Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Words of Wisdom

I learned a very interesting new phrase. 吾唯足知。「われただたるをしる。」 "Ware tada taru (wo) shiru." Its meaning is very similar to the phrase, "Be happy with what you have." (Literally, it says, "I know just enough.") Another way to put it is, "What I have is all I need." The most interesting thing about this phrase is that it can be written with just one 口 in the middle of the four other radicals, so that it looks something like this, found at Ryoanji (Temple), in Kyoto.

I had Karate practice last night. My body is so sore! Anyway, this time, there were more students, so we actually had a more formal class. Interestingly enough, the other students were in 2nd, 4th, and 5th grades, and all at least Brown Belts. Hah! Wonderful. :-) At the end of class, we recited the Dojo-Kun, which is basically the school's motto or rules. Well, it's actually more like a "code of honor." There are five things, and each is numbered "1." because each is just as important as the other.

一。 人格感性に努むること。
一。 誠の道を守ること。
一。 努力の精神を養うこと。
一。 礼儀を重んずること。
一。 血気の勇を戒むること。

Next time, I will explain them all. :-) But for now, I must take care of quite a few things, as tomorrow is the mid-year conference, a friend from the US is visiting this Thursday, I have to submit my test on (by?) Thursday, and I also have to submit my contract renewal yes/no sheet. So much to do, so little time!

Phrase of the day: 吾唯足知。

Monday, January 10, 2011

First Karate Practice

I just got back from my first Karate practice here in Japan. And after over a decade of training in so many different styles, I couldn't help but think of a line from that mediocre movie starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li, The Forbidden Kingdom: "How can you fill your cup, if it's already full? Empty your cup." [Note: according to my friend Clint, who studies Kung Fu and Chinese Culture/History, the saying is actually quite old, so I need not worry. :-) Thanks, buddy!]

In that scene, the protagonist, whom I shall refer to as "Idiot," was discussing Kung Fu with Jackie. But every time Jackie would mention something, Idiot would say, "Oh yeah, yeah! I know that!" and proceed to annoy Jackie. Jackie told Idiot to fill his cup, which was clearly full. Idiot said, "I can't." To which Jackie replied with the above quote.

In order for Idiot to properly learn from Jackie and Jet, he must forget everything he thought he knew. I felt a little bit like Idiot during the practice. After years of practicing a martial art in a certain stance, it's difficult to train in a stance that is only similar to that stance, but not the same. To learn the nuances of a new style, one must (I must) unlearn habits acquired from previous training. Many martial artists would agree that it's actually more difficult learning a brand new style of martial art after building years of experience versus someone starting a martial art for the first time with no prior experience.

To break it down, what happened tonight was that my years of experience practicing American Kenpo Karate made it difficult for me to properly perform the Japanese Karate Kyokai Shotokan versions of techniques. I kept reverting back to the Kenpo style that has been ingrained into my body's muscle memory. It happened when I was practicing basic punches and kicks in basic stances, and it even occurred when I performed kata. At my home dojo in the US, my master adjusted the traditional Japanese kata to better fit the form of our style, and it works very well for its purpose. But it makes it difficult to learn the original versions. The good thing, though, is that it provides a good foundation, as I already know the basic movements; I must merely learn the differences between the details. But that might end up being harder anyway, haha.

In case you were curious, let me mention some of the differences that I experienced tonight. The forward stance. In Kenpo, it's more shallow. But in Shotokan, not only is it deeper; it changes depending on whether you're blocking or striking. At least, for the downward block and reverse punch. Whereas, in Kenpo, you merely have to change your arm placement and maintain the same stance. For things like middle inward block or rising block, as well, there were slight differences in the trajectory of the hands and movement of the arms. Slight, but enough to be incorrect.

So anyway, it was still a good time. I enjoyed it. I forgot to mention that another thing that made practice difficult was the language barrier. I simply never had the opportunity to learn any specific martial arts jargon in class, nor any words that would be used in the description of techniques. I'll describe more about Karate in a later post and about the history of this style versus the "other" Shotokan style. And I'm not talking about the one featured in Street Fighter.

Word of the Day: 空手道 「からてどう」 "karatedou", or "The way of the empty hand."

Coming of Age Day

Happy Coming of Age Day! Not really sure how to say that in Japanese, or if there even is a way to say it. (Much like we don't say Happy Labor Day! in the US.) But Coming of Age Day is called 成人の日 「せいじんのひ」 "Seijin no Hi" in Japanese. Anyway, on this day, everyone who became a legal adult (age 20, in Japan) since last year's Coming of Age Day is allowed to get all dressed up and celebrate! This usually entails dressing up in a kimono (or suit and tie for the guys) and going to a shrine to bow, pray, and do the usual. I didn't go out today, seeing as how my Coming of Age was over half a decade ago (damn, I feel old saying that!).

Two days ago was the "cutting of the New Year's rice cake," or the 鏡開き 「かがみびらき」 "Kagami Biraki." This literally means "Opening the Mirror." It's because the mochi (rice cake) resembles the shape of a mirror. Or so I've been told. This ceremony was held in the 桜花館 「おうかかん」 "Oukakan", also known as the 武道館 「ぶどうかん」 "Budoukan": the Martial Arts Hall. (FYI, the Budoukan in town is named the Oukakan.) At the event were some traditional blessings and prayers, the first martial arts practices for the three major clubs, and eating of mochi! Yay!

I met the Karate Master. He came up right to me as soon as the ceremonial stuff was over (and before training) and we talked martial arts. It was strange though; one of the first things he did was to ask me which martial arts group I wanted to join. He seemed very eager to take me in as one of his students. And it seemed as though he had already heard of me and already knew of my desire to enroll in a local martial arts academy. After some discussion, I found out that the first practice of the year (after the Kagami Biraki) is tonight. At 7 PM. So, in less than an hour, I'll be out there! Oh boy. Wish me luck!

Oh, yeah, after the practice, we ate mochi soup! It was delicious! But they made me get seconds, and they filled the second bowl completely (and with a ton of mochi). I sat next to the Karate Master and he looked over at me, laughing when I looked like I was struggling finishing it all. After I was done, he said, "You must be tired!" (お疲れ様でした。 It's said at the end of a work day. Haha.)

Word of the day: 頑張ります! 「がんばります!」 "Ganbarimasu!" It means, "I'll do my best!"

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Word of the Year

I learned today, at Dictionary.com that the "Word of the Year" for 2010 was "epic."

What an utter disappointment. Well, at least it wasn't a surprise. I've heard this word used so often this past year or two that it's even become a part of my normal lexicon. It's annoying when words aren't used properly, but even I'm guilty of such crimes ("awesome"). But to hear that "epic" is the new "awesome" is...I don't know...a tad bit annoying. Perhaps because it's used primarily by the younger generation; like they're trying too hard to be cool or something. Anyway, I try to look at it the same way I look at Time Magazine's Person of the Year: the winner was chosen as a result of a combination of things, from popularity (person), usage (word), or otherwise something of a representation of a major event or occurrence that year. In Mark Zuckerberg's case, he was simply the biggest douche of 2010. Well, more like 2004. "Epic" was something like that. Just not nearly as bad.

On a related note, the kanji 暑 was chosen as the "Kanji of the Year" for 2010 here in Japan. It means "hot/heat," and describes the ridic heat in 2010. I personally would have chosen 高, as it means "high/tall," and can be used to describe both the weather and the high value of the Yen.

Kanji of the day: 帰 from 帰る 「かえる」 "kaeru," which means "to return (home)." 'Cause that's what I'm about to do! Peace out!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Long Time Gone

So, it's been almost two months since I've published a legitimate blog post. For this, I sincerely apologize. I can come up with many explanations for why I haven't posted anything in a while, but it would best be said with these words: 申し訳ございません。 It is pronounced "moushiwake gozaimasen," and it means "I have no excuses," both literally and figuratively. Well, more literally, it means "there are no excuses," and the speech pattern is very humble. [My linguistic side just never seems to shut up.]

Anyway, I actually started a few blog posts in the past and never published them. I've taken hundreds of pictures in just these past couple months alone, and I want to show them to you. All of them! But I can't. So I wanted to show you a select few. And I will; I just have to pick them out. Ideally, I would intersperse the blog posts I wrote with various pictures relevant to the text. But I may instead just publish a post with a bunch of pictures. Or upload some to an online photo album (why can't any of them be user friendly?).

Anyway, when I publish the older posts, you'll probably have to scroll down to that month (November, December) to read them. I'll make a new post each time I publish and old one just to inform you of the update.

Time to write!

UPDATE: November 23rd's post!

UPDATE: Thanksgiving post!

UPDATE: The December Issue!

UPDATE: Happy New Year!

Word of the day: 合いたかった 「あいたかった」 "aitakatta," which means, "I miss you." Literally, "I wanted to see/meet you."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!


Phrase of the day: 明けましておめでとうございます!「あけましておめでとうございます!」 "Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!" You can guess what it means. :-) Literally, it means "Congratulations for opening!" or something along those lines.