Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Shiramizu 2008 Start!

( Picture courtesy of Arakawa Sensei's blog.)

In Japan, as you might have read two posts prior, there's a tradition called hatsumode where one goes to a temple at the start of a new year to cast away bad spirits and to wish good luck upon the people one cares for. At Shiramizu, the hatsumode is a bit more large scale, encorporating the first training of the year.

The day (this year happening on Jan 6th), started at 8:30am at the nearby Shirayuri Kindergarten parking lot. After almost 100 Shiramizu students assembled, we started our walk to a temple in the neighbouring Satte city.

It's a touch unfortunate that suburban city clusters can't offer truly scenic views these kind of walks go well with, but it's still a fun time to chat with friends as we paraded across the Satte city in our dogis (admittedly with a few layers of clothes underneath them). The walk took a bit less than 2 hours and we arrived at a small temple amidst rows of houses.

While we waited our turn (a baesball team was paying their respects before us), it's nice to look around the small temple grounds which had, amongst other things, a small stage for traditional Japanese plays, the temple itself, and a square pile of smoldering wood and other burnable paper offerings put in there by people. I was told the name (which I forgot, sorry! But it was unbelievably long) and it has something to do with the fact that if one believes the crackling wood was (or would turn into) water, thrusting a nukite into it would not result in any burns. That was what I caught from the mix of Japanese and English, though I thought it best to do some more research before I tried.

When it was Shiramizu's turn, we all lined up and the presiding temple priest went through the ritual. It starts with the priest playing a drum briefly, then coming out to wave the bad spirits away as we bowed before him. He then read a poem and presented Arakawa Sensei with a hamaya, the arrow also mentioned two posts prior. Lastly, a small dish of sake was offered to all the (of-age) members.

With that done, Shiramizu did a quick 10 min practice consisting of punches, blocks, and mae geris. After that, each person was able to go up to the temple, ring a bell of sorts, and pay their respects (it's two bows, two claps, one bow). And then we got a lollipop! I'm not sure if there is any traditional meaning behind the candy offered (I wouldn't be surprised if there was), but a lollipop is a lollipop. I should point out that anyone who gets a chance to take part in this fun in the years to come to not do the practice standing next to the smoldering wood. The smoke makes for rather interesting breathing patterns as you practice...... don't ask how I know.

With the hatsumode finished (at around 11am), we set out again for the Asukaru Satte community centre, where Shiramizu held their year-end training session. It took about an hour and after a quick lunch, the official first training of the year kicked off at 1pm.

It was relatively standard with ido kihon exercises, some kumite drills, and finishing off with kata practice. It wasn't standard in that having holidays really put me off my game. It's not like starting at square one, but it took a bit more warming up than usually to get back into the groove. In the end though, it was no problem and the practice wrapped up at 2:45.

For most, it was the end but for me and Arakawa Sensei and his family, it was back home to get ready for Richard Sensei's house warming party! With lots of food, lots of stories, and lots of laughs, it was a very nice way to kick off 2008 by having everyone together.

And so, I wish everyone a very great and properous 2008 and hopefully I'll see some of you at the Wadokai World Championships in August in Vancouver!

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