Saturday, September 30, 2006

Duncando? Nuts to that!

A friend in Tokyo asked me if I knew a certain yoga teacher currently on tour in Japan. I didn’t. When I noticed that this teacher was giving a workshop here in town, I decided to check him out.

He sat in front of us a long while in meditation before removing his shirt to reveal extensive tattoos covering a fine physique. Then he began to talk, saying that today, he wasn’t going to break down poses or talk philosophy. He simply wanted to do some yoga together. I thought, "Oh great! I paid 7000 yen to do yoga in the same room with this guy." (This is an ongoing peeve I have about Ashtanga , where far too many teachers lead us through the poses without any attention to alignment.) He then went on to explain his system, a cross between yoga and martial arts. I misheard him call his style, "Yoga Garb," which seemed appropriate since I was surrounded by many of the spandex and tattoo set. He next mentioned "ahimsa" the yogic idea of non-violence. . Ahimsa as a concept extends well beyond our media defined notion of non-violence, into areas such as how you use language, and how you show respect. Yet within minutes, it became clear that he knew little about the topic. When his translator seemed to be having difficulty, he began to verbally abuse her, growing ruder and ruder to her to the point where he actually said, "Say what I say! Do your job! Go!" This lack of respect extended to how he treated the bodies of those in the workshop, pulling us suddenly into poses beyond our abilities, or even sitting on them. The poses themselves (if you can call them poses) flowed from one quick bouncy movement to the next. My joints certainly felt no ahimsa that day. Any trained yoga teacher will have a certain knowledge of anatomy. Any martial artist will have keen experience on the workings of the body, an experience rooted in the pain he feels during hard training. A joint moved suddenly and sharply will be damaged. (It ain’t socket science.) So, because I respect my own body and try to practice ahimsa toward it, I left the workshop. It was at about the point where the teacher did some flashy poses which showed his ability but had nothing to do with what we were doing. Or no, wait. It was when the dancing began. I won’t go into ego here. Or perhaps I already have.

The idea of a fusion between yoga and the martial arts intrigues me because I have a history in both disciplines. But there are solid spiritual and philosophical systems underlying both. To miss this is like eating a full meal without enjoying the flavor. Perhaps it’s best to get a proper grounding in one before starting the other. Things like "ego" and "respect" and "non-violence" are usually mentioned the first day of training.

Here in Japan, the current yoga boom is entering its third year. And as the commerce of yoga has certainly taken a foothold, we’re beginning to see more and more unseasoned teachers, some of whom are outright dangerous. When we leave a class frustrated, we’ve nullified the whole reason we went in the first place. (Though, that being said, perhaps this is the lesson after all. It’s easier to ignore the ego when it is appeased. Being unhappy is to stare it in the face.)

My friend Leza said (in print) that you can best judge a teacher by how they act off the mat. If you’re looking to do some Tae Bo aerobics with some yoga poses cobbled on, then ignore this post. If you wanna do real yoga with a quality teacher (even Ashtanga), there are plenty of people I'd be happy to introduce you too.

On the turntable: Led Zeppelin, "Physical Graffiti"

Friday, September 29, 2006

After the fall

Gingko fruit
Smashed on the sidewalk.
Autumn's olfactory "Tadaima!"

On the turntable: Peter Gabriel, "OVO"
On the nighttable: Joan Baxter, "Sword of No Blade"

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Before the Fall

Large grey monkey
Hops my neighbor's fence
To pluck figs

On the turntable: The Cure, "Staring at the Sea"

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Jung as Lifeguard

Last Thursday I took my first tabla lesson from Shen, resident of the Indo-Aussie-Nippon golden triangle. He and a santoor player called Jimi played a gig Sunday night at Ei-Un-In, a temple whose name seems lifted from the breath which usually accompanies Kegel contractions. (It was my second Indian music gig of the weekend, having seen an incredible Sarod player at Ratna cafe two nights earlier.) The virtuosity of the music was rivalled only by the still perfection of the garden behind the performers, and by the first movement of autumn playing out in the air. A magical night. During one raga, I began to hear strains of flute in my head, which I had assumed were stored in the warehouse of my mind, a bit of a piece I'd heard somewhere before. However, I later realized that I had been sitting behind Carlos Guello, local bansuri (flute) player. Ah, to bathe in the pool of collective unconsciousness...

On the turntable: Gorillaz Vs. Spacemonkeyz, "Laika Come Home"
On the nighttable: Catherine Hanrahan, "Lost Girls and Love Hotels"

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Late night Nanzenji

From my bicycle
Beckon to cat
Realize it's stone

On the turntable: "KlubbjazzMixed"
On the nighttable: David Hadju, "Positively 4th Street"

Saturday, September 16, 2006

To the east...

In Tokyo for a few days. Tokyo dresses far better than I do.

On the turntable: U2, "Under a Blood Red Sky"
On the nighttable: Taichi Yamada, "Strangers"

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Gathering moss

Just returned from the Isamu Noguchi exhibition at the Shiga Museum of Modern Art. As much as I love art, I just don`t get sculpture.

But wise MatsuMiki says that with abstract art, it doesn`t matter whether you get it or not. So in looking at Noguchi`s sculptures, I saw he was influenced by:

Jetsons` surfboards
Klingon weapons
1950s iconography (bouffants and Caddy fins)
Mr. Donuts` Pon de Ring

There was also a video of Martha Graham dancing around his sculptures, circa 1946. Amazing Japanese influence on her dancing, alternating wildly between mincing Noh steps、and flashy, spinning karate moves.

A metaphor here. While I`ve got movement down as a science, I am baffled by staying completely, silently, presently, still.

On the turntable: Kodo, "Gathering"

Friday, September 08, 2006

Wake for Pluto

As most of you know, Pluto lost it's planetary status recently. An Astronomy professor at Kyoto University (on loan from Canada) and I (simple stargazer and poet) have decided to hold a wake for poor pitiful diminished Pluto at Hill of Tara, next Sunday evening. This low-key event will begin around 7pm. Look for the Men (and Women) in Black. If you're in town, please join us.

...I have yet to write on my experiences at this year's EC, and hope to soon. Jamie over at "I'm Still in Japan" has written an excellent post that really captures the spirit of the thing. Treat yourself by clicking here.

On the turntable: "The Best Smooth Jazz...Ever!"
On the nighttable: Satish Kumar, "The Buddha and the Terrorist"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Pagode Mandala

Eric and Rie are back in town, which means the gigs are back on. Literally the day after their return, Mandala did a one-man show at Pagode. Eric looked beat, but he seemed to enjoy himself as always. It was small intimate setting which encouraged much back and forth with the audience. When asked if the lyrics to the songs he composes are in varied languages, he replied that it is generally a lot like scat, the voice taking the part of a instrument, though some of the words are related to the fifteen languages he's been exposed to on his trips. He actually said, "My lyrics have no meaning," and I immediately thought, neither do the lyrics to most pop songs. At one point in the night, with about five or six songs looping and forming their own helix patterns of rhythm, he got up mid-song to greet a friend, toasting him with his beer. He laughed and said, "That's the great thing about looping. I can walk around, chat with friends, drink beer--and the music keeps on going."
Mandala will be playing gigs throughout Kyoto until the end of the year. Catch 'em if you can...

On the turntable: Groove Armada, "The Best of..."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Marquis de Sado

Mid-August, I went out to Sado again for EC. I'll write my version later, but for now, please enjoy Marcin's account. As he himself said, Kodo was so smokin' this year, his head was spinning.

On the turntable: "Sound Contact from L.A."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Short Happy Fortlife of...

Selfish, noisy cicada!
Always, "Mee, mee, mee, mee, meeeeeeeeee!"

On the turntable: REM, "Document"

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Kyoto Aikido

Up til now, I haven't written many martial arts posts, despite the fact that I spend many hours a week in such practice and it's basically the main reason I'm in Japan at all. Yesterday morning I joined the aikido class at the Budo Center. As I tower over most Japanese training partners, I'm often likely to cheat, relying on my strength far too much. For years I've been wanting to train with a woman instructor, someone to help me favor technique over muscle, to teach me all the things that make Aikido "gentle." I'm thrilled to find Okamoto Sensei. Her movements are so subtle, based quite a bit on feeling more than muscular power. Yet Okamoto Sensei has a great deal of power too, remembered all too well by aching legs as I write this.
The dojo seems split in half between foreign and Japanese members, everybody seemingly comfortable in Japanese and English, which is a treat. In three years, Okamoto sensei has done a fantastic job in creating a small multi-cultural community, and I'm happy to be the newest member.

On the turntable: "Almost Famous"

Friday, September 01, 2006

Firmly ensconced... the Kyo, a month now. LL Tim and I drove down in a two-ton truck carrying, basically drums and books. Oh, and a Vespa. It was kinda fun driving this massive rig over the mountainous spine of Chugoku, and thru the dainty streeets of the ancient capital. I finally fulfilled those "BJ and the Bear" fantasies of my youth (which meant that Tim was the chimp this time. Sorry man.) , a show that made me long to be a truck driver, cruising around having adventures, a fantasy nipped in the bud when my mom told me that long distance driving would give me 'roids. (Didn't stop Kerouac and Cassidy, and come to think of it, hasn't stopped me, in constant motion for about fifteen years now, sans Kenworth.)

So, I've been following that nesting instinct, and except for a quick trip to Sado for EC, have barely left my mountainside drum museum. Since June last year, I hadn't been in the same place more than nine days, seemingly sleeping in a different bed every few days. (Emphasis on sleeping. Jeez, I'm not THAT lucky.)

After returning from Sado, I took shokai omiyage to all the neighbors. Begun the gift wars have.

On the turntable: Tom Waits, "Alice"
On the nighttable: Pete Brown, "Three Sheets to the Wind"