Thursday, February 17, 2011

Igorotdō 道

Many of the Japanese arts use a particular kanji character at the end of their names.  The term “dō” appears as , and simply means “way or path.”  This term connects the practice of Japanese arts to the philosophical concept of Tao.  It is a vital element in the different Japanese martial arts such as Bushidō (way of the warrior), Aikidō (way of harmonious spirit), Kendō (way of the sword), Kyūdō  (way of the bow) and Judō (gentle way).  In addition to the martial arts are Shodō (way of calligraphy), Chadō (way of tea – tea ceremony) and Kadō (way of flowers – flower arranging).  The “dō 道" is so important that the early founders of these arts saw these “ways” also as a “way of life.”

My very first experience with any of these arts happened at the age of 11 when my father enrolled me in Judō classes; which was his favorite sport as a teenager in the Cordilleras.  Still too young to grasp the philosophical side of it, I enjoyed it more as a sport than anything else.  As a teenager, I was lucky enough to have a Judō club in high school where I continued to practice and compete.  In addition, I began learning Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu in my sophomore year followed by Kenpo.

            Bushido                        Aikido             Kyudo              Judo

At the end of high school, the movie “The Karate Kid” made a huge impact on the way I saw (and still see) martial arts.  The main character’s Karate teachers, Mr. Miyagi, had me thinking about how so many people, including myself, misused and abuse it for vanity sake.  I remember so much emphasis on belts, competition, being the best and just kicking . . . ubet.  I really felt like I missed out on the entire “dō” that Daniel-san reaped in the movie series.  Fortunately, there were other mentors like my basketball coaches to help me with the “dōs” as a teenager and young adult.

Chado                                    Shodo                                          Kado

Shortly after my parents and sister passed away, my interest in landscape architecture and Japanese culture led me away from the financial services field to explore a new interest in Japanese landscape architecture.  It was then that I talked to Professor Ikka Nakashima on the phone inquiring about the Japanese gardening classes that she taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She told me that she stopped teaching at the University, but invited me to sit in on a class at her home.

Eager to learn, I went to her house only to find out that the class was a Chanoyu (Japanese Tea Ceremony) class.  Haven driven almost an hour, I politely stayed to observe, albeit wondering what the heck I got my self into. To my surprise, I became fascinated with the demonstration by a young Army Special Forces soldier who performed the ceremony in such precise movements and discipline.  That evening at home, I did some research and learned that Chadō used to be performed by Japanese samurai men before Westernization influenced the inclusion of women practitioners.  This along with the soldier’s earlier demonstration quickly got me over the initial concern of learning something feminine.

I became her student and learned Chadō (also known as Chanoyu), different aspects of Japanese gardening, some basics in Kadō (Ikebana), and even went to Kyoto, Japan to learn about Japanese gardening at the Kyoto University of Art and Design.  Most importantly, she taught me about the “dō” or “way” of Chadō as a “way of life.”  Just about everything she taught had a connection with how to live a good life.  She was my Mr. Miyagi. 

Morikami Japanese Garden - Lesson in living the present moment & focus

I later became employed by Master Garden Designer, Hoichi Kuriisu, who also took a very philosophical approach to Japanese gardens.  Although I was hired to project manage his large project at the Morikami Japanese Museum and Gardens in Florida, I became his apprentice and soaked up as much knowledge possible.  Like Nakashima-sensei, Hoichi found a way to connect everything to life itself.  In a way, he embodied a way life that I call “Niwa (garden) dō (way of).”

Kyoto, Japan

In Bushidō, the way of life is centered on seven main virtues.  These virtues are rectitude, courage, benevolence, respect, honesty, honor and loyalty.  In addition, filial piety (respect for parents and ancestors) and wisdom are also associated virtues. 

Although there is nothing (at least that I’m aware of) documenting Igorots living by a certain code or “dō” like the Japanese practitioners of their arts, I strongly believe we Igorots can look to our ancestors for inspiration and therefore, develop our own “dō” in life as Igorots.  All we need to do is identify the values and traits that our heritage is so rich of, and then implement them into our daily lives.

Where does one find such values?  Our “dō” is found in our values, which originated in the Cordilleras where our ancestors originated.  Notice I said the Cordilleras and not just the Philippines.  I still maintain that our Igorot culture is rich in values that make up our own true identity, which is very unique in many respects.  Unfortunately, modernization and other influences continue to strip these values from our people.

I know and have met many immigrants who have been raised here in America and have become so detached from their heritage that their “dō” has been lost or discarded.  Among these immigrants are many Igorots that were raised in melting pot places like Baguio who know little of their true heritage.  In fact, I continue to meet more and more Igorots who claim their heritage, but know little of it.  They speak fluent Tagalog, almost all speak Ilocano, but not everyone knows their native language.

I like to use language as an example because it is usually the first to die followed by everyday ways of life, and then values.  David Harrison, a linguist at Swarthmore College, was asked, "What do we lose when we lose a language?"  His reply included:
"When we lose a language, we lose centuries of human thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music, the unknown and the everyday. Only some cultures erect grand built monuments by which we can remember their achievements. But all cultures encode their genius in their languages, stories, and lexicons. . . We would be outraged if Notre Dame Cathedral or the Great Pyramid of Giza were demolished to make way for modern buildings. We should be similarly appalled when languages—monuments to human genius far more ancient and complex than anything we have built with our hands—erode." [read article]

Does this mean that people who do not possess their native tongue have lost their heritage?  Of course not, but the process of cultural erosion has already begun for them, and unless they connect to the cultural ingredients associated with their native language; the erosion will continue at an alarming rate.  In my opinion, the most important ingredient are cultural values and virtues because these are what make up our "dō."   These are the actual fiber that weaves the lufid or wanes of our souls.  One can still "be" Igorot without possessing their native tongue, but without the values and virtues of our heritage, one is like faith without action: an empty vessel.

One major goal of my upcoming book, “Igorotak: The Warrior Within,” is to create or re-create an interest in our culture that can spark a new or renewed interest within and outside our Igorot communities.  Once the interest is there, people will likely want to know more factual information about us and begin researching and learning more.  This is why it is so important to support the preservation of our indigenous knowledge by documenting as much of it as possible.

As Professor Maria Luz Fang-Asan of the Benguet State Unviversity claims, “The loss of IK (Indigenous Knowledge) is alarming.”  As more and more of the bearers of our heritage die and take our Indigenous knowledge with them, our Igorot also withers away.

Chanoyu Demonstration at Anderson Japanese Gardens

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  1. This reminds me of one instance when my parents and I were watching something online from a Filipino channel. They were interviewing "people on the streets" for their opinions/ comments on certain issues. My parents noticed that THEY were having problems understanding the language! It seems some of the language has been diluted with English, Spanish, and perhaps a smattering of other dialects thrown in. I suppose this is an illustration of the "watering down" of indigenous cultures. Kudos to you for touching on this subject of heritage and opening a dialogue. Continue leading us through the path of Igorotdo. We should all embrace our heritage with this much enthusiasm. Keep writing, my friend!

  2. Interesting and ironic because a few generations ago the Japanese were slaughtering Filipinos. Irony is seeing all the Japanese in Hawaii after what they did in Pearl Harbor. Are you suggesting that an Igorot virtue is forgivenes?


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