Monday, May 28, 2012

Occidental Weekend

Last weekend Friday Saturday Sunday(May 18-20) Over 100 people gathered to study Osensei's process. This is significant because most training is around training in the technique, and some allusion to process or the philosophy of the art might be hinted at. This was a full weekend plus where the process itself was central, highlighted by some movement and technique. For those who supported the event, my deepest congratulations. Oftentimes work such as this is much past one's comfort zone. There is sometimes the feeling that just training the classes in a dojo situation, training with one's friends, studying the philosophy in a purely written form is enough to grasp the essence of this amazing art. My sense is that all of the above is invaluable, but that more is needed. When Osensei said training never ends, what he apparently meant was that shugyo never ends. This is a word that I heard often when I trained at the Shingu dojo, because apparently Osensei stressed this quite a bit.

Sometimes the dojo in Shingu would go through slow phases because of weather( classes in the coldest of winter or hottest part of summer tended to be small) or the fact that people just got very busy. So going through these slow times, one always waited for the high energy, magical class. This is where the black belts would be there and especially the shihan or senior instructors would come not just to teach, but also to train. There were times when such a class would emerge after a slow period, and I would be called into Hikitsuchi sensei's office to inhale cigarette smoke while there was a dynamite high energy class going on. I would generally not deal with this well. But I now look upon this as somewhat valuable. This was invaluable for seeing how my "I" would jump out and be negative and judgmental. How could sitting in the office while everyone else trained, got a workout, got to interact with very skilled aikidoists and teachers be fair to me at all? I realize I could get very judgmental and negative. My "I" would be screaming to go back into the class. But what if the lesson is to be here and now in a way that was not dependent on the circumstances? And being negative and judgmental is a great way to cop out on being here and now. So I did not deal with it well then, but I do now find myself somewhat grateful for the chance to see the workings of my"I". How it has a level of comfortableness. How it judges anything outside of that as negative. How it tends to label things good and bad, light and dark.........

Osensei was said to have stressed:"Ame no Uki Hashi ni tatasarete.......". " I would have you be made to stand on the Floating Bridge of Heaven...."...Not conceptually be there. Not do an activity and assume the doing of it puts you there. Not purely just hanging out with your friends and assuming that is enough. But the very act of standing there. Mary Heiny upon hearing these words from Hikitsuchi sensei(who was quoting the founder) asked him the very important question, " Who makes you stand there?" Apparently he had no answer.......My sense now is that you must put yourself there.......And just by what Osensei said, I think we may surmise that it is probably not in one's comfort zone. My sense is that those of you who attended the event got a chance to stand on some level of that floating bridge. It is never easy to be in process for that long, so I'm sure you encountered what Osensei said about being made to stand there.....

Carlos Casteneda was once told by don Juan to leave the desert and go home, that his system was too open and if he stayed he would die. And once back in his world to immerse himself in is world of everyday reality. When Carlos asked for a further explanation don Juan informed him that the special people and activities in his world that would shield him long enough for his system to go back into the balance needed for the shaman's word was his path with heart. Friends and the specialness of one's world is important. But I've always been partial to the more of things as well. So to balance the time on that floating bridge(constant transformation) with one's own special world or path with heart is a constant and sometimes joyous struggle.
When I asked Anno sensei once about shugyo, he hinted that something was only shugyo if it was also joyous, ie going past the comfort zone and standing there.

In the donJuan books, one of the processes for handling the "I" or in their system referred to as self-importance, is controlled folly or seeing the agendas of the "I" and using unusual behavior to deal with it.
Tojima sensei was great at just doing something abrupt and explosive to shake up your "I"'s sense of the world. A lot of the circumstances around Hikistuchi sensei seemed to put you in a situation where your"I" was jarred out of it's comfort zone. How much of this was intentional on his part I am not sure. Not every one has access to the experiences of the early '70's Shingu dojo, but there was definitely some of that there last weekend.

I am including a photo from my trip to Kauai. Once of my favorite photos of Osensei is of him in prayer in Hawaii. So I had this picture taken thinking a bit of that photo. As I lined up to pray, closed my eyes, I felt all these forces and energies gathering and circling around. I wondered if that was the way it was for him in prayer. He was surrounded by very powerful forces. To Stand there in his rightful place among those energies was obviously a choice on his part. I was very moved by the experience.

I am including a video I posted yesterday. For those of you who have not seen it, I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Five Years Ago and 24 Years Ago

About 5 years ago I decided to pick up the trumpet. I had played in middle school and in high school. I pretty much quit when I went to UC Santa Cruz. There I would be busy as an undergraduate and later get into martial arts, which has been the focal point for my life. But a little bit before I picked up the horn once again I decided to buy a cd at a Starbucks. It was a Chet Baker collection, mainly from his earlier years, entitled "Too Cool". I took the cd to my car, put it into the stereo, and listened to the first song, "Let's Get Lost". Mainly what struck me was Baker's vocal. He put so much feeling and intensity into what was outwardly a very laid back delivery. I had never heard a voice or a delivery like that. So I started listening to the cd and learning the words to some of the vocals. I got a couple of collections of other Baker cds. And began to think about about taking up the trumpet once again. So on May 5th(cinco de Mayo) of 2007 I got a rental instrument, went back to the cottage I was in at that time, and tried to play. I remember feeling very stupid and nothing seemed to come out well. After a rocky start I remember thinking I should  just quit. Then suddenly a line from "Let's Get Lost" had a good flow  to it. I think the memory of those notes kept me going during that initial period.

What I found was that Baker's playing and singing were virtually the same. He was not a high note specialist or someone who was flashy. The notes from his horn could be soft and yet burn right into your soul. And he could play incredibly fast if he wanted to, but it all whether fast or slow was always lyrical. So initially it was hard for me to make a sound, but from the beginning I could put on a cd of his and free form along with him. One of the reasons I quit years ago was that I would try to improvise and couldn't. But 40 years of aikido seemed to have opened me up to where I could begin to do that. And years ago I would try to put feeling into the playing and would over do it. Something had changed. So here I am 5 years later still playing.

It was 24 years ago today that Baker died. It seems he fell out of a second story apartment in Amsterdam, would not have died but that he hit his head on a telephone pole on the way down. Though he was in his 59th year his face was covered in blood and it was reported that a 30 year old trumpeter(they found his horn in his apartment) had died falling out of an apartment. Bruce Peterson when he was in Amsterdam shot these photos and e-mailed them to me. One is the hotel Baker stayed in and the other is a plaque now outside the hotel that commemorates his passing. Minor coincidences are that I started almost within a week of the anniversary of his death and that he died in his 59th year and in my 59th year I took up the trumpet once again.

This is a song Dennis and I recorded on Saturday. Nardis is a Miles Davis piece. Chet played a lot of Miles Davis pieces and apparently was very influenced by Davis album"Birth of the Cool".  And in his autobiography "As Though I Had Wings" Baker admits to years later still listening quite frequently to that album. And though to some extent they may appear to sound similar, Davis was a graduate of the Juillard School of Music. Baker was totally self-taught. Davis went on to explore many different modes of expression. Baker stayed true  to his inner sense of lyricism. He once said if something lacked "lyrical meaning", he wasn't interested. I hope you enjoy the piece:

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Avengers Assemble

With 2012 being the end of several calendars I sometimes look at release dates for movies I want to see and hope that I make it along with the rest of the world, of course. And so I have officially made it to see the Avengers movie. I like the fact that the title is "Marvel's The Avengers" since there is also a tv show with the same name I am very fond of. Marvel had a habit of ripping off tv series titles and putting them out as superheroe teams. Examples would be "The Champions" and "The Defenders". With Stan Lee's wife being British I am sure "The Avengers" was the first. I read issue one as a reprint. I started collecting with issue four, which featured the return of Captain America.

 The movie stays true to issue one in that the reason these heroes connected and teamed up was Thor's half-brother Loki causing mischief. With a whole series of successful movies these characters have been thoroughly updated from the early sixties comic books to 3D and even Imax in movie theaters. Little could I forsee such events as a teenager lo those many years ago. But reading Stan Lee's stories, getting totally involved in the Marvel universe, I knew I was a part of something special. From recent films Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Black Widow, the Hulk all seem like old friends now. And that is comforting, especially when the world is facing annihilation from both an angry Norse God and from outer space aliens

. It is amazing that these superheroes along with those of the older DC line form a mythology for the modern world. Ueshiba Osensei was very influenced by the adventures of Susano, Amaterasu, Izanagi, and Izanami in the Kojiki and Nihongi. I have always found an almost spiritual sense to comics and to superheroes in particular. My favorite of the Avengers line up was by far Thor. Stan Lee tackled the problem of how to create Marvel's version of Superman by making a mythological god a superhero. And in a turn of events I could not have seen in the sixties we now see technology(Iron Man) and science(Captain America) turning ordinary humans into god-like beings. And the Black Widow, originally an Iron Man villain, was turned into a spy ala Emma Peel, thus connecting the British show to the comic book. Scarlett Johansson does an excellent job in the role of Natasha Romanova. Her opening scene where she fights off several men while being bound to a chair is one of the strongest scenes in the whole film.

 I think the Hulk is much better in this team oriented concept than he has been in two separate films. Somehow this archetypal incarnation of pure rage is sight for sore eyes when he is fighting on our side. The Hulk works the delicate balance of being both a monster and a hero. This film allows the character to be a great balance of both. And there is a great use of humor around the character that was missing in both his feature films.

Chris Evans Captain America might have been the best super hero film of last summer. It surprised me how well they adapted the character to the big screen and how he fit in. And he more than holds his own with the other heroes.

I think they underplayed Thor in order to give the Hulk more play. Thor by himself could have dominated actionwise the whole film. So this was probably a good move. The relationship with his half-brother Loki is a complex one. Thor's hopefulness for his brother's redemption allows Loki time and again to create more mischief. Loki was always the god of mischief and not the god of evil so this is perhaps understandable. He is an ongoing force/energy in all of us and just won't go away.

Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man could easily have dominated the film as well and arguably does anyway. It is amazing how close we have come to Tony Stark and Gwynneth Paltrow's Pepper in the space of two films. It is nice that they seem to be doing well. In fact arguably the Iron Man character re-vises both himself and his purpose to an extent none of the others do in the course of the film.

So two thumbs up. It has already broken box office records and so by all means see it. Joss Whedon of Firefly and Buffy does an excellent job with this project.

I am including a video of Aikido of San Jose's demo at the recent Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival: