Patchwork Yokohama
23. Martial Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
          Vince had long  felt  that there was no coincidence that the
          martial arts and  the marital arts were anagrams and he felt
          many races from  the  Romans right through to the Maoris had
          picked up on the link between love and war. When he had made
          this point to Osamu, the other man had taken him to Yokohama
          Budokan to illustrate  the  differences.  Vince was actually
          thankful that he  hadn't  been taken into Osamu and Nozomi's
          bedroom and given a demonstration there as well.

          Only three martial arts were playing that day at the Budokan
          and Osamu frowned at the lacklustre competition.


          "It's usually much  better,"  he  claimed,  more for his own
          benefit than Vince's

          Vince had actually  taken judo for four years in high school
          rising to the  rank of ni-kyu or blue belt and, even knowing
          the rules of  competition,  judo  bouts  always  looked very
          messy to him. The Kyudo was slow moving and no one seemed to
          even be trying  to  hit  the  target.  And the Kendo, always
          seemed aggressive, the  clash  of  bamboo,  the cries of the
          attacker, the breast  plate  and  head  dress, the garb of a
          true warrior. Vince  realised  that  he  would  have no idea
          whether this was world standard competition or lacklustre as
          Osamu had suggested.


          When Vince thought  of martial arts, he thought of precision
          and speed. It  was  therefore  not  surprising  that  he was
          disappointed with Kyudo,  Japan's traditional archery. Kyudo
          is to lightning speed what the tea ceremony is to fast food,
          what the Noh  drama  is  to  the  spaghetti  western.  Vince
          wondered what these  archers  would  have  done if there had
          been a surprise  attack.  Maybe,  indeed,  it was illegal to
          make a surprise attack in Japan.

          Vince first saw  Kyudo  at the Kanagawa Kyudo Club which was
          run   by   Kurihara-sensei    in    Asahi   Ward.   Watching
          Kurihara-sensei shoot arrows was akin to watching a Noh play
          in itself. He  opened  his  cape  bearing  one  shoulder and
          breast, assisted in the process by two women. The sensei put
          two arrows parallel  across his bow but pointing in opposite
          directions. He stood  with the bow parallel to his body, his
          arms outstretched, then  rested  it  diagonally on his lower
          thigh. Kurihara-sensei then looked at the target, pushed the
          bow away from  his  body,  raised  it  high  in  the air and
          brought it close  to  his  cheek.  The  universe  paused for
          breath and then  the  string  released  and  zit.  The arrow
          struck the target  and  was  quickly retrieved by one of the
          women who were  huddling  behind  a  bamboo  fence while the
          arrows are being  fired.  A  second arrow was fired and then
          the opening ceremony was reenacted in reverse. The arrow was
          returned and replaced  in the quiver while the master closed
          his cape.


          The  whole process  had  taken  about  ten  minutes  and  to
          increase  the excitement,  the  next  round  included  three
          people in a  row  at  the  same  time,  each  in a different
          time-frame of the  arrow-firing  sequence.  Vince noted that
          most of the  archers  missed  the  target,  but  he had been
          assured that the  ritual of shooting the arrow was in itself
          far more important than striking the target. He noticed that
          one of the  Jesshin Kyudo Dojo's mottoes declared war on two
          main enemies, an idle mind and a proud mind.

          Vince suspected that  he  attempted  in  vain to imitate the
          master and shoot  his first arrow. He was told that this was
          a rare treat  as  normally  people  who'd  never indulged in
          Kyudo before were  not  permitted to shoot any arrows at all
          until they had  been  practising for at least six months. If
          it had taken  Kurihara-sensei  ten minutes to get that first
          arrow away, then  it  took Vince over half and hour. He kept
          making mistakes, holding  the  arrow or the bow in the wrong
          way or not  positioning  it right. He was all thumbs when he
          took aim and  came  close  to shooting off his own finger at
          one stage.

          He was all  ready to launch his first missile when it rolled
          off his tensed  fist  and  onto the ground. The second arrow
          fired all right and soared high over the safety net and into
          a grove of peach and plum blossoms. The women who had seemed
          rather blas‚ about  collecting  the  arrows  huddled  behind
          their bamboo fence  and  didn't  appear  again  for  another
          fifteen minutes.

          Vince's short-lived Kyudo  career had all the success of the
          early stages of  the  American  space  programme.  Afraid of
          sending another arrow  into  the peach and plum orchard, the
          next three arrows  hit  the  dirt  not  ten  feet from Vince
          himself. Finally, the seventh arrow zinged straight and true
          into the bull's eye.

          There was a  moment  of  unbelieving astonishment on Vince's
          face  and  then   he   turned   to   face  the  master.  But
          Kurihara-sensei hadn't seemed  to notice where the arrow had
          gone and was  busy lecturing Vince on how he was holding his
          body. Vince sighed  and  realised  that  he would never be a
          disciple of Zen  and  that  he  had  best  quit while he was
          ahead.  For him,  that  target  would  always  be  the  most
          important thing and he'd stand on his head while shooting if
          it stood a better chance of hitting the bull eye.

          If the Kyudo  Vince  had  witnessed was practised largely by
          senior citizens, he  was to visit a Kendo class for boys and
          a single girl  at  the  local  Saedo  Primary School. He had
          often watched as  the  children  had  walked to school along
          given routes as was the way with Japanese state schools. The
          trip was a  series  of  rivulet  junctions at which children
          were continually meeting with each other.


          The school itself  seemed very well fitted out and Vince was
          surprised to see  an  excellent  gymnasium.  There  were two
          teachers, Mr. Otake,  an  energetic  and dynamic personality
          who was quite obviously the master. And Mr. Sasaki, a taller
          and older man  whose entire demeanour suggested kindness and
          patience.

          Vince had hated judo when he was a youngster and he wondered
          how many of  the  younger  kids  felt exactly the same about
          Kendo. They were  divided  into  two age-groups and the girl
          was quite obviously  the  best of the younger kids. In fact,
          she was a  bit of a bully. Some of the other littlies seemed
          to be in  a  day  dream of the sort in which Vince had spent
          most of his childhood.

          What Kyudo encouraged  in  sheer patience, Kendo made up for
          in quick relexes  and  lightning  speed.  One  of  the older
          children  barked commands  and  each  member  of  the  group
          counted off, forward  and backwards. Then, they were running
          around the hall,  counting all the way their swords in their
          hands, thrashing the  sword  through  the air, attacking the
          masters, turning to  cover  their  rear,  and  finally,  the
          younger group had their chance to attack the older kids.

          Mothers gossiped in the corner where Vince was standing. The
          older students tied  up  their heads in cloths, donned their
          breast plates and  tied  the  strings on their helmets. They
          indeed looked like warriors, far more menacing than fencers.
          Vince had spent  a  summer learning how to handle a foil and
          he  had  to   admit  that  the  clash  of  bamboo  was  more
          exhilirating than that  of  the  thrust  and  lunge  of  the
          equivalent sport in  the west. The latter had nothing if not
          the sound of cutlery being placed on a table.

          In competition, kendo  fencers  aimed  for the helmet (men),
          the breastplate (do)  or the glove (kote) all three of which
          would incapacitate an  opponent, but here there was no point
          scoring.  The  emphasis   was   on  discipline  and  correct
          technique. Maybe, it  wasn't so far removed from Kyudo after
          all.

          Mr. Otake turned  out  to  be  a  good  teacher.  He praised
          students for what  they  were doing right as well as telling
          them what they  were  doing wrong. Vince was well aware that
          no lesson was  free,  even  for  an innocent by-stander. Mr.
          Otake presented him  with a bamboo shinnai sword in front of
          the class and  then, in a few minutes, he attempted to teach
          him some of the basic exercises of kendo. He tapped Vince on
          the stomach with his newly acquired sword and told him:

          "Three months with  this particular exercise and you'll lose
          that beer belly."

          Alas, Vince was  no  kendo  natural  and  faced  an  old age
          problem that he  couldn't  coordinate what he had to do with
          his hands with  the  appropriate foot action. Vince supposed
          that he would  have  his  beer  belly  for  a long time yet.
          Connie only tried  the  exercise once and got it right first
          time, naturally. Better  by  far  with the martial arts, she
          also soundly trounced  him  every time with the marital arts
          as well.