On any normal day, Thomas Farnbacher can wave to his partner, Ingo Taleb-Rashid, across Lake Chiemsee in Bavaria. “I live one side with my wife and children in a small village. Rashid lives on the other. The lake is too big to see one another, of course. But we know we are there.”
Now Thomas is en route to Ishikawa, near Narita airport. He will leave tomorrow for his native Germany after a three-week tour of Japan with Caravan of Truth demonstrating El Haddawi, a Movement Concept methodology that explores and teaches dance, martial arts and body movement in combination.
“Rashid and I have been working together, developing Movement Concept, for 10 years. Two assistants came with us, leading a group of 14. Everyone paid for their own tickets; Rashid (who has been coming here for 20 years) and I organized the rest.”
Thomas has a background in martial arts and classical massage bodywork. “I studied the Brazilian martial art Capoeira, with roots in African tradition and the dance form that developed among slaves. But I could only get so far; the attitude there is that to fully understand Capoeira, you need to enter fully into Brazilian culture.”
Thomas chose instead to integrate what he had learned into his own system. “I’m used to finding my own way. Wanting to teach maths and physics, I realized at university that all I was learning was high-level stuff I’d never use again. No one was teaching me how to teach. That’s when I left for South America, to get a new perspective. A year later I returned to Europe, with much the same idea.”
One thing Thomas realized in Brazil was how much he needed to do something with his body. “I was all in my mind. I wanted to move, get in contact with physical self.” It was a course in Berlin in classical massage that led him into bodywork. Soon after, he moved to Vienna to study Feldenkrais technique, which teaches you how to use your body properly, using minimum energy and effort. “It’s holistic hands-on work, rather like having a deep smooth conversation with a person’s body and mind (whole self).”
Thomas met Rashid prior to going to Brazil. “He asked if he could come along to learn Capoeira, and stayed about a year.” Thomas spends half his time practicing Feldenkrais (his wife is also an accredited practitioner) and half with Rashid, leading — in-between performances and tours — two 40-day professional training programs a year, so the work will spread and continue.
Caravan of Truth, he explains, is from a Sufi expression that regards life as a journey. Rashid’s father is Iraqi, and Sufi — meaning he lives by pre-Islamic traditions. “Joining this caravan to Japan was an amazing opportunity, with so many of its own traditions — Shinto rites, the full range of budo (martial arts), (Zen) Buddhism.”
The caravan’s first rest stop was in Ishikawa’s Onjuin Temple, dedicated to the aesthetic practices of the Nichiren Buddhist sect. The head monk, Toda-san, is an old friend who has attended El Haddawi’s Winter School in Bavaria (at an abbey on an island in the middle of Lake Chiemsee).
They spent time at the Free University in Tokyo, courtesy of another old friend, Kamata-san, a Shinto priest at Joshojin Temple in Yokohama. Here they explored age-old questions: What is movement? What is silence? How do these opposites relate to one another? How can we discover our center between movement and silence? As El Haddawi advocates, discovering one’s center is one of the foundations for a happy and fulfilled life in a complex permanently changing world.
In Yokohama, the caravan participated in moxibustion by an Aragyo practitioner — a healing to cast out bad spirits. Then the main group headed for Nagano, to Togakushi, reputedly one of the birthplaces of Japanese martial arts. “We stayed in a ‘ryokan’ run by a head priest of one of the three Shinto shrines. Climbing up through an avenue of gigantic cedars, we felt a special power. This fit very much with the Sufi concept of the natural matrix of the Earth.”
Thomas was prepared to find Japan challenging. “My German Japanese teacher kept telling me the culture was so strange, so different. And yet the opposite was true. From the first day I felt safe, good, happy and grounded.”
Three memories will remain all his life, he says. One was performing at the Gassan Festival in Dewa Zan San, and having to drum and whirl on soaking wet turf. “I thought it would be disastrous, but it felt purifying and cleansing, and the audience was totally caught up.
There was the time when Rashid had the idea to go to Shibuya and dance. “Amidst the hundreds of people passing by, smiling, clapping, bemused, we felt so 100 percent orientated and on axis, we could have whirled for hours.
“Only yesterday, we joined monks standing beneath a freezing waterfall somewhere in Yamanashi in a purification ceremony.”
That above all, he says, has given him and Rashid a mission: find an equally sensational waterfall in Bavaria and add that ritual to their own ever-expanding tradition.