吹禅 – Birth of a Komuso


A Komuso is born…

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

吹禅 – Lohan Shaolin Shakuhachi


Lohan Shorin Shakuhachi

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

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

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

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

World Naked gardening day

NNGD…

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

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

吹禅 – Toyonaka – Another day another recital


Recital in Toyanaka

 
Another day another recital. Sensei had given me info on another teacher’s student recital. The teacher, Ishikawa Toshimitsu famous, in Japan. His teacher Ksuya Yokohama was more famous! My sensei told me tonight at class he could make the introduction for me to study with him…at a later time. As my skill as still somewhat low. apparently the honkyuko songs are his specialty.
 
 wp-1488207221460.jpg
 
It required a bit of a travel to reach Toyanaka, however lucky it was not expensive. All local trains, then just a short walk to the venue. About three minutes, unless you get lost like I did I took sometime thinking about it. I only decided to do so the day before. I figured, hmmm ok, someplace I have not been, listening to different people who are not masters, my peers and sempai. It will give me some idea of where I am at. I have only met my one other sempai. Another thing about this recital it will be all HONKYOKU music. Just for Shakuhachi. I have only I believe heard one or two. Over the course of my appreciation for the instrument I am sure a lot , but now I know what I am listening to.
 
wp-1488207158407.jpg
 
It was nice it did not start until 2:00 pm . I did not have to leave the house until 11:20. Even then I had a casual trip. I did get lost trying to follow the google map LZ had setup on my phone so I would not get lost. My first time using it, and did badly. oh well. I made it. I arrived as one student was playing, I believe the same song I did for my recital. It was interesting hearing another amateur play it.
 
There were a fair amount of people there. Most of them students, most of them in my age group and older. No one seemed surprised to see me. I thought I was the only foreigner there, but when I was leaving I saw a guy who looked, East Indian. I did not get a clean look. I was also quite surprised when one guy, a Japanese came over and started talking to me. First in Japanese then in English, which he said he learned in High school. Very casual normal stuff and short.
 
 
 
The performance itself was good. Some very good, some so so good. I was surprised to see several of the player were blind. The sensei told of each player’s or most of them’s “dan” . I heard Shodan and Na na Dan several times. It was a worthwhile experience to go, educational.
 
 
 
The area of Toyamaka was not pretty or interesting at all. Now I know. 
 
Picture/videos link here. Videos are still being uploaded, ( not-easily ) so if you go look, stop back a couple times if you want to see the vids. Most of the vids (songs) are just short bits. Only a couple are full lengthThe pictures are nothing other than just a markers for FB and such :-). It is all about the music.

吹禅 – Owari desu…yokatta


Whewww, glad that is done…
img_20170219_095336_32863735461_o
I was off, it was to be a full day with Kyudo, stuff, Guitar, and Shakuhachi in hand I head out…
It finally here the day I wanted to get over with.
It felt more like taking a test than doing a recital. I have a good grasp on most of the song, but not all the small parts. It was requested that I should memorize the song not read it. Hmmm, ok. I figured out why I am having trouble memorizing this song. Beside me getting old, so many things with just my playing , then to add memorizing …it is a lot for something that is new. 
 
Anyway, no matter. I had it down enough that only those who knew the song, would know I am not playing it “true”, There were other people there beside shakuhachi students. In fact mostly koto students and shamisen. This is what I was lead to believe…it was mostly right.
 
So, anyway, i wanted this over with that was part of it. It would be my first real playing live. I did play a section at my Ordination , but this was the whole song, in front of Japanese strangers, musicians. The “musicians” is the key in this case…peers.
img_20170219_150920_32834210552_o
 
Also there was the requests from my Sensei to play a couple of other songs with him. One of which I was to sing. I am not sure why I dislike doing that song. That part was not fun , but the other song playing with Sensei was harder, and I did not have the time to practice it. So my guitar work was expected to be poor..It was! Embarrassing to me, maybe they did not care or even notice. I did, Sensei , hmmm, not sure. My timing was there but some notes and cords, where funky (sour) to me.
 
The day started early for me, even though the event was not until 2:00 pm. It was a 90 min train ride about. However since I had a stop to make i left earlier than needed. I was stopping by the Kyudo shop. I wanted my ya fixed. It has been a small thing, but the coloring design has not been right since I got the new Ya. Since the shop was on my way to the recital house it was a perfect time to stop. Finally, I can get that behind me. It is a very small thing , but it irks me everything I use the Ya. I am still attached to the vision of how they are suppose to look. No one cares but me, but it is part of my small joy of if not shooting well, at least looking good whilst shooting bad. 🙂
 
That part of the trip went well. I hope the guy understood !? It will take a month for it to be done. I guess their shop stays pretty busy for custom work. Or something. It took a month for me to get the original set. Hmmm maybe he said a week?! Or well. Not a rush anyway. So just wait, mode engaged. I have my everyday Ya to use anyway and I am not going to shinsa next month. Speaking if which, I went into practice on Sat night expecting quiet and aloneness to practice with my new-to-me winter kimono. Wrong wrong wrong, ran into a a big practice session with several Senseis had to join. Anyway, alway good, to learn something.
 
Yeah, after the Kyudo shop, a quick stop at Subway for a sandwich. That is one of the few things I miss about the states is the mixture of foods I can get. I would love to find a falafel shop. Yummm. Anyway. i got my usual. Flat bread, avo, cheese, all the veggies, with basil sauce. It was good! Then onward to the recital. We were to have a meal afterward but that would not be until 4:30 , it started at 2:00.
img_20170219_121337_32834188442_o
 
I got on the train and headed to the house of the Koto Sensei where the event was to be held. It was almost to where we used to live when we first arrived and stayed with my Mother-in-law. I made it to the home with no problem, by following the map and a little common sense. My Sense had not arrived yet. There was a Sempai of mine their, I had met before. The rest were a bunch people I did not know. But it was ok, they were all pleasant and tried to be helpful to me, with my limited Japanese. Pretty soon , everyone was there , except for my Sensei. He was not late but it was close when he arrived.
img_20170219_142634_32174081563_o
 
Once he was there we started. He was the MC it turns out. So he did the speaking. He started off with a small talk introduction of the players for the day and then began with his first song. I was to be next. Great, following the master!! Another reason to be nervous! Just Great! Ok, my turn. I took my music chart just in case. I put it on the stand , but not right in front of me. Just to the side, I could look over if I needed, but for the most part I would have my eyes closed and just play from memory. If I mess up, I just mess up. I will keep going. One thing I learn from playing so long live, just keep going, the mistake does not really standout until the player makes it so. I would keep rolling, and sure enough I got a part or two mixed up. Only my Sensei and maybe his sempai who was there noticed. Afterward, sensei said I passed, I did well. Most people fail to get notes out. I was able to play through-out. I think I also got an approval from his sempai. Although he did not say so to me, they were talking about me. I would get pulled into parts of it. It seemed positive. So I guess I had Shakuhachi Shinsa of sorts.
img_20170219_155725_32988935075_o
 
The rest of the show was interesting, all traditional Japanese songs. Solo, duo, trio. Cool stuff. No young people in the event, all oldsters like me and older. Sensei told me there is a big event next week, where there are many players semi-pro and pro. I am guessing a mix of ages. Maybe I will go, for some inspiration or something.
 
I am to start a new Honkyoku song, called “Tamuke 手向.”. These are traditional “spiritual” shakuhachi songs. They seem fairly long and complex. Perhaps these are the ones sensei is picking out for me as a teaching path. He says we will be working on this next song of, which the name I do not recall, through the summer and into the fall…
Wow, long time for one song. It does not matter, I have no rush plans on what I learn or pressure to stop. I am just learning and will apply when ready. As for stopping, the universe will determine that. I will continue to play until I can not. Lessons may need to be adjusted due to conditions, but the playing does not stop. 
It just surprised from doing modern western songs. I never really studied classical music in-depth to compare. I will guess there is a mixture like in western music. There is a another honkyoku I am working on to play with the Nara Monk this spring, which I find short and fairly simple after what I have been learning. Which brings me to the thought Sensei is selecting complex works to use as a teaching tool, not so much for the music or to just learn another song. Like in Kung Fu the principal behind the technique is the important part. The soul essence. Understanding that, rather than the physical act at the applied moment is the pearl. Once you own it you can adapt it and needed.
img_20170219_145021_32174084443_o
 
It is kind of nice studying with this shakuhachi sensei he is somewhat of a rebel, besides the greatness of him speaking English. As a rebel he does not give ranks (dans) to his students. That is still a practice in many schools with. A traditional background. One gets a Dan and also pays more with each Dan for classes. I do not really need a Dan, I have no plans to teach.
 
So now onward. New song, new adventure, new area of learning…yosh!
 
.more pix and vid here
 
 
 

吹禅 – Sounds -n- passage


Sounds and passage…I have a Shakuhachi recital coming up in a couple of weeks. Not really nervous , but somewhat, i do not know what the word. Is for the middle state. Not quite, but sort of…what ever
 
img1486211181730
It is has been almost two years since I took up formal practice. It has been an interesting journey. This recital sort of put me on a different level. If I was in a formal traditional school I would get a dan, and a raise in class cost. Thankfully I am not, but still this is like a my first passage, the student recital. I have been asked to not only do a song on the shakuhachi as a class thing, but do another song, sing, while sensei plays Shakuhachi. Yeah, my way again. I sort of mind, but not really. I wasp also asked to do another song. I have decided to do a version of Summertime for Shakuhachi drum and shamisen, I have been working on. Sensei there will be shamisen players there. I can show them, him , her what I want. If will be fun he says….food will be served. About 20 people. Shakuhachi, Shamisen, and Koto Instruments. I think it will be interesting. I maybe even meet someone to pay with.
 
img1486210379494
Shakuhachi, is an interesting pursuit. I have been giving some thought to the study and practice of it. From both a musical point and a spiritual point. I have been reading a book called “The Sound of Bamboo” a lot of the standard stuff. Also a decent section on Shakuhachi, Zen and meditation. The author compared Buddhist practice and principles with the playing of the Shakuhachi. One of the more interesting parts of the read was about the breath, meditation and playing , as well as doing chanting. Breath is the key thing here. I thought it would be more the tones of the music, but seems to be in the breath. As for music itself , perhaps the formlessness of the music and the non-music rather than the notes, but the shaping of the tones also is added to the act. For as the sound is shaped the un-sound is also shaped.
Back to the breath itself. It seems to me the breath, the use of the breath is like doing Qi Gong. How it is developed, controlled…yeah, playing Shakuhachi is like doing Qi Gong or chanting before meditation…
I can see this scenario. Stretch – shakuhachi – zazen – tai chi walk – shakuhachi – zazen. That would be a balanced meditation session.
Another interesting little bit I found out from reading and then confirmed with my Sensei is that Osaka area has more Tozan players than Kinko. Kinko is more popular in the North , like Tokyo. My sensei staid he started with Tozan and changed to Kinko. Kinko is the older style. It is liked to the Komuso and has a much deeper history. I am glad I found the Kinko style. A Kyudo sempai plays Tozan style, he plays well, but does all modern songs, none of the traditional stuff.
img1486210854907
 
As far as my own playing, again the timing here is interesting when looked at the gestalt of the situation. I am not confident playing, but, I am to that point I would go out there in public, within a certain parameter. As said I have been working on the “summertime” time song, not only from the point of doing it at the recital but also at Snafkin. I still have a long ways to go before being good , but I think for now I can do some pass-able things.
 
I am working on my second Honkyoku song. These are like standard of Shakuhachi music. Komuso stuff, with history. So I was given by a helpful spirit “Cho Shi”. A standard Honkyoku song done by the Komuso monks. I was offered help learning it. I have started on my own to get things, rolling since I was given the music chart. I am still pretty tied up with learning the first honkyoku by heart for the recital It is my plan to learn this so go play this spring in Nara. I said this already right?! I will not repeat.
 
img1486210017135
So, that makes two traditional songs, plus my Sensei is going to be starting me on another song soon, bring up to three. I heard somewhere some students spend years just on that. I am not sure what I want to do with this, other than play well. Some learn with the intent of teaching, or becoming a pro. I do not have that. I would like to use it as a Buddhist tool, as well as a modern musical tool. I want the whole coin not just one side.
 
This point for this spring is I will be meeting with a master Shakuhachi maker, on making a purchase from him. This will be a big deal. All this in the Spring of my second year.

 

.

吹禅 – Sound bites


Sound bites…

 
As far back as I can remember, I have never had a new musical instrument. New as in brand new, not pre-owned. I always purchased used stuff, I never had the money to do otherwise. I was into recycling, and used stuff way before it was fashionable and “in”. Loved pawn shops, back in the day. Hard to find now…and there is eBay. But Yeah, I have been before my time on several things, that is how I roll, sort of weird, on my own beat and sometimes ahead of even myself. 🙂
img1479094470502_22795702268_o
 
Ok re-reading this, I recall my acoustic guitar was purchased new. I was starting a solo career and needed a good “axe”. Oh well, but the general point of this is the same, so read on…
 
I was close to buying a new Shakuhachi when I first started lessons. Hmmm , now thinking on it I did purchase, two brand new Shakuhachi’s before I took lessons. However they were El Cheapo brand. Not really considered instruments by my Sensei. He gave me a plastic one to practice with rather than use mine. So that pretty much says it all, ne!
Ok, I digress…
Hmmm, oh yeah, so I was going to painfully buy a new Shakuhachi. Recommended maker is called by my Sensei one of the top makers in Japan, if not the top. I was somewhat resigned to making this purchase. I was expecting to shell out $1,000 about for a cheap student model from this maker. Now $1,000 is not really off base for a good instrument, you pay in that range for a Yumi. However was not expecting to pay that for a student model to start with…
Handmade is expensive, for a reason. It is just that much harder when you do not have money to shell out for something that is not going to make you money back, like a tool for work.
 
Well as it turns out I happened across a Shakuhachi in the recycled shop here. I took a chance and purchased it. I figured it would be better than the Plastic I was using, and I could return, my Kyudo Sempai’s bamboo Shakuhachi. So I purchased this Shakuhachi.
1a-shakuhachi
As it turns out sensei had heard of the maker, when I showed him the flute. He said it was a shockingly good buy. New it would have been in the same price range as what I planned on buying, but this was older, a $1,000 old money is worth less now. Or something like that. Hmmm If it cost $1000 then it would cost, $2,000 now. Ok I think that is it…whatever Still, it is a student level model, but good quality one. So yeah, I scored with my Flute! Yatta!
 
However…
 
What I have learned is, this is a good Shakuhachi I have now for playing solo or with traditional instruments. It is tuned to the “old” scale. It is difficult to play with modern instruments, the player (mostly) and the shakuhachi have to be of higher skill than me. After some consulting with my Sensei, a Shakuhachi tuned to modern scale would be more versatile for what I have in mind musically, he says. A standard level not student or Pro. The old traditional Shakuhachi pieces, the recycled store Shakuhachi is fine., great in fact. It is a good instrument and playing traditional songs no problem…until I achieve more discerning ear and want to change up.
 
When I was a kid, when I wanted something musical, or most things really, as the eldest, I had to work, save, something to raise the money. My youngest brother, also turned musician, with me being long gone, and one less mouth to feed, my mother helped him buy his equipment. He always had better gear than me. When he passed away, I got his music gear. Two of his Basses I still have and use. One I am planing on selling to purchase a replacement. The other I will keep and use until, I can not.
So, yeah the point is here that my brother got help starting with his music career, I did not and always, mostly had recycled stuff.
 
My mother passed away recently. I was surprised to learn I was to get a small bit of money. I am not wired to be just crazy with money or wasteful. I set aside a small amount to upgrade some music stuff I have had for years, or /and wanted. The rest went into the house fund, (food, bills, living stuff) and bit for LZ to use as she wanted. I got a couple of things I wanted, portable, battery operated, Bass amp. I have wanted one like this for a while. I purchased a small plug-in a couple of years back, but this one is way cool and versatile. I also picked up a thing called the “beat buddy” . Basically a programmable electronic drummer. I am thinking, solo act or near solo again. Maybe some street musician stuff with shakuhachi and drums, and a bass track.
img_20161128_185228_30485216583_o
 
Ok, so yeah, I got “deals” as in floor model (used), on this stuff. There was still a little money left over, on my budget. I am thinking after tossing around the new bass, or new keyboard idea. Shakuhachi came to the forefront, maybe add a little more to that fund…make an investment in quality. You do not lose when you go with quality…people or things.
img_20161130_144515_30522982693_o
 
A brand new Shakuhachi, made by one of the top makers in Japan, named Kono Gyokusui. More likely someone who is a family member carrying on the family business.

I was given, before a DVD of the family making Shakuhachis. A documentary. It is only in Japanese. ONe of the people who came to visit the ‘Old Man” and get or test a flute was some famous Player. I have seen his pictures. I can not place the name right now. Anyway, the Otosan has 2 sons he trained and they all work together at a home shop.

Hmmmm, an investment in myself…A final departing gift from my Mum…

 

My Sensei says he is sure I can find what I need in the 2,000 range and he will help me select one from his friend the Master Builder. ( I saw one sold on ebay for $2500.00 . An old one that had been repaired.)
I can choose the one I like, no pressure to buy, if not a selection on hand, come again to see the next batch. Hmmmm. More than I had planned on spending.
 
I checked with a few makers in the states, from them it will cost about 500.00 less, maybe. Not really much of a saving considering the fine points I get from the going local purchase, more so from a personal friend introduction. Writing this down help me clarify the comparison, the real value in shopping local.
 
….
 
img_20161125_222308830_31132607861_o
I have been given a recital date for my student performance on the Shakuhachi. My sensei has a combination show planned with another Sensei who teaches the Koto. The show and closed luncheon party will be in Feb. 
The next month will be my 2 year anniversary of Shakuhachi study. I have plans to go another pilgrimage to a Zen Komuso temple. It is also about this time my Sensei plans on taking me to see the Shakuhachi maker. This is not just a quick let’s go to the shop and buy a Shakuhachi thing. This takes time to arrange and to buy. Custom/semi-custom made in the States, would take about six months to make, and I would not get to hear it, feel it, connect. Sort of mail order brideish, but with a guarantee.
Thinking more on it now, it will be not just a store purchase, but an experience into the old school way of shopping from a craftsman. I was told, several would be selected for me to try based on my criterion. Then my Wife, my Sensei, and myself would go to the home/shop have tea and play/listen to them all then choose, or not. There was always new ones being made. There was no rush , no pressure.
 
 

Shaolin in Fuji’s Shadow

Shaolin in Fuji’s Shadow

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

wp-1481457692520.jpg 
I have gotten a space that works comfortably for now at least with the new student that has started. It also gives me time before and after his class to have another class or two for the same slot I am renting. 
My Shaolin student has been out sick for a while, I do not expect him back until after the holiday to see if he can work with the new parameters. Really the only issue is he wanted it later on Sunday but that can not happen, so he seems serious, if he is, he will make the earlier time slot or the later one.
 
There is also a mother who has been wanting to start he son, I can offer him a 30 min slot same day earlier. If all works well, i can have two or three sessions on Sundays. That will be my regular Kung Fu teaching day. Or as I have to come to think of it as Shaolin Dharma training sessions.
 
It is also nice to have a space to call a center, rather than just a Park or Shrine, give the teaching more of a rooted feeling. Besides, “winter is coming” hard enough to get students, but being out in the rain and cold is not training that most want just starting out on this path.
outside-training
 
It is also great for me to get my own regular practice time, before the class starts, I can get in my own hour or more of training. No bugs, cold, rain, snow, extreme heat, nice. I am not that young any more some comfort is good. Life, enjoying life is living in Balance. That is the Buddhist way, the middle way, in all things.
 

wp-1481457655011.jpg

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

wp-1481457668725.jpg

 
One other thing I came up with as use of the space is to offer a free meditation class, a 30 min beginners class for anyone. That would be another real method of spreading Shaolin Dharma. As part of my forming of the “Osaka Lohan Chan Temple” .
That would help some of Priest Vows on a couple of levels. 
Marital Arts/Chan
 
I am finding the path for me under Music/Chan is more difficult to understand, locate. I am finding more interest in the Komuso path, however it is hard to find concise info on the Path, what one does, other than play, is this a purely solo a Yogi type path or does it have a “show compassion” to other side as well? What is the real link between the sounds and the playing, just the breath, or the breath plus certain tones, to activate certain Chakras. Do the sutras have a certain, breath pattern , tones that translate to Komuso songs. Many question few answers. More research. Somewhat limited research at this time. I could just track down a teacher and do whatever to join, and find out just what is what with the Komuso of this day. Are they all about the show of some festival? Are there others who really care about their spiritual path. Anyway, as said my time with this research is limited. For now I still need to practice , not only my shakuhachi, but my Kyudo. The goal for next year is to pass Yon-dan. That is my focus, really to get Go-dan. Then, I can consider other items, other challenges…like A Komuso teacher and get some in-depth Shakuhachi spiritual training. 
 
wp-1481457712459.jpg
Anyway there is is still also develop the Osaka Lohan Chan Temple, home of the Shaolin Dharma: Martial Arts and Meditation
 
 
We’ll, see what the tide brings next year…because
 
“man plans, God laughs”
Happy Festivus.

Monk’n around Nara


 
Ever since I started studying Shakuhachi and found out there was a Zen sect that was developed around it, and it was a off shoot of my own Lin Chi sect, I have had an interest in knowing more about the practice, the philosophy, history, etc.
(My English lit teacher would not have like that sentence too long) 
I was introduced to a real life Komuso monk via another on-line acquaintance. The internet has real value on bringing stranger together. We had a few messages via on-line and finally I got the chance to meet in person in Nara.
 
I had a day scheduled for the trip, there was supposed to be two other meeting up with us,but it turned out to be only one other a student of hIs and she was late. It was a good day to visit Nara, the weather was good, for our 6 mile walk around the hills and by-ways of the town.
 
I got to listen to listen to some things about, my new acquaintance and Zen Brother lets call hIm “J-monk” practice. He is pretty much the local face of Kumoso around Nara. Playing a begging around the town on a regular bases. This is his connection to the community, this is his bring his Zen practice to the people. It is a live practice, not just sitting in the mountains. I found that most interesting. Another interesting I found is that he is on the bad side of his Sensei, perhaps for being too “out there” too much in touch with the community. Not in a bad way, but a good way. To the point he gets praised and his sensei get jealous. That says a lot about the weakness of his Sensei’s practice. It hits home with me being someone I thought was my friend, who is also considered a “Zen” master also has a big weakness as a person in his practice. Labels are just words, when one does not have the heart fill the reality of the meanings. It shows, in another sense, people are just people and no man “walks on water”.
 
It would also seem from what I was hearing is that a large amount of the Komuso only are active for public displays. Ceremonies, parades, that sort of thing. Also it seems , the already small number of monks is in decline, because the senior monks are not really active in taking new students.
This is just generally speaking from what I heard, and not to be taken as gospel.
 
The Komuso also from what I gathered do other Renzai type training as well, chanting, zazen, the like, but the main focus is the Shakuhachi. J-monk had said he has found that it more about the breathing that gives one the meditative state than the music it self. Which goes along with my thoughts, and research from other paths and studies. Including input from another Zen teacher of mine on doing Zazen, using breathing techniques before Zazen to put one in the correct state to be respective.
 
So we walked around Nara, took in some sights of old temples and shrine. Even walked a bit in the woods off the main trails. All the while J-Monk’s student collected Pokimon-Go monsters around town.
 
We hd a great veggie lunch at a place that is off times too crowded to get service at times. We just happen to hit it right.
nara-lunch
 
It was a good and interesting day around Nara. I took my serious camera along, really I lugged it around but only used my phone camera. So I had a sore back and knee afterwards for nothing. Oh well, it was a good thought, but not a day for taking serious photos. More of a smartphone shot kind of day.
 
I also had my Shakuhachi with me, but did not play or even take it out. The spirit did not hit me. A good point would have been at the Golden Buddha where J-Monk, burned incense and put some smoke over his Shakuhachi, a blessing, cleansing sort of thing. I did not have incense so I miss that unexpected moment. But I did photo catch in in the process.
shakuhachi-blessing
He also blew a few notes at a couple of different spots. Being used to playing in public and on his home turf made him fully at ease. Me and his student on the other hand, were quite self-conscience about drawing attention. I did mention to her she should play something. Beside being shy she said, “I only know two notes”. I said it is not how many noted you know, it is how you play them that matters. My Sensei still after over 35 yrs of playing says he many time just plays one note. Seeking the purity of sound. Sort of like doing a shot in Kyudo, the masters are not seeking just to hit, but the purity of the shot. She said she felt better hearing about my Sensei, on her own practice of just the couple of notes.
 
While at another place she reminded J-Monk and I of our practice when we three were debating who was going to pay for lunch, we all wanted to cover the tab. She says, Are jot you guys as Priests suppose to gratefully accept the heart felt gifts from someone making an offering… We could only smile.
 
I will be returning, for part two of the Monk’n around Nara Komuso experience.

吹禅 Blowing Zen…Autumn

Blowing Zen…Autumn

 
It has been a while since updating, I have several to do, maybe I will have a blog marathon today…Maybe.
 
Either way I will start with Shakuhachi. I am finally making some progress with my studies. I played a small bit of Summertime, I have been working on, for my Sensei’s opinion. He was pleased. He said he can not play like that with my use of “blues” notes. Japanese do not “hear” that way. He gave me an example of him copying me. It was different. He says he does not do well with Jazz either. He is a very good traditional player but new stuff and improvising, not so much. It really is more of a reflexion of his limitations than my skills but, I will take it anyway.
 
On the traditional front, I am finally almost finished my first full honkyoku zen Komuso song. What is even cooler is I am reading it, and not playing from memory. When I was a music major I was lazy, I would always end up memorizing the song I needed to play rather than just read it. I was almost going down that path again with this. However I ran into problems after a small break from class and had to repeat sections from here or here when Sensei pointed. Oh boy, I thought, this is embarrassing. Ok, I need to crack down and memorize these written Katakana notes. It was a vast improvement to my piece of mind once I did that. It will open larger venues for me, later. For now I am just pleased I can read the score I am on. When I look at it I think, oh snap, can read this scratching, how cool is that!
 
 img_20161001_103234_30033846785_o
 
Another thing to do with the shakuhachi but not musically. I have been wanted a place to put my shakuhachi when they needed to be stored or set down. Finally after much thought and some effort I design and built a couple of stands from Bamboo. The Bamboo I gathered from a small grove next to a Buddhist temple.
img_20160919_130046_29671001922_o
img_20160919_125252_29701081991_o
With very minimal tools I made two racks. One for me, which hangs on the wall. Another for my Sensei, I notice when he has several out he just lays them on the top of his piano. With the rack it will be neater and safer from rolling.
 
img_20160925_145828_29283314534_o
 
img_20160925_144443_29284083833_o
I have been giving some thought to my Shakuhachi pilgrimage for next year on my two year anniversary of playing. I am thinking I may go to Kyoto , to a different temple instead of back to Wakayama. Maybe that will be my thing, every year a different Komuso temple.
 
Next week I am off to Nara. There I will meet with a real life Komuso Monk. He will show me around and I will get some low down on the Life and times of a modern-day Komuso monk. I am interested to know more of how the Zen aspect works within this sect.