Disaster Relief Trip

Last week I heard that my friend Doug Wilson was planning a trip with a friend to the earthquake/disaster zone to deliver relief supplies and volunteer for work in the area. I called him to see if there was anything that I could do, and was invited to go with them. I got on the phone to friends and collected money and supplies from people that I knew. Yesterday (27 April) we rented a van and drove up to one of the worst-affected areas, the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. Along the way we stopped to get more food and supplies that were on a to-buy list that we received from the NGO, Peace Boat.

The drive took about 4 hours, and on the way we had to pass through the 30-kilometer “stay-indoor” zone set up by the Japanese government. At this point noone is allowed entry into the 20-kilometer “no-go” zone around the damaged Fukushima nuclear power station, but between 20-km and 30-km evacuation is still optional, although the government does advise staying indoors. We passed through this zone and headed farther North, to the coast. Along the way we began to see cars and rubble that had been left in rice fields by the tsunami when it retreated. That was nothing to compare to what we saw when we finally got to the coastal area around Ishinomaki.

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What do you value?

Are those things worth enough to you to make the necessary sacrifices for? If not, then perhaps you do not value them as highly as you may think.

Riding in the car, I had to remove my sunglasses and looked for a good place to set them. On the dashboard, they could slide around and get scratched, just as they could if I put them in the glovebox or even in my bag. I began to think about how concerned I was about the sunglasses in relation to their value. They weren’t very expensive and I’d had them for over a year.

I started to think about how often we are concerned about things of little value. We often spend more emotional energy on things than they are really worth. If we spend our money on “stuff” that has little or no real value or importance, it is easy to fall into this trap of becoming overly concerned about things instead of spending our emotional energy on things that are really much more important.

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Lap Dog Syndrome

One of the things that I’ve been noticing in martial arts classes the last number of years is an increase of what I call “lap dog syndrome.” This is where a (ever-larger, it seems) number of people will hang around at the front of the class where Sensei watches people train between teaching techniques. When Sensei has stopped the class to teach, what you see behind him is a line of people standing there with their arms folded like a line of Stormtroopers. There is so much posing and posturing, people laughing at Sensei’s jokes before they are translated when their knowledge of Japanese is nowhere near close enough to understand what he just said. People “guarding the front of the line” when Sensei is doing calligraphy for people in the class. The new Vanguard. They don’t seem to realize that there never used to be one, so we can probably do without one now as well. But to be a conduit to Sensei is a position of power.

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The Rope Joint

The reason I can do the technique this way is that I’m using my spine as if it were a rope.
— Hatsumi Sensei

Last week Sensei spoke again of the importance of connection, using the examples of the joints in the body. The body has many joints which both connect all the parts together and allow it to move smoothly. The fewer joints, or connections, we have, the less smooth our movement will be. Demonstrating a technique, he said that he could do it this way because he was using all of the joints in his spine together, as if it were a rope.

The rope is an important tool in this years’ training theme as it demonstrates the connectedness of things. Sensei also mentioned that the rope is like one big joint working as a whole – it has no links or joints in it, such as a chain does for example, so it can be used in a supple and fluid manner. Perhaps another way of looking at it is viewing the rope as being composed of a billion tiny joints which have been amalgamated into one thing which works as a single unit. All of the separate parts have been united to create a new thing – and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, as they say.

The word for joint in Japanese is ‘kansetsu’ (関節), and it is also interesting that the word for ‘indirectness’ is also pronounced ‘kansetsu’ (官設). I certainly felt both aspects of this when he allowed me to feel the technique. He was controlling me so lightly that it felt like I was being held in place by a single sheet of paper. It was the indirect manner in which he responded to my punch that allowed him to do it.

Firing My Boss

Today was my last day as an employee of T-Systems, the German IT company in Tokyo I’ve been working for since April of last year. A few of us got together to swap some drinks and memories after work. For the most part, it was a positive experience, but its time to move on. The Agel business is growing to the point where it can take off, and its just time to make a number of moves at the same time. I leave for Canada tomorrow.

Thought for the Day

Saw this on Facebook and thought it was a good reminder to make the most of every minute to invest in the things that are truly important in life:

As we grow up, we learn that even the one person that wasn’t supposed to ever let you down probably will. You will have your heart broken probably more than once and it’s harder every time. You’ll break hearts too, so remember how it felt when yours was broken. You’ll fight with your best friend. You’ll blame a new love for things an old one did. You’ll cry because time is passing too fast, and you’ll eventually lose someone you love. So take too many pictures, laugh too much, and love like you’ve never been hurt because every sixty seconds you spend upset is a minute of happiness you’ll never get back.

Don’t be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin!

Ayase Report (080422)

Class started out tonight with a demonstration of one of the first techniques of Togakure-ryu Ninjutsu by Noguchi Sensei. Soke then did his spin-off thing and soon had the full class in a state of confusion. Nothing unusual about tonight in that regard. :-)

We did a lot of work with “fist changing” tonight – using multiple strikes against the opponent, changing the strike from one form into another along the way. From a shishinken to a boshiken to a shutoken for example, 3 consecutive strikes with the same hand. It wasn’t as if we were just standing there hitting the other guy repeatedly with one hand though. Sensei stressed the necessity of *walking* through the technique. With every step, a strike would be applied. A step was used to power every strike. Sensei often uses the term “juppo sessho” (’10 ways of interacting’ is one rendering of that phrase) in relation to this “fist changing.” The number 10 represents infinity and circularity, continuous, never-ending change. The martial *artist* must be able to continually adapt his attacks and strategies to best fit continually-changing circumstances, “changing as change is necessary” to accomplish that which [s]he wills to do.

From the number 10, Sensei went on to talk about the “bugei juhappan”, 18 martial skills to be learnt by the common Japanese warrior (bushi). (“Ninjutsu practitioners also study Bugei Juhappan alongside with Ninja Juhakkei (the 18 Ninjutsu fighting art skills).”) Sensei said that by adding this extra dimension, we arrive at the number 36, which is a significant number in ‘fuusui’ (風水, pronounced ‘feng-shui’ in Chinese). He didn’t elaborate, leaving it up to the listener to figure out for themselves. (I could turn it into a ‘93′ by turning it around, but…) He did leave a hint though by stressing the *simplicity* of the concept, stating that its simply a continual circulation in two (or more) directions at the same time, much like the simultaneous circulation of blood through both the arteries and veins through the body. Once again we were left with the teaching that budo is simple, but its simple on a grand scale.