Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving 1974 in Shingu

Happy Day After Thanksgiving. A few weeks ago I had lunch with Bob Frager. He gave me the irimi nage picture above. It reminded me of another Thanksgiving 34 years ago in Shingu. At this time Bob had taken a sabbatical from UC Santa Cruz and had taken a group of students to train for the fall quarter at the Shingu dojo. I was there on my way to of all places Melbourne, Australia, to pursue a full doctoral fellowship in Russian at Monash University. As it turned out I decided not to leave Japan. But that period of training that coincided with Bob's being there was a wonderful experience. Somehow the picture brought a lot of it back.

The training was joyfully intense. Anno, Yanase, and Tojima senseis were all active at the dojo during this time. Hikitsuchi sensei, invigorated by a successful May 1974 trip to the San Francisco bay area, taught a lot. He even had special classes in sword, aiki bojutsu, and kototama(chanting). It was a rich and memorable period. This period started in late August of 1974 and continued into early December when Bob and most of his group left.

Even though in Japan, we celebrated Thanksgiving(kansha suru hi). At the time the foreign contingent was split into two groups, one staying at Teibo-cho(where I stayed during my initial stay in 1973) and the other at the third floor of a Narukawa dormitory for the employees of the Urashima Luxury Hotel just down the coast in Katsuura. Bob and I were in the latter group. I remember we all had a chicken dinner we prepared in the kitchen facilities on the third floor. I vaguely remember we might have invited and hosted Anno and Tojima senseis for dinner. Yanase sensei was still working at the Nachi waterfall parking lot at that time and it was harder for him to get time off. So I don't remember him present.

The uke in the picture above is Karen Chew. She was one of the people in Bob's Santa Cruz group. She stayed for over a year longer than most members of that group. She still makes trips to see the Shingu dojo. At that time she and I would try to figure out the moves. This picture was taken just outside the dojo during one of our attempts to figure out irimi nage. Bob, I believe, shot the photo. With my blue jacket and red backpack contrasting to her red jacket and blue backpack, we form a sort of yin/yang. He commented at the time that it looked like we were a couple of comic book superheroes.

Anyway sometime in mid-December Bob left to go back to Santa Cruz. I remember the holidays. The next picture was taken January 2nd, 1975, when after a brisk training at the dojo, we ran to the Shingu river. Hikitsuchi sensei lead us for 500 bokken cuts. We all then went into the Shingu river. That river was fed by the snowpacks from the mountains and was COLD............As you can see, we were all in great shape then. Though the definition in the abs is a result of the intense COLD.

What is the role of intensity in training? A certain sort of athletic intensity can pretty much only be done when very young. I was 26 at the time those photos were shot. There are things I could do then, mainly stamina, physical speed, a certain go straight out full speed ahead hold nothing back quality that would be foolish to try now. On the other hand in terms of certain other understandings I am much deeper now. One thing Hikitsuchi sensei stressed was that aikido is NOT a sport. Things like endurance and speed and intensity are associated with sports. But what he called "shinken shobu" literally as if you were facing a live sword is about warriorship and can be done at any age. The last time I saw Tojima sensei alive was 1992. He and Anno sensei were having a discussion about just this. Tojima sensei insisted that something that you do when young that you become unable to do as you age is a sport, not a budo. He had the experience of watching Ueshiba Osensei to guide him in this. Obviously certain types of ukemi and training can only be done when quite young. But Aikido is rich and deep enough that the true meaning even deepens as one ages. The sense of coming from one's true self, manifesting sincerity in all ones interactions, valuing life and preserving the beauty of nature must all be treated with an attitude of "shinken". When one is young it is easy to be drawn into a quality of what is really a sport. As one matures, the true treasure of aikido is revealed.

Unfortunately, after Bob left, the celebrated Shingu chaos emerged. A lot of the fun left with him. I stayed until the end of March 1975. My mother was quite ill and I took the opportunity of teaching Aikido at UC Santa Cruz to be with her for her last year. I am very grateful for this. Karen stayed quite a bit longer and returned I believe in 1976. Bob left the University to found The California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology(now ITP).

What is the purpose of this chaos? Somethings are just energy. It is good to not get washed away in a flash flood. It is better to survive a tornado or destructive storm.
Maybe the sense of Thanksgiving Day is implicit in this. Sometimes life will send you a lot of stuff. On the positive side it makes you grateful for the wonderful things that are there. If we focus on the negative, I believe it is endless. If we are able to shift our gaze during these times to those things we have gratitude for, then we create more reasons to have that gratitude. For me these days this is what warriorship boils down to and with it sorcery. And it is a matter of "shinken".


Post a Comment

<< Home