Thursday, January 29, 2009

sticks in the street (4)

having a China attack tonight, really wanting to go back. Cooped up in the house all day - setting up a new class through the morning, working on proposals for Japan/ China cultural training all afternoon and into the night. Taking care of business and very little practice gotten in. So I am suffering from that itch to get out and move around, and suffering from a deeper itch for major change in routine.

all of which is to say, here are some pix from Beijing and now I must get back to work. Freedom to move and jump and circle about comes tomorrow - until then, it is nose to the grindstone. Though my mind may wander...

you can read about the sticks in the street group elsewhere in the blog.

Monday, January 26, 2009

hip hop chess federation

"We recognize that chess, martial arts and hip-hop unify people from multiple cultural, religious and social backgrounds. These black and white squares do not care what color you are or if you are rich or poor. The only thing they ask is that you come with your strategy, your patience and your skills..." - HHCF co-founder Adisa Banjoko

What a fantastic group - the Hip Hop Chess Federation, which is also involved in martial arts instruction. A friend of mine (curiously of the same name, who also practiced kendo here in the same area of Tokyo) is now a teacher in Oakland, (home of East Bay Ray and various other DKs).

Check out their website at

and their excellent blog at

Sunday, January 25, 2009


it's a conspiracy. I am supposed to be working at home today but things are not getting done. A quick email check turned into disaster of the best kind: side-tracked by discovery of a website devoted to the hardcore punk scene in mid-80s Omaha (don't ask), links to elsewhen and elsewhere and lost memories. Finally re-emerged from that loss of focus. Went out and worked on the sword awhile. Back in for a quick email check and guess what? Side-tracked again, this time a hot tip about a forthcoming (?) movie which includes an interview with Mark Salzman. Hello youtube, goodbye focus. Or a different focus, really. Then chasing down "just one" scene with Master Pan on youtube...

I missed lunch a couple hours back. Maybe I will get some work done after a couple sandwiches.

Then again, the sword form still needs some work.

Monday, January 19, 2009


… is the academic and highly esoteric study of the processes involved in the creation of liquids such as, well, beer. The study has been a respected academic discipline since long before that Donn Draeger fellow tried to co-opt the meaning.

Lest the discerning reader be aghast at this post’s seeming drift from the established theme of practicing martial arts, it should be made clear that my most recent batch of homebrew was made after some good outdoor practice and is thus infused with a special something generated by good practice.

The process requires active work on two occasions, followed by approximately 40 bottles’ worth of light exertion. Work One involves the brewing of the stew. Boil water and add hops, malt, yeast, and such in varying quantities at assigned times, then pour it into the big carboy bottle and let it sit as foamy kreusen collects on top and gooey muck gathers on the bottom.

Work Two involves transferring the beer from the carboy into individual bottles. It is important to gargle with whiskey or baijiu before siphoning, in order to kill germs in the mouth. Once filled and capped, the bottles must sit a bit longer. There should not be any foam on the top this time, though some gooey muck will settle to the bottom of each bottle. By sneaking a sip from each bottle during the process of siphoning for Quality Control purposes, you can come to really appreciate the artistry involved in home brewing.

I have sampled a few bottles from this batch. The first two were not quite mature and tasted like ordinary beers from the supermarket. Number three started getting a little bitter flavor and by the fourth, the hops had really kicked in. Apparently I am known as a “hophead,” someone who prefers more hops in their brew. This probably stems from my first batch, in which I accidentally poured in way too much hops. The resulting brew (Mitaka Mud) was damn hoppy and damn good. And that taste has, I think, been imprinted upon me.

With the current batch, I added some dry malt to the usual liquid malt. It is important to run a rolling pin over the malt to crack open the grains. Lacking such sophisticated kitchenry, I turned to the next best thing: one of my double sticks. The lower picture shows my assistant at work, grinding the dry malt.

The malt was cracked and the beer is getting good, but my double sticks are no longer the matching set they once were.

Monday, January 12, 2009

holiday in Japan (2)

So I ended up working over ten hours on Christmas Day, meaning that working "only" eight hours on my birthday last week was a kind of relief. The holidays have slowly wound down, but there was one more in store in Japan, so-called "coming of age" day when young people turn 20 and are suddenly considered adults in Japan.

But the day before was the highlight for me. Special iaido practice all morning, feeling very "on" throughout. Then a Chinese martial arts exhibition all afternoon. I was part of two group demos, one for the Sha family 24-move sword form, another for the ubiquitous tai ji 24 form.

Later, having finished and changed and feeling much more relaxed, I had a long chat with a teacher. In the middle of that, an older woman came up and started talking to him. I burst out laughing when she joked that demos of the tai ji 24 form should be banned at such exhibitions. (we've all seen it and/or demo'd it so many times....and there I was, just changed after my own 24 demo). It would be good to have more variety in these large, several-hour exhibitions. On the other hand, most people are beginners and all beginners go through the paces with the 24 form. And these demos are not a competition - they are a chance for each group to show their progress across a year, to get used to performing in front of others, and so on.

Even so, at six minutes a pop, endless viewings of the tai ji 24 form can be a bit .... monotonous.

I suggested that performances of the 24 form should be restricted to mirror image forms or something like that, maybe doing the entire form in reverse order, whatever. There are always several performances which mix moves within the 24-form freely and these are much more interesting to watch.

What struck me was that the person who made this comment (ban 24!!) was older, and older people in Japan just don't make many bold comments like that. It was said in jest, but I could laugh in agreement.

Photo is of people age 75 and over receiving awards for their practice. Highest was aged 89 - and she was a genki one, full of energy and vitality. That helps me continue my progress into the dreaded 40s with a somewhat lightened feeling.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

holiday in Japan

No, this is not a spin on an old DK’s song some of you may be familiar with, just a quick year-end wrap-up.

Christmas is celebrated as a marketing activity here in Japan – buy some decorations, buy some gifts. And buy some chicken. I used to think it quite unusual that people here have made a tradition of eating Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner, even more so that long lines will form in front of every KFC joint on 12/25. Then someone reminded me that there are no turkeys in Japan. And I don’t suppose tofu turkey will catch on any time soon.

Like most people over here, I had to work on Christmas. And, unlike most, I got an urgent message on Christmas morning, asking me to help a client finish a year-end project that night. nnnnnnn. So that was Christmas, as the song (almost) goes.

Dec. 24 was much better for me – ba gua in the morning, xing yi and tai ji in the afternoon, tai ji sword at night. My teacher didn’t say a word to me for an hour during the night practice, then made one body adjustment to me mid-form, and that was the perfect wrap-up to a year of practice. That one adjustment touches on all my forms and was both valuable and embarrassing to receive. I have many extra hours of solo practice at the end of each year, so this has been a key point in my daily review, something to carry into next year.

Dec 31 and Jan 1 are much bigger holidays here, and most people have a stretch of several days with little or no work. It functions, in fact, a bit more like Christmas as known back home – no work, families get together and share meals and lie about.

Visiting shrines is also important. They have worked out a system where Shrine A is quite busy on 12/31 night and throngs wait an hour and more in line to approach. Meanwhile, Shrine B is almost empty. Then, on Jan. 1, Shrine B is packed and Shrine A is, well, much less busy. We chose Shrine B on New Year’s Eve. The other part of our yearly ritual is watching the K-1 fights on New Year’s Eve, many of which were quite disappointing this year. Drawing upon my years of experience outside the ring, I offer snippets of advice to each fighter while sipping my beers.

Martial artists often visit important shrines connected to martial traditions at this time of year, and many dojo have year-end cleanings and first-of-the-year practices. All of which got me thinking of how different that is from Chinese martial arts and their relative lack of emphasis on external appearance/ uniform (except on demo day) and cleanliness inside the training area (zokin gake, anyone?). And certainly no temple or shrine visits, at least for the majority. Should look much more deeply into this topic later…

I have done my share of year-end and year-beginning practices but recently I prefer to stay home with family. And, when they go out, I conduct my own first-of-the-year practice, working on iaido techniques. The cats got used to my living room workouts long ago, (iai is the one art I can’t practice outside our house) though they still run off each time I started moving all the furniture out of the way.

The seated techniques of shoden, chuuden, and okuden are better suited to the confines of a living room than are the standing techniques of okuden, but adjustments can be made. Besides, Jan. 1 is the best day to go back to the basics, to look again at everything you thought you had learned long before, to scrutinize each tiny detail and find new places to work on. And to hear – and feel – again the corrections of a few days before, in the year’s final iaido class.

One more good point to all this in Japan – mail is delivered on both Christmas day and New Years Eve, and I found a long-awaited copy of the newest Kendo World magazine in my box on the night of 12/31. Happy New Year.