Gardening, Rain, SuiZen


Gardening Zen and the rain
My Shifu from Dharma Mtn says everyday life is Zen/Chan, in Kung fu we say everything is training. Gardening as practice is certainly not a new concept, so I am not going there, this is just one moment in time…thoughts, clarity
Growing one’s food no matter on the scale, gives a sense of connection to the world, life cycle without the blood of hunting. It is sort of satisfying the God complex, like ceramics because you are creating something from dirt, but in this case you can eat it, instead of eat with it.
We have had a storm for the last couple of days and will continue at least one more. I am loving it! Off from work, just enjoying the rain and wind from a safe spot. Doing some gardening when the conditions are mild. Like the wind taking a breath. Doing some misc trimming, repotting, feeding, rearranging or simplify admiring the garden, savoring the feeling of the elements, the storm, the earth, growth, warm air, being in Japan, the wind, life, gratitude. With the world so nuts, it Is good to view everything with a sense of gratitude and feel the joy of the retirement moment in gratitude and wonder. Five years in to retirement and still surviving. Not without help, grateful for that. It is a simple life but pleasant. Warm int he winter, cool in the summer, dry all year when sleeping and our belly are full. This is a blessing under normal conditions, to have it be so in a new country and life is a major blessing …Amitoufou
I spent most of the last couple of days, practicing Shakuhachi and working in the “backforty”. This year I really feel the blessing of having this space and see the results of my efforts in the landscaping. Both in the front Zen garden and the Back Forty. Same purpose of growth, different missions. Sort of Yin and Yang, eye and body pleasures. Whatever. The front theme Is the bamboo, a couple of small water ponds, some fragrant plants, a couple of herbs. Gives a sense of peace and simple beauty. I still have the image of how it looked when we first moved in. so different now.
The Backforty is about growing food and herbs. The front was tried a bit for some things, because of the sun, but the bugs overran the things. They seem to be less on the Backforty. Not sure why. More other plants around in front, dirt, ??
I have finally figured out after 5 years what grows well, in what spot, and how much to grow since my use is measured and my yield is small. The main stay is lettus, kale, tomatoes, basil, peppers and few misc herbs. This year has been the most productive. I will try potatoes next year or later this one. It maybe too late, for this year, Unknown… some research needed.
Some grown things really add to the table, something are just treats. It is all worth the effort, the sense of “gangster” for growing your own, the flavor!! The spiritual sense of connection to your food.
During the storm I sheltered myself indoors and watch and listen to the storm. I would practice my Shakuhachi during these times. I was told by my Komuso sensei about connecting to the environment was an important part of playing. Today and yesterday I sat at the window, feeling as if I sat on an enclosed patio and played. The storm blew, I blew, we blew. On one song the storm and my energies blended and as I played, the storm followed , or I followed the storm, we ended at the same moment, like matched lovers.
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Sakai Blues Fest 2018

I wrote about the controversy, hmmm issue I had with this a few months back. Which was resolved so I attended the event this weekend. Sat., I was the with the Doc’s band. We had 1 rehearsal a couple of week ago. Two days before the event he wants to change a song and add a different one. This song has some complex breaks in it. However he wants to do it. Sigh. 
 
I arrive to the area pretty early so I can find the venue location. I stop by the main stage area and see a few people I know and get some light directions. I got to the general area but still was not at the right location. I ended up in front of the place we played last year. Someone saw me who kind of knew me from before or some place else. Anyway he and and guy took me to where I needed to go. Kind people, most Japanese. At the venue I saw the guitar player from my other band, the Sieki Band. He was not playing just watching.
 
After a while the rest of the doc’s band shows up. He decides what the order of the songs and what songs we are doing. Of course this should have been done before hand and not the day of, but I rolled with it, as common. We were set to do 5 songs, the sixth song held in reserve, for him to do. I was set to sing the opening song, with the Doc singing the rest. It worked for me. 
 
Our time came around and we got set to play. Following his lead we started, it went well. I was put off that he sat on the foot floor of the stage while we stood on stage proper. It looked tacky. but the band played on. The next four songs were sort of bad, especially the new song never rehearsed, him still sitting next on the stage floor when not singing.
We made it through the planned set, and find out there is time for one more song. The Doc’s girl friend and a couple of others call for me to do a song. I say no, the drummer asks me also, please we need to sound strong for closing. Ok I say. I had no plans of doing a song so I had to think fast. I chose a song we had done before with me singing, but the Doc had taken over. We start slowly finding the groove, the Doc complains about the tempo or something. I did not quite hear, which was good, or I might have told him to sing it then, I have had this issue with him before. Anyway we got it rolling and it was sounding ok, not great  but ok. When his guitar part came we thought he would not stop, I jumped in with Harmonica so we could put a close to the song. He tends to drag on and on, and on with his solos. We ended ok and it was done. 
 
We sat for a drink and some of them ate. The keyboard player took off. I did shortly afterwards. Later I told the drummer the Doc’s performance was sort of embarrassing. He said his girl-friend and him were joking around about it. He did not eat and had a drink, it was effecting him. Hahah. I just sad hmmmm. His playing was off a lot, but overall his stage presence was lame. I thought sitting on the edge of the stage was tacky, missing notes when playing was one thing, but image is another. Anyway his band, his name, not mine. Soooo, oh well. No one cares but me so, whatever.
 
 
The next day I was doing my first solo spot for the show event. I was loaded down with my equipment. I had put together one extra song the night before, just in case I needed it, I was not sure about the time needed for setup and take down. Therefore I brought my guitar just in case I needed a fourth song. I had my keyboard, wires, drum machine, guitar and Shakuhachi. This was to be my first public playing of Shakuhachi with a modern song, not a traditional Shakuhachi. 
 
I made it to the main stage area again to get my back stage pass. Again some hellos and I stare off for the venue. This time I had a better idea on getting there and had my google map set on the phone so I pull just followed it. I made it with no problem. It was not where I expected but I could tell it was the place because of the people standing there outside. It seemed I caused quite a stir when I arrived. I got a lot of questions and asked for pictures. Not because I was famous or anything just being the black gaijin.
As it turns out there was another guy there from Ca. I was scheduled to play after him. He was gotten or just happened to come out, we spoke for a short bit. He did not live in Japan just visiting for his third time. After things settled a bit, I sat a few people came at next to me, chatted a bit, toke a picture then left. Another guys sits next to me we talk some , then he goes inside and brings me a beer. I thank him but say I am not drinking. It seems more polite than saying I hate beer. He takes it back, and returns shortly. We chat he is the owner of the club. Ohhhhh. I gave him my card, he gives me his. My card says I am a Buddhist Priest, he tells me he is also, with a certain Buddhist sect and shows me some pictures. Then he shows me some hand signs they use, somewhat like Ninja power things. Then he moves on to take care of some things. I wait more…I hear the other guy from California playing. I am to follow him, I was not impressed, like a country singer playing the blues, no soul more hillbilly like. The Japanese must like him because had played at two other spots over the weekend, solo at each. It was sort of fitting in with the other players I had heard so far there. I was thinking. hmmm maybe they are not ready for what I will be doing. Oh well!
 
Showtime and a guy who knew me ( another one I did not know him, but he knew me), helped me move my stuff and another helped me setup. I was ready. My first song was a slow blues. I had pre-record my drum and bass tracks on a machine. The first song I would start with Shakuhachi , then switch to keyboard, vocals and harmonica. When the other guy was playing there were a few people in the room and a few more in the next room. After I was setup and ready to go, I looked up to speak and , wow the place was full. I said something about that they laughed, saying they wanted to check me out. Hahah
 
I started, when I finished the opening Shakuhachi, which I thought I did pretty well, I not embarrass myself a least, they clapped! I continued on into the song. It went well. I was satisfied with my performance. The audience enjoyed it. The next started well, however about just past halfway through it, I got a little lost. I could not hear my sound track , with the feedback from the Mic and the volume being controlled by the sound engineer. I rolled with it trying to hear and reset my timing to match. I tried to cover it by ending early and not fighting with it or just stopping to find my place. They crowd did not seem to mind or notice. I checked my time I was doing ok, but I would not do but just one more. This was a funky blues, funky, I was not sure if they could handle it. I started, with the beat and the bass only. I started to clap with the beat to set the groove, I asked them to join, I was surprised and pleased they did so. They got into it, head bobbing, feet patting and clapping, it went well. Bam it was done. 
 
I packed up and went outside to organize. The owner came out and congratulated me. He asked if I did not drink at all or what. I said yes I do, Sake, and Sochu is ok. He asked wine? I said yes. He said ok and went inside. I was thinking he will get me a glass of wine. He returned and gave me a whole bottle of fairly high-grade wine. I was shocked!
I thanked him, a lot Japanese style, and headed off to chat with friend and his family who had shown up to see me. 
 
I did not think there were any pictures as I did not set up my camera, but later some came to me. Some from the event photographer posting and my friend. It was a good day. Now I know the music combo in my head will work, yatta! I had gotten some good feedback on using the Shakuhachi with the blues from some samples I sent to a couple of people, I will build on that from now! There will be two path with the Shakuhachi. It will be an interesting journey. Yosh! It is good to make some headway. Now If I could just do that with my Kyudo…
 

Komuso; a step on the path


Small steps are still steps… the path

 
I went Shakuhachi class tonight. It is now monthly, Not bi-weekly. Cutting back on expenses…
I took along a couple of the Komuso items I have recieved from the Myoanji Temple. One was my Begging permit. The other was a prayer/poem, charm sort of thing. my wife did not know what it was. My Komuso sempai said it was the SuiZen “vows” An “oath”…of sorts is a better word.
 
I showed it to my Sensei. He said, well… to me, as I am not a Buddhist, or at least a full Buddhist, I am half, to me it is just decoration. However to someone who is Buddhist, and like you as a Komuso it has meaning to the core of being a Komuso.
He then went through and explained everything in struggling English. The main “text” is this: 
 
One blow to remove evil
One blow to bring the good
One blow for all to come together in Buddhism 
 
 
There are variations on interpretations of this, but the same sort of meaning.
It came down to mostly this…hearing his talk.
 
“A Komuso does not play for himself, he plays for others first, himself last”. 
 
That was the thing that stuck with me out of all that he tried to explain, on the philosophy and code of the Komuso from the writing. One can think of the playing as a healing, a prayer, an offering. Sensei often speaks of sound offering, meditation, purity of the note and peacefulness of spirit. He said tonight when speaking of some players that if they can not blow the Shakuhachi and make a pure sound, a real note, not just mostly wind noise, this person should not being playing Shakuhachi, their spirit is not calm, they should just sit ZaZen. Give up Shakuhachi, just sit Zazen. What is funny hearing him speak of these things, he will say, or add that he is not a Buddhist, or Komuso, but blah blah blah.
 
He told me it is more important to play than to receive donations. Also hear that from my wife. Playing as a Komuso is not about taking, or receiving, but giving. He also told me I could play another song beside, “Cho Shi”. But a modern songs, NO no no! The Honkyoku I am currently working on, San Ya, is ok, he said. In Japanese songs such as this it is not about playing the whole song, for it to be a whole song. I could play the number of Lines I had learned and it could be used as a Komuso. He then showed me an example of how to play it. It is really feeling and interpretation of any part, yet each part is still part of the whole and still the whole. Like as drop of the ocean is still ocean water, an ocean, just smaller. As we as it is Ch’an are just a small part of all that is …
My friend and Kung Fu Sihing, liken this to the golden spiral of life. Wherever you cut this spiral it is the same angle, small as it’s larger or smaller piece. He based a workout stick/wand, on this idea.
Hmmm maybe I digress or something there… oh well, it is my blog, of sorts. It is my story for sure
! …or is it?
 
Sensei had said he was or held a membership at a temple in Fukuoka, but he had not done begging. But understood it. He knows a lot of stuff around Shakuhachi, even if he does not follow, the stuff. He as he has a lot of respect for those past masters who thought ( and those now) of the Shakuhachi as not a Musical instrument, but a Zen tool. Even though he does not follow that philosophy.
 
I hope to learning some interesting things as a Komuso if I keep my eyes and ears open. Learning Japanese would help a lot, but I will make do for now as I “take another step”.
IMG_20180403_163801
 
Another thing he said , from reading my card is I am number 2,380 (an about number) Komuso registered with the Myoanji HQ. I thought, Wow! There will be a new blog coming, dealing with just my life and times as a Komuso. “THe Komuso Khronicles”. This blog is getting full, and will just get the summary.

尺八 – Kard Karrying Komuso


A Card Carrying Komuso
It took some doing, and time, but it finally happened. I got my membership to the Myoanji temple and entrance into the ranks of the Komuso. Nice to have made a goal. it has been a while since that has happened. It is not really a big deal, yet it sort of is.
The Komuso order is not really an official Buddhist thing or is it? Still working on figuring that out. I was sent the Vow of Suizen with my membership papers. Maybe the 3 together now are the 3 treasures given to the new members to the ranks of the “Priests of Nothiness” back in the day. For sure only in Japan are there official Komuso Buddhist, I guess…
The Komuso are perhaps more Buddhist now…than back in the day. Back then most public records say they had little if any Buddhist practice. But there must have been something organized, formal. Of course they were just living, there was no need to record everything, like now. There was no Facebook back then! Other than the spies, they were mostly out for themselves, food, shelter, enlightenment. Ex-warriors, Samurai, ronin. Some did in fact work in some temples, admin sort of thing. The Buddhist part just gave them some freedom, some breathing space, a tax exempt status so to speak, and the “ok” to travel hassless as a “monk”. The Komuso would beg for alms by playing a honkyoku outside of a home or place of business. However, some practiced something near to extortion in order to receive alms by intimidating people and loitering. Komuso were also the subject of mysticism or superstitions.
I came across/heard something about it being lucky for a pregnant woman to see a Komuso. Some believed that the Komuso were surrounded by the dead and brought evil spirits or bad luck. Conversely, some believed that a Komuso could have a positive affect over such invisible forces. In many ways some Komuso could have been described as spiritual minstrels or priests.
Otherwise, zip.
On the other hand …there is still not much being done/heard of/by them. That I know of so far. Maybe at a Zen temple such as Kokokuji or Myoanji, there are Priest/Monks doing their Zen thing who happen to be part of a smaller/zen group that plays Shakuhachi, for whatever reason. Like there is a “warrior sub-sect” to the Shaolin Zen Temple. Martial Monks of Chan. The Komuso being something like that still today. Busy doing everyday Buddhist stuff at the temple, but part of their practice is playing Shakuhachi not chanting/or with chanting, does not have to be with or without, right…
“At present, Komuso practice with the shakuhachi exists only in a ceremonial way, although the Fukeshu remains as a Zen sect and has retained its traditional base in Kyoto’s Tofukuji Temple.”… Kouzan (Website)

Anyway moving on… Also they are not poor now, that is a for-sure thing. The outfits can be quite costly. Mine is not but it is also simple and from 2nd hand goods. Recycled, doing my part for the earth and humanity’s future.
Anyway, the full blown off the shelf Komuso-wear, can be costly! Which is one reason I ended up joining the Myoanji temple, not the Kokokuji temple in Wakayama. At Kokokuji, the Komuso are required to have a white and a black K-wear to be with that temple group. Also their Komuso-wear is special styled to/for them from what I understood.
The Kokokuji temple, from also what I understood, is not the first “Komuso” temple but the first to have the shakuhachi as part of their meditation or something like that. Yet this above says started wearing the basket. Maybe started here, but labeled elsewhere. Hard to tell. Myoanji is a much newer temple and “custody” holder of the Fuke Zen Komuso sect. Hmm is there still such a thing or is the”komuso” the only image memory of a somewhat colorful past.
Anyway, I digress, Myoanji is not so strict about their dress. Yet, it is ( Myoanji ) also supposed to be the “spiritual center” for the “SuiZen” practice.
 
So what are Modern Komuso? For the most part, a club/fraternity type group, carrying on a Japanese tradition. Maybe not a real “Zen” order, or rather, sub-order. I do not know if the “Fuke” are still considered a sect even though the ban was lifted. Although, who says what is a real Zen order. Although there are real ordained Priests in the group, not all are Zen. They, Komuso show up at events, and festivals. Still not doing much Buddhist type stuff…or maybe just “being” and playing there is Komuso ( Fuke) Buddhist stuff. There are just a few that still go out and beg, carrying on that tradition. I see a few in documentaries around Tokyo. I know of two in Nara, and they are active not just event Komuso. There are ” others ” within Japan that dress the dress but are, let’s say in training, or getting the experience. Like what I did.
I am still learning what Modern Komuso are and do. Now, I know two, no maybe three active ones. One has the philosophy Shakuhachi is not a Musical instrument but a Zen tool! Sadly no English, he is from the Kokokuji. By active I mean out playing in public not just gong to events. I think an interview is in order. An older veteran, My Sponser and a somewhat new guy, my Nara Sempai. That would be interesting, neh!? Yeah, I will have to put that on my “To Do ” List.
Make a pilgrimage to my Komuso Sponser’s temple. I have not done my official pilgrimage yet. That would be a great 3 year Shakuhachi anniversary pilgrimage. Also take along Sempai from Nara. I was going to go to Kyoto to take in my application, but we were told I could mail it. That was cheaper and simpler. So no anniversary pilgrimage yet.
 
For me…the newbie Komuso…hmmm, not sure… I will get out there. It is a good venue for me to develop a practice. I need my wife to make me a “Gebako”. Since my Kung Fu path here in Japan is pretty much nothing other than my own training health practice, not a way of spreading any dharma. Perhaps this mixture of Buddhism and Music will work for me, I can style, develop it pretty much as I please. My Sempai from the large size Shakuhachi group showed me a list of rules as a Komuso member. I will have to get a hold of the list and have it translated. Perhaps the temple will send it to me once all my paperwork gets settled in. I was surprised how fast my cards came. One week turn around from when I sent in the application, I was expecting just to get a membership invoice, but they sent the cards. For Japan, it was a shock to happen so fast.
 
So anyway, now I can officially start my own Zen Komuso Practice in my area. I am clear as a Komuso and a Renzai priest and not worry about the police hassling me over a begging license, or such as I am officially with a recognized temple, goal done, I am legit in Japan! Yatta ! I have not had a goal success in a while! What my practice will be is unknown. I will just let it happen. I figure even just going out and getting a few donations to pass on to charities is doing something, being engaged. Maybe that will be enough for me, with my other projects, expressions of the Dao in operation already. A sempai said being “engaged” is an everyday thing, yes, but other than that, this is a bit more specific purposeful. I do not want to be only an “Event Komuso”.
 
Anyway, maybe a new blog is in order, this one is getting full, hmmm, “tales from the tengai”, “the Rakan 羅漢 Komuso”, ohhh “Shorin Komuso” , or “Kamakiri Komuso”. Maybe not or maybe, just another chapter, e.g.: Kyudo, KungFu, Shakuhachi, Band…, boating seems to have pretty much died…how sad. Still who knows what plans the Tao has in store for me. As it is I never thought I would be a Chan Buddhist Priest in Japan as a Komuso when sailing away from the States,… besides losing the boat…did not plan or think of that either…but that is another story…now A Komuso is born.
Ametofu _/|\_
 
 

尺八 – Exposure

A step into public exposure
 
A while back I sent up this energy flow to join the modern Komuso group here in Osaka. This started coming into a form resently. My Sensei spoke to someone he knew, that lead to get a meeting with his friend an active Komuso, and on the board at the Myoanji Temple that’s basically Osaka HQ for the organization. There was to be a concert /event of some sort. I could come and watch, we would meet there and he would give me Komuso details about joining the temple group. Ok, cool I thought finally. But, wait…I was then invited to play not just watch. Oei Vey!! I had a choice play with my Sensei or play solo. We both felt it was better for me to play on my own. Better presentation…
I thought, ok I will suck it up, breathe and do this.
 
I had a pretty descent grasp on a traditional song called “Tamuke”. The is how a Komuso at the same event played it. This is what one plays as a offering or a prayer for a departed spirit or the like…I started paying more attention to the song, breathing, phrases. Kishi-Sensei had listened to it at the last class a few days before the concert. I thought I only played so so at that time. He gave me a couples of points to be aware of. Otherwise it was ok.
 
I spent the last week, in battle with a virus. I had developed a cold. However with the heavy flu going around I needed to not let this becoming the flu kind of sick. I took care and added some natural body boosters I also slept, a lot! There was some comfortable moments, but I made it through. I practiced my song during this. My concern was having to cough whilst playing. That would have sucked!
 
The day before the event I was feeling fairly like normal. I could mostly relax about the cold thing! Done. Other being concerned about how cold it was going to be that day and not make myself re-sick. We were inside, but I had to get there, and in my travel/day wear. I wore several layers all under my “Samue”. I did not want to wear a Kimono, it felt too much, over kill for my maiden voyage. I needed to vibe “modest”. A western suit, like my Sensei was wearing, nope. Not my style. The Samue was the third opinion and my style. I had heard though one does not wear an overcoat or jacket on top of a Samue. So layers, a lot, were called for! It was a good plan. When I was outside, there was enough with me moving and I could still move. Once inside I ended up taking off a couple of layers. However I always say, “better too many, than too few” !
I found the balance point and it was all good… until I had to dress to leave.
 
However before that….
I arrive after finding my way up in there through the maze. I did not know what to expect the place to be like. Although I was thinking small and old. The place was huge. I walked up looking confused, the guard asked Shakuhachi?. Hai Arigatou, my reply. The guard one of two gave me directions. I was off again, a followed the turn, walk, turn walk and turn, and turn. I found the place, went in scoped out everything and got in line. The lady seemed to be expecting me …. weird I thought for a second. She found my name and I went in. More walk , turn , walk turn and I went into the common area , staging’ room, tea, practice, hall. Shortly after making my spot selection. A man walks up and introduces himself it is Matsutani-san. He seems like a nice man was my first impression. We do the Japanese intro thing and he turns to speaks to some other men. I hear my name, he telling them my name. I bow and return to getting organized.
 
I hear an announcement, not sure what, so I watch, and make note of the time I heard it. Shortly afterward people started making an exit. It was as I earlier thought, the “we will start soon” call. I followed the movement. Once outside I asked the woman from the beginning, which way? I was heading correctly she said just keep straight, then turn. I went down a hall up steps and over a bridge to another building, like a prayer hall. Hmmm, yay, let’s go with a large hall with an alter. Prayer hall. People had taken spots on the floor and or grab a small stool on which to sit. I followed the wave, and picked a spot, my spot.
 
In a short while my sensei arrives, After he heads my way, I wave him down. He takes a spot next to me. I am late but on time he says! We chuckle. Then Matsutani-sensei, starts the event with an announcement. I had no idea what was going on. Afterward a man goes on the floor, I figure out that everyone is going to play Cho Shi. A very simple version. I could follow easy. Next up,… there is some motion. Matsutani-sensei is playing next, then sensei tells I am to play after Matsutani-sensei. Ehhhhhhh!!
I am to be #2 ! I am shown by Kishi-sensei, where to sit and wait. Oh jheez I am thinking. I really need to make a “Loo” run. Really… I have a mini internal battle, should I make a run for relief….or can I hold it. I have no idea how long this song is going….maybe I should try it… no no, Better not, upset the flow, I a miss time it… Too much lost of “face “…just hold , breathe…finally it is my turn.
 
I asked if I can Sit Zazen style, because of my knees. I was given a stool, and a music stand. Ok cool, breath…I get adjusted, bow, breathe and start. I figured once I get that first note, I can adjust or deal with whatever comes after that. The important thing was to inhale, expand, and release, but not too much. Just be the wind Kishiwada-sensei told me a while back, maybe last year. It one was of those things that stick.
 
Ahhh yeah and speaking of last year. In one week it will be my three year anniversary of taking formal lessons with Kishiwada-sensei. Sort of cosmic timing that this first public showing is now, my coming out show. Yeah, sort like a coming out. A public exposure, this will be my first official playing for public, besides play to a bunch of high level players. As well as being the ONLY Gaijin in attendance, maybe the first EVER Gaijin of color to do this. If I do not blow this, It will leave a good impression, give face to Kishi-Senseino …no pressure, right…!
I centered and let out the breath, like the release of an arrow. I got the sound I wanted and it was full enough, not weak, but soft. I continued it went well, even up into the high notes. I had a short feeling of being anxious. A deeper breath and focused. I kept moving thinking but not thinking. I was half way done,… one part was weaker than I wanted but it was only a small foot note, I let it go. Finally the end. I was ok with the offering. Not my best, but far far from my worst. I did not embarrass myself or Sensei. I hear some things being said with my name, I had no idea. I was on the move away from center stage, that was my focus. I found my seat next to Kishi-sensei. He said I did well. He said that Matsutani-had said he was impressed in the announcement. Also that I would be joining the Komuso group, he was sponsoring me.
 
There is no clapping after anyone, ever. These songs are suppose be more a display of respect, an offerings to the “Buddhas”. Not entertainment. especially in this setting. So I could not judge what people thought. Anyway it was done, Kishi-Sensei thought I did well and Matsutani-sensei thought I did well. Ok, my work is done. I can now relax. Ahhhhhhh. It was intense for a half a second finding out when I started , but now , sweet! I do not have to think about it anymore. Yosh!
 
I spent the rest of the day, listening, until lunch break. Sensei and I went back to the lunchroom together. He asked me what I thought about the performances. Some where good I said, he agreed. We talk a bit about, the need to actually make a sound , not just the suggestion of one with mostly air. Sound was important. We were supposed to meet with matsutani -sensei. However we understood he was busy busy. Kishi-sensei started chatting with a couple of other guys. I went out to explore and take pictures. I saw some cool stuff, I was maybe not suppose to be in but area, but I did it Ninja like and then left. I returned to break room, many people went back, I stayed I wanted more pictures. Then Matsutani-sensei entered. He gave me his card and said a few things. I stopped him to ask to look over the application paperwork for the temple. I had prepared since another Sempai with the long 2.5 Flutes group had given me. He at the time said he would sponsor me if I needed. I thanked him at the time and add Matsutani-san would do that, The sempai says , that would be better as Mastutani-sensei is more famous.
So I had everything on the application done I thought , with the help of Kishi Sensei and his daughter. However I did not have it. It must be in the other room. We agreed to connect later perhaps at the drinking dinner. He left. I did a couple of things At the table and moved my clothing I had shed earlier. Bammm, there was my clipboard with the application. I went over to Matsutani-sensei and excused myself into his space. Matsutani-san looked over the application and pointed to the spots needed to sign. He agreed and spoke to the lady that had signed me in to the event. She dug out a pen and he asked about his “mon” stamp. She dig more. Ohhh I said this is your wife!? Yes, we all smiled… Another nice person I find out.
Signed, stamped the application was handed back to me. Sensei says , ” please do well, and ganbatte as a Komuso “.
I was not expecting this part to be done today. But it was. All I need now is a couple of photos and take my application fee into Myoanji. I will be official. A new chapter will start.
Amitoufu
 

Cracks, Bamboo and Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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.

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.
 
 
 
 
…. …. …. …. ….

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

What a Long strange trip it’s been

あけましておめでとうございます

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

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

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