Sunday, December 14, 2014

Los Angeles Kyudo Kai

Kyudo came to the United States from Japan in the early years of the twentieth century, reaching Los Angeles as early as 1908 with scattered individuals practicing around the city and the beginnings of a group called the Rafu (the local Japanese pronunciation of “L.A.”) Kyudo Kai. As early as 1916, Mr. Suda Chokei had founded the Los Angeles Kyudo Kai, and the group practiced together regularly. From 1920 to 1928, Mr. Miwa Tanechiko taught the Heike style of archery. Students met at a dojo located on what was then Jackson Street in Little Tokyo, near the intersection of San Pedro and First Streets. A second dojo was located in Boyle Heights on St. Louis Street, near Hollenbeck Park. Vintage photographs and a collection of artifacts from the first dojo survive to this day.

World War II caused a grave and decades-long disruption in the practice of kyudo in Los Angeles. Because kyudo was considered a martial art, bows and arrows used by practitioners were seized as weapons by the federal government, and those that escaped confiscation were either burned or buried by their fearful owners. The Jackson Street martial arts center was closed and eventually demolished, and for the duration of the war, Japanese-Americans were relocated to internment camps. After the war, individuals resumed their practice in isolation without the help and support of an instructor, and there was no official kyudo dojo in Los Angeles for over thirty years.

In 1973, Rev. Koen Mishima arrived in Los Angeles from Japan to minister at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple. He practiced kyudo in the temple's basement by himself for a long time; one day, he was photographed as he was practicing. Iwao Iwata saw that photograph displayed at an exhibition, and he became Mishima-sensei's first student. Eventually the two of them were joined by Rev. Hirokazu Kosaka (a priest from a neighboring temple), Rev. Kiyomaru Mishima (Mishima-sensei's younger brother), and an American man named Mike Stanley.

By 1976, Mishima-sensei and Kosaka-sensei officially reinstated the old Los Angeles Kyudo Kai, and weekly taught a growing number of students in a variety of locations: from 1973–1978, at the Higashi Honganji Temple; from 1978–1981 in the basement of Koyasan Temple in Little Tokyo; from 1982–1992, in the beautiful wood-paneled church hall of the Nichiren Temple in East Los Angeles, at the corner of Fourth Street and Saratoga; from 1993–1999, in the Rafu Chuo Gakuen Community Hall on Saratoga. From 2000 to the present, the Los Angeles Kyudo Kai has met with the Nanka Kyudo Kai at the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute.

In 1996 The Nanka Kyudo Kai was formed by Rick Beal with permission from Kosaka-sensei to represent the growth of their group beyond Los Angeles to include all of Southern California. Nanka is the word used by the local Japanese Community to mean "Southern California."

Today kyudo is represented in Southern California by a few groups, some formed by previous students of Sensei Rick Beal of the Nanka Kyudo Kai, Rick Sensei himself, and of course Hirokazu Kosaka Sensei of the Los Angeles Kyudo Kai continues to honor those that first brought the bow to the area.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Kokoro no yoi

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Archery in buddhism

Besides being a weapon of war and killing others,  in many ancient texts on buddhism listed among the sacred implements is the bow and arrow. This relationship has existed since at least the time of Shakyamuni Butsu. Before being a sage he was the prince, and the best archer in the land. Even before buddhism the bow and arrow were considered sacred in many religious circles.

The same is true in Japan, the bow and arrow were sacred long before buddhism came.

In China Confucianism used archery as a gentlemanly pursuit as well. But most interesting for buddhism is the choice of Chinese Characters being a man standing with a bow and two arrows to represent a Buddha.

When buddhism arrives in Japan with these same characters, and finds the sacred use of the bow already in place, a syncretic effect takes place in Japanese archery. By the 12th century, simultaneous with the arrival of Zen Buddhism, the evolution caused by this effect really starts to take shape.

In this day and age Zen enjoyed much of their patronage from families of the warrior nobility.

Prominent families, to one degree or another, often would mix, match and merge the teachings from the mainland like Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism with the indigenous religion of Shinto and its sacred practices with the bow.

How much this happened in any given school varied greatly. The mixture too, even when all elements were present, which elements took prominence varied. But most were effected at least a touch by one or more of these elements.

This evolution took on even greater speed during peace time in Japan. The evolution has never stopped with even archery done for sport being effected.

There are some schools that from the beginning were heavily influenced by Buddhism. In most cases the influence has increased over time, and today this continues to be true.

For those of us in Buddhism, we know of this sacred use of the bow, but the strength of that use has always been minimal at best.

In Japan the existing sacred use, allowed some monks, especially those who might be retired warriors to use the bow. So we see the actual use of the bow as a sacred implement in buddhism most prominently in Japan.

With the arrival of Zen Buddhism, and its patronage by the warrior class, this happens even more often;
Among temple life were many activities that took the form of great art like the serving of tea, incense offering, flower arrangements, calligraphy, and more. These arts infiltrated the aristocracy as games.

With the closer relationship of Zen Monks and the warrior nobility we see a greater influence to not just play, but to bring the games into line with the artistic method of the temple. As this happens we see the Zen Monks bringing this way to all the warrior arts of the day, especially the sword, but also the bow and arrow. A few Zen Monks too take up these arts as part of this interaction with the warrior families. Reviving again the sacred Buddhist use of the bow.

Today, few outside of the Zen sect use the bow in this way. But here too, there may be a few. We probably just don't hear much about them.

Even the bit I write here, to some is almost sacrilege. Many prefer to stay out of history, quietly practicing. To float as a cloud, leaving no wake in their passing...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rei the act of bowing as manners

'Sha wa, rei ni hajimari, rei ni owaru,'' = Shooting begins with etiquette and ends with etiquette.

The Rei occurs as we are standing up completely straight, and the next in breath begins, when there is no where up to go... naturally we bow, relaxing out from our center... just before we reach the pinnicle of the bow, our air flows out... as we breath in again, we rise back to our upright position; but in fact, since we bowed as a result of upright standing, we were upright the entire time.

Rei means manners

Kyudo begins & ends with Rei
Rei is manners & Rei is the physical act of bowing. Thus 'upright' bowing, showing respect and humility from a postion of strength is the physical manifestation of manners.
Rei begins and ends with the Tanden.
Awareness is the first step. Awareness of the Tanden is the core of the pracitce. All practice leads with... to... and from the TandenWith the mind stable and established in the Tanden, we look out... gazing gently... seeing all that is, as it is. In this way we move in the world, with the world... without moving away from the Tanden. Thus we are moving without moving.
The path to the Tanden has always been breathing and relaxing. The path from the Tanden has always been bone and extension... Structure and Vision.
Awareness of the Tanden, through the art of breathing & relaxing, then, is the first step. This is a natural step that happens whenever we do not interfer. Like this, through gravity, with a small tether to the Tanden (like a plumb bob) we drop to the center of the earth. From the center of the earth we stand up; from the sacred tail/root bone we stand up; the spine, nape of he neck and crown of the head reach to the heaven (never leaving the center of the earth, or the Tanden, but merging the earth and sky with the tanden as the center of this universe. From Heaven to earth we hang... suspended...
From this upright posture, anything is possible... everything is possible.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Breath, Blood, and Bone

In martial arts training there is a time when we need to remind ourselves that there are inner workings to the art as well as external. It can be easy to get caught up in the physical actions that we must perform, and forget that they rely and interact with aspects that we can't see.

There is a teaching that brings this to mind called kokyu, kodo, kotsu: breath, heartbeat, and bone. Or sometimes we say breath, blood, and bone.

Breathing and heartbeat are fundamental to our lives. This is a common way to tell if we are alive even, isn't it? Are they alive? are they breathing? is there a pulse? I think you see the point.

Our breath is invisible but it deals with the flow of air from outside to inside and back again. More than philosophically it joins us with our outside environment.

Our blood and bone too, unless we get a wound, we don't see them. But we can feel them inside of us, and they can give us a feeling for what is going on inside.

All Japanese martial arts rely on the Tanden. The Tanden is the core of ourselves. Almost all the schools, when they wrote down their teachings say something like, 'the teaching begins and ends with the tanden'.
The trick is how to find this invisible and elusive point within us. Most often we are simply reminded to look inside. Quite often, this is advise is not enough and we need some tools. Breath, blood, and bone have served as these tools since ancient times. Or even when we find the tanden, how do we manifest it in our lives. Ah, once again the same tools are available: breath, blood, and bone.

This teaching is not my own, or just for a few. But has been handed down through many traditions as a way to enliven our daily interactions. Awareness of our breath, blood, and bone remind us of many other inner dimensions that we live with, and bring awareness to many other aspects of our daily lives.

thank you for listening,
rick 'jyozen' beal

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spiritual Martial Arts - Zen in the Japanese Arts (draft)

Before Zen in Japan, there was Chan in China; and before Chan in China there was Dhana in India. All of these are forms of Buddhism. Buddhism was formed by followers of Shakyamuni. Shakyamuni is the Sage of the Shakya Clan.

Before Shakyamuni was a sage, he was the prince of the Shakya Clan; but left his wife and family to become a yogi, and to find the release from suffering for all human beings. Once he awoke to the Way of Liberation from suffering; he became Shakyamuni.

As the prince, he was the best archer and one of the best warriors in the land. In yoga too there were methods of using yoga as spiritual training and martial arts; though this was not mainstream yoga it did exist.

Dhyana came to China as a separate Buddhist sect by the teachings of Bodai Daruma.  Bodaidaruma also taught some form of this martial yoga to the monks he was training; both as a means of self-defense, a way to be healthy, a way to stay awake, and a training method of the Way. These monks may have already been exposed to their own training methods as well, though the written history of the time was written and re-written, and does not always agree with the many versions of oral history passed down as well. Most scholars, of course, favor the written records as they find them and distrust and discount the oral history; logically this makes sense, but as monks we take at face value the oral history we are given, and simply allow for poetic license to convey an underlying truth, even if the written 'fact's may not bear it out as actual history.

But we do know that both in India, in China, and in Japan there were martial practices that were simultaneously used by monks as training methods on the Way,

The biggest overlap and confusion comes to play in Japan; where some warriors, though few in the scheme of things also followed to some degree portions of Buddhist practice. Also there were warrior monks in some sects; so it can be easy to mix and merge the idea that all Japanese Warriors practiced Zen for instance; but this simply is not true. Most probably borrowed some Buddhist practices and ideas in their lives; all Japanese did that to some degree. The jukyo from the mainland consisted of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Japanese Culture consists of this jukyo combined with their own way of thought. Japanese Zen too, consists of all 4 of these; as it came to Japan and the followers of Dogen Zenji (founder of Soto Zen) encouraged this blending.

But what I am speaking of here is not the warriors who may have touched on Buddhist or Zen in their lives. I'm talking about the few individuals that brought this combination, or re-discovered it in their own lives, of martial arts and spiritual life. It was there for a few in Yoga, even before Shakyamuni; and it was there in China, even before Bodaidaruma; and it was in Japan before buddhism came.

This practice has always existed, and is being re-discovered again today by many martial artists; either through a lineage that has always had it; or in one that was recently re-discovered by a master of their own art in the last few hundred years. Or perhaps by an individual today that now realizes that not only can it be done, but that it always has been done....