Akuma Barai. 悪魔払い
New Year's Eve.
Don't get it. Never got it.
It feels like a completely arbitrary chronological indicator of unrealized potential. Yes, there is physical evidence that 365 days is a worthy placeholder in our collective book of days with the seasons and their ancient and mostly forgotten- unless you're a farmer or a haiku poet- inexorable march through time. But in a world where climate conditions have gone wonky and unpredictable and the only rituals that still make a blip on my personal radar are year's end top ten lists and the arrival of Screen Actors Guild screener DVDs in the mailbox.
So I don't get it.
The screaming, the goofy 2015 goggles, the seeming requirement to gulp gallons of bad champagne like a man gasping for air at an oasis of bubbles. The standing in public squares with thousands of others waiting for balls to drop in the freezing cold while their own retreat up into their bodies.
I'm not one for crowds anyway but multiply that by thousands of crazed imbeciles celebrating another tick on the mangy back of a dog of a lifetime by shooting live ammo into the air (I live in Oakland) like manic children playing cowboy while quaffing adult beverages by the bucketful.
Yes, New Years celebrations are a ritual and I'm all about ritual but all that rampant enthusiasm just doesn't jibe with the solemn fact that the previous year, however celebration worthy it may have been, is still packed with 365 days worth of dire events, dreadful occurrences and let's face it; Death.
And the next year will be too. Yeah, one night of unbridled optimism doesn't hurt anyone and it's good to blow off steam at least once a year but
you just won't find me pressed up against a metal cordon with two thousand strangers in the middle of the night to yell at a clock.
That said, there's something to it. This out with the old, in with the new positivity has ancient roots and I wanted in. My Druid forebears probably partied pretty hard on those prehistoric evenings when the heavenly stars and their towering stones aligned. The turning of the great wheel is measurable perhaps and I didn't want to deprive myself of the mystery of renewal and rebirth.
My Sensei at Nishi Kaigan Iaido Dojo, Andrej Diamantstein, Kyoshi, has a New Year's tradition. At 11:30 on December 31st we have a practice. We swing into the new year with the swinging of steel blades. After practice we have a potluck and lots of toasts and hilarity. But at the moment the clock strikes twelve the only sound you hear is the squeak of bare feet and tabi on polished wood and the unmistakable swish of three foot razor blades cutting the air.
|Hannya Mask. Actually a wronged woman|
Everyone has demons.
We face them all year. The demons of procrastination, addiction and apprehension prey on us all at one time or another.
And anyone who says they don't is probably under the influence of yet another manifestation: the Demon of Denial.
That's why, on the final hour of one year and the first hour of the next we only do three Waza.
(Waza are forms of imagined scenarios that include unsheathing, cutting imaginary opponents in meticulously prescribed ways, clearing the, again, imagined viscera from our blades and re sheathing (noto) and returning to our starting position.)
One of the Waza we only do at this time of year. It's special. The last time I saw it was seven years ago. It is called Akuma Barai which basically means "Cutting down the demons". I can only describe it as a piece of physical poetry. The scenario, or bunkai of a this Waza involves no less than five opponents and when performed well looks like a flower opening in one of those time lapse shots you see on the nature channel. Only this flower is deadly. And when it's done, the imaginary opponents, in this case demons, should crumple softly like fallen leaves around the iaidoka as he returns the blade quietly to its resting place scabbard or saya in Japanese.
The general feeling is one of profound resolve as the opponents attack from all sides. You can't help but feel after performing it a frisson of triumph and a delicate unveiling of the possibility of a world where the demons lay vanquished and the future stretches out before you, untarnished by the past. It is the perfect Waza for a new beginning. And a perfect way to greet a new day. Or a new year. Even if it is just an arbitrary tick of a clock.
Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu.
Happy New year.