Category Archives: Dance

一歩づつの合間

今夜道場の方々とサルサのライブを聴きに行き、踊った。武道、舞踊、音楽三昧の一夜だった。踊っている時には、足を踏まない合間がある。それこそ、一歩一歩が大切で、安穏に踏んでいなければならない。止まる合間を感じないと動きが荒れてしまう。これはまさに武踊一如。

長年、日常でも、出張でも、暇でも、忙しくても、笑っても、落ち込んでても、毎週に規律よく稽古していたら、とにかく合気道が一つ息抜きの合間になっている。

そして、少なくても歩く時に安定に踏むことができるような体づくりになった。これからも長く、稽古の相手の皆さんが日頃の修行でそれぞれ一歩づつ邁進できるよう、心からお祈り申し上げます。

For Love

It is better to do things because you love to do them, without regard to whether you will get big.

Morenasso Sensualonda tells a story of when he was teaching kizomba (a dance originating in Angola) in France. To help popularize it, he would visit parties that advertised themselves as playing salsa, bachata, and kizomba music. He would arrive and there would be salsa music playing, and he would wait. “Salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, bachata, bachata, bachata…. Kizomba! and I would dance!, and then it would be over, and I would wait. Salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, bachata, bachata, bachata… Kizomba! The whole time the DJ would play only one Kizomba song an hour! And you couldn’t blame him. He was watching the dance floor, and if when he plays Kizomba, I am the only one on the dance floor, then he will not play that much Kizomba. In fact, if he played more Kizomba, people would be mad at him for not be doing his job!”

It can take a long time to teach and cultivate a circle of friends, who can then grow to a population of people who can dance. Kizomba is is now widely danced in Europe. I do not know whether Morenasso had set out to create a population of people would could dance to music that he loved, but I believe that had fashion not gone his way – that he would still be dancing it out of love.

If we do things for popularity, if we never get popular,  or if we fall in popularity, then we have nothing. If we do things out of love – it’s the only reason we need.

Intersection of Dreams

People come and go.
For love of music, we are here.
Tomorrow we go back to fight it out with the world.
Home gives us strength and love.
Let us shelter each other here for a song.
Simple in giving.
We give each other this dance.
From different places.
To different places.
Here now together at a beautiful and fragile intersection of dreams.

Entering the Fray

Monday morning, I am poised on the cusp of entering the fray. I imagine that my ancestors would have felt something similar in anticipation of the hunt. What will it bring?

We are at war with perceptions: customers that can never be satisfied, advertisers that seek to disrupt our tranquility to take away our money, Pokemon fantasies that hook into ancient warrior instincts to vy for our attention. The latter are as intrusive or meaningless as pornography, a super normal stimulus that hijacks our instincts. Intrusive when it is a picture of a beautiful woman, meaningless when you see it as a piece of paper.

We are seeking the completion and fulfillment of desire. Breathe and feel safe. Modern battles are waged in a largely abstracted environment, along battlefields that we can largely select. 

Once, I was enamoured of retirement, decided to try it for a year, and quit my job. I soon got so bored that I started training martial arts every day, something that I reveled in, but had not planned. Did I really believe that I could retire from the din of the world?

A bone without stress grow porous and brittle. An unworked muscle withers. An unused bicycle goes to rust.

So then I found myself on the roofs and sides of buildings in Tokyo, erecting and dismantling scaffolding, learning to be in harmony with danger – danger that sharpens the senses. Life happens fast. Pay attention. “Yang!” I would hear, and look to catch a bracket thrown my way. Every afternoon at three the supervisor would yell 「一服!」 (breather!) which we would transmit by shouting to the next man along the wall, and more than once from where I stood, I breathed and looked out over rooftops, and thought – “I am building this city,” before climbing down to have a coffee.

What is the purpose of a break than to become stronger?

A mentor once taught me a story: a young man walked up the mountain to seek out an ascetic. He found the old man carrying firewood on his back. 

The young man asked:”Teacher, please tell me about enlightenment.” 

The ascetic placed the bundle of firewood down, stood straight, and stretched. “This,” he said, “is enlightenment.”

Excited, the young man asked. “What comes next?”

Whereupon, the ascetic took up the bundle of firewood again, and continued on his way.

My mentor’s point was to teach me to ask “What comes next?” so as to keep from becoming fixated on a goal.

I have been looking for the source of this story on the internet, but cannot find it. Instead, there is a similar attested teaching of Zen that the path to enlightenment is「運水搬柴」, literally “to carry water and bring firewood,” which in ancient times were the main chores of the day, which is to say that the path to enlightenment is doing ordinary things.

There are meditations that take us out of the world, and there are meditations that take us into the world, and the goal of becoming human is to be able to wake up not just in the dojo, the dance floor, or the yoga studio, but in the course of the mundane – while we are engaged in our Work.

What comes next after enlightenment? Picking up the firewood again. After the weekend? Going back to Work. After a sabbatical year? Going back to Work. Our souls may stretch to a higher plane, but we are physical beings, and after a time we find ourselves standing where we are, finding the laundry must be done, the furniture dusted, the floor swept.

My biggest spiritual challenge now is to learn better to harmonize with difficulty. I recall several times when I have been in a meeting where someone was being rude, and saw another respond with firmly with respect, and after some back and forth, the rude person volunteered help. The strong harmonizer is my model. Life would be less interesting without rude people.
Harmonizing, not fighting, is the right feeling. Difficulty and danger are ingredients, not waste products. The danger, adrenaline, and exertion of being on the scaffolding let me sleep better, let me better taste my food, and gave me morning wood like I hadn’t hadron with high school. While my white-collar friends paid for gym memberships and cross-fit classes to resurrect atrophied muscle and correct bad posture, buying fitness watches to feel more motivated to walk or climb stairs, I was getting paid to do full body resistance and coordination training, more intense than martial arts boot camps  I have attended, and more spirited in team work. My enthusiasm at the time is well-captured in this Craigslist posting. The posting got us a new teammate for a few weeks, of whom the team leader said 「あいつは日本語が下手過ぎて、面白かった。」 “that guy’s Japanese sucked so bad, it was hilarious” – again, smiling and harmonizing with danger. Laughing, crying, and looking out for each other.

By and by, after a year and a half away, I returned to desk work, but I am nostalgic for scaffolding. In the three and a half years since, I have lost muscle, and my posture is not as good. Can I have both an exercised mind and exercised body?
I began this post this morning on a bus to work. I am ending it this evening over a beer at home. One of my teachers touched off this train of thought because she just left for a month-long trip away from Taiwan to reconnect with people and to reflect, so I dedicate this to her.

Enlightenment is setting down our burden. What comes next is also enlightenment. Can I hold on to this clarity? Probably not. But next time, when faced with a difficult situation or person, maybe I can smile a little inside, and say “That’s interesting. What comes next?”

in plain sight

“How is work?” My friend asked.
“Work is long – I’ve been able to pace customer’s expectations, but some things just take time.”
“Well, you look tired.”
“Oh – that’s because… I lowered my voice. I danced until 2am last night. Nine hours.”
My coworker smiled, and put a finger to his lips. “Shhh.” He whispered.

To those who share this little secret hiding in plain sight, sweet dreams tonight.

言少卻談深

「你跳的,少一個東西。」她說。
「少個什麽?」我問。
「少個身體的帶動。感覺上你用手,沒用動身體 。」她師範帶動了幾步。
「了解 。」
「只是一個小推薦。」
「沒有,我覺得很好。」

其實彼一日不順。朝畫趕忙,心情浮漂,足未落地,而果動作比平小。吾覺確如吾友所言。且吾友又能短時內覺得,並提改方之意。

心與體行。心者現於體,體亦響於心。 吾友覺吾作之異,是不只覺得吾心態,且示調之之道。

言少,卻談深。

Communion

This is a picture this morning of a tree growing from the fourth floor of an apartment near where I live. Note the person on the ground, for scale. I have a line of sight to this tree every time I enter or leave my apartment.

20160628-004116a

Not a bush. A tree. Apparently, despite my walking by that apartment every day for the past half year, I had not looked up.

Yesterday I had martial arts and dance practice. I was so happy going home that I must have been looking up. Walking differently, carrying myself differently

How simple is the communion of two people engaged in Aikido or dance. It is pure individualized giving – irreducible, clear, truthful, creative, playful, and utterly fleeting. For a time, we can raise each other up to where timing and place are perfect, where mind and body are one, and help each other to be better, fitter, happier people.

Correcting Duck Feet

Since I was a kid, I’ve had outward-turned feet – duck feet. Years of Aikido and dance have helped me to improve my posture, but it’s never gone away. I’ve been experimenting this week with a method that I developed.

When going to bed, get a web-belt, place feet shoulder-width apart, and secure the belt just above the knees. Sleep on your back with feet pointed up. Normally, the feet would be relaxed and splayed out, but with the feet unable to splay out this way,  other parts of the body have to accommodate. Outward rotation of the legs is controlled by contraction of the Sartorius muscle, and the inability to relax it completely can cause duck feet.

Satorius Muscle

from kenhub.com

 

Improper alignment of the legs will cause tension in other parts of the body, because you are no longer balanced on your skeletal structure, but having to use muscle to stand and move. I noticed tension in my shoulders, upper and lower back. The idea is to relax these during sleep and allow them to stretch.

I have also noticed when I sleep  with the web belt affixed this way that I have a tendency to flex my getanden (下丹田) when I shift during the night.

 

getanden

from hkgalden.com

The getanden is the muscle between the navel and the pubic bone. Flexing this muscle is important when doing certain martial arts movements, as it promotes a relaxed upper body, good breathing, and good posture.

So, I conclude that if the Sartorius cannot be fully relaxed, the legs will turn outward. Simply turning them in will pull on the Sartorius and cause anterior pelvic tilt, meaning that your butt will stick out, resulting in more curvature of the lower back (lumbar lordosis ) as you try to compensate. Everything is above continues to build on top of that, so there will be tension in the shoulders and neck.

Gently constraining the legs with the web belt puts the lower body in the right alignment. The Sartorius will be gently stretched as everything else tries to find alignment. Flexing the getanden will then use the extra stretch in the Sartorius to bring the pelvis into vertical alignment, correcting excessive lower-back curvature. This brings the spine into alignment, and the shoulder muscles can relax. I can feel my Trapezius relaxed – I must have been pulling my shoulders up and forward.

Clarity

With a co-worker, he was explaining theory. I wanted to know about application. I had been trying to ask a question, initiating with body language and verbal grunts. “Does that mean…” “um…” “hey…” “well…” with increased frustration, until I said to him firmly. “I have a question – do you want to hear it?” And he said “No.”

“You don’t want to hear my question.” I said, stating it more than asking it.
“No.” He shook his head.
And this was a bit of a relief. He had helped me understand the theory, which I had not done on my own, but he was not interested in understanding its application. I’ll take what I can get, I reasoned, and find the rest somewhere else.

I recalled Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Huit Clos” in which the characters involved make each other miserable because of their personalities. Compromise is not possible because they cannot set their self-image aside. I recalled James Nalepka’s “Capsized,” where three crew a boat that capsizes in a storm, and they drift, surviving on fishing, gathering rain, and food stores until they hit land again. Their personalities bump against each other because there is no way off of the boat, but they are united by their common goal.

The latter is how I like to think of my company – united by a common goal.

The boat has been weathering a storm recently, but letting go of the urge to protect myself has enabled me to see more clearly.

Two weeks ago we were in a meeting. My boss called in. We hit a rough spot. My boss panicked, jumped in, and took control of the meeting. A few days later, my boss told me that I was being taken off the customer. I was upset, but agreed. We made plans to transfer the customer to my boss, and I offered to remain as backup help, internally working with our engineers to get answers. I viewed it as nothing personal – just a judgement of my ability to culturally handle this customer. The next day I was reinstated to the account. I now have a co-worker (not my boss) playing the role of cultural intermediary. He’s a top gun, switching in and out of dialect and talking the exact style with the exact phrasing that the customer wants to hear. We can say exactly the same thing in terms of content and get two very different reactions from the customer. They love him, which is fine. All I have to do is get him what he needs to answer questions.

I have been working overtime to get those answers from our engineers. They have been working overtime, too. Everyone is under pressure due to the product launch, but I handle it by being unattached to the outcome at this customer. Maybe we win, maybe we lose – I’ll give it my best shot.

That’s what Japanese warriors would tell themselves. They would train for life and death encounters, try to avoid conflict if at all possible, until for reasons beyond their control – shifts in balance of power of the land that led to war – they had to face off with an opponent who had also trained similarly. They would train to face this with equanimity. Maybe he’d lose, maybe he’d live, but he’d give it his best shot.

Giving it one’s best shot is all that matters. Accepting where you are. For example, not being ashamed of your current capabilities. I have a friend getting married in Japan to an accomplished martial artist. She practices, too, but has not yet attained a high level of training. To celebrate the occasion, their teachers will be present. With teachers and students all counted, there will be some seven black-belt Aikido practitioners, four of which are 4th-degree black belt or higher, and there will be a martial arts demonstration as part of the festivities. We were talking about this, and finding this really funny – “It will be less a reception than… ‘Sensei presents – team Aikido!'” My friend has asked me to be the “uke” – the “follow” – so to speak for her fiancé as he performs. Why not you? I asked. She’s afraid that she’s not good enough – and wants someone more skilled and better matched to her fiancé’s level. I told her that that was the wrong reason – that we are the sum of our training, and that for the amount she has trained, she has nothing to be ashamed of. I would do it to help her celebrate, but not because I have trained more. This leads me to another thought – why we do something does not have to be for the same reason that someone believes we should do it. The action is the same, but the narrative that we assign to it can be different. Maybe I’ll write more on this later.

Accepting where you are includes being in the present moment. Fear or striving both bring us out of the present moment. Anything that takes us out of the now leads to poorer results. Dancing makes this very clear. If I am dancing, and trying to play it safe, it’s boring. If I am trying to impress, I’m forcing it, which leads to loss of harmony.

The ego is the source of the should-bes and might-have-beens that cloud our judgement and separate us from the reality at hand. Strength is not in the rocks that can stand against the river. It is the river itself – water that flows, finding the easiest way moment by moment, and in time, wearing down the rock. This is a prayer that we might be less like the rock, and more like the river. At moments of conflict, or more frequently, let us let go of the ego which projects us where we think we should be. Let us see ourselves and others where we are. Only then, relaxed and with power, can we give it our best shot.

Winging It

When traveling, I have been in the habit of simply showing up to a dojo, introducing myself, and asking the teacher if I may practice. This has always worked well for me. I started doing this when, in Japan, I got turned down by a dojo in Matsuyama, Japan, when I called ahead and asked if I could practice.

I figure, if I get turned down, I at least get to see who is turning me down.

I have actually never had a problem come up by just showing up. I show up before class starts with my uniform in my bag, say a friendly hello to the teacher, smile, ask to train, talk about how much I love Aikido and how I’d love to practice with him and his students, and I’m in!

This week, I’m in Vancouver for meetings. For yesterday’s practice, against my usual policy, I gave advance notice, emailing the teacher beforehand to say that I was coming. He remembered me, and gave me permission.

Practice started with one of the senior students because Sensei was late. Sensei entered as we were doing breakfall drills. We nodded at each other from across the room, I bowed toward him, and continued with the drills. After sensei finished changing and stretching, he took over from the senior student.

Practice was great. There were some elements that I experience, but had not yet incorporated into my training. However, I could sense a certain edge to Sensei that I hadn’t sensed before, like he had his guard up a little more. My instinct tells me that this guardedness was due to my relying on my email and his memory of me, and not introducing myself at the beginning of class.

So much for the importance of advance notice. This tells me that a face-to-face introduction is the main thing, and email is an extra. Speaking with him after class, it was clear that while he did remember me, he didn’t really – he was asking me questions he’s asked before. This also makes it clear that the point of going to practice is not to talk… because the body remembers movements, but the mind doesn’t remember conversations!

Speaking of words not mattering, I was out dancing Wednesday last week. There was a free class, and people stayed after to dance. There were some women looking hopeful at the edge of the dance floor. I watched as a few men asked tentatively “Would you like to dance?” Let’s think about this. She got dressed up. She came early to participate in the dance class. She stayed after class. She is standing at the edge of the dance floor. OF COURSE SHE WANTS TO DANCE. In fact, the look on the women’s faces had an incredulous “why are you even asking?” expression that they were trying to hide.

So, I made this my approach: look around. Make eye contact. Approach directly from the front with a relaxed smile. Raise eyebrows and gesture to the dance floor. We’re in! NO WORDS NEEDED. With women I’d already danced with, I could take drinks out of their hands, set them on the counter with a smile, and they would let themselves be led to the dance floor. They didn’t feel this was rude; they liked it. They were just waiting for someone to ask them to dance.

I’ve been giving thought recently to the layered nature of social interactions. There are verbal and non-verbal layers. Humans are educated to think the verbal layer matters, but it doesn’t matter as much as the non-verbal layer. What’s more, the verbal layer often doesn’t matter in terms of content. Monkeys groom each other. Dogs play and snuggle. Talking is the human means to the same end. Thank goodness for Aikido and dance. They make for non-verbal conversations.