…and the band played on

 

An the band played on

All the drama around here finally stopped. We had earthquakes and floods. All close to home but thankfully not at home. It would have wiped us out! All that I have left is what is in my lil studio. It would have broken me to lose what is left of any dreams or life. However Allah be praised it did not happen.
So yeah the band. This is the Doc’s blues band I am referring to. We have not played together since April the Sakai Blues festival. I got a notice from the doc there was a spot for us to play at some Sri Lanka restaurant in Nara. His girl friend had arranged it. We were to play and get a dinner for our efforts. The Doc was going to drive us there , in his Electric car, so it would not cost me anything ok. I said with some reservations. This is about a two-week or more notice. Ok, I agreed , but I Did not say or ask anything else, as I usually do. I wanted to see what would happen. I was told ( not asked told) to sing a certain song by the Doc at another place I met him at. A gig with my other band. I wrote about that. I said no!
It was a nice drive to the venue. A nice place, sort of a farm, restaurant setup. One would never expect it in the Mtn of Nara. We arrive with no problem, and settle in a bit. The drummer shows up a while later. We setup and get ready to play. Then the Doc says, ok what shall we play? I was not surprised at all!! . I just shrugged and left it on him. He picked a song, me going first, I had planned on this song anyway, o just rolled with it! Just before that the drummer tells him he should speak and intro the band and all. Ok we get started. I am struggling with the tuning of my bass, it is way off. Still we make it through a couple of songs. Then I hear ok, it is your turn to do a song the Doc is talking to me. The Drummer says yes please, we are not looking to good, do something to save us. I think…hmmmmm, again.
The Doc says, oh I heard you do “killing floor” the other day, do that! I say No! He says why not?, I respond irked, because I am NOT doing it, that is why. I dislike being told what to sing by him, I dislike not having a song list agreed on by the band, I dislike waiting until we are on stage to discuss what song to do. I dislike playing with no practice, especially on songs not done before. I chose another song and we went through it. It was not too bad, I am still having issues with my bass tuning!
We do a few more songs, I forced the Doc to choose, sometimes by just starting to play them. His songs. We made it through the set and took a break. For the next show set we setup outside. There were more people by this time, not a great amount, this is a afternoon gig, not a niteclub/livehouse.
I am asked now, not told, what I want to sing, by several people. Ok I do a song, then afterward it was kind of like the band stalled, the Doc was not leading. I started just playing some open songs cords to just jam on, the drummer kept right with me with different timing and beats. This went on for a while, I start something, the others would follow. More like I am leading a Jam session not, running a show. Over all it went well. The people enjoyed it. I found out we had collected some money from “tips” . So it was overall good, with the tip, the food was good, the place was nice, and we got decent pocket money. I was happy…at least with that…the band leader, not so much! I said nothing about his lack of professionalism, it would be pointless, I have been there before. I just need to decide if I want to do this any more. The thing that bugs me, is if one to going to name a band after themselves, they need to have their act together, be a really good player, or singer or businessman, or have great stage presence. He has none of those qualities. I am always called on to sing and save the show. Sometimes feeling like the show monkey the way it is done. He is not a bad guy or a jerk, just not professional in skill or attitude. I understand why as long as he has been playing around Osaka he has no one else that will play with him in ‘his” band.
Anyway this is not a post to rag on him, much but the show report. The place was nice, the mountain side was nice as was the weather after the big storm. There was no trace of it here. The Shi Lanka food was good, it looked like Indian but not as spicy and the taste was a little different. I would eat it again if there was a place nearby. I saw pictures of the Chefs from Shi Lanka an I could see why I was chosen to play the Shi Lanka President on Japan TV before.
No idea when this band will play again or if I will be with them. My other band, the main one, Sieki band will be playing at Chicago Rock in Sept. I have a single jam thing planned with the drummer in Aug also at Chicago Rock sort of a pre-test and low key audition for me.
Next up…”Working blue collar”
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Gardening, Rain, SuiZen


Gardening Zen and the rain
My Shifu from Dharma Mtn says everyday life is Zen/Chan, in Kung fu we say everything is training. Gardening as practice is certainly not a new concept, so I am not going there, this is just one moment in time…thoughts, clarity
Growing one’s food no matter on the scale, gives a sense of connection to the world, life cycle without the blood of hunting. It is sort of satisfying the God complex, like ceramics because you are creating something from dirt, but in this case you can eat it, instead of eat with it.
We have had a storm for the last couple of days and will continue at least one more. I am loving it! Off from work, just enjoying the rain and wind from a safe spot. Doing some gardening when the conditions are mild. Like the wind taking a breath. Doing some misc trimming, repotting, feeding, rearranging or simplify admiring the garden, savoring the feeling of the elements, the storm, the earth, growth, warm air, being in Japan, the wind, life, gratitude. With the world so nuts, it Is good to view everything with a sense of gratitude and feel the joy of the retirement moment in gratitude and wonder. Five years in to retirement and still surviving. Not without help, grateful for that. It is a simple life but pleasant. Warm int he winter, cool in the summer, dry all year when sleeping and our belly are full. This is a blessing under normal conditions, to have it be so in a new country and life is a major blessing …Amitoufou
I spent most of the last couple of days, practicing Shakuhachi and working in the “backforty”. This year I really feel the blessing of having this space and see the results of my efforts in the landscaping. Both in the front Zen garden and the Back Forty. Same purpose of growth, different missions. Sort of Yin and Yang, eye and body pleasures. Whatever. The front theme Is the bamboo, a couple of small water ponds, some fragrant plants, a couple of herbs. Gives a sense of peace and simple beauty. I still have the image of how it looked when we first moved in. so different now.
The Backforty is about growing food and herbs. The front was tried a bit for some things, because of the sun, but the bugs overran the things. They seem to be less on the Backforty. Not sure why. More other plants around in front, dirt, ??
I have finally figured out after 5 years what grows well, in what spot, and how much to grow since my use is measured and my yield is small. The main stay is lettus, kale, tomatoes, basil, peppers and few misc herbs. This year has been the most productive. I will try potatoes next year or later this one. It maybe too late, for this year, Unknown… some research needed.
Some grown things really add to the table, something are just treats. It is all worth the effort, the sense of “gangster” for growing your own, the flavor!! The spiritual sense of connection to your food.
During the storm I sheltered myself indoors and watch and listen to the storm. I would practice my Shakuhachi during these times. I was told by my Komuso sensei about connecting to the environment was an important part of playing. Today and yesterday I sat at the window, feeling as if I sat on an enclosed patio and played. The storm blew, I blew, we blew. On one song the storm and my energies blended and as I played, the storm followed , or I followed the storm, we ended at the same moment, like matched lovers.

Sakai Blues Fest 2018

I wrote about the controversy, hmmm issue I had with this a few months back. Which was resolved so I attended the event this weekend. Sat., I was the with the Doc’s band. We had 1 rehearsal a couple of week ago. Two days before the event he wants to change a song and add a different one. This song has some complex breaks in it. However he wants to do it. Sigh. 
 
I arrive to the area pretty early so I can find the venue location. I stop by the main stage area and see a few people I know and get some light directions. I got to the general area but still was not at the right location. I ended up in front of the place we played last year. Someone saw me who kind of knew me from before or some place else. Anyway he and and guy took me to where I needed to go. Kind people, most Japanese. At the venue I saw the guitar player from my other band, the Sieki Band. He was not playing just watching.
 
After a while the rest of the doc’s band shows up. He decides what the order of the songs and what songs we are doing. Of course this should have been done before hand and not the day of, but I rolled with it, as common. We were set to do 5 songs, the sixth song held in reserve, for him to do. I was set to sing the opening song, with the Doc singing the rest. It worked for me. 
 
Our time came around and we got set to play. Following his lead we started, it went well. I was put off that he sat on the foot floor of the stage while we stood on stage proper. It looked tacky. but the band played on. The next four songs were sort of bad, especially the new song never rehearsed, him still sitting next on the stage floor when not singing.
We made it through the planned set, and find out there is time for one more song. The Doc’s girl friend and a couple of others call for me to do a song. I say no, the drummer asks me also, please we need to sound strong for closing. Ok I say. I had no plans of doing a song so I had to think fast. I chose a song we had done before with me singing, but the Doc had taken over. We start slowly finding the groove, the Doc complains about the tempo or something. I did not quite hear, which was good, or I might have told him to sing it then, I have had this issue with him before. Anyway we got it rolling and it was sounding ok, not great  but ok. When his guitar part came we thought he would not stop, I jumped in with Harmonica so we could put a close to the song. He tends to drag on and on, and on with his solos. We ended ok and it was done. 
 
We sat for a drink and some of them ate. The keyboard player took off. I did shortly afterwards. Later I told the drummer the Doc’s performance was sort of embarrassing. He said his girl-friend and him were joking around about it. He did not eat and had a drink, it was effecting him. Hahah. I just sad hmmmm. His playing was off a lot, but overall his stage presence was lame. I thought sitting on the edge of the stage was tacky, missing notes when playing was one thing, but image is another. Anyway his band, his name, not mine. Soooo, oh well. No one cares but me so, whatever.
 
 
The next day I was doing my first solo spot for the show event. I was loaded down with my equipment. I had put together one extra song the night before, just in case I needed it, I was not sure about the time needed for setup and take down. Therefore I brought my guitar just in case I needed a fourth song. I had my keyboard, wires, drum machine, guitar and Shakuhachi. This was to be my first public playing of Shakuhachi with a modern song, not a traditional Shakuhachi. 
 
I made it to the main stage area again to get my back stage pass. Again some hellos and I stare off for the venue. This time I had a better idea on getting there and had my google map set on the phone so I pull just followed it. I made it with no problem. It was not where I expected but I could tell it was the place because of the people standing there outside. It seemed I caused quite a stir when I arrived. I got a lot of questions and asked for pictures. Not because I was famous or anything just being the black gaijin.
As it turns out there was another guy there from Ca. I was scheduled to play after him. He was gotten or just happened to come out, we spoke for a short bit. He did not live in Japan just visiting for his third time. After things settled a bit, I sat a few people came at next to me, chatted a bit, toke a picture then left. Another guys sits next to me we talk some , then he goes inside and brings me a beer. I thank him but say I am not drinking. It seems more polite than saying I hate beer. He takes it back, and returns shortly. We chat he is the owner of the club. Ohhhhh. I gave him my card, he gives me his. My card says I am a Buddhist Priest, he tells me he is also, with a certain Buddhist sect and shows me some pictures. Then he shows me some hand signs they use, somewhat like Ninja power things. Then he moves on to take care of some things. I wait more…I hear the other guy from California playing. I am to follow him, I was not impressed, like a country singer playing the blues, no soul more hillbilly like. The Japanese must like him because had played at two other spots over the weekend, solo at each. It was sort of fitting in with the other players I had heard so far there. I was thinking. hmmm maybe they are not ready for what I will be doing. Oh well!
 
Showtime and a guy who knew me ( another one I did not know him, but he knew me), helped me move my stuff and another helped me setup. I was ready. My first song was a slow blues. I had pre-record my drum and bass tracks on a machine. The first song I would start with Shakuhachi , then switch to keyboard, vocals and harmonica. When the other guy was playing there were a few people in the room and a few more in the next room. After I was setup and ready to go, I looked up to speak and , wow the place was full. I said something about that they laughed, saying they wanted to check me out. Hahah
 
I started, when I finished the opening Shakuhachi, which I thought I did pretty well, I not embarrass myself a least, they clapped! I continued on into the song. It went well. I was satisfied with my performance. The audience enjoyed it. The next started well, however about just past halfway through it, I got a little lost. I could not hear my sound track , with the feedback from the Mic and the volume being controlled by the sound engineer. I rolled with it trying to hear and reset my timing to match. I tried to cover it by ending early and not fighting with it or just stopping to find my place. They crowd did not seem to mind or notice. I checked my time I was doing ok, but I would not do but just one more. This was a funky blues, funky, I was not sure if they could handle it. I started, with the beat and the bass only. I started to clap with the beat to set the groove, I asked them to join, I was surprised and pleased they did so. They got into it, head bobbing, feet patting and clapping, it went well. Bam it was done. 
 
I packed up and went outside to organize. The owner came out and congratulated me. He asked if I did not drink at all or what. I said yes I do, Sake, and Sochu is ok. He asked wine? I said yes. He said ok and went inside. I was thinking he will get me a glass of wine. He returned and gave me a whole bottle of fairly high-grade wine. I was shocked!
I thanked him, a lot Japanese style, and headed off to chat with friend and his family who had shown up to see me. 
 
I did not think there were any pictures as I did not set up my camera, but later some came to me. Some from the event photographer posting and my friend. It was a good day. Now I know the music combo in my head will work, yatta! I had gotten some good feedback on using the Shakuhachi with the blues from some samples I sent to a couple of people, I will build on that from now! There will be two path with the Shakuhachi. It will be an interesting journey. Yosh! It is good to make some headway. Now If I could just do that with my Kyudo…
 

尺八 – Wind blowing in the rain

 

Wind blowing in the rain

 
I need to sort out now what is going here and what is going to the Komuso blog site. I have that blog up and surprisingly a couple of people have started following it. 
 
So back to just regular Shakuhachi before I publish the next segment on the Komuso blog.
 
I went to the monthly meeting of the”Koten-shakuhachi-kenkyuu-kai” (Society for the Study of Classical Shakuhachi) club yesterday. I have been to the “header’s dojo a couple of times already. Still I got seriously lost. I had a map with me a good thing. I stopped and asked for help a couple of times. People were very helpful!! I was way off track. I started out ok, but took my first turn way too early. After almost a restart, I got where somethings looked familiar and following the last set of help directions. I got to a place I knew where I was. Whewww.
I marked the location this time on my Smartphone map. Although I am fairly certain I know how to get there next time I found where I made my mistake.
 
Not a big deal being late there was only three others there when I arrive. Another member came later than me he had a performance to do before hand. 
 
We went through a few pieces.then I was asked to play what I am working on. I receive some helpful corrections on my technique. I need to focus again on doing some drills not just learning a song. Now that I have my goal somewhat done, I can focus on just improving my skill and not worrying about a performance. 
 
Oota sensei , the header had finished a 2.0 Shakuhachi he had been working on for me. I was surprised. I thought it would take a lot longer, as he is busy. However he comes over and says here try this. The sound was warm and deep but not overly deep. I liked it. It is a solid flute not the light feeling kind, and a big curve. This has some weight to it. It was fairly easy to play and nice looking . Cool ! He had me pick a carry bag from two that his wife had made. She does nice work! I was a happy camper. I did not play it much at the time as we were working with the 2.5 flutes. I also wanted to play with it at home where I would not be self conscience about it.
 
Another sensei there played the new flute and gave his approval.
 
The Sempai who gave me the Komuso application came in later. I thanked him for his help and showed him my new card. He said he just got his renewed as well and showed it to me. I told him I did not get a set of rules. He said nor did he this time. I guess we are just not suppose to do anything to embarrass the group.
 
After our practice sessions , Oota sensei, took us to his workshop to see some bamboo in the pre-flute stage. I was surprised how many he had ! Some of a really curved nature. Most of them big, not the smaller 1.8 version. It was quite interesting!
 
After that we closed up shop and headed out in the rain to an izakaya for our after practice social hour. I do not understand all that is aid , but we still all communicate and have fun. This was a different place from before as the old one closed down. To bad, I thought their select n was better. This place had “kompai” special that worked out well. Even for me with my picky eatingness. I had two small bottles of Sake the others had beers! I like these guys , nice folks. It is hard to make friends it is said in Japan, can understand that. I was lucky to be introduced to these guys and feel comfortable with them. Sharing the same musical connection is a good bonding medium. Of course the people themselves make the difference. As with a certain sailor who shares sailing and Zen practice with me, but is a jerk!
All in all I think my musical connections are stronger than my Kyudo connections, for the most part.
 
In the evening when I returned home, a sat an played with my new flute. I really like it. I played some traditional songs and a modern song. I also did some free style. I enjoy this flute. It will be my main multi-purpose flute. I like the low tone and the highs which are not too high. The second register as well I liked not too tinny sounding.
 
Some players I have seen on-line have a huge selection of flute. I will be basically keeping just the ones I have. 1- 2.5, 1- 2.0, 2- 1.8s. That pretty much covers my needs. I do have one more 2.5 , however I am planing on gifting it to a friend who has always been helpful to me, with Kyudo, and Music instruments I have needed. No need to have things I will not use, when it can be use and appreciated by someone else.
 
Oh one last note on the Kyudo Shakuhachi connection. I last time spoke of a Kyudo sensei who was also a shakuhachi player and a Shorinryu sensei. The one who rarely speaks, but has helped me with Kyudo points. I asked him if he was still playing Shakuhachi. He gave me a small half smile and said, he was on “break” from playing right now. He had played for 20 yrs. I asked what style, Tozen he said. Fairly common and popular style in Osaka.
 
I am glad I did not fall in with a Tozen teacher in my quest for a sensei. The Tozen style is a somewhat newer style and their focus is more about western style pieces seems like. Tozen is what my other sempai from Kyudo plays. My style is call Kinko an it goes back a long way and also linked with the Komuso and Zen practice
 
 

Komuso; a step on the path


Small steps are still steps… the path

 
I went Shakuhachi class tonight. It is now monthly, Not bi-weekly. Cutting back on expenses…
I took along a couple of the Komuso items I have recieved from the Myoanji Temple. One was my Begging permit. The other was a prayer/poem, charm sort of thing. my wife did not know what it was. My Komuso sempai said it was the SuiZen “vows” An “oath”…of sorts is a better word.
 
I showed it to my Sensei. He said, well… to me, as I am not a Buddhist, or at least a full Buddhist, I am half, to me it is just decoration. However to someone who is Buddhist, and like you as a Komuso it has meaning to the core of being a Komuso.
He then went through and explained everything in struggling English. The main “text” is this: 
 
One blow to remove evil
One blow to bring the good
One blow for all to come together in Buddhism 
 
 
There are variations on interpretations of this, but the same sort of meaning.
It came down to mostly this…hearing his talk.
 
“A Komuso does not play for himself, he plays for others first, himself last”. 
 
That was the thing that stuck with me out of all that he tried to explain, on the philosophy and code of the Komuso from the writing. One can think of the playing as a healing, a prayer, an offering. Sensei often speaks of sound offering, meditation, purity of the note and peacefulness of spirit. He said tonight when speaking of some players that if they can not blow the Shakuhachi and make a pure sound, a real note, not just mostly wind noise, this person should not being playing Shakuhachi, their spirit is not calm, they should just sit ZaZen. Give up Shakuhachi, just sit Zazen. What is funny hearing him speak of these things, he will say, or add that he is not a Buddhist, or Komuso, but blah blah blah.
 
He told me it is more important to play than to receive donations. Also hear that from my wife. Playing as a Komuso is not about taking, or receiving, but giving. He also told me I could play another song beside, “Cho Shi”. But a modern songs, NO no no! The Honkyoku I am currently working on, San Ya, is ok, he said. In Japanese songs such as this it is not about playing the whole song, for it to be a whole song. I could play the number of Lines I had learned and it could be used as a Komuso. He then showed me an example of how to play it. It is really feeling and interpretation of any part, yet each part is still part of the whole and still the whole. Like as drop of the ocean is still ocean water, an ocean, just smaller. As we as it is Ch’an are just a small part of all that is …
My friend and Kung Fu Sihing, liken this to the golden spiral of life. Wherever you cut this spiral it is the same angle, small as it’s larger or smaller piece. He based a workout stick/wand, on this idea.
Hmmm maybe I digress or something there… oh well, it is my blog, of sorts. It is my story for sure
! …or is it?
 
Sensei had said he was or held a membership at a temple in Fukuoka, but he had not done begging. But understood it. He knows a lot of stuff around Shakuhachi, even if he does not follow, the stuff. He as he has a lot of respect for those past masters who thought ( and those now) of the Shakuhachi as not a Musical instrument, but a Zen tool. Even though he does not follow that philosophy.
 
I hope to learning some interesting things as a Komuso if I keep my eyes and ears open. Learning Japanese would help a lot, but I will make do for now as I “take another step”.
IMG_20180403_163801
 
Another thing he said , from reading my card is I am number 2,380 (an about number) Komuso registered with the Myoanji HQ. I thought, Wow! There will be a new blog coming, dealing with just my life and times as a Komuso. “THe Komuso Khronicles”. This blog is getting full, and will just get the summary.

尺八 – Kard Karrying Komuso


A Card Carrying Komuso
It took some doing, and time, but it finally happened. I got my membership to the Myoanji temple and entrance into the ranks of the Komuso. Nice to have made a goal. it has been a while since that has happened. It is not really a big deal, yet it sort of is.
The Komuso order is not really an official Buddhist thing or is it? Still working on figuring that out. I was sent the Vow of Suizen with my membership papers. Maybe the 3 together now are the 3 treasures given to the new members to the ranks of the “Priests of Nothiness” back in the day. For sure only in Japan are there official Komuso Buddhist, I guess…
The Komuso are perhaps more Buddhist now…than back in the day. Back then most public records say they had little if any Buddhist practice. But there must have been something organized, formal. Of course they were just living, there was no need to record everything, like now. There was no Facebook back then! Other than the spies, they were mostly out for themselves, food, shelter, enlightenment. Ex-warriors, Samurai, ronin. Some did in fact work in some temples, admin sort of thing. The Buddhist part just gave them some freedom, some breathing space, a tax exempt status so to speak, and the “ok” to travel hassless as a “monk”. The Komuso would beg for alms by playing a honkyoku outside of a home or place of business. However, some practiced something near to extortion in order to receive alms by intimidating people and loitering. Komuso were also the subject of mysticism or superstitions.
I came across/heard something about it being lucky for a pregnant woman to see a Komuso. Some believed that the Komuso were surrounded by the dead and brought evil spirits or bad luck. Conversely, some believed that a Komuso could have a positive affect over such invisible forces. In many ways some Komuso could have been described as spiritual minstrels or priests.
Otherwise, zip.
On the other hand …there is still not much being done/heard of/by them. That I know of so far. Maybe at a Zen temple such as Kokokuji or Myoanji, there are Priest/Monks doing their Zen thing who happen to be part of a smaller/zen group that plays Shakuhachi, for whatever reason. Like there is a “warrior sub-sect” to the Shaolin Zen Temple. Martial Monks of Chan. The Komuso being something like that still today. Busy doing everyday Buddhist stuff at the temple, but part of their practice is playing Shakuhachi not chanting/or with chanting, does not have to be with or without, right…
“At present, Komuso practice with the shakuhachi exists only in a ceremonial way, although the Fukeshu remains as a Zen sect and has retained its traditional base in Kyoto’s Tofukuji Temple.”… Kouzan (Website)

Anyway moving on… Also they are not poor now, that is a for-sure thing. The outfits can be quite costly. Mine is not but it is also simple and from 2nd hand goods. Recycled, doing my part for the earth and humanity’s future.
Anyway, the full blown off the shelf Komuso-wear, can be costly! Which is one reason I ended up joining the Myoanji temple, not the Kokokuji temple in Wakayama. At Kokokuji, the Komuso are required to have a white and a black K-wear to be with that temple group. Also their Komuso-wear is special styled to/for them from what I understood.
The Kokokuji temple, from also what I understood, is not the first “Komuso” temple but the first to have the shakuhachi as part of their meditation or something like that. Yet this above says started wearing the basket. Maybe started here, but labeled elsewhere. Hard to tell. Myoanji is a much newer temple and “custody” holder of the Fuke Zen Komuso sect. Hmm is there still such a thing or is the”komuso” the only image memory of a somewhat colorful past.
Anyway, I digress, Myoanji is not so strict about their dress. Yet, it is ( Myoanji ) also supposed to be the “spiritual center” for the “SuiZen” practice.
 
So what are Modern Komuso? For the most part, a club/fraternity type group, carrying on a Japanese tradition. Maybe not a real “Zen” order, or rather, sub-order. I do not know if the “Fuke” are still considered a sect even though the ban was lifted. Although, who says what is a real Zen order. Although there are real ordained Priests in the group, not all are Zen. They, Komuso show up at events, and festivals. Still not doing much Buddhist type stuff…or maybe just “being” and playing there is Komuso ( Fuke) Buddhist stuff. There are just a few that still go out and beg, carrying on that tradition. I see a few in documentaries around Tokyo. I know of two in Nara, and they are active not just event Komuso. There are ” others ” within Japan that dress the dress but are, let’s say in training, or getting the experience. Like what I did.
I am still learning what Modern Komuso are and do. Now, I know two, no maybe three active ones. One has the philosophy Shakuhachi is not a Musical instrument but a Zen tool! Sadly no English, he is from the Kokokuji. By active I mean out playing in public not just gong to events. I think an interview is in order. An older veteran, My Sponser and a somewhat new guy, my Nara Sempai. That would be interesting, neh!? Yeah, I will have to put that on my “To Do ” List.
Make a pilgrimage to my Komuso Sponser’s temple. I have not done my official pilgrimage yet. That would be a great 3 year Shakuhachi anniversary pilgrimage. Also take along Sempai from Nara. I was going to go to Kyoto to take in my application, but we were told I could mail it. That was cheaper and simpler. So no anniversary pilgrimage yet.
 
For me…the newbie Komuso…hmmm, not sure… I will get out there. It is a good venue for me to develop a practice. I need my wife to make me a “Gebako”. Since my Kung Fu path here in Japan is pretty much nothing other than my own training health practice, not a way of spreading any dharma. Perhaps this mixture of Buddhism and Music will work for me, I can style, develop it pretty much as I please. My Sempai from the large size Shakuhachi group showed me a list of rules as a Komuso member. I will have to get a hold of the list and have it translated. Perhaps the temple will send it to me once all my paperwork gets settled in. I was surprised how fast my cards came. One week turn around from when I sent in the application, I was expecting just to get a membership invoice, but they sent the cards. For Japan, it was a shock to happen so fast.
 
So anyway, now I can officially start my own Zen Komuso Practice in my area. I am clear as a Komuso and a Renzai priest and not worry about the police hassling me over a begging license, or such as I am officially with a recognized temple, goal done, I am legit in Japan! Yatta ! I have not had a goal success in a while! What my practice will be is unknown. I will just let it happen. I figure even just going out and getting a few donations to pass on to charities is doing something, being engaged. Maybe that will be enough for me, with my other projects, expressions of the Dao in operation already. A sempai said being “engaged” is an everyday thing, yes, but other than that, this is a bit more specific purposeful. I do not want to be only an “Event Komuso”.
 
Anyway, maybe a new blog is in order, this one is getting full, hmmm, “tales from the tengai”, “the Rakan 羅漢 Komuso”, ohhh “Shorin Komuso” , or “Kamakiri Komuso”. Maybe not or maybe, just another chapter, e.g.: Kyudo, KungFu, Shakuhachi, Band…, boating seems to have pretty much died…how sad. Still who knows what plans the Tao has in store for me. As it is I never thought I would be a Chan Buddhist Priest in Japan as a Komuso when sailing away from the States,… besides losing the boat…did not plan or think of that either…but that is another story…now A Komuso is born.
Ametofu _/|\_
 
 

尺八 – Exposure

A step into public exposure
 
A while back I sent up this energy flow to join the modern Komuso group here in Osaka. This started coming into a form resently. My Sensei spoke to someone he knew, that lead to get a meeting with his friend an active Komuso, and on the board at the Myoanji Temple that’s basically Osaka HQ for the organization. There was to be a concert /event of some sort. I could come and watch, we would meet there and he would give me Komuso details about joining the temple group. Ok, cool I thought finally. But, wait…I was then invited to play not just watch. Oei Vey!! I had a choice play with my Sensei or play solo. We both felt it was better for me to play on my own. Better presentation…
I thought, ok I will suck it up, breathe and do this.
 
I had a pretty descent grasp on a traditional song called “Tamuke”. The is how a Komuso at the same event played it. This is what one plays as a offering or a prayer for a departed spirit or the like…I started paying more attention to the song, breathing, phrases. Kishi-Sensei had listened to it at the last class a few days before the concert. I thought I only played so so at that time. He gave me a couples of points to be aware of. Otherwise it was ok.
 
I spent the last week, in battle with a virus. I had developed a cold. However with the heavy flu going around I needed to not let this becoming the flu kind of sick. I took care and added some natural body boosters I also slept, a lot! There was some comfortable moments, but I made it through. I practiced my song during this. My concern was having to cough whilst playing. That would have sucked!
 
The day before the event I was feeling fairly like normal. I could mostly relax about the cold thing! Done. Other being concerned about how cold it was going to be that day and not make myself re-sick. We were inside, but I had to get there, and in my travel/day wear. I wore several layers all under my “Samue”. I did not want to wear a Kimono, it felt too much, over kill for my maiden voyage. I needed to vibe “modest”. A western suit, like my Sensei was wearing, nope. Not my style. The Samue was the third opinion and my style. I had heard though one does not wear an overcoat or jacket on top of a Samue. So layers, a lot, were called for! It was a good plan. When I was outside, there was enough with me moving and I could still move. Once inside I ended up taking off a couple of layers. However I always say, “better too many, than too few” !
I found the balance point and it was all good… until I had to dress to leave.
 
However before that….
I arrive after finding my way up in there through the maze. I did not know what to expect the place to be like. Although I was thinking small and old. The place was huge. I walked up looking confused, the guard asked Shakuhachi?. Hai Arigatou, my reply. The guard one of two gave me directions. I was off again, a followed the turn, walk, turn walk and turn, and turn. I found the place, went in scoped out everything and got in line. The lady seemed to be expecting me …. weird I thought for a second. She found my name and I went in. More walk , turn , walk turn and I went into the common area , staging’ room, tea, practice, hall. Shortly after making my spot selection. A man walks up and introduces himself it is Matsutani-san. He seems like a nice man was my first impression. We do the Japanese intro thing and he turns to speaks to some other men. I hear my name, he telling them my name. I bow and return to getting organized.
 
I hear an announcement, not sure what, so I watch, and make note of the time I heard it. Shortly afterward people started making an exit. It was as I earlier thought, the “we will start soon” call. I followed the movement. Once outside I asked the woman from the beginning, which way? I was heading correctly she said just keep straight, then turn. I went down a hall up steps and over a bridge to another building, like a prayer hall. Hmmm, yay, let’s go with a large hall with an alter. Prayer hall. People had taken spots on the floor and or grab a small stool on which to sit. I followed the wave, and picked a spot, my spot.
 
In a short while my sensei arrives, After he heads my way, I wave him down. He takes a spot next to me. I am late but on time he says! We chuckle. Then Matsutani-sensei, starts the event with an announcement. I had no idea what was going on. Afterward a man goes on the floor, I figure out that everyone is going to play Cho Shi. A very simple version. I could follow easy. Next up,… there is some motion. Matsutani-sensei is playing next, then sensei tells I am to play after Matsutani-sensei. Ehhhhhhh!!
I am to be #2 ! I am shown by Kishi-sensei, where to sit and wait. Oh jheez I am thinking. I really need to make a “Loo” run. Really… I have a mini internal battle, should I make a run for relief….or can I hold it. I have no idea how long this song is going….maybe I should try it… no no, Better not, upset the flow, I a miss time it… Too much lost of “face “…just hold , breathe…finally it is my turn.
 
I asked if I can Sit Zazen style, because of my knees. I was given a stool, and a music stand. Ok cool, breath…I get adjusted, bow, breathe and start. I figured once I get that first note, I can adjust or deal with whatever comes after that. The important thing was to inhale, expand, and release, but not too much. Just be the wind Kishiwada-sensei told me a while back, maybe last year. It one was of those things that stick.
 
Ahhh yeah and speaking of last year. In one week it will be my three year anniversary of taking formal lessons with Kishiwada-sensei. Sort of cosmic timing that this first public showing is now, my coming out show. Yeah, sort like a coming out. A public exposure, this will be my first official playing for public, besides play to a bunch of high level players. As well as being the ONLY Gaijin in attendance, maybe the first EVER Gaijin of color to do this. If I do not blow this, It will leave a good impression, give face to Kishi-Senseino …no pressure, right…!
I centered and let out the breath, like the release of an arrow. I got the sound I wanted and it was full enough, not weak, but soft. I continued it went well, even up into the high notes. I had a short feeling of being anxious. A deeper breath and focused. I kept moving thinking but not thinking. I was half way done,… one part was weaker than I wanted but it was only a small foot note, I let it go. Finally the end. I was ok with the offering. Not my best, but far far from my worst. I did not embarrass myself or Sensei. I hear some things being said with my name, I had no idea. I was on the move away from center stage, that was my focus. I found my seat next to Kishi-sensei. He said I did well. He said that Matsutani-had said he was impressed in the announcement. Also that I would be joining the Komuso group, he was sponsoring me.
 
There is no clapping after anyone, ever. These songs are suppose be more a display of respect, an offerings to the “Buddhas”. Not entertainment. especially in this setting. So I could not judge what people thought. Anyway it was done, Kishi-Sensei thought I did well and Matsutani-sensei thought I did well. Ok, my work is done. I can now relax. Ahhhhhhh. It was intense for a half a second finding out when I started , but now , sweet! I do not have to think about it anymore. Yosh!
 
I spent the rest of the day, listening, until lunch break. Sensei and I went back to the lunchroom together. He asked me what I thought about the performances. Some where good I said, he agreed. We talk a bit about, the need to actually make a sound , not just the suggestion of one with mostly air. Sound was important. We were supposed to meet with matsutani -sensei. However we understood he was busy busy. Kishi-sensei started chatting with a couple of other guys. I went out to explore and take pictures. I saw some cool stuff, I was maybe not suppose to be in but area, but I did it Ninja like and then left. I returned to break room, many people went back, I stayed I wanted more pictures. Then Matsutani-sensei entered. He gave me his card and said a few things. I stopped him to ask to look over the application paperwork for the temple. I had prepared since another Sempai with the long 2.5 Flutes group had given me. He at the time said he would sponsor me if I needed. I thanked him at the time and add Matsutani-san would do that, The sempai says , that would be better as Mastutani-sensei is more famous.
So I had everything on the application done I thought , with the help of Kishi Sensei and his daughter. However I did not have it. It must be in the other room. We agreed to connect later perhaps at the drinking dinner. He left. I did a couple of things At the table and moved my clothing I had shed earlier. Bammm, there was my clipboard with the application. I went over to Matsutani-sensei and excused myself into his space. Matsutani-san looked over the application and pointed to the spots needed to sign. He agreed and spoke to the lady that had signed me in to the event. She dug out a pen and he asked about his “mon” stamp. She dig more. Ohhh I said this is your wife!? Yes, we all smiled… Another nice person I find out.
Signed, stamped the application was handed back to me. Sensei says , ” please do well, and ganbatte as a Komuso “.
I was not expecting this part to be done today. But it was. All I need now is a couple of photos and take my application fee into Myoanji. I will be official. A new chapter will start.
Amitoufu
 

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!

 

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.

Vietnam 2

 

Vietnam 2
We took a taxi to our new hotel. This was the place my wife was looking forward to staying at. The first place was a business hotel. It was nice and comfortable, this new place was uptown. She is into luxury resort style. For me clean sheets and heat or a/c is good. We arrived sort of early by a couple of hours or so, but our room was ready ! It was not the best of the best, low level luxury . It was nice. We had a poolside ocean view. Roomy very comfortable . She was happy. There is a saying when the wife is happy, everyone is happy!
There was no going out and around town for me, I was in. There was a Veggie restaurant I would have like to visit but it was too far to walk. Also another Buddhist temple, also too far to walk. So I sat on the lanai and chilled. I did some reading and practiced shakuhachi. LZ wanted to go to the beach side at happy hour. So we were off. It was a bit cool for me so I wore a jacket, which was a good plan. We got the beach spot she had reserved ahead of time. The drinks were good. The nachos I ordered sucked! SUCKED! Flavored Doritos, with sour cream and cheese, with guacamole. seriously sucked! I was disappointed oh well! I rolled with it. The drink was good. My first time ordering a Singapore Sling. We hung out there for a while until dark then headed back to the room.
While she was handling the charge I noticed there was a Tai Chi class the next day from a posted sign, and took some pictures. We did the usual resort thing for dinner then just chilled afterwards. Nothing really interesting, I read more and practiced.
The next day I was up early. It was setup by LZ as a free day, meaning I did not have to follow her. I could do whatever, as would she. I got up early to check out the Tai Chi class. There was none! I asked the help and he called for the instructor. So it was a private as needed class. Ok. I waited for the Shifu to show up and just sat on the beach. When he arrived I clarified there was no group class just a private session if I wanted. Nice if that was what I wanted. I explained through a translator that I was just hoping to join the class, as I also was a teacher. Ok, that was cleared up I said I could just practice on my own if there was no class. I asked what style he taught. My Tai Chi Mantis Grandmaster taught Tai Chi in Vietnam for many years. I was sort of hopeful that is what he, this Shifu taught, I could use a review on that . No he taught Yang. I said thank you, I would just practice alone. We gave each other the traditional salute and he left. I found a quiet spot did some Zazen and then just went through a couple of Tai Chi sets and Hsing Yi, before gong back to the room.
The rest of the day was pretty quiet, reading, shakuhachi. Lunch, then dinner. Chilling. In the evening we went to the main lounge and sat. There was another Japanese couple there, we did not talk, I just heard them speaking. I did say something when we were leaving. The guy came over and looked at an art piece I was checking out and told LZ about. It was a couple of bike rims with paper cranes. The guy came over to check it out when I made a big deal of it to LZ. I said amazing ne! In Japanese. He responded hai and that was it. Not very friendly, oh well.
The next day I repeated the scene but just on my own. Took more pictures, practiced, walked in the beach barefooted. That was nice. It reminded me of an article I had recently read about people needing to connect more barefooted to the earth. It had been a while since I did that, so it was very nice. I could feel the “Chi” of the earth. The day wrapped up and we checked out and headed for the airport.
Once checked in we did a little gift shopping for a couple of people, including my Kyudo classmates, candy. The stores in the States that have Chinese owners are usually not friendly, almost rude. Very unlike Japanese store owners or even just personnel. The Vietnamese working in these shops were like that. Not kind, not rude, but close to it. Mostly ignored you other than following you around. LZ also noticed it. So it was not just me. Right at the gate there were a couple of shops. While waiting I checked them out as well even though we had purchased the gifts we needed. The personnel were the same…distant. All but one store I went in. The woman was helpful friendly and spoke English. There was a couple of things I saw I wanted to get. One of which was also at another shop next door, a little cheaper. However I went and purchased it from the polite woman. I told her I was buying from her because she was kind. She thanked me. We chatted a little while and she helped me with an issue with paying. Turns out it was the store’s machine not my problem. Anyway it got worked out. I left with a good impression. The plane started loading, I made a dash to the toilet just in case. When I got back LZ was standing at the gate ready to check in. I rush up to the check-in and a guard in the funky military color uniform stops me asks for my passport. He had seen me, as I had seen him earlier. I just showed it to him and said nothing . I was given the ok and went to check on to the plane. I did not see him do that to others getting in line, oh well. Normal stuff for a person of color, roll with it. Vietnam over all was ok. I liked the weather while there. The people staff at the hotels were nice, of course. The people at the restaurants I went to were nice enough. The regular people that I encountered were nice enough. Would I go back? no. No desire, once was enough. I liked Taiwan better, the food was much, much better and there is more things of interest for me. I was surprised how, any Buddhist temples there were in Vietnam for a communist country. I was even asked on the visa application what religion I was. That was different I guess. However I have never needed a Visa before, so who knows. Anyway. It was a pleasant trip over all. I like Japan better and the women are cuter. I am grateful I got to see Vietnam and not have to carry a gun and shoot at people or visa versa, to do so.