Monday, February 5, 2018

Cold Walk to the Dojo

Monday, February 2, 2018. A not-unfamiliar scenario for me. Trudging through snow and temps in the teens on a Chicago winter night to teach aikido. Making my way to the well-worn green and red mats of Tohkon Judo Academy, based within the Japanese American Service Committee building, where my dojo (Chicago Aikido Club) has made its home for the past five years or so.

Will there be anyone there? I wonder. Does anyone ever come on nights like this, other than the poor soul designated to try impart a little knowledge (or at least provide a workout) on that given night?

Why do I do this?

It's crazy right?

At this point in my life - mid-forties, married, one kid - devoting any time to an interest as fringey as "the Art of Peace" (as aikido is sometimes popularly called by its followers) does sometimes seem a bit futile; maybe even irresponsible. After all - and with the deepest apologies to my teachers, seniors, fellow students, and the wider world of Japanese culture for what I am about to say - in one sense it is an act of dress-up: Grown men and women (and occasionally children) wearing faux samurai outfits practicing esoteric exercises that may or may not deserve the label of being a "martial art"; married to gestures, rituals and etiquette mimicking supposedly traditional rules from a country half a continent and an ocean away (And probably not that well, if I think about it).

It's even less a practical pursuit than my other passion - acting. At least with acting I get paid, though not always terribly well, since I'm still largely confined to Chicago's (highly acclaimed but) not very lucrative storefront scene (I did have an agent WHO-SHALL-NOT-BE-NAMED who used to get me film and TV auditions before unceremoniously dumping me via e-mail two week's before my son's birth. Fatter opportunities have kind of dried up since then.).

But here I am (or was, since now I am now comfortably sheltered from the cold within my north side apartment and a beer), prepared to do all the bowing, clapping, stretching, moving and calling-out-of-obscure-sounding-foreign-words that I have done since I (somewhat unwittingly) joined the Aikido club at Waseda University when I was an exchange student in the early 90s and found myself learning to toss people about or immobilize them against the ground.

Why do I do this?

A casual observer might think it's simply a matter of inertia. That strange force that sometimes keeps us in bad relationships and lousy jobs despite our better judgment. Like continuing to watch that long-running TV show you use to love despite the fact all the good actors have left and the storylines have become stale, repetitive and uninspired.

Insecurity? Ego? Certainly was true when I first started in Japan, where I discovered that my years of being an American couch potato reared on TV, snack foods and keeping my nose in books had ill-prepared me for the grueling physical regimen practiced by my Japanese college brethren. Not to mention the fact that despite looking the part, my Americanness (and perhaps I should add my half-Koreanness) were strikes against me. I was and am 99.99% sure they wanted me gone, and they worked me as hard as they could, but I absolutely, positively, assuredly refused to quit. First time in my life I had actually persevered in such a capacity, actually. And in the end, by the time I left to return to the states, I seemed to have gained a modicum of genuine respect (from myself as well as those around me).

Loyalty? A bit, I certainly don't like the idea of being a let-down to the senior instructors who've invested their teaching in me over the decades. Duty? I do feel some responsibility towards those junior to me that I give some of my time over to their learning and development (presuming they are maintaining their own interest and dedication).

But none of those really explain it all, or at least ring truest with how I feel, as opposed to how I think.

I continue to do aikido because it feels good. If I've had a long day working at my desk, chasing after my son, doing household chores, getting into uniform and stepping onto the mat never fails to make me feel better. Energized. Happier.

And it's not because I'm engaging in some cathartic act of sublimated violence. No, not that at all. Though, bodies hitting the floor is an unavoidable part of aikido practice. And I've been there - in the past, when I was younger, when I used the dojo as an outlet for daytime frustrations - at work, in relationships, unpleasant bozos on the street. No matter how much energy was expended, even if I got a bit of an adrenaline rush, whatever relief I felt was always a bit empty. Hollow.

Writing here, I find myself hesitating how to describe how aikido makes me feel good. Not because I'm afraid it will come across as hokey or unbelievable, or embarrassing for that matter. It's because it really does seem to defy easy description. I find myself thinking about Japanese writer Juichiro Tanizaki's seminal essay In Praise of Shadows, where he summed up Japanese aesthetics as an appreciation of subtlety and shadow, as opposed to Western ideas of light and clarity.

On that note, I find my thoughts have run out of steam. Will ponder and perhaps return to this later.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

My Voicemail to the FCC 

"I am calling because of the apparent intent of the current management of the FCC to roll back Net Neutrality protections. I am a freelance Japanese document translator. I work almost entirely out of my own home, and have been able to make a successful living doing it. This would not be possible without fast, efficient and cost-effective access to the internet. I need it to both receive and send documents to my clients. I need it in order to process work orders, purchase orders and invoices, often done via my clients’ online portals. I need it in order to search the internet for reference documents and other materials that support my work. Some clients are even having me work via online platforms that require a safe and secure connection. Any changes in my current access will both make my work less efficient, and, if my fears are correct, eat into my profits. The FCC is currently under the umbrella of a Republican administration, which traditionally portrays itself as pro-business. I cannot fathom why it would undertake steps that would ultimately hurt small business owners such as me. Please reconsider your position, and do not roll back Net Neutrality in the interests of our society and economy. If not, please be assured that I will never consider voting for a Republican candidate, will never support the actions of any Republican administration, and will throw as much energy as I can against the current one."

Be sure to leave your own. Yes, it might not amount to much, but it is still better than nothing.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Promoting Peace with Urban Warriors
Reposted from the blog of Chicago Aikido Club (CAC).

(P.S. I'm leading these workshops)



Chicago Aikido Club (CAC) will be partnering with Urban Warrior Fitness in Rogers Park to present two free Monday night introductory aikido workshops on October 30 and November 13. Both workshops will last 90 minutes and start at 7:00 pm.

The workshops will emphasize the use of aikido to develop mindfulness through movement, breathing and balance, as well the self-defense aspects of the art.

Both groups hope these workshops may be helpful to the local community, which is still dealing with the aftermath of a fatal shooting incident that took place on October 13.

Aikido Workshop at Urban

Monday, October 30 and November 13

7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

at Urban Warrior Fitness

1546 Howard St, Chicago, IL 60626

For more information, call (773) 754-7351, Ext. 0

Facebook event page

Monday, October 16, 2017

I don’t have a “Me too” to offer

I don’t have a “Me too” to offer. Thank God, I guess. But I do have a reflection. And that is I must regretfully admit that the collection of nerds, artists, martial arts enthusiasts, self-proclaimed intellectuals and liberals amongst whom I count myself and have many friends includes just as many abusers and gas-lighters as the jock bullies and bro-types commonly stereotyped as perpetrators. And though I have a few proud moments, such as when I ratted out a college dorm-mate engaged in an early form of cyber-bullying, or when I punched an actor backstage for making lascivious comments about an actress, there’s plenty of times I turned a blind eye and did nothing. Or I self-rationalized what I saw or heard. Or joined ‘the boys’ in locker room banter or lewd jokes over beers. And for that, and whatever other contribution I may have inadvertently or passively made to support the worst aspects of male American culture, I offer an apology. And I hope others do as well.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

“Night at the Nisei Lounge” (2013)

(reposted from the blog of Chicago Aikido Club)

Erik Matsunaga, head instructor of Ravenswood Shorin-ryu Karate Dojo and who profiled Chicago Aikido Club (CAC) senior instructor Joe Takehara Sensei in Discover Nikkei recently shared this memorable photo and memory from 2013 with members of the two dojo getting together at a Japanese American community fundraiser at the Nisei Lounge bar in Wrigleyville.
Left to Right: Ryan Yokota, Dean Yamada, Dwight Sora, Joe Takehara

Thursday, October 10, 2013

“Night at the Nisei Lounge” was a benefit fundraiser for the Japanese American Service Committee. Nisei Lounge is among the final vestiges of what used to be a sizeable Japanese American community that once resided in the shadows of Wrigley Field.

At one time, Takehara sensei lived on Newport Avenue, a half block east of the Nisei Lounge. He opened his dental practice one block south on Clark, across the street from Tony Muranaka’s home, whose matless, marble-floored basement served as the original gathering place for the Illinois Aikido Club. Incidentally, Detective Muranaka was the first Nisei on the Chicago Police Department.

After moving out of Muranaka's 3-flat basement, the IAC opened its first dedicated, storefront dojo with makeshift mats across the street from John Omori’s (co-founder of IAC) optometry practice.

And the Japanese American Service Committee, whose Uptown facility a mile-and-a-half up Clark Street currently hosts Takehara sensei and the Chicago Aikido Club, once triangulated these positions at its old location two blocks south of Nisei Lounge, on the corner of Sheffield and School.

I’d venture to guess Takehara sensei was the first Nisei his generation’s namesake tavern had seen in a long time, and quite possibly the only one since. For more information as to why that would be, peruse & listen to WBEZ’s recent Curious City feature: "What Happened to Chicago's Japanese Neighborhood?"

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Goldfinger – Donald Trump Comparison

「Goldfinger images」の画像検索結果「Donald Trump images」の画像検索結果

1)         Both wealthy, aging, overweight men of German descent (with Anglicanized names)
2)         Both operate legitimate businesses (respectively jewelry/horse-breeding and real estate/brand licensing)
3)         Both engage in illegal businesses (respectively gold smuggling and Russian money laundering)
4)         Both collaborate with organized crime (respectively US and Russian mobsters)
5)         Both collude with foreign governments against the US (respectively China and Russia)
6)         Both surround themselves with beautiful women out of their league (and when no longer useful respectively have them killed and divorce them)
7)         Both have fat, creepy lackeys (respectively Oddjob  and Steve Bannon)
8)         Goldfinger employs Pussy (Galore), Trump grabs pussy
9)         Both like golf (and cheat)
10)     Both have access to nuclear weapons
11)     Both like gold


12) Goldfinger is defeated by a dedicated civil servant . . .