🎧 Bedtime Story Podcast #31
Chapter 4 – A Strange New Place
When Myasako arrived in England, Martin’s mother was waiting for him outside the airport.
“Hello, Myasako, my name is Amanda. Welcome to England.”
Myasako bowed, as was his custom. Amanda bowed back. She never particularly liked shaking hands, but she usually felt as if it was rude not to.
They did not say much, Myasako just looked around. He looked at the sky and the people and the absence of people speaking Japanese. He felt a very long way from home.
Martin’s mother made him Japanese food for dinner. It wasn’t the same as when he was at home, but he appreciated it and said thank you many times. After they had eaten, Myasako could see some children out in the empty road, playing football.
He looked, and he yearned to play. Martin’s mother saw him looking and yearning and said, “You can go out if you want to. But just for an hour. It’s time to come in before it gets dark.”
“Yes. Thank you, Amanda,” Myasako said.
He walked outside, barefoot through habit, and he slowly walked up to the other children.
“Eh, there’s the ninja kid!” one of them yelled. They all stopped playing football and ran up to Myasako. They surrounded him, and Myasako, without thinking, went into his ninja stance, low and ready.
“Woah!” the same kid said, “Woah, we’re friends, not enemies.”
Myasako was ready to strike.
“Stop surrounding him like this!” the same boy said. “Everyone just meet him from the front.”
The boys and girls rearranged themselves, and they calmed down.
“I’m Harry, that’s Glen, she’s Ava and he’s Michael. That’s Helen over there.”
There was one girl, Helen, sat far away from everyone else, sitting on the wall of a house garden, pointing her face at the floor. But Myasako could sense that she was looking up with her eyes at them.
All the children stood in front of Myasako, wide-eyed and smiling.
“So, you’re a ninja,” Harry said. “Can you show us some moves?”
Myasako was now standing normally.
“No. A ninja only uses his skills when he has to.”
“Ok,” Harry said. “What about football?”
Harry stumbled where he stood.
“You’ve never played football? Are you joking? Come on I’ll show you.”
At first, all Myasako could do was kick the ball as if it was a punch bag. It would fly off down the road and he would have to run to catch it and bring it back. Luckily he never got tired of running. His father would make him run every morning.
“No, kick it more gently, like this,” Harry said, showing Myasako there was a different way to kick. Myasako didn’t see the point of kicking something in this way, but he slowly got used to it, and began to enjoy the game.
Back in Japan, Martin was woken up at 4 a.m. by Kuyasaki, who was standing over him, poking him with a stick.
“Up. You run.”
“Run. Time to run. Ninja training starts at 4 a.m.”
“Why this early?”
“Start when roads are empty and mind is empty. When roads are busy we do agility and awareness training. This is endurance training. Up, come.”
Next to Martin’s bed, Kuyasaki had laid out some light clothes and shoes for him to wear.
“I run with you today. Come.”
“It’s too early,” Martin said, rolling over to go back to sleep.
Normally, Kuyasaki would have hit his son with a stick. He had promised Martin’s mother, however, that he would never hit her son with a stick. Instead he used words.
“If you do not want to train as my son trains, as a ninja trains, then you must leave. There is no use you being here if you will not train correctly. Your mother said you wanted to be a ninja. Perhaps you want no such thing. Perhaps the ninja spirit is simply not within you.”
Martin opened his eyes.
“Fine, Ok, I’m getting up,” Martin said, eager to prove him wrong.
“Good, thank you,” Kuyasaki said. “My boy normally runs seven miles. I do not expect you to train the same distance as him. But we must stick to his schedule.”
“Ok then,” Martin said, slipping on his lightweight clothes.
“Do you run at home?”
“I play football and catch.”
“Ok, let’s go.”
Martin had not been up this early, ever. Not even at Christmas. There was something sacred about the early morning, something clear and quiet and holy. Still his body wanted to go back to sleep.
“Now we are running, we are only running. You need not think of anything else. We are running,” Kuyasaki said. For such a large man, he didn’t make any noise when he ran. He glided.
Martin started thinking about his flight home in two weeks.
“No need to think of that now,” Kuyasaki said, as if he could read Martin’s mind. “Just running. Empty streets, empty mind.”
There was a thin mist around in the air still, and Martin’s mind felt much mistier.
“What do you mean?” Martin said. “You mean think of nothing?”
“Not even that,” Kuyasaki said.
“Well how do I not think of anything?”
“It is not how, but why,” Kuyasaki said.
“Ok, why would I want to not think at all? Surely I need to?”
“Sometimes you do,” Kuyasaki said. “But not always. Do you need to think about running, how to run, how to move your legs – or does it just happen? Usually all our thinking is a waste of energy. We do one thing, but then just worry about something else. Enjoy your running, that is all.”
Ok, enjoy my running, Martin thought. He had a voice in his head that never stopped speaking. He could hear the voice, his thoughts, but he thought he was the voice. He thought every voice and image that arose in his head was who he was.
How can I enjoy it? He thought. I know, I’ll think about home – that will make me happy. I wish I was back home right now, I miss my mum, I want to…
“Empty yourself of yourself,” Kuyasaki said.
Kuyasaki didn’t respond.
“Just breathe,” Kuyasaki said. “Breathing is very important. Fill yourself with breath.”
Martin breathed in consciously, for two breaths, then he was thinking about what he would have for breakfast…
Soon Myasako was very good at football. He was faster, more agile and stronger than all of the other children, and he had great dexterity in his legs. Soon he was dribbling the ball around everyone and scoring goals.
“Woah, he’s good,” Harry said. “Maybe too good. Pass, remember to pass the ball!” Harry called to Myasako.
Myasako was confused. He was told that his team had to score goals. He was scoring goals much more efficiently than passing it around to other players who couldn’t score goals. He didn’t quite understand.
“We all want to play too you know!” Harry called after Myasako, who was about to shoot. Myasako passed him the ball, backwards, and still did not quite understand football.
“Reach your targets and goals as directly, easily and swiftly as possible,” his father’s voice was in his ears. “Do not listen to what anyone else says when they try to distract you or pull you down. If you see an honourable path to your goals, to the target, to strike, then take it. Forget everything else, as long as you remain honourable.”
Myasako felt as if these children were not in any way interested in the ninja code.
After a mile and a half, Martin couldn’t run anymore. Kuyasaki ended up carrying him home, and he threw him in a cold bath.
“Ahhh! It’s cold!” Martin cried.
“Yes, helps your legs, strengthens your mind,” Kuyasaki said. “Next part of ninja training. You’ll get used to it.”
Martin wanted to jump out. He tried, but Kuyasaki touched his shoulder and somehow his legs weakened, and he sat back in the water.
“I’ve still got clothes on!” Martin wanted a reason to get out of the cold.
“No matter, they will dry in the sun. You will not stay in for too long. Just thirty seconds, you can handle it.”
Martin wanted a distraction.
“How long does your son stay in here for?”
“At least ten minutes. But be careful with comparisons. If you compare yourself to others, you will either feel inferior, or superficially superior. There is little wisdom in comparison.”
Martin tried to talk about something else.
“Avoidance is a way of dealing with pain and discomfort,” Kuyasaki said. “But until you accept them in their purity, they will always feel as if they dominate you.”
“Is thirty seconds up yet?”
“Nearly. Yes, Ok, you can get out now.”
Martin sprang up to his feet.
“Ah!” he said, feeling strangely invigorated. “So what next?”
“Did you enjoy football, dear?” Martin’s mum said as Myasako walked in, exactly on the time she had requested. Normally she had to go out and call Martin, sometimes drag him back inside the house.
“Um, yes, I think so,” Myasako said, unsure if he had really enjoyed it as much as the other children seemed to.
“Are you used to playing with other children?”
“Hmm,” Martin’s mother said. “Just bear in mind that your father has taught you to be a highly disciplined fighting machine, and children here are usually nothing like that. They are not super-serious about everything like your father is. They don’t have so many goals.”
Myasako sat, and listened.
“Do you have a dojo?” he asked.
She laughed and nearly spat out her tea by accident.
“No dear, we don’t. We don’t even have a punch bag. I did have a small one that Martin used to use, but he got bored with it after a while…”
“Everyone gets bored of the punch bag,” Myasako said.
“Yes,” she said, “but how few stick with it and reap the benefits?”
Myasako realised, for the first time, that what his father had taught him, might not be so bad after all…
That night it felt strange for Myasako to have done no martial arts training whatsoever. No meditation, no cold baths, no running through the streets. He thought he would feel free, more relaxed, but he actually felt almost itchy, like he was missing something. He couldn’t rest properly. He had to get up in the middle of the night, stand in the middle of Martin’s room and throw kicks and punches. He just had to do some, and then he felt better.
Martin was drinking water after the run.
“No more legs today,” Kuyasaki said. “We must not over-train. When the body is tired, it is a good time for meditation. We will meditate in the dojo, and then do some fighting drills.”
“Yeh, fighting drills!” Martin said, standing up and punching the air.
“First we meditate.” Kuyasaki pointed Martin to sit back down.
“Ok,” Martin said, closing his eyes. “How do we meditate? I’ve seen it in movies, but I don’t know how.”
“There is no how. Only why,” Kuyasaki said.
Martin opened his eyes. “Why do you keep saying that?”
“Because if we know why, there is no how. How is made easy through why.”
“So why do we meditate?”
“Rest, relaxation. Clarity. Peace. Insight. All things that are important to the true martial artist. But it is no use me just telling you. The ‘why’ must be realised.”
Kuyasaki smiled. “We begin by not trying to tame our minds.”
Martin closed his eyes. Doesn’t make sense, he thought, I thought meditation meant no thoughts…
“If you try to stop a thought, it feels as if you are stuck to it, as if it is turning around to bite you. Thoughts are not to be clung to. They wish to pass through.”
Martin was thinking about his friends. He didn’t even realise he was thinking.
“At first we just sit here. We do nothing.”
“How?” Martin interrupted.
“You are so trained in how. There is no how. Be aware of your breathing. Feel the stillness inside your body. Make that your focus, rather than thoughts being your focus. However, thoughts are not enemies.”
“What’s the aim here?” Martin interrupted again. “What should I be feeling?”
“The aim?” Kuyasaki said. “To, for a moment, be free from aims. That is meditation.”
Martin sat, tensed up his body and mind, and tried to be free from aims.
Story written and read by Adam Oakley, Copyright © Adam Oakley