Friday, November 11, 2011

Kyudo - 1st UCI Seminar

Kyudo 1st UCI Seminar I think it was in 1996 or ’97 when I got a phone call from the ANKF – All Nippon Kyudo Federation in Japan. The Los Angeles Kyudo Kai had been signed up with the ANKF by Onuma Sensei after a visit he made to train us years before. But in 1996 I had formed The Nanka Kyudo Kai as our affiliate with the newly formed AKR – American Kyudo Renmei, and thus are connection to the ANKF. They called because there was to be a Martial Arts event in Long Beach (a city on the south side of Los Angeles County) they had been asked to send instructors, do a demo, and hold a workshop for the event. As the local representative of kyudo, in their eyes, they wanted my ‘permission' to come and participate in an event that was ‘in my backyard,’ I think they called it. I found it a little un-nerving that the ANKF was asking my permission to do anything. Of course they were being polite, I was expected to say yes; in fact, I think they had already planned on coming. But they did ask, what great manners.

They would send, what were to be, 5 Hachidan Hanshi; I say, ‘what were to be’ because at the time of the phone call, Shibata Sensei, and Uozumi Sensei were still listed as Kyoshi. But once they arrived they were profiled as Hachidan Hanshi.

Once I gave my ‘permission' they said that the instructors they were sending had one day off. If I would like, they would give us a one day seminar. Of course I jumped at the chance for that, and it was great. I reserved an exercise room for us at UC Irvine where we had our newly formed UCI Kyudo Kai. We only had rooom for makiwara, but we had 5 Hachidan Hanshi and 5 Makiwara. It was like a private lesson on each Makiwara all day long!

I invited the other Renmei of course, but it was hard to fly to Los Angeles for a one day event. But Earl Hartman Sensei & his family came down from Northern California, as did Stephen Scott Sensei, and one other student from the north as well. The Nanka Kyudo Kai was newly formed so I didn’t have many students separate from Kosaka Sensei yet, but some came; Jesse came up from San Diego; and Vince Tagle the first UCI student to join our newly formed kyudo club took his first shot with the Hanshi (Vince now teaches the UCI Kyudo Club Class). E.Clay and Yoshiko Buchanan Sensei wanted to come but would arrive back from Japan on that same day. Instead of landing in San Jose and going home, they hopped another flight and joined us for dinner after the seminar... then flew home. How’s that for dedication (they flew down for the day for the 80th anniversary of the Los Angeles Kyudo Kai too; I still contact Buchanan Sensei with Tai Hai and etiquette questions because of all they’ve done for us ).

The ANKF asked us to help with their Long Beach Event, and of course we did. It was only a few days, but I’ll remember it forever. One of the Hanshi (and I think Earl Hartman Sensei too) said, 'this is just like how we train in Japan'. Though I don't think they meant with one Hanshi on every makiwara; but that it reminded them of training in their home dojo rather than at a big seminar.

Years later, one of those Sensei (Uozumi Sensei), was one of the judges for my godan test. How cool is that. It's funny though, the day before my test we spoke about the UCI seminar and he said, 'I'm still mad at you'. I asked 'why would you be mad at me, what did I do'? I assumed, out of ignorance, I made some great error in etiquette. But as it turned out, remember before the seminar he was 'only' a Kyoshi not a Hanshi; the day of our seminar was the day the ANKF President was conducting the promotional ceremony in Japan for the Hanshi who passed. Uozumi Sensei said sadly, 'I got mine in the mail'. He reminded me of Charley Brown from the ‘Peanuts’ Comic strip on Halloween who after each house, as the other children said, ‘I got a candy bar’ or ‘I got a nickel’ Charley Brown always said, ‘I got a rock’. Uozumi Sensei got his certificate, in the mail; and apparently, it was all my fault. But then he smiled, laughed, and slapped me gently on the back and we joined the rest of the Hanshi and Renmei Heads for nice dinner. And I passed my test, Whew, that was lucky; who knows what will happen when a Hanshi holds a grudge like that.

Kyudo & the Mask

Kyudo & the Mask I think one of the most frequent questions I get after someone posts a picture of Kosaka Sensei or I shooting is about the mask we wear for certain ceremonies. Although I wear it when performing with or for Sensei, it was only worn before in 'behind the scenes' ceremonies, and even then by only a few schools.

The mask originates in ancient Japan. Even then it was used only for very important and esoteric ceremonies. Today a few, like Hirokazu Koasaka Sensei (my teacher) have chosen to expose some of those ceremonies to the public. One representation of that is the mask we sometimes wear.

This is with the new idea that there is no esoteric teaching and exoteric teaching, but one teaching given freely to all. The original use of the mask was for shamanistic offerings in what we would now call Shinto. This is also the origination of kyu-do or yumi no michi, as it was called. Yumi no Michi referred to purification ceremonies performed with the bow & arrow. These ceremonies were performed in Japan since ancient times. The purpose of the mask was to not breathe on the offering, as the human excrement of any kind, including our breath, was considered a pollutant.

The mask was later perpetuated by two other streams: Kukai/Koboh Daishi, founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect in Japan, used the mask for esoteric offerings behind scenes as well; in fact even today when the monks 'feed' the petrified Kukai they may
make the offering wearing this same mask.

The other stream that uses the mask for esoteric offerings is the Ogasawara family, especially in their tea ceremonies to the Kami or emperor. Though based primarily on Confucianism, like much of Japanese Culture, Ogasawara-ryu has mixed and merged Ancient Practices/Shinto, Buddhism, & Confucian principles to come up with what most resembles Zen or some derivative there of.

The Japanese are masters at combining and merging principles to create something completely new. That's what they did when they created Zen. It is also what is happening today as they try and leave Zen behind and become a secular society like the U.S.. The Japanese never leave anything completely behind though, as can be seen in the continuation of even some of their oldest rituals & principles; this shows up not just in ceremonies like this, but in the daily lives of the Japanese people. This is why they have such a rich and varied culture that so many of us admire.