February 12th, 2006

Dance

Excellent Saturday

I woke up early (10:00. Early for a Saturday, anyway) so I could go to the Katori Shinto Ryu class. I met one of the senseis and several students. Class began with a half hour of meditation, which I participated in, then stepped to the sidelines while they did iaido katas for about half an hour to warm. Towards the end of the warm up I talked with one of the students who also taught last night's aikido weapons class. He told me more about what they studied (iaido, kenjutsu with the katana, wakizashi, and both at once, bo staff, yari, naginata, tanto, and classical strategy) and the format for class (meditation, iaido kata warm ups, individual instruction, paired kata). It seems they require you to train with a live blade but the school has extra available for lone. That makes me nevrvous but I could deal.

The class itself seems to be focused more on satsujinken than I' like. There are two sword principles in aikido, katujinken and satsujinken. The former means "sword of life" and is an open and expansive mindset when wielding the blade. The latter means "sword of death" and is an aggressive attitude focused on defeating one's opponent. The difference is best illustrated in a story I was told by Richard Harnack Sensei, my first sensei's teacher:

Another aikido sensei invited me to watch as one of his students tested for his black belt. The student did everything right for the openhanded portion of the test and began the weapons portion. He took his bokken and began doing kengi one, the first sword form you learn as a white belt. I watched him do the form and everything was right but something felt off about it. The other sensei agreed so we asked him to do it again. Again there was the same sense of being off. After a third time it still felt off but we didn't know what to do to correct it so I asked the student, "What are you thinking."

He replied, "I see my enemy before him and I cut him down but he backs up so I ski forward to stab him in the throat! Then another enemy comes at me from behind so I pivot around and cut him in half and I-"

"Stop," I said. "Why are you so angry?"
We study the sword in aikido for a variety of reasons. Nearly all the empty hand techniques come from sword techniques. The sword also teaches you about timing and distance. It is a meditative device. And when you do paired kata you learn to harmonize your movements with someone else. That is what is ment by katsujinken.

I don't know if I could study effectively at this place. I think I could study it by changing the mindset. I hope so. I wish I could bring Jessa here to show her and ask about it. I'll probably speak to Cathy Sensei about it.

At any rate it's a moot point for some time. During the lesson I got a call asking me to come for a job interview. Today. So I leave the lesson, go put on a suit, and go to the interview. Only it's not an interview, it's a scheduling. They've given me the job, now it's just figuring out when I work.

So ladies and gentlemen, I am now working at Cool Runnings, three four-hour shifts as a waiter and three as a bartender each week (schedule to be posted later). Cool Runnings is a Jamaican restaurant, rather reminiscent of the Jamaican version of a French bistro. They're food is amazing. While I was waiting to work out scheduling they fed me a plate of spiced pork. Oh God was it good. The most tender meet I've ever tasted, with a side of absolutely incredible red beans and rice that just melted in your mouth and a salad with delicious crisp vegetables. And yes they have vegitarian food too. Located just across University Ave. from Union South. Actually it's right under Latin Palace, the new Latin nightclub I like. So good times all around.

Only downside is that with the schedule we worked out I can't take the Katori Shino Ryu classes. Oh well. When larp ends I'll see about changing my schedule. For now I'll be content with the aikido weapons classes.

Later I headed down to Beloit for larp. The game was great, despite my having to leave and come back halfway through for the advanced swing lesson and also having no direct plot. me_actor_ug's character needs to get back. Very good game.

Then it was over to Pearson's for the rest of dance. Had a few good dances with shadow1869, one of the best I've had with lacrimawanders in, well ever, and lots with lots of other people (my appologies if I didn't give a specific mention). God I love dance.

Then there was a dinering posse with lex_of_green, runthebear, jinxmurphy, mythic, resplendant_sun, and Illana. Good group, good conversation, surprisingly good steak, and bad eggs.

Fucking awesome Saturday.
Dance

Volunteering

So I went dancing tonight up in Waunakee at the Dollar Dance to benefit the Red Cross. Good dance but that's not the point. They had a number of dance teachers there auctioning off private lessons to help raise money. Still not the point.

One of the teachers is apparently close friends with this guy, Anthony something or other, who founded the public school ballroom dance program in New York City as a youth outreach program. She's trying to start a similar program in Wisconsin. All this was just a way for her to introduce the guy (he was actually there) who was giving away some movies as door prizes, but when she got off stage I went and talked to her about volunteering to help her with the program. She was very excited and we're going to talk about it on Tuesday. I don't know if I know enough to teach, but at the very least I should be able to help with coordinating stuff with the schools, organizing volunteers, etc.

I've been looking for something to volunteer with to give back to the communty and this is just awesome.
Dance

Manhood

I've been reading Norah Vincent's Self Made Man. I first heard about Vincent from feralkiwi posted an interview with her on NPR. Later that night she was on the Colbert Report. In both cases she was discussing the book. Essentially she spent a year disguised as a man. She socialized with men, dated women, spent time in a monastary, visited strip clubs, joined the work force, and participated in a men's group. It's a good book. The "man from Mars" perspective serves not only her but the reader. Women may appreciate the book but I highly recommend it to men.

I don't consider myself an emotionally disconnected man. I've never thought of myself as having trouble talking about my feelings. I freely indulge in a lifestyle many consider effemenate and homosexual. Yet my identiy is that of a man.

Judaism tells me I became a man when I was Mitzvahed. Typical macho bullshit tells me I became a man when I first had sex. Though they've never said as much, I'm fairly certain my parents feel that I became a man when I left for school. But to me there was never any clear line. For starters there was a stage between boy and man, a stage many people reference but never really consider. No, not even Dave Barry. I refer, of course, to my time as a guy. I have talked before about the difference between a nice guy and a good man. The positive adjectives affect the situation but their are similarities between the term relations.

While Vincent is dimissive of the notion of ceremonies to commemorate transitions of masculinity I think such things are necessary. I can recall several such ceremonies in my own life: my bar mitzvah, of course. Confirmation. My initiaton in the Order of the Arrow (a service organization opperated by the Boy Scouts) and subsequent promotion to Brotherhood. Graduation from highschool and Hebrew school. Many were meaningful. Many were not. All were necessary.

A ceremony is about change but the flaw many people, including Vincent, make with them is they believe the ceremony causes the change. It doesn't, it marks it. This is why I didn't march last May; it would have been a meaningless ceremony because I'd still have school to go through. By the same token I traveled to New Jersey my first night back east to go dancing. It wasn't a concious ceremony but in retrospect it has all the elements of one: a journey, ceremonial objects (music, dance, special clothing), and I was welcomed into a community. It was quite literally a ceremony initiating me into another culture, and yes it related to manhood too, a display of virility and potency. While I strongly favor the dissociation of sexuality and dance, or at least not making their association mandatory, the fact remains it was present. Demonstrate your ability to attract a woman in front of the community. Symbolic mating.

Was that when I became a man? No. There was no specific point, no one thing. But I the ceremony doesn't make the man. The ceremony was the result of it. Was it last semester? The summer?

What does it mean to be a man?

Vincent provides no answers. She sympathizes with the state but never attempts to define it. Transexuals disprove the idea that a man is defined by a penis and testicles. Besides, how many times have we heard the phrase, "be a man." If my penis makes me a man why do I have to put forth effort to be one? Why aren't children men? No, one must become a man and it requires more than simply waiting for one's testicles to drop. So how does one become a man? Is it a change of self or of action?

Is someone a man because of something he is or something he does?

Clearly the latter affects the former, therefore a man is defined by his actions. But what actions? Withstanding pain? Demonsrations of physical strength? Sexual potency? These are some of the traditional things that are said to make a man but I can't accept that. By those standards a man is a brute. Other traditional signs of manhood include providing for a family, safeguarding loved ones, the ability to defend oneself, and so forth. These are a bit better but not overly so.

It's possible that the situation is backwards. These are signs of being a man but being a man is what makes them possible. I am a man and therefore I protect my loved ones, I provide for them, I endure what must be endured because it must. Can a woman do these things? Yes but they are not traits of being a woman. She may do them out of choice or out of sound reason. I do them because of what I am: a man.