Trips around the Sun…

 

It has been a while since I posted. Life happens! Since today is the anniversary of my Sun orbit cycle for this passage, it is as good a time as any to do a new post. Maybe the best timing.

A lot has passed since my last entry. It is hard to find a beginning spot that matters if any does. The last thing I recall here is I was just ready before going back to Nara. I did I bit of Takuhatshu there, before going to the temple to play for OMatsuri at Sempai’s local temple. That was interesting. I always enjoy these small local things. They are like a small mini time travel session. I did my small bit of playing shakuhachi for the group. which was larger than I thought. They were as always impressed that I could play and was there. Everyone was nice. Details are on the Komuso Blog.

Shortly after I went to the Kobe Blues session. I do not go often do to the distance and cost of travel, besides the next day hassles of early the night before if I do not stay over at a friend’s. It is fun the session, but there is usually a feeling of empty at times. Hard to explain sometimes it is great, other times…lacking

And now after my birthday dinner and most of a bottle of sparkling wine, I can not recall must of that time anyway.

Ok, so rather than trying to fill in what I do not recall I will start from where I do. Yesterday, for my birthday my wife took me a Greek restaurant. There have been very good reviews from the locals. There are very few Greece places in Japan. This is one of 3 that had good ratings. Also, they usually had a mix of Italian food not just Greek. Coming from The bay Area where we have a lot of Greek deli type places I give it a rating of 6 on a 1-10 scale.  10 being the best! it was good and a nice change, but the Greek in better in Cal. Even from the Deli. I really wanted a Falafel !! Oh well.

The other night there was a session at Snafkin. It was really a night were the IYO band was playing. However, we were going to slip in a practice session for my band, which was performing in an upcoming concert at the beach for Snafkin. It is an annual thing. So we were going to get in a practice before and after the AYO band played. He, the keyboard player, plays for them mostly and a solo acts himself. That is the thing in Japan no one just plays for one band unless that band has a national name.

We, my new band, got in some practice time and it went fairly well. One song sounded like we practiced it more than just once today. I was surprised. I was expecting to play once more or so after the AYO band finished, but I find out I am requested to play as a part warmup act for the IYO band. I was not expecting that. Ok quickly considered what to do. I drafted the Bass player from IYO’s band. He was very hesitant! Saying he did not know the song. No big deal I said. It was weird. He was reacting the same way I do when asked to sit- in on a Jazz piece. This was just a Blues and I gave him a chart. Anyway, he agreed finally. I was going to play a song where I got to use Shakuhachi. I always need the practice live. We started the song slowly, I was having a lot of trouble getting a sound from my flute. OHG, so embarrassing!! This was a was my Zen and Kung Fu training kicked in. Do not panic, breathe, think! I fiddled with the mic and tried several times to blow but no sound. Ok, I got a drink, as if I needed it, then just started to sing. As I sang I gave the flute a few tries, and finally was able to connect. I played for just a small bit, and then I lost the sound. As in Kyudo when you miss the shot it is usually something about “you” that is the issue, not the equipment. In the case of the Shakuhachi, this is so very very true. the problem was me! There are no parts or anything with the Shakuhachi, it is a tool of truth, you can get a sound, or you can not, it is not the lacking of within the flute.

I play a little then again lose it, I did not panic, never panic. I decided to switch up and play the Harmonica. I went over to the table to get my harp and as I reached for it, I knock over my Bass which was next to it them. I laughed, the keyboard player laughed. I rolled with it and kept singing and made the switch. Things went well… of sorts. I Kept having issues with the Mic adjustment location. As the Keyboard players were doing his solo, he started dropping papers and stuff. Again we laugh, but the song goes on. That is how we roll. LoL!!

Overall even though I still had a few issues with hearing myself, we finished the song and for the most part it turned out ok. I did not realize that until afterward when I listened to the video. All that stuck out for me was the suck parts when I could not get a sound! After listening to the recording I find it was not so bad 🙂

Our next song, was really just the new band. Really a trio today as we had no percussion. We did a cover song by Stevie Wonder. This our second time playing ever, today. Surprising it turned out good. Like we knew just what we were doing, helps when the band members lesson to each other. I did this same song with one of the other bands, the Kuruzeders, we did not sound as good then as we did with this Trio!

The next day I am chilling, very limited Facebook interaction. I am planning to enjoy my birthday break. I spent the day, a small bit of gardening, mostly just working on my ceramic pieces. I hope the person in charge of firing at “club”  did /does so over the break. I now have about 8 pieces that need to be “baked” before I can take the next step and do the glazing before putting them up for sale and seeing if there is any interest. That would really really give me a boost if there was interest in buying. I could actually have something artsy that was marketable. Music is a difficult Art route for more than pleasure.

Speaking of music that is the other thing I did over my Sun circumnavigation trip anniversary. I discovered a song I want to do as part of my solo set and maybe with the new band, I am just recently asked to Join. So I worked on that song. I put down a beat track and a bass track on my looper to give me something to work from. It went well, that another song which I started with one of the other bands.  I just realized I am connected to several bands: The Kursaders, The Saki Band, Mr Joe’s girl band, and my Kaze Band, oh and sometimes the Dirty Deal Blues Band.

The other big musical thing I did was some work to my Bass. I have been thinking about changing my bridge to a Gold Brass one. I have been putting it off and off, finally, I went for it. I was nervous about doing it correctly, there are many adjustments to set and this was my first time. I took my time and it went well. I could tell a difference in the sound right away.

After all my years of playing, this is the first Bass I have made truly mine! Not just mine as in owning, but mine as in changing stuff just to my taste. Cool it is!

So all in all at this time in Life, things are pretty good. Making music, Kyudo, Ceramics, My WaterWorld life is pretty much a wash:-(, as is my Kung Fu teaching. I guess I should just consider myself retired from those fields. Oh well, one can not have everything they say. I am sort of getting a new change of plan for Japan travel. Since I can not do it by sailboat, perhaps by motorcycle. Since I have had my eye surgery I am pretty sure I can pass my eye test for a Japan drivers lic. However I do not have a motorcycle, but it would be easier to get and keep than a boat. Still, there is the money thing and with a set budget, it is pretty much in the same realm as a boat…an out-there-dream! Yet, things change as you live and breathe. One never knows what the tide ( Heaven ) will bring in…Amituofo

 

 

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The Bamboo path


The Bamboo path

The Classical Shakuhachi Society
The Shakuhachi journey has various roadside stops. It is interesting along with the people one meets. We had our monthly Classical Shakuhachi Soceity meeting last week. This time we had a full house. I had invited a new aquitence I meet, via my Komuso Sempai. He is a priest, of a Jodo Buddhist temple, as is another our of group. Another member had bring along someone who had contacted him and there was a new player/student of another member there as well. He was new to playing Shakuhachi. In total there were nine. Three more than usual. It was a nice size.
We did a round of introductions, I got very little of the info, of course. However it did not matter I got the gist of it! Afterward we played together a few songs and individual songs. Afterwards we had the refreshments. Misc foods, wine, sake, words and laughter. I am not suppose to be drinking, but I still had some. Just did not over do it. Once in a while is ok! It was a good session, we all had fun. One nice thing about this group we are all about the same age.

Zen Rhythm Cafe
The following Sat, my new friend the priest’s temple held their monthly Cafe session. I went this time. It was my second visit. This time I had prepared some songs. The cafe is held inside of his temple on the second floor of a wonder building. There are a few tables set up for buying gifts, coffee, a small meal, foot and or back massage, and fortune telling. Also there is floor space for music acts.
I arrived later than I planned, but still in time to do several songs. I played Shakuhachi with myself as backup. I had made a recording of myself on Sansen, piano, bass, an guitar. I wanted to test how it would go, as part of my plan for solo performances. As I arrive late there were not late many people there, but it was well received.
I hungout afterwards and spoke with a few people. I spoke with the fortune teller as she was starting a group session. I learned she was doing the Japanese version of Tarot Cards. She said she is the only one in Kansai who does them. She also said it is a Shinto tradition, I did not know that. I passed on joining and just watched.
Another guy comes to me, he is a friend of the priest. This person speaks English. He is like a Japanese Caropractor. He studied in the states. He was invited by the priest to act as a translator so we could speak easily. The guy was interesting. We spoke of natural healing and energy flow as well as sound vibrations.
After all was done, and the “cafe” was over, we went downstairs to the kitchen. There the priest’s wife made a “Hotpot” ( Nabekura) meal for the priest, his friend, the new student from the Shakuhachi group who had also come and myself. We ate a lot and drank. There was a lot of wine and some sake, but I did not feel over loaded. We chatted and drank. After eating we went to the garden area and sat on the porch and listen and watched the rain fall on the garden. We spoke spoke of gardening and life. The priest’s wife brought us dessert and tea, the men sat and talked. It was very Japanese.
A nice way of spending a Sat night…Amituofo

Chonzenji revisited thoughts

 

It is interesting the impact Chozenji has had on my thoughts, ideas. Re-evaluating ideas, goals, training. Before going I was hoping for a deep impact. Afterward, I was unsure I had any and if so it was small, little by little it surfaced. In my meditation, in my Budo training, Shakuhachi. yeah, it was a deep experience. However subtle. Afterward, due to my expectations a little bitter.

Now after some time has passed I have a more positive outlook. It is still doubtful if I would plan to return. I say doubtful because sometimes, many times, in fact, the Universe has different plans from mine. Man plans, Heaven ordains, something like that is the saying.

I had pretty much though let the thoughts pass. Even after my dearest friend’s comment on my post and her agreement “manners” should have been better from them. Anyway, suddenly a letter shows up in my email box. A reply to the letter I sent after my return. I was surprised.

An apology for the delay in reply. Also an apology for the Roshi being out of town. “No one here is on “payroll” so sometimes things come up which need to be attended to, sometimes travel is needed.” “And in general, we are geared more towards local students who are training long term or folks living in for an extended time.” Yes, as I surmised afterward. Lastly thanks for the referral to others seeking zen practice. Which I had done in a couple of places, as I thought overall it was a worth while place of study, depending on one’s goals. Fair enough I felt much more compassionate after reading and time has passed. I appreciated the writing intent.

Lastly, the question I had asked was about why the hand position. I reader and friend replied privately to me he was aware of that style of hand mantra from other Rinzai sects. The explanation I received from Chozenji: the hand position in zazen — it is a yang position that builds strength. Many other hand positions are more receiving, yielding and yin in their energetic effect.

Ok, now I know more. I understand it is more fitting with the overall philosophy of the temple, “Kiai first”. Building that Yang energy, Ki. It fits their sect.

So now I can close the chapter on the Chozenji Pilgrimage.

 

 

Focus shift : External to Internal

External to Internal

 

In the world of Kung Fu, there is a false calcification of Internal and External Kung Fu. Hard (external) and soft( internal) Kung Fu It’s really all Kung Fu, with the purpose to arrive at the same place, top of the same mountain you could say. The difference is one trains from the external development toward internal development. The other Is the opposite. Example, Tai Chi is considered an internal art it works from inside power to outside power. Ki, breath, centering, then develop external power/strength. Shaolin is an External style working on outside power first, then to an inner power.

What this is about is Kyudo. I consider Kyudo and boarder line art. It is both external and internal at the same time. My opinion. Up until now, I have been focused on the external part. Fixing my form. In Zen there is the thought of form and formless, practice, action. etc. The form is chanting, sitting Zazen, reading sutras. Formless is acts of kindness and compassion, sharing.

In Kyudo I believe the stances, the grip of the bow, the draw, elbows, all forms. Formless would be the breath, the Ki, the mind, the spirit. After much time and frustrations in advancing. I have decided to change my approach. After reading the Book from the Chozenji master, where he states Kiai first, I figure I need to change my training direction. Even if it is is wrong, it can not hurt. I have decided once again to put off the next Shinsa. I am not ready.

I am now putting my focus into my internal workings, the use the building of chi, internal balance on not just shooting, but on all things.

More focus Chi and the waist when doing my Chuan Fa, more focus on Chi, Tan Tien, Hara when playing Shakuhachi. More focus on centering when doing Kyudo. Compacting the breath in the Hara, expanding from there and not the muscles. Sinking more.

I have been at this for the last month since returning from Hawaii. My wife says she thinks I will pass the next exam, my “Ki” has changed, I have leveled up. I do not know about that, but even a small step forward is a step forward.
It is easy in Kyudo, well Federation Kyudo to get caught up in the goal, seeing the rank as the purpose for shooting better. Not just to shoot better, just to shoot better. It is challenging to keep one practice pure. That is one of the nicer things about Kyudo study outside of the Federation. That rank distraction is removed. Practice is simple, you practice to practice, you practice to better your self. Sort of like Soto Zen, when you sit you just sit. In Rinzai there are Koans, breath focus, in some sects, Chi building and movement and just sitting, but the posture needs/should be “right”.

So yeah the struggle with Kyudo continues. It is sort of my Koan, passing to Yondan. I dislike koans! The result of my pilgrimage to Hawaii was I wanted to understand the connecting link between Kyudo, Shakuhachi, Kung Fu better, now it is a matter of applying it, better. That was my lesson from the trip. Everything is connected via the breath, Kiai, the spirit. Really a reenforcement, not a new revelation. As I retrace my shooting past, I shot better when I was focused more on the Formless of shooting instead of the Technique of hitting. Even now, when I just go up to the line and shoot, no care if it hits…I hit. When I care and I get lost on the parts, the mechanics of shooting, I miss. My thought I need to stabilize my Chi more, sink and balance. It is said if one is missing, then it is an internal issue. I am finding inspiration from re-reading some old books. The One Arrow, One life book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and the Ten Shin Myo book.

Overall I am rebuilding my lost budo “spirit”, restoring some forgotten Kung Fu, in front of the Makiwara daily, more walking meditation. Even making shakuhachi practice part of that oneness training. There is no separation, no duality, even though one is not one or two. The whole is not one thing, it is many things, but it is one thing. I have understood this mentally but I believe I need to put this more into actual physical practice when practicing.

ok so I am giving this a shot (hahah), let’s see where it goes…Amituofo

 

Ten Shin Myo

Ten Shin Myo
The Mysterious Wonder of the Universal Mind

Since I have returned from my pilgrimage to ChoZenji I have been piecing together the value, the lessons of the Hawaiian Shugyo. More thought to my Practice, the parts and whole. In recalling some of the words of those I was in contact with during the visit come from the late master Tanouye Tenshin.

After reading his book Ten Shin Myo, I have come to understand more of his path, his philosophy.  I think purchasing the book was the next best thing to getting the classes I wanted. Perhaps in someways better.  I first saw this book and thought it looked interesting, but was not going really buy it, based on what I just glanced at. I am glad I asked the “Resident Priest”, the young one who I thought was … well never mind. He told me the book was a new release and was the life story of the Roshi and how ChoZenji came to be now. Ok, I thought it could be a good read. I was not really expecting alot from it, but, I was wrong…

After I read the book a lot more made sense about the Center. and words the instructors used. One of the things, were Posture, Breath, Focus. These things were part of the core of the Roshi teachings. Also after reading the Ten Shin Myo book I re-read the book by his student, Kenneth Kusher who runs the Wisconsen Chozen archery program. The book called “One Arrow, One Life”. It was the book that got me interested in Chozen. It had been so long, I had forgotten. In re-reading the book, I recalled the desire to study there. It was kind of sad to understand having been there, that part of the study there is gone. Although if one is looking for this Zen/Budo/fine Art training via Kendo or another Art other than Kyudo, I say go for it!
The is no real place other than the Wisconsen for this type of Zen training in Kyudo. At least on a live in bases. There are good programs and teachers around. Such as Sensei Rick Beal out of Ca. Who holds workshops and seminars around the globe. He is a Zen Priest, a Martial Artist, and a Kyudo Sensei. If he was a musician it would be perfect, but no! 🙂

A far as Hawaii Chozen, and the book “One Arrow One Life”. A lot of things said in the arrow book made much more sense now. Not only because of having been there, read the master’s thoughts, but my own Cha’n and Kyudo growth.

I had gone to Chozen with the hope of improving my Kyudo. Then with the off chance hope of making some connection with Kyudo, Shakuhachi and Zen. Other than my own mental theories which I could not quite put into words.
Unexpectedly I was able to find that link in training. The thread of spirit that runs through them. It is partly in the statement of Posture, Breath and Focus, a good training focus for everything, but it goes deeper than that. As the Roshi said “Kiai first”, with that in the front, Zazen, Kyudo, Tai Chi, Shakuhachi, Sword, Ceramics, Tea are all linked tightly. All are expressions of one’s CHI. How you tap into that is via, Posture, Breath, Focus.
In Kyudo when I focus on drawing, opening the Bow only… my muscles are used. I can feel my power balance high. When I focus on Tan Tien and expanding that, my muscles are more relaxed power is lower, expanding is a full body experience not just a muscular,  balance is more stable. It is said in the Kyudo handbook that proper breath within the moves of Kyudo brings life to all the movements and shooting.

With Shakuhachi, breath is stronger, but more controlled, note has life, is stable.

In Kung Fu/Tai Chi, Movements have more power, spirit when used with the breath, center is lower, stances are more stable.

The Arrow, the Music Note, the punch, the kick, the clay bowl, the grouping of flowers, the brush stroke, the pouring of Tea, all are outward expressions of our Chi. The stronger our Chi, the better our control of it, the better, clearer, more accurate, sublime, colorful is it’s expression. The core of understanding, tapping into, controlling that is meditation.

Another unexpected meal of knowledge from the books came in the form of the Roshi’s speaking on Sound, vibrations, and connecting with people. He spoke of touching their spirit with sound, with the vibration of the sound. He was also a musician, so his understanding of it was in depth. His referrals to sound were in his thoughts on chanting. He felt not enough focus was given to chanting to older people, beyond the age of starting a hardcore physical Shugyo. or even as a “DO/Tao” !

Although aimed at chanting as a “Tao/Do”, Shado, Kendo, etc. All he was saying to my mind also related to Shakuhachi playing or SuiZen. The sound as was something I had thought of about when doing Komuso practice, a wordless transmission of dharma. However I had not thought of it in terms of vibrations as a label. I had thought of tone effecting Chakras, and healing, but of course that would be in the realm of vibrations. Some tones vibrate the head more than others. Bass is a low vibrations, earthy, one feels it in your body. This is how one touches people with sound, matching their vibrations. We are walking electric patterns and vibrations.

When doing Komuso Takuhatshu something ( the vibe, sound, note) “touches” people, something harmonized with their spirit, personal vibe enough, they feel moved to donate. Even if not the sound pleasure, vibe, was their gift for that moment. Maybe some vibration was given to them that was helpful, up-lifting in some way. Some songs can do that even without having words. It is the cords, the tones, the vibes of that/those tones. That is the Modern Komuso Takuhatsu, we give, without asking for anything. It is the Buddhist giving to humanity, being engaged, through sound. Abiding in the Law of Cause and Effect, engaging the Six Paramitas. The Komuso Takuhatsu is also our Shugyo.

According to Tanouye Tenshin enlightenment is not limited to a mental experience. It can be via physical as well. Once one goes into the “field” or Mindset of Samadhi via whatever the means, meditation Sitting, motion, picking weeds, doing Kung Fu, washing the dishes, the break through comes because you are in a receiving state of mind.

So in a final wrap ChoZenji was a worthwhile pilgrimage. I did receive some enlightening insight from it all. However not the Sensei for Kyudo I hoped to find in the flesh.

Another good note from Kyudo acquired from the trip is I did receive some helpful advise from a Senior. What he told me about the thumb pressure I would not have been able to understand in Japanese. It may not be a big game changer for getting to Yondan, however little things add up. So I ended up with something for the outside and inside to work on to improve my Kyudo.

For the Kung Fu efforts in Hawaii. I was able to get a vid of a Sihing doing a form I wanted to relearn. It was done slow enough that I could follow and review. Some parts are a little different from my Shifu. but it is ok. Reactivating this set, will help fill out my personal training “Tao”.

I do feel more reactivated myself for training since the trip. So it was good to get me re-energized with training.

So although not as I had planned, the Pilgrimage was successful. It just took me until now to figure out just how it effected me. While I do not recommend Chozenji for everyone. To all those doing any form of Budo, Art and Zen, I do recommend their book:

Ten Shin Myo
The Mysterious Wonder of the Universal Mind.
The Way of Zen Master Tanouye Tenshin

 

“Zen is to transcend life and death (all dualism), to truly realize that the entire universe is the “True Human Body”, through the discipline of ‘mind and body in oneness’. Miyamoto Niten (Musashi) called it iwo no mi (body of a huge boulder-going through life rolling and turning like a huge boulder), Yagyu Sekishusai named it Marobashi no michi* (a bridge round like a ball- being in accord with the myriad changes of life). Besides this actual realization, there is nothing else.”

Zen without the accompanying physical experience is nothing but empty discussion. Martial ways without truly realizing the “Mind” is nothing but beastly behavior. We agree to undertake all of this as the essence of our training.”*

…Omori Sogen Roshi

…and Now for Something Completely Different

 

 

Shakuhachi Blues in the Temple Cafe

Now getting back to Japan life. There is a lot going on, it has already started a few days ago. Several band performances, Just finished one at the Sakai city Blues festival. Maybe a post about that…maybe. Up coming a performance at My SuiZen temple, Myoanji and just finished a small prayer, and visit and performance at the temple of a new friend.

Via my Komuso Sempai in Nara I made the acquaintance of another Priest Shakuhachi Player. He has a temple that is not too far from here. Just below Kobe. I go out that area from time to time, because of the Band, or Boating. Shibata Sensei’s temple runs what they call a café, once a month. Hot drinks, snacks, misc items for sale, neck massages, card telling, musical entertainment. It runs all day. From 11- 5:00. Very casual and low key.

This Priest is looking to bring more of the Shakuhachi into his Buddhist practice. He already plays at some of the temple services. He is not Zen he is of the Jodu sect. He holds formal weekly services.

I contacted him via FaceBook and made arrangements to attend the next Café, so we can do a face to Face meeting and chat. He spoke no English and my Japanese is basic and poor. However, I have nothing to lose by going and giving it my best shot to communicate. What could go wrong…

The day arrives I get directions with the help of my wife and I set off on a mini Shakuhachi adventure. I found the location rather easy and entered the Temple Yard. I was taken with the large Buddha statue. That was my first stop, bow then on to the temple. I heard voices when I enter, but I saw no one. I looked about a bit and saw through some glass and reeds people leaving a small garden. They were just on the other side of what could be a small tea room or sitting room.

I made my way to the door they were heading toward. There I met Sensei. We did the intro formalities and I was taken up stairs. There was more people than I expected there. A few sitting around a large fire pit, roasting coffee, then in another connecting room which was a large space, there were several small booth tables, food, etc out from there chairs. Next an open space which was the “stage area”, off from that a table with chairs. It was quite the place. The Sensei introduced me, then we went into another section. This was the temple “Heart”, where the ceremonies are done. We talked there for a while. I might have been asked to join now or the next ceremony, would I play?? or something. Anyway, a pray/chant, something started, a few people came. We took places at the “fish” drum/beater. Sensei explained some things, I did not understand also about following his beat.

OK we started he started chanting, then started the beat on the drumette. We followed. those who knew the words or could read them chanted along. Me I made the sound and beat the drum. It felt cool. I did not feel out-of-place, for some reason. It felt very “Native”, very basic beating this drum and chanting.

Next Sensei asked me to play. Hmm ok. I did the Tamuke offering, Fuu style. I was not bound by any “rules” on what or how to play. I was able to use a headset, which was cool. I could hear clearly what I was playing as could those in the temple hall. I dig that I could hear and so I did not think I just played.

I did not clearly know what was going. I said, I would play another tune and did something contemporary. I thought this was all part of the ” TempleCafe“. Even though I was not asked. I thought something for the Buddha, something for the folks, since I was there. Turns out I did not have that over my head.

I finished the second song and then the guy managing “the club” came in and ask would I also play in the Cafè. I thought that is what I did. Now I had used up the one non-hyukyoku I had prepared. Oh well. ON-ward, breathe…

Ok I said. We then, all in the temple hall, moved to the other section were, others sat, drank, ate, listened to the ukulele player.

I met a few other people there , one of who spoke English. I grabbed a chair and watched the show, also chatting with Sensei some. Also with the show “MC” he spoke just a little English, but we communicated. He would like me to play a song after the next act. Did I want the Ukulele player to help me? I said sure let have him and I play together. I had been thinking that for a few moments after listening to him. I felt I should have something other than “Fuu’s Tamuke” to play or any Honkyoku. Also I had done Summertime already in the Temple. Having thought I was doing the performance. Yeah, so I was only planning to do one song this time. I figured quickly to jot down a few simple cords changes on a paper and give it to the guy. Basic I/V/IV.

I said yes, we can play together…ok.

I sat through the next act. This was the Ukulele player and a woman who played an old style flute that was like a “gourd”. She was/they were pretty good.
I was up next. I was not nervous, I felt pretty relaxed during the intro…and then show time. I counted off and we started. The guy played pretty good and I tried to blend into his pattern and the changes. It went ok. The people enjoyed it, I was not that please, as it was “all just then”, birth on the spot.

It is kind of a “Mindmelt” with playing with strangers and a new piece of music. Even if it is just two cords, behaps that is more of a challenge. One reaches out with your spirit to touch another(s) and create another form, eity. This song, this vibration, and share it, giving it to humanity. It is weird, interesting amazing when one thinks about it…

I was ok with the piece. I heard a small bit of the recording. It was i the beginning, unsteady… Like a child walking. It started to find it’s balance just as the film was cut.

The people enjoyed it, it was one time vibration they experienced. So it was successful. I was asked to play one more. ehhhh,

oh snap, what am I going to play now? I thought…

Ok I fell back on Summertime. Since no one there heard it before other than Sensei. Also I never play it the same way. A little longer version with a bit more “flavor”. So it was done. People were impressed I think. Surprised for sure. Good chi was raise, so…cool

I was just pleased they enjoyed it and I did not lose face. I figured I would be asked to play that is why I brought my shakuhachi. This whole meeting was about Shakuhachi. Ok I was done. I played in the Temple for the Buddha offering and I played in the Cafè for the people. It was very Buddhist in for the benefit of society way. It was engaged, but private, sort of like doing Komuso Missionary.

I hung out for a while longer afterwards and just watched. When leaving I came across Sensei in the temple Hall with some others. He was telling them about … something to do with the shrine there. He brought out a couple of long Shakuhachi for me to look at. They were quite nice. He played a song for the couple. Amazing Grace. Japanese seem to like that song. Hmm gives me an idea for the next visit.

I put the wraps on my visit and made my way out.
I will return…Amitoufo

 

Return to Paradise…Epilogue – the good, the bad, the meh

 

Epilogue

I have been back in Japan for two weeks now. I have had really mix feelings about the trip as it all digested.

Honolulu left me kind of sad. So many homeless and poor living on the street, yet so much money all around. I had not noticed it so much when I was living there, or even on return visits. Did my eyes open more or there is just more of it…
I did get to see some examples of the Aloha spirit. Also most of the people I encounter were nice.

The visit to Hsu Yun temple was positive. Also relaxing in a different kind of way. The temple was impressive. It felt good to get some prayer time in and honor my elders. I would have like to have found a spot to just sit Zazen. They do not have a park just the temples. I could have sat there in the lower level, but I was too self-consequence at the time.

The Kyudokai people were great! I enjoyed shooting with them. If I ever go back I will take up the invite to return and shoot with them. That was fun. Nice folks, felt welcome.

As for Chozenji the main part of the visit. Hmmmm. Very mixed feelings. The instructors that I encountered were kind, friendly and helpful…The staff…hmmm…

hmmm. I had told the young woman I first met up with that I had been trying for 10 years to come there and train. I told her on the first email contact, I was interested in Kyudo, Tai Chi, Ceramics, beside the Zazen which I had experience in all of them. Then I asked if there was a shakuhachi person there as I had seen/heard shakuhachi in their pictures/video. I also played that and was interested in speaking to the teacher. I was really looking forward to practice there. To find a Sensei who did, Zen, Kyudo and Shakuhachi and spoke English was like a dream come true..

I had also told her I had a background in teaching Zazen and yet she stuck to the rule of having everyone attend the intro to meditation class before anything. Even when there was a just Zazen session I could have attended to put in part of my quota for admission to classes. This Intro class was supposed to be an hour. I received a tour of the grounds and some background on Chozenji. We talked, I thought we had a connection.  After the tour, it took her 10-15 min to explain a very few formalities to their sittings. We sat for maybe another 10-15, then we joined the main group as it started. There were two of us in the intro class, her and me…

I was told during our email conversation that after my orientation we would talk and discuss what path(s) would be available for me there. However, after orientation I was simply asked when I wanted to return and dismissed, kendo class was starting. The talk never happen, I never knew what I could do. I had to just rolled with it…

I asked to be allowed to just hang out and practice on my own for one day between classes. I was told no, by the Young manager priest. We have rules, he says. Not a good idea he says…

There is a story I heard about the founder. He had studied many Marital Arts. On one of his trips to Japan he wanted to study Hojo a form of Kendo a two person form. He asked the master for lessons. He was told, you do not have time in your three-day visit. Come back when you have three years! He requested since he had come from Hawaii to learn could he at least be shown some basics. The master agreed, bending a Japanese rule, which is rare. The story goes he learned so well and fast that in the three days he completed the training, then returned to Hawaii to add that to his other training styles. Japan is the land of sticking to the rules. However the master gave Tanouye Tenshin some slack because he had travelled far. So therefore taught him. Yet, I travelled from Japan to Hawaii to learn, I was unable to attend the classes I wanted, but would not even be given permission to practice on my own, instead of spending hours riding the bus back and forth…

Perhaps that too was a form of training, and I was/am too young to understand…

Maybe it was the three times asking test and I failed…

I upon my return to Japan I wrote a thank you letter to the person I contacted at first. I thanked her for allowing me to visit. I said, although I was sad I could not get the training I wanted or speak with the person I wanted, I still learned somethings. Even some were indirectly that I could relate to my Shakuhachi. I was grateful for that experience. I said also appreciated the contact I had with certain Sensei(s) even though limited. I then asked a question about why at that school they sit with their hands in a certain position, holding the left thumb with the right hand. Which is completely different from other Buddhist hand positions, I have encountered. I also apologized for any disharmony I may have cause unintentionally. This was almost two weeks ago, I have received no reply…

No replies to polite sincere questions always irks me…

One of their motto’s is “Kiai first” where does manners come in?

It is common practice in the Buddhist community at least and/or perhaps more so in Japan when someone Gassho bows to you, the bow is returned. Even just a head nod. This is a Renzai Japanese Buddhist Sect, I did not receive any such respect from the Young Priest who seemed to be acting head Priest or maybe just some type of managing staff priest. Certainly not an elder. Ok, perhaps it was just a cultural thing. Once he just walked by like I was invisible, after I bowed…rude. Although a few of the young monks in training there did return the gesture. So what’s the deal…

The more I reflect on these things, as I also reflect on the lessons learned, the more irked and saddened I become. Would I return…hmmm

That maybe a moot point, once/if they ever come across and read my blog. I may not be allowed back…LoL, banned for life. I have gotten in hot water before for speaking my mind on my blog. LoL. Oh well, my experience, my thoughts, my truth, my blog.

If I lived on the island yes, it is the place to go for Zen and Budo training, more so since the fee is by donation. The donation is not pushed at all, one has to ask about making a donation. That is admirable and unusual. They get points for that. It is mostly all about sharing their path, more points. People can volunteer work effort as well as money.

Would I recommend it…if one is coming to Honolulu and has the interest in having that experience, Yes. In fact I already have to an old friend.

If one is going to fly there with the solo purpose of training there, NO…
but that is depending…on your background and desires.
Just because it was lacking for me does not mean it will be for someone else.

Would I return there, doubtful, unless I have another reason to be on Honolulu, NO!

If I could return and do a sesshin with the base of actual Kyudo and/or Tai Chi, as the focus of the marital training, Yes!
However their Tai Chi is not a Martial Art base style. So that will not happen. Their Kyudo, is not Kyudo any more. I was told they still do Kyudo, but that is not often. A seminar maybe 2 times a year.

Also a week of a diet filled with hot dogs, other meat, and junk food for substance does not appeal to my basic Buddhist Philosophy. Or my personal “Tao”…

The philosophy of everything, all arts, everything is Zen, there is no duality between movement Zen and sitting Zen. All is Zen, Zen is both mind and body this Philosophy at Chozenji is pure and good.

However it stops are what you put into the body???
At Sonoma Mtn Zen Center they grow their own veggies. The week of Kyudo Sisshen/Shugyo spent there was great.

I had before going there some dream of this being a place I could go to train advance levels of Kyudo! Then finding out there was also a shakuhachi master, who did kyudo. I thought gold mine. Zen training, Kyudo and Shakuhachi in English, a pot of gold. The ceramics, Tai Chi and Aikido were icing. I was disappointed with the truth/reality. However truth is sometimes, perhaps many times like that…Disappointing! Truth is truth, regardless of our perception or vision or desire of it. It is what it is, and our perception of it gets shattered, is our suffering. However I would still recommend the experience to a beginner who lives on the Island.

 

I am currently reading a book I purchased there at Chozenji. I will be near finished when I post this. It is called Ten Shin Myo. It is basically the story of Zen Master Tanouye Tenshin and the development of Chozenji. I believe at one time Chozenji was a wonderful place to make the pilgrimage to for Zen and Budo training in America. In a way it still is, as it is a unique place. One should hold no vision of what it is or should be. A blank sheet, a mound of clay. Be water going into that place.

However for me, from my brief visit there, it is a ghost, a shadow of what it once was…or could be. However to be fair my involvement was sadly limited. Perhaps if I was able to have more contact with some of the elders I would have a different opinion. There is another Chozenji it is in Wisconsin. I have no feeling, no draw to there, so for me to go there seeking training is worthless. However perhaps for another it will be enlightening. I wonder about their Kyudo though. To me Hawaii had a special draw. The Chi of the Island, the native people are special…

Another thing I was drawn to about Chozenji is the founder Tanouye Tenshin. I heard great things about him. A native Hawaiian, a man of color. A Zen Master of color, who established a Zen society and did wonderful things. Like my late Abbot also a man of Color, of Native American and Mexican blood. I am finishing up reading Tanouye Tenshin story and the story of Chozenji. Wow, a musician, a healer, a Zen master, a visionary, respected by many and all he encountered. I read some about him in the Kyudo book. One Arrow, One Life. I wanted to experience some Kyudo at this placed called Chozenji. Kyudo beyond belts and rank, with focus on the Zen aspect.

I started to re-read the book that got me interested in Chozenji, “One Arrow, One Life”. Yeah, sad how it has changed so much since then, the master Passed away, a Wonderful Kyudojo going to waste. There is something I find interesting…the current head of the Archery has a background in Kyudo, but I was told he prefers shooting multiple arrows in the time it takes to shoot a couple of kyudo arrows. More is better, however this “head” is also a shakuhachi teacher , and tells his students, at least one I spoke to , that one can spend thier whole life playing just one note to get it right. Shakuhachi is a Zen tool not an musical instrument. Hmmm So how is it different with Kyudo and The philosophy One Arrow, one Life…SuiZen: One note, Enlightenment…

Sigh…

A friend of mine also visited Chozenji, he had a week of intensive training. He is a Kyudoka, priest and Karateka. His experience was different, and this was many years in the past under different leaders and teachers. Things change it the way of life.

Chozenji Hawaii, If one is there, or going there to Honolulu it is worth the effort to visit, take a few classes, sit with them to form your own opinion. Mine is neither fully positive nor negative. I am of both minds.  Zen is about finding one’s own “understanding ” of truth, not blindly accepting another’s view, vision, understanding. Not Buddha’s, not mine. Buddha said question everything and find your own answer. One must experience truth to fully understand it.

All of this is just my opinion and perhaps is just full of broken illusions and I am still grasping attachments which are shadows. Silly me, perhaps I need a smack…

Amituofo

Return to Paradise… Kyudo at ChoZenji

 

Return to Paradise… Kyudo at ChoZenji

Sat came around there was morning classes at ChoZenji, but no evening stuff, zero on the weekend at night. Overall the amount of classes is limited. Maybe due to the are taught by volunteers.  Sat. during the day there was an array of classes at the center’s dojo. After the sitting of course, there was flower arranging, calligraphy, Aikido and “zen” archery .

 

I arrive at the Center early and sat in the community room, with several of the others. Everyone was introduced and what they did. An archery person was introduced. I said, oh you will be teaching the archery. He was a bit surprised and said. “I am just a student”…
The young head priest, (remember this guy he will come up later) says. Oh, you might as well teach, since Honda Roshi is traveling! Honda Roshi is the main guy for Kyudo also he is a Shakuhachi sensei. He is the one I really really wanted to see while there at the center. Major bummer he was not returning until next week!! Crap! Yet another downer! Anyway, after some chit chat with another senior there who was doing Aikido, I think or something. We all went to the main Hall to do Zazen. This time I had no problem with posture, only with my leg falling asleep, but that happens. 
Afterward, everyone split up and went to what class they were doing. I noticed the Archery guy went to the Kyudojo. The Young priest says to me there is a flower arranging class and demo being held, you can attend. I said, what about the archery? He replied oh, with Honda Roshi traveling it maybe not be a good day for that! Then he walks off. Humph, I thought, I will see about that and went to the Kyudojo, to speak with the guy who opened it up. Kyudo, Tai Chi, Shakuhachi was my whole purpose for coming. Yet I kept getting cut and shorted out from attending. I was not about to just take it with no questions. Sometimes you got to flow and sometimes you gotta take a stand. The bamboo bends but it has deep roots. In Tai Chi we bend to power but we stay rooted.
The Archery was getting set up when I came over. I explained to him my interest and background. He said well you can shoot with us no problem. I asked if I could do Kyudo not western archery, I’ve been there did that not really interested. He said sure, you can just go for it and not follow us. We ( him and one other guy, Les who had helped me before when first starting the Zazen) will just do our routine. We shoot about 12 arrows, then do the ChoZenji 10 step TaiChi, then shoot 12 again, then TaiChi, then repeat. This was explained by the other person, Les, who was I found out later is a senior, and that ran the Tai Chi Class. He had some other background in TaiChi I found out, and said he did a little Kyudo before and still had a glove. However, had not shot in a long time. Les was quite talkative, nice and helpful. He had been there for a long time and knew the founder and had trained Zen under him. As it also turned out he was familiar with my Chan teacher Zing Ming. He asked me are you also a priest? I saw you wearing a Rakuso, which I wore the first couple of days! He then went on to tell me his wife was friends with a white woman who went to China and became ordained, who lived in Las Vegas. Wow! I was shocked. I got a few interesting stories about the late master there from Les. We developed a connection.

Ok, so they got set up as did I. The equipment was funky! I found a bow I could use, however, I needed to re-tie the string. It was way too loose! The bow would flip around to it’s unstrung state when I shot. That took some time to correct. Next I had to find arrows. The only ones near my length were Makiwara ya, with Makiwara feathers. Sigh. After trying to shoot them and not have them not go near where I was aiming to shoot, I looked for some different ones. There was another set of range mato arrows, however, they were short for me, quite short, since I had no other choice than the markiwara ya, I figured I would try at least. With a lot of conscious effort, I was able to shoot. As I drew the bow I had to keep touching the tip of the arrow to see how far I had left to draw safely. Then I needed to compensate my right pull to be able to straighten my left arm as it should be. I was able to make a couple of hits, after much effort. It was a challenge but I was able to pull it off being fully mindful of what I was doing. I guess in a way it was helpful because I had to really pay attention to all parts of my draw.

The others continued with their shooting. A woman joined us. So the three of them did western shooting I did Japanese. In order to maintain harmony with the flow of shooting and fetching the arrows, I set my timing with them so everyone could retrieve their arrows at the same time. They shot 12 arrows to my 2. Their twelve arrows time also included them doing their weird funky, to me, Tai Chi. Which should have not even been called Tai Chi! I was told the founding master had learned Tai Chi Chuan in China. He was very accomplished in many Budo arts. He had several high ranks in Judo, Kendo, Karate, maybe more things which I can not recall. It is said he was a martial art genius.

He took what he considered the most important elements of the long form of Tai Chi Chuan and condensed it down to 10 steps. It was not supposed to be a Budo from, but a way to build “Chi/Ki” and focus the mind and spirit for shooting or whatever. There was also a loud Kiai in the form at times. It was a Zen tool for them, not a “Budo” or even a health art. Ok, I thought it was lame watching them do it, but that was just my opinion and perhaps a reflection of their skill. Either way, it was just my opinion which does not matter. So yeah, their 12 shots to my 2 shots. Kind of funny when you think about. I reflected at one point that my going through one cycle of Shooting with the correct breath, grounded stance, mindfulness was much more centering, calming, a release of attachments, focusing, Ki building than the soft karate they were doing. Just my opinion. If it worked for them, the program and the master…so be it! This went on for about an hour.

It was brought up at some point, not by me that maybe I could come In and shoot on my own since the Kyudojo was not being used much and I was coming back on Monday for an early class plus later that evening or another class. It made sense I could just hang out there and practice on my own, no one would be there using it. I thought as well it would be great. I had seen a back room where there were longer Ya so I thought ahhh! That would be cool! I would ask. We closed up the Dojo and I was shown how to put things away.

Les and I chatted for a while about, Tai Chi and his current Tai Chi teacher. Not the current in change person there. This was someone the founder or ex-master recommend he train with or something like that, to learn full Tai Chi. Anyway, he was I find out the person there at Chozenji that runs the Tai Chi class. I would join this class on Monday. Anyway, we spoke of misc martial things and training there at Chozenji. The difference between the old ways with the founder and former master and the current young admin, and his sometimes displeasure, with the new “way”. Also the strong point of the Martial art training there was Kendo/Hojo. A Shotokan Karate class was just added fro Sunday’s.

Afterward, I went back to the community room to gather my stuff to go to my hotel. The young head priest in charge since the master was traveling was there. When I came in he says. Oh, so you got to shoot! How was it? I said it was challenging, I had some issues with equipment. He replies I learned early on it is not the equipment but the shooter!

I took a breath…and replied, gently. I was feeling/reading a certain “vibe” from his comment. One could say the hairs on the back of my neck bristled a bit. I deepened my breath and then spoke. Yes, that is true, except in the case of safety and being the wrong equipment for me. The arrows were way too short, the string was not tied correctly. If I did not take care and make adjustments I or someone could have lost an eye or gotten otherwise injured. However, I did make it work, as I said it was just a challenge. My reply was not in a mean or a smart-ass way as he was in charge. I was respectful.

 

Next, I say, ahh since you are here I have a few questions, is that ok? He says ok, so I continue. Since we are talking Kyudo …I will be back on Monday for the early morning class and then that evening for the Tai Chi class. Is it possible for me to just hang out here and practice on my own? He says… I do not think that is a good idea. We have ways set, and it is better to have someone there who knows our way and rules. We do not want to get into just letting people come in and do their own thing. So not really a good idea. Ok, I say and drop the subject. 
I roll to the next question…

I ask; the music you were playing the other night, that was not a Honkyoku was it? Now he replies, that was something from Honda Sensei, we play Shakuhachi as Zen tool, not as a musical instrument. We use it to develop breath and the like. Some times blowing until we completely empty the full breath, not in keeping with a musical piece. It is ChoZenji Shakuhachi not a music piece like most people play these days. Me: again a breath and reply hmmm Honkyoku are Zen pieces. He said, not with most people I know, most I encounter they are playing as them as music. Honda sensei says one can play one note your whole life to work on getting it right, developing it fully, as Zen training. It is about breath and mindfulness… I say slowly “those you have met in your circle”. Yes, he says in my circle. I drop the subject again.

I move on to safer ground.

The next thing I ask is about some books that are there, earlier had I noticed for sale. In Hindsight, maybe I should have started with that question first. A couple of the books are about the founder, the late master. His background and philosophy. Basically how ChoZenji came to be as it is. One of the books is a recent publication. He also shows me a couple of smaller older books. He suggests if you are interested in purchasing I would recommend these two. I thanked him and asked if it was cash only or could I charge it? Charging was ok, I am told.

I next asked about making a donation, I saw envelopes. I was told where to do it. Donations were not something that they pushed on people. The person had to want to make it enough that they asked about to do it. Ohhh, different from other places. Ok, Thanks. Or maybe this would have been a good starting place first. Oh well.

I made the arrangement and purchase via his “girlfriend” I believe she is, from watching how she serves him lunch, maybe, maybe not, but I got that vibe. She is the first person I was dealing with when I was arranging to visit and did my orientation and gave me the tour. She was nice enough I thought at the time. Even though she would not let me join right into the Zazen when I arrive, therefore wasting a day. She was fairly pleasant and professional.

I went back to the hotel afterward not feeling pleased with the whole exchange. Feeling like this guy has an attitude. Not extreme, but it is there. I told my wife she thought it was the typical White vs Black attitude he had, that many have. He was being hateful. I was not so sure about that. Attitude yes, but racial, not so sure. More of a, I know it all, I am in power type of attitude.

The more I thought about it the more I was irked about it, and not just him, but the sense I felt there. Having traveled from Japan to experience the center I felt they should be a bit more accommodating. I asked to attend a Zazen session on my first day. I said I had the experience,  I could follow along fairly easy. But was told no! I had to wait until the proper orientation class. In which it took all of 15 min or less for her to explain things and was the only one attending the intro class. Therefore causing, me to waste a whole day of the trip and miss a class I wanted. Now this, with the denial of grounds use, so I would not have to spend hours traveling back and forth to the dojo. Hmmm. Not really helpful folks, are they.  I thought more and got more irked, however also came the thought. Why should it be all about you (me) why should I get special treatment, just because I traveled a long way? That was an ego minded thought. One thing came to mind often during this thought process was something I was told in the beginning ” we here are more in the Japanese tradition than Hawaiian tradition.” Also recalling something I read about they do not encourage just casual visitors or something like that.

“we discourage tourists and recreational visitors from attending zazen or class.”

Just because I did not consider myself a recreational visitor, does not mean the same to them.

With that thought came the ahhh moment! Hawaiian style is laid back, more flexible. Japanese are not flexible, the rule, the way is the way. It can not be changed! Although they are doing just that with their Kyudo, Tai Chi, junk food treats and meals. It is still their way, their “DO“! What an ego, I had to make things about me, I am nothing, but a passing visitor to their home, center, Way ( Do ). Ok, my bad…

Once that clicked in place. I was able to let the negative thoughts go…mostly. When I told my wife that she said ahh yes, he is not being mean he is following the Japanese way. He is in charge and has to follow the rules.

Still though…a bit of compassion and consideration goes a long ways…Amituofo

Next off to Hsu Yun Chan Buddhist temple…

 

“Koten-shakuhachi-kenkyuu-kai”

“Koten-shakuhachi-kenkyuu-kai”

Society for the Study of Classical Shakuhachi

 

We had our monthly meeting a few days ago. The day before my return to Shitennoji to play. So it was another good chance to practice in front of serious ears.

Today we were supposed to have a guest. A student of Oliver, a sempai to me of course. He is a college prof and a writer. You can read his blog/webpage here on Komuso, shakuhachi,  Ok,  so his student from China who is visiting in Japan was going to be there. Hopefully, she would bring her Chinese Koto and play.

I was coming for sure that day. I came from another part of town than usual, I wanted to attend a Buddhist meetup I had been pushing off for a long time. A spent a lot of lost time that morning searching for the location. However, all of that is another story. I arrived at the Shaku group meeting a little later than planned but not enough to have missed a lot. I needed to pick up food to bring and grab something to eat then.

I slipped in and joined in the song that was upcoming on the agenda. A short while later another elder sempai bows his way in. We continue and also repeat Cho Shi together once more.

The way is made around the table for everyone to play a solo piece. I did Tamuki as a test for the Komuso offering event at Shitennoji. ( FYI: that whole story is on the Komuso blog). It went over ok, no one gave up any corrections except do not move the flute around so much. ( I was trying to find the sweet spot). The correction I was given last time I got the ok nod from another sempai when I asked him it was, ok? So ok, past that. I am feeling better about the performance on Sunday.

The visitor is up. She says she will not play shakuhachi but will play her Koto for the group. Perfect! we all some questions about the Koto as she was tuning. We all looked it over from all angles.

When she played it was heavenly. We all loved it. It was suggested that since I was the musician that she and I do a song together. If there was the time I would have liked that, however, I was feeling a bit shy about that at the moment as was she, so neither of us stepped to make it happen. Thinking back now I should have tried. It was not like a big deal to sound bad. Hahahah. It would have been all in fun. Sometimes being humble and shy is a fun blocker. I still need to step out of my comfort zone more, yet another personal challenge to work on….Amitoufo

 

 

Sessions…

Session by the Sea

Sessions are kind of like sex. It is usually good, but sometimes it is great! Depends on your partners. My last visit to Snafkin, I was invited to attend another session there on the 18th, which was yesterday! I was not sure who would be there. However, I was looking forward to it as there were going to be at least a couple of people I knew and played with before.
I had contacted another local musician, a mandolin player I meet at a session at Chicago Rock. We are in the same age group and he lives nearby. I played with him at Chicago Rick a couple of times and we rode the same twin home once before. I invited him to attend the session, but I was n to sure if he would. The keyboard player I have worked with and is perhaps one of my favorite players was scheduled to be there, but he said he was not sure about the time or appearance because of work. I was expecting the percussionist I have played with several times to be there, so I was told. 
The day arrives and I make ready to attend. I had three songs picked out to do. Really just two but this was just in case. I had no idea how long I was to play. I was even ready if I had to do with just myself and drums. 
It was nice it was not super cold, even though I was dressed for it! The temps were mild. I made my way to the cafe! It was not as crowded as I expected. Also, several people, I was expecting to be there were not. But it was ok. I arrived and said my hellos, I was pleased to see the mandolin player there. I was expecting him to be there to do a free Jam, but he said he was there for me! Cool, I thought. I also saw the keyboard player there already. However no percussionist. Ok, no big deal, we have played San-percussion before. 
There were a couple of acts before me. I sat, watched and grooved with them. One of them was another friend. I played with her a couple of times, she and played shamisen with me other times. Tonight she just had her keyboardist and sang. 
Soon I was up. I gathered my players, piano, and mandolin. It took a few minutes to figure out what we were doing and get things setup mic wise. The keyboardist was a little unsure about a couple of songs I spoke of, so I chose to stick with some simple blues. I also found out he remembered how I did Summertime and he played it in the right key for the Shakuhachi I brought along.
The first song was my version of “I hear my train coming,” by Hendrix. It is sort of a Jazzy funk blues. I have done it several places now. It fits me, and the people always seem to like it. It works with any group/band I am finding. Next up was “Summertime”. I played Shakuhachi on this and no bass, which I played in the first song. People are always surprised to see me bring out the Shakuhachi. Not something one expects to see for a Blues player. I was more prepared on what to expect this time as far as mixing the Shakuhachi. So that went ok. Another thing that had come to me when practicing. Is that I should be playing now, as when doing Honkyoku, it focuses on the notes, not how many I played, or how fast a run, but the feeling, the quality, tone, character of the notes. It made the playing better. Also made me less excited and able to blow more evenly instead of losing notes to just air sound. Even though that still happened at times. Overall it went very well. That was really my biggest concern is how will my Shakuhachi playing sound. It is still new to me in this venue. When we finished, we got a good response. From the band and the audience. 
My last song was a simple blues, but in a way sort of complex because of the rhythm change. Usually, I try to explain that to the players, but tonight I did not. I was going to keep it simple and just feel our way through it. Piano, Bass, harp, mandolin, and a guitarist joined us. We did the final song, almost perfect the tempo change came naturally and we flowed right into it. It was great. Again we were all impressed and pleased with the outcome. My only regret is that I did not record. I had thought about it, but after speaking with my friend about taking pictures and she wanted to use the camera, it slipped my mind to turn on my recorder on my smartphone. Oh well. It was sort of like a Zen thing, it was only to be experienced at that moment.
Afterward, we hung out a little, before my friend the Mandolin player and I walked to the train for our trip home. He gave me a lead on another good place to go fo Blues sessions, that was fairly local which also had good players to attend. Nice! I will be checking it out. Also, I am thinking more now about adding this mandolin to my personal group idea. I had thought of mandolin being more of a country sound, but this guy worked it with the blues. People at the club were impressed with his playing. I was even more impressed than when I heard him before. In this setting it was nice, nothing was too loud, so it all could be joyed, unlike at Chicago Rock where everything is so loud.
So yeah, like sex with the right partner, the session was great, a learning experience and a blessing…Amitoufo

Session @ the Rock

I had a gig a week earlier at Chicago Rock. I was part of a trio that the Chicago Rock Master had assembled. We had no rehearsal and no song list before the show. We three had played together once before again with no rehearsal just did it off the cuff. The other time we had Jo-San the keyboard player, this time no. Still even though very very loud it went over well. I was told to turn up my bass. That is really different! I neede to turn it up so it could be heard in the sitting room. In Chicago Rock, one small room is where the band is, the stage of sorts. The other room is where the people sit and drink. I had to turn up so loud it sounded distorted coming out of the amp. I did some recording that night, but because the Bass was so loud and the smartphone mic was not able to handle it, it sounded crappy when I played back. Generally, we, the band sounded pretty good, but the distortion was BAD on the recording. Which is really too bad a couple of songs we actually sounded good on! I am not sure what will happen with this group if I will play again? Nothing was said and I left pretty soon after we finished. I did not even stick around to see if there was enough income money to pay us. I chatted with a woman singer, for a short time who spoke some English. Then I took off for home. It was a good night.

Session Izumisano

Ok last on the music train. My friend the Percussionist, contacted me the other day. The day before the Snafkin session asking me to come by a show he was doing nearby my home. Usually, when I am invited it is to play something. however, nothing was said about me playing, So I was not sure. I was thinking maybe he just wants some body support at the show. However, I thought hmm ok, maybe I should bring my Shakuhachi just in case I am asked to do a ( one) song.


I went to the showplace and small little Cafe. Near the Indian restaurant, I go to and have been meaning to go by lately. The Manager saw me as I was walking by. we talk a little. I said I would be back if he was not closed. For you no worries he said. So off I went to find the Cafe. Without the smartphone. I would have never found it! Ok, I locate the cafe and someone comes out and shows me into a seat. It is a very small place. One big round table and several chairs around. I am greeting by my friend who is playing. I take a seat and settle in to watch. After about 3 songs, they are finished, I am thinking they are going on break. Nope, I am asked to do a song. EhhhH!!!!!! what? really?! hmmm. ok, I take a guitar and give some thought on what to play. I start slowly as I am not warmed up. It went ok. I changed somethings as I went along because I did not know all the Spanish words and did not have my harps. So it was just singing and guitar. Next up, a guy comes out and takes another guitar and starts playing off to the side but right next to me. I am thinking ok, I am done. However, I am asked to another song. Hmmmm ok. I say since there is someone with a guitar, I will play my shakuhachi. I give the guitarist some cords, tempo, and beat. We fiddle with it a little bit then start. It is all improvised for me, as what I was expecting to hear and what was being played were different. So I just listened and went with what was being played, not with what I wanted to hear. Again more on the tones and spirit rather than technique. I rolled with it and just freestyled, again feeling like I am doing musical push hands. Listen, Stick and flow with the energy/notes. It was good practice for me. The more I play, the better I will get, everything is practice, everything is Cha’n. Once again everyone was surprised when I whipped out the shakuhachi. LoL! Then one last song I took up the guitar again. I had been trying to avoid doing a blues but it was that time now. My first song was Besame Mucho, then the medium speed instrumental Shakuhachi freestyle. Now, something a little funky yet simple. It felt to me a little empty without my Harps but …yup I rolled with it. By now my fingers had warmed up and I was feeling more comfortable on the guitar now. It was like driving a new route not quite sure where you are, but then recollection kicks in and you are like, oh yeah I am close to home.

Again it went over well. I stopped and the next act to come on. Being mostly unprepared, but always ready, things went over ok. I wish I had known I was expected to perform, I could have prepared better. I watched the next two acts, then it was over. I made ready to leave. After a few chit chats, in Japanese, always scary. I made my way out the door. Outside my friend gave me money for coming!! I was shocked and tried to refuse, but he insisted, after three times I yield. At that point, a friend of his comes over. She is an English teacher so we chat a little before I head off to catch my train. So, new contacts, meetups, got paid, got lunch, it was a good day! I brought dinner home! Amitoufo _/|\_