shoot. I still have much to do, but I am finally feeling some progress. Year of The Dog will be successful for my Kyudo endeavors. 
 

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

What a Long strange trip it’s been

あけましておめでとうございます

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

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

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Winter…

Winter is coming…

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

弓道 – Kyudo World


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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