Friday, July 5, 2013

Hidari-kiki 左撇子

I am pretty sure that Rikyu's first child was in fact a left - handed girl. She was quickly sent to the shita-machi, the lower part of the city (and social class so as not to endanger the family's reputation where she lived out her days professionally as a social worker for burakumin. Her praises are sung to this day by ronin chajin ghosts hovering over the Toji Temple fair on its monthly antiques rotation. Her presence is palpable to me as I have been studying chanoyu since 1985 as do migi-kiki, right-handed, folks.

It has not been easy to learn the tiny gestures for temae, and through the process I have developed some related dexterities (vs. sinesterities). One day, in my kitchen doing some chores, I put down a teaspoon with my left hand in that special way one replaces the chashaku on the natsume lid. It stopped me in my tracks. The gesture for handling a chashaku isn't casually "normal", so, I asked my left hand what was going on here? How did "you" know how to do that? My hand replied that it has been watching the right for many years.

Perhaps this is related to the time that Matsumoto sensei said to me as I was placing the chashaku on the natsume after the initial cleaning: "Show your mind."

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attempt to learn how to write kanji at a group lesson taught by Seiseki Abe, the master who trained Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, and his acolytes in shodo (the Way of the Brush). I had the opportunity to attend another of Abe sensei's lectures, that one on misogi, water purification ritual, and found access to such information very sparse in Los Angeles.

The event was held in a dojo in Los Angeles with mostly hakama - clad Aikido students in attendance. We sat on the mats as this very frail man, also dressed more for combat than calligraphy walked into the space. A bow, of course. He began to speak softly and it was lightly translated, but really needed little explanation.

A burly tall student was told to run toward this thin man who simply touched his attacker on the arm and sent him sailing across the room.

"Fa-su-to su-tu-ro-ku!" the master said.

Two more times the student attached. The second time he was immediately thrown down. The third time, the master took him by the wrist and in a spiral motion sent him flying to the other side of the combat zone.

"Se-ru-do su-tu-ro-ku! Fa-su-to ka-ra-ku-te-ro: Ah!"

The Hiragana lesson had begun. Three strokes: horizontal, vertical and a spiral.
Ho-ri-zo-n-tu-ru su-tu-ro-ku!

We were then given brushes and paper and urged to write the kana.

Yes, of course, I tried to do it left handed and showed it to the master. He stared at me and I said, "Hidari-kiki." He shook his head and gave me the brush in my right hand. Abe explains the relationship of Aikido and Shodo, "There are five or ten thousand characters we can brush in learning about form and line, but ultimately we are pursuing something beyond these, and that something is none other than “ki“".

OY! Beginner's body took over. How complicated but refreshing an attempt.

It reminded me of the times I had to do a temae (not gyaku-gate, when the guests sit to the host's left.) A tongue twister for the mind, for sure!

Abe sensei passed away in 2011. Another interview with him around the time I attended the class is a click away.