Persimmon Wind - A Martial Artist's Journey In Japan
This is a continuation from Dave Lowry's first book, Autumn Lightning. After having been trained in Yagyu Shinkage Ryu swordsmanship, Dave Lowry travels to Japan... this is the story of his time in Japan. Personnally, I enjoyed the first book somewhat more, but this is quite good as well.
Table of Contents Chapter 1. Nara... Rain 1 Chapter 2. Echoes of the Past 15 Chapter 3. Mountains 35 Chapter 4. Suwa, Home of the Past 39 Chapter 5, Glimpses of the Warrior 59 Chapter 6. Snowy Heron at Dusk 85 Chapter 7. The Sound of the Rocks 87 Chapter 8. Touchstones 113 Chapter 9. Obligations 127 Chapter 10. The Sound, The Sign, The Symbol 145 Chapter 11, The Bamboo's Suppleness, the Hardness of a Rock 169 Chapter 12. Noodles and the Art of the Slurp 187 Chapter 13, Withered and Chill 193 Chapter 14. Harakiri 211 Chapter 15, Yagyu Village 223 Chapter 16. A Persimmon Wind 249 Chapter 17. A Fall of Golden Leaves 271 About the Author 273
By Wayne Muromoto
I've known Dave Lowry for over ten years now and yet it was only last year, when he came to Hawaii, that we finally met, odd?
Perhaps. Our friendship, which has deepened and ripened over the years, has been long distance, and we have gleaned each other's thoughts through long rambling letters, he and I. And I have come to respect Dave as a martial artist and as a human being on a very straight and humble path.
We first met when he wrote me after an article of mine had appeared in a martial arts publication. He had a host of questions for me. Those questions were about the martial arts I was studying at that time, but they also told me a lot about Dave. Obviously, he knew more of martial arts-in particular the koryu (older martial arts schools of Japan created before 1860) -- than the average American budoka.
I answered his questions as best I could and, as part of my reply, had questions of my own. Yes, I had read his excellent book, Autumn Lightning, and marveled at his ability to capture the mood and spirit of the koryu. As a fellow writer, I was also impressed by his writing. He had a definite and sensitive style, a way of setting prose down that ranked him with the best authors writing about the contemporary Asian-American experience, Who was this guy? How did a haole from the Midwest learn so much about older Japanese traditions? Where did he develop a knowledge of customs, rituals, and meanings that most Japanese-Americans (and most young native Japanese, I should add), caught between two very different cultures, have long since lost?
Thus developed a long and mutually rewarding correspondence. Each letter between us was full of questions. In performing a temae (tea ceremony form), Dave noticed something about a certain movement. Would I clarify its meaning? Certainly. But by the way, I would write back, what did his style of swordsmanship, the Shinkage-ryu, say about the meaning of the character of kage in their name, a term laden with philosophical implications for all martial artists?
We wrote, and gradually and inevitably there crept into our correspondence details about our personal lives and our opinions about things other than the martial arts. He avidly followed my lengthy stay in Japan. We wrote to each other not only of the bonding experiences of budo, but also of the universal human experiences of our love, our disappointments, joys, triumphs, and happiness.
The everyday world is always with each of us. We have to pay our bills, maintain our family ties, bond with friends and lovers, get up and go to work. Yet in the cracks and crannies of our lives are the things that make life worthwhile: the satori-like enlightenment one is hit with looking at a newborn baby, the sudden and unexpected brush with a spiritual "otherness" while wielding a brush or a bokken during practice, the taste of a bitter cup of tea whisked by a beautiful woman. Those moments lead us along the path, the michi or do of becoming a human being. Each of us, in our own way, walks a path. Some of us are farther along than others, some of us have stumbled and lost our way in the forest. Some have taken a simple and straightforward path, others have to take a long, grueling, and little-traveled road.
Dave has taken the particularly difficult path to enlightenment of the bugeisha, the martial artist. Many others stumble along this way because they are cognizant only of the bu-element of the word "bugeisha." They know their study is of the martial, the arts of war and conflict. But a true bugeisha is also a person (sha) trying to transform the arts of battle (bu) into a study of beauty and universal truths, or gei. Very few martial artists, even in Japan, grow mature enough at such an early age to attain this realization. The flash and color of tournaments, of fleeting notoriety, of stardom and glamour, capture them and lead them too far astray.
And yet, one of the deepest techniques of the koryu was not of winning a tournament or a battle. Passed along from master to disciple was the short phrase; satsujinto, katsujinken. "A sword that kills, a sword that gives life." Dave was confronted with this Zen-like koan because centuries ago, a master of the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu, Yagyu Tajima-no-Kami Munenori, wanted to know the great Zen master Takuan's opinion about the true goal of martial arts.
A small-minded martial artist, even if his technique was excellent, would only be aware of the martial arts as a tool for personal gain, The bugei, the warrior arts, would then be only a sword that kills other people, a mere method for destruction. And if he saw beyond that, this martial artist would only perceive these arts as a vehicle for petty fame and ego-satisfaction-or worse, for unscrupulously making ill-gotten money.
The true bugeisha knew the real meaning of satsujinto, katsujinken. The sword that kills does not destroy other human beings. It is the sword of justice, the sword of light. The sword slays the darkness of our souls, giving new life to the bugeisha. How is this sword tempered, honed, and wielded? By unceasing diligence, in the practice hall and in one's daily life-most especially in one's daily life, for it is there that the real battles of the soul are fought and defeat and victory are decided. The martial arts then become an integral part of the bugeisha's life, as he opens himself up to all that the world and society throws at him.
In Autumn Lightning, Dave took us on his first steps along his own path of the bugeisha. In this present book, he leads on from where the first account ends, taking us further along his path to Japan, to a meeting with his martial arts teacher, and on a journey into the depths of his spirit. It is a beautiful account, one that fulfills the promise of his first book and one that is, in the end, bittersweet, sabishii. The path of the bugeisha is not only a rocky road, it is a lonely one. A teacher may set you on the path. But the bugeisha must walk the path, dependent only on himself and the mercy of God. This is Dave's own account of his continuing growth as he walks along the way of the bugeisha, which is but another trail that leads to becoming a true human being. I wrote that I know Dave Lowry very well, in spite of having only recently met him in person. But like you, the reader, I feel that through his writings, I have been lucky enough to have touched a bit of his spirit.
In 1968, Dave Lowry set out on an unusual apprenticeship. He was introduced to the techniques of the Shinkage-ryu, one of Japan's oldest schools of classical swordsmanship. Lowry's experiences learning this ancient craft were the subject of his first book, Autumn Lightninq. In 1987, more than a decade after his teacher had returned to Japan, Lowry followed, to reunite with his sensei, to visit the graves of others of his martial lineage, and to explore a country that, because of his involvement with its unique heritage, he saw through eyes quite different from those of the ordinary visitor. At the same time, Lowry's introduction to Japan served as an unexpected opportunity that brought him to terms with the extraordinary relationship that exists between teacher and student, with his own past, his place in the long line of swordsmen from whom he has come, and with the challenge he continues to face in integrating the cultural streams of East and West. This is the story of Persimmon Wind.
Persimmon Wind is a vivid account of the journey of a martial artist, or bugeisha, and one that is, in the end, bittersweet. The path of the bugeisha is not only a rocky road, it is a lonely one. A teacher may set you on the path- but the buqeisha must walk it, dependent only on himself and the mercy of God. This is Dave's own account of his continuing growth as he walks along the way of the buqeisha, another trail that leads to becoming a true human being.
Dave Lowry has written over 100 articles on the martial arts published in the U.S., Japan, and the U.K. His four monthly columns appear in Black Belt, Inside Karate, Furyu, and Fighting Arts International. In addition to Persimmon Wind, Dave has written four other books. He has also written frequently on women's health issues for Cosmopolitan and has served as health writer and contributing editor for Boardroom/Bottom Line. His articles on traditional Japanese culture have appeared regularly in Winds, the in-flight magazine of Japan Air Lines.