Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Kagami Biraki or... Opening the Mirror

The demonstrators. From L to R- kendo, judo, sumo, juukendo, karate, and the samurai demonstrators.

Translated literally, it means the "unveiling of a round-shaped mirror". But it's also the name of a traditional New Year's ceremony. It starts before the New Year with the making of a two layer mochi (glutinous rice) cake offering to the gods. After the New Year (between the 11th and 20th of January), the mochi is shared with their family and clan members, and the event that contains spiritual meanings as well as a simpler communal bonding symbolism.

I learned all this through the pamphlet handed out at the Nippon Budokan this past January 14th. The Nippon Budokan has, for the past 40 years, held a "kagami biraki" at the start of the year and this year they invited 9 different martial arts to provide a demonstration and then one hour practice session where all these martial arts practiced at the same time. I went with Shiramizu which was itself one of three dojos attending on behalf of Takagi Sensei and his Guseikai karate group to represent all of Japanese karate (!) during the practice session.

(ed. This is the 4th year Takagi Sensei has been asked by the umbrella JKF body to repesent all of Japanese karate, and Shiramizu had attended each year with our interns. Previously the honor was rotated annually between the style groups. I am not sure why it has stayed with Takagi Sensei recently, but two reasons could be because it is he who runs the regular karate classes at the Nippon Budokan's training hall and he is also a member of the umbrella JKF technical committee.)

Starting at around 12pm, the ceremony started with the ritual where the shogun (samurai general) is fed a few items of food. Then the mochi and a barrel of sake is rolled out and he uses a large hammer and hits the mochi, breaking it into pieces (see above) which would usually be shared with the clan and family. Others (perhaps his second in command), breaks the round wood cover on top of the sake barrel.

(photo courtesy of Arakawa Sensei's blog)

(photo courtesy of Arakawa Sensei's blog. Arakawa Sensei leading the karate practice.)

Following this were demonstrations by the various martial arts seen in the first picture. However, we all got changed and went outside to run through our practice routine which was some standing kihon, all the ido kihon, some simple yakusoku kumite, then all five pinan katas as well as seishan and chinto (time permitting). By the time we returned, the sumo demonstrators were taking their turn.

(ed. there are ten main Japanese martial arts represented at kagami biraki - karate, judo, kendo, sumo, aikido, kyudo, kempo, jujitsu, jukendo and naginata).

The practice started at about 2:15 and went quite smoothly. Well, smoothly but loudly. We were in about the middle of the budokan arena. To our left were the naginata practitioners, behind us was shorinji kempo, and on the right was the juukendo group. Ahead of us was the kendo group which meant it was quite hard work to make our kiai's heard, much to the soreness of our throats. But the hour flew by rather quickly amidst the explosion of martial arts in the budokan ring.

When it was finished, small bowls of mochi in a red bean soup of sorts (if you've had the red bean desserts from Chinese restaurants, it's the same thing) were given to all the people who practiced on the floor. And we all sat around and laughed and talked before leaving at around 3:30.

(photo courtesy of Arakawa Sensei's blog. Lawrence is kneeling far left. Takagi Sensei is in the center with the (new) beard. Everyone has Guseikai badges on just for today.)

For me personally, it was a great experience, not the least because it was the first time I took part it in. I really enjoyed being in the middle (literally, in our case) of so many different martial arts. I watched some of them practice beforehand and out of the corner of my eye while I was on the floor, and it's really interesting to see what each style's take on martial arts is.

I was particularly intrigued by the juukendo group simply because of propect of a martial art based upon wooden shaped bayonette-fitted rifles.

But what I think was more important was, just as the program where I got the translation of the "kagami biraki" ceremony from, the concept of budo. The short article about the charter of budo discusses "a recent trend towards infatuation just with technical ability compounded by an excessive concern with winning". It went on about the principles of budo, yet simply by being on the budokan floor practicing, there was a sense that budo was there. Everyone was there practicing to the best of their ability and afterwards, we shared mochi and bonded. "Kagami biraki" indeed.


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