Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rancho Park

Our dojo is a makiwara dojo, where we shoot only a 'bows length' away from the straw bale (called a makiwara). So for standard distance shooting of 28 meters we go to 'Rancho Park' (though actually we shoot just a bit short of 28 meters at Rancho Park; we shoot at 25 meters due to the design of the range).

I remember my first time there. We were all shooting 20 arrows and keeping track of our hits and misses. I did very poorly with only one hit near the end of the day, and I almost shot Mishima Sensei who was standing behind me! and I almost shot one completely out of the range as it bent and curved upward and sailed away.

Kiomaru Sensei hit almost all of his, and Kosaka Sensei faired very well too. The only saving grace was that Mishima Sensei also only hit one, just like me. He didn't seem to mind. I think he did it just to keep me company. But as we were beginning to clean up he said, "I think I'll shoot just one more." He proceeded to shoot the smoothest easiest straightest shot I'd ever seen right into the center of the target, and he didn't seem to mind that either.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

First Shot

I'd been in the dojo learning the kihontai (basics) of standing, walking, bowing, sitting, and kneeling for several months when Kosaka Sensei brought a bow, glove, and arrow and handed them to me. I wasn't quite sure what he wanted me to do, so I hesitated. He reached back over and took them away saying, "Well, maybe next week." But it wasn't next week; it was several weeks, maybe even a couple of months before he handed them to me again. I realized that day, that while I practiced the kihontai I was supposed to be 'stealing' what the others were doing 'through the corner of my eyes'. It could not have been direct learning, since they said little; nor by watching directly, because when I tired of my own practice and tried to watch directly Kosaka Sensei would see me and say, "It's time for tea, please get the tea ready." But since the day he handed them to me I have been stealing his teaching through the corner of my eye. What a wonderful perspective it is. When next he handed me the bow, glove, and arrow I doned the glove picked up the bow and arrow and shot my first arrow into the makiwara. Maybe over two years since I started the practice with Okubo Sensei, and So many years ago now. To this day I still shoot the makiwara almost everyday, and practice Kihontai;

I continue to steal the workings of the world from the corner of my eye. Some say I may even have eyes in the back of my head, not a bad skill to have either. I see the 'invisible' target back there at 28 meters so clearly now, and can taste the students shot behind me. "Listen with our eyes, and see with our ears" Kosaka Sensei tells us; what wonderful perspective this is too. What a wonderful way to see the world.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Getting Dressed

Once I was doing the clean up and set up Kosaka Sensei would come in time to change. I wanted to watch how to dress properly, But as I watched him put on the hakama (traditional billowing/pleated pants) I saw that he put his left foot in first (and realized that he had done the same with his tabi (split toed socks), as well as his dogi (shirt). But as I looked up again to see what was next he was putting the last tie on the hakama; I had missed the whole process.

This continued for the next few weeks until I could get dressed, at least similar to the way he did. Always left foot first... tabi first... then dogi... then obi (belt)... then hakama.

After that Kosaka Sensei always came already dressed.

Clean up

In our tradition we take a tea break. This is a chance to discuss the schools schedule, upcoming events, extra teaching, for Sensei to tell stories, or just to share some nourishment and comradeship.

Sensei took this occasion to tell us that in Japan when he went to school there were no Janitors. The students (and sometimes parents and/or teachers) cleaned the school. They came early (in fact he said everyone in Japan arrives 30 minutes early) to clean and set up. Then after class the students would put everything away and clean up.

Our class started at 7pm, so the following week I arrived at 6:30 (30 minutes early as he said). But when I arrived the dojo was all clean and set up and Kosaka Sensei waited at the 'head of the room' waiting for all of us to arrive and get ready.

Sensei cornered my after class and sternly said, 'In Japan the beginners set everything up for the seniors, next week please come early!'

I was a little taken back because I came the 30 minutes early, but he had done everything was already.

But I wanted to train so I came 1 hour early the next week. Sensei was already there and everything was all clean and set up. He gave me a very aggravated look.

So the next week I cam an hour and a half early, but the same scenerio took place.

I wasn't sure what to do, but the follwoing week I came 2 hours early; I was just in time to see Sensei opening the door.

We cleaned and set up together. He handed me the key and never came early again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Never miss class...Never miss a chance.

I went to my first day of kyudo with the Los Angeles Kyudo Kai with a friend.
The friend, once we started found reasons not to go to class, so I didn't go for awhile too.
The day I returned to class, as soon as I walked in the door, Kosaka Sensei zero'd in on me and came straight at me. He told me quite strongly, "if you're not going to be here, if you're going to miss class, you should call me and tell me you're not coming!" He gave me his business card. I didn't want to have to call and tell him I'm not coming, so since this day I have almost never missed class; and I noticed, neither did he; for years he came every week to both our weekend evening classes in East L.A. and the Sunday morning practice at Rancho Park.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Okubo Sensei had sent me to a teacher in San Diego to buy us 'live' blades. At this time, at least, it was hard to get live blades out of Japan. When I recognized that my Okubo Sensei was just another human being and not the enlightened japanese master I invisioned him, I left him and returned to that dojo in San Diego (of course, later, I understood that even enlightened masters are human beings too and returned to train with Okubo Sensei some more). The dojo had changed and now said Sunset Cliffs Aikido on the wall outside. There was a contractor inside building rooms for students to live in. I helped him in his work and talked about my training desires. It wasn't long before I realized that this fellow was not a contractor but the Sensei of the school. I moved in that night. A few years later an aikido teacher came from Japan to live with us in the dojo. This teacher had also studied kyudo with Suhara Sensei in Japan. He started the San Diego Kyudo Kai; so it was that I belonged to both the Los Angeles Kyudo Kai and the San Diego Kyudo Kai. I lived in the aikido dojo all week then on Friday I left for L.A. and spent the weekend training there.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Before meeting Okubo Sensei, I had been training some karate students. Okubo Sensei felt that though I was supposed to listen to him, that because I viewed myself as a teacher I couldn't really listen to him; He felt that I was reviewing and questioning everthing he taught me. So he told me if I wished to continue training with him, I must close my karate / kobudo school. I went with several students to find them another place to train. But one of my top students really couldn't find a suitable place, and really didn't want to train with any one but me. Since I couldn't teach anymore I brought him with me to see Okubo Sensei in hopes we could train together. But he really didn't seem to care for the kendo class, and really didn't bond with Okubo Sensei. At the beginning of each UCLA kendo class, however, we did a warm up exersize that was borrowed from kyudo (japanese archery). He loved this warm up, and said, 'what is that? I want to do that!' 'Kyudo', Okubo Sensei replied; 'if you did kyudo for 10 years but hadn't picked up your sword in that time, but now picked up your sword, your sword work would also be 10 years better. Only kyudo would do that, nothing else.' We often had a bite to eat after class, at this meal Okubo Sensei wrote a note of introduction on the back of a napkin, and sent my x-student off to the Higashi Hongwanji Temple where he had studied kyudo under Koen Mishima Sensei and Hirokazu Kosaka Sensei.

He didn't want to go by himself, so he asked me to accompany him for moral support. We arrived and were directed to sit down on some chairs to watch the class. Mishima Sensei was teaching a few beginners how to walk. At this time it was customary for new comers to watch a few times before they actually were taught (though I didn't realize this at the time). But Mishima Sensei said we should come learn to walk too. My friend stood up, but I said that I only came to offer moral support for my friend. In my head I was thinking that I really didn't have any interest in kyudo. But Mishima Sensei insisted that I should practice too. But again I said that I shouldn't, that I didn't want to waste the Sensei's time, that I would only be here for this one time, that I would be here only one day. Mishima Sensei replied quite strongly, 'one day of practice is one day of practice!' As I stood up I thought to myself, 'ok, as long as you understand I'm only going to be here for one day.' But I practiced that day and I still practice today.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Training Continues

Since Master Yen passed away I trained with a variety of instructors in a variety of martial arts, sometimes just for a seminar or maybe for a year or two. These include Bill Ryusaki Sensei, Roger Arell Sensei, Russell Black Sifu; But my next real teacher / student relationship was with Hirotaka Okubo Sensei in February of 1982.

I met Okubo Sensei at the San Fernando Kendo dojo. We used to move from one sensei (instructor) to another as we attacked each of them with our shinai (bamboo swords). The first day Okubo Sensei came, I cut down on his men (helmet) and shouted 'Men!'. He was small and in his sixties but he held up his hand as I tried to pass and stopped me in my tracks, like hitting a brick wall. He whispered to me 'that's the best kiai (shout) I've ever heard; you should come practice with me at my class at UCLA on Saturday;' Of course I answered 'Hai Sensei' (yes teacher). The following week at break time Okubo Sensei scolded me, 'you said you would come to my class at UCLA, but you didn't come'. I apologized and promised to come. He had me pick him up at his house and take him to UCLA across town. When we started class at UCLA I again cut down on his 'men' and again he stopped me in my tracks; but this time he said, 'what was that, you sound like a wolf howling to the moon' that's the worst kiai I've ever heard'.

I started going to his house almost daily. We would either go to a class somewhere in L.A. together, or I would practice swinging the shinai in his living room.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Training Begins

My martial arts training began in 1966. My sisiter's friend drove us to the beach. We always sat near the 'rings'. These rings stretched in a line of about a dozen rings; everyone would climb a few steps, jump out, and catch the first ring; then they would swing back and forth from ring to ring until they dropped to the ground on the far side. I tried, but couldn't even reach the first ring; I would just miss and land right there on the ground. As I walked away a boy, even smaller than I, climbed up, jumped, grabbed the first ring and swung back and forth from ring to ring and dropped on the far side. I stood there with my mouth hanging open; the boy said, 'hi'.

His name was Johnny Wills and I asked him how learned to jump and swing like that. His father and uncle taught judo and pinjat silat; they had brought in an oriental teacher for him to learn more. This teacher was Master Yen Su Ho. Johnny and I studied with Master Yen till his death 10 years later. I couldn't travel 'over the hill' to see Master Yen as often as I wanted, so I began to train with other teachers and practice with my friends everyday. Martial arts training became my life.

The basics I teach today are the same basics Master Yen taught me in my youth: Breathing; Relaxing; Moving from our center; using our bone alignment, and extending out.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Kyu = bow & Do = Tao or Way

The term Do in Japanese, as in Kyudo (for the Way of the Archery Bow), comes from the Chinese term Tao. The Tao is a Path or Way for balance and harmony. Kyudo, then, is a Path or Way for using the archery bow to create balance and harmony.