Wednesday, February 29, 2012

遊 Play.

A recent article in The Japan Times concerning the findings of a group of researchers using "baby-cams" to capture footage of babies playing jokes on one another with no ulterior motive than to get laughs was the kind of underwhelming revelation that goes viral these days.

It struck me as a bag of grant money thrown into a well to prove gravity.

Of course babies like to cut up when they get together.

They've just been through a major experience.

Being born is at least one of the top five things you can do in your life.

There's bound to be some stories.

It must have been scary.

And humor is how we frighten the scary away.

So when they put a group of babies in a room and the red light of the baby-cams starts glowing they must be like a green room full of comedians after a bumpy flight in from Denver.


What I found interesting is that the games the researchers observed the tiny tikes making up were fundamentally the same games we clowns play in Kooza.

The simple yet perfect patterns of three.

The creation of expectations and sudden dismantlings.

The there it is, there it is, there it isn't rhythms.

As clowns we often refer to the various sections or to use an acting term beats of our time onstage as games. What is the game now? Are we moving on to a new game? Or best yet: I found a new game. Games are fun. Especially if played with absolute conviction. But in order to participate in any way you must first be willing to play.

The fact that babies are working the room before they can walk across the room is no surprise. What perhaps those same researchers should be looking at is why those of us more ambulatory (and potty trained) humans can lose the awareness that everything we do can be a form of play.

Ohtaki Hunter

Between Osaka and Nagoya I had a couple of weeks off from the circus and went to the southernmost tip of Japan, Yakushima Island.

UNESCO has designated Yakushima Island as a World Heritage Sight. It is easy to see why.

Because of a fluke in the geography, the gulf stream and I'm sure a thousand other factors it is both sub tropical and sub arctic at the same time.

What this means is that you can be hiking amongst pines and junipers and turn a corner and be amongst palm fronds and sand and turn another corner and be plunged into a land of ferns and moss.

All within a hundred yards of one another.

The trail maps look like something Tolkien might draw up.

Primordial doesn't begin to describe it. I tried, failed.

Momoko and the path taken.

Yakushima is also famous for two things: Ancient cedars or cryptomeria (the Jomon Sugi is estimated to be 7,000 years old and is protected from huggers like myself by a network of exquisitely laid out trails) and ohtaki or waterfalls. I became an Ohtaki hunter. But there was neither the time nor the stamina to bag them all.

I stayed in the little town of Anbo half the time at Yakushima San Shu and the rest of the time in Onaida at the Shikinoyado Ryokan with Kentauro San and his lovely family.

After a week of not performing in a sold out big top Ken San asked if I wouldn't mind making a appearance at his kid's school.

"You're a clown. Can you do something funny for them?"

Little did he know I had been jonesing for an audience during all those grueling hikes to the ohtaki.

Sure, I wanted to play.

And this would be as pure as you can get:

1. Walk in room.

2. Forget language.

3. Play.

A couple of hours later I was drenched in sweat and ready to go play "Ohtaki Hunter" once again.

Screaming and Playing.

is the kanji for play in Japanese.

Variations of this can be found in such meanings as "To amuse oneself", "to blow life into" and even "to do nothing".

Since a lot of what goes on in the martial arts would qualify in the scratching your head while rubbing your belly category, perhaps play is the perfect way to deal with the difficulty of doing two opposing things concurrently.

For example the game we play in Iaido; presenting a calm exterior while at the same time demonstrating a life or death encounter.

Cool on the outside.

Coiled on the inside.


In fact, when someone engages in any of the martial arts, be it kendo, judo, iaido, kyudo, whatever, it is said that they play the particular art.

Someone plays kendo.

When they start class they say "let's play."

They may be trying to score points by bashing each other over the head while screaming their bone shaking kiai but inside all that gear kendoka are playing.

And the best players win.

Play Ball.

The Setting:

The 35,000 seat Fukuoka Yahoo Dome.

The Teams:

Team Fuji Television.

The undefeated victors of every Cirque du Soleil/ Fuji Television game since the beginning of the partnership six years ago. Athletic, smart and wearing lots of micro fiber stretch pants, plus they bolstered their roster by enlisting a hulking security guard who used to play pro and a bus driver with his own batting glove.

Team Kooza.

A rag tag band of guys with a passing acquaintance to baseball. Riggers, follow spot operators, sound ops, lighting designers and a cook. A Russian acrobat in right field playing for the 2nd time ever. And on the pitchers' mound, a clown.

The Fans:

In this giant room that dwarfed us all and made me think how wonderful it must be to be a major league baseball player and get to play on this gigantic astro turfed stage, a group of no more than 30 filled the air with cheers and chants.

They did the wave.

A singer and a trapeze artist had pom-poms. Sergey, master of the hand to hand act, screamed himself hoarse.

The Game:


From the pitcher's mound it was pure psychological warfare.

A game of very precise catch with one major difference: A guy with a stick is trying to bash the hell out of the ball just before it reaches its destination in the catcher's glove.

Getting it by that person is pure play. Towards the last couple of innings Team Fuji was changing their batting order to get their best hitters up. They didn't want to be the team that ended their winning streak by losing to these bad news circus bears.

Plus there was a trophy.

It got serious.

And quiet.

I was glad I had the iaido to fall back on.

To drop back to stillness before each pitch.

To remain cool and coiled concurrently.

To play.

The Final Score:

Fuji Television 1

Team Kooza 3

Kooza Photos by Miron Rafajlovic.
Yakushima School Photos by Kentaro Mizoguchi.
Yakushima bridge photo by Momoko Shimokado.

Softball Photos by Billy Riske.

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