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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Budo on the Beach


This year I spent my winter holidays in Japan. This was my first time away from home over the holidays but non-stop eating, relaxing and running from house to house to see friends and their families kept me so busy that I almost felt at home however there was something missing. Something I have done every year for the last five years, something I like to call “New Years Day Training”. This is where on New Years Day a few friends and I put on white suits and head down to the beach. Hoping no one mistakes us for escaped inpatients from the local insane asylum; we do some Karate and then jump in to the ocean. All hangovers are instantly cured and ever- growing bonds are built between a few crazy men and women who have kept up this tradition; In ice- covered snow that made our feet bleed, after horrific windstorms that filled our jogging trails with new and exciting obstacles and on a few years, despite how ever many times I have told you “Canada is not as cold as you think”, we have had to literally break the ice before entering the ocean.

When I realized I was not going home for New Year's, I began telling everyone I met who had any interest in Budo about this annual tradition. This mostly resulted in me being called crazy. My continual attempts at recruitment were turned down by all but two wonderful Japanese men, Tatsuya and Takahiro. Tatsuya my current Aikido training partner, loves the ocean just enough to have been tempted by my proposal. Takahiro is the younger brother of a good friend of mine.  His sister and I harassed him until he sleepily agreed. He has some Karate and boxing experience and though he seemed hesitant to come, I think he was much more attracted to this crazy tradition than he had initially let on.

By quarter past one the three of us were at Beishinji jumping around on the sand in our bare feet while the waves rolled in. It was a “warm” ten degrees Celsius, the skies were clear and the air was fresh. We kicked the sand, punched the air, took some knees to the guts, and threw each other around until our feet were numb. Finally, we faced the ocean, assumed a long deep front stance, and counting in Japanese advanced forward one punch at a time. The first ten brought us to the edge of the water, the next ten took us waist deep then I yelled ten more. We punched into the waves until we were up to our ears in saltwater. We all dove in and ran back out as fast as possible.

In an almost sadistic fashion I asked the boys to assume seiza. Sitting at the edge of the ocean, water crashed against our knees while we took a moment to meditate. After a few seconds Tatsuya asked “mukusou yame?” I said “no” and we sat there reflecting on the years past and dreaming of the year to come for a little longer. We then bowed our heads to the ocean and the beautiful world around us. Then we bowed to each other “Otagai ni rei” and acknowledge ourselves as equals, shared some congratulatory high fives and took a few more dips in the ocean.

Once we were all cleaned up, we sat in my friend's mother's van and shared some traditional Japanese food served during New Year's Day called Osechi Ryori. I was especially fond of the cream cheese filled Kamaboko, that strange processed fish cake I am sure you have all tried at least once. I showed pictures of my Canadian New Year's Day training past and explained about the Polar Bear Swim. My friends could not believe that hundreds of people show up every year on January first to dive into Vancouver’s share of the Pacific Ocean. Tatsuya told us about how when he was in Hawaii he would get up at sunrise on New Year's Day to surf. To me being up for sunrise is far crazier then swimming in icy waters. Sharing this tradition with my new friends was the highlight of my holidays. Being in the ocean made me feel alive and got me excited for the New Year to come. I enjoyed it so much I am debating on having another swim on Chinese New Year is anyone interested in joining me?

Read it in The Mikan

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