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Kamiza – large small or not at all?

In the Aikido dojo we often (almost always) have a picture of O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba the founder of Aikido.

The term Kamiza is often used to denote this space, in fact kamiza simply means the front of the dojo, this traditionally speaking should be opposite the side of the building which has the main doors.

So the four sides of the dojo are made up of the main or front wall, also known as the high seat (kamiza) the rear wall, also known as the low seat (shimoza) the high side (joseki) and the lower side (shimozeki).

Spiritually speaking the high seat (kamiza) should be a place of purity and reserved for something or someone of certain status, upon this wall traditionally would / may have been a kamidana a small alcove where the family shrine would have been placed.

Traditionally as the shimoza or low seat was (is) seen as been less pure in a spiritual sense, this is where the door would have been from a small foyer type area where a persons outdoor clothes and shoes were placed before stepping out into the main dojo area, in today’s situation, this is often the door into the sports hall or gym, where we can put our bags and shoes etc.

These days the term ‘kamiza’ as become synonymous with the somewhat revered space where we hang up a picture of O’Sensei.

As for the picture itself I’ve seen many varieties from what has become the somewhat standard A4 size black and white portrait photograph to a post card sized one.

If you’re lucky enough to have a permanent dojo then you can have a fixed kamiza and make it as elaborate as you want, whereas if you’re just renting a space then something portable is required.

White Rose Aikikai came up with a great solution to this by using a vinyl scroll, which could be easily stored in your sports bag, the rolled out and hung up at the training venue.

Under my last Aikido Sensei (Sensei Acaster) we didn’t have a kamiza, we lined up facing the same wall each week, but Sensei didn’t use a kamiza, he didn’t wear a hakama either, so maybe he didn’t want the traditional approach?

 

So why all this about kamiza’s etc…well last week we started at a new venue for the Wing Chun club, and this (our 2nd ) week Sifu was trying to decide which side of the hall to line up against, unlike Aikido, Wing Chun is generally less formal, we don’t have a ‘kamiza’ or any pictures of Ip Man or other prominent figures.

So began to think to myself that maybe we should have a ‘kamiza’ or something similar a photo of Ip Man (Yip Man) although technically not the founder, he was certainly the great modern innovator, and someone who we like to trace our system and association  lineage back to. This would not only serve as a focal point to the kwoon, but also as something to which we can show respect and gratitude to the heritage of the system.

My Sifu is very laid back and I don’t think we’ll ever have a very formal class structure to our Wing Chun, but years down the line if I have the opportunity to teach again, it’s something I will certainly consider.

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Transition

Monday night was our first class at the new venue for our Wing Chun club, Sifu has made the move from the ultra modern exercise-4-less gym in Doncaster, to a recently renovated Victorian era village pavilion.

It’s a nice building, in a lovely park setting and closer to my home, which means less travelling so that’s great, but on the down side the lesson is now only one hour, which is not so good, especially with end of Year grades approaching.

Although I’m still really enjoying my training, I’ve found my energy levels have dropped off in the last few weeks, I’m still proud of the fact that I’ve only missed one class in the whole Year that I’ve been training (that was due to being on holiday) and I seem to be making good progress, I hope I can keep this up during the cold, wet and dark winter months, when my energy levels usually take a nosedive.

There were only four of us there for the class, so hopefully we’ll see a few more faces next over the next few weeks.

 

This transition is just one of many, as we move from summer into autumn, we see the effects of transition and change all around us, the shortening days, the golden leaves and the cold misty mornings.

Our lives like the seasons are in a constant state of change.

 

I’ve been undertaking changes in other areas of my life, In August we decided as a family to sell the car, this wasn’t an easy decision, as my old Renault scenic has been a great family car, and we have had some good times with it.

But it was 16 years old, and needing some work, so it wasn’t financially viable to keep.

I was sorry to see it go, but sometimes the mind has to rule the heart.

Spiritually I’ve made a transition and have begun to attend my local Methodist Chapel, this is my 4th week, so far I’m enjoying it, I’m also reading the Bible (using the E100 Bible reading program) which I’m finding interesting, I would like to pursue professional level religious studies, but at the moment I can’t afford to.

Oh well that’s it for now, I can’t believe we’re in October already, it’ll be Christmas before we know it.

Natural ability

Years ago as a Taekwondo student, I had a classmate called Gus, I found Gus very frustrating, because he was so gifted, a complete natural at Taekwondo, fast, fit, flexible, athletic and long limbed all the qualities for Taekwondo excellence.

Of course my frustration was born from my jealousy, I would be there every week, slogging away trying to improve my Taekwondo, and then Gus would turn up every now and then, (probably less then once a month) and drop into the full box splits and wipe the floor with us all at free sparring.

I remember him entering a competition, and knocking out his opponent with a couple of minutes, without breaking a sweat, that’s how good Gus was.

A few years later as a Taekwondo Instructor, I had the pleasure of taking seven students from either white belt or low level colour belt (known as Kup grades) to the converted black belt.

These were a mix of adults and juniors and of varying degrees natural ability.

I’m proud of all of them, but if I had to choose one, it would be James.

Of the qualities mentioned above, James didn’t have many of them, unlike his friend and class mate Josh, who did.

Week after week Josh would breeze through the basics and forms and excel in free sparring, whereas poor old James would just struggle through in his rather heavy footed uncoordinated way.

But James never gave up, those around him were achieving higher grades and awards, he just kept on plodding through week after week, year after year.

The six or seven years later he was awarded his first Dan black belt by the panel of Masters and Grandmasters of our association, I’ll never forget James for his courage and determination to just keep going.

That’s the key really to making progress in martial arts training, keep going, when things get tough, keep going, of course there will be classmates more talented than you, this is down to you challenging yourself, not anyone else.

 

Keep turning up, keep going.

 

While I was meandering down memory lane, I recalled another very talented student of mine, and I’ll be discussing the issues of comfort zones, in another blog.

Drifting along the faith highway

I began this Year practicing Nichiren Buddhism, I then switched to a Zen Buddhist practice for a couple of months, I then spent the last three and half months with the chanting practice of Nichiren Buddhism, It seems that I’ve been flip flopping between these two practices for a while now.

As a member of the SGI I wanted to give Nichiren Buddhism another try, despite our local district’s recent closure I wanted to give my practice one last try, I really wanted to receive actual proof, so I stripped away the study aspect as I wanted to approach the practice from the viewpoint of faith.

For the last few months I even stripped away the Gongyo aspect of the morning and evening service and just focussed on chanting ‘daimoku’ to the Gohonzon, with a specific goal and timeframe in mind.

As in the past I’ve chanted for things with no results, leaders have blamed my lack of consistency or lack of setting a timescale, so with this in mind I wrote down the goal and time frame on a small piece of paper and kept it in my Butsudan.

The ‘bountiful Mr. M’ has been in touch a few times during this period he’s the Men’s chapter leader, and someone I consider a friend, he has spent many a pleasant evening at our house talking about Buddhism and life in general, however I have asked him not to visit at the moment also I have not shared my goal to him, as I don’t want to be ‘talked around’ – that is being told that this was the wrong thing to chant for, or to change my perspective and adopt a new goal.

Nichiren Daishonin in writings tells his followers to chant for whatever they want, to challenge their faith, and to seek actual proof, and so I have and the result has been    – nothing.

Now I’m sure the ‘bountiful Mr. M’ will say that my practice isn’t strong enough to garner actual proof, that I chanted with doubt in my heart (that’s true) that I didn’t spend enough hours chanting, that study and attending meetings are as valuable as the chanting itself, whatever he may have said the fault would have been mine…placing the blame squarely on my doorstep.

My answer is a very simple one, It’s based on common sense not esoteric Buddhist scripture – how do I develop strong faith without the proof to start with, how am I supposed to ‘recruit’ others with the great benefits of the practice and share my experiences, when after almost four years, I’ve yet to discover the benefits of practice for myself.

Mr M, has been in touch again, this last couple of days promoting a study lecture at Taplow court, I’ve told him in polite terms that I need some time and space, although I still half expect a phone call within the next couple of days, it seems that sometimes he’s too caught up in his own narrative to hear what others are saying, after all this, I hope to remain a friends, although my past experience is that members quickly loose your number, when you stop practising.

It’s important to stress that I haven’t fallen out with anyone over this, or am I badmouthing the Nichiren practice, I’m just sharing my personal experiences.

The organizational and financial structures of the Zen monasteries and groups no longer appeal to me either, Zen is often called the weekend spiritual pastime of the middle aged, middle class, and while I cannot fully agree with this, I can see where these kind of statements may have a ring of truth to them, again born from my own personal experiences.

I really enjoyed my Zen practice, when I started ten years ago, and found that the Zazen practice gave me strength and hope at a dark time in my life.

I have nostalgic memories of Zen practice those Thursday nights at Sheffield with Bob’s small group.

The times when I’ve returned to the Zen tradition it’s in a vain attempt to recapture that feeling I had at that time in my life, but of course that time has past, everyone has moved on, and now it’s time I did the same.

So as I turn away from my decade of Buddhist practice and study, it’s with a heavy heart, it will be a door that I keep slightly ajar, and who knows I may return to in years to come, with a different mindset.

So once again off I set drifting to parts unknown seeking spiritual nourishment elsewhere, that great quest to find the all important ‘F’ not fame, not fortune, but that most elusive of all – faith.

Seeking the bridge

This week at Wing Chun, I was introduced to the first section of Chum Kiu, the second form of Wing Chun, which introduces the student to moving within a form.

Unlike some other martial arts systems we don’t smash away the on coming energy of an attack, or grip and grasp at it, instead we reach out and connect with it ‘creating a bridge’ we can now utilize that energy to our advantage and take control of the situation.

I’ve been practising this first section all week, I know there are probably faults with it so for now I’m just working on the shape of the form, especially the turning in Lan Sau (bar arm) position, the turn come from the centre (the torso) rather than the shoulders or the feet, the whole body turns on the spot as a single unit.

This week at work I feel that I’ve been seeking to create a bridge, I’ve been involved in meetings with management, working on updating training and working practices. It’s hard to try and changes people’s attitudes and a workplace culture especially when training costs and the introduction of new safety systems and work practices are concerned.

So as Wing Chun teaches us to extend out with positive energy, meet what comes create the bridge (connection) then use that combined energy for the greater good and create a positive outcome.

A year ago this week

A year ago this week, July the 11th to be precise was our (my) last class in Aikido, Sensei took down and tore up the A4 flyer from the notice board, we got out a few mats, he took a very light warm up and then pretty much left Ian and myself to our own devices, there were only the three of us there, for that final lesson.

We did a standing bow to finish, and I thanked Sensei for his hard work and effort and after 18 months in Ki Aikido and almost 12 Years in Aikido overall I bowed out of the dojo.

This was a time of mixed emotions for me, Sensei had announced the closure of our tiny rural dojo, which was a weekly class help in an old village chapel a month earlier (June 13th – unlucky for us) the class numbers had fallen, a change of leadership at the head of our association and Sensei’s on-going back injury had really forced the issue.

So we had a months notice, in which time Sensei got Ian and me through our 3rd Kyu grades which was a nice gesture, but it was still a shock that my Aikido Journey had come to such a sudden end, it had taken me a long time to get my head around (a) the transition between traditional Aikido and Ki Aikido and (b) the way Sensei taught.

Like I’ve said previously on this blog, that although I had expected my journey in Aikido to last a few (or many) years longer with hopes of once again teaching, the fact that this abrupt ending happened under this particular Sensei, is that the overriding emotion  was one of acceptance rather than heartbreak.

I had a couple of texts from Ian after the closure, he was moving on to the British Aikido Association in York, I wish him all the best, if he trains with as much enthusiasm and energy as he did at the old dojo then I’m sure he’ll do well.

I decided for a fresh start and begun training in Wing Chun.

For months after the closure, I would have dreams with vague Aikido references, sometimes I would be watching a lesson, at other times I would be training, or I would be travelling to a dojo that I couldn’t find.

At the weekend I had another dream, this time I was walking down a street, in a hurry, I saw Sensei Danford supervising some people, we said hello, then passed by, there was no emotional attachment to the event, so maybe this is my subconscious finally giving me some closure

A strange coincidence happened on the 11th, while I was waiting at the train station I bumped into Yusuf Udin a former fellow classmate, and now instructor at Aso-Ryu Aikido club, we exchanged a few pleasantries, again there was no desire to return to Aikido, or regret for the decision that I’ve made.

 

Onwards and upwards, thanks for reading.

I want to believe

I remember watching the X-Files, with the poster in Fox Mulder’s office showing a UFO and the words ‘I want to believe’ – I feel like that with my faith at the moment, and so last month I set a very specific time weighted goal and I’m chanting to the Gohonzon for actual proof.

Nichiren in his writings told his followers not to act in blind faith, but to carry out the practice from a position of actual proof.

I’m not telling the SGI leaders about the goal, in the past when I’ve tried this kind of practice, I was told that the goal wasn’t specific enough, or I hadn’t set a time scale, so this time I’ve set a very specific goal and time frame, and will continue to chant until the end of July, to see what happens.

I want to believe in the ‘power of the Gohonzon and Nam Myoho renge kyo’, but I’m not willing to follow it blindly.

 

I’m in a bit of a lull with my training at the moment, I know that progress follows a series of uneven steps, sometimes the vertical rises are higher and they take longer to climb, sometimes the horizontal parts are extended and take longer to walk along, but I’m a firm believer that if I keep going and giving my full effort, progress however small will be made.

A lot of this come down to our perception of our own progress, a story I’ve told on here before is that of Aikido Sensei Paul Derrick, one Sunday class (years ago) as it turned out I was the only student there, and I mentioned that I felt I wasn’t making any progress and all I could see were my own faults, his reply was something I’ll always remember – this in itself is a sign of progress, as I’m perceiving faults that have always been there.

I also need to remember to ‘chill out’ more, enjoy the journey, and remember that I’m only a beginner, and not to compare myself with the green belts and brown belts in class, allow myself to make mistakes- and learn from them.