Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Day at Monterey Peninsula College

On Sunday September 21st, I was privileged to attend the Monterey Jazz Festival. I was invited by a dear friend, Louise Diamond, who studied with me in Santa Cruz when I first began full-time teaching in Aikido. We shared a little dinner, then got to listen to first Wayne Shorter and then Herbie Hancock. Both of these muscicians were named by Chet Baker in a 1979 video interview(Jazz Icons dvd series) as musicians he listened to when he was not playing himself. I think he enjoyed their musical concepts or ideas, which then would influence his playing. I found myself doing finger positions for trumpet and hearing sounds as I heard these wonderful musicians play. So on that front it was a very interesting day. On the down to Monterey I heard the 49ers score 30 plus points for the second consecutive week and the Giants beat the Dodgers 1-0 in extra innings, so it was an all around very good day.

The parking was at Monterey Peninsula College and you took a shuttle to the festival. Being there awakened memories of a demonstration that Hikituschi sensei did in May of 1974. That is when he stayed for a whole month at my parents’ house in Santa Cruz. This event was towards the end of his visit, so that means it was rather late in the month. I wound up taking a lot of ukemi during his visit, so that probably sped up my aikido evolution a bit. He was always very intense. He said aikido was always “shinken shobu”, literally a matter of life and death involving blades that could cut. When he stepped out to do a demonstration, the energy around him was always very sharp. As uke you needed to be ready and very quick. He would not in this state tolerate someone who was mind-based in their approach and thus slow. It was not to say that speed by itself made a form by the mind was what he wanted. He expected all out, nothing less than your best, intense, intuitive, a there-ness. And if you were out there being thrown, you were being trained in a way that was past the norm of just studying in the dojo.

He considered everything to be shugyo, a term that one initially found invigorating but that one could tire of. After all, if you were on or had to be on at all times, that could get a bit overwhelming, and the mind usually dealt with that by going into complaining or just after a while blocking things out. But his anger could often times penetrate that sleepiness. It was an anger I felt quite often. So it was a challenge to continue to train past just an initial idealism or enthusiasm. When you were dis-illusioned, tired, complaint ridden, it was a challenge to drop all of that and rise to the occasion in the moment.

When this video was taken, I was in my early stages of youthful enthusiasm and idealism. The experience of being there in the moment, one with what was going on, I found, at that time, almost intoxicating. That was difficult to maintain in later years. As one’s body ages, as one acquires sophistication and mindbased knowledge, sometimes things like this seem so far away. For certain things he was for me a very important teacher. I hope you appreciate his speed, directness, and his all-out desire to show Osensei’s aikido to the best of his ability. This video certainly has awakened memories from that distant day 34 years ago.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Weeklong Retreat in Sebastopol

From September 7 through September 14 I was able to spend a week in the Sebastopol house and dojo sitting for Betsy Hill sensei and James Gauer. It was nice to spend the time doing a little more sitting and meditating than I have recently. I took my trumpet and was able to play outside everyday.

In addition to teaching at Tenchiaikido, I was honored to take classes at Kuma Kai Aikido and Centerfield Aikido. So a leisurely, not busy, week with time to spend with friends, do music, take walks, soak in the hot tub....I think you get the picture.

On Friday the 12th I had the privilege of sitting in on a calligraphy demo by Kaz Tanahashi sensei. He does characters with colors other than the traditional black and the effects are striking. He also talks about his youth in Iwama, when he studied aikido with the founder, Ueshiba Osensei. I asked Tanahashi sensei whether O sensei in the war years when he was in his early sixties, was he addressed in those years as "Osensei" or was that title given him later? Tanahashi sensei cleared that up by stating that in those years he was already addressed as Osensei.

I would like to thank Betsy Hill and James Gauer for letting me house and dojo sit. My thanks to Denise sensei and Mary sensei for inviting me to their dojos. To Michelle and David senseis for inviting me to the Calligraphy demo. I would like to thank Andrew and Bob for showing me the way to various places and in general watching over me. Thanks to those who came to the classes and provided energy. Thanks to those in San Jose who covered my classes so I could pursue this retreat.

What did I take away from this Retreat? I guess that it was the importance of emptiness. Of being empty and allowing. Things I try to work on every day. But a retreat can intensify things. How do you intensify emptiness?

I shot some of my playing, just to see what the sound was like. I'm including a clip with one of my favorite Chet Baker songs,"Everything Happens to Me". Chet does it as a vocal. I've played along with his singing countless times,just to try and study his phrasing and phrasing in general. There is a little free form at the beginning and the end.