尺八 – Komuso and the Shakuhachi-Do

The way of Chan and the 尺八 Tao

Since becoming a Chan “priest” I have been on a search for meaning a purpose for it, for me. Not the standard idea, actions, path. But how to express the label, the responsiblity, the vows, the “weight” in a way that gives meaning to my spirit. Some purposeful outlet for the title, the mantel, honor the linage. My Martial path under different circumstances would be ideal. IF I was in the States or even maybe Mexico or Canada, I could establish myself, my expression of the Chan Dharma, fairly easy…so to speak. Here is Japan, no. The ground is not fertile, over planted. There are many many Tai Chi “clubs’ who’s teachers speak Japanese. Kung Fu, well, that is not a real interest in the land of Karate, even less so here in the countryside, and “burbs”. The few that have expressed interest fade after a few classes, for what ever reason. Let’s just say they do not have the spirit for the effort involved.

When speaking of Meditation (Zazen here), that gives rise to the wall staring hardcore Japanese version of Zen. People have that fixed idea about it. So having a more low-key yet more encompassing holistic approach to Zazen is not understood. Education takes time.


I expressed to a recent new friend, who speaks English, that I wanted to become a Komuso and why. Historically from what is written, the komuso, did little in the way of actual Buddhist practice. Perhaps a few, however what most stands out about them is they just wandered around earning food by playing shakuhachi and the shakuhachi was their tool for enlightenment. Their practice was really all about themselves. Few were actual Buddhist priest. The “aura” that is around Komuso these days is romantic history. 
Komuso these days are more organized, but still from what feedback I am getting it is still just about the playing and themselves. The playing as a social gathering club, or for some as a meditation tool, some for just the music. Then there is my Komuso Sempai in Nara. He is all about being a true “Buddhist Priest” Komuso. It has been educational and interesting going out to do Takuhatsu with him. I can see me doing this in my area. With Takuhatsu No real language issues, no space to rent issues, advertising issues, no identity other than a Komuso. Brings several things together and serves multi-causes. The problem, license, certification, affiliation.

In speaking with my friend about my desire to be a Komuso and why. He said you do not need to be a Komuso to do that. Japan is a Buddhist country if they see you as a Buddhist Priest your color will not matter. You can wear whatever and do not need to be under a Tengai. It is considered fortunate to encounter a Buddhist Priest/Monk especially by the elders. It maybe more to your advantage being who you are, than you think. That got me to thinking…Hmmm. maybe…in all Black robe…

.
Yet there is still the issue of License to do Takuhatsu
( beg) in Japan or perhaps a street performer license. Although that would put it as entertainment not as a serious Buddhist practice. Something to think on…
I have a Shakuhachi recital up coming in two weeks. I will met a shakuhachi Sempai who is a former Policeman and now a Komuso. I was told by my Sensei he does not look at Shakuhachi as a Musical instrument, but only as a Zen Tool. This way of thought, I find interesting. I planned on asking him about license, begging the law, Buddhist Dharma and Shakuhachi. This could give me the final answers I need or a door to where I need to go.
Shakuhachi Club
 
Once a month there is a meeting of the Classical Shakuhachi group. This group plays the long Shakuhachi. I am new to this group having just met some of the members over the last couple of months. This is the group my new Friend, who is from Germany belongs to. As it turns out these members are all Komuso or mostly all, belonging to the Myôan-ji in some form. A general statement. The point is that they are affiliated in some fashion with the Myôan-ji in Kyoto. I made my way to the meeting on my own this time. I was able to located it ok, with a little effort.
There were six of us attending. Once started, there was a little scale drill as a warmup. Then playing two versions of Cho Shi. I finally figured out one of these version I already had learned, the writing style was a little different. Although I needed some playing adjustments, I knew it. Afterward, there was some chatting, then everyone went through the study piece everyone is working on taught to them by their former sensei. Next up everyone played the song they are performing for any upcoming concert. In this case the big show in Kyoto at the Myôan temple next month.
It is at this time period where I play a song. I did Cho Shi even though I am now finished with “Tamuki”. I am more comfortable with Cho Shi, I can play without reading. I was listened to and asked to play again with no breath vibrato. I tend to do this from playing Harp and flute. Afterward it was said it was much better, more like Shakuhachi. There were a couple of corrections I needed and was told about also a point about my breathing. There was some other talk and I heard we’ll teach you. Ok, Cool. I am getting some real lessons from this. Perfect since I need to cut back on my formal classes with my Sensei. I had originally looked for a Shakuhachi group to learn from, but It seemed at the time it was only for people who already could play. Now I am one of them. I can make musical notes, and read, poorly but…still, I can. I have made some progress. Though it does not seem like it to me. I guess this is a real milestone marker to be accepted into the group. ( Thanks Dean for the intro).
So after almost 2.5 yrs of study, I am where I wanted to be when I started…well sort of. I wish it were so with my Kyudo, but that is another story.That evening I receive an eMail from my friend aka “Big O” in the group. He says he spoke with the group about what wanted to do. basically it was said no problem I can join and get set up through them. Wow, great news! Fairly simple, smooth and cheap! I had heard that doing this official Komuso via the Temple was costly! I had an alt plan of speaking with a Kinko Sempai about joining the Kokoku-ji group in Wakayama. I was expecting even there, pay a monthly fee to a sensei plus the extras…
The Myôan-ji seems to be more active and the new Abbot is rumored to be more interested in raising the meditation aspects of the Komuso group.

I do have a sense my Sempai is of the more hard-core Shuizen mind. Which could be perfect for what I want to learn. Wakayama is much much closer. I am going to continue to flow with the force and let the Tao work. I am hopeful with the Sakura in the spring a new Komuso will bud in Osaka.

 

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吹禅 – Kobe Classical Shakuhachi Concert

 

Fuke today…

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

吹禅 – Birth of a Komuso


A Komuso is born…

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

 

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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. 🙂
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
 
….
 
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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.

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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.
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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.
 

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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.

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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. 
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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. 
 
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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.