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Posts from the ‘Japan’ Category

Jiro’s Hands


Photo: B. Fertman

Jiro’s Hands

Perhaps you have or have not seen the film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you have, what I say here will likely make you want to see it again. If you haven’t, you’ll be trying to find out where and when this film is showing.

Not because it’s about sushi, because it is about Jiro. If you’re an Alexander teacher, or if you are someone who uses your hands in your work, which is pretty much everyone, Jiro has a lot to teach you, a lot to show you.

Jiro is 85 years old. Growing up was difficult, not easy. But Jiro made it. Jiro became the embodiment of Bushido, the samurai code of honor.

Jiro’s hands do not look 85 years old because of the way he has used them in his work for 75 years. Nor does his body. Watch how he stands. Watch how he walks. Watch how he works.

You will see much in Jiro’s hands. You will see how free they are. You will see how there is no distortion in his hands. Most people, half Jiro’s age, already have what physical therapists refer to as “natural hand distortion.” Natural hand distortion may be normal, but it is not natural. Jiro’s hands are natural. When Marjorie Barstow, my primary Alexander teacher, was 92, (the last time I saw her), her hands looked just like Jiro’s hands.

Jiro’s hands often curve in a kind of semi-circle. His fingertips gently curl over as the center of his palm floats back, creating a recess in his hand. His wrists are relaxed, the underside of the wrist, the fair skinned side of the wrist lengthens slightly and opens. When his hands are working they are also resting.

Jiro’s hands are flexible. They assume any shape they need to, without undue effort, as he sculpts his ephemeral works of art to the delight of his patrons. My friend and teacher Erika Whittaker would have loved Jiro’s soft, sensitive, supple hands. No doubt.

Erika began studying Alexander’s work when she was eight years old with her aunt, Ethel Webb. She kept studying for another 85 years. Erika was smart, astute, articulate, unassuming, and truly kind, yet not the least bit sentimental. Her memory was sharp, and she was not afraid to say it as she saw it.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQ_j0ksWRN0

Once Erika told me that the way Alexander taught students how to use their hands, and how Alexander actually used his hands were as different as night is from day. Erika said Alexander hands were strong and flexible, and non-formulaic. She said it looked and felt as if he was sculpting you from the inside out. There was no technique, no method.

Elisabeth Walker, currently our oldest living teacher, and another woman who brims with kindness, once gave me a photograph of Alexander working with a student’s ankle. She wanted me to understand that Alexander didn’t just work with a person’s head and neck. He went wherever he needed to go, did whatever he needed to do. Alexander was not bound by any “technique.” Everyday he just did his work. He worked on his craft, in a state of divine dissatisfaction and deep joy, like Jiro. That’s what masters do.

People who know me well feel my devotion to Alexander’s work. That is exactly the reason why I am, at times, saddened by what I see in the Alexander world. Erika was too. I remember sitting next to Erika watching a room full of lively Alexander teachers working together. She leaned over to me and whispered, “Look at those pancake hands! How are you supposed to be able to feel anything or communicate anything with hands like that?” Erika was a kind person. Obviously Alexander did not have pancake hands. She wasn’t being mean or critical. She was concerned. That’s all. She wanted us to have hands like Jiro.

Early on, 51 years ago, I learned how to use my hands functionally. By ten I defined myself as a gymnast, working out six hours a day, six days a week. As gymnasts we taught each other, and sometimes saved each other’s lives, by using our hands. We knew how to bring each other back into balance. Later, studying Aikido and Tai Chi, I learned more about using my hands functionally and sensitively, ironically so I could lead people off their balance.

But it was studying Chanoyu, Japanese Tea Ceremony, that taught me most about my hands. In Chado you learn how to prepare and serve food, and tea. You learn how to use an array of utensils. Every little movement becomes vital. You learn the simplest, easiest, most functional, and most beautiful way of doing every little thing. You learn how to serve. You learn more about a person through the way they use their hands than you do by looking at their face.

So when I see hands like Jiro’s, I bow deeply. I am moved. I weep without knowing exactly why. Perhaps from my sheer love of beauty, perhaps from witnessing such unwavering dedication.

May we all learn from Jiro, and from his hands, and one day, like Jiro, may our method become no method, our teaching no teaching. And may we become free, like Jiro, through a complete, lifelong, and joyful commitment to our work.

Gambatte. Courage.

A Mother’s Love

A Mother’s Love

For Siggi Busch

From A Body of Knowledge by Bruce Fertman

In a rose garden overlooking Yokohama pink, yellow, white, and red roses stood, fully open, their flowery faces turned toward the sun. Next to the garden was a community center where a workshop was taking place.

A woman around 70 was there with her son, around 40, who had what I refer to as an “unconventional” nervous system. There wasn’t anything wrong with his nervous system. It just wasn’t the kind most of us have. He had cerebral palsy. He didn’t look like one of those perfectly symmetrical roses in the rose garden. He was physically challenged but I’ve never met a person who wasn’t, so why bother to discriminate?

When I teach a workshop, I devote time to working individually with people, with their particular problems, literally, in a very hands-on way. You might say I am famous among some circles for the way I use my hands, having been at it for fifty years.

This tiny woman wanted to work on getting her not so tiny son out of his wheelchair and onto the toilet. She’d been helping him do this for a long time. She said it was finally taking its toll on her body, but she needed to be able to keep helping her son.

I spend a lot of time listening to people, and watching them do what they do. I don’t give much advice. I help make people sensitive, and through their newly acquired sensitivity, solutions present themselves.

So I asked this kind woman to show me how she gets her son out of his wheelchair and onto the toilet. I watched as she leveraged him out of his chair, turned him around, and sat him down on a bench. She did it amazingly well. After so many years of practice, she had this down. I was about to tell her there was no way I could help her, then it occurred to me to ask her to do it again, so I did.

I watched. I saw her make a particular movement, and immediately I asked her to stop. She did. I asked her if she had noticed the movement she had just made. She said she was not aware of having started yet. I told her she had started. I told her that, very quickly, she raised her right hand and ran it through her hair, perhaps to get her hair out of the way. I asked her again if she remembered doing that. She said no. I said okay.

I asked her to do that movement again.  Moichido kudasai. She did. She said, “I think I do that a lot.” I said, I think you do too. So desu. I said, since you do it a lot lets do it now, but let’s do it consciously. And lets slow it down a tad. Yukkuri onegaishimasu. She did. She looked at me a little confused, as people often do. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind doing it again, please, yet a little slower. Moichido kudasai. Totemo yukkuri desu. She did. I asked her to just keep doing that movement, very, very slowly, over and over again, and to feel the movement every time she made it.

The tears started welling up in her eyes, and then rolling down her cheeks. I told her I made people cry all the time. Nothing’s wrong, I told her. Daijyoubou. I asked her what was going on in there. Do desuka. She said, “I don’t think it is good for me to do this anymore.”  I asked, Why not?  Naze desuka? She said, “I think it’s too hard on my body.”  I said, Tabun. Maybe so.

I asked her, if it wasn’t good for her, then could she think of any other options? I spend a lot of my life asking questions. I don’t have the answers. People have their own answers. It’s a matter of finding the right question. She lowered her head, and didn’t move for about 30 seconds. I just waited. Something else I do a lot. Then she raised her head, looked around and saw her younger son. She asked him if he could help her. He bowed his head quickly, said Hai!, I blinked, and there he was standing next to his mom.  He looked happy. This younger brother was not little either. He was solid. Together they helped transfer this good man from the bench back into the wheelchair. As they were lowering him down into his wheelchair, from ear to ear a huge grin spread across the elder brother’s uplifted face. His eyes were shining.

Before me I saw Michelangelo’s third Pieta. Jesus is coming down from the cross. His legs have buckled. They’re twisted inwards, his knees turned all the way to the left. His lifeless left arm’s hanging, the hand rotated inwards all the way to the right. His whole body’s heavy, falling to the left. His head has dropped over to the side, like a dead weight.

Mary is down on one knee, under her son’s collapsed body. She’s right under him, supporting him selflessly, with her entire body. Behind Mary, Joseph is standing there looking at her, his huge left hand spreading across Mary’s back. He’s supporting Mary, supporting her dead son. He’s loving Mary.

But right here in front of me, at this moment, were two sons with their mom, all three alive and well. Everyone was helping everyone.  No one sacrificed. No one sacrificing. All I was seeing was a gift being given.

Who would have had any idea, not me, that out of one simple, kindly gesture toward oneself, that much love would be set free?

The workshop ended. Everyone walked out into the rose garden. No one spoke, but in that silence I could hear the roses singing.

Meditations on The Sensory World by Bruce Fertman

photo: Bruce Fertman

…from Chapter III  Touching Existence

It’s interesting how, for little kids, it’s sometimes natural for objects to come alive.  If you’ve raised little kids, or if you can remember back into your own childhood, there were special objects that were alive for you, or for your kids.  My daughter had a scarf she carried around everywhere, loved, and on occasion spoke to, a “mother substitute” I believe Walcot called it.  My son had a little stuffed rabbit with long ears.  Those ears definitely had feeling.  My kids were always gentle with these objects, which they loved and needed because, obviously, these objects were alive.

In his book, I and Thou, Martin Buber understands this profoundly. For Buber there are only two possibilities when it comes to relationships.  One, subject-to-object, or two, subject-to-subject.  Buber refers to the first as an I-It relationship, and to the second as an I-You relationship.  I-It relationships are utilitarian, and I-You relationships are existential, about mutual existence.

Buber goes into great depth around this simple idea.  He explains how you can be in an I-It relationship with a person. If the reason for the relationship is utilitarian, a person can turn into an It. What can this person do for me?  How can I best utilize this person?  This is not the best model for developing empathy, compassion, or kindness. But we do it a lot.  More than we might like to admit.

But, thankfully, we can also be in an I-You relationship with people, but not just with people, with anything. Of course if you are in an I-You relationship with another person, or with your beloved dog or cat, or with your blossoming apple tree in your backyard, you feel that this being is alive.  You feel their existence.  You are in their company.  The moment is primarily about being with, and less about getting anything from, or anything done.

In Japanese Tea Ceremony, Chanoyu, someone may have just prepared a bowl of tea for you. You receive the bowl into your hands, and you can sense that someone made this bowl. Maybe this bowl is 200 years old, and has been lovingly passed down in your family through the generations. They say love runs downstream. You can see where your ancestor’s lips have touched this bowl because a person trained in Tea knows there’s an exact place to drink from a tea bowl. Your lips go exactly to where their lips have been. You can feel their lips touching your lips.  You are in an I-You relationship with and through this object. You are being with this bowl beyond its utilitarian function. You touch this bowl, and literary and that means physically, you are touched by this bowl. You are communing. You are in a personal, and sacred, relationship.

It is not an overstatement to say that if you come to a felt understanding of this possibility, and you cultivate this imaginative, neurological, tactual way of relating to things, it will change your life forever.  Before Jews open a Torah, someone cradles the Torah like a baby and walks around the Temple as people sing to the Torah. People kiss their prayer shawl, then touch the Torah with the part of the shawl they just kissed. What would it feel like to pick up a book you love, like a favorite book of poems, or a spiritual text, and kiss the book before you opened it and read from it? I invite you to try that. Strangely enough, practicing this way of being in I-You relationships, with objects, trains you to be in I-You relationships with people, sometimes more than any psychological teachings could ever do.  It comes down to physical practice.

Here is my favorite quote about touching existence.

Being blind I thought I should have to go out to meet things, but I found that they came to meet me instead.  I have never had to go more than halfway, and the universe became the accomplice of all my wishes…If my fingers pressed the roundness of an apple, I didn’t know whether I was touching the apple or the apple was touching me.

As I became part of the apple, the apple became part of me. And that is how I came to understand the existence of things.

 As a child I spent hours leaning against objects and letting them lean against me. Any blind person can tell you that this exchange gives a satisfaction too deep for words…

Touching the tomatoes in the garden is surely seeing them as fully as the eye can see.  But it is more than seeing them. It is the end of living in front of things, and the beginning of living with them.

Jacques Lusseyran – from And There Was Light

 

Finding Your Peaceful Body

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Meditations on Physical Life by Bruce Fertman

Chapter III

Oh, I Forgot Something!

from the forthcoming book – The Slightest Shift – Meditations on Physical Life by Bruce Fertman

In Japan, people often have to take their shoes off and put their shoes on, many times a day.  If you have just stepped outside and realized that you forgot something, you can’t just run through the house with your shoes on. No, first your shoes must come off, and quickly. Then upon leaving you must manage, at the same time, to walk and wiggle into your shoes!  This takes many years of practice.  You must get good at this if you want to live in Japan, because people in Japan are on the go, and being late is not good, not good at all.

You would think that everyone would be wearing shoes that are really easy to take off and put on, like clogs, or uggs, but most people don’t. Most people wear shoes with laces, laces you are supposed to tie and then untie. But there is simply no time for such details. This means that the part of the shoe, technically referred to as “the heal collar”, the back rim of the shoe, undergoes severe abuse, especially as everyone tries to get back into their shoes as they are walking, or even running!

Because of this “shoes off” custom in Japan, which I find extremely sensible, you can often see shoes, all in a row, just standing there waiting for their people to come back. It’s easy to anthropomorphize about shoes, because they record how we stand and how we walk, how we put them on, and how we take them off.  Old shoes strike us a very human. In Japan, most of the shoes, standing there next to each other, look pretty sad, wiped out, and beat up.

One day, I saw a particularly unhappy row of shoes.  They looked miserable. I started feeling bad for them. It was as if, for a moment, they were alive and I could feel what their poor bodies felt like, all busted up, battered, and broken.  If they were alive, and if they could talk, and if they had rights, they would all be on their phones calling the domestic violence hotline for battered shoes.

That’s when I had this idea. What if objects could feel?  What if objects had nervous systems? What if objects, every object could feel every little thing we did to them?   To be continued…

第三章

あっ、わすれものしちゃった!

ブルース・ファートマンの近刊予定著書 “The Slightest Shift – Meditations on Physical Life” より抜粋

一日に何度も何度も、靴を脱いだりはいたりしなければならないのは、日本ではよくあることです。ちょうど出がけに忘れ物に気付いたら、靴をはいたままで家の中に走り込むことなどできません。そうです、まず、第一に、靴をぬがなければなりません。それも急いでです。そして、再び家を出る時には、靴の中に足を突っ込みながら歩きださなければならないのです!これができるようになるには、すこしばかりの歳月が必要です。日本に住みたいと思うなら、これが上手にならないといけません。日本では、みんな本当に忙しくてよく動きまわって、おまけに遅刻するのは、絶対にご法度なのです。

もしかしたら、「簡単にはいたり脱いだりできるくつを日本人はみんな使っているんじゃないの?」と思っていませんか?クロッグとか、ソフトブーツとか・・・。ほとんどの人たちは、靴ひもつきの靴をはいているので、しかるべき時にひもを結んだりほどいたりしなければなりません。でも、そんなちまちましたことをしている時間は、はっきりいってありません。靴の、いわゆる「かかと」の部分、つまり足がはいる場所の後ろの淵の部分は、特に、歩きながら、時には小走りの状態で靴をはきなおすときなどは、かなりひどい扱われ方をされます。

この「靴を脱ぎはきする」習慣(私としては、分別があることだと思います)があるために、たくさんの靴が一列に並んで、自分のご主人が戻ってくるの待っている光景によく出くわします。靴は、人に置き換えることができます。なぜなら、靴は、私たちの立ち方、歩き方、靴の履き方、脱ぎ方を記録しているからです。古い靴をみると、老人を思い起こさせます。日本でみかける互いに横並びになって靴の大部分が、憂いを帯び、疲れ果て、くたくたになっているように見えます。

ある日、私はとりわけ悲しい顔で一列に並んだ靴の一団に出会いました。靴達はくたびれきっていましたので、私はかわいそうだなと感じはじめていました。一瞬、私にはまるで靴達が生きているかのように思えて、彼らのかわいそうなからだがめちゃくちゃにされて、ずたずたのボロボロになったときと同じように思えました。本当に靴達に命があり、しゃべることができて、さらには彼らの権利が守られていたならば、全員がぼろぼろ靴専用の家庭内暴力ホットラインに電話をかけまくっていたでしょう。

私には、この出会いのおかげで、思いついたことがあります。

「もし、モノが感じることができたらどうなる?」

「もし、モノに神経組織があったら?」

「もし、すべてのモノが、私たちがする、どんな些細なことでも感じることができたら?」

この続きは次回までのお楽しみに・・・。

Who Will Take Care Of The People Who Take Care Of People?

Workshop for Physical Therapists
Osaka, Japan

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