When you think of Philadelphia, your mind is not instantly transported to scenes of natural beauty. In fact, the city is pretty rough. But just on the outskirts of town lies Fairmount Park, an unusual escape that features some of the finest Cherry Blossoms on the East Coast.
Every year a Cherry Blossom Festival is held in Fairmount, with the highlight of the weekend being “Sakura Sunday”. Sakura is the Japanese term for Cherry Blossom, and the day features events that span all manner of Japanese culture.
As you might suspect, there is no shortage of vendor booths and anime stands. These are fun to peruse, but what makes Sakura Sunday worth the visit (at least for me), is the more traditional cultural aspects.
Among the Cherry Blossoms lies Shofuso, the authentic Japanese home and garden.
I was able to take a tour of the house, which they have recreated with original implements and decorations, minimal though they were.
One particularly interesting piece was in the kitchen. Hanging above the cooking area was a basket attached to a long bamboo rod. While you might think this was for fruit storage, it was in fact used as a mode of transportation for the important man of the household.
Such carriages would increase in size and decor over time, eventually becoming elaborately enclosed compartments.
There were a few other worthwhile events, including Ikebana and Go. Unfortunately, it can be difficult paying proper attention to everything while still seeing the bulk of what the festival has to offer.
This year’s main attraction was phenomenal, and would have made the trip worthwhile all on it’s own. The Tamagawa Drum and Dance Troupe is one of the top Taiko drumming groups in all of Japan. They are highly dedicated students who not only preserve their art form, but work to incorporate creativity and personality into every performance.
The troupe is split between equally skilled men and women. The men create thundering drum beats that are both powerful and graceful. The women conduct complex dance patterns that mix traditional folk dance with modern interpretations and skillful theatrics.
Perhaps most noticeable about the troupe is the genuine emotion and joyful intensity that they exude. For example, when the leading drummer steps to the front of the stage, and in broken English declares that he is very happy to be performing for everyone, you simply believe him. And when the troupe kiais in unison you can feel their comradery.
I was able to capture small samples of both the drummers and the dancers for your enjoyment. First, the drummers:
The Cherry Blossoms made for an outstanding backdrop. As the drummers jumped and swung their sticks, they would occassional dash against a wayward branch, causing leaves to fall as they played.
Here are the dancers who accompanied and interluded the drum play:
The drumming and dancing were both highly structured and well executed, but there was still opportunity for creative expression by each practitioner. You could detect hints of their personalities shining through in small movements and expressions.
Much of the festival was dedicated to the struggles still going on in Japan. Tamagawa University desired to show that the Japanese people were resilient, and their spirits unbroken. Hence the continued performances and strong desire to take joy from such positive events.
Monday was suspiciously nice outside. For those of us in the Northeastern U.S., warm weather has only visited once or twice in the last five months. Therefore, it was with great trepidation that I took a step outside in order to get the mail a block away.
Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be t-shirt weather, with a slight breeze and hint of Spring in the air. I started off for the mailbox using my “winter speed walk”, but before long slowed down to a leisurely pace. It was midday so there were no cars buzzing through the lot nor children ambling about. All I could hear was the faint clacking of my shoes against the pavement.
After arriving at the mailbox I decided it might be appropriate to take the long route back to my apartment; a winding stretch of macadam that traces the treeline and wraps around a few extra buildings.
While traveling the path I fell into a comfortable rhythm, not mindfully set…just natural. I observed which trees had decided to push toward blooming, and which were still suspicious of impending frost (not unlike myself a few minutes earlier). I also passed my gaze over nearby apartments, decorations, birdhouses….anything that came into view. Not analyzing anything, just recognizing them as they slipped in and away.
I was enjoying this soft no-mind when suddenly I was invaded by an uncomfortable feeling. Guilt. Back at the apartment I had bills waiting, a lunch to make, and dishes to do. Before my walk I had heard about more struggles in Japan and Syria, not to mention a nearby house that had burnt down (as reported by the local news).
All of those misfortunes…and I was out strolling about.
For a moment it seemed unfathomable that I would be so negligent of the world and my responsibilities.
My loss of focus, or perhaps loss of conscientious non-focus, is not surprising. Indeed, the mind is a complex network that can sometimes work against it’s own benefit. We, as modern humans, seem to yearn for simplicity and quiet; yet when those rare moments arrive our minds fight back and remind us of our duties and concerns.
As a society we’ve adapted a few methods to combat this issue, the most prominent being ‘vacation’. A lot of people can temporarily suspend their guilt and give themselves permission to relax. Even so, usually after a few days the ‘real world’ creeps back in steadily. Most parents I know don’t experience much vacation even when on vacation.
On a day to day, week to week basis it can be extremely difficult to find ways to push out the world at large and find time to reset the mind and spirit.
That being said, let me ask: how often do you worry about bills during kata training? What about the kid’s soccer practice while sparring?
My guess is that those external matters rarely creep in on you. In fact, those few training moments are probably your most focused throughout the entire day, or even week.
To perform a kata even remotely well, you need to pay exacting attention to what you’re doing. Eventually you can even experience mushin. But the benefit of kata is that it maintains your focus and consistently draws you back into the moment. If you drift into other emotions (like I allowed myself to do during my walk) your kata will crumble. Naturally you don’t want that to happen so your odds of course correction are much higher.
Good martial arts training can suspend time for you. It’s often said that your training shouldn’t stop at the dojo door, which is true. But it’s certainly permissible to leave your troubles at the door when entering.
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During some random internet task I stumbled onto a fairly common image. It’s certainly nothing unique or even interesting, and yet I feel like it possesses a special quality for martial artists. After all, could anything be more aptly descriptive of the process of following a martial way?
You’ve probably seen the ‘work in progress’ figure attached to websites, work sites, etc.
As we continue to endeavor in our martial arts,we realize the endless cycle of self analysis and improvement that comes with training. That mindset of laborious persistence is key to long term success in the arts, and we must therefore always be a work in progress.
Perhaps simply emblazoning this figure across our gi might be a more worthwhile patch than any modern sponsorship, advertisement, or world championship logo…
I thought this was a pretty fun concept, but then a few voices of wisdom on facebook took it a step further. They suggested martial art specific versions! So without further adieu, for your viewing pleasure: