Progress in small steps

Even small steps forward, is still progress, it is not the size of the step, it is the direction.

I am starting to feel like I am making some progress on several endeavors. Since I just came in from Kyudo practice I will start with that.

There was a Rei Kai today. It took me a while to figure out it is Rei Kai, not Dae Kai, not that it really matters, it is just a label. The event is important, not what I called it.
The ReiKai today was small as most of inner dojo events are. It was cold, I continue to be grateful we are inside dojo. I would have really suffered had it been outside. Still during break many were standing around our one little space heater, or had on their outside coats.

The day went smooth, it was a relaxed day. My shooting was not great, I was able to hit one out of the first two sets , then as I made adjustments I hit two out of the last set of four. After that time one of my Sempai Sensei said something to me, as him another Sensei who often helps me had been watching my shooting and discussing it. The second Sensei, the senior seem very reluctant to say anything, but the other spoke up. My balance when shooting was off. I guess I was leaning into the shot too much. My pushing toward the mato was turning into a lean toward the mato. I made a note of it.

The main shooting was over now was the time everyone shot again but instead of 4 arrow, it was one, per round. If you made the shot you continued, if not bye bye. I applied a correction to what I had been told. Instead of just pushing, I lifted my head and stretched my spine upward, like when doing Tai Chi, or sitting Zazen. Also then push toward the mato and away from it with the opposite hand. So as I had been told before or read, that it was more of a circular expansion not just vertical. To the Heaven and earth, and to the sides. So I guess not really round, but all around. I also did the tightening of the triceps as Yamashita Sensei had told me, upon release. The other thing was to place myself “in between the bow and the string. Aonther thing I had heard or read about, but I finally figured out the feeling. When I do it the ya goes straight, like an arrow :-). It is sort of leaning into the bow to place yourself in the middle. Technically I am not between the bow and the string, but it feels that way. I am not supporting the pull with my arms, and chest, but “body”, Bam , a hit, I thought I was done for a while. But I was called up again, Bam! hit, and a another time. I was in the finals. I missed my last rotation shot, maybe everyone else did as well. However, wow I was doing good. I am finally starting to understand, things are starting to click. Usually when I think like that, I find I am wrong, but so far this time it has held up. I still have a way to go, but I am making progress and have found the spot to aim from on my Yumi. Now more and more practice and I should be ready for the Shinsa this summer. Sato Sensei asked me was I going to the shinsa in March I said no, more practice yet. But I believe with continued practice Summer will be it. If not there is Autumn, and Winter. Also next year, if God be wiling and the creek don’t rise. Maybe these days it should be If God be willing and hte bombs don’t fall! Either way I am feeling good about this being the year of Yondan. The “Dog” is with me!

The day before I had my monthly meeting with the Shakuhachi group. A cold and rainy day, once agin we met at Oota- Sensei shop. This from what I understand maybe becoming out regular meeting spot. It is a bit rustic, but comfortable and no hassle to be there and no conflicts with other groups wanting to use the space.

We went through the usual drills. I was able to play along on a couple of piece that I had not done before. For me that was a personal victory. Then everyone played the individual pieces they are doing. Finally it was my turn, I was not really excited about, but I did Choshi. The Yamamoto, version. I received some corrections and tips on playing. Then asked to do it again so I could practice. It was better, still needing work but better. I could hear a Sempai grunt an approval of parts I did correct. Afterwards he says, I do the last phrase well, I did need to work on the small adjustments. Another Sempai showed me how to correct one part. Later I was told I have good potential my tone is good. That was good to hear…yatta!

I also decided on the Shakuhachi I wanted Oota-Sensei to make for me. I heard a couple of different sizes being played and my ear was most pleased with the 2.0. It was told to me later by another Senpai about having six hole instead of 5. I had not thought of that, but upon hearing it said and explained why, it is a good idea for my experimental flute. It will take some time before it all comes together. Oota-Sensei will have me select the Bamboo I want as the next step, now that I have chosen the size.

I was given the application for joining the Myoanji temple. This was helpful. I can fill out the form before meetinG with Matsutani-San next month. The Sempai who gave me the application, told me later that he would be my sponsor if needed. I thanked him told him that Matsutani-San a friend of my Sensei said he Would sponsor me. The Sempai said, ohhhh, yes, you should go with him as a sponsor he is very well known…Yatta, Another plus for me!

After the practice meeting, as is the custom we went out for food and drinks. I have never done that in the States, hanging out with the guys at a bar drinking and chatting. Even with my Kung fu family. We did that at the Dojo with Shifu after our closed door classes. My brother and I when we went out it was to eat Chinese food. It was not that often like a ritual as it is with the Japanese. It is a normal custom in Japan, at lest with companies. It was fun, even with my limited Japanese we had a good time. One Sempai is heading to Hawaii soon and wanted to practice some English. They made sure I had what I could eat and we had a good time talking misc stuff including, Shakuhachi technique playing compared to feeling playing,

So process is being made. The new band is feeling positive, Kyudo is feeling positive, Shakuhachi world is also feeling positive. I need to crack down on my Japanese study next. still…The year of the Dog is off to a good start…Yosh!

 

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Cracks, Bamboo and Blues

Well travel time is over for a while, sort of, a couple of small trips still on the horizon, but nothing to write home or blog about.

On the Music scene …thankfully my Shakuhachi has been repaired. My Sensei took it to his friend, who he says is one the of the number top Shakuhachi makers in Japan. This makers usually does not do repairs on other makers instruments, but as a friend he is doing/did it. The maker did and outstanding job also much much cheaper than the original repair person I took it to. That guy was really more into selling me a new one than repairing mine.

So now I have a nice whole flute again. He not only fixed the crack but the joint as well. I like the wrapping he did. It gives the flute “character “ and that cool old school Shakuhachi look. Sensei and the maker said even though my shakuhachi is not a professional level model it is still a good flute. Especially says Sensei for playing Honkyoku songs. He says it is rare to find this type of flute these days as most makers are making “modern” sounding flutes. Tuned to western pitch and louder playing. So I am pleased to have it back. I have also learned to take better care of it when it is resting.

Now I can really crack down on my practice for the up coming event I am scheduled for in March. I will be doing my first public performance in front of serious players at a Buddhist temple event. This a big deal for me and it sort of coincides with my 3 years of lessons anniversary.

At this event I will meet a Komuso who is to be my sponsor for joining in the Miyonji Temple as a “real” Komuso. Again something that really only matters to me and in the large picture of life means nothing. Isn’t that the same with most of our individual ego trips, adventures. Gives a little boast to our own self-image.

On the other hand, who knows what help, lift  it will give someone when out as a Komuso to someone who hears the music.

Lastly, I will be placing my order for a new Shakuhachi this weekend. I have settled on what I want. I will order it from one of the members of the classical Shakuhachi Society I play with once a month. This is the member who gave me the large Shakuhachi which I enjoy. I have decided on one in between the 2.5 and the 1.8 cm I like the deeper tone of the larger flute over the smaller. The larger one though is more difficult to play, more so I think with “modern” songs I want to play. If I am wrong I will just make due with it and adjust to the song. At least that is the plan. Man makes plans, God laughs is a saying.

On the band scene, we have had our second rehearsal with the new band. A keyboard player has joined us. It really helps round out the sound.

 

Another plus with him is he also sings so we can work on some vocal harmonies that really adds to the band sound. I heard from the blues  “Doctor” that the band has been selected to play again this year at the big city Blues Festival, however we will be once again in the small club. Reason being our vocals are weak. Quite understandable. Really we have none. The “Doc” is a weak singer and we never practice on vocals, well on anything really. I have on a couple of songs tried to “hear” a harmony with him but he is difficult to harmonize with, not really an expressive voice, he plays better than sings. Which is ok, for the blues, but limits the band appeal.

I am still waiting to see if I have been selected to do a solo act at the festival. The choices are selected and posted on Sat.

古典尺八研究会 Koten-Shakuhachi-Kenkyuu-Kai

 

古典尺八研究会

 
This is the name of the Shakuhachi group with whom I hang -out and play. More hang with than play, my skills are still weak on the 2.5 shakuhachi. We had our monthly meeting the other day, and make shift New Year’s drinking party.
 
Our practice is usually at a community center but this time it was full so we had it at the “header’s” workshop. There was suppose to also be a joint meeting that day with some group that had something to do with Komuso. That was postponed for whatever reason. I am glad I have the hookup with my Sensei for the Komuso entrance, so I do not feel a set back from the meeting cancelling.
 
I uad a map and direction to get to the meeting location, even still, I had some difficulty finding the place. Japanese can be very helpful just out of the blue. A woman leaving her home to go somewhere, saw me looking looking lost with a large case on my shoulder. She asks, am I looking shakuhachi gathering, shop, sensei, something. I say yes, she takes me to the shop just around the corner. Not where I would have looked, at least right away. 
 
I enter and see a bunch of shakuhachis on the floor, I am thinking they are just things Oota Sensei is working on. There are a lot of song books on the table. Most of the meeting time was spent on these items. I was told several times about checking out the Shakuhachi on the floor, at least what I thought. This is what I understood. Once another sempai showed up I got more details. The former sensei, or his master this was his stuff, the flutes, the books, the music. The books had ink drawings with kanji, of which I had no idea. The pictures looked interesting, Sumi style ink drawings! Made by the master or friends on his who wrote in his books?
I took a bunch of pics of the art and sent them to my sensei to translate the writing. I also had my wife look at them first. She said no way she could understand this old writing style! However my sensei can read the old style, it is his hobby. I will find out tonight what they say from him at class. Maybe some cool Zen things. There is one drawing of a flute player riding an OX. This is part of a Zen series of drawings. I think it is called Ox herding
 
At the meeting that day, most of it was spent looking over this wealth of info, only a little time spent actually playing. Then it was only the one song, which I think is one the group is playing for and anniversary party for one of the members. From what I was told, Oota sensei is making everyone new 2.5 shakuhachis to play for this event in Oct., that would be cool!
 
As time moved on, so we also made ready to do so. We packed up and head to an izakaya(bar n grill) for drinks, food and chatting ! Snacks, sake, shochu flowed freely. Not being a hard drinker, I almost had too much. On the way home and once at home I was on the edge of the too much tilt! Laying down and a nap helped when I arrived home. It was a fun and different for me as I do not usually go out drinking and hanging with the guys. As my Japanese improves, it will become more interesting. With all of us sharing the bill. It was reasonable at 2,500 yen ea for as much as we ate and drank. LZ was surprised at the cost she was expecting about 5,000 yen. I can not do the eat drink thing all the time, even at the low price since not working. However sometimes it is good, and it comes out to about the same as taking two classes a month, which the minister of finance says is ok to do. Since I have cut back to once a month on my class, it comes out to about the same…about. On the other hand it is still part of the Shakuhachi study and learning Japanese culture. Maybe I will have a book one day, my life and retirement times in Japan. I do not think any old farts like me have done such a thing as I am doing with Shakuhachi, Kyudo, Komuso, sailing and modern bands.

 

 

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

What a Long strange trip it’s been

あけましておめでとうございます

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

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

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Winter…

Winter is coming…

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

The beat…


The beat goes on…Dec 17′

 
It has been a while since I did a post. Fairly too busy and lazy to write. I think it is a good practice of some of sort to do the journal thing. It may matter to one of the kids one day, or even an internet traveller. One never knows what effect will, rarely knows what effect we have one someone’s life, by something we think is a small thing. 
  
I would say my life is pretty different from many coming up in the hood. Besides the being alive, and not in jail part. I guess my mother’s prayers worked on that section. Thanks Mum!
 
So yeah, here is this Black Zen Chinese Buddhist Priest, living in Japan, retired, low-income, aging senior dude. His ministry is Music. He plays Jazzy Blues in Clubs/bars and Zen Buddhist traditional shakuhachi songs as a Japanese Komuso Priest on the streets of Japan. Did I mention this guy also teaches Chinese kung fu. Yeah, I know it sounds sort of far fetched but hey, I like Sci fi and fantasy stories. So that what this blog is about this character, named Fa Chuan Shakya. 🙂

For the cause of understanding, I, me the writer will put myself in his place, so I can get a real feel of this story. There is a Cha’n enlightenment thought to this if one thinks about it. 
 

Ok yeah, so moving on. I have been busy musically of late. The Snafkin master passed away. I went to “wake” after the cremation. There was a fairly big turn out. Many did songs, including me. I did a couple. I played a Buddhist Shakuhachi song, it had to do with prayers, an offering for passing/passed spirits into another realm. It is more complex than that but that is a simple break down. It was my first non-shakuhachi related playing of this song. I had done a recital a couple of weeks earlier and played this song then. I was somewhat nervous about doing this song, but I pulled it off with no mistakes and it seemed everyone enjoyed it. So that was a success.

I next did a song on the piano. A New one I was just working on. I am getting more comfortable playing the piano now after many years of being shy about it. I have had enough practice and figured out I only need to play well enough to back-up myself singing. The cool part was my favorite Sax player sat in with me. I am not a big Sax fan , but I really like her tone. To bad it was not recorded. A few people were surprised I played the keys, including of couple of piano players I had jammed with in the past. I was surprised I did it with no errors for my first playing of this song.

Another spot, I was invited to do a spot by the percussionist I play with from time to time at a small concert he was putting on locally. It went fairly well. Not as planned. Life is like that. I had packed up my guitar and new ( to me) keyboard I had purchased to bring. However I was told there was a piano already there so no need to bring mine. The problem it turns out with that was it was not on stage. So after I did my guitar songs and moved to piano. I had no drum tracks, so I had to wing it with the beat. Not as effective as I had planned. Even though I have done it beat-less before. Also something sounded off to me. unknown if the piano was not just in tune or I was playing in the wrong register. Anyway I cut my play time on the keys to just one song instead of two. Which was ok, because the show was long already. I had a total of three songs instead of four. No big deal. I got good feed back for my key work from another pianist. That is my new musical challenge to up my Blues keyboard skills. That has been a desire of mine for a while, now I am making it real.

The doctor asked me to do a small session with him at his favorite club “live house” they call them here in Japan. I agreed , but under conditions. I was not going to sing all the songs, he needed to do that. Another was I wanted a song list before the show not on stage at he show. I gave him two days to do that. Even then morning of the show he wants to change things and do a couple of song I had never played before or sang. I refused! So we stayed with the original plan. It went well, in fact we sounded pretty good, I was surprised. The drummer filling in is steady and the keyboard player listens to me and the drummer. So the three of us are listening to each other to stay on track, the doc not so much. However it was ok. We did not embarrass ourselves (me).

I was asked by a club owner called the Red House, to play bass for a guy coming into town on tour. He is sort of famous being Japanese, but living and studied Harmonica in the states. It went well. We had a short rehearsal before the show, the day of the show. It made for a long day, but we rocked the house. It was fun and I got paid. The two guitar players were great and the drummer was steady. The Harmonica player is good , but I did not think he was all that. I do nt think I am all that, but I am truthfully better, even when playing bass at the same time. Anyway, it was fun and I got paid.

last week at the same club I entered a contest. I played a couple of songs on piano and one of guitar. It went over well. I got a lot of positive feedback afterward. I did not win, which is not a big deal. I did not expect to do so. The majority of the bands were hard rock, myself and one or two other people were the only ones not doing hard rock. I was also the first act, that is never good in a contest. Still it was a success to me. My purpose was to just get out and play live keys. The other bands were loud loud loud, after I played I went outside and stayed until it was over. When it was done I listen from outside. I heard clapping and not my name so I left after chatting with a few people there.

The next day I sent the club owner a note. Thanks for the spot I would settle the entry fee with him next time I saw him. Also said I was planning on doing more solo spots, did he had any suggestions for my act. He said he loves my vocals and I would have more impact with a band. I said yeah, band are more fun, but I am limited with my Japanese. I did most of the singing in the past for the Doc’s band. However he does not like to practice or care about being organized for a show, so I limiting my playing with him. A couple of days later I get a note from the owner asking if I wanted to do a session with him and a friend. Sounds like there maybe a new band in the making. I had mentioned before I was looking for a band that needed a singing bass player. He had said he was looking for one. Now it seem like it is going to life. If I couple get with a serious group that worked even once a month I would be pleased and feel fulfilled.

Another venue…It had been a while since I went to this club. It was where I first got the first Japan gig with the Doc’s band. We worked there for a couple of months, then did not get asked back due to lack of people coming out to see us. This club has a couple of Jam sessions a month. I had been not going. However as of late I decided to show up for one. I can see other players and also get my “rep” out more. The club owner was pleased to see me and I was recognized by a few. Even though arriving late I was given a play spot. At first just for playing bass, then the owner told the organizer to have me on the mic. It went over well.

My actual purpose for attending this jam was to meet the person doing the organizing. He was going to be the drummer for the band I was sitting in with for the touring Harp guy. He is pretty well know and I see him playing a lot in the Blues circle here in Osaka. I wanted to meet him before hand. This writing is not really in order of how things went down over the last month, but it is the general idea. This was before I did the bass only gig at the other club.

I went again to this club the other night for another session. It was my plan to play keys, but it did not work out. I was called up to play Harp on a couple of songs and sing. Later called up to play Bass. When it came my turn again to play this time of the keyboard that had been setup. I had to cancel in order to catch my train home. If I missed it I was screwed. The train stop at 12:00 am here. Which sucks! I found out when in Taiwan it is the same there.

So lastly, there is a Big Blues festival which is held yearly. The Doc’s band played the last couple of years. He asked me if I would play with them again this year. I said ok, however if it would not interfere with my playing on my own in the festival. I had asked the organization committee if I could perform with a band and also as a solo artist. I got the ok. This is a non-paid event, mostly just PR. I still have to submit a video audition, but I can can do that. I have been told in the past my vocal are my strong point. I am finally accepting that and making use of it. I like playing the piano and singing blues more than playing guitar and singing. I like the fuller sound of the keys, even though I am not that skilled with them …yet. With the drum machine and the combination of piano and harp it sounds reasonable enough to step up and out. Being one of the few Blacks here, and can sing and play gives me some marketability, I think. So I will see how things go from here. Possible new band, new solo act. Some progress.

On the Shakuhachi path. I spoke to my Sensei about my wish to be a full real Komuso, not just a dressed up player. HE in turn spoke with a friend of his. This person turns out to be on some board for the main temple in Kyoto that deals with Shakuhachi Komuso affairs. It has been arranged for me to meet this person and he will “sponsor” me for membership into the main headquarters temple. Only thing is I have to wait until spring. This priest lives in a fairly far off place and he says it will difficult to reach in the winter. In the spring there will be a large Komuso gathering in Osaka. I should attend and he will give me the details on joining officially and make the arrangements afterwards. I will be “In like Flint. “Yatta!

Next Up Kyudo world…

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!
 

Impermanece

 
About two years ago, maybe more , I was asked to play at a cafe called Snafkin by my Kyudo sempai. He was going to do a Shakuahchi concert there and wanted me to play bass with him and another Sempai. It was fun. I went by the club on my own before and met the owner. Very very nice people. The wife spoke English, the husband, the master ( Japanese term for the club owner ) only spoke a little. Both also played music, he guitar, sax, a little this and that. She played piano, both also sang. It was a comfortable place. 
 
From time to time I would go by on my own for lunch or something. I became somewhat of a regular. I met a lot of nice people through there. Also some people outside of there who knew about the place. Whenever I went by I was asked to play and or sit in for a session. It was nice. 
 
The cafe was right next to the bay, you could sit and eat and watch the bay. There were a lot of instruments there you could play while visiting. I got to know some nice people and good musicians there and through there. My picture was placed on the wall. The owner’s wife knew I was not a meat eater, so would fix me something special when I came by to eat. Soon I could just ask for the Fuu special. She and I at times did a song together, like Summer time. She would sing in Japanese and play piano, I would sing in English.
 
I was in a couple of concerts they put on, which also helped me meet people. At the last concert I did for them I was shocked to see the master in a wheel chair. He had had some type of head operation earlier that year or there about, but had recovered. So it was shocking to see him in a wheel chair. I got more details at that time, but still thought it was only temporary. 
 
I do not have enough words to express the feeling of comfort the cafe gave to people who went there. I could go eat and practice on something, sometimes the master would help me with a Japanese song I wanted to know. The last outdoor concert he sat in with my group playing guitar even though in a wheel chair. Over the last couple years the shows I did without the Matsuo Blues band were mostly all from the contact I made with the percussionist I met at one of the cafe’s concerts. It really gave me the confidence to be out there on my own again and do something besides just play bass.
 
A friend from working at Aoki Boat school, also a musician and a regular at the Snafkin club sent me a Facebook message which was posted by the master on Facebook. I had seen it when posted, but did not pay much attention to it as it was in Japanese. She sent it to me directly, so I had it translated thinking it must be important. It was saying the cafe was now closed do to the illness of the master. He condition was non-reversible ! I was shocked. It also said please come by if able.
 
I responded to her and said I would visit. As did many just today (that day). My friend was there early and left and I did not get to see her. I was the last to show up. The wife said that was good as it was so busy earlier and crowded, my timing was good as I could spend some time with the master.
 
He was in good spirits and pleased to see me. As other had said his face was peaceful and he looked good even though he could not get out of bed and only had the use on one arm left operational. He was in the cafe , facing the picture glass window looking out over the sea. We spoke for a bit in Japanese and through his wife in English. She was smiling and being strong but fighting back tears as we talked, as I am while I write this. It was sad yet we all had to show a strong face as did the master.
 
I told the master how thankful I was to have made contacts through him and the club of the people who came there. This was a common statement by all that came I was told as well as what I read on-line. It is a blessing to know you made and difference in people’s lives and to be told that while living. She said they had planned to keep the cafe for 10 years, they made it for 5.5 yrs. There are other cafe’s around but this was unique.
 
So weird to say goodbye to people, you know are soon leaving this world, and yet a treasure, a blessing for both self and them at the same time. Arigatou Master. Amitoufo . _/|\_

Shakuhachi roots pilgrimage-Nara

Pilgramage – Nara

 
I was planning to go do Komuso training last week in Nara. However, the Universe over rode my plans saying, do what you want , but I am sending a big Typhoon your way that day. Hmmmm, ok I thought, maybe I should change my plan, to stay in Harmony with the Tao. I cancelled.
I told this to my Sempai he said, on Thursday I will be hosting Ramos sensei and his pilgrimage group. Not those words, but that was the jest of it. I thought cool, I am off that day, I will go to meet Alcvin Sensei and his group. This was something he does every year. Travel from end to end of Japan checking out Shakuhachi related places, people, things. It was set.
 
The day started out a bit chilly, but the forecast was good. I was up a 5:00am in order to get there on time. As it turned out they arrived in Nara at 6:45am. No way I could make that, so I went to Sempai’s house. I had a bit of a hassle with the trains. The pass my wife got did not work on JR train line, so I had to pay when I switched lines. Ok, no biggie, I made it to Nara. I got on the bus for the final leg, but did not check the number, just jumped on the bus at the platform I was told. Hmmm, i thought is this the right one? I wanted to ask the driver but the bus suddenly got packed with school kids. So I waited. A bit later some left, but many stayed. I excused myself through the crowd and asked the driver. Is this the right bus to blah blah. Eh? He says. I say it again. He looks at the name, and asks where am I going? He sees the name, and asks me again, he repeats the name and points in another direction, this went on for several rounds. I am getting the idea I am on the wrong bus. Then he says ohh blah blah blah, which is what I said in the beginning and showed him. Ok, a little further he says finally. Sigh! Ok I make it to the stop, I get off and nothing looks like I am expecting, no temple as a marker! Hmmmm. I walk around a bit. I stop at a police station, a cop gives me directions. I am where I need to be, just walk a little. Ok, I walk down the street make the turn and I hear Shakuhachi sounds. I follow, and Success, I make it! Fairly on time. There is one other person still coming , so I am not the last. Introductions are made all the way around. There are people there from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada and the States. We chat have tea, and cakes and get organized to leave on our journey for the day.
 
As we gather outside the other person shows up and we are all together and set off. The plan is to hike through the woods, over the hills on an old trial to somewhat abandon forest temple, then into Nara. The day is good for walking, not hot, not cold, bit comfortable. I encounter a spirit guide on the way.
We walk about half way to the temple and find the road is blocked by a landslide from the Typhoon. We turn back and take another trail.
We make it to our first stop, the temple. Many of us who dressed warm un-layered the extra clothes.
A bit of a chat and we are off through the bamboo forest, over the hill and into Nara. Our group is about 10 strong. Everyone is chit chatting and enjoying the hike. Talking about Japan history, Zen, shakuhachi, this and that, that and this.
 
We make it to our next stop, another temple. This one is fully functional and open, one has to pay to enter. Not much about $4.50. Clean well-kept, nice toilets, clean grounds. We, some of us spend some time inside one of the temple doing Zazen.
Afterward we take a break outside and everyone has lunch. We can see over the city from this spot on the mountainside. It is pleasant under the trees overlooking Nara and the surrounding area.
 
We set off again, to another area. Up stairs, down stairs, etc etc and arrived in another couple of temples. At this time the crowds are starting to picking up. We did a little bit of playing shakuhachi along the way, but not much. We do this along the way making our way through the varied shrines and temples. Chatting , taking pictures, enjoying the day. 
 
Around 2:00 pm we stop at Sempai’s wife’s work place. There the group does some shopping for kitchen knives. We have tea, fresh-baked cakes, ice cream. Some go outside and play shakuhachi for the passersby. Even collecting a few donations. I stayed inside and played guard over all the equipment left.
For some reason, I took the responsibility of keeping track of everyone and their stuff during the journey. Watching the stuff in the shop, keeping track of everyone not getting separated during the walk. My nature I guess, I noticed I was doing it, a lot at one point on the trip.
 
We walked more, took pictures, visited the great Buddha and just in general did the tourist thing.
It was a good day. I did not wear my basket much, I hand-held it and my arm got sooo tired! That was the hardest part. But that in a way is part of the training to endure.
 
About 4:00 the group was ready for dinner, and I was ready to catch my train back to Osaka. They went off to an “Izakaya” . Which is kind of like a bar that server food. Rather than go and get home late. I said my farewells. I headed first to a local pickle shop to pickup a few bags of fermented pickles to take home, then caught my train. This time I took the one that the travel pass worked on, so that was good. I am still hand carrying my newly acquired “Tengai” which is the basket hat worn by Komuso. I did not wear my kimono that day, but a casual Samue, traditional Zen monk work clothes. No one really paid me any real attention. Except one group of older ladies who saw me enter the train car and I hear “a Komuso”.
 

 

 

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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