Little House In Ise

Making Mochi
December 31, 2007, 15:30
Filed under: Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , , ,

My jacket is covered with starch and my palms are red, almost blistered, from this morning’s efforts.  It’s New Year’s Eve and the family here in Okayama have been making mochi.  We gathered in the storage room off the new barn as it is the largest indoor space convenient to the kitchen.  Otosan and I assembled three tables and covered them with glossy newspaper advertisements (white side up).  There are cheesecloth-like sheets laying on wooden trays and a smaller table rattling away like magnitude 4 earthquake.  The shaking is caused by the new mochi machine.

The new machine can steam rice and then pound it into mochi on its own but my in-laws have been preparing 15 kilos of mochi rice and other stuff since the night before.  There are multiple level steamers that are filled with mochi rice, regular rice and black beans. This way, the mochi maker is only used for pounding and once a load (blob) is done we throw in another load of cooked rice.

The first load this year was plain white mochi which we made into balls.  Kneading it into shape is what has burned my palms.  A liberal coating of starch prevents the glop from sticking to you too much but it comes out of the machine steaming and must be hand rolled into the appropriate sized balls.  Okasan prepared the rice while Otosan turned the crank on the mochi shaping machine.  Ray sliced off blobs whenever he was told to and I scalded my palms with steaming piles of riceblob.  Aaah!  Family cooking!

It reminds me of preparing venison during hunting season when I was a kid and making tamales with my family arguing about what was the right ratio of masa to meat in a good tamale.  I still use my grandfather’s empanada sealing technique though I use it for making gyoza.  Yup, family cooking is good. 

I miss my mother, it’s her birthday today (happy birthday Mama) and my Dad who will be having a birthday tomorrow (happy birthday Dad).  They would both enjoy this event and be reminded of the same sorts of things as I do.  That said, the mochi would probably choke them both to death — it is insanely chewy stuff.

Aside from the plain white rice balls we made loaves the size and shape of baguettes filled with black soy beans.  We made green ones with black soy beans and sagebrush ( yomogi doesn’t taste or smell like the sage brush I know…) .  Sadly, when you split a large load of rice blob in half it doesn’t cut cleanly so there is a quite a bit of waste that must be consumed by the people preparing it.  With my experience in testing and quality assurance, I felt it was critical that I take the lead in this very important aspect of food preparation.  As you might guess, I am now stuffed to the gills.  Whoever it was who had the foresight to arrange to have a bowl of soy sauce and some nori handy was a genius.  They must have known that in the process of creating perfect rice cakes many mistakes would have to be eaten. 

After all this “cooking” I need a nap!


禊 — Misogi
December 27, 2007, 16:23
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Training at both Saruta Hiko Jinja Dojo and Obata Sogotaikan Dojo are done for 2007. At both dojo we performed misogi at the end of our last class. In this case, misogi is very similar to what I have always performed at dojo in the US — cleaning! The mats got an extra special scrubbing, dust was dusted and stairs were made slippery. Dirty water and dust have never really struck me as particularly spiritual but I do enjoy the community spirit generated during these events and the Saruta dojo really needed the TLC (what it really needs are new mats).

I got an email from my dojo in Seattle announcing their kangeiko (寒稽古) and I was a little bit envious. Since my local dojo are closed for winter break there is no kangeiko here. I’m jealous. Jealousy aside, it would be fun to see the PSA crowd and train hard with them. In the short term, the only “training” I will be doing will be on my kids’ Wii… Don’t laugh! Any video game that makes kids run in place for ten minute periods, and even makes my daughter do pushups, gets my vote for game of the decade. For me, well, it isn’t a super work-out but the balance training may be worthwhile. At the very least, I’ve always wanted to try yoga and being introduced to it in the form of a video game is about as safe as you can while separated from the sofa. I was pretty psyched that I managed to do the pose making Wii Fit yoga famous, without toppling back onto the sofa…

Even with all this “exercise”, I may still have a belly by the time either dojo opens again. 🙂

Merry Christmas
December 24, 2007, 14:56
Filed under: Family

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Nidan Shinsa — 弐段審査
December 19, 2007, 22:31
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , , ,

“Jiyuuwaza,” he said. Sensei called the attacks and wanted “five variations …” He didn’t call for a different attack after the first five so uke and I just kept going… and going, and going… Eventually, sensei moved us on to another attack and, again, said “five variations” but kept watching long after I had demonstrated five. He did that over and over until my uke was dragging. We ran through katatetori gyakuhanmi, katatetori aihanmi (“kosa tori” for some), morotetori, ryotetori, shomen uchi, yokomen uchi and tsuki. I was happy that zagi (suwari waza) wasn’t called but we did finish with kokyu dosa.  I think I did well but I don’t remember details.  I remember finding ikyo a lot but turing it into other things.  I didn’t feel rushed and though I was breathing hard throughout I think that was due more to my chest cold than exhaustion. My poor uke however was shredded.

As feedback, sensei merely said that he’d file my papers in the morning. Not the most spiritual or uplifting announcement of results but it does mean that I passed my nidan shinsa.  What that means is something I’ll have to work on.  Come to think about it, that may be the point.

Pop Test
December 18, 2007, 16:31
Filed under: Aikido, Expat | Tags: , , , , , , ,

OK, I’ve known that this was coming for a while. I’ve known for a week that it would be tonight, so, it’s not really a “pop test” in the normal sense. Unlike the PSA in Seattle, I don’t have keys to the dojo here. I can’t go in and practice whenever I feel a need. I don’t have a list of buddies willing to drop what they are doing just for some extra training. What I have is a test, my nidan shinsa (弐段審査), tonight …

Sensei said the test would be twenty minutes of jiyuuwaza randori (自由技乱取り) — with me as uke. He has a wicked sense of humor but for the last year he has been insisting that skill at ukemi is the determining factor for progress up any of the stylistic ladders of Aikido. When visiting other dojo or attending seminars he has repeatedly told me to watch their ukemi. I can’t just laugh, my whole exam may really be taking ukemi for someone else! Brutal! On the other hand, 20 minutes of me performing jiyuuwaza is enough to give me butterflies as well.

If jiyuuwaza is called and I enter a mental coda in which, no matter what attack is thrown, I fall into the same technique over and over, I’ll go with it. I will vary the tempo to the extent that I can and occasionally pause where “normal” execution may call for continuity of motion. Such a pause doesn’t necessarily mean a break in the flow. Nage may pause as uke’s body catches up in the middle of some techniques or, during another techinique, uke may be allowed a moment to dream of regaining balance before their hopes are dashed. So, I hope to make these pauses my reprieve from mental congestion that causes codas … A few deep breaths ought to help too.

Jiyuuwaza… OK. I can do that.

Hard-Falls with Kokoro
December 9, 2007, 22:19
Filed under: Aikido, Family | Tags: , , , , , ,

While playing tag with Kokoro this afternoon I bit asphalt. My shoes were a little too loose, a little too round and I zigged a little too fast for road conditions. It turned into a hard-fall before I really knew I was going down. Not bad… I scraped some skin off my palm where I slapped the ground but nothing worse. Kokoro tagged me as she ran past giggling. I should be used to it by now.

One night, a couple years ago, Kokoro got quite angry at Ray for monopolizing my time. I was helping him prepare for a kyu test and I was being his uke. I’d call a technique and attack. Ray would then perform the technique on me. From Kokoro’s perspective though, we were just playing and she wanted into the game.

Ray’s school had an age limit of four years old before kids could begin training. Kokoro was three and not even a little bit interested. She wasn’t a part of the test. However, jumping on Papa is always a game that she’s willing to play so she felt left out. She insisted that we take turns — so we did. Ray and I would go through left, right, ura and omote variations and then Kokoro and I would to do something gymnastic. I don’t remember exactly what we did but pretty soon she added the formalized “Onegaishimasu” and bow when it was her turn. After a few turns the ritual stopped being enough, she really wanted _in_!

This was the moment that I, as martial-arts-geek papa, had been waiting for — the moment that my daughter expressed an interest in my art! What technique to choose as her first? What would seem fun? I wanted to pick something that would keep her interested but not be too complicated … A simplified kotegaeshi (小手返し : literally “wrist return”) fit the bill!

I held out my hand with my palm rotated unnaturally outward and showed her how to mirror her tiny hand on top of mine. I told her that all she had to do was press gently and I would be thrown to the ground. Of course, she didn’t listen. She had a vision of her own. Sadly, I made it all too easy for her to express that vision. Instead of mirroring my hand as I instructed, she reached around the outside of my wrist, grabbed my little finger and, hanging firmly onto that finger, did a knee drop to the ground.

My three-year-old daughter’s first Aikido technique threw me for a wicked high fall. I thank all the instructors and sempai who ever taught me to roll. I was able to keep up with thirty pounds of little girl as she levered my pinky causing my body to rotate about the axis of my wrist. My big fat butt shook the house when I landed. My wife came running, my son stood there stunned. Kokoro smiled and said, “Again!”

I really should be used to this by now…

Too Much Muscle?
December 4, 2007, 13:20
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , ,

Last night I trained with one of my favorite partners at Sarutahiko Jinja. Ota-san is a young, 2nd kyu student whose ukemi and technique are strong and energetic. My main challenge when working with her is to contain my own physical strength and instead focus on timing, balance and flow. Since her energy and intent are good training my timing is also good. However, since she is light, I sometimes have trouble knowing whether I executed a technique by relying on muscle.

When bigger, physically stronger uke resist, recognizing whether my reaction is based on brute force or proper aiki is much easier. If I find myself straining to pull or otherwise force an uke to move then it is clear that I have failed in using aiki. If a resisting uke keeps toppling that indicates that, at the very least, their balance had been broken early enough for the technique to succeed. This is a good start and a great goal but I am currently trying to integrate a different feeling into my Aikido.

When working with some nage, uke will often have what has been described by others as a feeling of “falling into a hole”. It is not just being off balance but rather disastrously off balance. Imagine reaching out to lean your whole weight on a fence then having the fence disappear. That is the “falling into a hole” sensation that I strive to impart.

The first time I was aware of this feeling was during a very slow application of katatetori ikyo ura. A hole opened right in the middle of the mat. I couldn’t see it but the ground obviously wasn’t where I had left it. I have been trying to add that to all of my Aikido. It is still easiest for me, as nage, to feel success or failure when working with larger and stronger uke. So, last night’s practice with Ota-san pushed me in ways the big guys don’t. It forced me to be more sensitive and relaxed even at her very fast tempo.

Good uke are worth MORE than their weight in gold. I am going to miss her and the other members of the Mieken Aikidokai.

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