Showing posts with label Kiyama Sensei. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kiyama Sensei. Show all posts

Monday, January 19, 2015

Budo Begins And Ends With Rei


One mistake I’m beginning to get over, is thinking that proverbs I hear in the dojo are not general to Japanese culture, but are somehow specific to budo. Every time I’ve thought that, I’ve been wrong. Japan was run by a warrior class for hundreds of years. Needless to say, with that kind of history driving the culture, references to budo are quite common in everyday society.  When things are very serious, it’s a “shinken shobu” 真剣勝負, a match with live swords.

There is a phrase often heard in budo circles that came up in a discussion recently.  “Budo begins and ends with a bow.” The original Japanese is 礼に始まり礼に終わる (Rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru). omitting any reference to budo. This phrase is common in Japan, where everything begins and ends with a bow. It’s also where we non-Japanese trip over the translation.  

The “rei” 礼 in “Rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru.” is commonly translated as one of three things; bow, courtesy, or etiquette.  Each of those is correct, and each of them is wrong.  Each is correct in that it captures some component of rei. Each is mostly wrong because it misses the majority of the ideas, meanings and feelings embodied in the concept of rei.
     
Rei turns out to be a much larger concept than any of the simple translations suggest.  This isn’t the fault of the translators. “Rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru.” is a wonderful little aphorism and when  doing translation, you can’t stop in the middle of the work to add your own 3 or 4 page explanation of one quick phrase, so you go with what feels closest to the intention of the particular passage.


As the diagram above suggests, there is a lot more wrapped up in rei 礼 than any of the simple translations might suggest.  The definition below is from the Kenkyusha Online Dictionary.

れい2【礼】 (rei)

1 〔礼儀〕 etiquette; decorum; propriety; politeness; courtesy; civility. [=れいぎ(さほう)]
2 〔おじぎ〕 a salutation; a salute; a bow; an obeisance;
    3 〔儀式〕 a ceremony; a rite.
    4 〔謝辞〕 thanks; gratitude; acknowledgment; appreciation.

When I first started my journey in the world of Japanese budo, meanings 1 and 2 above seemed the most important to me. The further I journey the less important those become, and the more emphasis falls upon the fourth item “thanks; gratitude; acknowledgment; appreciation.”

Etiquette, courtesy and bowing are all external forms. If those forms are empty and just something you do, they have no meaning. Fill that bow, that formal etiquette with sincere feeling of thanks, gratitude, respect and appreciation and it comes alive for you, and for whomever receives it.  Budo is a way, and a part of that way are the forms of etiquette and courtesy.  

The forms aren’t there just to look nice. They are there to teach us something. When we first start training in a way, they teach us the proper forms so we don’t look like fools and annoy other folks along the way.  At this stage, folks like me have enough trouble just remembering the proper movements and when to do them.  When we forget something there is always some supercilious fool who is more concerned with form than content who is thrilled to demonstrate their superiority by correcting us in the most embarrassing way possible.

As much as I feel sorry for those who have to deal with supercilious fools as they progress along their way, I pity the supercilious fools even more. They’ve missed the entire point of the practice. Etiquette and courtesy are things we should be giving to everyone, those above us and those below us. The most senior, accomplished and masterful martial artists I have encountered are also the most courteous, patient, polite, respectful and forgiving. They have learned and internalized the lessons present in the forms of etiquette and politeness that we use during practice. When they bow, it is not an empty gesture because that is what is expected from them. It is a meaningful symbol of what they think and feel.

First we learn the forms of etiquette and courtesy. Then we learn to fill these empty vessels with gratitude, respect and every other feeling that is valuable. There are many, and I doubt that I have learned them all. The first one, the most obvious, is respect. The first bows in our journey along the way are to our teachers when we are introduced to them and they welcome us as fellow travelers on their path.  It’s easy to bow with respect to them. They will probably be looking for signs that our respect is sincere, and certainly a worthy teacher will bow with respect for her student. After all, the teacher understand intimately just how difficult the journey is, and respects the student who earnestly desires to travel it.

Similar respect is due to all our fellow students. They are showing up for practice, working with us and letting us work with them. And this isn’t ikebana or cha no yu, but budo! If someone is in the dojo practicing with us, they are giving us their body to use for our training, even as we return the favor and let them use our bodies for their training.  This is true whether it is judo or aikido or kenjutsu or jodo or naginata. We are training together. How someone cannot respect a partner who is giving you the gift of their healthy body to train with I cannot fathom. Every time I bow to a training partner it is with respect and honor to them for the great gift they give me by training with me.

That feeling led me to the fourth meaning of 礼 rei in that definition above, thanks, gratitude and appreciation. I really do appreciate my training partners. I couldn’t go any further along the budo path without them than I could without a teacher. True budo is not an isolated practice. It only happens with other people. I respect my teachers and fellow students, but even more, I am grateful and appreciative of them. They make all my practice possible. They give me the gifts of their time and their experience and their wisdom and their bodies to train with. They don’t have to give me any of these things, but all are cheerfully and warmly given.

My gratitude is especially deep when I consider my teachers. I really can’t think of one good reason that Yoshikawa Sensei or Takada Sensei, or any of my other teachers should have been willing to put up with an an uncouth young guy who had only the barest understanding of etiquette and proper behavior, and whose Japanese was certainly not up to the task of easy, clear communication.  

Takada Sensei and Kiyama Sensei in particular are wonders to me. They both fought in World War 2. They had no particular reason to love their former enemies. They have both so transcended that sort of thinking I am amazed whenever I consider it. Takada Sensei used to take great pleasure in explaining the progress of the world by showing them the sword he used for practice. It is a beautiful blade from the 1500s that has been in his family for hundreds of years. It is a huge, heavy beast of a blade made for the wars in Japan at that time. In the 1940s, as Takada Sensei was going off to war himself, he had it remounted with the saya and tsuka of a Japanese infantry officer so he could carry it. It is still mounted that way. He would point out that 60 years before he had carried that sword to war to kill Americans, but now he carried it to share his culture and art with Americans. He had grown, and so had the world. I miss him very much.

Kiyama Sensei is another amazing man of that generation. A fighter pilot during the war, he and Takada Sensei had studied iai with the same teacher in the 1950s. When Takada Sensei passed away, Kiyama Sensei graciously accepted me into his dojo so I could continue my journey. He has welcomed me and taught me and corrected me when I started down dead end paths with warmth and firmness, with courtesy and respect. I’m not special there though. I’ve often watched him at the end of kendo practice. All of the students, from those in kindergarten to those in their 50s and 60s, take a moment to kneel with him, bow and say “Doumo Arigatou Gozaimasu” or “Thank you very much”. Sensei returns every bow with focus and sincerity. He never tosses off a quick bow so he can get on to something else that might seem more important. There are always seniors and other teachers talking with him at this point. He always stops and gives every student, no matter how young or old, his full attention. When they bow, he bows just as deeply and offers them the same appreciation “Doumo Arigatou Gozaimasu.”  

How can a teacher of Kiyama Sensei’s rank and status give so much attention and respect to even the smallest of children? He is no longer following the proper etiquette. Kiyama Sensei acts with the full meaning of 礼 rei. His etiquette is guided by his appreciation and gratitude and respect for each of his students.

How else can I bow when I think of Takada Sensei and Kiyama but with gratitude and appreciation and respect?. Takada Sensei is no longer with me, but I can see that through the study and practice of the violent arts of budo, he and Kiyama Sensei transcended simple etiquette. Kiyama Sensei clearly does respect all of his students. His gratitude and appreciation for them for joining him on this journey is obvious when I think about it.  

This is the lesson of rei ni hajimari rei ni owarimasu. Simply following the etiquette is merely the first step. With practice we hope to learn to respect everyone. We strive to appreciate each person we meet on our journey, and to be grateful for the good they bring into our lives. Pretty deep ideas to hide in some stuffy etiquette.  Everything begins and ends with rei.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Modern Musha Shugyo Part 3: Dinner With Sensei


Who is your teacher? Not just the person you see when she’s standing in front of the dojo leading practice, but the whole person. Where did she come from? What experiences shaped and transformed her? How and where and when did she start training?  Who is she really?

Do you ever talk with your teacher about  the experiences that shaped and formed her (or him)? Your teacher is so much more than just the person standing at the front of the room telling you which kata to do, reminding you to relax, stop muscling the technique, move from your koshi/hips/center, yelling at you to “Breathe!” and all the other standard lines that teachers have to repeat endlessly because we endlessly don’t do what they ask us to do.

Not everything we did on our Musha Shugyo was physical training. We had to leave the dojo sometimes. Budo is the martial way, but you are supposed to take what you learn along the Way and thread it throughout your life.  You shouldn’t leave the lessons learned behind when you bow and leave the dojo at the end of practice. The lessons and learning don’t stop when you leave the dojo either. If the dojo is best used for  physical training, there is still ample room for talk after you leave. Many lessons, traditions and histories can only be passed down through talk, so spending time on that when you’re not in the dojo can be wonderful.

After we bowed out of practice, we were supposed to go out to dinner with Kiyama Sensei. We went back to his house first, and sat down in the formal guest room.  Japanese homes are quite small, so traditionally people don’t entertain at home. If you get together with friends, you do it at a restaurant or coffee shop. The traditional home just doesn’t have the space for entertaining. I’ve known people who had homes big enough to entertain in, but they don’t usually entertain at home because they feel like it would be bragging and rubbing their good fortune in other people’s faces. Most homes have a small room that is kept particularly neat and clean ,where a guest or two can be received politely.

Deborah, Adam and I got our bags with our swords and clothes arranged and started to sit down, when  we discovered that Sensei had a surprise for us.  We were expecting to head out to a restaurant where everyone could relax together. Instead, Mrs. Kiyama opened up the shoji to the next room and invited us to come in. Mrs. Kiyama and her daughter Yamada Sensei (she’s a college professor) had prepared an absolute feast for us. They had set up their formal tatami room with a traditional, low table so that Kiyama Sensei, Deborah, Adam and I could sit around it on the floor in the traditional manner. while Mrs. Kiyama and Yamada Sensei served. This is the room with the family tokonoma next to the family butsudan where their ancestors are enshrined and venerated.  While we sat and ate, Mrs. Kiyama and Yamada Sensei served, which is a pretty traditional way of celebrating, but there was also the issue that the room wouldn’t hold any more than the 4 of us comfortably. 

The table was sumptuous. They had gotten some lovely sushi, but the homemade tempura was incredible. I’m a sucker for kabocha tempura, and there were piles of it. We did our best to show our appreciation for the wonderful feast, but we couldn’t do much more than put a dent in the mountain of food. It was wonderful. It’s traditional in Japan to say “Gochisosama deshita” after a meal. It roughly means “That was a feast.” In this case, it was absolutely true. 

After dinner we moved back into the usual room for receiving guests. We watched some  of Sensei’s budo videos and talked about important budo points. We also had a chance to talk to Sensei about his history. Sensei has been studying budo for 85 years so there is a lot of history to talk about.  He even got out some picture albums with photos going back to the 1930s.

Sensei showed us some pictures of himself from junior high doing iaido. In school at that time, during the Pacific War, all students studied budo. Kiyama Sensei seems to have been an overachiever in this area. He practiced judo and kendo and iaido and jukendo. He even had a couple of pictures of himself in keikogi and hakama with his sword. It was something to look at the fresh face of the 13 year old junior high student in the picture, and then look up, knowing that the same person was sitting across from me 77 years later. Just so you don’t think Sensei is monomaniacally obsessed with budo, he also showed us a great picture of himself dressed in his uniform for the school baseball team. He’s loved baseball for as long as I’ve known him, and now I know just how far back that love goes.

Like all able bodied men of his generation, Kiyama Sensei served in the Pacific War.  He showed us a picture of his unit, the only picture he has. After the war he continued  budo training, even in the years when Japan was rebuilding itself, when time and resources were scarce. The people who trained during these years showed extraordinary dedication.
Sensei has some wonderful photos that show him training in the 1950s with his teachers. The atmosphere in the dojo is clear. People are training hard but there are also many smiles. Sensei is still powerful, but his movements, as captured in the photos, are even more dynamic.

There are pictures of kagami-baraki parties with everyone pounding mochi and having a good time. Some of the teachers had huge, full beards that strongly reminded me of Oe Masamichi.  It’s fascinating to see them wearing hakama and montsuki in one picture, and suits and ties in the next.

Sensei’s pictures and the stories that go with them make him even more interesting, and his achievements as a budoka more impressive. Sensei has dan ranks in at least 6 martial arts that we know of. In 3 of them he holds 7th dan, including iaido. He also has a tremendous amount of experience in koryu budo ryuha like Shinto Hatakage Ryu, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Shinto Muso Ryu, none of which use dan ranks.

Kiyama Sensei sat with us, sipping tea and flipping the pages in the photo albums like someone’s sweet grandfather, which he is. Sometimes he was quite wistful looking at pictures of budoka and friends who have died, and telling us about what kind of people they were. The budo world in Japan is surprisingly small, and Sensei has been a active member of it for so long that he has met, and has a story about, nearly everyone of influence in modern budo in the last 60 years. 

Being able to see Sensei in different periods throughout his life and in different aspects of his life was a rare treat. It was fascinating to see pictures of Sensei’s teachers, fellow students and the other great budoka he has encountered in over 8 decades of training.

Hearing Kiyama Sensei talk about these people and his experiences deepened our understanding of Sensei and his art in ways we didn’t expect, and often still don’t understand fully yet. Sensei is much more of a complete person, and not just the imposing figure at the front of the dojo.  This was as meaningful and important for us as the intensive training we completed just a few hours earlier. Budo is a path, and here we were, gifted with a rare view of the route our teacher had taken to get to his current place on the Way.

Who is your teacher?  Is she just the rank certificates on the wall or the trophies in the window? Not everything we learn about budo happens in the dojo. Budo is a Way, and that way impacts and influences every aspect of our lives. Being able to have dinner with Sensei, to sit and talk while slowly sipping coffee and talking about some of the places in his journey along the Way of Bu was a rare and wonderful experience. We saw another side of Sensei, and another side of budo.