I went to Taiko Baka (an intensive on how to play the Odaiko) with a healthy share of trepidation about my: abilities as a Taiko player, strength, physical limitations, finesse, capacities, etc. There were people there who’ve been playing Taiko for decades- to newbies- 2 years, to fledglings – 9 months. Our rhythmic and musical skills varied as did our physical capacities and our reasons for being there. Yet, as I settled into the experience I began to see how each of us was bringing our own heart, soul and body to the drum. We were approaching the drum with all of what brought us to that very moment in time…all of it, nothing left behind!
Tiffany Tamaribuchi, our Sensei-extraordinaire emphasized that the most important piece in all she was teaching us was who we are as Odaiko players. Who we are as we approach the drum, settle into our stance, raise our bachi and begin the conversation that is wanting and waiting to happen in that moment. How who we are in front of the drum is how we live in the rest of our lives. It is not something that just happens while playing; it is what informs our playing and the very living of our lives.
While I began to understand this through the course of the weekend, the lessons I learned have been unfolding profoundly for me as I process and integrate all that I experienced. Here’s the jist at this moment:
1.) Play to the level of my ability and don’t try to be someone else. My self-expression on the Odaiko is what it is in that moment. I cannot play as if I have 4, 8, 20 years of experience, because I DON’T! I’m a relative newbie to this art form and am in a learning process that will continue as I continue to play. So, let myself be where I am!
2.) Comparative judgment will shut me down completely. Judging my abilities against others’ abilities will only leave me on the short end of the stick and feeling badly about myself. Or, I can judge myself as better to puff up my ego at the expense of another which is not in integrity with who I really am. Either way, my capacities and abilities are my own. Others’ are theirs. When I admire them for who they are and let myself be inspired by what they have accomplished as players rather than diminish or puff up myself, I have more room to be me in front of the drum.
3.) Breakdown leads to breakthrough. We were challenged daily to keep playing through physical exhaustion, way beyond the limit of what we thought we were capable of. With muscles aching all over, I explored different ways of keeping going. Getting pissed off was what came up first. That created tension and holding and made it harder. Feeling sorry for myself (exacerbated by comparative judging) had me want to quit and go home. Finally, on Sunday I found myself relaxing my body (Tiffany said this was a possibility) to find the easiest way to play. Indeed, an ease came; the wrist that had started to throb stopped hurting as much and I found a quiet inner place that provided the stamina to keep at it. Relaxing, breaking through the hard-edged effort, not tensing powered me in that moment.
4.) A flash of Joy! As I approached the Odaiko to play my solo on the last day, I experienced a flash of joy that arose from the depths of my soul. Joy has been an experience I’ve not had full or easy access to as a taiko player because I have been very hard on myself (See # 2, above!). I realized as I was settling in before the drum that the Odaiko was here as a non-judgmental witness to my self-expression in that moment. I could play to the best of my ability and it would be, simply, a loving presence, sending out its glorious reverberations into the world. What if this was true every time I approached a drum? (It is!)
5.) Community is supportive. Big lesson here. I’ve been challenged by my itty bitty shitty committee’s agenda of fears -people’s opinions, not measuring up, not being safe; not expecting to be supported. This has meant feeling insular and isolated when with other people. In the last 7 years or so have I found myself better able to let others support me, even then with some difficulty. The community of players that came together for this Taiko Baka encouraged each other genuinely, contributing to growing my trust in community.
6.) My heart is as big as the Odaiko we played. In a meditation following my return home, I experienced the drum and my heart as ONE. The drum expresses and mirrors back to me how open my heart is, how grounded my body is, how in tune I am with who I am as the most authentic expression of myself in that moment. What a gift to be in the presence of such an instrument.
The lessons of Taiko Baka will continue to inform my presence and skill as a Taiko player and who I am as a human being. I have been touched deeply by Taiko Baka 2014 and thank the tree in Cameroon that became the body of the drum, the two cows who provided the heads upon which we played and the community of people who came together to make this such a powerful experience. Banzai!
Genki Sista, Monique Morimoto