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!
 
Advertisements

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.
.
 

Rain Falls, Kaze Blows

 Typhoon 24

The rain had started, as promised, the Typhoon is here. It has been raining steady all day. Not the little wimpy rain that you can not hear. This has been serious rainfall. I have enjoyed it. The rain, I always find calming when I am inside dry and warm. I have to add that since I have been out in Typhoons, on the water, soaked to the bone!, NO NO NO fun!

I digress…

The rain has been steady all day. I have been inside, lazy in some ways. Listening, remembering other places and times. Mostly playing my Shakuhachis, watching Zato-ichi and listening to the rain. I has been nice. The storm will be past in time for me to go to work tomorrow, Good, we need the money… sad, because I do not like the work. I do not hate it, but I do not like it. I am grateful for it though without question. Things are very slow at the boatyard, I am totally only on call for work. Having the silver center job is a blessing. That will be ending for the winter soon, then it will be ready tight. I am already making cut back on my travel and expensives. The unpleasant part of riding the life waves, with no money.

Things are tight, but we live simple and can live simpler when need to. Things would even more challenging if we were in the States. I think about that sometimes, sometimes too much. All that was lost to get here, and the real life that is here not the facebook one. 4.5 yrs into this, I still feel it is good (better) to be in Japan. Even mission-less. Yet, being the mission is to find the mission, or understand the mission. I am not mission-less, I am being empty, receptive, but not a void. Perhaps the Kyudo term of “Tsumeai” – Uniting the firming points of the body, is a better analogy…or wu wei…or just tripp’n.

Anyway just rainy day thoughts between the notes and the drops…

尺八 – Komuso and the Shakuhachi-Do

The way of Chan and the 尺八 Tao

Since becoming a Chan “priest” I have been on a search for meaning a purpose for it, for me. Not the standard idea, actions, path. But how to express the label, the responsiblity, the vows, the “weight” in a way that gives meaning to my spirit. Some purposeful outlet for the title, the mantel, honor the linage. My Martial path under different circumstances would be ideal. IF I was in the States or even maybe Mexico or Canada, I could establish myself, my expression of the Chan Dharma, fairly easy…so to speak. Here is Japan, no. The ground is not fertile, over planted. There are many many Tai Chi “clubs’ who’s teachers speak Japanese. Kung Fu, well, that is not a real interest in the land of Karate, even less so here in the countryside, and “burbs”. The few that have expressed interest fade after a few classes, for what ever reason. Let’s just say they do not have the spirit for the effort involved.

When speaking of Meditation (Zazen here), that gives rise to the wall staring hardcore Japanese version of Zen. People have that fixed idea about it. So having a more low-key yet more encompassing holistic approach to Zazen is not understood. Education takes time.


I expressed to a recent new friend, who speaks English, that I wanted to become a Komuso and why. Historically from what is written, the komuso, did little in the way of actual Buddhist practice. Perhaps a few, however what most stands out about them is they just wandered around earning food by playing shakuhachi and the shakuhachi was their tool for enlightenment. Their practice was really all about themselves. Few were actual Buddhist priest. The “aura” that is around Komuso these days is romantic history. 
Komuso these days are more organized, but still from what feedback I am getting it is still just about the playing and themselves. The playing as a social gathering club, or for some as a meditation tool, some for just the music. Then there is my Komuso Sempai in Nara. He is all about being a true “Buddhist Priest” Komuso. It has been educational and interesting going out to do Takuhatsu with him. I can see me doing this in my area. With Takuhatsu No real language issues, no space to rent issues, advertising issues, no identity other than a Komuso. Brings several things together and serves multi-causes. The problem, license, certification, affiliation.

In speaking with my friend about my desire to be a Komuso and why. He said you do not need to be a Komuso to do that. Japan is a Buddhist country if they see you as a Buddhist Priest your color will not matter. You can wear whatever and do not need to be under a Tengai. It is considered fortunate to encounter a Buddhist Priest/Monk especially by the elders. It maybe more to your advantage being who you are, than you think. That got me to thinking…Hmmm. maybe…in all Black robe…

.
Yet there is still the issue of License to do Takuhatsu
( beg) in Japan or perhaps a street performer license. Although that would put it as entertainment not as a serious Buddhist practice. Something to think on…
I have a Shakuhachi recital up coming in two weeks. I will met a shakuhachi Sempai who is a former Policeman and now a Komuso. I was told by my Sensei he does not look at Shakuhachi as a Musical instrument, but only as a Zen Tool. This way of thought, I find interesting. I planned on asking him about license, begging the law, Buddhist Dharma and Shakuhachi. This could give me the final answers I need or a door to where I need to go.
Shakuhachi Club
 
Once a month there is a meeting of the Classical Shakuhachi group. This group plays the long Shakuhachi. I am new to this group having just met some of the members over the last couple of months. This is the group my new Friend, who is from Germany belongs to. As it turns out these members are all Komuso or mostly all, belonging to the Myôan-ji in some form. A general statement. The point is that they are affiliated in some fashion with the Myôan-ji in Kyoto. I made my way to the meeting on my own this time. I was able to located it ok, with a little effort.
There were six of us attending. Once started, there was a little scale drill as a warmup. Then playing two versions of Cho Shi. I finally figured out one of these version I already had learned, the writing style was a little different. Although I needed some playing adjustments, I knew it. Afterward, there was some chatting, then everyone went through the study piece everyone is working on taught to them by their former sensei. Next up everyone played the song they are performing for any upcoming concert. In this case the big show in Kyoto at the Myôan temple next month.
It is at this time period where I play a song. I did Cho Shi even though I am now finished with “Tamuki”. I am more comfortable with Cho Shi, I can play without reading. I was listened to and asked to play again with no breath vibrato. I tend to do this from playing Harp and flute. Afterward it was said it was much better, more like Shakuhachi. There were a couple of corrections I needed and was told about also a point about my breathing. There was some other talk and I heard we’ll teach you. Ok, Cool. I am getting some real lessons from this. Perfect since I need to cut back on my formal classes with my Sensei. I had originally looked for a Shakuhachi group to learn from, but It seemed at the time it was only for people who already could play. Now I am one of them. I can make musical notes, and read, poorly but…still, I can. I have made some progress. Though it does not seem like it to me. I guess this is a real milestone marker to be accepted into the group. ( Thanks Dean for the intro).
So after almost 2.5 yrs of study, I am where I wanted to be when I started…well sort of. I wish it were so with my Kyudo, but that is another story.That evening I receive an eMail from my friend aka “Big O” in the group. He says he spoke with the group about what wanted to do. basically it was said no problem I can join and get set up through them. Wow, great news! Fairly simple, smooth and cheap! I had heard that doing this official Komuso via the Temple was costly! I had an alt plan of speaking with a Kinko Sempai about joining the Kokoku-ji group in Wakayama. I was expecting even there, pay a monthly fee to a sensei plus the extras…
The Myôan-ji seems to be more active and the new Abbot is rumored to be more interested in raising the meditation aspects of the Komuso group.

I do have a sense my Sempai is of the more hard-core Shuizen mind. Which could be perfect for what I want to learn. Wakayama is much much closer. I am going to continue to flow with the force and let the Tao work. I am hopeful with the Sakura in the spring a new Komuso will bud in Osaka.

 

弓道 in the Shinto Temple’s shadow


弓道
I dislike getting up at 5:00 am. More so when I do not have to go to work, hmmm maybe that’s not right, more, like, when I have to go to work…perhaps. Either way I dislike it. It was at least holding the gift of not being cold. So there I was up and off to the train station.
I was heading over to my first Japanese Kyudo training Seminar. I was told someone there would speak Japanese…maybe. I had my concerns about that. I figured I would just float, listen and keep my eyes open.
 
I made it to the practice hall without any problem. As I got off the exit, so did a couple of other people going to the seminar. Nice! I figured I would spot some people down at the location. This was a plus this early. As it turned out, it was a short walk to the Kyudojo. As we got nearer, I became awed by the grounds. I was not sure just what kind, but it was a temple, of some type. Just not sure what. There seemed to be some type of what I thought was a flea market being setup. But no, I find out later. It was not. This was also the weekend Matsuri festival may have something to do with that. I was told later by a friend.
 
I was the first to arrive. Although I did not think so at first. There were others there, they all spoke and bowed. Kids, well high school age. People were coming and their was a van which seemed to unloading. I figured out this was the place. I did not know what was going on. Someone announced to the kids, to give the speaker the yumis. Then they started to load them into a van, I watched… no one paid me much attention…I paid attention to everyone.
Then one guy, a grownup asked me a couple of questions, in sort of
both Japanese and rough English. He tells me the kids are going to another Shrine to shoot. Hmm ok, he then took me where to changed into my Dogi. Oh, this was part of the “oops” thing. I did not bring my Kimono, I was not sure what was going on, but I did not think about a Kimono was needed as I test now in Kimono…duh! So I asked this guy and he spoke with another both figured, well you can just make do , should be ok. Ok, I was relaxing more now. I was treading water, and not floating away. I changed into my gi. Another woman shows up, someone bows to her, she looks like she has some knowledge, another sensei, she is in a Kimono. I question her. At first she looks at me and says go upstairs. Ehh I say! Ok I need to get my Yumi and stuff. Then she says, ohh, you are doing Kyudo, yes you are correct here. Then point into the room I was in from the start.
 
We chat a bit, I get more of a low down in what is happening. At least for me not messing up. This was taking some effort, she spoke no English. Anyway, I get signed in, numbered and setup. Slowly others started to arrive. I saw a few people I have met now from other dojos. Not a lot but a few. One of these friends speaks English. We were sort of in the same group. But did not train together, as I hoped for. I figured she could translate if it was important. We only spoke during the event briefly on a break or something. As it turns out, the men trained mostly with the men and women with women, with the Sensei of the same gender leading each. Unlike in the states. However at the end we were all just shooting and walking together not being in a lecture type groups. Although the Nindan’s Senseis just dealt with that group. Oh, oops, wait, I will explain, there were two main groups, nidans and sandans. Then that was split into men and women. So, two groups of women two of men.
 
So I am in my group. Then we are split, sort of into Resha and Kisha, (standing or kneeling). I am asked if I speak Japanese. I think I was asked in Japanese, he did ask some thing basic in very broken English. We figured out I could sort of follow, with 6 yrs experience. I could just copy the movements for wearing the Kimono. They said in the opening statements what was being covered and done in the seminar. That was pretty much, well mostly over my head. Other than hearing Kihontai, the rest was lost. No matter, I was rolling with it. It was working so far.
 
We went through the routine of putting the Kimono on and off, kiza, foot placement, hand placement in bowing and standing, how much juban should be showing under the Kimono, turning with the Yumi, toriyumi, that kind of basic stuff. It was a good review.
We took a lunch break. The sensei I saw from Kishiwada, my dojo went out and got his lunch then came and sat down with me. I had brief moment of panic as my peaceful non-thinking lunch break was over. I had to now small talk in Japanese sigh. I like this sensei though so not a big deal. We hung together before at the Tai Kai in Kyoto. We chatted a very little bit and ate. Still it is a struggle for me to make chit chat in English much less Japanese. After a short while another lady from another school I had met a couple of times and knew sensei. She joined us. We chatted more, and I met another couple of people who stopped by to briefly speak to sensei. Including the Sensei I first encountered when trying to check in. The main thing is I pulled off the encounters. yatta! yeah baby!
After lunch we walked, and walked, turned, walked forward , backward. Finally did some shooting. I was able to shoot four arrows, two each turn. Not really much correction there. Elbow a little more back, a little more tilt in diesan. I missed all for times. I pretty much of expected that. I was using my “at home” Mikiwara yumi. So my sighting was off. I did not see my where my second set hit. However the first two were in the target area but just both too high. Yet next to each other. I will take that as a win.
 
After that the lineup and bow out. Everyone went to change or just left. When I came out of the dressing room most everyone was gone. So I did not get a chance to speak with the Sensei for my group. Oh well.
 
I went over to the temple grounds next to explore. Big big grounds and a lot of buildings. It was also just before closing so I did not get much chance to look around, as I was walking in one area my friend and her posse run up behind me, and breathlessly explain to me about one of the shrine alters. You look through a bunch of stones inside a fenced area, if you find three with certain marking, you get good luck. My friend helped my find what I needed and gave them to me. Cool I thought.
We said our “mata ne” and they took off, I as well just behind them, as the guard was urging us to move. It was a good day, over all. I did not get the level of corrections, instruction as I had thought, but I was checked over and received no big No no’s for my shooting forms. So winner! Yeah. 
I made a mental note to return to the Temple ground the next day to explore at my leisure. That I did and got some really nice shots, with my camera. Since I am running low on disk space I am cutting back on my picture posts. A link to Flickr if interested.
Anyway I was going to say. I found out from another source he saw the temple photos and said, I got my Kyudo Nindan from a priest there. Ehhhh? I said. So it turns out there is another Kyudo group that is within the Shinto temples, but not part of the All Japan Federation. Wow, that was a bit of a surprise. I will research more on this, just for my own edification
…to be con’t
 
 
 
 

弓道 As the arrow flies

 

As the arrow flys…

 
I had heard people say that Kyudo is difficult. When you see learn the first 8 steps, it is doubtful you really understand the complexity of doing those first steps and sending and arrow into the target. When you first become aware of the shakuhachi and there is only 5 holes to learn, basicity 2 octaves and breathing right, one could think 8 things. Simple. You could also even compare the sound of the note, as the target and the breath the arrow…

it is doubtful you really understand the complexity of doing those first steps and sending and arrow into the target”
 
My quest to consistently get that note continues. Of course I am that stubborn kind of guy.
 
It is understood in the music world the extreme difficulty of play a shakuhachi. Some take a month(s) just to make a sound. I hear a lot of comparisons between Kyudo and Shakuhachi in my Shakuhachi sensei’s talks. He is not doing the comparisons, it is happening on my head from listening to him talk. The other day for example he was talking about technique and spirit. One can have good spirit and be a technically poor player, and the other way around. To be a “player”, master, you need both, you must have both. Once you have technique, then your spirit must excel forward, beyond the technique. Something like that. Anyway I am hearing the Kyhon ( kyudo bible) in my head. 
 
Since starting the Shakuhachi I have at times wondered which is more difficult…
 
Both can be considered a spiritual journey, beyond the flight of the air-row…
I have decided it is Kyudo that is more difficult! One can throw off an off note, as style, expression. However the flight of the arrow only tells the truth. The smallest detail un-balanced, off tone, makes a big difference the flight of the arrow. Hits… truth or not.
 
I have been picking away at my Kyudo, like a scab on a sore. With sort of the same results and sensations on the path to a bloody tender mess, when done too early. Yeah, anyway still training. I was starting feel like I was making some progress. I still had a way to go, but even I felt like I was making progress. A couple of the Sensei had even given their approval on some of my shots and I was hitting more often in pairs. Still a way to go but there was hope, in my mind. A seed…
 
Next month is a Shinsa at my dojo. All other Shinsas this year have been and will continue again after this up-coming one, at a dojo I dislike because entry and exit are done opposite. As this Shinsa is on my home turf, I started getting the lets give it a shot thoughts, hope, dreams…
 
Recently I go to the time spot when the main Sensei teaches. I had been given some changes, pointers over the last couple of days/week, even by him. So I felt reasonable good going to practice. I also needed him to check over my paperwork for the Shinsa. 
The paperwork was mostly ok, a small change was needed. He also said something about a section, that I did not understand. I said I will have my wife call him. So I practiced…
 
As expected I got corrections, a good thing always. Even more so by someone in the upper levels. Parts of the adjustments were on the same issue, the tenouchi. One of my demons. Ok, I made mental notes and practiced. I could not put in long hours that day, as I was expected elsewhere. I decided pretty much by the end of the day, the up coming shinsa was not a good idea for me now. Still more training was needed. I figured I would see how I did in the up coming Tai Kai, to make the final decision, dependant on how the arrow flew. 
 
I found out later that the section on the form, Watase Sensei was referring to was about workshops , seminars. Sensei had said I had not attended any since the states. I should have some time with them on the form. I did not even think I was suppose/needed to attend those if I was getting plenty of help in the Dojo, it was a personal choice option only. I am still not sure if I NEED/MUST attend. I will anyway at least one. I figured it would be too difficult following group instructions in Japanese. Well I will found out. In Oct that is when the next section is held.
 
Ok on to the TaiKai. It was a hot hot day. There was a typhoon on the way arriving the next day. It was humid! There were four other dojos in attendance.  
My job for this day was the photographer. I brought my serious camera along for the day. I love my long lens! I also had some great light in a spot for a while. Even though hot hot hot, I got some pretty good shots. My shooting the bow was not as good as shooting my camera…
 
Sensei was watching me like a hawk when I shot. I could feel his eyes! After the second round he comes over and tells me how way off I am on things. I had only one hit by then after 8 shots. After lunch I have one more round, I get two out of four. It was settled for me after the first round I was not ready yet for Shinsa.
 
After everything was cleaned up there was still some practice time available. I took advantage of it. Yamasta sensei was still there helping. He gave me some instruction as did my other Sensei. Then just he helped me after Watase Sensei left. Some of it was things I had heard before but part of it was new. I was told I was overdrawing A LOT!!! Ehhhhhh! This was a shock as I always hear I was not drawing big enough, so I thought. He explained more, where I should stop drawing, with my elbow not my hand, and just expand and drop shoulders and body into the Yumi. Once I understood what was being said, it made a difference in being able to relax in Kai. The Kaicho had always said I was too tight. I thought how can I draw full maximum and still stay relaxed!? Now I get it there is a point you draw to, which is not the full maxed out size of the Yumi. 
Part of the problem with my training is not being fully in control of my language skills. If I was fluent enough to understand the full details of these lessons I have been told, instead of just a small section, my progress would be a lot faster…I think so anyway. My slow progress is not so much a lack of technical skill coordination, but a lack of understanding how to use that skill, how it functions. 
Yamashita Sensei said, I think you will be ready for YonDan Shinsa soon. I said hmmm, next year I think. He said nothing else really, more of a sound, Ummm ne, kind of thing.
 
Anyway, onward, keiko keiko keiko…Winter is coming.
 
 
 
 

吹禅 – Komuso: The good, bad and the ugly

 


Komuso : the good , the bad, the ugly

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

.

 
 

 

 

 

 

吹禅 – The gathering

Two years ago, about, more or less, I was looking to join a shakuhachi club. I thought that was the way to go to get lessons. However I found out that is for already knowing how to play people. Then I came across my current Sensei a short while later. Lead by the hand of the Universe I encountered him. Major stroke of luck, or blessing…depends on your view-point!
 
Skip ahead…
 
Now two years later I was introduced to someone who is in one of those Shakuhachi groups. I was invited to attend a meeting. The cool part was that this group was/is in some remote way connected to the Kumoso players in Kyoto. Major Shakuhachi luck strike! I had gone to a concert by some of the members of this group. I do think I wrote about the concert, maybe I did, but do not feel like checking right now… So a little recap now. There were 45 invited players to this concert. Different styles and schools. It was interesting even though I did not see all the players. Which was kind of good, since it would have been a loooong day. Also some of the styles I did not really care for. Eg: the really breathy style. I like the note sound not the breath so much. 
 
Ok, the meeting was small. Not all the members attend all the time. There were six of us this time. Several of the people there were Shakuhachi makers, one of them a professional. That guy also makes Tengai, for Komuso. He had one with him, the cost was about $1,000 US. Store brought in Japan about $400! Today’s Komuso have money I guess. I have heard about some of the parts for the Komuso-wear are also very costly. Quite shocking for a group that traditionally went around just begging. Most do not beg any longer, so yeah, times have changed. The Komuso ( not all ) have money.
 
Another two people had their own self-made Shakuhachi with them. Each of them gave me one to try out. This group plays the large Shakuhachi, not the standard size you see Komuso with in pictures. I was told that if I like one it was mine to take home. I was quite shocked! I was told before arriving that one of the players wanted to gift me a shakuhachi as he had plenty he made. I was thinking, one of the small one simple made. However….no this was a big flute, with an inlay at the mouth piece not just cut. I was shocked, I said that, right? So yeah, way cool, I like the big shakuhachi, anyway. I prefer the deep tones. 
 
I was given a bunch of music that they were going over. The notation was a bit different from my Kinko style so I easily got lost. My musician ear and watching another player helped keep me somewhat stay up with the group. The first song, the starting off song, I already knew from learning it to do the Komuso walk. So that was not really a big deal, other than playing it on a really big Shakuhachi that I was not accustom to playing. It was good, no one really cared.
There was a point were everyone played a piece solo that was going to be in the next upcoming concert. They went around the table, each one playing a song…and came to me. I tried to pass, but was unable. I was told it was ok to replay the song I knew, Cho Shi. Hesitantly I did. There were times I could not get the note out. However following my sensei’s advice I just kept going like it was part of what I was doing. Over all it was not bad. Not good, but not too bad. I thought well at least I did not embarrass myself. I was told it was impressive I could play that well, with a new instrument. I felt relief, yatta!
 
I was asked to tell how I met my Sensei. I was taken back for a bit, because the guys there did not speak English. I surprised myself by just speaking in Japanese. I did not even give it that much thought, to how to explain. I did somewhat ok, until I started to think about what I was doing, then my words got mixed up. Still, everyone understood, and that is more important than the correct word is the communication. Heart to heart communication, like in Chan transmission.
 
After a few more songs we closed the room up and went to a local shop for dinner. These guys are Shakuhachi freaks! The whole time the conversation was about Shakuhachis and playing, for the most part. I did not get most of it, but my friend translated, that was a big help. My small shakuhachi from the recycle shop was checked out ( looked over), and given a big ok. Some had one also by the same maker. It was not a cheap flute. I felt grateful to the Force for leading me to it.
 
So we shared food, drinks and laughs, then called it a day. I was invited to return anytime I wanted. The guys were all nice, and low-key. I will be returning as a regular attenders. I am pleased with the path my Shakuhachi study is taking me. Also grateful for the guidance from others. _/|\_
From the Izakaya, after dinner, 3 or 4 glasses of wine, 2 cups of Sake (none of which were full) I went to Kyudo practice. I did terrible, which was not surprising. It was really more about me doing it, than how well I did it. Sometimes just showing up is the training._
_/|\_

吹禅 – Kobe Classical Shakuhachi Concert

 

Fuke today…

 
I was contacted by a friend another Zen practitioner, Shakuhachi player and blogger. He told me of another player and who lived near me. There was going to be a shakuhachi concert in Kobe. I could get in touch with his friend about the details. The timing seemed perfect, I had plans on being in the Kobe area on that day. So it was a well timed fated notice.
 
The concert was to consist of 45 players all hand picked to play. They came from different styles of playing. The Myoan school was to be represented. The Myoan school is considered from what I understand the Headquarters of the Komuso group. Well at least in this area. The temple is based in /Koyto/Nara. I have not yet visited but it is in my plan. A couple of years ago I contacted a sensei from there, looking to buy a flute. When it was made clear I did not want lessons, but to make a Shakuhachi purchase, the communications stopped. Weird, but…oh well. I found out more about this sensei later.
 
It took me a while to find the location of this concert venue. It was not an easy to spot location. However with the help of a friend I made it. It was all day affair with 45 players that is to be expected. I did not stay for the whole concert, I had other stops planned for that day. I was able to get a taste of some styles. I am not a fan of the very breathy style of playing. I enjoy hearing the pure note more-so. The breath tones to me are good for accents, drama, etc, but not on every note so most of the sound is breath. Like what I do when I can not get the note to sound. I wonder the reason behind the development of the sound, at least the heavy use of it. Perhaps the commitment to the issue of the note and not the note was the root.
 
I noticed many of the players were priest. Most had worn some type of traditional clothing, at least of those I saw. I did not check out all of the people in the room, but myself and the guy I went to meet in the first place were the only non-japanese. 
 
The room was a small hall. I have to change my understanding of the term “Live House” . I thought it was just to with a bar or club that had a live band, or music. Mostly I am thinking bar type place. This place was also called a Live House, but, not what I imagined. Mind expanded on term! WhooHooo!
 
It was a worthwhile little excursion. I learned more about styles and Hearing the differences. I like the Kinko style I am learning, More than the ones I heard this day. It is a good starting point for me. I would like to know more about the Myoanji philosophy and how /what is the inter-play with Shakuhachi and Buddhism in their sect? What is/are the Myoanji other practice forms? I have been wanting to ask Mutake-sama the Komuso of Nara, but we get busy with other topics of the moment. Slowly, small steps I am getting insights into the Fuke of Now.