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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Vietnam 2

 

Vietnam 2
We took a taxi to our new hotel. This was the place my wife was looking forward to staying at. The first place was a business hotel. It was nice and comfortable, this new place was uptown. She is into luxury resort style. For me clean sheets and heat or a/c is good. We arrived sort of early by a couple of hours or so, but our room was ready ! It was not the best of the best, low level luxury . It was nice. We had a poolside ocean view. Roomy very comfortable . She was happy. There is a saying when the wife is happy, everyone is happy!
There was no going out and around town for me, I was in. There was a Veggie restaurant I would have like to visit but it was too far to walk. Also another Buddhist temple, also too far to walk. So I sat on the lanai and chilled. I did some reading and practiced shakuhachi. LZ wanted to go to the beach side at happy hour. So we were off. It was a bit cool for me so I wore a jacket, which was a good plan. We got the beach spot she had reserved ahead of time. The drinks were good. The nachos I ordered sucked! SUCKED! Flavored Doritos, with sour cream and cheese, with guacamole. seriously sucked! I was disappointed oh well! I rolled with it. The drink was good. My first time ordering a Singapore Sling. We hung out there for a while until dark then headed back to the room.
While she was handling the charge I noticed there was a Tai Chi class the next day from a posted sign, and took some pictures. We did the usual resort thing for dinner then just chilled afterwards. Nothing really interesting, I read more and practiced.
The next day I was up early. It was setup by LZ as a free day, meaning I did not have to follow her. I could do whatever, as would she. I got up early to check out the Tai Chi class. There was none! I asked the help and he called for the instructor. So it was a private as needed class. Ok. I waited for the Shifu to show up and just sat on the beach. When he arrived I clarified there was no group class just a private session if I wanted. Nice if that was what I wanted. I explained through a translator that I was just hoping to join the class, as I also was a teacher. Ok, that was cleared up I said I could just practice on my own if there was no class. I asked what style he taught. My Tai Chi Mantis Grandmaster taught Tai Chi in Vietnam for many years. I was sort of hopeful that is what he, this Shifu taught, I could use a review on that . No he taught Yang. I said thank you, I would just practice alone. We gave each other the traditional salute and he left. I found a quiet spot did some Zazen and then just went through a couple of Tai Chi sets and Hsing Yi, before gong back to the room.
The rest of the day was pretty quiet, reading, shakuhachi. Lunch, then dinner. Chilling. In the evening we went to the main lounge and sat. There was another Japanese couple there, we did not talk, I just heard them speaking. I did say something when we were leaving. The guy came over and looked at an art piece I was checking out and told LZ about. It was a couple of bike rims with paper cranes. The guy came over to check it out when I made a big deal of it to LZ. I said amazing ne! In Japanese. He responded hai and that was it. Not very friendly, oh well.
The next day I repeated the scene but just on my own. Took more pictures, practiced, walked in the beach barefooted. That was nice. It reminded me of an article I had recently read about people needing to connect more barefooted to the earth. It had been a while since I did that, so it was very nice. I could feel the “Chi” of the earth. The day wrapped up and we checked out and headed for the airport.
Once checked in we did a little gift shopping for a couple of people, including my Kyudo classmates, candy. The stores in the States that have Chinese owners are usually not friendly, almost rude. Very unlike Japanese store owners or even just personnel. The Vietnamese working in these shops were like that. Not kind, not rude, but close to it. Mostly ignored you other than following you around. LZ also noticed it. So it was not just me. Right at the gate there were a couple of shops. While waiting I checked them out as well even though we had purchased the gifts we needed. The personnel were the same…distant. All but one store I went in. The woman was helpful friendly and spoke English. There was a couple of things I saw I wanted to get. One of which was also at another shop next door, a little cheaper. However I went and purchased it from the polite woman. I told her I was buying from her because she was kind. She thanked me. We chatted a little while and she helped me with an issue with paying. Turns out it was the store’s machine not my problem. Anyway it got worked out. I left with a good impression. The plane started loading, I made a dash to the toilet just in case. When I got back LZ was standing at the gate ready to check in. I rush up to the check-in and a guard in the funky military color uniform stops me asks for my passport. He had seen me, as I had seen him earlier. I just showed it to him and said nothing . I was given the ok and went to check on to the plane. I did not see him do that to others getting in line, oh well. Normal stuff for a person of color, roll with it. Vietnam over all was ok. I liked the weather while there. The people staff at the hotels were nice, of course. The people at the restaurants I went to were nice enough. The regular people that I encountered were nice enough. Would I go back? no. No desire, once was enough. I liked Taiwan better, the food was much, much better and there is more things of interest for me. I was surprised how, any Buddhist temples there were in Vietnam for a communist country. I was even asked on the visa application what religion I was. That was different I guess. However I have never needed a Visa before, so who knows. Anyway. It was a pleasant trip over all. I like Japan better and the women are cuter. I am grateful I got to see Vietnam and not have to carry a gun and shoot at people or visa versa, to do so.

Can’t stop the music

 

 

The beat goes on …

 

Last week or so, I had a showcase event with a new band, “Sakai Sieki”. I have played at this club, The Red House, a couple of times. The owner had made suggestions about us playing together. After our first meeting I had said I was looking for a band to join, he said he was looking for someone with my skill set. Nothing else was said for a while. Then again after I did a small spot there as a solo we spoke again briefly. After few days afterward I was asked if I wanted to join a jam session with a friend of his. Sure I said let’s do it. It went ok. It was easy and fun, we played, ate, and drank. It was a pleasant evening.

A few days afterward I am asked if I wanted to do a show with them at the club. It was not a paid gig, but a showcase. We were to be the opening act for a couple of known groups. A test run as it were. I was asked about getting together for a practice session the day of the show. I said it was better to have a couple of practice sessions more so since it was our first time together. He agreed. The practice went well. I learned of their weak points, we all have them, so I adjusted the songs I wanted to do, to their skill set. Again overall it went well. The day of the show we again met and rehearsed. We were set. After rehearsal The drummer and I went to get something to eat. He is also a quasi Vegetarian, so we went to a place that I had gotten soy burgers from before. I was not really looking forward to going to eat with the drummer. He is a nice guy, likes to talk, but does not speak any English. That means I have to deal with only Japanese and figuring out what he is saying. Work!! We went to the restaurant, called “Mos burger”. Bummer bummer! They changed their Menu, no more soy burgers. Crap! I took a fish sandwich instead, as did the drummer. We spoke some, about Kung fu, a blues club nearer to my house, music, etc. it went ok. I did not get somethings, but I got enough to communicate. I am always surprised when I can do that. We ate, and went back to the club to wait.

 

We had several hours to kill before show time. The other two bands showed up, and did their practice. I knew a couple of the players in one of the other bands, and one player in another. The one band where I knew two players, is a smoking hot band. I think for what I have seen the best Blues Band here in Osaka. It is good to be an opening act for them and not to follow them. They would be hard to follow, they are a tight sounding band!

Show-time came, we were up. We did 6 songs. The one song I have been really wanting to do good, did not turn out so well, as least parts of it. The drummer forgot about the breaks I wanted, and I messed up badly once. Some parts were ok. With some more practice it could be a good song. We only really practiced it a couple of times. The other songs, went better, not perfect, but still ok. They were simple blues type songs. We played through the errors and just rolled with it. When it was done, we got a fair share of approvals.

I figured out how to set my smart phone timer camera to record video on a start stop, start timer. That was cool and helpful, as well as painful to hear the mistakes. A good training aid. I did some editing and put together a sample vid, which can be seen here.

 

A few days later after things settled and such, it was suggested we keep the band together, we could be good with some more time together. So officially I am with a new band now. One thing I have noticed about bands and players in Japan, players often belong to several bands and no one cares. It is normal, in the states, usually one is with just one band. A player can do more than one, but unless they are just floaters usually just one band is the focus. Another thing I notice is more people here just play to play for the music, not to become stars or get a gig. A gig is a Paying job, not a freebie showcase or something of that sort. Work is the goal not just playing to have a good time, that is what jam sessions are for, in the States.

So this new band could be good, it may give me some possibilities of different expressions in sound. It is not a “Blues” band per-se. The term I heard was Neo-soul. Good, I like being able to do other songs other than just blues. I do hope we can get one other member, a pianist would be sweet, but a good horn or guitarist would also be nice. So this is something to look forward to for the upcoming year. I still will pursue my own solo path as well, but the band with give me a different musical outlet. I will still play with the Doc’s band when asked, but is a minor priority as he does not want to put in the work and time to be more than a “fun” time playing. I want to do more than play some little dive live house bar. I may never make it past that, but…one needs goals to be more than you are now…ones spirit, at least mine needs to grow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

弓道 – Hatsukai 2018

 

Hatsukai – 2018

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

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.

 

 

4/4 New Year 2018

 

Four days…4 Temples

Temple (shrine) 1: Kakuta- Hachiman.
I had not planned on doing this, it just happened. The best adventures can be had doing that. Even if not outstanding, good is good. The better ones leave your spirit buzzed…like this one. 
Dec 31 evening was spent at the Kakuto-Hachiman shrine, there was the New Year event, praying and shooting of which I posted. Been there did that. FYI : Shrines are Shinto, Temples are Buddhist, I am calling them the same here…deal with it!
Temple 2: Myikojo/Shikoji
 
The next day LZ and I went off to see her Ookasan. On the way there she says to me, there is a temple right next door to Ookasan, can we stop? It is supposed to be famous, historic Buddhist. We can pray there, I do not usually do it, but… Ok, we stop by. It is larger than I thought, but still small. The yard is well done, I like the ponds. We looked around a bit, prayed and then moved on to see Ookasan. The temple yard impressed me. There were a couple of spots one could sit, meditate. I am envisioning this as my staging area when I start Komuso in this area. Go there first sit, meditate, play, then, do the walking practice from the temple gate. Down the street and back, then expand as I get my nerve. Hahaha.
 
Temple 3 – Chokei-ji
 
The next day was to be a mostly home day. The weather was great, cold but not unpleasant. I had an appointment to see my Shakuhachi sensei, after my morning. practice. He was concerned about my not having a flute and the repair, replacement on mine. He offered to go with me to see the person, who suggested I buy a new one’s wares. If I choose to go that route and did not have the money to spend on a basic one from his friend a major Master Shakuhachi maker. This person’s beginners flute started at $1500.00. Wayyy out of my league with no income.
He also checked with this person about repairing mine. He was going to see The Master Maker this week to make a pickup of an order of his. He would take my shakuhachi along for him to check. Ok, I go along as he is my sensei. We met after a mixup of going to his house not his studiohouse.
 
Sensei and I connected and he served tea, we spoke about the shakuhachi. I put a limit on how much I would spend after, It was clear what was happening. This Master Maker maybe doing this, or will do this as a favor for sensei, from the way he spoke they are more than just customer/ client, more friends. I am going with the flow on this.
 
But back to the temples, I digress.
 
After visiting sensei I told LZ to my favorite temple in the area. She had never been there or even know of it. Not really her thing old historic temples. However with the NY on us she was into praying. This temple is about 10-15 bike ride from our house. It is really more of an actual pilgrimage feels like, because we have to really make some physical effort to get there to say a prayer. So it felt kind of cool, without planning it to be that.
 
When we arrived LZ was blown away and was taking pictures like a tourist to show her sister. She was amazed at the size and scope of the grounds. She is not and old temple person. Topping that off with how close it was to home. There. Were a lot of people, but it was not crowded. It was the second day of the New Year, i am sure it was crowded the first day. Still there were ceremonies going on. I heard drums and horns from the main temple. We went around to most of the smaller temples, paid respects and ended up at the big bell. LZ wanted to ring it, another surprise like a tourist. So we both did. Ringing in the new year is the saying. There maybe some Buddhist meaning of releasing, illusions, sins…
 
Temple (shrine) 4
 
The next day, I again was up and going to get into my morning Motion Chan. The last few days I have been in the parking lot, which is comfy. However I thought I would like the shrine vibe for practice since it was the Near New Year. Perhaps it was finished with the crowd there by now, an I can get my practice spot in the back.
 
It was starting to rain a bit as I set out, I thought the trees at the shrine maybe enough, the rain was light. I arrived there were a number a people and a few of them looks rather busy doing something in the yard. I started not to go in, but thought I would anyway since it is my local Shrine. I would not practice but I would pay respects. The caretaker and I spoke and bowed for the NY,. I kept it short at the Temple and bowed and left. Activity was in motion there on the sidelines. I went of off to the lot and practiced. It dawned on me as a was walking , I had done four temples over the last four days. I found out later it is an old Japanese custom to celebrate the first three days of the NY.
I fell into that easy enough, with my own flavor. This maybe my new, New Years Tradition, added to the 108… hmmm maybe as komuso training/ offering at the temples.
 
 
 
 
…. …. …. …. ….

弓道 – 108 ya – 2018 yr – Scent of the Dog


108 ya – 2018

 
As I have been doing for the last several years, I shoot 108 arrows for the new year, same as the Buddhist ringing a bell/gong 108 times…cerimony. A friend started it I have taken on the training. 
I was set this as in the past to do my shots here at the Bamboo Mantis Hidden Makiwara Kyudojo. 
Out of nowhere a sensei, who I am friends with and have played music with, he asks if I wanted to come to his dojo to join a New Year shooting. It took me a while to get all the details correct and figured out. 
Sempai’s (the sensei) dojo is the one kyudojo that I tried to join when first in this area. They said no, after telling me yes, and me showing up, changing and ready to shoot. Then they dropped the no bomb. I was told that the club owner said no new members. I am thinking hmmm yeah right…but let it go. Still I was bummed out!
 
I was told I could go to Kishiwada, which I did and I am pleased that that it worked. Trusting the force to provide for my best. As it turns out several of the Senseis and a Sempai that help me at Kishiwada are from this other dojo. I have heard on other times that the story is indeed true and not a “me” issue. Ok, onward, so this Kyudojo is connected to a Shinto Temple. So this turns out to be a local New Year event. The dojo opens, we shoot, there is a ceremony of some sort, then the windows of the dojo are opened so that the locals that come to tthe shrine to pray for the new year can also watch us do Kyudo. I was told this was to be an all night thing basiclly. Someone give me a ride home. There were a couple of other people from Kishiwada going as well. Cool I thought. After I got all the infor sorted out, I was all in.
 
Now there were some things I still did not know, but i would just go with it and see. I knew the basics, I show up, I can shoot, dress really warm, there will be something hot served, there is a cerimony, do not worry about the train home. I was set.
 
I planned for a full day, a long full day. I figured to do my 108 at home since I had no idea how much I could shoot or how long it would take taking turns, getting the ya, etc. Where they also doing some version of the 108? Hmmm. Ok, i figured, whatever this is a training day a, purifying day. First off some Zazen, and then breakfast. Next out for some physical Chan, and some tea. I am ready to start now. I figured to cruise through this, I the full day to do this, so I would pace myself. I did a four sets of 5 before taking a tea break. This then back at it. This time going just a point past halfway. Break time.
 
I took a lunch, some tea, FB’d a bit. I notice now, my tenouchi hand is hurting. I had been griping wrong, to tight maybe, it is right where, just below a callous from work is located. It is like a little pebble in your shoe…
So yeah, now it is hurting, there is a new little bluster, and torn open on my palm. Warrior training spirit says ” there is no stopping until finished, deal with it”. After some thinking, I had a pair of gloves I was going to use for komuso playing when it was cold. The finger tips are cut off. I dug these out and tried on the left glove. Perfect, white cotton, l with just enough cushion. I tried it out it worked so. i went back to practice.
 
I shoot for about 5 min before it started to rain. Wow, I am thinking, the force is testing my resolve. It was not raining hard. I continued, since my yumi is fiberglass and bamboo. Weather is not and issue. Great I was able to have the blessing of two Yumi, bamboo and hybrid-glass. It rain little on and off through my next set of shots. During my next tea break, the weather app said the rain would be fully done about now.
 
Yes after my break the rain was no more. I continued, shoulder and chest starting to feel the strain now, still, I pushed. I tried to stay focused , a mindful practice, attention to each detail of each shot, not just shooting for the numbers. Kishi sensei says don’t just play your shakuhachi to make sounds , notes, make the note have the best quality. As I neared the end of my 108, I had another break pre-planned , bit decided to press on and just do it. I stopped when I had completed 106 shots. I figured no matter how many people there was at the dojo tonight, or the order of things, I would have time to have at least two or three sets of shoots. I would wear the glove, I would try to anyway. It was plain white, this was not a class, so it should be ok, I thought. I will removed it if I have too. Another reason to do most of my shooting at the makiwara, no one tells me how to dress.
 
So for the most part I was finished my 108. I got things organized for the evening. A shower, some food, a bit of sake, then practiced some “Suizen”. It was a great day so far. In the back of mind I was thinking about what to expect tonight at the dojo. Really the main concern was how cold would it be? I was dressed for some what I thought would be fairly serious, at least for me, I am a cold weather wimp. I had on maybe for or five layers of tops, silk, and cold weather poly things, plus leg’ns . My main concern would be for my head, with no hair. I had a silk kimono, and coat, we were going to be inside, so that part should be ok.
 
I arrived early to the shrine, way early. I walked around, did few New Years prayers, took pictures…facebk’d, killed time.
 
Finally someone arrived. I did not know him, he asked if i was from Kishiwada. Shocked I thought everyone knew that. Maybe just checking. He made a small joke about me being early. I did know him so I continue to wait outside while he opened up the dojo. Short while later my dojomates showed up. I went in with them. Slowly others arrived, we all settled in as they lite the heaters, and setup the bean soup, made ready the yumi and ya, everything set to shoot.
 
Little by little they started, there was nothing official happening everyone just went up and shot. All was very relaxed, many sat by the heaters chatting and staying warm. Little by little things got more organized and more started shooting.
 
Near 11:30 we were instructed to go to the next building, to where the ceremony would take place. We all went into the main temple, the Shinto priest where all ready. We all had a seat on small folding stools, no kneeling. That was a relief, my knees could not have taken it. Ok, i wanted to take some photos but I thought that would be not cool. I resisted! There was a little bit of chanting, incense, bowing, usual stuff. However short and fairly simple. The priest blessed the group everyone bowed and it was done. Everyone went back to the Dojo. I got a few photos outside.
 
Once back in the dojo, the sweet bean soup was ready. Mochi was added a short wait and it was ready. Bowls were handed out. It was not to have something warm and sweet, perhaps a little too sweet, but it was still welcome and good! I had a second, but small helping.
 
Now people really started shooting in earnest , it was almost 12:00 now. I heard someone start the happy New year phase when it was midnight. Everyone said it to the group and continued to shoot. It was not a 108 shooting, just a New Year’s shoot. 
 
I made my final shots earlier and surprising hit, my last (108) and the first shot (109) of the year . Really surprised because i could not tell where my first arrow of the night went. Where I was off. My ya are black, it was dark, dim light by the mato, and my growing old man eyes issue. So I was focused on my position and alignment more than “seeing”. Those were the only hits for the night, I think I shot 5 times, three I needed for my count. My last shot for the night came just after midnight. I had thought earlier that I would change my string for the New Year. I had taken it off to adjust the tension, and it looked shabby in a couple of spots. Then I got lazy let it slide. I forgot about doing it
Just after finishing my home shots, when took some time to do SuiZen after the 106 shots. Anyway, yeah, the string broke, i had a spare, but since it was so late i just stopped. I was under the impression that something opened at 1:30 am. But what it was , the Dojo was closing at 1:30 am. So my string bit the dust at 12:40. I was done for the night. All worked out. Good I did most of my shooting at home for my counting goal. I couple of people asked about my glove, did I hurt myself, or what. i explained, they said ohh. My Sensei asked, when I told him I was screwing up my tenouchi in my practice. He laughed as did I .
 
My sempai came to me as everyone was packing, and said he would take me home. Argatou. It was a good experience. I am pretty sure the first Gaijing involved and attending.
 
So onward into the New Year. I am feeling this is the year I will go to the next level of understanding. I can feel some improvement when I shoot. I still have much to do, but I am finally feeling some progress. Year of The Dog will be successful for my Kyudo endeavors. 
 

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!

弓道 – Kyudo World


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

尺八 – The Myoanji Pilgramage


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