Little House In Ise

本部道場 — Honbu Dojo
October 28, 2007, 15:30
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Ueda sensei took me out to lunch today. We had Unagi (eel) and talked Aikido. Sensei is the most personable shihan that I have ever met but I was still a little nervous when he invited me. It turns out that he just wanted to hang out and talk Aikido and reminisce about his own teacher Sadateru Arikawa shihan. Since I may be moving to Tokyo in the near future, sensei gave me a lot of advice about Aikido at Honbu and schools in the area. This including what turned out to be his thoughts about “right and wrong” technique (as in my last post).

According to sensei, there are many interpretations of a single technique. At Honbu you may see three sensei present six variations of the same technique and in each case the form shown by the sensei on the mat is the “right” way. Anything that you do differently is habit. Any habit that causes you to perform a technique differently to that of the demonstrating sensei makes your technique “wrong”. However, as Aikidoka become more practiced, their habits may begin to be considered aji (flavor), at which point they are no longer wrong. However, until a school full of students is calling you sensei, calling your own bad habits “flavor” isn’t going to get you very far. 🙂

Ueda Shihan’s advice on training at Honbu:
1) There are politics at Honbu so NEVER ask a sensei to clarify a technique demonstrated by another sensei.
2) For Aikidoka living in Tokyo, it is cheaper to join a Tokyo shibu dojo and pay visitors fees at Honbu than pay monthly, yearly and entrance fees in both schools unless you train at Honbu a lot.
3) If you are going to drop in at Honbu and want to train with a specific sensei, check their schedule. Big name sensei do quite a bit of touring and may not be teaching when you arrive.
4) If possible, get an introduction from your own sensei. This doesn’t necessarily get you anything but it may benefit your home dojo and sensei. On a certain level, you are representing them when you are training at headquarters.


Doing It Right
October 26, 2007, 10:55
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , , ,

Along with hooking up the electricity, phone and making certain that the garbage didn’t pile up in the alley, finding a reputable dojo and instructor has been one of my must-do chores when moving house. I may need to do it again soon and the thought is a bit daunting.

Part of starting at a new dojo used to include preparing for the inevitable barrage of “That’s wrong” or at best “that’s not how we do X-waza / Y-nage here!” If I had grown comfortable with a technique as done in one school I would soon find that it was “wrong” in the new school. As a young man, I used to argue that the technique wasn’t wrong, it was just different. Eventually, I shut up and just did whatever the sensei did. Though this may seem obvious, it does take time to get past some egos — mine for example.

Getting passed ones own ego is critical to success! Don’t argue, just do. You are learning something new. Follow sensei’s lead. Do what sempai do. Learn the new and restrain your old habits.

Some think that there is a “right way” or at least there a “best way”. A lot of “this vs. that” arguments revolve around the assumption that there is a best way. What may be the “best” for a person of one size or shape may be exactly the wrong thing for people of other sizes. “Right”, on the other hand, should be the way that your sensei just showed you how to do it. Don’t get frustrated if the next time the technique is different! Just learn what your sensei shows you and learn what works for your body. You will progress.

More on Dojo Etiquette
October 22, 2007, 23:17
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , ,

Tonight’s class was one of those rare, unplanned all yudansha classes. Sensei took the opportunity to get into nitty gritty. In my case he was focusing on how I behaved in my role as uke more than how I did technique. I was his uke all evening and after I back-rolled out of a shihonage he called a pause to the demo. It wasn’t to give a reprimand, rather, it was a teaching opportunity. He said that proper behavior as uke for the demo portions of class was to take the fall, hold position and then stand up for the next attack. I had been rolling out and starting my next attack immediately. Sensei’s point was that behavior that is appropriate and good during normal practice is not necessarily what shihan want during their demonstration. Mind you, all shihan will want something different but their technique is usually the focus of the demonstration so there needs to be time for the students to catch it. Immediately flowing into the next attack also has the uke setting the timing of the demonstration which is, once again, not necessarily the best way for students to pick up what is being taught. So, I stopped rolling out of his techniques and class progressed.

Later, another pause was called in order to correct my za-rei (seated bow). Now I know my bow is less than graceful, my wife always says my butt ends too high, but I had no idea that my feet were wrong too! It seems that the seated bow should be performed with the backs of ones toes flat on the mat. I had been bowing with “live toes” — toes extended, butt on heels. Good to know!

I didn’t notice much technique but there was one other bit of nitty gritty Aikido that I just loved. We were doing something or other from gyaku hanmi katatetori. My partner had strong, veiny, muscular forearms and he looked tough. When I grabbed for his wrist it was as though he was a ghost. His technique, for all its power, was remarkably soft. I spent our whole time together trying to copy the way he moved.

It was a good practice and a good night.

Karaoke in the 80s
October 21, 2007, 15:01
Filed under: Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My son heard me singing in the shower the other day and politely asked me to stop. He was both irritated by the racket and a bit embarrassed that the neighbors might hear. As most devoted, loving fathers know, moments like this are the best times to yank your kid’s chains… so I kept singing and maybe even turned it up a bit. Who doesn’t like a little Gregorian chant in the shower? Anyway, as most complaints about my singing do, the incident reminded me of my introduction karaoke* when I first came to Japan back in the 80s …

The place was a bar with a small central stage. To get to the stage singers walked through a small cluster of tables filled with enthusiastic groups of patrons who all seemed to be having a great time. There was a slight hush when my group came in, gaijin weren’t that common in Tokushima then and I was apparently taken for a ringer. I’ve noticed that many Japanese people tend to assume that I because I speak English that I should be able to sing music in English too. It’s a common mistake that, at the time, I didn’t know I should correct. After a moment or two the room perked back up and it was back to business as usual. The very cool cowboy-entering-a-saloon feeling didn’t fade until I was urged to pick a tune out of a book and sing. Actually, I was pushed. Song list books were repeatedly offered to me with encouragement to go up on stage.

The books alone were intimidating! They were telephone-book sized, shredded, monstrosities written mostly in Japanese. Thankfully, the small list of foreign songs included Beatles tunes. I later learned that the Beatles are a staple of the foreign language section of karaoke song lists. My extended family is very musical and singing contests used to be a way that we would express our musicality. I say “we” only because I’m part of the family not because I’m a singer. In fact, if a form of mental retardation that only affects musical skills is discovered, I’ll go in for a test. At any rate, Beatles songs — usually “Yesterday” — were often used in family competitions so, if there is any non-Christmas carol that I can claim to know, it is “Yesterday”. I found the appropriate song number, wrote it on a scrap of paper and passed it to the bar master. I think I started drinking heavily at this point but don’t remember clearly because of all the heavy drinking.

My turn came and the place quieted down as I walked up. Usually, the crowd kept on laughing and talking as singers took their turns on stage but not this time. The crowd was genuinely looking forward to hearing me sing… naifs. After pouring my heart and soul out there was an awkward silence. Before the silence was broken by the start of next song I overheard someone saying “Maybe he’s never heard it before”…

On the positive side, no one tried to force me to sing again that evening. 🙂

* カラオケ = “kah rah oh keh” NOT “kareeOkee” as most Americans seem to prefer.

残心 — Zanshin

Popjisyo defines Zanshin as follows: 残心/ ざんしん : n 1)follow-through (e.g. in archery). When I first read that as definition for zanshin I thought it was awful but my feelings have changed.

My introduction to zanshin was in a cheesy ninja novel. It was presented as an almost mystical power that allowed a true budoka (or cheddary ninja) to have 360 degree spatial awareness of attack. That’s cool, I want some of that … was my youthful reaction.

I first heard about it in an Aikido context, when a sensei implied that zanshin just meant standing still after a technique was completed. That was where my disappointment with zanshin began.

Jump ten years or so forward to the point where I could look the word up in a Japanese dictionary only to see that it defined zanshin as “follow-through, especially in a martial-arts-and-crafts context”. The 大辞林 (Daijirin — “Big Dictionary” from Sanseido) really knows how to disappoint!

All that said, zanshin is a considered a basic concept in both kendo and kyudo so there must be something to it, right? The Kendo theory page describes striking with zanshin and says that physical and spiritual readiness to respond to a counter-attack should be preserved even after missing a strike. It also has a warning against accepting the result of strikes that hit their target, if this readiness is not preserved. Whew! Zanshin is so important that actually landing a strike is less important than preserving your spirit and posture…

Wait-a-minute! That sounds a lot more Aikido-y than “standing still”. Perform a technique. Whether it was done “right” or “wrong” doesn’t matter. Preserve your calm. Preserve your posture. Be still. Breath. Be aware of your connection to uke. Be aware of the other occupants of the space. This is follow-through in a way that makes for good Aikido.

So, after all my disappointments with the concept of zanshin, in the end, all of my sources of information about it held some nugget of truth — even the silly ninja novel.

Old Ladies and Kids — The Shopping Strategy of an Illiterate

Last night Megumi made inarizushi. Eating them reminded me that I had eaten not much else during my first expat week in Tokushima Japan 18 years ago.

I was a fresh faced, so I’d like to imagine, young man just out off the plane with very little clue how to live in this country. Shopping intimidated me and I had no idea what I could find to cook. This was before I could read a word of Japanese so I was illiterate and alone. Believe me, adult illiteracy is frightening! Imagine not being able to understand a single thing written on a label or sign. What would YOU assume is in the can labeled with a whale and an octopus? How about the package with the sort-of-English label “Colon” that contained short cylinders filled with brown stuff?

How was I going to buy stuff that was cheap, healthy and tasted good (that may not have been my original order)? I ended up following little old ladies and buying what they chose since they would probably know what was a good price and what was healthy. I followed little kids and put what they begged mama for into my basket. The theory here was that kids would want the good tasting stuff. I only remember one failure — black tarry gunk in a jar that was, sadly, not grape jelly.

I discovered both いなりずし (inarizushi — rice stuffed into a sweetened, fried, tofu pocket) and ちくわ (chikuwa — processed fish, roasted on a bamboo stick) that first day. The inari tasted great and the ones mixed with veggie chunks looked like they might even be healthy. I discovered that chikuwa have zero fish flavor and, when quartered lengthwise, make a decent bologna substitute. 🙂

None of this really applied to folks in Osaka or Tokyo but, out in the sticks, food shopping was a challenge.  It was for noob expats anyway. 🙂

赤福スキャンダル The Akafuku Scandal

The breaking news in Ise this weekend was related to consumer fraud perpetrated by the 300 year old Akafuku company of Okageyoko-cho. When I heard the news I was very disappointed. I’d been hoping for no-pan-shabushabu bribes of politicians or yakuza hits on other pastry makers. Sadly no, the news was mundane and, had they been clear in their advertising, not really news-worthy.

Apparently, Akafuku has been mis-dating some of their pastries *GASP*! As anyone who bites into the red anko covered mochi knows, these things have an eat-by date of tomorrow (or-you-will-heave). Well, they have been freezing ingredients and saying they were fresh *GASP*! They have also been adding sugar and not listing it on the right part of their label *GASP*!

This is truly a sign of moral decay. I’m going to move back to America! Errr…. maybe not…

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