…so thinking about that thing in Japanese tradition where the real discussion – and in-depth transmission – happens in the coffee bar, the café, after keiko…well…dojos you know, really, in Japan, are families. A dojo is a much, much more intense familial connection than in America Because people that choose to learn a ryu, to learn to embody a thousand years’ worth of knowledge… well, that’s a pretty close-knit group.
And so, just as in a family, most of the real learning and relationship-building occurs over food. You eat together. And, then, for instance…if we were there with my sword teacher, he would have been writing on a paper napkin some kanji about what we had been learning in class, some particular kata…and he’d explain to you how the kanji reflected the underlying philosophical thing… because the movements of the sword are not just attack and defences of the sword, they’re an embodiment of spiritual knowledge, they’re mudra, they’re history…and you would never talk about that in the dojo because you’re doing the kata. But then in the café or bar, it gave the student an opportunity to relate to the teacher like a family member: in the dojo you’re going, “Yes, Sensei,” “Thank you, Sensei…” but at the table, if you drink enough sake, it’s ok to say, “I don’t understand this, Sensei,” or: “How does t h i s work…”
I remember we took him out to an Inn on the way up into the mountains. It’s next to a meadow where they used to fly in fresh fish from Seattle. That’s where he went through the kanji you see on the menkyo [that’s framed up in the dojo]. For instance, the seventh line is “sui-getsu“, and I remember discussing the moon’s reflection on water… He said that what was on that menkyo was the essential teaching of the whole school… so I asked him pretty specific questions, as you might imagine…
And we took him down to a Basque steakhouse in Garden City: with a whole bunch of his [Japanese] students…and they just thought that was the best thing ever, because at that time the Japanese didn’t get to eat beef like that… so they’d bring them these huge steaks and they were like: “Oh my gosh! It’s this big!!!”… But the idea was…that’s where you learn.
But also, too, in the coffee house, bar or café you get a sense of who the person is. I mean, in the dojo, as a teacher, I can tell you, I have to be on task: I’m holding the space, on task, doing what I need to do. Here, I get to just eat, and talk into this microphone [laugher]… So, then, you know, tonight’s class: I was trying to show a vocabulary – a kinetic vocabulary for what we do. Here, around this table in the North End, you can start asking questions, and it starts making some sense… Because we did that thing with the topography of ki and you can say: “Well, how does t h i s figure into the topography of ki… ”
So, the forms I showed you tonight are ways to operate in that thing I showed you on Monday – so a person with their ki to the back, facing those flows, would see them a certain way, and a person with their ki in the front would see them a certain other way – and we’re looking at being spherical, which is what allows you to see the return currents. So – if you took a Japanese fishing-float – a ball, essentially – and you threw it in a river – it could float around in the middle where all the flow is – but it could also float out to the edge where it’s going both this way and that way at the same time…and the ball will spin. And that’s what you guys were doing: you were spinning like the flow.
And, as I said, you can also get a sense of who your Sensei is. For instance, with my sword-teacher, there was this one time that we had a famous ****jutsu sensei in town along with my sword-teacher. And we put on a seminar. And I had them both go out to eat, afterwards – because you always feed both teachers – and we got to that really interesting place where the ****jutsu sensei – who supposedly studied with O’Sensei and all that stuff – seems noticeably uncomfortable with another…with a Japanese person being in the room…who had also known – or met – O’Sensei…. the ****jutsu sensei was chain-smoking and twitching… it was very odd. But now when, later, I asked my sword-teacher what he thought of the other teacher, he was super polite. All he said was: “He seems very nervous.”
So in that case: I learned a lot about my sword-teacher’s perception of other guys: he was super-non-judgemental but also very discerning.
I think I told you guys once: I used to watch him – at kendo matches – just say who’s going to win before the sword’s drawn. And I thought: “Now that’s what I’m going to do.”
That’s the ability to look at people and situations and be able to evaluate situations – just like a battlefield – instantaneously: as best you can, and make it work. A good, accurate evaluation is the essence of budo: to fight or not to fight. You know, if you look at a situation, and know you’re going to be killed: don’t do it! Unless it’s necessary: unless your death is going to save the others. I think that’s one of the biggest gifts I got from studying with him is that thing of: I can look at a situation and make a pretty good evaluation. I’m not infallible, or perfect, but I can see the big pile.
You know, it kind of made sword matches funny, because we’re sitting there, two guys come out, and my sword-teacher looks at them… “He’ll win.”… The guy wins… and you’re going: “he didn’t even draw the sword yet, and you’re thinking: ‘he’ll win’ “…
It makes the matches kind of moot: it becomes more an exhibition of his certainty in evaluating the people.
I don’t remember him ever missing.
And I’d ask: “What do you see? What are you seeing?” And then the things he talked about were… well… how people would flicker and all that…and he would usually say about their heart – which is the state of their being-ness – for instance: a certain person’s too aggressive, they’ve always won, so they’re going to come at it a certain way – and this other person’s not who they think they are – and so this first person is arrogant in their view, they’re not able to let go of their certainty…and they get whacked.
So when I went out there, I was always a little self-conscious… I’d be thinking: “He knows if I’m going to lose or win…”
So, yes, he had met O’Sensei, and he did kotegaesh’ with me – which O’Sensei had taught him. He showed me the way O’Sensei had done kotegaesh’ with him. And I asked him what he thought O’Sensei was like – more in the sense of what kind of person O’Sensei was – – – because – in general – I’m not so much interested in if a person is a good technician, but – because the art is transformative – I’m curious as to how the transformation worked. Anyway, I asked him about O’Sensei and he said: “O’Sensei was someone who polished his heart until he became one with the Gods.” And he obviously had incredible respect for him. Now, he must have been pretty young when he met O’Sensei… not a child, of course, but pretty young…
You know, another thing he said to me was: that you should eat your teacher’s food – – – What he was saying was: the kitchen’s the place where it all happens, so if the teacher cooks good food, their teaching’s good. Because food is food – their training in the dojo is also food – they’re offering you food. Food no good? You’ve got to check closely..If it’s consistently not good, you might want to consider that in your…well…
So the after-keiko food in the bar or restaurant is something that I think, without exception, I’ve done it with all the teachers I’ve had.
Now, some of them were just so hungry you couldn’t talk to them. They’d say: “I’m off- duty right now.” So then your job was to pour their beer and make sure they had food… and sometimes when they had gotten recovered they’d talk a little…but…I think that’s pretty universal in Japan – you go out to drink and eat with your “boss”.
And, you know, I was telling these guys: ever since I started doing aikido in Boise, we used to always go out afterwards. It was a nice way, too, for beginning students to feel like they were integrated in some way other than just in class. There was, I remember, an old bar and grill up on Vista… and this place…
And I think the main thing is you become family with the people you eat with… the idea of taking care of each other, the idea of being like an extended family: that always happens in the kitchen. And you also tap into something very universal and human: you know, you learn from your parents around the kitchen table: it was a place of neutrality.
Right now, you know, we have such good people in the dojo now, that I wish they had lives that were a little more conducive to doing this…but this country has changed. People are trying to run faster and faster, and now they’re exhausted.
But in the summer time, we have a big table – if we bring food we could have food…
I’m hopeful that, in the end, something good comes out of this general enslavement of everyone: when if you turn off the television, and you just go back to being a simple person: then you enjoy your training and you get together and you share the things you grew in your garden, and you just do regular stuff that doesn’t cost anything… And if you drink too much, you go in the dojo and go to bed.
It’s a different thing.
– – – Kimbal Anderson Sensei