Saturday, 20 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 26

                ‘The days would come when burglars and thieves were as  
                  innumerable as grains of sand on the beach’
                                                          The great robber, Ishikawa Goemon    (1558-94)

“So far you’ve made it sound like Japan was nothing but samurai steel.” Said Robyn. “Weren’t there any women and children?”
Of course.” I said, looking at my watch. “They’re waiting at our first temple.” We got up to leave, and pay the bills at Bills.
“No tip, I guess.” Robyn said. Soy tip. No tip.
“Only presented in shugibukuro bags, ahead of time, in high end places.” I said. “As a greeting ritual to ask for a favour. Otherwise they consider it an insult, and will come running after you to return it.”
Everyone bowed as we left, some deeper than others. Heading back to the station, we passed a large outdoor mechanical clock, whose visible mechanism took the form of Peter Pan.
“There seems to be an unspoken desire to remain a child here.” Said Robyn.
“The responsibilities as a grownup are that daunting.” I said. On the station platform, we took an electric train heading in the wrong direction, and ended up at Koshigoe, near Myodenji Temple where Yoshitsune had waited in vain for so long, to see his brother, Yoritomo. Disorientation.
But we caught the next one going the other way, past Inamuragasaki Cape, where Nitta Yoshisada had waited for low tide seven hundred years earlier, through beautiful flowered neighborhood lanes, to Hase station. We walked up the slope of a wooden hill to the Hasedera.
“This is the women and children temple?” Robyn asked.
“Sort of.” I said, as we entered beside a huge parasol, into a pretty garden full of ponds. We were early. The gigantic red torii we had passed under was supposed to have marked our transition from the profane to the sacred, but the unwanted din of an army of uniformed leaf-blower attendants, flowing carpets of cherry blossoms across the ground, made us wonder if we hadn’t got it backwards. 

Friday, 19 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 25

The second part of Go Rin No Sho, the Book of Water, delineated the spiritual and technical principles of strategy. Just as water in life demonstrated a natural flexibility as it changed to conform within the boundaries that contained it, seeking the most energy efficient path, so the warrior should possess the flexibility to shift easily between disciplines, methods, and options in any fluid situation. Musashi, as a Buddhist, recognized the importance of spiritual balance, calmness and tranquility. But, like the inherent conflict I already alluded to, between the way of the samurai and the precepts of the middle path, Musashi separated his religion from his swordsmanship... Buddhism, the ways of elegance, rice-planting, or dance; these things are not to be found in the way of the warrior... Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help. The divergence only met in the resolute acceptance of death.
During battle, spirit should be balanced, and all techniques honed to perfect demeanor. Stance was important. The head should be erect, neither hanging down, nor looking up, nor twisted, so that gaze could best perceive that which is all around, without having to noticeably move the eyeballs- to see things arriving, close and far away.
Musashi defined the five attitudes of swordsmanship, areas to attack on the human body. Upper, middle and lower attitudes were decisive. Left side and right side attitudes were more fluid, and used only if there was an obstruction to the other three, and only until the obstruction could be cleared. There were other attitudes. ‘No Attitude’ strategists ignored the geography, to focus on technique, taking chances instead of making them. ‘Existing-Non Existing Attitude’ opportunistically mixed the Five Attitudes with the No Attitude. ‘In-One Timing" was the technique of stalling until a suitable gap allowed delivery of a fatal blow. ‘Abdomen Timing of Two’ feigned an attack, and then struck a retreating enemy in either two moves or two seconds. ‘No Design, No Conception’ used body force and Void Book disciplines to push the enemy over. ‘Flowing Water Cut’ unemcumbered a stalemate, with a sequential of expansion of mind and body and sword that cut broad and powerful and as slowly as possible with a long sword, like the natural flow of water. ‘Continuous Cut’ occurred in a similar impasse where swords were clasped together, one springing away in a continuous motion, slashing head and body and legs. A similar motion without raising the sword was the ‘Fire and Stone's Cut’ and one which knocked down the sword of an enemy, a ‘Red Leafs Cut.’ Other maneuvers sounded like Tai Chi moves, with more lethality- Chance-Opening Blow, Strike of Non-thought, Autumn Monkey's Body, Crimson-Leaves Strike, Blow Like a Spark from a Stone, or Body of Lacquer and Paste.
The Book of Fire covered specific situations and timing, in the heat of battle. Armorial advantage and preparedness did not exclusively reside within the domain of weaponry and duels, but within the realm of war and battles, complete warcraft applied equally to one samurai or whole armies. Just as one man can beat ten, so a hundred men can beat a thousand, and a thousand can beat ten thousand.
Location was crucial. No man-made objects (buildings, towers, castles) should obstruct the view, and neither the sun nor moon affect vision. High ground was paramount, as was attacking the non-dominant left side of a right-handed soldier. An enemy should, at every opportunity, be forced into footholds, swamps, ditches, and other difficult terrain, maintaining his maximum situational uncertainty.
Musushi defined three ways of ‘forestalling’- Ken No Sen ‘Attacking’ was a head on collision, forcing both parties to a standstill, resulting in a higher death count because more than one enemy could attack a single warrior. Tai No Sen ‘Waiting for the Initiative’ feigned weakness to open a weak spot in the opposing force, and regrouping to exploit the hole by attacking deep to remove the tactical centre.  Tai Tai No Sen ‘Accompanying and Forestalling’ circumvented an ambush or from the enemy by suddenly attacking in full force. Other methods dealt with crossing and battling in rough terrain, and determining if enemy strength is waning or rising by listening for derangements in their drumming rhythm. The technique of ‘Treading down the sword,’ which in individual combat, required attacking the enemy's sword, breaking it, removing it from play, and controlling it through direct blade on blade contact, in dealing with large armies, meant charging under the veil of gunpowder smoke and arrow fire.
The fourth chapter, the Book of Wind, was a pun of sorts, as the kanji character meant both ‘wind’ and ‘style.’ It was essentially a critique of the techniques of the other schools of the time, the ones he accused of not understanding the opponent as precisely as required, or teaching the broader meaning of strategy above the over-reliance on a single weapon.
The final section, the Book of Void, was an esoteric epilogue of Musashi's Zen-influenced thoughts on consciousness and correct mindset. Although short, the book lists, philosophically, the nature of knowledge required to perceive that which you cannot understand or comprehend, and with which there is no physical relationship. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness. In the void is virtue, and no evil. The characters engraved on Musashi’s wooden bokken, Earnest Heart, Straight Way, spoke to his life’s triumphant unique unification of mind and body and sword.
Three months after he finished The Book of Five Rings, in mid-June of 1645, Miyamoto Musashi died of thoracic cancer, in Reigandō cave. At the moment of his death, he had himself raised up. He had his belt tightened and his wakizashi put in it. He seated himself with one knee vertically raised, holding the sword with his left hand and a cane in his right hand. He died in this posture, at the age of sixty-two.
The principal vassals of Lord Hosokawa interred his body in armor, and set up his tomb on Mount Iwato, facing the direction his lord would travel to Edo.
Outside the window of our full Aussie breakfast at Bills, the surfers flowing water cut their paths with both arms. Wave men.

   ‘The field of martial arts is particularly rife with flamboyant
    swordsmanship, with commercial popularization and profiteering 
    on the part of both those who teach the science and those who 
    study it. The result of this must be, as someone said, that 
    'amateuristic martial arts are a source of serious wounds.’
                                                                       Miyamoto Musashi

Thursday, 18 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 24

In 1614 Musashi once again fought for the Toyotomi against the Tokagawa at the Winter and Summer Battles of Osaka, but wasn’t persecuted for being on the losing side. One Tokagawa loyalist, Ogasawara Tadanao, hired him as a ‘construction supervisor, to help build Akashi Castle. Six years later he helped plan the White Egret Castle in Himeji. In 1627, after various failed attempts to reestablish himself somewhere as a swordmaster vassal, Musashi began to travel again, but his life of battle and dueling began to slow down, as one would expect from an aging man. In 1640 he was retained by his old lord Tadatoshi, and moved into Chiba Castle in Kumamoto. Two years after that he began to suffer attacks of neuralgia. Musashi recognizing this as the first sign of a terminal illness, hermitically retired to a cave named Reigandō. 
Here he wrote his masterpiece on strategy, tactics, and philosophy, the Go Rin No Sho. The Book of Five Rings was a compendium of Musashi’s technical principles and contemplative approach to the craft of war. A warrior was considered incomplete, unless he had mastered of many art forms away from that of the sword. Musashi had done that. In addition to studying Buddhism, he was a brilliant sumi-e Zen brush painter, wood and metal sculptor, and calligrapher. He had architectural and tea drinking skills. There are five ways in which men pass through life: as gentlemen, warriors, farmers, artisans and merchants.
Musashi’s five books collected his life’s lessons on the essential elements of combat- Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and The Void.
The Book of Earth was a metaphorical introduction to martial arts strategy. The first metaphor was for that of the bulb and the flower, for the student and the technique. Musashi accused most other strategies of being more concerned with coloring and showing off the beauty of their technique, trying to ‘hasten the bloom of the flower,’ rather than to perfect the harmony between strategy and skill. His second metaphor described the strategy of building of a house, or the pursuit of any other artisanal endeavor, was the same as that of a warrior. As a carpenter becomes better with his tools, so too can a warrior become more skilled in his technique. Builders thrive through events- the ruin of houses, the splendor of houses, the style of the house, the tradition and name or origins of a house. The samurai thrives on the rise and fall of prefectures. The master plan of a building is similar to a plan of campaign. As a carpenter, expert enough in all aspects of his job, can become a foreman, so too can a warrior acquire the power to show others. 
The value of strategy is homogeneous. There is no iron-clad method, path, or weapon, and no one can gain strategy by being confined to one particular style. Musashi practiced ‘many arts and abilities- all things with no teacher.’ The way of his Ichi school was the spirit of winning, whatever the weapon and whatever its size. Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things as if it were a straight road mapped out on the ground... From one thing, know ten thousand things. When you attain the Way of Strategy there will not be one thing you cannot see. You must study hard.
Different situations required different weapons and tactics. During battle, using only one weapon is as bad as using the weapon poorly, since an enemy will find the weakness in your style. Some weapons, like naginata and spears, can be only used on the battlefield whereas long and short swords can be used together everywhere, on horseback or in close quarters on the ground. 
Mastering the long sword grip was a platform for moving onto the mastery of all weaponry. Musashi’s use of the term ‘two fingers’ to describe the way to hold the katana, didn’t tell the whole story.

   ‘Grip the long sword with a rather floating feeling in your thumb 
    and forefinger, with the middle finger neither tight nor slack, and 
    with the last two fingers tight. It is bad to have play in your 
    hands. However, just because the grip is to be light, it does not 
    mean that the attack or slash from the sword will be weak. If you 
    try to wield the long sword quickly, you will mistake the way. To 
    wield the long sword well, you must wield it calmly. If you try to 
    wield it quickly, like a folding fan or a short sword, you will err 
    by using ‘short sword chopping.’ You cannot cut down a man 
    with a long sword using this method. ... the movement of the 
    sword after the cut is made must not be superfluous... one should 
    allow the sword to come to the end of its 
    path from the force used. In this manner, the technique will become 
    freely flowing, as opposed to abrupt...’ 

He regarded the gun as the supreme weapon on the battlefield, until swords clashed. Then it was useless. In the seventeenth century, guns were inaccurate at anything more than point-blank range, reloading speed was slower than that of a skilled archer, and the invisibility of bullets precluded any adjustment in aim.
Musashi recognized timing as a core strategic principle.

   ‘In all skills and abilities there is timing.... There is timing in the 
    whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and declining, in his 
    harmony and discord... From the outset you must know the 
    applicable timing and the inapplicable timing, and from among 
    the large and small things and the fast and slow timings find the 
    relevant timing, first seeing the distance timing and the 
    background timing. This is the main thing in strategy. It is 
    especially important to know the background timing, 
    otherwise your strategy will become uncertain.’

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 23

The match was set for April 13, 1612 on a remote island in the strait separating Honshū and Kyūshū, so that none of Kojirō’s disciples could attempt to kill Musashi, were Kojirō to have lost. According to legend, Musashi arrived unkempt, and more than three hours late. His timing was deliberate, for three reasons. The first was to unnerve and taunt and goad Kojirō, by showing contempt. Kojirō shouted insults, but Musashi just smiled. Angered even further, Kojirō leapt into combat, blinded by rage. The first half of his laundry-drying pole’s Turning Swallow Cut manoeuvre came close enough to sever Musashi's traditional samurai chonmage haircut but, by then, the second reason that Musashi was late had risen into place. Kojirō was blinded by the sun, ascending into the position that Musashi had waited for. On the way over to the island, Musashi had used his time to carve a four-foot wooden sword out of one of his boat’s spare oars, with his wakizashi. Before Kojirō had finished his swallow cut, this is what almost effortlessly struck Kojirō’s skull, smashed his ribs, punctured his lungs and killed him. The duel had been that short.
Finally, Musashi had timed the hour of his arrival to match the turning tide, which he then immediately used to carry him away to safety.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 22

Miyamoto Musashi was born in 1584, to an accomplished martial artist and swordsman. The eczema he contracted in infancy would forever affect his appearance. When Musashi was seven, his father was killed, and the boy was farmed out to two uncles at a temple in southern Honshu, who continued to train him in basic martial skills, Buddhism, and reading and writing. At the age of thirteen, he wrote his name on a challenge posted by a samurai named Arima Kehei, looking to hone his art. His uncles tried to beg off the duel on account of his young age, but Arima, arrogant and overly eager to battle, was adamant that the only way out was to have Musashi apologize to him at the site and time of combat. On the day, as his uncles began apologizing in earnest, Kihei attacked with a wakizashi short sword. Musashi merely charged him with a six-foot quarterstaff, struck him between the eyes, and then beat him to death.
Two years later, Musashi left his village, and spent some time traveling and engaging in duels. 
In 1600, war began between the Toyotomi and Tokugawa clans. Musashi fought for the Toyotomi, in the attempt to take Fushimi castle in July, in the defense of besieged Gifu Castle in August, and finally, October 21, in the Battle of Sekigahara. The Toyotomi lost, and Musashi fled to Mount Hiko, and disappeared.
It took him four years to resurface, this time in Kyoto, to confront the renowned Yoshioka School of Swordsmanship. Musashi challenged Seijūrō, master of the school, to a duel. Seijūrō accepted, and they agreed to meet at a northern temple on 8 March 1604. Musashi arrived late, greatly irritating Seijūrō. They faced off, and per their agreement Musashi struck a single blow, knocking him out, and crippling his left arm. The headship of the school passed to his equally accomplished brother, Denshichirō, who promptly challenged Musashi for revenge. Outside Sanjūsangen temple Denshichirō brought a staff reinforced with steel rings and an attached ball-and-chain. Musashi arrived late a second time, and disarmed and defeated him. This second victory outraged the Yoshioka family, whose head was now the 12-year old Matashichiro. They assembled a force of archers, musketeers and swordsmen, and challenged Musashi to a third duel at another temple outside Kyoto. This time Musashi arrived early. Hidden, Musashi assaulted the force, killed Matashichiro, and was attacked by dozens of his victim's supporters. To escape he was forced to draw his second sword and defend himself with a sword in each hand. At this precise moment was the birth of the classical samurai niten’ichi sword-fighting style, battling with a long katana in one hand and a shorter wakizashi in the other. Two heavens as one. Perhaps Musashi had been inspired by the two-handed movements of temple drummers, perhaps the paired jutte and sword technique of his father, perhaps the Kongen sutra about the two guardians of Buddha, or perhaps the idea of holding the twin swords up in the light to form a perfect circle of mu nothingness. Whatever the inspiration, Musashi had found and founded a superior form of double-bladed combat. Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki bestowed upon him the title of ‘Unrivaled Under Heaven.’
But his development as a rōnin transcended any single fighting style. From 1605 to 1612, Musashi travelled extensively all over Japan, on a musha shugyō warrior pilgrimage to hone his fighting skills. He used only wooden bokken training swords in actual duels not caring which weapon his foe used, such was his mastery, and never defeated in over 60 battles. In 1607 he killed a chain and sickle kusarigama warrior named Shishido Baiken in Nara, and a staff-wielding samurai, Musō Gonnosuke, in Edo. Musashi was also became an expert in throwing weapons, and was rumored never to bathe, not wanting to be surprised unarmed. During this period he began practicing zazen seated meditation at the Myōshin temple in Kyoto, where he met Nagaoka Sado, teacher of the powerful lord Todaoki. What emerged was a proposal for a duel that would crystallize Musashi’s reputation forever. Todaoki’s chief weapons master was Sasaki Kojirō, who went by the fighting name of Ganryū ‘Large Rock,’ after the style of the school he had founded. He was known as ‘The Demon of the Western Provinces.’ Kojirō’s favored wielded weapon during combat was a three-foot blade, called the ‘laundry-drying pole.’ Despite the length and weight of his sword, Kojirō's strikes were unusually quick and precise. This agility was impressive, but not the source of his lethality. That came from his technique of the Tsubame Gaeshi ‘Turning Swallow Cut,’ which mimicked the motion of a swallow’s tail during flight. Striking downward from above, and instantly reversing in an upward motion toward the rear, like an eagle climbing after swooping on its prey, the motion could take down a bird in mid-flight, or slice a man in two. Sasaki Kojirō was respected and feared throughout the length and breadth of feudal Japan, and the most undeniably daunting opponent Musashi would ever face. 

Monday, 15 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 21

It was hard to take our eyes off the surfers, whirling in their own foam, Enoshima in the background. They moved in the classical Japanese aesthetic tempo of Jo-ha-kyu, slow start, acceleration, sudden ending. They surfed like they would swordfight, or experience tea ceremony. Slow...accelerate...stop.
“Wave men.” I said. “There were other kinds.”
“What other kinds?” Asked Robyn.
“Rōnin means ‘wave man.’” I said. “Destined to wander aimlessly forever, like waves in the sea, the word came to mean a samurai who was no longer in the service of a lord, because his master had died, banishment, or simply choosing to become one. Some worked to protect small villages, or for rich men who could otherwise do little to defend themselves. Others traveled to other countries or worked as pirates. Although the thousands of wave men who wandered the countryside as independent warriors were often seen as inferior by their fellow samurai, the most famous rōnin wrote the bible on swordsmanship, for the entire samurai culture.”
“Who was that?” Robyn asked.
“Perhaps the most scientific indisputably magnificent combatant in Japanese history.” I said. 

Sunday, 14 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 20

                                   ‘Bones broken against 
                                    Temple Walls, the base 
                                    of bloodless Torii jammed 
                                    against a village of coca cola
                                    vending machines. 
                                    Where does this city bleed 
                                    or is it done with blood? 
                                    broken arrows from the bows 
                                    of performing monks on horseback, 
                                    racing time in the shadow 
                                    of Kamakura’s Buddha,
                                    miss their targets 
                                    at point-blank range.’
                                                       Philip Porter

“Let’s go for breakfast.” I said, hoisting my Osprey pack.
“Where are we going?” Asked Robyn.
“Bills.” I said.
“Bills?” She asked.
“Bills.” I said.
“Where’s Bills?” She asked.
“Just beyond those vending machines.” I said. We left the beach to pause in front of the six appliances of the Morimori Bar de Espana. Individually, they didn’t look a whole lot different from mechanical dispensers in any other country- except that no other country would have parked them outside in a place like this, or next to ancient temples or every few meters in the middle of nowhere, or the summit of Mount Fuji. And no other country would have had such a bizarre array of 180 theoretically potable liquids on sale behind the glass and metal.
“This is what the dark sands make now.” I said. Each vending machine, one for every 23 people, turns itself off from 0100 to 0400, signals the police if tampered with, and makes 15,000 dollars a year. About 50 million Japanese, forty per cent of the nation, drink at least one potion a day from over five million automatic machines containing identifiable categories of beverages- water, soft drinks, canned coffee, milk-based, and the like. But the water was Diet Water, desalinated Hawaiian Deep-Sea Water, and Water Salad; the soft drinks were Pepsi Ice Cucumber, Pepsi Blue Hawaii, fizzy gelatin Fanta Furufuru Shaker, Eel Soda, Black Vinegar Juice Bar, and Final Fantasy Potion; the coffee was BM Coffee, BJ Coffee, Deepresso Coffee, Black Boss Coffee, GOD Coffee, or actual brewed coffee, with an internal brew-cam simultaneously streaming both the black liquid and video of the process; the milk was steaming Hot Calpis, peach or kimchee-flavored Coolpis, NEEDS Cheese Drink, mixed Melon Milk or Bilk (70% beer, 30% milk, 100% unbelievable), or real Mother's Milk; and the ‘and the like’ drinks were, like, nothing you could imagine, ranging from a child’s garden of Kid's Wine, Kidsbeer, and Barkeep (a frosty Kidsbeer in a jelly glass), to the hormonally active and ethically questionable swine Placenta Drink, and the special isoflavone-containing bosom-boosting properties of the Okkikunare Drinks. To make big.
“Can’t complain about the absence of novelty.” Robyn said. And, in an alley up the stairs to the second floor of a concrete low-rise across the street, was Bills.
“Who was Bill?” She asked.
“Is.” I said. “Bill Granger. Australian restaurateur. He opened this place as his first eatery outside Sydney, six years ago.” We were greeted in Japanese by the wait staff, and seated at a sunny interior booth along the sky and sea that filled the windows. Crows fought the fork-tailed Black Ear Kites high above us. Beyond the single sharp-beaked black and rust samurai starling scavenging for crumbs outside, the surfers were thick on the waves.
“Feels like Sydney.” She said. The waiter spoke no English.
“Two full Aussie breakfasts.” I said. He bowed. Robyn looked at the menu.
“More than Sydney prices.” She said. “Why here?”
“I figured we’d start off slow.” I said. “In here you get scrambled organic eggs, whole wheat toast, bacon, roast tomato, arugula, pork and fennel sausage, and Swiss brown mushrooms. Out there you get the rest of Japan.” Robyn’s cappuccino arrived, smothered with a museum quality foam chrysanthemum. Thirty years earlier, in my poverty, cappuccino foam would have been out of the question.

                                       ‘Divine wind. 
                                        Rising sun. 
                                        Too many yen and too little fun.’