Saturday, November 7, 2009

Aiki kids

Kai has been attending aikido classes for a few months now (off and on), and is getting quite confident. The Sensei is quite impressed with how quickly he picks up the techniques. In this video, he's working on 'irimi-nage', where you step in behind your attacker, use their own momentum to swing them around, and then effectively clothesline them. We of course practice it in a very slow mild form.

Taiga has recently decided to join us, and you can see him in the background working on his falling technique. In aikido, you have to learn how to fall before you can start to learn anything else.

Now we just have to work on getting Daddy into the dojo!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Family Vacation

We had our first annual family vacation this year! 3 generations, from Jiichan & Baachan, down to 5 grandchildren! It was a great trip, but only 2 days. Lots of great memories though. Have a look!

Click to play this Smilebox photobook: Our Summer Vacation
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Look out kids, Mommy's on a roll!!

That's right! For the first time in 15 years, Mommy is rolling around on the aikido mats again! A small aikido dojo opened up in nearby Naruto, and I've finally got myself over there to (somewhat sporatically) practice again.

It's amazing how one's body remembers the important stuff, like how to roll, turn, and fall. As for the rest, I'm a ground level beginner. The techniques I once knew so well are now a vague blur, and only the names sound familiar. True to the form of aikido, the practitioners are all wonderful people, and are very welcoming and helpful. I myself am struggling with the memories of having done it all hard and fast, versus the reality of my 37 year old overweight out-of-shape body now.

Kai has decided to join me, and enjoys the kids' sessions. Sensei is impressed with Kai's progress, as am I. I'm (very) slowly starting to recall my basic movements, and can usually get through the class without too many embarrassing blunders. It sure feels good to be back though!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Album of Kai at Gilpin School

Kai had a great time at school in Canada. I was able to take some photos of the class on his last day there. Here's an album I put together of some of his special moments.

Click to play this Smilebox scrapbook: Kai at Gilpin
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shorinji Kempo across the globe

Shorinji Kempo is a fairly new martial art common in Japan and around the world. It has its roots in kung-fu, karate, judo, and aikijutsu. Add to that a strong Zen Buddhist influence, and you get an art that is as much or more a lifestyle than a sport.
Kai has been practicing shorinji kempo for 3 years, starting when he was 5 years old. Martial arts are a very important part of traditional Japanese culture, and Haj felt very strongly about giving the boys this experience. Having been a practitioner of Kendo, the art involving body armour and bamboo swords, Haj naturally hoped that Kai would lean toward that discipline, but being of a much more pacifist nature, Kai was drawn to the non-combative harmony of shorinji.

After 3 years of practice, he has advanced 5 'kyu' levels, bringing him to the rank of 4th kyu, the 3rd level of the green belt (junior rankings). His next test will give him a brown belt. Taiga finally joined the class when he turned 5 last November (actually taking his first class on his birthday). He hasn't reached the lowest official rank yet, but is enjoying going through the moves with his big brother.
As we are currently in Canada, visiting Grandma and Grandpa, we thought it would be fun and interesting for the boys to experience some shorinji classes here. As members of the World Shorinji Kempo Organization, they are able to join classes anywhere in the world. We found a dojo fairly close to home, and the boys eagerly attend each Saturday while we are here.

Although the basic structure and techniques of the classes are standardized across the globe, many differences in the classes became apparent almost immediately. Kai was asked to give a talk to the class, so I asked him how he would describe the differences. The first thing he said was that Japan was much more strict. There certainly was a much stronger sense of 'fun and play' involved here than in Japan, and much less in the areas of discipline and respect. I think some basic cultural differences play a strong role in this.

Progress in martial arts in Japan is very gradual. There is certainly no rush to advance, and commitment to the art is expected to be long-term. Often when I see the head sensei informing a parent that their child will soon be testing for their next level, there is an expression of surprise. As the levels get higher, many parents suggest that their child is not ready for the advancement.

In western cultures, people usually join an activity such as a martial art with the end result in mind: the mastery of the basic form, the black belt. Those who really know martial arts know that the black belt is by far not the top of the ranking scale, but there is a certain prestige to having reached that level. When children are enrolled in the classes, more often than not it's the parents who are the most critical of the progress (or lack thereof) of the child. It is I think because of this that there are fewer levels involved leading to the junior black belt.

The discipline (or lack of it) of the class was the biggest surprise when we attended our first class here. Before the start of the lesson, each child showed respect for the dojo with the standard 'gassho rei' greeting, but aside from that there was no indication that the area was any more than a wide open play area. The kids were wild. When the class officially began, they did settle for the most part. Then the warm-up began. To our shock, the kids were talking, complaining, panting, and moaning. The effort shown was minimal. Extreme cases were called out and dealt with, but for the most part, this behavior was not addressed.

When Kai gave his talk on shorinji in Japan the next week, he told them how strict his classes were, how the students would never complain or moan, and how talking and fooling around when the sensei was talking or demonstrating would be unacceptable. He told them that the kids want to show their sensei that they are strong, so they don't whine or stop doing any activity until they are told to stop. Of course he also mentioned that in Japan, they aren't asked to do sit-ups, push-ups, or jumping jacks.

The most senior member of the Coquitlam dojo, where we were practicing, commented at the end of Kai's talk that he was "ashamed and embarrassed" by his dojo, after hearing about the way things are in Japan. I know though, that the level of structure and discipline in Japan would be very hard to enforce in Canada. Our practices are twice as often, we have a far higher teacher-student ratio, and the kids often spend over half a class being lectured on proper behavior in and out of the dojo. In Japan this is normal and encouraged. In Canada, it would be seen as a waste of the kids' time and the parents' money.

One thing the boys are both enjoying is the fact that techniques are not limited by ranking here. The non-ranked white belt kids practice kicks and rolls, and the coloured belts all practice together, learning the patterns required for every level up to brown. This is quite different from our Japan dojo, where each level practices separately, and learns to master each pattern or form required for that specific level. Upper forms aren't introduced until upper levels are reached. So for the boys, this is a rare opportunity to practice some moves they won't have access to for some time yet in Japan.

In all, it has been a great experience for the boys. I hope that Kai will take what he has seen and learned here back to Japan and tell his classmates about shorinji in Canada.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Demons out! Luck in!!"

"Oni wa soto!! Fuku wa uchi!!", we yell as we throw dried soy-beans around the house...

Well, it's a bit deeper than that I guess. February 3rd is 'setsubun' in Japan. Technically, the word refers to the day that the season changes, so there are 4 in a year. Traditionally though, in Japan it's used for the spring transition. In Japan, spring marks the official beginning of many things, including the school year. In past times, it was considered the beginning of the new year as well. In accordance with this, there is a ritual spiritual cleansing that occurs on this day.

In largely agricultural Japan, rice and soy-beans are considered sacred, and are accorded certain spiritual powers. Soy beans have the power to dispel evil spirits, which are responsible for bringing illness and misfortune to any home. Thus, the head of the household first 'blesses' a wooden masu box containing the beans, then travels through the house 'evicting' the spirits which may have taken up residence throughout the previous year.

The front doors are opened wide, to allow the spirits to leave unhindered. Then the beans are thrown up to the ceiling in each main room for luck, and out toward the doors to dispel the spirits. Often a family member will 'dress up' as a demon, with a mask usually, and act out the part of the spirits being chased out by the beans. The final cleansing takes place at the entrance itself, to ensure that the demons are good and gone.

Taiga enjoyed the enactment at the preschool, where all the kids made demon masks, and ran around while the head-master (and also junior priest of the temple) cleansed each classroom. He then brought home a package of 'blessed' beans for the home ritual. Jiichan and Kai did the bean throwing at home, while Taiga ran around as the Oni demon.

Of course, even after a good cleaning, we find beans in odd corners for weeks, and sometimes months afterward... Maybe a good warning to any errant spirits who might get the idea to come back.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Welcome back Daddy!

I looked up from the computer a moment ago and smiled. Haj is lying on the floor, sleeping, and Taiga is snuggled up against his back watching "Dora the Explorer" over his shoulder. Kai is snuggled up against Taiga's back, watching over his shoulder. The peaceful moments that make life so special.

Haj came home today after spending a week in Vancouver. His appointment to pick up his PR card came 2 weeks earlier than we'd hoped, and he had to make the trip alone. His thoughts of spending the time with all his old buddies from work were thwarted by the flu, which hit him pretty much as soon as he got off the plane. He managed to get all his essential paperwork done in the first two days, and then proceeded to spend almost all of the next 4 days flat on his back in bed. Poor guy.

Of course, I could be insensitive, and take the 'serves him right' stance, as he did give me the same flu before heading off... I too spent most of the last 3 days in bed, and barely managed to take care of the boys. I am grateful though, because Haj's parents took very good care of me, and did what they could for the boys as well. Haj's dad cooked dinners for the boys, and made me a special 'vitamin rich' soup as well, and Haj's mom took Taiga to preschool every morning to save me the trip out. Kai did his share as well, cleaning the bath one day, and the dishes another, and helping Taiga brush his teeth every night.

Sometimes it takes a strong knock on the head (in our case nothing more serious than the flu, thankfully) to show you how strong your family really is.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ski bums

Last weekend we went on our annual 'Hasunuma Family Ski Trip'. There were 4 families this year, with a total of 7 kids ranging in age from 3 to 7. We chartered a bus, and left Hasunuma at 3 am on Saturday. Arriving at the Minami Ski Resort in Niigata at around 8 am, we were impressed to see the mountain covered in a good 10cm of new snow!

It took us a while to get everything organized and unloaded, and then to get everyone dressed and rent whatever equipment we needed... We were all on the slopes by 10, and ready for the fun to begin!

Taiga, for his skiing debut, started the day with a 90 minute lesson in the kiddies ski school. I'm not sure how much of a difference it made, but he seemed to enjoy it. They spent most of the time on just one ski, trying to get a sense of balance and stability. After about an hour in the cold snow, they took a break and had a sit-down in the nearby snack shack. We just happened to be taking our break in there as well. The ski school kids had a glass of cold water, and then the teacher handed out grape gummies to the kids. Everyone was happy to have a sweet treat, except Taiga, who generally doens't like gummies. The teacher, thinking he was just being shy, insisted that eating a gummy would help him ski better. So he grudgingly took the gummy and ate it, all the while sending envious looks toward Kai who was enjoying a cup of hot milk. Luckily, the kids went back outside before Taiga saw that Kai also got to eat one of his favorite snacks, tako-yaki.

After his lesson, Taiga hit the slopes with Daddy, while Kai and I battled the challenging upper runs. Kai was a little nervous on the steep sections, but didn't look it at all as he seemingly easily wound his way down. He has great control and never went faster than he was comfortable. Later in the day, Kai and Tagia discovered a small 'jump' run. Taken slowly, they were a series of gentle humps, but if one built up enough speed, a nice bit of air could be caught on the last hump. Kai did very well at this, and only missed his landing once, when a big skier wiped out directly in Kai's path. Taiga took the jump with Daddy, and really got some air!!

All in all, it was a wonderful 2 days of skiing. The snow and fog of the first morning cleared up shortly after noon, and from then on in, the weather was perfect! The hot bath in the hotel was a great way to end the day (and start the next as well), and of course having dinner with all our friends was wonderful as well!

We got stuck in traffic on the way home, due to an accident on the highway, but other than arriving home an hour later than planned, it was a fun ride. Kai and Taiga are eager to get back to the slopes again, so hopefully we'll be able to go at least once more this season. I'm considering packing their skis for our trip to Canada, but that just means sooooo much more luggage...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Little Samurai (old post from previous blog)

On November 15, children all across Japan celebrate 'Shichi-go-san' , or '7-5-3'. Technically, the numbers correspond to the ages of the children. So why 3 different ages? Who knows... Traditionally, the main celebration takes place in the year the child turns from 5 to 6, which happens in their kindergarten year. If siblings happen to fall within the other ages, they would join in the celebration as well.

Kai is one of the select few, however, who's celebration is delayed a year. He is born in February, which they call 'haya-umare', or 'early-birth'. Anyone born before April 1 falls into this group. They celebrate in their grade 1 year, which means they are 6, going on 7. Taiga, having just turned 4, could be included in Kai's year, or can have his own day in 2 years time.

The event generally involves a trip to the local Shinto shrine for a 'blessing', formal photos in traditional costume, and a formal gathering of family and other important friends and neighbours - much resembling a wedding reception, with the children at the head table. We partook in the first 2, but opted out of the formal dinner gig.

Dressing in the kimonos was a lot of fun for the boys, and Mommy and Daddy too! They looked so handsome, and I can't wait to see the full professoinal shots. Kai especially was quite nervous, and looked to be either half asleep or close to tears in most of the shots, but we got some good ones too, I think. I'm really hoping they will be ready before Christmas!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The writing on the wall...

Over the winter break, Kai practiced writing 'hikari' which means 'light'. This was an optional assignment from his winter homework package. This was his first time to write on the long paper, and he used an impressive big fat 'fude' brush to do it. The paper is so long he had to work on the floor, and be careful not to kneel on what he'd written.

He took his best two sheets to school, and entered them in two different local competitions. He won the second prize for one of them (not sure which one yet)!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The joy of flight

There is no greater joy than flight, in all its forms.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Midnight at Gosho Jinja (our local shrine)

Religion in Japan is for many more of a set of customs and traditions than a true set of strict beliefs. It is this that allows the Japanese to be simultaneous followers of both the Shinto and Budhist religeons, and often Christian as well. Last night we enjoyed one of the Shinto traditions.

At the end of the year, each household brings it's old household charms to the shrine. These charms come in all different shapes and sizes. The most common is a long narrow wooden plaque. Others include a large woven 'nawa' (a rice stalk twisted rope), wooden arrows, and other interesting forms. Each of these charms has its own 'job'. Some are for health, some for home safety, some for business prosperity or family fertility... Each charm has a 'lifespan' of one year, so at the very end of the last night of the year, each household brings its old charms to the shrine, where they are burnt in a spectacular bonfire. A representative from the household then sits in on a 'blessing' from the priest, before recieving the new charms for the new year.

My father-in-law took our charms and 'renewed' them for us, but we went out for the experience, at about 12:30am. The fire was of course wonderful. There was 'amazake', a hot rice drink available, and we saw many friends and neighbours. It was a chilly night, but warm in heart.
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