Last Thursday, we had a field trip to the Nanzenji temple in eastern Kyoto. At the backside of the temple complex there is a path into the forrest: a series of shallow steps ascends into the mountains and eventually terminates at a covered pavilion. Behind the pavilion is a narrow bridge over a ravine. The other side of the bridge is a hollow in a rock wall where water falls from a small stream above. This is a location that pilgrims use for misogi, or ritual purification by water. Misogi was a favored practice of aikido’s founder Ueshiba-sama, so Mugenjuku Kenshusei took the opportunity to experience the cleansing ritual for themselves.
It’s the rainy season here in Kyoto, so there is either rain or clouds almost every day. However, the weather cleared for us to make a morning trip to Nanzenji after the first morning ippan class. Our company included Izzy, Takenaga, and myself as well as Andy- and Chris-senseis, sewanin Nick, and a bevy of ippan students, part-time kenshusei, and overseas visitors, including Izzy’s sister.
The conditions were just about perfect: the sun was showing through the treetops, the air was warm, and the water cold but not icy. Beforehand, I imagined myself starting to shiver in the waterfall, but actually, as the water beats down on you, the force of it drives away the sensation of cold. Some of the droplets on the edge of the stream of water are painful but there is mostly just a crushing weight. The photo below shows the water cascading off the top of my head.
After the initial shock, I began to like standing in the water. The water is strong enough to push you over if you let it, so you have to develop a feeling for the stream and learn how to stand in it. Aikido.
I would have liked to have stayed in the waterfall as long as I could, but we had a large group to make way for. Most of the purgants chanted something. As I am not a Buddhist or Shintoist, I did not. However, I did enjoy some benefits of the experience, including the correction of a stiff and sore neck.
I would like to write something profound about the experience. In Angry White Pyjamas, the author mentions talking to a Yoshinkan hombu senshusei graduate who says that, while he was doing misogi, he realized that his body was “sh-t” and that he could “make it do anything”. Sometimes in morning keiko on the Kenshusei Course, I think this revelation would be nice to have. For now, I will have to stick with the sensation of feeling out of the water and the memories of sharing a beautiful morning with a great bunch of people.
Oldmanchris, Izzy, Izzy’s sister