Japan April 2015
My annual trip to Japan was as always a most memorable time. Having returned to Ireland late Thursday evening 23rd after a very long and arduous journey due to delays that could never shadow the extraordinary that becomes part of a great experience I was happy to be home with my family. My time in Japan was as always one of intense training and valuable teachings that can only come from the wise mind of a great teacher. Imparting knowledge is a great gift and one that few can duly place upon the minds of those who whish to learn, for placing such immeasurable wealth can only be done by those who are trained to the highest level and accord each student the greatest gift, that of knowledge.
As we raise to higher levels our training does not get easier and more effort is required. Those that are raised to higher levels have the greatest distance to fall and must always be mindful of this. Even the grandmaster continually trains in his awareness of this most important point.
Japan was in full bloom at this time of year with cherry blossoms displaying their beautiful pink and white flowers all over the country. In Japanese these are called Sakura and are awaited every year with great excitement. Sakura bloom for approximately one week to 10 days of each year. They are not used for anything just admired for their beauty. In the old koryu schools of which we are one of the last sakura are endemic of the Samurai heart. The true samurai does not walk with big shoulders but appears at times when good is needed. This is the heart of sakura showing the beauty only one time and symbolic of a peaceful nature bringing happiness. It is said in the old Ninja schools that the heart of the Ninja is that of the flower. It is said in the old schools that the Ninja is never seen but his presence is felt. My teacher Grandmaster Shoto Tanemura explained to me that a person who displays a vulgar nature can never be a true martial artist and will always be seen for what they are. Simply look to the Hanna (flower) and you will see this. There is no vulgarity in true beauty.
Japans history in its turbulence managed to somehow create a balance between the beauty of nature and the discipline of the sword. My training this time in Japan was in one of the rare sword schools that are preserved within our system and with grateful acknowledgement to our martial Arts ancestors I can bow in reverence to everything they passed on to us and to my teacher of course who so attentively imparts these wonderful gifts.
One late evening with the Grandmaster and his family we strolled along the Edo river where a vista of Cherry blossoms, Sakura, lined the banks for about 3 miles each illumed by a Japanese lantern that reflected a darting red shimmering light on the water. The grandmaster explained that the trees have a life span very similar to warriors of the Sengoku Jidai (warring period) and subsequently soldiers during periods of war the world over 16-20 years. A short lifespan for a warrior but one that was all too familiar during both world wars.
Their beauty therefore may depict far more than that of a flower but reflect that of a life well lived however short and duty performed no matter how dire the circumstances. We must do boldly what is necessary in our lives but we must do so with manners, discipline and respect and in so doing show the heart of compassion with the strength of bamboo. This will lead to Butoku Martial Virtue and in itself displays the very heart of Sakura. This is the way of the Martial Artist.
Japan as always has fond memories for me and each time is a time to itself where things learned are ingested and nurtured. I look forward to my next journey in October along with a large contingent of Irish students and I am sure each will experience something of Japan in their own way.
Gambatte (never give up)