New Year’s at the Dojo

This past Sunday, my fellow Shorinji Kempo kenshi and I held our dojo’s “New Spring Law Meeting” (terrible translation of shinshun hokai; basically, “New Year’s Ceremony”). We usually hold it on the second Sunday of January, but delayed it this year due to everyone’s busy work schedules. The ceremony took place after a special three-hour intensive practice for higher level practitioners (we use the term “kenshi,” similar to those who do judo, who use the term “judoka,” or karate, “karate-ka”). No central heat in Japan, below zero temperatures…no problem. Body heat was more than enough.

As with most new year ceremonies in Japan, our ceremony includes one person (this year, the woman in the picture above) reading out a carefully prepared speech on a long horizontal paper folded many times, the contents of which summarize the events of the previous year and then end with a promise to work hard for the upcoming year. This is followed by an exhortation from the shisho (master) for us to do our best and work together to achieve our goals. The ceremony was longer this year because it was the 50th anniversary of the dojo foundation. Only top-level kenshi attend, which is a little disappointing; out of 80 members, only a handful can attend.

Since our martial arts style is technically a religion (Kongo Zen Sohonzan Shorinji, a Zen Buddhist sect), our ceremony also includes a recitation of our oath (seigan), creed (shinjo), and so forth, followed by a lengthy meditation (zazen). The opening section comes directly from the well-known Dhammapada, and although my teachers originally asked me to memorize all of it in English (thinking I would return to the US at some point) I never did; I learned it by heart in Japanese. Of course since this is Kongo Zen (Kongo means “diamond” from the Diamond Sutra) the ceremony also includes a martial arts paired fight (kumi embu)…in this case, performed by the top two kenshi (both 5th degree black belts, the two guys at the front of the picture).

(I’m quite obviously the only non-Japanese in the picture, in the second row to the left. 4th degree.)

And naturally after the one-hour ceremony we had a huge party in the dojo. Martial artists are hardcore partiers.

Martial arts is a lifestyle, not a sport. I bring this up because although it has become part of who I am as a person, and I have been struggling to bring aspects of this attitude and philosophy into my writing. In particular, the concept of innen (fate, cause/effect) and the principle of engi (cause/effect, interrelatedness) — which are difficult, at best, to summarize in English — are interesting ideas that I’m trying to incorporate into a new science fiction novel.

And naturally there are lots of cool martial arts moves that one of the main characters uses. But that’s just “the bait” (as the style’s Founder often called the techniques). Coming (hopefully) to an online book store near you by the end of the summer.

Gassho. 合掌

2 thoughts on “New Year’s at the Dojo

    • Personal outlook? The most salient in terms of life as an expat in Japan is that I feel a great sense of community. I have never felt rejected, labeled, discriminated against, or isolated at the dojo. There is curiosity of course, but otherwise I’ve been treated according to my ability at the techniques and my understanding of the philosophy.
      Also, a major part of the philosophy is “live your life half for yourself, and half for others” (futaba ha jibun no shiawase, futaba ha tannin no shiawase). Wa (harmony) is not always 50-50, but I’ve learned to appreciate and value the balance. It keeps me centered. Sane, even.

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