Saturday, July 29, 2006

Moving Out

It's my last night here in Beppu, at least for a while. My apartment is all cleaned out. I left my swords with my iaido teacher, and a whole bunch of other crap that I have accumulated with my calligraphy teacher. The place is looking pretty empty, and, without wanting to wax too melancholy, I'm feeling a bit empty too.

I had intended this post to be about "Why I do martial arts" but I really don't think I'm ready and/or in the right frame of mind to address that question right now. But just to touch on it for a second, my friend phoned me up the other day and announced that he was going to start training in earnest because, as he put it, the time had come for him to either get serious or to "flush it all away" and give up training in martial arts. He has a family now, and he's busy with his job; he is also seriously involved in the tea ceremony, and so basically, he has come to a crossroads: quit to spend more time on other things, or go deeper so that he might actually get better at iaido and jodo and therefore get something out of it.

I think I'm close to the same crossroads, actually... I haven't practiced much this past four months. From a training standpoint, perhaps moving to Beppu was a bit of a mistake. But hindsight is always 20-20, isn't it? Next fall, I intend to start teaching iai as well as jodo (as long as the Jodo club can get an indoor practice time!) and maybe that will help. I'm also probably going to start going to jodo practice in Beppu, despite the fact that they seem to be a little bit at odds with Namitome Sensei and his group. Politics, politics ...

I also think I might get a bit more into Niten Ichi Ryu. I had a one-on-one practice with Iwami Soke a couple weekends ago, and it was really good. Well, actually it was terrible; or rather, I'm terrible ... we were practicing walking, for God's sake. That's how far back to the beginning we had to go.

Cleaning the dojo under the watchful eyes of Imai Soke, Kiyonaga Soke, and Aoki Soke.

It was an interesting practice, though. First, we spent about an hour cleaning Imai Sensei's old dojo. It was a bit neglected. As it was well over 30 degrees and extremely humid, I was really embarrassed because, as I shlepped the vacuum cleaner over the floorboards, I was literally leaving a trail of sweat droplets every few inches. By the time we finished cleaning, I was dehydrated and absolutely exhausted. It was really, really tough for me to muster up any strength or "spirit" for training, and that's awful when Sensei wants to see how much spirit you can develop. I looked and felt like a wet rag.

It made me happy to be able to clean the dojo, though. I have always felt that true training is synonymous with being in service; with being of use to somebody. Perhaps, if we really believe that the focus of martial arts is self-improvement, we should go out a few nights a week and hit a soup kitchen and skip the dojo entirely...

Anyway, here's the flipside of things ... a tongue in cheek portrait of "Jeff-as-samurai". (To be perfectly honest, I ran into my friend on my way to practice, and she insisted on taking a picture of me.) But actually, it's not a bad shot... if every Japanese woman under the age of 60 didn't think that "budo" was synonymous with "weirdo" maybe I could use it to pick up chicks... if only ...

Yeah, I'll admit it: I only got into iai because of the cool clothes. And I'm okay with that.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Iai in Beppu

The other day I had a one-on-one practice with Yasumatsu Sensei. "Yasu" is the character for peaceful, which is appropriate since he's a very kindly old guy. "Matsu" is a pine tree, which is also appropriate in a weird way since he has the insanely bushy eyebrows that only appear on elderly Japanese men. They stick out of his face like pine needles, so I like to call him (to myself, anyway) "Fuzzy Pine" Sensei. Anyhow.

Initially, I was quite insulted by Yasumatsu Sensei's invitation to a "special" one-on-one practice. I guess he thought my basics were terrible and needed some intensive work. He started off by telling me how to hold the sword properly, how to cut, how to do shibori ... all things that I thought I was doing properly (of course) but which I probably wasn't. Well, actually, scratch "probably" - if an 8-dan hanshi tells you you're doing something wrong, you damn well listen to him.

So anyway, it was quite a fruitful practice, once I got over myself. I keep thinking about this topic ... I keep writing about this topic ... and yet I (and so many other people) just don't seem to *get* it: iai/budo is about deleting your ego. As soon as you start thinking, "I'm good at this" or "I don't need to work on that anymore", you're screwed.

So anyway, I'm far from immune to being insulted when I get negative comments. I guess it's human nature; you just have to take it in stride. But ... in a slightly different vein ... I was also a bit insulted when one of the teachers here took a look at me and announced, "Well, foreigners have weak legs, which is why he can't do furikaburi properly..." I hate that kind of sweeping (essentially racist) statement. What a load of BS! *I* have weak legs, *I* have bad knees ... but there are a lot of foreigners who have immensely strong legs! What he should have said is "We Japanese are comparatively small, so it's easier for us to shift our weight than it is for large foreigners." Unfortunately, there were no Japanese sumo wrestlers (with bad knees) in the room for purposes of comparison...

At the practice, there were a couple of guys who do Sekiguchi Ryu Iai as their Koryu ... it was cool seeing them doing their kata. They get to jump around and do kiai ... it all looks very satisfying to do. I was having a bit of "Koryu Envy" (which is to say, the grass always looks greener on the other side of the dojo ... or something like that). They also do Niten Ichi Ryu, I think, although exactly who their teacher is I'm not sure; I mentioned Iwami Sensei's name and they clammed up immediately, so either they were shocked that we have the same teacher, or they have a different teacher. I guess I'll find out eventually.


The other day at Jodo practice (with the growing Asia-Pacific University Jodo club!) a foreign guy showed up and asked if he could practice with us; he is actually a really nice guy but he awoke a whole bunch of feelings of insecurity in me. For one thing, he has only been practicing for about 4 years, but he seems much better than me. I was glad that he didn't actually come out and ask me how long I've been practicing. Argh.

The other thing is that he only practices koryu at his dojo - and I suppose I'm jealous. It's not that I think Koryu is "better" than Seitei or any other such nonsense, but I guess I want to learn it all someday. Plus, I'm always embarrassed when I go to Fukuoka and I'm the only one in the dojo who doesn't know any koryu. Namitome Sensei seems kind of ticked off about it too, somehow ... but I suspect that he doesn't exactly know what to do either. After all, I hardly ever make it up to Fukuoka to practice, and I get the feeling that he's not sure *whose* student I am. And if HE'S not sure...

Finally, this foreign chappie and I got to talking about martial arts and it became quite apparent to me that he has just thought about budo a lot more than I have. And before you point out that budo is not an intellectual pursuit, I agree ... but nonetheless, we were discussing topics like "Why do you do budo" and I realized that I have no bleeding idea. That's not good... Let's face it ... iaido and jodo are meaningless in today's world. Unless you know why you're doing them, you're only wasting your time. Which raises the doubly tricky question of why someone would live halfway around the world just to study them. Double argh.