Everyday People


“I’m just Everyday people”…Sly and the Family Stone

 
My dad use to tell me, get educated, don’t use you back for work use your brain. I put myself through college and got a degree. I even had a good job with my own office for a while. Yet here I am working with my back after retirement. Almost like all that education, training etc, meant nothing. However I would not be here if not for that. Everywhere we are, is because of where we have been.
 
Once in another past life I was an Auto mechanic. I worked for a car dealer, so yeah I was a serious mechanic. I recall in the 70’s I was working for a Buick dealer, when there was no work, no car at the moment, we would hangout and wait for a job to come up. I would go sit on a large storage shelve unit, crossed legs and just mediate, of sorts. I did not know what meditation was back then. People thought I was just sort of strange, off to myself sitting cross-legs just watching stuff. For me I was just being in the moment.
 
These days I flash on that again, while I wait for the group at the “Silver Center” to organize and go out into the field of whatever day job it is. I have been called back to work for the summer to work at the “Silver Center”. I do not hate it, but do not like it. The money is helpful, the exercise is good for me. I do wish it more year around at something, than only 6 mo. There is other stuff happening though out the year I am sure, but just not for me.
 
What is the Silver Center? It is a city own company/ operation that hires retired people, older than me, to do mostly in my group, landscape work. Like clearing overgrown bush in parks, water channels, yards, sometimes pickup dead flowers and stuff from some local shrines, trimming trees, helping some old person clear a house, or something. When the weather is cool or mild it is not too bad a job most times. Summer, like now can be brutal. Working out in the sun, sometimes on the side of a steep hill, mosquitoes! The big issue I have some times, is there is no toilet, for function #1 , no problem , just go off to the side stand and go. #2 can be a problem. I have to watch what I eat the night before and try to go before I leave the house or shop into the field. There are some places I know where a unit is nearby, a temple, convenience store, on the park grounds. Those are the good places. Some times there is none and I spend a lot of time hoping the morning weird stomach goes away. A couple of times it did not and I had to become a basic animal in the woods…Either way the first thing I check out on the work site is, where is the Loo?
 

The getting up at 5:00am used to be a big deal, now not so much. Except when it is dark and cold. At these times now, summer and hot, I am up, water the plants, Zazen, eat, then off to work. I stop on the way to do some TaiChi/Hsing Yi. So it is good to be up early and get that in before the heat. I ride my bike to work about 15 min. The group has already done their Japanese Morning warmup when I arrive. Usually I stretch then just Zazen off to myself.

Lately a couple of people will come over to me and ask for some kind of Qi Gong /accupressure treatment on their back or shoulder. I helped one guy I like before and the word spread, I can “do stuff” being a Shaolin Sensei. Some of these people I work with have never seen or talked to a real foreigner before, I am “unique” Some of the new peeps are surprised to see me. The older crew already know me after 4 years and are quite comfortable . I can play and joke around with a few of them and they back at me, including with the job foreman. They most times think about me when buying the group coffee and get me tea or juice. All are a nice bunch of guys. Most of them are older than me and yet hold their own out on the field. Even though I get some of the heavier lifting jobs, well most, they all when needed will do what is needed. I see some old guys who look like they are struggling when walking, climb up ladders and trees to cut stuff, or walk along on steep hills where it is hard to walk much less walk cutting growth back with a power machine on your shoulder. Yet these guys do it not complaining other than, “It is hot isn’t “, the normal saying here. I have seen a couple of new people stop working or taking a break , (of which we take a lot in the heat ), at the wrong time, and get scolded by someone, not a super or something just a working guy.

Overall people get along and look out for the group. If someone stops at a store for a drink or something cool, they will bring enough for everyone. Everyone stops what they are doing and take an unscheduled break. When we are working everyone has their job and work as a whole to finish, sometimes switching from role to role as needed.

 

At lunch, sometimes we sit as a group and eat then nap. Sometimes , and some places I can go off to myself as do some others, eat, practice my Shakuhachi and or take a nap. We regroup after lunch and back to the task at hand.

I miss working at the boat yard in some ways, it is/was more skilled required. But the owner was/is not a kind person. One felt weird when on a break which was only 15 min once a day. On the other hand at the Silver Center when we take breaks, no one get paranoid when the “boss” shows up. Our break is our break, and we have them as needed. If we are on break when a supervisor shows up, he will speak to just one person the header or sit with everyone a short while, sometimes bring refreshment. We do not have to feel weird when the “boss” is in a bad mood, or really anyone much, we have our assignments and do it.

 
I am usually a raker and or a dead/cut bush loader. Either into a trash packer or the back of a dump truck. I can put on my face mask for the pollen protection and stuff,. I get really bad allergies from the dried plants here in Japan. Near had it in the States even when I did this kind of outside work in Virginia. With mask on I turn on my iPod, and just work left alone or alone in a group. Really the only days I really hate is when something has to be done on the side of a hill, unless I am on task on top of the hill just pulling up bundles of cuttings and loading them into a compactor or something. Sometimes I have had to load up a pitchfork full of cuttings carried on my shoulder and walk up hill or a distance and uphill, because the access is that difficult. Sometimes, it is rake and compile on the side of a hill, lift the cuttings over a fence and down a another hill or something, all to be collected and loaded on a truck and taken to the city dump, where it is burned.
 
Sometimes we finish up early and sit around chatting so not to get back to the office too early. Since I do not chat well I usually, but not always go sit off to by myself in Zazen and some point think back to being a mechanic sitting on a storage shelf…and feel grateful.
 
Amitoufo
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…and the beat goes on. April


And the beat goes on…
The path of “music”
Springs forth, a babbling stream
as do buds of the Sakura.

A lot of music stuff has been happening. I think the last thing I wrote besides Shakuhachi music was about the Blues Festival, complex mixup. I was under the wrong impression about being required to buy a shirt. So that is back on the burner as a ToDo.

 

The Sieki Band, 

 
We had a good rehearsal am I am liking the way the band sounds, especially with the harmonic vocals. However they need work. Like most things worthwhile. ( Ch’an lesson for today) The keyboard guy, Lucky Joe, a real character, good for a group, is good, he fills a lot. The guitar is a good rhythm holder. We have a show coming up on April first. It is a small showcase venue, we are in a show with three other bands. I am fairly sure this is a no pay , just showcase kind of thing. Which is ok we are a totally new band. We have a Practice session this coming Sat. A band that has practice sessions before doing a show ! What a concept! Radical.
 

The Jazz Session


There is a monthly Jazz Jam session, nearby my house. I have been before, and posted stuff. Ozaki Jazz Society, I call it. The people are nice, the club manager also lets me know what there is I can eat from the spread that is put out as a free buffet. He knows I do not eat meat. Most of the players are very good. However I do not like just trying to play a Jazz song with no practice if I do not know it well. Most of the regular songs I know are not Jazz. So when I go to this I have to pick songs to do, that are Jazzy. It is kind of hassle. I go maybe once every three months. I went there last week. It was good. We came together and even though our first time together with these members, and me trying to explain what I wanted, always an adventure. We sounded good. If anyone is interested in hearing the 20 min sessions cuts can click HERE?
 

School of Rock,

 
There is a keyboard player who I have played with on several occasions. I like his style and he speaks a little English. Several months ago he asked me to play a show with him in March. It happened just this past weekend. I was to play bass with him on a few songs, then do a few songs on my own, guitar, or piano and/or with him if I wanted on keyboard.
This was our first gathering, with the other members he brought in. We had a percussionist, steel drum, keyboard and bass, with some vocals from whoever.
We got together before the set to practice. It went well, we fit and worked together as a group. Afterward we went next door to the live house and ate at the small local Izakaya. They were a bit surprised with me there, but were friendly. We ate, chatted, joked and bonded. I already knew the percussionist, she had done backup singing for me before. The only new person was the steel drum player. Still we all got along, no attitudes. This is a cool band. It would be interesting to do more with them, there could be some cool stuff development!
 
We went back to do the show. Not many people, which did not surprise me. Toward the end of the night a few people came in. Those that did seemed to enjoy one woman got up danced. The group sets went well. We sounded like we have played together before, have not, at least with this configuration. Click for a sample HERE
When it was my turn, I figured I would do a test run of the plan for my show at the Blues festival. I had prerecorded bass and drum tracks on to a new loop unit, I recently acquired. So Drum and bass recorded, I played keyboard and Harmonica, with my vocal. It went over well as I had hoped. It sounded good and I did not embarrass myself with a big mistake. 
So I am confident I can pull off the Blues festival and also with the right planning and effort I can do a full solo session at some club, or at least half. I am thinking a club where the docs band used to play. “Chicago Rock” is a pretty popular spot. It would be good to play “here even twice a year.
 

Snafkin

 
It has been quiet there since the owner passed away. Just recently I hear tha his wife will now open the cafe only on the weekends. I always like that place. It is where I met several players I became friends with. This Sat there is to be small session, I will attend. I am considering doing my first non traditional Shakuhachi song. I want my friend to play Shamisen with me, but I do think she is comfortable. I will write out here part just in case, otherwise I will prerecorded on the Looper the rum Shamisen and bass parts, and just play the Shakuhachi live.
Then do one other song with whoever is there, which will include my favorite sax player. I am not a big Sax sound fan, but I like her tone and playing. It should be a fun session and nice to see the Snafkin crowd again.
 

Sakai City Blues Festival

 
This is going down the last weekend in April. I am going to need to be there for both days. Day one I will be playing bass for the Matsuo Blues Band.
The next day, I will be doing a solo set, with me on Keyboard and me on digital backup. Having already did the set at the last club The Happy Rabbit, I am feeling comfortable with some more practice it should go smooth.
You can hear a sample HERE

 

Snafkin by the Sea

 
I kind of feel this is my home base club. It had been awhile since going, since the master’s passing. I had through the grapevine, the place was closing with just
The wife left to run it. However I received a notice it was going to be opening only on the weekends. It seems like a few of ladies have gotten together to help the widow run the place. My friend sends me posting on FB about a few things that have happened there, but I have been busy on those same time.
I had made a point of going last night. I was not sure just what the plan was, if it It an open session or there was a group playing or a mix. I had said to Iyo-san I would do a song with her.
 
 
I showed up about 1 hour after the show started. I was surprised at the turnout, but there was a seat for me. I saw there my two Kyudo sempai who first got me to Snafkin. I was pleased and surprised. I kept being asked by several if I was going to play, where was my bass or something? I said I did not know if I was playing or not. Since I did not how things were being handled. I just watched. It was enjoyable. After a while the owner comes over to me. I thought she was collecting entrance money but she was asking me if I wanted to play something, not pay something. There was a time limit on how long they could play until. I said ok, one song with the band. I liked all of the players so did not want to replace them, piano, Bass, guitar, Sax, and that drum box thing. I did not bring anything with me except my Shakuhachi and Harmonicas. I opted to play Harp and sing. I gave them the key to play a simple funky blues, and the bass line to work around. With the Jazz players it took on a nice nature. Too bad I was not recording for that, it was awesome! Always the best stuff when not planning for it.

 

Page One

 
This is a new to me club. The Sieki band was arranged to play there. It was one of those nights when there are several bands, and it is a mix of styles. Not a loose everyone play with whoever jam session, but each group got a chance to play.
There were five of us, bands. It was a broad mix, metal, punk, blues, big band.
The club is easy to find and not too far from home about an hours. Nice little place, small but not too small. We went on next to last. It was a very comfortable show and went well. A few mistakes but nothing that showed badly. . We must have did good, we were the only band asked to do an encore. Things were a bit loose but not overly. It was a fun night. I did an edited recording of the concert to 20 min if interested HERE
 
So those are the big things happening in my small music world outside of SuiZen Buddhism.
One thing for sure is I am doing far more musically here in Japan than I would in the States. A good path for a retirement. It is different playing when you are young to be rich and famous from when you are older and just play , because you can. I would love to have a steady, even somewhat steady “Gig” as a musician again. I can work toward that hope, goal, but it is Journey not the goal.

弓道 – Hatsukai 2018

 

Hatsukai – 2018

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

弓道 – Kyudo World


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

尺八 – The Myoanji Pilgramage


 
I had never been to the Zen temple Myoanji in Kyoto. It was on my list of places to visit as a shakuhachi player and a Zen follower. It is considered the main home of the Komuso these days, well at least in Osaka Kansai area. I was told by a Komuso that the kokokuji temple in Wakayama is not really a headquaters per say for the Komuso, even though there are some there and are of the same branch. I was told the kokokuji temple was originally the first place of using the Shakuhachi as part of their practice of Zen but not as Komuso.
 
 
There was to be a shakuhachi concert at the Myoanji temple. I thought it was some type of Komuso meeting concert in full dress but no. Anyway hearing about the event I made plans to attend. There were members of the Shakuhachi group I have recently started playing with going to be performing. So now I had several reasons to attend. To see the temple, to hear the concert, see a bunch of Kuomusos, support my group. 
 
Another early day start, I was up at 5:00. I dislike getting up at five, I dislike getting up at 4:00 even more, so i looked at it as at least it is not 4:00. As a musician I am geared to just going to bed at 3:00 or 4:00 after winding down. Clubs in the US close at 1 or 2. Not so in Japan. The trains stop running at 12:00 so unless you have a car or a place to stay you are screwed! But that is another story.
 
I was up and out early for the event. I got on the road early as there was some issue with the trains in my location. However that did not affect my travel, I was still late and missed the opening ceremonies, but not from missing the train. I made my way to the temple, as I was near I stopped at a local police station to get , confirm directions. They were very helpful and got me going correctly as I was. As I neared the temple I was still not quite sure which, where I it located. I was very close but was not sure, 100% sure. I asked a crossing guard , he was not sure either but pointed sort of the direction or told me to check with another guard on the other side of the street, I was not sure which. I walked to where he pointed which was a parking lot, also another guard. I heard shakuhachi music and followed the sound to the temple. Once there I found the music was coming from a speaker outside, but I went inside the courtyard and say the famous stone sign for blowing meditation so I knew I had arrived.
 
The place was much much smaller than I thought it would be, so this kind of threw me off, but I went inside and say I had made it. I was offered a flyer, i said no, I had one and entered. It was even smaller than I thought. More or less one room, mostly with people waiting to play with only a very few people sitting on the floor to listen. I stood next to the doorway for a while, then went back to ask if this was the place to sit. Yes, I was told so I grabbed a cushion and a floor spot. I had missed the opening but not by much. One of my group members was playing and he was one of the first 3 players. 
 
I checked out the room and listened. After a bit I spotted Oota-san from my group. He had made and given me the 2.5 shakuhachi I had. A short while later I spotted a couple of others from my group and they saw me. 
 
I sat and listened. A couple of the players in my mind where not that pleasing to my ear. However I wrote it off to their style not their skill. One player seemed to have more breath sound that notes coming from his flute. Not pleasing to me. None of the players had the komuso dress, many in Kimonos and kesas. A few wore suits with kesas and few wore samues. I took all this in and sat and listened. There were about four gaijin also playing and I heard them speak to their Sensei in English. So I was not the only gaijin in attendance, but for sure as common the only one of color. No one seem to care as usual.
 
I was able to take some pictures no one seems to care and others did so as well. However I was discreet about it and had my smartphone set to quiet mode for pictures. I had serious camera the Nikon with me, but did not use it until near the end and a small bit outside.
 
It was not a life changing experience, by sound or vision, but it was interesting. The temple itself was basically the size of a small house. About the size of my Sensei’s house as he told me at my next class. Anyway it was a good day to be out.
 
I went out for a Lunch break to a local Indian shop I passed on the way. I wanted something small but tasty. I order tomato soup and samosas. The samosa were small, the soup was so so. I asked of they had some traditional sauce instead of catsup for the samosa. No they said. disappointing. I am finding it is hard to find that in Japan. Only one place I have been to had the real deal. That place is near my home but not easy to get there and a lot of walking. I have only been once. Anyway. I finished my lunch as was leaving, the guys asked me if I was from India! Ehh? I said no California and went back to the temple.
 
There were about 50 or more players throughout the day, so it was still going on when I got back. Another member of my group was player #48, the last of people I knew. I sat I waited, I listened, I nodded off as did others. One guy was even snoring. I was able to move off the floor on to one of the seats vacated by people who left. That was nice beside my legs being tired it was also a spot in the sun, it was chilly in the temple so that was nice in the sun. Finally it was a wrap for me and I slipped out to head home.
 
The ride home was uneventful, other than at one location a large group of very young school kids with the handlers got on the very crowded car. One poor thing was so tired she was falling asleep standing, the handlers kept trying to hold her up. It was cute, poor thing. I find out later the reason the line was so crowded was there was a bomb scare earlier and all the trians were stopped for most of the day. Missed out on that part by being at the temple. Lucky me coming and going!
 
My Shakuhachi class was the next day. I showed my Sensei the printed program for the concert. He knew most of the people and gave me some info on the temple and groups.
 
I had also asked him earlier about how to become a real Komuso and what could be done? His student had said joining Kokokuji was costly. Sensei said he would check into it. He had some info for me by that time. Another friend of his was a komuso director at Myoanji. It was not that complex a task for there. He could make the needed introductions to this person and arrangemnts could be done. I was also told by my group member it could be arranged. He translated some information that had been checked on by other members. So now armed with a clear info and a path from two directions I should be official by the spring as I had hoped. Yatta!
 

Sound steps


Sound steps in MusicWorld,

 
It has been a busy couple of weeks. I was in a concert last week at the community center in the next township. I did a solo well mostly solo, I wrote about this already right?
I was just invited to perform at another show in Dec at the marina where I work sometimes. I am not sure if I should try to put a small band together or just go solo with the percussionist. Hmmmm, I have some time to think…some time.
 
I finished my latest song with Shakuhachi. A tune called Tamoko. It was somewhat difficult, at least parts of it were. I am fairly comfortable playing it now. It is my favorite now. So I have two full Honkyoko songs now under my belt from my Sensei after 2.5 yrs of study. I also have the song from the other group, a Komuso tune. So that is really three Honkyoko songs. Honkyoku songs are traditional Shakuhachi songs. It is good timing on cutting back now to one class a month. I have the basics. I can develop details now as I go along and practice. Also with the other group, the 2.5 flutes I will still be learning so really it is still lessons twice a month when I am able to attend there is not pressure. 
 
I had my second Shakuhachi recital yesterday at the community center again in the next township. It was a fairly good turnout considering the limited interest in Shakuhachi music. There was koto and guitar accompaniment for some of the players. I only had me. I did ok, no mistakes so yeah, that was a cool thing, sensei was pleased. After the recital we the student and sensei went to dinner. Sensei and I did a quick stop at a music shop before dinner. That was interesting. The shop does repairs to shamisens. Nice to know, i have wanted to get a replacement shamisen for the one lost with the boat, but the cost has been the hurdle. I have seen ones that are broken, the skin, going for cheap. However I had no idea where to have the cover replaced, now I know. They use real animal skin to replace 😦 . Cat and something else. Cat cost the most. That made me sad , not the cost but the use of the Cat skin still. 
 
From there we went to dinner. I was somewhat concerned that I would not have much to eat, bummer for my 50.00 payment. However it worked out ok. I had indian curry for lunch because I did not know what to expect. However it was all good, I had some sashimi, salmon pot pie, veggie tempura, miso soup. There was to be as much as you can drink , drinks, but, my chuhai was weak, mostly sweet, got zero buzz. Sigh. Anyway. The whole thing with me going was to talk with my Shakuhachi Sempai. He is on staff at the Kokokuji temple, a priest and leader of some type for the Komuso. He gave me some background on the kokokuji temple and shakuhachi. He said a license is needed for Komuso, unless I am with an already licensed player. He also said , yearly dues are not bad , but the two Kimonos required are expensive. He said he did not recommend my joining, which was not difficult. However because of the kimono cost I would/maybe better off just going around with my friend. The komuso gear for the Kyoto temple and the wakayama temple are different. He said there is a call and answer tune Komuso play when they encounter another, this tells if they are real or not. So the small chat was interesting and helpful. I will see how things develop with the group I am with now in Osaka, if it falls a part or gets too weird I can join the Kokokuji group now that I have a connection.
 
I have been invited to do a couple of shows as a bass player for some visiting harp players from out-of-town. One show is next month, the other in January. This is the club I went to a few weeks ago with the Doctor. The one where he asks me to play with him in a talent show, then has me do the singing on songs he picked at the last moment. He did one and messed up! Yeah, so it was good I went anyway, I got this connection with the club owner from that trip. I had told the owner I was looking for a band, if he knew of any looking for my skills. He came through. Hopefully this will lead to other things. So far my group playing has been a disappointment. So I have three music projects on going. 1. blues Band, 2. Solo act, 3. Shakuhachi. The shakuhachi project is a mixed bag, Buddhist and traditional songs so far. I want to at some point bring the shakuhachi into the blues field, but I need a “modern” tuned Shakuhachi for that. I have not gotten that as yet. Finding one I can afford may take some time. Sensei did not like the one I purchased from NY. So my quest continues. I may not consult sensei on the next one, if my Sempai from the local Shakuhachi group can make one for me, reasonable.
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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 – 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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Two forward, one back

Steps, forward and backward

 
We at Kishiwada Kyudojo had a Rei Kai the other day. I finally got the name right. Rei Kai not Day or Dae Kai, but Rei Kai. That is an improvement. The days or a couple of days before that I thought I was making good improvements with my Kyudo shooting. My hits ratio were improving. I had figured out what was needed, so I thought. I thought I would do ok at the Rei Kai, and I sort of did. I got one hit out of four every time I went up. I have hit 4/4 before a couple of times in the past and also 2/4. However that is in the past. That was Zen this is now. These days I have been sucky.
 
After my first round of shots, my head sensei comes over and asked, basically what the hell was that with the way I was hikiwaki as did another Sensei. I thought I had it figured out…wrong! The other Sensei told me what I was doing wrong. I was way off in my thinking. So I went back to the old way on the next round and was told that was better. Then the head Sensei told me my bringing the Yumi down and back to my hip sucks. Not in those words but it meant the same. So he showed me how to do it. i had been told before I was doing it wrong, I had too much curve in the travel but no one explained how I should do it. So the last few classes I have been doing it the new way and no one has complained…so far.
 
Ok, so Tues are Tai Hai days, so far I have been getting very little correction with that. The other day, I was corrected on my Rei which was too low, and my timing on entry steps. Other wise I seem to be ok with my Resha use. I feel pretty comfortable with that, no matter where my placement is in the Tachi grouping. We get random picks on in line placement, by having our arrows selected like drawing straws, but drawing Ya.
 
The other day another of my Sempai Sensei comes over to help me. He has done so in the past and although he does not speak English I get it he recently helped with my Tenochi and I finally got it, I can feel the difference. I got another adjustment the other day. He also watched my Hikiwaki and I think I got it. I was having issues with my right elbow placement. I had figured out if I push my elbow forward in Kai, my ya would travel straight and my arm would travel across the top when unfolding and not change my ya travel angle. However this was completely wrong. I was told my elbow should be back and in line with my back and not facing down as much as I was doing, my arm on release should travel not over the top but sideways…ehhhhh, ohhhh souka. Fist distance in between my hand and shoulder. In Zanshin my right thumb should point to the rear, my left thumb should point to the front. I have been watching the Kaicho, his does not do that in Zanshin. This sensei told me it is not correct, it should. Ok So I started trying this, my hits when down at first while I was working it, but after a few shots and sighting adjustments, it started to make sense.
 
These details are a bitch, but they make the difference. I keep working on them. I am of the mind set, by the time I pass Yon-dan I will be ready for Go-dan. I have found out there is one Shinsa at my dojo this year, I will attend in Sept…maybe if I can make some solid advancement by the registration date in Aug. if not then I will wait until next year. There are other chances, however, the dojo where the shinsas are most of this year, I do not like. The setup means one has to enter on the right foot and exit on the left. I have enough to deal with without having to switchup my foot work. I have done it, I took my San Dan under those conditions, but really dislike it.
 
At the Rei Kai the other day, I had to do really stuff in the event. I was told I would do something, but I had no idea what they were talking about. Part of it was being a score keeper. That was easy now that I have done it already at the last Tai Hai. It is just flicking switches. The other thing was taking the Ya from whoever turned it during the final shoot off, showing it to the judges and then to the shooters who were lined up waiting. I was walked through it by another of the Sensei, so was not so bad. The actual function was not so bad to remember but the word to use to the judges I do not remember. I think it was something to do with being the second group. Anyway, if I have to do it again I am sure I will get help.
 
So yeah, slowly I am making headway a couple of steps forward, and step back. Usually when I start thinking I got it, I don’t, but that is ok. A Zen master said once mistakes are opportunities to learn. 
 
So onward, little by little. Like the turtle, not how fast to reach the finish but reaching it is the goal. We were told in my old Chan class about turtle breathing. Slow and steady, this helps give them long life. A dog breathes fast and has a short life, turtle breath slow and have long life. So I think of my Kyudo training as turtle breathing, slow, and deep.
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