First Day in Stockholm

Currently I ' m in Stockholm, Sweden. I will be here for 12 more days, and then go back to Helsinki .

I ' m here mainly to observe the workshops of my martial arts (Budo ) teacher, Akira Hino. But, calling him martial arts teacher feels too narrow and small for who he is.
For one thing, he is working with top-class dancers in Sweden c not to teach them martial arts, but to teach them what it means to dance, what it means to express with the body.
His bodily awareness is something our contemporary ideas cannot grasp.

Quite, quite impressive.

The fact that he has been invited to many renowned dance companies in Europe indicates the extremely high quality of his theory and work that transcends the borders of different arts fields.

By the way, his wife Kazuko is my teacher as well.
She has been training with him and assisting him in workshops.
I call them Hino sensei and Kazuko sensei.

---------------------

Yesterday evening, he and his wife flew in from Japan .
I waited at the Arlanda airport to welcome them.
Oh how amazing that we reunited in Sweden !
They gave me the warmest smiles and greetings.
Then we met a lady who is the workshop coordinator.
Her name is Margareta, and she took us to the apartment for my teachers to stay in.
She gave them some info about practical things and the schedule for the next couple of weeks.
After she left, I translated what she had just told them in English for them.
Since they only speak Japanese, I ' ve been acting as their translator like this.

I then quickly checked in at a hostel nearby, and put my luggage on my bed.
I didn ' t mind the room, but it was awkward, walking into a 10-bed dormitory room with five stranger roommates.
They are all guys.
A few are musicians, it seems, with guitar cases.

Anyway, I put my valuable in my small bag and then went back to my teachers ' apartment.

We walked around for a while to see the city a bit.
g Isn ' t this weird that we are now walking down the street in Stockholm together c Feels like walking down the street in Shinsaibashi, Osaka, h
Kazuko-sensei was amused.
We ended up going to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate our reunion.
(By the way, there are a lot of Sushi/Japanese restaurants here. Weird.)

We talked about many things, mostly about dance and theatre.
I told them about my recent experiences in the Finnish theatre scene.
They told me about their experiences of contemporary dance and theatre and gave me insights into them.
We both share the same opinion that the contemporary performing arts field needs much more substance to raise its quality.

We continued our chat in their apartment with green tea and a Japanese snack called kakinotane. 
(literally meaning g the seeds of persimmons h ).
I left there around 22:00.
Hino sensei walked me to the hostel.

------------------

Today is the first day of the workshop.
Hino sensei will teach a group of students at the University of Dance and Circus for 4 days, and then at Cullberg Ballet Company for 5 days next week.

I ' m writing this blog on my bed at the hostel. I hear a guy snoring c and the smell of men c they have a very particular smell.
I feel as if I accidentally sneaked into a fraternity house.

Oh come what may!

How you learn things

 

The first day of the workshop.

What a tiring day!
And it was even shocking for me to see the lazy, sloppy, and timid attitude of the university students who were attending the workshop of a great teacher who has worked with renowned dance companies such as the Forsythe Company.
From 10:15 to 17:00, I was trying to understand why they were the way they were.
Half-sleeping.

g It seems that university students are all, more or less, like this in developed countries, h
Hino sensei said during the lunch break.
g They are e good ' students with no creative curiosity. They have all these wonderful facilities for their learning, but all they care about is to be accepted and praised by their teachers. So, they always wait for their teachers to tell them what to do.
They can do what their teachers tell them to do very well, but who gives a damn about that in real life!? h

The building we were in had countless dance studios, theaters, cafe, lounges with nice sofas, fancily lighted hallways, locker rooms with showers and toilets, etc., etc..
And many young students walking about c somehow subdued.

g It is no good to be materially rich, h
Kazuko sensei said to me.
And Hino sensei added,
g All these kids have never lacked anything. They have never experienced a situation where they would be starved to death if they couldn ' t make money by doing their work. h

Creative hunger that is not separate from one ' s daily life. You must get better at your craft in order to survive.
Therefore, learning and training become a necessity rather than a requirement to graduate.
The quality of learning changes if you can connect it to your daily living.

My teachers were very tired by the end of the day.
g I haven ' t done anything, but I feel tired, h
Kazuko sensei said to Hino sensei.
g That is why c because we haven ' t done anything. It ' s so boring when there is no curious spirit I can work with, h
Hino sensei replied with a weary smile.

We had curry for dinner.
Kazuko sensei is a wonderful cook.
She gave me some tips on how to make the taste of curry rich and more
g complicated. h

We talked about many things at the dinner table.
All of them were interesting and sparked curiosity.

 

g Ma h ? The infinite born out of nothing

The second day of the workshop.

A former Forsythe Company member Tilman came and joined the workshop.
Hino sensei said that when he was first invited to the company in Germany ,
Tilman was one of the dancers who got greatly inspired by his workshop.
g Tilman is special. He is a world top class dancer, a wonderful one.
And someone like him can understand why my work Budo ** is applicable to dance.
What I teach is extremely difficult. None of the Forsythe Company members can do it.
But they know, without any doubt, that it is very crucial that they practice it. h
After the introduction of Tilman, the students, well, some of them at least, started to sense that they were in a very important learning process.
It ain ' t some martial arts class to learn how to protect oneself when being attacked.

So, the day was a bit more lively and concentrated than the first day.

Dinner was stir-fried vegetables with rice and soup.
And a little dish of cucumbers steeped in soy sauce with umeboshi pickled plums, and konbu kelp. It was tasty.

The most interesting topic at the dinner table was Ma , commonly translated as space in between things or events.
g Most of the traditional ink painting suibokuga  n is all about Ma. Let ' s say that there is a painting called e Snow. '
All you see is just a line of soft black representing a branch of a tree, for example, and the rest is white, empty, nothing else was drawn.
But if you are sensitive enough, you start to e see ' the snow on the tree branch and the vast snow field, surrounding the tree. That ' s the mystery and power of Ma. It makes nothing something. It makes the invisible visible. h
I will have to write more about Ma Later.
It is an essential part of my cultural heritage.

[**Budo has roughly been translated as martial arts. The translation tends to cause a misconception that it is about learning some forms or techniques to win a fight. But Budo Hino sensei teaches is the philosophy of the body, how to know it more deeply.]

 

Doubt yourself

I only have 20 minutes to write this morning.
This is going to be a short blog.

The third day of the workshop.

At the end of it, there was a Q&A time.
The students were curious about how Hino sensei came up with his theories and principles.
His answer was simple.
g On my own. h
g I know what I teach is right because I have examined it with my own body. h
The starting point of his long journey in Budo was just curiosity.
He was a professional jazz drummer, and he wanted to improve his techniques.
He instinctively looked at the philosophy in Budo, and felt that there might be something worth learning there.

g There is a saying in Budo: _悭𐧂  ju wo yoku go wo seisuru (roughly meaning that the soft and flexible conquers the tough and strong). I went to many so-called Budo dojo, martial arts practice places, to see if the saying was really true. But what I saw was the complete opposite; the big, tough guys were throwing the weaker ones to the ground. So, I thought that there was no one I could learn true Budo from. Then I decided to examine the saying on my own. h

The students seemed a bit lost and in deep thought while listening to his story.
g You need to doubt what you think you know. That ' s the only way you can really grow. We are being limited by other people ' s knowledge and common sense c and most of all your own assumptions and accumulated knowledge. Doubt all those things and examine on your own. h

g Of course, I still doubt myself all the time. That ' s why I ' m still growing. h
Hino sensei ' s final words for the day left the students in humble silence.

 

Get in contact!

The last day of the workshop.

There were much fewer students than previous days.
The atmosphere was intimate and concentrated because only those who really wanted to learn stayed in the room.
It was a long day, from 9am to 5pm.
But in the end all the students ' faces were smiling and bright.

One of the main themes in the workshop was the relationship with others. In dance, it is often the case that dancers are so self-absorbed that they g forget h others on the stage.
Even if it is a duet piece, when you are just doing the choreography, there would not be a real connection, a real relationship between the two.

To move at the same time with others, to move together.
To really move your partner instead of your doing your own movement that results in your partner ' s following you.
To be moved by your partner instead of constructing your movement that you think would go along with your partner ' s movement.

Those things are not so difficult to understand.
But when you actually try to do them, you ' d realize how you are in your own head and locked in there all the time, while you are physically in contact with your partner.

g It ' s been really nice to work this way c trying to be one with others and trying to feel and read what my partner want. I was always thinking about how I should move and how I can be better. All about myself. So, it ' s good to realize that there is a different way of working, h one of the students commented at the end.

g What I have been teaching you is to train and educate your own body so that it can connect with other human beings, h Hino sensei repeated his main point one last time to his students.
g Plus, don ' t you just feel good when you are in contact with other people like that? h

g Yes. h We all smiled.

 

A day off

A day off.

We decided to be tourists for a day.
Just to walk around the city, to see some famous buildings and places, to take pictures of them, and to eat at a local restaurant.
It was cold and windy outside, but the sun was out in a clear sky.
The lesser amount of daylight and the long hours of darkness have been making my teachers feel tired and sleepy all the time.
So, a clear, sunny day was a welcome relief for them.

One thing I really admire about my teachers, besides their techniques and skills, is their extraordinary ability to listen to other people.
It is always great to have a conversation with them because they listen to my stories and tell theirs to me as if they have never heard or told them before.
They almost instantly find their interest in other people ' s stories and become engaged in the conversation.
Even when no one is saying anything and there is this awkward silence, they never rush to fill the silence.
Rather, they seem to enjoy the silence as an opportunity to reflect and dwell even deeper into the conversation subject.
Usually when that happens, the conversation gets far more interesting and deliciously unpredictable.
Sometimes we are so engaged that we forget the passage of time.

They practice what they teach all the time in real life.
To really listen to and connect with others.
It is a life-long thing, quite literally.

 

A day off 2

 

A day off again.

Went to the Skansen zoo with my teachers during the day.
We wanted to see wolves and reindeer.
But the wolves were so cautious that they never came out of wherever they were hiding.
The reindeer were ok.
They were much smaller than we had imagined.
g Can ' t they really pull the big cart with Santa and all the presents in it?? h
We also looked for bears.
The only thing we found was a sign that said,
g The bears are hibernating. h

For dinner, I had the most delicious fried pork with tomato sauce.
Of course, Kazuko sensei did it all. She has been giving me many tips on cooking.
I think I ' ll be more active in feeding myself well when I get back to Helsinki.

Just to make a quick note to myself to remember.
Need to elaborate later.
Hino sensei ' s philosophy as I understand it:

- The body as a part of nature and the universe should take precedence over the brain, the human intellect that governs reason and logical thinking. Not the other way around.
- Humanity had taken a wrong turn when we had started to rely solely on ideation and logic to make moral decisions. We need to come back to the body. The body is a genius.

 

It ' s all so new!

The first day of the workshop at Cullberg Ballet Company.

It ' s been my impression that Sweden is such a rich country, at least materially.
The theatre facility for the Cullberg workshop is specifically designed for touring productions.
It has several black box theatres for rehearsals, twelve dance studios, a restaurant, individual locker and dressing rooms, showers, huge scene, costume, prop, and welding shops, offices and so on.
g No wonder all the Japanese dancers who come here don ' t want to go back to Japan c . They have everything here! h
Hino sensei exclaimed.

There were about 20 dancers in the workshop.
The biggest difference between the university students and the professional dancers is the degree of curiosity and wonder.
When Hino sensei demonstrates something, the dancers look simply amazed and amused, and they try to imitate it right away.
Almost always they fail or do something entirely different and wrong.
But their curiosity gets higher because of it.
So they try and try again.
Of course there are always exceptions, the ones who look completely lost and gradually become aloof.
The overall atmosphere, however, was lively.

Many dancers said that what Hino sensei teaches is something they had never experienced in their training before.
It feels such a radical way of looking at the body and mind to them.
So different, so alien.
g Think of it this way. If I had the same way of thinking as you do, would there be anything for you to learn? I ' m different, that ' s why you can learn from me! h
Hino sensei laughed.

 

Get lost!

The second day of the workshop at Cullberg.

I ' ve always admired dancers because of their extraordinary physical abilities and flexibility.
But I haven ' t yet encountered a dance performance where I was nailed to my seat, spellbound.
I ' ve seen many impressive performances, but not to the extent of my heart ' s being totally penetrated.
Having seen Hino sensei teach dancers, I started to understand why.

g You see me do all these forms and the result of my doing the forms. Then you try to replicate my forms c But forms only. The thing is that you can do that very well, copying the form, because of your high physical ability.
But that is not enough. You need to be able to feel what is actually happening in your body when you execute all these forms. That kind of inner sensibility and concentration changes the quality of movement. h

The dancers seemed overwhelmed by the huge challenge that lies ahead of them.
g It ' s a very good thing that you are facing something totally over your head, h Hino sensei smiled.
Welcome to a whole new world c though not at all g pleasant h , but it ' s real.

 

The Body of Zen

The third day of the workshop at Cullberg Ballet.

The exercises Hino sensei asks dancers to do are simple and few.
They practice one thing for a long time to discover as many things as possible about their own bodies.
g My workshop is not about teaching you the tricks and techniques of martial arts. It ' s about you, your discovering and getting to know your own body. h

After a certain amount of confusion and struggle filled up the dancers ' minds, he would take questions from them. Most of the time, they don ' t even know what to ask.
But what seems to interest them most is the philosophy of Budo, which is zen. What is it exactly?

I don ' t have enough time this morning to write what I think zen is. Maybe later on, when I get back to Helsinki , my mind will be a bit clearer and calmer to tackle the topic.
But for now, I ' ll just jot down the things I thought were important while Hino sensei was talking about the philosophy of Budo.

-Simply, it is a philosophy in practice. It doesn ' t exist in the intellectual sphere.
-It is about living, not about understanding living.
-One has to be in deep, real contact with life.
-As long as g I h want to understand something, the body is confined in the narrow field of consciousness.
-All the borders are illusions, the mind ' s creations. g You h and g I h , for example.
-The truth is paradoxical only on the surface, only to the eyes of the shallow mind.

Oops, I have to go now c

 

The Body of Zen .2

So, to continue from yesterday.

The fourth day of the workshop at the Cullberg Ballet.

Before the workshop began for the day, one of the dancers came up to Hino sensei, crying.
She told him that she wouldn ' t be able to attend that day because her grandmother passed away and she was in great distress.
Hino sensei held her hand and then let her go.
g She should be glad that her grandma now can go to heaven. She ' s no longer in pain. That should make her happy, rather than sad. c You need to look at life like that, h
he said afterwards.

During the workshop, none-doing, the absence of a desire to do something is one thing that drives every dancer crazy.
Hino sensei repeatedly tells them,
g You ' re just thinking about moving, and the body isn ' t actually moving on its own, h
g Don ' t try to move your body. All you do is listen to the body, feel what it ' s doing. That results in movement. You don ' t ever do the movement, h
g As long as your desire is the initiator of movement, I can see your desire only, not the body. That is not dance, h
g You don ' t do the dance. Be the dance. h
Most of them can feel the depth and profundity of what their teacher is telling them. But they have no idea how to do all that in actuality. g How come we can ' t have a desire to move the body? If there is no desire, the body wouldn ' t move in the first place! h
Hino sensei laughs,
g There are desires. There always have been. For example, your desire to live. That ' s why you ' re still living now, right? But do you ever think about that desire? I don ' t think so. You just live. So there. Simple. There is a desire, and there is this thing you want to achieve (to live). You can achieve it because you never think about the desire. h

So, none-doing, the absence of a desire to do something is pointed towards one ' s consciousness, ego maybe.
g You h should not be aware of the desire to do something. As soon as you think about doing something, it is no longer a pure desire. It is just a thought about it, therefore not real.

I ran out of time for today.
Gotta go.

 

The Body of Zen .3

The fifth, the last day of the workshop at the Cullberg was quite interesting.

The theme was connection.

They had been working on how to connect the parts of the body (for example, the elbows, the shoulders, the spine, the pelvis, and the knees) by feeling or creating the stretch between the parts.
It may sound simple, but almost all of us have only vague ideas about the parts, therefore cannot connect them precisely.
When you can ' t connect them precisely, you can ' t move them separately either.
g You think you know where your elbow is. But you don ' t know your elbow at all. In fact, when I tell you to move only your elbow, it is clear that so many other places in your body are also moving. Get to know your elbow. Find out how to do that. What point in your elbow are you trying to move? Find that out for yourself! h
Hino sensei points out the subtlest movement most of us consider as being
g still h .
The dancers try and try to move just a point in the elbow and nothing else c to no avail. Gradually they become disheveled, completely lost.
They feel as if they don ' t know anything about their own bodies anymore.
g Now you know that you don ' t know, right? It is very important that you know that. All these exercises are not to make you able to do something with your body. They are to make you realize that you actually don ' t know anything. That ' s the starting point of your training. Then you can really try to improve. h
g When you are able to truly be aware of which point in your body that ' s moving, you can connect such points, which then becomes a whole body movement. h

Another crucial aspect of connection c the connection with others.

The simplest exercise Hino sensei does is called ʌ  shomen-mukaiai, directly facing one another.
You stand in front of your partner, matching your center line of energy with his/hers.
It is not about making eye contact although you look each other in the eye.
g It isn ' t that you try to stand dead center to your partner by using your eyes. You need to feel the energy that really runs through and emanates from your center line and catch your partner ' s with yours. h
So they try.
Some start to stare, some become self-absorbed, trying to
g feel h the energy line, and some just don ' t have a clue.
g Do you really know what you ' re doing? Can you really feel that you ' re connected? c Let me show you, h
Hino sensei randomly stands in front of one of the dancers.
g Right here! h
he declares.
g Wow. Yes, h
the dancer is totally taken aback by a sudden, vibrant connection born between them.

 

During one of the last Q&A sessions, the issue of connecting with others came up.
g Is there any difference between c let ' s say, when you really like someone and there ' s chemistry and you feel connected to that person, and the connection you speak of? h
was the question that interested many.

Hino sensei ' s answer was yes.
g When you say, e I like this person, therefore I can connect with him/her better than that person I really don ' t like ' , you are not talking about the connection we ' re practicing here at my workshop. It is not on the level of like or dislike. It isn ' t about feelings or emotions. It ' s the connection on a much more fundamental level, the level of life. The connection of life, so to speak. h
The dancers thought on it for a while, and another question popped up.
g How did you arrive at that kind of connection? Has any existing philosophy, theology, or religion helped you? h
g I found out on my own. I didn ' t rely on other people ' s ideas. I ' ve never heard of anything or anyone who genuinely and thoroughly deals with this level of connection, h
Hino sensei replied.
g But I think there are philosophies and religions that are similar to what you say. I think they are aiming at the same thing, but in different ways c , h
one of the dancers objected.
g Maybe so. I just don ' t read those philosophy or religious books. But have you ever seen anyone who actually does what he/she preaches? Have you actually experienced that kind of connection with him/her? h

Then, he and Kazuko sensei his wife stood up and faced each other in the middle of the circle of dancers.
The air between the two was tight, dense, and alive.

Silence.

g Words are just words. They are not the thing itself. We ' re often trapped in words and get our heads confused like now. They are like a lighthouse, you see? They just point at the thing you need to pay attention to. So don ' t worry if you don ' t understand what I ' m talking about. Don ' t look at my words. Look at what I do, h Hino sensei laughed heartily and ended the session.

 

In Retrospect ? What does it have to do with me?

Now I ' m back in Helsinki, trying to recollect and organize all the things my teachers told and talked about while we were in Stockholm.
Listening and watching them,
I felt as if I ' d been exposed to the profundity and intensity of life that normally takes one ' s lifetime to reach or discover.
I didn ' t officially record or transcribe what they said. I was so busy in listening to them; it was more important for me to be aware of how their teachings and stories resonated with me than to try religiously to capture them verbatim.
As I try to digest and comprehend what I experienced, not just intellectually but with my entire body, what I write hopefully will allow the reader to feel the glimpse of their greatness.

*******

I ' m an actor.
So, what does Budo,
the philosophy of the body Hino sensei teaches, have to do with me and my acting?

The simple answer is g everything h because it directly deals with the body as the fundamental of all things both visible and invisible. In other words, there is something called g the body h based on which I can live and create.
It is not some illusion or just ideas. It is a real thing.

That is in itself such exciting news.
But, to put it deeper in the context of acting, I need to share my struggles as an actor.

 

I started to realize the significance of Budo and how it relates to acting during one of Hino sensei ' s workshops in Japan.

I was working with a partner whom I didn ' t know well.
She was giving me feedback that didn ' t sound right to me.
g Did you really think so? h
I asked her, skeptical. Hearing our conversation, Kazuko sensei walked up to me and said,
g Takeda-san, you have to believe what your partner is saying to you. That ' s one objective observation that ' s given to you. It doesn ' t matter how you think you did. How your partner perceived what you did--- that ' s all that matters. You have to be grateful for that. And in return, when you give some feedback to your partner, you need to really pay attention and articulate what you saw and felt. You are responsible for your partner ' s growth. h

Her words struck me like a lightning. I ' d been so self-centered and self-absorbed that I couldn ' t really listen to others.
It was an embarrassing moment, but also an eye-opening one.

 

Later in the same workshop, we did an exercise where sitting face to face with a partner, one had to say g Hello h to one ' s partner until the word really
g reached out h to him/her. I sucked big time in this exercise.
g Don ' t act. Just say hello and mean it. h What a simple instruction c but I could not do it for a long time. Every time I utter the word, it sounded
g fake h to my partner. The only time she said g yes h
to my hello was when I got teary-eyed due to embarrassment and frustration.

g See? This is what most of us do all the time in real life. We say things we don ' t really mean. We hardly face one another directly, h
Hino sensei commented.

 

And then, there was one more very illuminating experience at the workshop c .
Hino sensei asked a pair to stand facing each other in front of a group of other workshop participants.
g All you have to do is to walk up to each other and shake hands. If your fellow participants can see the real connection between you two, they ' ll say e Yes ' . But if there isn ' t anything, a e No ' will be thrown at you. h

What a depressing exercise as you have to take a big g No h one after the other no matter how hard you try c .

g You just think you ' re connecting. But you ' re not doing the actual act of connecting. The audience only sees your desire to connect, h
Hino sensei said.

As you the reader realize, it is the same thing he had been repeatedly telling to the students and dancers in Stockholm---
g Don ' t try to move your body. Let it move on its own. When you try to move, I can only see your desire to move. h

What the performer tries to do is not the thing the audience sees.
What is being expressed to the audience is not the thing the performer thinks he/she is expressing.

 

So, what is expression then?

Hino sensei has given me a big hint on how to tackle and investigate that question.

g In Budo, it is very crucial that I don ' t e show ' what I ' m about to do to the opponent. Otherwise I would get killed. I have to be extremely aware of how I ' m being seen by others. This high awareness of being seen is also crucial in the performing arts. The only difference is that you the actors and dancers choose to let others see what you do on stage. h

 

The third eye, the objective eye c whatever you call it, it is the awareness of being seen and looking at oneself from a distance.
It is one thing that allows the performer to really practice expression.
To know what it means to express something on stage.

How to develop such awareness is a big, exciting challenge that lies before me now.

I ' ll face the challenge with the body, not with my head.

 

by Yuko Takeda

 

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