Tuesday, June 14, 2005

From "Lost Japan"

Alex Kerr is a very smart American guy who has been living in Japan since 1977. He wrote a great book called "Lost Japan" that I just finished. It has a lot of interesting things to say about traditional arts. It doesn't say much about budo but it does say this about tea ceremony and a culture seminar he attended: (long quote to follow)

The folding of the fukusa, the sliding movement of the feet in Noh, the grip of the sword in martial arts - everything was difficult. Moreover, as the seminar progressed, it became clear that these movements were not merely ornamental, but expressed a philosophy. For instance, I encountered the rhythm jo, ha, kyu, zanshin; basically this is quite simple, amounting to "slow, fast, faster, stop". When wiping the tea scoop with the fukusa in the tearoom, we were taught to start slowly (jo) speed up a bit at the center of the scoop (ha) and finish off at the end quickly (kyu). At the instant one draws the fukusa off the tip of the scoop, there is the closing zanshin, which means "leaving behind the heart". Then one returns to zero, in preparation for the next rhythn of jo, ha, kyu.
At first I thought this rhythm was a pecularity of tea, but I soon found that it applies in exactly the same way to the foot movements and raising of the fan in Noh drama. In martial arts and calligraphy as well, this rhythm governs all movements. Over the course of the seminar I realized that jo, ha, kyu underlies every single one of Japan's traditional arts. The teachers went on to explain that jo, ha, kyu, zanshin is the fundamental rhythm of nature - it defines the destinies of men, the course of eras, even the growth of galaxies and the very ebb and flow of the universe.

-Alex Kerr


Anonymous Fast Ed said...

Hey Jeff! Just read your comments on Alex Kerr's book and jo ha ku...Fascinating. I'm going to have to contemplate this for a while.

Fast Ed

9:57 AM  

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