Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Confessions of an armchair budoka

All this talk of Kyoto reminds me that I neglected to mention a trip a couple weeks back. My main purpose was to attend a martial arts event held at the Butokuden. After a forced march cross-town with Anna, I entered the building, a huge, gorgeous structure slightly reminiscent of where Morpheus fought Neo in the first Matrix film. Two summers ago, I'd had the pleasure of doing a lot of iai here when I trained for my sandan test. Today there were a couple dozen groups demonstrating some of the varied arts of the area, a real mishmash of styles and eras, koryu and modern and hybrid. They all marched into the arena to that song that served as the theme to the 'Bad News Bears," the spectators clapping along. Ironically, the Takeuchi members, whose group had the longest history and richest tradition, were the only ones keeping it real by wearing street clothes. This procession was succeeded by the singing of the always controversial national anthem. In a militaristically charged place like this, it was hardly a surprise. The young adults in the crowd were sitting quietly while the old timers were standing and singing proudly. I imagine the song must have entirely different connotations for them, the only of these assembled warriors to have been touched by war. Next up, cheerleaders! It's the last thing I'd expect at a martial arts demo. They were the most lethargic group of cheerleaders I've ever seen, nary a smile among them. In Japanese, the word, "genki" has no real equivalent in English, but often I've seen it in dictionaries as "pep." And who are more the Popes of pep than cheerleaders? Sadly, this group seemed to lack any. "(Sigh) We've, um, got spirit, yes we do, we've got spi--aw forget it."
Tameshigiri (test cutting) was the first event, and they had spirit, yes they did. Those swords went through bamboo like butter, and though I was most definitely impressed, for some reason, in my head, I kept paraphrasing one of my favorite lines from the film "Arthur:" "You must've hated that tree." Chambara was next. With their Nerf swords, the gang looked like they were having a pillow fight. "You're it, hee hee hee." Change the uniforms of the women and you have yourselves a new fetish. This thought was a nice transition to some strange judo/karate hybrid. As they rolled on the mats, I kept thinking, "Get a room." Then little by little, each subsequent group helped me remember how much I love these arts and their techniques, and my brain eventually shut up and I gave the place and the event the respect they were due.

On the turntable: Ryans Adams, "Jacksonville City Nights"
On the nightable: Ambrose Bierce, "Short Stories"

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