Thursday, February 7, 2013

On Being a Samurai.

Writer, thinker, teacher and trainer, therapist, shaman, initiate, musician, mystic, intellectual, samurai, priest, magician, psychic, empathic, mythologist, shape-shifter, husband, father, lover, Kabbalist, Tantric and Gnostic.

It's been a long, strange trip.

About twenty-five years ago I was a management consultant running a communications skills workshop for a team of young professionals: psychologists, social workers, speech therapists and so on, all intelligent young women in their twenties or early thirties (I've certainly had worse jobs). During conversation it emerged that one woman, a social worker, had a particular skill that she would occasionally agree to do for people. She read palms. She went pink from embarrassment when it was brought up, but agreed after some encouragement to read mine.

She took my hand in hers and leaned forward until her face was over it, her blonde hair falling forward around her face, and gently stroked my palm and began to speak. But not about lines and ridges and loops on the skin. She just slipped straight into a trance state and spoke in a faraway voice about my life, my past and my inner self. It was fascinating. And accurate enough about the real me to give me food for later thought. After she finished and her face regained its frank, friendly countenance I said,

"That's an incredible gift. You really should develop it."
"Oh, no." She said.

"Why ever not?"

"Because I don't want to be thought of as a freak."

I know how she feels.

For most of my life I've been fighting that particular epithet.

But while I may not be a freak I am definitely not one of the normal. And it's true that my natural milieu is among the peculiarly gifted, the psychics and second-sighters, the freaks and the fey. I don't like it, but it's true. It's what I am. Like the list of qualifications above. I am all of those things. For an introvert with a healthy level of paranoia hiding this has become second-nature. Experience has taught me that keeping  my light under a bushel is far better than trying to fend off a pack of freaked-out village idiots with a pitchfork, a smile and a plausible explanation.

But no more. 

I am what I am. 

All of it.

I became a samurai in 1992. 

I've been a martial artist since I was eight years old. Forty-seven years of judo, karate, iaido (Japanese sword kata), halberd, spear, longbow, crossbow. Anything and everything up to and including small arms. Years spent studying and developing subtle forms of thinking and awareness and spiritual attitudes (Zenshin, Zanshin, Mushin and the rest) that began with Zen meditation and led in the end to ritual magic and Kabbalah. I spent years refining my skills and my spirit, up at dawn and building a Tree of Life the size of a cathedral down by the Brisbane river, with the ten spheres each filled with their own kata, and connected by long galloping runs with blades whirling and sweat running.

Now, here in Canberra I can see every inch of it in my minds eye, recall every blade and bird and tree, feel the sun burning off the grey mist in autumn, scorching the ground to dust at midsummer.

Like I said, it's been a long strange trip.

But it takes more than simple competence or even a lifetime of acquiring skills to become a samurai. There's a simple qualification that goes beyond this. You have to serve. You have to be accepted as a retainer by a noble house. Which happened to me in '92.

Her name is Maeda Asano and she came to Brisbane to teach Iaido at the club I was attending, and to demonstrate Ryushin Ryu Kenbu, a combination of dance, sword, fan and spear work used to tell stories of Japanese historical events. Meetings between famous samurai, incidents during famous battles, demonstrating the techniques used at the time. She was also a 'living national treasure' in Japan for her ikebana flower arranging.

She would have been in her 60s then. I volunteered to do some PR work for her, and arranged ABC news to interview her and show a demonstration of her art in a bamboo grove at the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. I was also able to involve her in an Asian Cultural festival and a highlight for me was leading a huge procession along Brisbane's Southbank with Maeda San, with my youngest daughter Ellen marching along between us. Despite my having only 'dojo and sushi' Japanese, and her having no English we were able to communicate and I was much taken with her grace, dignity and bearing.

At the last training session, just before she left, I presented her with a box full of Australian bird feathers I had collected, yellow cockatoo crests, beautiful reds, greens and blues from rosellas, and black and white magpie feathers like the black and white of hakama and dogi. I'd prepared a short speech (in hastily scribbled phonetic Japanese) expressing my thanks for her generosity and patience, and formally offering myself for her service. This I carefully read out in the car park, surrounded by mystified fellow students. She listened seriously and intently. 

She accepted the box with a graceful bow, then quickly snatched the crumpled paper I'd read from and tucked it away in her kimono. She then took a purple and gold fan from her obi and presented it to me with a smile. She had formally accepted my offer.

I've been thinking about her a lot recently, particularly when I found the fan last month while tidying up the study. I found out this afternoon that she passed away that day, January 7th. Which I suppose makes me a ronin, and my own man. 

I don't have the words I said that day. 

But I do have a haiku I composed for her, while watching her perform in the bamboo grove.

                                 When she moves her feet
                                 turn small circles in the dust,
                                 Maeda Asano.

I'll be transferring this blog to a new website soon:

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