Friday, February 20, 2009

New Year's Practices

Hi. Sorry it's been a while since I've posted anything. I'm so backlogged that I've got a little hand-written note in my bag, with about 7 ideas for blog posts written on it. I'm going to start with my iaido New Year's practice.

New Year's practices are quite common in Japan and the custom has spread to other countries, too, I'm sure. We (by which I mean, "my club") used to do them in Canada every year, although I don't think I ever attended one! In Canada, they often did a toshigoshigeiko, or a "span the New Year practice" where you start in the evening on the 31st and practice through midnight and into the New Year. And then, from what I hear, you drink a whole lot. It sounds like fun!

Here, it seems that toshigoshigeiko are pretty rare. I've only ever done the paired "Bounenkai" (end of year party) and "Shinnenkai" (New Year party). Two parties for the price of one! Double the drinking! (Which reminds me: Ozaki Sensei was talking about the meaning of Bounenkai. It is written 忘年会 which means forget-year-gathering, so most people assume it means a gathering to forget about the troubles you may have had in the past year, and get ready to welcome the new one. Ozaki Sensei said that the name and the custom actually came from China, where it carries a meaning closer to "forget-age-gathering". In other words, old and young come together and forget about their respective stations in life, and the rather strict Confucian hierarchy that is attached to age, and everyone drinks and has a fun time together. I like that idea.)

In any case, early in January we had our first practice of the year. As I have been moaning about endlessly to anyone who will listen, my knees had been bothering me quite a lot prior to New Year's, so I had taken a bit of a break from practice, and so I was really rusty. Unfortunately, our New Year's practice was to take the form of an extended demonstration. The entire club would go and show their best techniques, in embu divided by rank: ikkyu, then shodan, nidan, sandan, and so on. Everyone showed up, so we had a lot of people crammed into the small dojo.

Somehow (just my luck) I was the only 5th dan present, which meant I would have to demonstrate by myself. I felt a little bit nervous before going out, but as I am the only Muso Jikiden practitioner in my dojo, I knew that whatever I did (mistake or otherwise) everyone could basically write it off as a stylistic difference.

I started my embu and after standing up following chiburi on Mae, I switched my legs and ... somehow sent my back leg into a convulsive tremor that made my entire body shake! I couldn't stop it and I could barely keep my balance. Was it nerves, or muscle fatigue? Probably a combination of the two, but in any case, it was very embarrassing and threw me off for the rest of my short demonstration.

Afterwards we all went to a nice Japanese restaurant for my favourite part of any practice: the drinking. Sake and beer were flowing freely and I found myself voicing something that I might not have had I been more sober:
"Sensei", I said, "today I was really nervous, and it showed in my demonstration. My techniques completely fell apart. Isn't iaido supposed to be about building concentration and mental focus? Sometimes it seems to me that I haven't made any progress in those areas."
Sensei just laughed and said that iaido meant something different for everyone. But if I felt nervous, then I was missing the point of iaido. I was thinking about the crowd, or thinking about myself, but the one thing I definitely wasn't thinking about was the threat in front of me. If you let your attention get sucked into thinking about people watching you, he said, or on the other hand, about thinking about your own demonstration, then you'll probably get nervous and fall apart. So, the way to do a good demonstration was not to think of it as a demonstration. There is no audience, there is just the imaginary opponent, who is everywhere all at once.
The only thing that counts is something that isn't even real. Very zen.
I thought about that for a while as I got drunker and drunker. There was a moment there where I think I understood it, but I kept drinking and destroyed those brain cells that may have gotten his point. Easy come, easy go, I guess.
At the end of the evening, after the room was almost completely cleared out, Ms. T., one of only a couple women in the dojo, who was also quite drunk, grabbed hold of my wrist, gleefully exclaimed "Iai is not the only martial art, you know!" and then did ikkyu or nikyu or some damned wrist lock on me and threw me to the floor. I was too drunk for much of the pain to reach my conscious brain, but somehow my body knew enough on its own to flip itself to the floor. I was laughing so hard I could barely get back on my feet, and as soon as I did, she screamed and threw me to the floor again. This continued four or five times until Sensei came back in and said, "Quit messing around you two! Time to pay the bill."
So, it was a humiliating day in a few ways, but also quite enlightening.


Blogger Frederic Lecut said...

Excellent Humor - I love the end of year practice ! Sounds like lots of fun !

9:05 AM  

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