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Dojo as a Cultural Center (2)

by Jay Gluck

Aikido Journal #112 (1997)

Part Two: Dance as martial art

When my sons attended the Canadian Academy international school in Kobe, Japan, their Japanese language teacher took her classes to the next city to see the world’s most flamboyant theater, kabuki. The kids fell in love with it and soon organized their own performance which, over several years, evolved into a professional-quality troupe with annual performances in a real theater in town and appreciation and assistance from the Shochiku kabuki professionals. Their story is recorded in a Japanese book by the teacher, Mitsuko Uno, and its English translation, Challenge of Kabuki, plus a collection of translations by the students of the classical plays performed: You Mean to Say You Still Don’t Know Who We Are? Quite an accomplishment for high school kids!

During the course of rehearsals, the teacher-director had trouble getting the typical teens to walk and move correctly, with delicate strength, so she called on a dancer-friend to teach some basic Nihon buyo (traditional dance). The macho teenage guys rebelled, but out of respect gave in. Some were on the basketball team, some the gymnastics squad. After several weeks of dance all reported noticeable improvement in their sports performance—timing was greatly improved, speed was better and coordination especially so. Not an Oriental oddity—movie tough-guy Jimmy Cagney was not only a real-life fighter from a tough neighborhood but also a professional tap dancer, a Broadway chorus boy.

The kids took more interest in Japanese arts. My tea master donated a full formal tearoom and chadogu (tea-making equipment) to the school and some of the kids took tea lessons, “like samurai.” And we asked Tohei Sensei to send down an English-speaking aikido instructor during summer break for a few weeks of intensive ki and aikido instruction in my friend’s palatial samurai mansion - three hours daily before noon for the kids, and three hours daily afternoons for interested adults. Paul Cascarot came down and was a great success. He so won the kids’ respect that they scrambled for the privilege of walking behind him to arrange his shoes when he kicked them off to enter the house. They even turned their own shoes, “samurai style” to be able to slide right into them in the event of a hurried exit.

With this classical education in conduct and self-discipline, their school performance also benefited greatly. Some time later we decided to get an aikido instructor again, but Paul had gone back to Arizona. Another American aikidoka was looking for an opportunity to get to the area, as his fiancee’s mother owned a beautiful dojo 20-minutes’ train ride away and they were having trouble with the people running it. He moved down with Tohei’s blessing and taught aikido at the school’s Japanese Culture Club and to interested adults, while he worked on taking over the troubled dojo. He succeeded in the latter, with much help, and became dojo master, which wangled him a much higher dan when he switched from Tohei to Hombu. But the kids did not appreciate him and they no longer scrambled to rearrange the sensei’s shoes.

Seminar for samurai

In my guidebook, Japan Inside Out, (Introduction “Learning About Japan” P.87) I write:

Omoto Seminar in Traditional Japanese Arts: hot, but not hottest, June-July weeks near Kyoto in old castle town at religious (folk-Shinto) foundation HQ. For non-religious training in religiously intensive two hours daily each of noh-dance, martial art, brush calligraphy and painting, chado - all complementary ki-generators, basic to understanding why and how Japan makes good cars. Highly recommended preface to any further serious study of Japan. Shinto meditation (not that different from Zazen), Tantric Shingon-Buddhist “Moon Meditation” evening lectures and much interaction by students in age-range 16 to 70. Work in teams of 6-10 students. Room (2 per, couples together, single option extra), Spartan Western and Japanese board, uniform, kimono and martial arts gear included, $1,750 for 4 weeks (1990).

Non-sectarian-Catholic priest, Protestant clergy, (no rabbi yet), Zenists, Sufis, Tibetan lamas have done. Science-mystic Lyall Watson did it as boot camp before taking on Tokyo establishment to end whaling, beat them at their own game peaceably, effectively. Originated by China author-Japan esthete David Kidd with Omoto family scion Kyotaro Deguchi; David captained for 10 years, now Kyotaro-sama directs. This is the program by which all others must be judged:

Write - Traditional Arts Seminar, Omoto Foundation, Kameoka-shi, Kyoto-fu 62, Japan.

(They prefer hand-written application letter with brief bio., intent, enclose snapshot.)

Zen Arts Seminar: (Are arts Zen, or is Zen art?) patterned after Omoto above - US domestic sampler by Omoto alumna, May (first session ‘87) at Green Gulch Zen Center near San Francisco. Good preview to your intelligent tour of Japan. Write - Kenner, 526 Ashbury Ave., Santa Rosa CA 95404; tel 707-578-8014.

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