ekiden double take


Something in me wanted to find out how far I could run without stopping.
Jacki Hanson, U.S. marathon runner 

My sister and I, you will recollect, were twins, and you know how subtle are the links which bind two souls which are so closely allied.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Speckled Band

An apple cleft in two is not more twin
Than these two creatures.
William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, act 5, scene 1 

This beggar might be perhaps
An angel, Luther said.
Robert Browning, The Twins

Or Basho was just envious
He may be a poet of his age
But his poems never bore
Him a son
Or a mirror of his own face
Ric S Bastasa, Perhaps to Basho the twins are boring

Firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.
Wells Fargo stagecoach rules

One of the new year events in Japan is the Hakone Ekiden. An ekiden is a long-distance relay road race. On 2 January the runners run to Hakone near Mount Fuji. On 3 January runners run from Hakone to Tokyo. The race is broadcast live on television over the two days. It is one of the most popular sports events in Japan.

The idea of the word ekiden is like a stagecoach. The first ekiden was held in Japan in 1917 over 500 kilometres from Kyoto to Tokyo. The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper sponsored the first ekiden race. Toki Zenmaro was a poet who worked at the Yomiuri Shimbun at the time and he used the word ekiden for the first time to describe a road race. Now the course is often a full marathon or a half marathon.

In the Yomiuri newspaper recently there was an article about twins Haruka and Moe Kyuma. They are both great runners. They were members of the Tsukuba University women’s team that was third at the 2012 All-Japan Women’s College Ekiden Championship in October 2012.

And in the 2012 men’s Hakone Ekiden twins Yuta and Keita Shitara both ran for Toyo University.

In the past twin brothers Shigeru and Takeshi So were famous Japanese marathon runners. They both competed at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

I wrote about DNA and family in budo/dna double helix. And I wrote about running in silent running.

In Japanese you don’t say my brother or my sister. You always put it in context. My younger brother or my younger sister. If you are watching a movie in English and one of the characters talks about a brother or sister without specifying older or younger the subtitle translator just guesses.

The den in ekiden means transmission. It is the same letter used in densetsu, legend. And denki, biography. And hiden. Secret transmission.


poems and background articles

Robert Browning, The Twins

Ric S Bastasa, Perhaps to Basho the twins are boring


Musings, from the Daily Yomiuri, including a poem by Zenmaro Toki

Twins get Tsukuba back on winning track, from the Daily Yomiuri


photo: Runner by mrhayata

published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb

my columns on aikiweb


© niall matthews 2013

forgetting the year of the dragon



Movement number 4: dragon seeks path – dragon whips tail.
Bruce Lee, Way of the Dragon

Hard by the lilied Nile I saw
A duskish river-dragon stretched along,
The brown habergeon of his limbs enamelled
With sanguine alamandines and rainy pear:
Thomas Lovell Beddoes, A Crocodile

In this altar-piece the knight,
Who grips his long spear so to push
That dragon through the fading light,
Loved the lady; and it’s plain
The half-dead dragon was her thought,
That every morning rose again
And dug its claws and shrieked and fought.
W B Yeats, Michael Robartes and the Dancer

But each day brings its petty dust
Our soon-chok’d souls to fill,
And we forget because we must,
And not because we will.
Matthew Arnold, Absence

I had to spend many years losing my spirit, to unlearn thinking again, to forget the oneness.
Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

Well, but something sure is wrong
‘Cause I’m so blue and lonely
I forgot to remember to forget
Elvis Presley, I Forgot to Remember to Forget

Japan in December is the time for parties for the end of the year. In Japanese they are called bonenkai. Parties to forget the year. Companies have them. Neighbourhoods have them. And of course dojos have them. Many people have to go to several.

So the bonenkai is the chance to forget all the bad things of the last year. It’s a nice idea. If you forget all the bad things that happened during the year all you remember are the good things.

2012 was the year of the dragon. Looking back on the year I’ll just take a couple of memories.

In Japan people were excited when Tokyo Skytree opened in May 2012. It was 634 metres feet high. Musashi in Japanese slang. I wrote about it here. It’s one of the most popular tourist spots in Tokyo now.

The 2012 summer Olympics were held in London. The opening ceremony was dramatic and there were some great moments. The one I won’t forget was David Rudisha winning the 800 metres.

There were some farewells in 2012. Every year we lose great martial artists and their irreplaceable knowledge. Hiroshi Kato Sensei died in 2012. He was a Japanese aikido teacher. After he retired he taught in the USA. I trained with him many years ago. I have a good memory of him showing me how to do a dynamic koshi nage from nikyo – a hip throw from a wristlock.

Bad things happened in 2012 too. But I have forgotten them.

We use forgetting in the highest level of martial arts. All arts in fact.

So I’ll finish with another cool martial arts quote. This time from a movie.

Learn the form.
But seek the formless.
Hear the soundless.
Learn it all.
Then forget it all.
Learn the Way.
Then find your own way.
Jet Li, The Forbidden Kingdom

So I hope you had a good year. And that you have already forgotten the bad things.

Have a great 2013. Full of fresh and wonderful moments. The year of the snake.


e-books, poems, music and background articles

Thomas Lovell Beddoes, A Crocodile
poems by Thomas Lovell Beddoes online

W B Yeats, Michael Robartes and the Dancer
poems by W B Yeats online

Matthew Arnold, Absence
free e-book: Poetical Works of Matthew Arnold

free e-book: Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

The Way of the Dragon on the internet movie database
The Forbidden Kingdom on the internet movie database

Elvis Presley, I Forgot to Remember to Forget

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C5%8Dnenkai Bonenkai
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daitoku-ji Daitoku-ji

photo: dragon fusuma at ryogen-in, daitokuji, kyoto by neil banas


published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb

my columns on aikiweb


© niall matthews 2012

walk. don’t walk. drive. read. walk.



You better cross over
You better walk humble
Or you’re gonna stumble
And Satan is waitin’ to take your hand
You walk on the wild side
Brook Benton, Walk on the Wild Side 

Hey babe
Take a walk on the wild side
Lou Reed, Walk on the Wild Side

tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform
into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street
Denise Levertov, O Taste and See

He wore but a thin
Wind-thridded suit,
Yet well-shaped shoes for walking in,
Artistic beaver, cane gold-topped.
“Alas, my friend,” he said with a smile,
“I am daily bound to foot ten mile -
Wet, dry, or dark – before I rest.
Thomas Hardy, The Pedestrian

You meet him on the corners,
in bus stations, on the blind avenues
leading neither in
nor out of hell, you meet him
and with him you walk.
Thomas Lux, Pedestrian

And we’ll start the driving lessons when you’ve mastered the walking bit.
Gregory’s Girl

Japanese samurai used to walk in a special way. It’s not a natural movement. You have to learn it. As you walk you swing your arm forward on the same side as your foot. It’s called namba walking. I’ll write about it in more detail another time.

I ride a bicycle most days. Today a young woman stepped into the road in front of me without looking. Yesterday a woman on a bicycle rode out in front of me without looking. Some Japanese people are perhaps a little vague about the rules of the road.

The rules become clearer after they learn to drive. A lot of people learn to drive by going off to an intensive residential course deep in the countryside. A gasshuku. The same as a camp for the martial arts.

Japan has one of the world’s highest rates of literacy. I’ll write about that again sometime. Four of the five newspapers with the largest circulations in the world are Japanese. People like to read. Last week I was walking behind a middle school boy who was reading as he walked along the street. It must have been an exciting book. Yesterday I saw a truck driver reading a comic book propped open on his steering wheel while he was stopped at a traffic light.



background articles, poems and music

Brook Benton, Walk on the Wild Side

Lou Reed, Walk on the Wild Side


Poems by Denise Levertov

Thomas Hardy, The Pedestrian

Thomas Lux, Pedestrian


Great description of how to get a driving licence in Japan

nice review of Gregory’s Girl

Gregory’s Girl

photo: Kagurazaka Street by Les Taylor

published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb

my columns on aikiweb


© niall matthews 2012

tunnel vision

It is the light
At the end of the tunnel as it might be seen
By him looking out somberly at the shower,
The picture of hope a dying man might turn away from,
Realizing that hope is something else, something concrete
You can’t have.
John Ashbery, Houseboat Days

Leaves and bark, leaves and bark,
To lean against and hear in the dark.
Petals I may have once pursued.
Leaves are all my darker mood.
Robert Frost, Leaves Compared to Flowers

In the umbra, the tunnel, when the mind went wombtomb, then it was real thought and real living, living thought.
Samuel Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women

Parting is a trailing streamer,
Lingering like leaves in autumn.
Philip Larkin, As a War in Years of Peace

Rain. Dirt. Tunnel. Problem.
Michael Scofield, Prison Break

Autumn leaves are important in the Japanese year. The beauty of the changing colours of the leaves represents the coming of winter. Kevin Short writes a cool regular nature column in the Daily Yomiuri newspaper. This week he wrote an interesting explanation of the science of autumn leaves.

In my column Eyes in the Martial Arts I talked about a gaze like autumn leaves. It was used in traditional budo as advice on where to look. Another phrase from the Japanese sword is to look at the far mountains. Both of these mean roughly that you should look at everything at once. You have to absorb the whole scene without becoming fixed on any single point.

The opposite would perhaps be tunnel vision. Looking at something but not being aware of the real truth. There is a lot of that in the martial arts.

I was in the mountains a few days ago. The red and yellow and brown autumn leaves were beautiful. We drove through tunnels punched through the mountains.

There are many mountains in Japan. Japan is basically four large islands plus Okinawa. Most of the population and most of the cities are on the main island called Honshu. It is a long (1300 kilometres or 810 miles) and narrow (210 kilometres or 140 miles) volcanic landmass with a central spine of mountains.

On 2 December 2012 in Sasago Tunnel in Yamanashi in central Japan some concrete ceiling panels collapsed and fell on to the road. Each panel weighed more than a ton. Several people died.

Safety inspections are carried out every five years. The last inspection was carried out a couple of months before the accident.

So exactly what did they inspect?



background articles

Newspaper Column about autumn leaves by Kevin Short


photo: tunnel by Kin Chan


published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb

my columns on aikiweb


© niall matthews 2012



Thanks to the morning light,
Thanks to the foaming sea,
To the uplands of New Hampshire,
To the green-haired forest free.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, The World-Soul

If we meet someone who owes us thanks, we right away remember that. But how often do we meet someone to whom we owe thanks without remembering that?
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Elective Affinities

To give thanks in solitude is enough. Thanksgiving has wings and goes where it must go. Your prayer knows much more about it than you do.
Victor Hugo, L’Homme qui rit

i thank you god for this most amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
e e cummings, I thank you god for this most amazing

Thank you. You are a very pleasant person.
Thank you. You are too.
John Ashbery, My Erotic Double

And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you.
T S Eliot, The Waste Land

I thank you. I am not of many words, but I thank you.
William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, act 1, scene 1

My desk, most loyal friend
thank you. You’ve been with me on
every road I’ve taken.
My scar and my protection.
Marina Tsvetaeva, Desk

In Japan there is a Labor Thanksgiving holiday at the end of November.

It was originally a harvest festival. Under the American Occupation after the Second World War it was reborn as Labor Thanksgiving Day. Theoretically it is a day to appreciate everyone’s work and also the results of everyone’s work. But it also includes the ideas of human rights and environment protection.

There is a tradition in some religions of saying grace before a meal. To say thank you for the meal and perhaps to ask for it to be blessed. For what we are about to receive…

Before a meal Japanese people say itadakimasu. I receive this with thanks. It’s one of many Japanese phrases that don’t have a simple translation.

It is to give thanks to the plants and animals and fish that you are about to eat. And to the preparers of the meal and to the farmers and fishermen and everyone else in the chain who helped to bring the food to the table. I wrote about food in dharma food.

Another way of saying receive in Japanese is ukeru. In the martial arts the person who receives a technique is the uke. The act of receiving a technique is ukemi. The ukemi can mean the breakfall. Or it can mean the whole process of attacking and then receiving a technique. I’ll talk about ukemi in detail in future posts and columns.

After a meal Japanese people say gochisousama deshita. It was a wonderful meal.

I wrote about saying thank you in the martial arts in doumo. arigatou. gozaimashita.

Sometimes Japanese people ask what we say in English for itadakimasu. Well we can always use French.

Bon appétit.


e-books, poems + background articles

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poems

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Elective Affinities

Victor Hugo, L’homme qui rit – in French

Victor Hugo, L’homme qui rit – in English

T S Eliot, The Waste Land

William Shakespeare, The Complete Works

e e cummings, i thank you god for this most amazing

John Ashbery, My Erotic Double

Marina Tsvetaeva, excerpts from Desk


photo: Kyōto – Nakagyō: Honke Owariya – Hourai Soba by Wally Gobetz

published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb

my columns on aikiweb


© niall matthews 2012


 We are not come to wage a strife
With swords upon this hill,
It is not wise to waste the life
Against a stubborn will.
Yet would we die as some have done.
Beating a way for the rising sun.
Arna Bontemps, The Day-Breakers

My black hills have never seen the sun rising,
Eternally they look north towards Armagh.
Patrick Kavanagh, Shancoduff

The sun may set and rise:
But we contrariwise
Sleep after our short light
One everlasting night.
Sir Walter Raleigh, From Catullus V

It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
When the light drips through the shutters like the dew,
I arise, I face the sunrise,
And do the things my fathers learned to do.
Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops
Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,
And I myself on a swiftly tilting planet
Stand before a glass and tie my tie.
Conrad Aiken, Senlin: a Biography


It’s election time in Japan. There will be a few weeks of incessant election noise. People making speeches outside railway stations. Trucks with blaring loudspeakers driving up and down the streets.

Japanese politics are mysterious. There are a few new political parties in Japan this year. One is the Sunrise Party. The leader is Shintaro Ishihara. He is an author and politician. When he was a university student he won the Akutagawa Prize for his novel Season of the Sun. The name of the new party deliberately echoes that title. Shintaro’s younger brother Yujiro starred in the movie adaptation. Yujiro Ishihara was hugely popular. He died young. Shintaro Ishihara himself is very controversial. Some people like his direct style. But when he was Governor of Tokyo he was xenophobic, racist, homophobic and sexist.

The People’s Life First Party is another new party. Its most senior politician Ichiro Ozawa has finally been cleared in a court case. The decision to prosecute him and the decision to appeal the original not guilty verdict seemed politically motivated rather than based on the evidence. So is Japan really a modern democracy?

The world of martial arts has a close relationship with the world of politics. Perhaps too close. Politicians write introductions for the programs for martial arts events. They give speeches at the events or the receptions later. Some politicians have been accomplished martial artists. A few have held high ranks in kendo. Judo Olympic and World champion Ryoko Tani was one of the most popular figures in Japanese sports. She became a politician. She is also in the People’s Life First Party.


poems + background article












photo: Shintaro Ishihara and Yukio Mishima from wikipedia

my columns on aikiweb


published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb

my columns on aikiweb


© niall matthews 2012

black on black


Think what was there but now’s gone.
Black suit with the black Ray Ban’s on.
Walk in shadow, move in silence
Will Smith, Men in Black

He recollected his initiation,
And one especially of the rites.
For on his shoulders they had put tattoos:
The group’s name on the left, The Knights,
And on the right the slogan Born to Lose.
Thom Gunn, Black Jackets

We’re doing mighty fine I do suppose
In our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back
Up front there ought to be a man in black
Johnny Cash, Man in Black

The other day in Tokyo I saw a young man wearing a black uniform. It was unusual because it had a letter embroidered on the back in black thread. It was black on black so it was easy to miss.

The black uniform is called a gakuran. It’s a military-style uniform. Black uniforms all look the same so some students or groups add subtle individual details in the shape or the stitching. In the video below the band is wearing long jackets and baggy trousers like hakama. They look like a gang from the 1970s or 80s.

I wear a black hakama to do aikido. When I get a new one I get the name embroidered on the hip in Japanese kanji. Usually in grey or silver or dark yellow thread. But once I did get it in black. Black on black.


songs + poem + background article

Kishidan, One Night Carnival
Japanese band in gakuran

Johnny Cash, Man in Black

Will Smith, Men in Black

Thom Gunn, Black Jackets


photo: Bebop High School from muta’s photostream


published contemporaneously on the aikido site aikiweb

my columns on aikiweb


© niall matthews 2012