Kyudo Notebook: Kiza

The other day a visitor at the dojo asked me about kiza and if it would ever stop hurting. My honest reply about the last part was, “I sure hope so!” Timing people at the All-Japan taikai I found that if all goes normally you need to be able to sit that way for about 3:30 per arrow. Of course it depends on where you are in the sequence of five. The waiting time for the otoya is roughly the same everyone, about 3:00, but the waiting time for haya varies from nothing (o-mae) to 3:30 (ochi). But if something goes wrong — a broken string or a dropped arrow — or if you happen to be behind one of those people who linger for an eternity in kai, it’s safer to be able to sit like that for five minutes or so. There is this excruciating video.

So how to manage? The main suggestion I’ve found helpful was just to get used to it by sitting in kiza every day for as long as it is easily manageable, gradually extending that duration as the weeks and months go by. As with any kind of stretching, the fastest way to make progress is to go slow. You want to avoid an injury that would force you to halt your stretching regimen while you recover, and so have to start all over again from the beginning. So, the pain is your friend, telling you when to stop. The one auxiliary suggestion I have for this is to try it in the bathtub after you’ve soaked in hot water for a while. This is easy in most Japanese homes, but in “shower countries” I’m not so sure. The heat will relax the muscles, and buoyancy will reduce the strain, but be careful not to overstretch.

The other thing that helps is to do some exercises to strengthen the quadriceps. The main problem I have in kiza is that one of the muscles of the lower leg, the extensor hallucis longus, is overstretched and after a few minutes can start to spasm. This causes the foot (especially the big toe) to extend, which pushes me forward, and if that continues for too long there is a point of no return where, if I haven’t been able to stand up, I’ll fall forward with a thud into seiza. Ha! This can be avoided by keeping one knee “alive” (the ikasu condition), but that, in turn, requires stamina in the quadriceps.

But if all else fails, and you have to do it unprepared, just keep in mind that the ability to endure (gaman) is one of the highest virtues in Japanese culture, and it will be appreciated, sometimes in surprising ways.

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6 Responses to Kyudo Notebook: Kiza

  1. ceterum censeo says:

    yes the extensor whatsits is a bugger – after a few minutes I find myself creeping forward unhaltably – and not infrequently with a squeaking sound to obliterate any hope of sliding into seiza unnoticed…

    Top suggestion – bathtub kiza! brilliant! I am a shower person in a shower country but I must give that a try.

  2. karamatsu says:

    Ah, so I’m not alone in that sliding-forward problem! It’s a little comforting just to know that, since nobody at the dojo seems to experience it. I was surprised myself the first time it happened!

  3. Kiyoaki says:

    Monday, was my introduction to kiza sitting. I should first explain that I’ve been training for only six months, and I’m learining the Chikurin-ha form. I should add, the I had a bicycle accident nearly 20 years ago, which reduced my range of motion in the right knee by 5 -8 degrees. The fracture went right through the head of the tibia, which is the thickest part of bone, and was reparied with tungtsen plates and screws. Therefore, I’m uncertain if I’ll ever be able to loosen the ligaments enough to ever do it properly.

    Right now my right knee (in a full squat) is 3 – 4 inches higher than the left. When I shift my weight to bring my left knee to the floor, inevitably it “crashes” rather than alighting. I hope you have some added tips on how to better transition my body weight from the right side to the left knee, without shifting the upper body to retard/forstall the sudden thud of the left knee.

    I enjoy your blog and will continue to follow it (although I lack your length of experience).

  4. karamatsu says:

    Hello! I don’t really have that much experience. I just have so many questions that I write a lot. It never seems to end… but I figure that’s good!

    Usually when people around here start out with kiza there is a lot of crashing and extra moves/shifting, and with injuries and age sometimes that doesn’t go away, or indeed, for some people kiza is just not possible, so they use the rissha form instead. Bodies are like that, especially knees! But if you want to keep at it, over time what I think happens is that you strengthen certain muscles and your body finds a way to balance itself to make things smoother and more controlled. When I’m sinking down into kiza my right knee touches first and then I slide it forward as I bring my left knee down. That lets the left come down gradually, rather than all at once, which would inevitably lead to a crash. I’m wondering if you could do the same kind of thing, touching down first with your left knee and then sliding forward as you lower your right? You can catch glimpses of the sliding motion in this video:

    though you have to look closely. I usually watch Satake Mariko-sensei. So smooth. The clearest example I recall was Ishikawa-sensei in the Samurai Spirit Kyudo program, but unfortunately NHK asked YouTube to remove those clips. But if you can find it (maybe they sell the DVD?), there’s a place at the very end where he demonstrates the proper form for Nick.

    Sliding with your left knee down first means you’d probably have to stand a little further back from the sha-i at first, so that once you’re done sliding, you’ll be in the right place, but that’s no problem. I do that, too, just because my legs are long. Another thing I’ve seen some people do is to lean a bit in whatever direction helps them maintain control, but somehow I think keeping a straight vertical line is better.

    I did a lot of practising at home, trying to get it smooth. My house-mate found this very amusing, but if you have a space with a slippery-smooth floor, it can be a good way. Another idea might be to try sinking straight down into kiza, but have a few thin zabuton or something to prevent the crash (you certainly don’t want to re-injure anything) and then just try keeping the muscles taut to give you a controlled motion. Once the muscles are strengthened to the point where it’s no problem (whether that means a week or a month), remove one of the zabuton and repeat. After a while you won’t need any of them. A friend who does yoga told me that one teacher recommended using an old telephone book as a temporary support, and each day you tear out just one page.

    Ultimately for some people there’s always some unsteadiness or stiffness, but if you watch some of the old guys they manage to be unsteady or stiff with extraordinary dignity and poise.

    Although I suppose everyone starts out wanting to embody the ideal form, the fact is there is a huge variation in body types, skeletal structures, injuries, etc. There’s a kyudoka here with only two fingers on his left hand, so it’s no exaggeration to say that he has a unique tenouchi! But people recognize these facts and accept them, just as we might accept a dropped arrow or a broken string. I think what really matters is keeping that dignity and poise no matter what happens, so the challenge of working with kiza may actually help you strengthen that.

    Anyway, I hope some of that helps, or if not, feel free to continue the conversation!! Maybe other people will have some ideas, too?

  5. karamatsu says:

    Ooops. I didn’t realize this was going to embed the video. Here is the URI in case that doesn’t work well. Just add the http-colon-slash-slash thing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqGekD9zQZc

  6. karamatsu says:

    Oh, I guess the software so so smart that it put that in for me.

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