The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Austere Training


You will sometimes encounter in martial arts training, something which the Japanese refer to as Shuugyou Renshuu, or austere training. In Kyokushinkai karate, for example, they have the famous 100 man kumite. In this type of event, the participant will fight 100 full contact rounds, consecutively against fresh opponents. The founder of Kyokushin, Mas Oyama, was known to go an an annual retreat to the mountains where he would do nothing but practice meditation and karate for months on end. Below is an excerpt from an article on austere training as practiced in a modern day dojo. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

Shugyo Renshu by Nathan Scott

Shugyo (修行) may be defined literally as "conducting oneself in a way that inspires mastery". While the meaning of the kanji used in "shu" was originally translated as 'using a brush to strike away the dust that obscures the viewing of a persons original elegance', the combined kanji of "shu" and "gyo" (carrying out, walking along) is now generally translated as simply "severe or austere training". The kanji rendered for this version of "shugyo" is most commonly associated with Buddhist asceticism, and most notably, the "shugenja" (修験者, ascetic mountain-dwelling monks).

In addition to ascetic Buddhism, the act of shugyo can be applied to any serious endeavor or "michi" (path). For example, the term "musha shugyo" (武者 修行, an exponent of martial [arts] conducting themselves in a way that inspires mastery) refers to a "knight-errantry" tour, a practice of travelling around the country in order to train and test their martial skills that was followed by many serious budo-ka of pre-Meiji Japan (and to a lesser degree post-Meiji). The kanji used in the term "shushi" (修士, master) also combines the same shu character with the character for "man" (alternately read as "samurai"). The implication of this kanji combination is that the person, and perhaps only the person, that follows the way of austere training can obtain the skill level of a "master".

A related term worth mentioning is "kugyo" (苦行), which translates literally as "carrying on while suffering", and is understood functionally as referring to asceticism, penance, or mortification.

In centuries past, shugyo were periods of time where the adherent (usually certain types of monks or warriors) would submit themselves to extreme conditions - mentally, spiritually and physically, in order to achieve certain enhanced or enlightening experiences. This was viewed as an important forging process that, among other things, taught one what their actual limitations were; or more appropriately, what their lack of limitations were.

There are several well known shugyo-sha (修行者, practitioner of austerities) that are known to have followed such severe training in more recent years. The famous Karate-ka Mas Oyama was known for his long periods of mountain training.


Tesshu Yamaoka was one of Japan's most famous and interesting swordsmen. Tesshu was influenced by Zen, and eventually founded his own tradition called "Itto seiden muto ryu" (the tradition of no-sword), perhaps partially in reaction to the dissolve of the warrior class in 1868. Though he was also an exceptional artist, and created over a million pieces of calligraphy in his lifetime, he gave money to others his entire life and died a poor man.

It is said that Tesshu required his disciples to follow a progressively strenous physical trial, that would have been considered brutal even in his own time:

  • 1st stage - Two day commitment to engage in two hundred contests per day, alone, and without stopping against twenty opponents who are permitted to rest and attack in rotation. Prior to committing to the 1st stage, the disciple had to carry out the training for 1000 days without fail.


  • 2nd stage - Three day commitment - same as above.


  • 3rd stage - Seven day commitment - same as above.


  • 4th stage - One thousand days training without stopping, from 4am to 8pm each day, competing against one hundred opponents per da
  • Friday, March 28, 2008

    Wu Style 54 Round Competition Form


    Iv'e mentioned the 54 Form a few times. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a YouTube video of Sifu Eddie Wu doing a section of the 54 Round Form.

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Almost Spring


    I am nearing the end of my second week on the new job. All things considered, it's going well.

    Between learning new products, new customers, and new systems, I sometimes feel like I trying to drink from a firehose. It'll all come together in time, and no one is putting any undue pressure on me, so I think everything will be fine going forward.

    Most of the friction I have encountered is getting all of my newly issued gadgets up and working together. The laptop I am working on is a refurb. It's a temporary until one of the new models comes in and gets set up for me. This one is pretty slow and has a few ... quirks.

    I have it set up where I can input in either English or Japanese. The trouble is that it tends to switch modes randomly. I might be typing up a storm and end up with a page of hiragana encoded gibberish.

    I had installed my favorite Japanese - English - Chinese dictionary, Wakan, on it. While going through some of the many parameters I could customize, I accidentally changed the language of the menus, and controls from English to Polish. That was interesting. I tired uninstalling the program and re installing it. That didn't work. When I re installed it, there must have been a file left over somewhere that insisted that all the menus remain in Polish.

    I finally crawled through it and changed it back.

    The wireless doesn't work that well. At home right now, I have a 50' ethernet cable strung from my home cable modem, over a railing, and down to the family room where I am right now. I just can't maintain a connection to my wireless access point.

    But all of this is getting smoothed out. I got a new Blackberry today and was able to get my contact list down from my Yahoo account and onto my laptop.

    Taiji practice is going well. We've been working on the 54 Round Form in class. I'm now 2/3 of the way through learning the sequence. It's certainly related to the 108 Standard form whose sequence I recently finished learning; but it's ... different. Different enough to cause me some confusion when I work on one, then work on the other.

    Wu Style Taijiquan has a LOT of material and I'm already wondering how anyone manages to practice everything, and I'm only at the beginning.

    My oldest daughter is going to graduate from college next month. Right now she's down in Florida for a few days. It just so happened that after she had planned to go down there, she got a call on a resume she had submitted to a Florida company. So she's not only going on vacation, but on a job interview as well.

    I had hoped that she would be able to find work locally, live at home and save some money. However, jobs are slim pickings here in Michigan right now. If she ends up in Florida, I guess we'll just have to visit her. A lot. Especially in winter.

    It's snowing again. We're supposed to get another 2 to 5 inches over night. However it'll be well above freezing the next ccouple of days so it won't stick around. If it's not sticking around, I'm not shoveling it.

    I've read that this has been the snowiest winter in Michigan since they've been keeping records. We've haven't really had a huge amount all at once, but it just keeps on coming. I'm ready for spring.

    Almost Spring

    Lone Goose
    making his way
    over a frozen lake
    through a snowstorm, wearily
    in March.

    Tuesday, March 25, 2008

    Japanese Woodcut Prints


    A friend sent me this article from the NY Times, on a Japanese woodcut exhibition. I am posting an excerpt below. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. It is accompanied by a nice slide show.

    Fleeting Pleasures of Life in Vibrant Woodcut Prints

    The cult of celebrity and the commercialization of art are not unique to the West. In 19th-century Japan kabuki actors and high-priced geishas were idolized by commoners, and the sale of colorful woodcut prints portraying them became a big, competitive business.

    In 1842, fearing an erosion of national moral fiber, the government reacted to the mania for kabuki and for ukiyo-e, the paintings and prints that depicted the fleeting pleasures of life in the entertainment sectors of major cities. Laws were created to limit the extravagance of kabuki theater and to prohibit yakusha-e (actor prints) and bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women). It was as if the United States had clamped down on Hollywood movies, paparazzi and the tabloids.

    Looking at Japanese prints today, you might not realize what a rough-and-tumble commercial world they came out of. Their formal elegance, poetic beauty and technical refinement suggest a more serene, creative environment. So “Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770-1900,” an exhibition of many splendid prints at the Brooklyn Museum, offers a useful and informative corrective.

    Organized by Laura Mueller, a doctoral candidate in Japanese art history and a curatorial intern at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the show presents 73 woodblock prints from the Van Vleck collection, a renowned repository of more than 4,000 Japanese prints owned by the Chazen. With 22 more prints from the Brooklyn Museum’s collection, the exhibition tells the story of a group of artists that dominated the ukiyo-e print business for much of the 19th century.

    It is not a masterpiece show, though there are some terrific works in it. Utagawa Toyokuni’s “Fireworks at Ryogoku Bridge” (1825) is spectacular. On a two-and-a-half-foot square made by conjoining six prints, it depicts yachts loaded with languid geishas passing under a great wooden bridge, on which a crowd has gathered to observe fireworks bursting against the night sky. With its scores of lively people, precisely delineated details and blocky diagonals thrusting every which way, it is a marvel of formal compaction.

    Also extraordinary is Toyohara Kunichika’s dramatic wide-angle picture from 1894 of an actor dressed in a sumptuously patterned costume surrounded by vividly colored flames. With a fierce expression on his face, he poses with extended arms; holding a sword in one hand, he prepares to commit seppuku, or ritual suicide.

    The exhibition’s sole example of the popular erotica called shunga warrants a close look too. Produced in 1851 by Utagawa Kunisada, “An Illustrated Account of Coupled Genji” consists of three lavishly printed volumes, with double-page spreads showing men and women in luxurious robes engaging in sexual intercourse with delightful urgency.

    There are many more compelling works in the show, including land- and seascapes by Utagawa Hiroshige, one of the most famous of all ukiyo-e artists. But there are comparatively nondescript works, too. Prints from the 1770s by Utagawa Toyoharu are historically significant because he founded the Utagawa school and because of his innovative use of Western-style deep perspective. But his blandly illustrative works lack the bold, sensuous qualities of prints by his immediate followers Utagawa Toyohiro and Utagawa Toyokuni.

    Friday, March 21, 2008

    Chinese Art


    As I am anticipating shovelling about a foot of snow from the driveway tomorrow morning, I am reading an article sent to me by a friend regarding an art show in the New York Times. If you click on the title of this post you'll be directed to the article. I have included an excerpt below.

    The original article includes a slide show that is well worth seeing. Enjoy.

    - The Snow Shoveling Daoist


    The Art Is in the Detail

    From his terrace, the world is blue and green — mountains and trees — or almost green. Spring is on the way; the geese are back. One, then two, alight on the river, with more still invisible but close behind. Pavilion living! The only way. With the city somewhere down there, and nature everywhere up here, he watches mist rise. River meets sky.

    The calm watcher is the fourth-century scholar-artist Wang Xizhi, father of classical calligraphy and model for living an active life in retreat. He is depicted by the painter Qian Xuan, another connoisseur of reclusion, in a 13th-century handscroll at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The scroll is in “Anatomy of a Masterpiece: How to Read Chinese Paintings,” a spare, studious show that offers, along with many stimulations, a retreat from worldly tumult — the religious fervor, the courtly pomp, the expressive self-promotion — that fills much of the museum.

    This exhibition is also a refuge from the hurly-burly of Asia Week in New York, which is now in session and has mushroomed into three weeks this year. Dealers are in town from abroad with special shows; others arrive next week. Two art fairs are returning. Add a passel of events devoted to contemporary Asian art, along with the auctions, and the situation is clear: a marathon stretch of looking, judging, sorting, tsk-tsking and oh-mying, not to mention wheeling and dealing. Naturally, the urge to get away from it all can be strong.

    I mean, isn’t part of the point of our Western passion for Asian art to find a serenity that we can’t seem to cook up on our own, a metabolic slow-down, a less-is-more state of grace? One 15th-century Chinese writer recorded such an ideal in a lifestyle wish list that includes: “A nice cottage. A clean table. A clear sky with a beautiful moon. A vase of flowers. No cares of the world.” He was describing the optimum environment for looking at art, but also for living artfully.

    “Anatomy of a Masterpiece” has all the elements on his list, and one more: instruction. The curator, Maxwell K. Hearn of the Met’s Asian art department, has given the museum’s lofty Chinese painting and calligraphy galleries the intimacy of a teaching collection, with a limited number of objects accompanied by short labels and photographic enlargements of details. The labels are thematic and ruminative, approaching paintings through ideas rather than dynasties. The photographs are a revelation.

    To many visitors Chinese brush-and-ink painting, with its faint images on time-darkened silk, has a generic look; entire galleries register as a soft brown blur. Close and repeated looking slowly reveals those images and brings them to life in a startling way; partly this is a matter of individual vision evolving, sharpening. But photographs speed the process, cutting through obscuring patinas, clarifying what is otherwise hard to see, and in dramatic ways.

    I can easily imagine Mr. Hearn’s photo-supplemented show creating converts to Chinese painting; it is museology as consciousness-raising. (Yale University Press is publishing an accompanying book.)

    Mr. Hearn has the immense advantage of working with some of the most famous Chinese paintings in existence, and he opens with one of them, “Night-Shining White,” a picture of a spirited horse by Han Gan, who lived in the ninth century during the Tang dynasty. By that point the criteria for a successful painting had been established, and the first was the ability to convey a subject’s vitality, or life-energy.

    Han was a master of this, bringing an animal to life with contour lines and calligraphic strokes that look almost joltingly vibrant. And if that dynamism escapes us, the testimony of generations of connoisseurs is there to confirm it: the horse is hedged in by a halo of seals applied by scholars and artists over the centuries. Each is a stamp of approval; together they are a storm of applause.

    During the Tang dynasty, figure painting was the prestige genre, and landscape subsidiary. With time this hierarchy was reversed. Landscape became the big picture, figures mere dots to establish scale. And the scale was tremendous: towering mountains, limitless vistas, sourceless rivers, as befitted an image of nature that was an emblem of creation itself, a vision of matter forever consolidating and evaporating .

    Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    Wu Style Sword


    A friend send me a link to an interesting blog. The blog is The Wu Sword Project.

    The blog chronicles the efforts of some of the students of Wu Kwong Yu to find "the perfect sword," They weren't interested in the flashy tin WuShu swords. They were looking for the real thing.

    Their research led them to investigate the modern day manufacture of combat worthy swords, and to identify and meet the remaining sword makers. It's a very interesting read.

    If you are interested in weaponry, you might also want to look at The Sword Forum. The Sword Forum is a place for the discussion of both Eastern and Western variety of weaponry. It's well worth a look as well.

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    Beginnings


    I started a new job today. I had ten days off, I am very relaxed, but it was time to get back to work.

    I am working for another Japanese company, a competitor of my old one. This company is much further along in adapting to the competitive norms of the North American Automotive market.

    My youngest daughter plays travel volleyball. We attended a three day tournament in Indianapolis over the weekend. There is some interest in her playing in college from a number of D2 and D3 schools. With a little luck it will work out that she'll be able to study what she wants at a good school and continue to play volleyball, which is her passion.

    My oldest daughter is going to graduate from college next month. I can't believe time has gone by so quickly. With hope, she'll find a job locally so she can live at home for a while and save some money. Besides, she's been away at school for a long time. I want her back. I want her to live at home for a while before she goes off and begins her life on her own.

    In my taijiquan class, I've begun learning the 54 Round Form. As a "round" form, this looks more like what you'd expect a taiji form to look like. It's also a fast form. Where the 108 Standard form is usually done very slowly, the 54 Round Form is done at a very quick pace.

    Spring is just around the corner.

    Of green
    dreams in winter,
    thawed brooks purl anew.
    Phantom sunflowers touch the sky
    Waking.


    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    Learn Chinese in Four Days!


    ... at least that was the assignment given to the reporter who wrote the article that I am posting an excerpt from, below. It's an interesting read about different "crash course" type approaches to learning a difficult language like Chinese. For what it's worth, my own efforts to learn Japanese has had it's highs and lows. Today, after about 3 years of effort, I am a little better than survival, and would border on conversational. I can understand the meaning of about 5oo kanji, even if I don't always remember the way to pronounce them all of the time. As I'm beginning a new job with another Japanese company, I'm redoubling my efforts to become first truly conversational, and eventually fluent, in Japanese. Check out the full article by clicking on the title of this post. It's a fun read.

    Four Days Fluent
    Elisabeth Eaves, 02.21.08, 6:00 PM ET

    Mastering a foreign language is so difficult that diplomats and academics spend years doing nothing else. But the business world--or at least my editor--lacks that kind of patience.

    "Eaves! You're good with languages, right? I want you to learn Chinese in three days. Yes. Three days. Do whatever it takes. And, yes, there will be a quiz at the end." He seems to find this funny.

    Unreasonable, to be sure. But impossible? Maybe not. I manage to wrangle an extra day out of my boss, so I now have four days--or a total of 96 hours--to learn as much Chinese as possible. The plan? Total immersion. I would get a tutor, flashcards, movies, even subliminal learning tapes. My iPod would rotate Chinese vocabulary, my computer would run language software and I'd do my shopping in Chinatown. I would even ban our Mandarin-speaking intern from addressing me in English.

    On the bright side, I do actually have a good ear for languages--I speak French and Spanish and studied Arabic for several years. On the other hand, Mandarin bears no resemblance to any language I've ever studied. I can't muscle my way in, feeling for familiar words and phrases.

    First stop: My local bookstore, which carries 13 audio-learning packages, including Speak in a Week!, Mandarin Chinese in 60 Minutes, 15-Minute Chinese and, for those whose schedule demands an even shorter period, Now You're Talking Mandarin Chinese in No Time. There's also Learn in Your Car Mandarin Chinese and In-Flight Chinese, which says on the box that it "covers everything you need, and nothing more"--apparently for customers worried they might learn too much. It's tough to choose between "no time" and "instant," but I settle on Instant Immersion.

    Early in the morning on my first day, I boot up my computer and install Rosetta Stone, a popular brand of language software. It says it teaches "the same way you learned your first language," which means that it uses only the foreign tongue. The program flashes images while saying words and spelling them in pinyin, the Roman-alphabet version of Chinese. Then I have to remember the words and match them to the images myself. Unable to recall the syllables, which sound completely random to my ear, I get all the answers wrong.

    I calculate that it took me the first six or so years of my life to acquire fluent English, with constant exposure to the language. At this rate, if I used Rosetta Stone all day, every day, I could speak Chinese like a 6-year-old by 2014.

    On the subway ride downtown, I listen to Instant Immersion. With the exception of "mama" and "baba," no sound reminds me of anything. It's like an aural assault of jarring sounds, and so far I feel discouraged.

    At 9 a.m., I start my first private session at Berlitz, the 130-year-old language school. Berlitz is a serious place. It would never make insane promises about three-day Chinese. Nor, probably, would they ever accept assignments from a possibly deranged editor. Indeed, the professionals at Berlitz were highly reluctant to let me cram their five-day Immerse and Converse course into three, but I telephone frequently, begging and pleading, and eventually they relent.

    My first teacher of the day, Duncan, spends three hours just working on my pronunciation, and in particular tones, the great bugaboo of Chinese-learning. The situation is this: Chinese is a tonal language and the various tones are sort of like musical notes, with each one radically altering meaning. Any vowel can be pronounced as a single note; or falling from a higher note to a lower note; or falling and then rising; or rising from a lower note to a higher note; or without any tone at all. So "ma" pronounced the various different ways means different things. One is "mom," and one is "horse." Get the intonation wrong and you're calling your mother a horse, or worse.

    Consonants are no picnic either. For instance, a sentence that to my untrained ear sounds like "shuh shuh shuh," is in fact made up of three distinct words. The third word, "piece of paper," is pronounced "zhjr." As far as I can tell. In the third tone.

    My afternoon teacher, Mr. Huang, refuses to speak English to me, which I think is great. I'm a big believer in immersion. That's mainly because I'm lazy and immersion doesn't require memorizing verb tables or long lists of vocabulary. It's all about passive absorption.

    We begin conversing. Or at least, we begin exchanging sentences like "Is this a pen?" ("Zhe shi yuanzhubi ma?") and "Yes, this is a pen." (Shi, zhe shi yuanzhubi.") It's hard to imagine using these sentences in a real-life context, unless I am dealing with a blind man. Later we move on to more useful phrases like "Is the large chair red?"--"No, the large chair is gray." Major progress! At 2:30, I am elated. But at about 3 p.m., my mind shuts down, refusing to accept further information.

    Nevertheless, I soldier on. At home, I pop one of Chinese movies I've rented, Beijing Bicycle, into the DVD player. I try not to look at the subtitles. The plot goes something like this: A guy has a bicycle. It gets stolen by a second guy and a third guy buys it on the black market. The first guy steals it back. But then the third guy steals it back from him. They keep stealing the bicycle back and forth for the rest of the movie, sometimes pausing to beat each other up. I'm not picking up much Mandarin, but I feel like I might be gaining profound insights into Chinese culture.

    Immersion may be a passive way to learn, but there are even lazier ways, and I am determined to try them. I ordered a compact-disc set from a company called InnerTalk, which is designed to teach Chinese subliminally. The company specializes not in language but in self-affirmation messages, and its titles include tracks designed to help listeners quit smoking, lose weight, even grow larger breasts. If InnerTalk's tapes can accomplish all that, teaching me one of the hardest languages in the world should be a snap. The copy on the packaging explains: "Hidden affirmations enter your mind without conscious interference such as doubt, fear and so forth."

    Saturday, March 08, 2008

    Winter: Enough already!


    Having cleared the driveway AGAIN, my thoughts naturally turn to being somewhere else. Somewhere warm. Somewhere scenic. How about Taiwan? The island's other name is Formosa, named by the Portugese from a Latin word meaning "beautiful."

    I have friends who live there, and others that have visited many time. They are remark on how beautiful the place is.

    Below is an excerpt from a travel article in the NY Times on spending 36 hours in Taiwan. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. There is a slide show there that you don't want to miss. Check it out.

    - The Snow Shoveling Daoist


    36 Hours in Taipei, Taiwan

    TAIPEI, the vibrant capital of Taiwan, distills the best of what Asian cities have to offer — great street food, crackling night life, arguably the world’s best collection of Chinese art, and hot springs and hiking trails reachable by public transport. With interest in mainland China surging, Taipei — one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Asia — offers a look at a different side of China, one that escaped the deprivations of early Communist rule and the Cultural Revolution. Here is a Chinese culture (some contend that it is uniquely Taiwanese) that practices bare-knuckled democracy and has preserved traditions thousands of years old in a way that was impossible to do on the mainland.

    Friday

    3 p.m.
    1) ANCIENT WAYS

    The National Palace Museum (221 Chih-shan Road, Section 2; 886-2-2881-2021; www.npm.gov.tw/en/home.htm) is considered by many to be the finest repository of Chinese art in the world; it houses artifacts dating back to the earliest days of Chinese civilization. The collection includes oracle bones, which have the first known written Chinese ideograms, as well as ritual bronze vessels, Ming Dynasty pottery and jade sculptured into the shapes of cabbage and fatty pork.

    5 p.m.
    2) TOP OF THE WORLD

    But enough of ancient culture, at least for now. Immerse yourself in modern Taipei by going deep into the belly of the tallest building in the world, the 1,670-foot Taipei 101 (7 Xinyi Road, Section 5; www.taipei-101.com.tw/index_en.htm). The first five floors, with stores like Armani, Louis Vuitton and Sogo, should satisfy any shopping urge. Take a high-speed elevator to the indoor and outdoor observation decks, starting on the 89th floor, for unparalleled views of Taipei and its environs. In every direction lie city blocks and avenues winding among concrete-and-glass towers, with verdant hills rising in the distance. Wisps of cloud float past the windows. Beware of vertigo.

    7 p.m.
    3) OYSTERS IN THE SKY

    Dinner is only a few floors away. Go down to the 85th floor of Taipei 101 to feast on traditional Taiwanese dishes at Shin Yeh (886-2-8101-0185). Try the deep-fried oysters and rolls stuffed with taro and shrimp. Set dinners start at about 1,600 Taiwan dollars per person ($50.40 at 31.75 Taiwan dollars to the U.S. dollar). Be sure to make reservations well in advance, ideally several weeks before arriving.

    9 p.m.
    4) MARTINIS WITH MOOD

    Lounge bars have popped up all over Taipei. If you’re in a mood for dessert with your drink, try the bar in the consciously hip People Restaurant (191 Anhe Road, Section 2; 886-2-2735-2288). The attitude starts even before you enter: the double doors have no handles, nor do they open automatically. Figuring out how to get in is only part of the fun. Once inside, walk through the shadowy industrial rooms and take a seat at the bar or in the lounge, where cocktails are served in large glass globes. Next, saunter down the road to Rewine (137 Anhe Road, Section 1; 886-2-2325-6658), whose head bartender has won international awards for his unique cocktails.

    Wednesday, March 05, 2008

    Another Day in the Rat Race


    “The world under heaven, after a long period of division, tends to unite; after a long period of union, tends to divide. This has been so since antiquity.”

    - The opening words of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms

    The one constant thing we can look forward to in life is change.

    The Japanese technology giant that I work for has decided to spin off the semiconductor division (my division) into a separate company. From the way they are organizing this new company it will not only be easy to sell off, but to break pieces off to sell piecemeal.

    This rat has noticed an ice berg clearly in our path going forward and has found a new ship; with a promotion, and more money.

    It’s another Japanese company. I can still put my fledging Japanese Language skills to some use. They are a lot more stable, having their genesis from a joint venture/spin off several years ago. They’ve made it and have achieved the critical mass in the market I serve to garner future success.

    The local office is a much larger operation than the one I left. At a previous job I worked very closely for several years with the director for whom I’ll be working now.

    It’s all good. I am enjoying basking in the warmth of this good fortune … for now. I have been dragged around the block enough times to know that I should bask in every atom of this good fortune because as sure as yin follows yang, these good times aren’t going to last forever.

    At some point, the Universe is going to say to itself “I haven’t messed with Matz for a while,” and decide to have a few laughs at my expense.

    I’ve quoted the Old Farmer Story many times on this blog, and it is certainly appropriate here. If you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to many versions of this story, with links that will lead you to perhaps find your own wild horses.

    A man named Sei Weng owned a beautiful mare which was praised far and wide. One day this beautiful horse disappeared. The people of his village offered sympathy to Sei Weng for his great misfortune. Sei Weng said simply, "That's the way it is."

    A few days later the lost mare returned, followed by a beautiful wild stallion. The village congratulated Sei Weng for his good fortune. He said, "That's the way it is."

    Some time later, Sei Weng's only son, while riding the stallion, fell off and broke his leg. The village people once again expressed their sympathy at Sei Weng's misfortune. Sei Weng again said, "That's the way it is."

    Soon thereafter, war broke out and all the young men of the village except Sei Weng's lame son were drafted and were killed in battle. The village people were amazed as Sei Weng's good luck. His son was the only young man left alive in the village. But Sei Weng kept his same attitude: despite all the turmoil, gains and losses, he gave the same reply, "That's the way it is."

    Monday, March 03, 2008

    The "Dao" in Dojo


    Below is an excerpt from an article at FightingArts.com by a very senior teacher of classical Japanese martial arts, Dave Lowry. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the whole article.

    What Puts the “Tao” in the Dojo?

    Part 1

    By Dave Lowry

    Editor’s Note: This is first of a two part article. Part 1 discusses the design and structure of the traditional martial arts dojo and relates it to traditional etiquette and its meaning. Part 2, delves into the hidden Taoist symbolism and additional meaning found embedded within the same dojo layout.

    Like practitioners of any Japanese art or way, aikidoka are not into there discipline for long before they discover that what is visible, readily observed, or easy to understand is like the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Inevitably, concealed beneath the surface, are profundities of the sort never even guessed at by the casual observer or the uninitiated.

    The deeper meaning beneath the superficial is a recurrent theme in traditional Japanese culture. In the art of garden design, it is actually given a name, hiegakure, which means "that hidden from ordinary sight." The average shlub strolls through a Japanese garden gawking at the sights, entirely unaware of the paths beneath his feet. To the connoisseur, however, these same paths offer a lifetime of study and appreciation. Here the paths are smooth, hurrying one along. There, the stones are rough, irregular, or stepped, causing the visitor to slow down, something planned by the garden's designer, who may have wanted visitors to pause at a certain point.

    The concept of hiegakure can be applied to budo (the martial Ways). To the beginner for example, shomen uchi ikkyo begins with a chopping motion which is countered by an arm twist. To the expert, the same strike and counter are wonderfully complex positive energies that exemplify the essence of the universe.

    The dichotomy of the obvious and the subtle can be found (or missed), not only in the arts practiced in the dojo, but also in the setup of the dojo (the training hall) itself.

    Understandably the cultural model unconsciously adopted by contemporary Western budo practitioner in creating a dojo is that of the gym--a reasonable model, since on the surface the budo represent physical activity. On a deeper level, though, as most of us know, the martial Ways of Japan are most intimately concerned with matters of the spirit. Therefore, while the dojo may resemble a gymnasium, its historical inspiration is that of a temple or shrine.

    Walk into a gym-type dojo, and there will be little aside perhaps from a carelessly fashioned shomen ("ritual alcove"), to distinguish it from an aerobics classroom. I remember visiting an aikido dojo in which the toilets and dressing rooms were actually behind the shomen or "front" wall, which is supposed to be the most honored and respected part of the training area. (Was it just coincidence that this dojo was the coldest, most unfriendly place I've ever practiced at?)

    Arranged along the lines of a building meant for spiritual or religious exercises, the traditional dojo is divided geometrically into a complex matrix.

    The shomen is the dojo's front wall--the wall on which the kamiza, or dojo shrine, sits. Opposite is the shimoza wall, where the dojo entrance is located. To the right is the joseki (the "upper lateral wall"); to the left, the shimoseki or lower side wall.

    Traditionally, there is an elevated shinden space against the kamiza wall --a space where once the headmaster of the art being studied would sit as would any members of the Japanese imperial family who might drop by. This is, therefore, a largely symbolic elevated space reserved only for the founder of the ryu ("style") or an imperial family member. (Recently, the American planners of a dojo in a Japanese-American community center decided to make the shinden "stage" bigger in order to "go one better than traditional floor plans." A competent martial arts practitioner on a planning committee pointed out the mistake and explained what a kamiza meant to the architects before the dojo was built.

    When class begins, dojo members align themselves in order of seniority from joseki to shimoseki. Also, in a traditional dojo, senior practitioners will stay to the right of the dojo's centerline, nearer the joseki, when training. Juniors train on the other, shimoseki side. The receiver of a technique will most often position himself with his back to the kamiza while the nage or shidachi begins facing it.

    Traditional etiquette also specifies such details as the appropriate foot with which to begin approaching or leaving the kamiza and the direction to turn first in moving about the training area.