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

What a Long strange trip it’s been

あけましておめでとうございます

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

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

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Winter…

Winter is coming…

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

Sixty something…

Sixty something, wow…

Wow, I did it. I beat my own personal best record for trips around the sun…that I know of. Go me! Hahaha. Yeah, it was that time of year, “Hime” and I had our birthdays. It has been about 20 years, but I still miss her. My Akita named Hanako Hime., we had the same birthday! That really makes it a special day.

I had wanted to spend part of my day sailing. Go down to Snafkin, have lunch then sail back. However The boat I wanted was in use that day for a class, so. Out of luck sort of. It was not a day as I planed but I still made it work…

Otherwise it was just another sun trip for me. Although this is the year I really understood, “time is almost up”. Beside the fact it could be so, as I write this. I am though just speaking about our limited “vision” of our time. I spent the day quietly in meditation. 🙂 sounds very monkish ne?!
Well, in a meditative state would be closer. I was up at 6:00 am, I wanted to get to the shrine, before the heat! 
 
It was a peaceful scene at the shrine, mornings are extra nice. I took in the calm of the morning and the vision of what had changed since my last visit. The clearing was larger, a tree gone, the boulders moved. I adjusted my spacial sense and made my plan. I would practice first then, do some blowing Zen for the Shinto spirits.
 
I stretched a bit, and absorbed chi and the pleasure of muscles being awakened. I started with some Chen taiji, wanted to feel a sense of quiet power to set the tone for my day. I followed those with Hing Yi, some Mantis and sword work. I had some ideas of how using the could work and blended some moves, ideas, principles from Mantis, Kali, and Shaolin and so was born : The Tao of Shaolin Chan Lohan Flute. In Japanese Shorinji Zen Rakan Shakuhachi Do. Sounds kinda cool ne!? I was just messing around, a joke. Still sort of fun to say I have created my own system, style as it were. It reads well, even though there will never be any students of Shorinji Zen Rakan Shakuhachi Do. My martial art legacy .
 
Ok, so back to real stuff…
About the time I was finished practicing the mosquitoes came out. When I first arrived I tried to light a mosquitos coil thing. I could not get the lighter to work. I figured it was the Shinto spirit saying, ohhh no, not here! So I did not push it. I took a few pictures, a grandpa’s birthday, then I was going to play flute. I got a few in, my sister-in-Law posted them on her FB page. Captioned my Brother-in-law. The unspoken part was the weird old grandpa! Hahahahah
The Mosquitos increased their attack and numbers. I thought to the Shintos Spirits well you guys don’t want me to kill here then you should keep them (the mosquitoes )at bay, WTF! Even with no smokey stuff they are dying from me splatting them. Nothing is changed. Ok, screw it, I went for the smoke thing again, thinking it will keep them away not kill them. I got the lighter to work, I tried to light a coil, it would not ! After several tries it did , burned a couple of seconds then went out. Several times of this a gave up. Ok ok I get it, I say to the Shintos!
 
I tried to practice then to shakuhachi. I was being attacked by a horde of mosquitoes. Ok ok, I am out of here. Done! I bowed and left the shrine grounds.
 
I walked back home, and needed to jump right in the shower. I was hot, sticky, and bitened. After a nice shower with some Dr. Bonners lavender castle soap I was feeling refreshed. I started my regular day from there, Zazen, short chant, breakfast.
 
From there on it was pretty much like that, a bit of this and that a lot of shakuhachi playing, some other instruments, some gardening, a movie and nice NAP! Pretty much a cruising day. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings of gratitude. With the thoughts of aging came some goal settings for next year, and five. All personal achievement stuff except for becoming a modern Komuso. An Active, engaged practice. That is really more of my Buddhist path direction, ministry, something for the world, rather than something just for me, like getting that Yon-dan status. So I am feeling pleased to have gotten some sense of a spiritual life direction, I lost that with the Zenamaran and have just been re-centering, seeking a course.

The day full thoughts and gratitude had very little, if any thoughts on how to make money in my senior years. My wife would not be happy about that. I should be more thoughtful of that as I see the world change and the sands of time drop. Logically I should be very concerned, my working years I spent concerned and lost it all. Now aging, wiser(?), why do that again…all my possessions can fit in one room, rely on only the Universe as my support. So far it has worked for these years. Basically I am just along for the ride.

吹禅 – Komuso: The good, bad and the ugly

 


Komuso : the good , the bad, the ugly

 
It was to be another hot weekend, in Osaka. This meant even worse in Nara. Yet that is where I was headed. It was the time I picked to make a second round as Komuso.
I was feeling much more relaxed and actually looking forward to it. Well, except for the Heat, which was going to be brutal. I had that set in my mind, but also knew I could survive. I work outside in this doing labor, walking around playing would have it’s issues, but still for me a cake walk compared to raking cut foliage on the side of a 45 degree or more hill and loading that onto truck, in the sun.
Now do not discount the unpleasantness and potentially dangerous issue with the sun and heat. I had already been told by Sempai, that he had been out early the other day and was beat down by noon. He does this every weekend and was beat down the last few days by noon. Nara can reach 95 and above in the summer, with high humidity ! That is what makes you feel heat!!!!
 
 
Ok, stage is set, I was mentally prepared to suffer, I was in the severe training mode mentally. I set off rather early to get started early. That sort of went to plan, other than me taking the wrong train, therefore arrived late.
 
I meet up with my Komuso Band members as they were heading out of our planned meeting spot to see if I would show up on the way. We returned to the Inn since I needed to check my stuff. So there at this Inn I got organized. I did not have the Kimono on this time, so I did not need to change. I was wearing my Samue, which was agreed upon. The visiting Shakuhachi player, a Shakuhachi sensei from Hawaii was also wearing a Samue, Sempai was wearing his white Kimono. The summer look for the Komuso. A wise choice in the Osaka area Summer. Our Sumae although dark, were open much more to air flow than a regular kimono. I felt this was a good balance, him in a kimono, us the novices in Samue, Sempai being the real Komuso.
 
I prepared my gear, this time I was more prepared for what was ahead. I had purchased shoes that were not only good for walking they looked proper.
I had heard several remarks about my sandals on the last Komuso walk. I also had a small towel, which I would wear on my head. It was thicker than my Japanese head scarf, so I figured that would take of the slippage I had to deal with constantly on the last venue. Another helpful item were the several paper clips I brought along. They kept things in place on my clothes, without damaging them or being noticeable. It worked out just fine!
 
I was set. However the visiting Shakuhachi sensei from Hawaii had a much more challenging time. Besides the heat really bothering him, he was struggling with wearing the sandals and walking with them. That was his challenge for this training run. We took things slow due to the heat and his sandals. We walked, played, and chatted. We saw the rent a guard from last time, who said nothing as he passed us. We were not stopped at the time, so there was no chance to see if the mistake, his, was corrected.
 
We spoke among ourselves about the role of a modern-day Komuso, interacting with the community, being an ambassador for Buddhism to the public, who do not in Japan get to interact with Priest generally. As before the elder Japanese were much more receptive to the “Komuso Priest” others were just curious and wanted photo OPs. Which is ok, it is getting the Modern image of a Komuso out there in regular life, not just for an event, a show…entertainment one could say. Since people mostly do not see Komuso except for some “event” where they parade to a temple, or through one. That is when the Komuso main force turns out for the “show”, to speak honestly.
One is hard pressed to find a Modern Komuso out doing engaged Buddhist practice. Then on the other hand according to many accounts, one did not generally find them doing that in the old days. It was about playing for food and for their own enlightenment. At least this is what most historic accounts say, I have read. There was some engaged buddhist practices but not like the other sects as much. The engaged Buddhist practice of Sempai seems to be a new development and in my opinion, which means little, is needed. Buddhism is waning in Japan. Which one of the topics we discussed on our walk. The engaged Buddhist practice is not alive in Japan. Temples are mostly closed places, or off limits. Hard to get questions answered, Buddhist priest mostly show up for funerals, etc. There is very little out reach to the public. Some Buddhist are understanding that and are trying new ways to engage with the public, doing rap, running bars, and in Sempai’s case being out there doing Komuso practice regularly, not just for events.
 
The day was good, even with the heat. Crowds were small because of the heat, which was to be expected. When I got off the train the sun was brutal! I found that being inside the Tengai was much more a relief.
 
Last time we had some negative experience from the guard. This time the negativity came after all was over. I posted picture of me, on Facebook as a Komuso in a fighting pose with the shakuhachi.
It was rumored that since many of the Old Komuso were former Samurai they used their Shakuhachi as a weapon. This can be seen in some of the old  Samurai movies. So I posted a pictured, with the good-natured caption Shaolin Komuso, since that is my Background training. It was commented on by the former Sensei of our little ronin Komuso band. Former because of a damaged ego by the Sensei. It said basically, Komuso practice is a serious study, it is not for entertainment! Wow! That pushed the wrong button with me. I did not think I was being disrespectful at all. I wrote a somewhat sharp reply for my wife to post in Japanese, since that is what he did. After some breathing and thought, I decided not to post that, and just did a simple response, “I am also a Zen Priest and requested any further comments be done via private communication”. I also posted a few pictures of Komuso in Art, and Movies by Japanese. His only reply was he understood and acknowledged me. I am not sure what that meant. However he had no further comments online or privately. My wife followed his link and said. This guy is strange, he said he was going to the police! I said so what? I did nothing wrong, nor did anyone else in our group. It was said to me later by the Sempai he may go tell the Abbot in Kyoto. Sempai said also but again so what. “I will continue what I do and follow my engaged practice. Even if I have to be associated with another temple or start my own.” It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I resently found out my Shakuhacho Sensei’s former student, who I will meet in Oct is a high Komuso in another temple in Wakayama. I will be checking with him on how to become officially connected to this temple. I need to have some official status before I can go out on my own and do this type of engaged practice. The down side, this may take years. Paperwork, licensing is a big deal in Japan. I can understand the reasoning behind this, fakes are everywhere.
This thing with the remarks from the Komuso Sensei on FB reminds me of the time a group from the East Coast of the US came to California and gave a private seminar to a group of us, who were having problems getting instruction in California. Well the local Federation had a cow! Even though we could not get help from them, were not in anyones school/ dojo turf, still it started a fire storm! It was both funny and sad. Egos are so fragile. No matter the title, rank, people are people. Ego is ego, you can control it, or it can control you! Zen master, Kyudo master, Kung Fu master, President, I have seen them all be ego puppets.
 
 

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吹禅 – 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.

TnT

 

This n that, that n this – Dec,

 
Wow, 2016 is almost over. Kind of scary if I think too much about it…”time waits for no one”. 
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I have not said much about music world these days, not much happening. I have not been with the Doc’s Blues “band”. He is really into the “OverHeat club” me not so much, not at all in fact to be honest. I have said why so I will not repeat. Another reason is the Doc does not want to practice, he just wants to get high and have fun, not a drop of concern about how we sound. lets just have a good time is his only thought. He has admitted he is does not have a professional attitude…sigh. He is a Doc, he has never paid musical dues. Oh well.
 
Anyway speaking of music The Jazz band had an end of the year session on Christmas night. I went by and did a couple of songs. It has been several months since I have played there. They are nice folks. Everyone that knew me seemed pleased I was there. I got applause just walking in the door from those who knew me. The people who did not, seemed taken aback, by the attention, to some gaijin showing up and getting a hand just walking in the door. Kind of funny seeing some of the expressions. I just did a couple of songs in the blues realm, since that is where I am comfortable with no rehearsal and unknown players.
 
 
It worked out mostly well. I did one song at the piano and one song on the bass. Both went mostly well. The one on the Bass , “merry Christmas baby” I thought was fitting for a Christmas night. The ending was bad, as was one part in the middle. Which I expected. These folks are good players, but they lack “feel” for just playing from the gut and following. However their technical skills are good. If I had everything written out they would follow well. I did not, I gave them a basic cord chart and just let them do their best. While I kept it simple.
 
 
Anyway it was fun, and everyone seemed to like it.
 
One nice thing about this venue, is they have food. We pay 1,000 yen, to use the club. With that we get one free drink, and a small buffet.
I am always told what is ok, for me to eat (non- meat).
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There was a surprise cake this time for the Christmas party. I went to the table to get a slice, but as I was there near, it was being chopped away. There was only two pieces left as I got up to plate. I gave my spot away, I did not want to take the last piece or get there as the last piece was given away. I sat back down. Surprise…The manager came over a few minutes later and gave me a slice from another cake they had stashed in the back. Way cool of him. He had before all this came over and gave me some type of sea food in a shell. He said, “but you eat seafood right’? I said …er…thanks but no!
It looked like a giant great snail!! I passed. I thought about what my Abbot had said about as a priest I am not suppose to refuse gifts. Hmm. Well sorry, I was not going there with that “thing”, it looked gross. If I was starving yeah, but since I was not…passed!
So that was my Christmas night.
 
Christmas day, at least the afternoon, I taught my Tai Chi student. Some practice time for me before-hand then class for him. 
 
 
Finally a student who seems serious. He is struggling and finding out it is not as easy as he thought. So far I am just having him do basic training. Stretching, Chi Gong, sitting meditation, stances, Tai Chi walk. He is not bad, but he is not good either. He wanted to do Shaolin Kung Fu. I suggest he train Tai Chi instead. At his age starting Shaolin will be difficult. He is in it for health, I steered him to TaiChi. Even there I do a fair about of external style training, stances, kicks, etc. It is not a YMCA- new age type training I have my Tai Chi students do. They train as a Martial Art with health benefits.
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He needs work ( so do we all), however his attitude is good. Slow and steady he will do ok. I am not rushing him nor do I have reason or plan to do so. I see his pace for understanding and doing and will work within that.
 
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Christmas Eve, I spent some of it at the Kyudojo. It was not crowded, but not empty either. A few of the regulars were there for a while. I mostly just work. On my form. There was one of my Sempai-Sensei there who gave me a few pointers. The main one was I was not lined up properly with the mato when shooting. Another thing I made a point of doing was focusing on the center of the mato, not just the mato and the yumi placement. Once I did that, my hit rate went up! I will be keeping that in mind again from now forward. I had not been doing that for a while, putting to much thought into aiming the Yumi. The next few weeks will tell how much I improve. I have to sign up for the Shinsa mid Feb. I am determined to make Yon-dan next year! It will not change any thing, except my pride in myself. Sometimes that is enough, to have a confidence boost.
I have a hope though as a sideline though. I want to visit the Kyudojo in Kamakura. I heard they will not let the general public in to shoot. I am hopeful as a Yon-dan and a Chan priest from their sect Rinzai ( I think they are ), the head person or managing person will let me shoot. That is my hope. however first I have to make Yon-dan, because at Yon-dan you are taken serious as a Kyudoka.
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Shakuhachi wise, I have a new goal for next year. I had planed on another yearly pilgrimage to a Zen temple. However, I will change-up some this year, I was given a basic Komuso song to learn and an offer for instructions. Once I learn this I can go out “begging” with my acquaintance, the Komuso monk from Nara as an apprentice. I had heard it was a life changing experience for the acquaintance who offered me the lesson, to go out begging as a Komuso. So, that will be my pilgrimage and challenge this year, …er. Next Year. Go public playing and visit the Kyoto Zen temple.

 

LZ has a job doing hotel reviews. Sometimes they are very fancy places. She has been taking me along on the more interesting ones.

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I have not been writing/saying much about them. Mostly for me , unless there is some place nearby of interest, I just chill in the hotel and practice Shakuhachi.
LZ has mentioned that I can write and get paid for an article from some publisher dealing with the foreign readers.
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I do not consider myself a writer, even though I am doing this poor blog. However, I will start thinking along those lines, nothing to lose. So look for some small travel reviews upcoming on this blog. It is something we are doing as part of life in Japan and the Blasian experience.

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. 
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. 
 
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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.

Kung fu in Japan…the path less travelled

 

 
I have been here a little over 3 yrs now. I started teaching Kung Fu and Chan meditation at a local community center at the mall, near home. It was not a big success but there was some mild interest. I knew it was going to be a challenge when going into this.
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Some three yrs later I am still at it, still struggling, like with my Kyudo practice. Hmmm maybe that is going better. I have finally found a decent affordable location to hold class. Only problem is no students. I have a “ad” running in the “meetup group” website and was quite surprised at the number of people that joined. Mostly “gaijin” ok, I thought I have found a nech . I tried to make that work, asked questions about what they were seeking, any goals. Hmmm about 3 out of 12 responded to just basic questions, what are you looking for? Ok I focused on those, I travelled to a spot closer to them rather than have them come to me. That happened once. The next time people had stuff come up, or something, although stating how interested they were. So yeah, that fizzled out. 
 
There are still,people “joining” the on-line group, however, it seems they are just Lookey Lews…window shoppers. Sigh. Oh well.
 
There came out of now where one student, who came to me to learn, so far twice another American. He seems interested, he did travel to my area twice. However we’ll see with the next go round. One big issue I am running into, is a place to teach. Having class at the local shrine is ok, but with it getting dark earlier now that will be an issue, as the new student prefers a later in the day class early evening. I have found a place that is affordable, however they close early on the day I needed and on the other day they are not open at all…sigh. Road blocks…
 
The is a former Chan student who wants me to teach her son kung fu, I am invited to dinner sometime to discuss that . This maybe another serious encounter, since it is the son’s idea, still he is young and it maybe a combo, Kung Fu and English class, which is ok. She speaks English.
 
A friend of hers is/was interested also, but now says she is working way too much, so will have to put it off.
 
Yeah, it is an up hill battle here. Distance, + laziness + lack of motivation + language = very low student turn out. Still I will continue to reach out. Even of there is just one student it is worth to hold the mission for my part in spreading the Shaolin Dharma. Even the one student gives me enough motivation to practice and hang in there.
shi-fa-chuan
 
I forget the modern day illness of wanting convenience, and instant progress. Life is not always like that. Over coming that is part of the training path.

Viva Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas

 
I was surprised how well it went getting to Vegas. The airport in Japan was easy and fast. Not much of a line or anything, immigration was smooth and simple. Plenty of time just to wait for loading. S.F. Also went fairly smooth. The airport had some high tech check in that was fairly easy. One still had to go through the customs part. 
A guy, the boarder guard, says, what are/ were you doing in Japan? “I live there” I say. Oh I did not know that, he says. Duh, I think, how / why would you? I give him the short run down on my Japan life. Oh, he says ok, have a nice day. Ok bam, done I am back in the states. I grab my bag and get oriented. I make my way to the next airline in domestic travel. Once there I look for food. 
 
 
Nothing really interesting or that I can eat. I spot a veggie burger, at one place of the three or four I see. $12.00 with fries!! dayammmm! I look around more nothing, I am sort of hungry and not knowing when I can eat again, I settle for the way over priced burger. I am not pleased. It was only so so, for real not worth the $12.00. I remember to be grateful for the meal and that I have money to purchase it. I eat and head for the gate after checking in. Again it is smooth. I am feeling blessed next stop Las Vegas. My Kung Fu brother is picking me up.
 
 
The flight there is smooth, I am surprised how few people there are at the airport. Later I find out it is because I came in via the international terminal. Once landed I head for the baggage claim. I am only slightly surprised to see slot machines right away. I grab my suitcase and seek out my “Shaolin brother”. I walk around and even go outside at one point. Hot hot hot! Still no see. We had not setup a meet point. Just playing it by the flow. I go on line and find a message from him saying where he is. After a bit of effort and another trip out into the heat, we hook up!
 
 
We head to his school, there I am greeted by the students and meet his daughter who I have not seen since she was just an infant. Now she has a two year old of her own. We settle in to the office and hang out. There is a class going on, being lead by his son. I have seen him grown up before but still it is “strange” remembering.
Later there is a couple of award ceremonies being held, I am invited to help with the event of awarding certificates and ranks. It was simple but sort of fun. 
 
 
Throughout the evening I am meeting his students. Him and I get to talk some about old times, friends, classmates and my ceremony the next day. I am to take the Buddhist precepts there in the temple and become ordained as a monk of the LinJi ( Rinzai) Chan, Lohan sect. 
 
 
 
Finally we head out for dinner. There Is a restaurant around the corner, sort of a corner. We are in a mall area in and called Chinatown. We go to a restaurant called “Kung Fu”. A Chinese/Thai place. There is a story behind the name, it is one of the last restaurants from the popular Kung Fu era. Several restaurants had that type of name.
 
The food was good, they had a vegetarian menu. I had been wanting some Thai food it was on my list of eat stops. I had green curry tofu, also spicy green beans with tofu. Yummm. Too busy eating to take pictures. We ate and talked, and finally took the rest home as it was too much! The Thai ice tea was also good. After another brief stop at the school we went to his home, where we crashed out shortly after. I slept easily, I did not get much sleep on the 10 hour flight, stuck in a middle seat, between two people who spread their arms out on both rests.
 
Currently I am writing this from another airplane seat. This time heading to Phila, The force is with me I got an aisle seat. But that is jumping ahead of the story…
 
 
The next morning we are up not too early but sort of. I was up first and did some stretching and meditation. I was not sure of the full plan, but I knew part of it was my ordination. We headed out for the school again. My “brother” had a class to teach. Again I meet some more students, a couple of them were quite pleased to meet me, they said, they had heard lots, they were coming to my ceremony that night. I was flattered and surprised.
 
The class started I went into the temple section of the school. There I hung out, meditated and practiced my shakuhachi. It was quite enjoyable peaceful. It was a good re-centering for me. The class was about 1.5 hr or so. Afterward we prepared the room for the evening ritual. I also got to play, well sort of more of an attempt to play a Tibetan horn. After all was in place and I had been given more instruction about the evening, we went out to lunch.
 
 
The choice for lunch was Mexican, another one on my list. Before hand I pulled rank on my brother, the Abbot and said. ” I am paying for lunch, you paid for dinner.” Oh yeah, he says! Says who?! Me, I come back with, I am your Sihing ( sempai). He laughs. The Mexican was good, it was a lot, a lot a lot. We could not finish it all. I have a Japanese size stomach now, for him it was just too much also. We both left some and pushed away from the table, with full bellies. Before going home we stopped at another shop, a herb, vitamin, health-food type place that also taught Tai-chi and yoga. The owner was a friend of his and a student. I felt right home in the shop, my kind of place, reminded me of our old school’s health-food store section. So after picking up a few small items went home. We needed a nap! Him more than me, still after I took a shower, I also took a nap!
 
 
5:00 came we returned to the school. An evening class had started, I meet more people. I received more instructions and it was suggested I sit in the temple to met the arriving priests. Little by little people came in, I was surprised as was the Abbot. I was told one had brought along a long-sleeved formal robe for me to wear. I changed and finally it was time for the ceremony.
 
 
I took my seat in front of the altar in the middle of the room. There was a lot of bowing on my part, myself alone and sometimes with others I had to repeat verses, and precepts, more bows, sometimes half bows, sometime full bows. It was a good thing my knees are better these days. Incense, water on the head, more bows, saying vows and then the transmission and it was over. I received my new Buddhist name and became an official Chan priest in the Lohan Order. Wow!
 
 
Everyone offered congrats, and the attending local priests and I took a group picture and it was done.
 
 
Some people left almost right away, still a number of them stayed. Some just went into the studio to practice. I felt I should give something in return to those who turned out for the ceremony and to those who helped with it. I told the Abbot and he recalled the group into the temple. To show my appreciation I gave my first public performance on the shakuhachi. I played the part of the Honkyoku song I am learning and improvised some to extend it. I was so nervous my notes were not smooth as they should be, however, I doubt if anyone noticed or could tell.
 
 
Afterward the Abbot gave a brief lesson on some Buddhist practices and chants from the handbook he is putting together. After I finished speaking with a few people, I joined him.
 
Then everything was done, we changed and went home. Still full from the afternoon lunch we did not feel like eating, we just chatted some and went to bed. At first I sleep right away, but later I awoke and could not go back to sleep for a couple of hours, that part sucked.
 
The next morning we went to breakfast at iHop. It had been a long time since I had been there. It was good. Then off to the airport.
 
I did something different and checked in outside at the curb. I was told my suitcase was too heavy it would cost me another $100.00 to take it. Ehhhhhhhhh! I was told I could take somethings out, there was a scale over on the side, then come back in line. I took a few things out and packed them in my carry on and my backpack. Ok, now my bag was ok and I saved $100 I was told. I am thinking, how weird. I just moved some things from one place to another, but it is still on the same plane with me. Oh well. I was off into the wild blue yonder, via JetBlue. Mata Las Vegas, see you another time…maybe.
 
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I was off to Phila, for the next part of the adventure…
 
 

UPSA

The UPSA tour

 

So far things are going smooth. I arrived at the airport three hours ahead of take off, thinking that I would be there with enough time not to rush. Things went so fast, no lines at customs, check in went quick and security was also fast. I made it through everything in one hour. I was shocked. I got to hang out for the next two hours, reading and on the internet. 

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I received a email form my sister saying mother was being placed in DNR unit that evening. She is eating a little but very very little and gets agitated when someone tries to force her to eat more. Stubborn to the end. I am hopeful and have a feeling she is waiting for me to arrive. Even though she will not remember me. I had this sense that is what is happening. I recall, LZ’s father was on his death bed when we came to visit. We had been hanging out with sister and had everything done when we got the call from the hospital that we need to get there now! Once we did he was gone shortly afterward. I am thinking this will be the case here as well.
 
As I write this I am 3.5 hours from landing in S.F. From there I will fly to Vegas. I will visit the Lohan buddhist temple for a day before flying on to the east coast. I may have to cut short the first day plans there of seeing my kids and go on to see my mother, depending on the news over the next day or so. She is not sick, perse, just weak from not eating, I am sure she is just tired of this life and ready to move on to the next plane.
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If I am able to visit with my kids before hand, I want to have a little family jam session. My grandson plays drums, my granddaughter play flute. I think one of my other grandson plays some guitar, there is a piano at the house which i will use, it will be a memorable experience for all of us to play together. My maternal grandfather was a musician, I never played with him, but I took my first music lessons with his violin. My father was a singer, as was my mum, but only in church. it is interesting that only my eldest son and now his kids carry on with that music line. His other two sons are graphic artist. I was a graphic designer before I retired. So the artist gene runs strong in my clan, whereas my other siblings, other than my youngest. Brother who was also a professional musician and graphic artist, none other artist are in the family.

Another little bit of out of the box from my clan is my eldest son, became a Muslim, and I a Zennie. The only ones in the family that I know of that stepped outside the traditional Christian line. I do have a cousin who was briefly a Seven day Adventist, but she returned to the Baptist fold after a while, however did remain a vegetarian. Everyone else I know of in my fam. is, was /are firm Baptist, there are , was a few ministers in there. Overall though I am the “black” sheep of the family, I have always been the one who was “out there”, the hippie, the rebel. I wear the label proudly. I think my grandkids will also step outside the box, at least a couple of them. It will be interesting to get inside their heads a bit now that they are older and stating to think for themselves.