Kyudo Notebook: Broken String in Sharei

Just a quick note of something I learned at a tutorial the other day. Although normally in sharei, if  you break a string there is no fixing it — you move back to the honza and wait while everyone else finishes (which isn’t always trivial because you have to be out of everyone’s way)– this not necessarily true in the sharei in the second part of a shinsa for renshi, kyoushi, or (I guess) 8-dan. In that case it’s possible to correct the error and continue.

What I was told was that, for the renshi test, it’s OK to just have another string, and someone will restring the bow for you, but beyond that you’re expected to have a second bow (kaeyumi) already strung and ready to go. The teachers recommended that people testing for renshi do the same if possible.

So, just a note for future reference.

Otherwise things are going fairly well. One thing that has helped is making sure that the arrow is parallel to the shoulder line at daisan. Apparently I’d had it at an angle, which creates an imbalance during the draw. I got some other tips at the tutorial, but am trying to change only one thing at a time…

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Kyudo Notebook: Thoughts on the Renshi Shinsa

I spent my last day in Kyoto sitting at one of the shajo, watching 1/4 of the people testing for renshi. When I got up that morning I halfway wanted to sleep in, then go sightseeing, but it turned out to be worthwhile, if a bit mysterious, to go back to the shinsa.

I don’t have my program with me but if I recall correctly there were about 700 people testing, divided between the four shajo, each with five hanshi as judges. Within the groups testing at each shajo, it seems like there was a full range of kyudo “ages” (years since 5-dan or 6-dan) from people taking the test for the first time to veterans with more than 20 years under their obi. As usual, there was a first round in which people used the normal shinsa timing (with hada-nugi and tasuki-sabaki). Then after a delay there was an announcement of those who passed the first round, which was then followed by a second round in which those who passed performed mochi-mato sharei.

Of the 175 or so people assigned to the shajo I was watching, a fair number [I’m being intentionally vague here] passed the first round, and about half that passed the second round. As I watched the first round I made notes about who I thought might pass, based on memories of other shinsa.

You have to make some allowances here. First, I’m not a hanshi, so in kyudo terms, I can’t see what they see. Second there is the viewing angle and the fact that nobody can watch ten people at once, so even physically, in an ordinary sense, I couldn’t see what those five people saw. And then, as you’ll see, I’m not even certain what they’re looking for, what the priorities are. So with those grains of salt, I thought two people would pass the first round, plus maybe a couple of others who I was on the fence about, usually because they shot well but maybe missed one arrow.

It was a surprise to see more pass that first round. At one of the recent seminars, the teacher (hanshi, 8-dan) said that in order to pass renshi you had to (1) make no mistakes, (2) beyond that be excellent. I thought, “since renshi is a teaching level you would want this person to be a proper model… you should wish that this person’s students will shoot the way they do.” The two people that I thought would pass were indeed among those who did, but several of the others, for example, shot very quickly, about one second in kai, and I thought, “They won’t want students shooting this fast.”

Since time in kai is more or less objective, this must mean that the judges were seeing, or valuing, something I wasn’t. There must be something extra these people had to compensate for what is, I suppose (possibly in arrogance), a bit of a technical problem. So it was very interesting. What were these people doing?

Looking back at video, the one thing that stands out to me is that, at the release, their left and right hands/arms went straight out, with no extra up or down, no extra left or right. In particular the hands never dropped below the horizontal line of the shoulders. This seems obvious by it can be a bit subtle because at the moment of hanare, the tensions built up in the body at kai will unwind in milliseconds, coming to a complete rest after about one second (you can tell if you watch 30fps video frame-by-frame). This means that people using a mirror to check their form at zanshin will not see the movement that occurs during that one second, but instead see things after everything has settled down, and in many cases that “ending” form looks pretty good.

But that first one second is crucial. People who passed didn’t seem to need much unwinding. Their hands and arms just extended out naturally into a good zanshin form, without requiring any compensating movements. Many others would, say, have both arms drop below the line of the shoulders, then raise their arms back up. Or one arm would go up while the other went down, then both returned to a supposedly good zanshin form. I wondered if, in a way, people had learned to force it?

Another common problem is that people open their left hand at the release. Most likely this is in “sympathy” with the right hand, and is an indication of an intentional release. With video you can see that most clearly with people who wince or blink at the release. If the wince occurs a split-second before the release occurs, they’re anticipating. Whatever brain signal is going out to trigger the release reaches the face/eyes first.

Mind you, I’m not being critical. In video I’ve seen of myself, I’ve done all of these things, often for long periods (and probably still do!). I’m just pointing out how subtle it all can be, that a lot happens in those 1000 milliseconds after the arrow flies, and that it’s all but invisible to the person shooting (although you might feel it, or see the result in the flight of the arrow, the tsurune, etc). But the shinsa-in can see it, and I suspect that’s why more people passed than I expected: those people had solved the conundrum of the release, even if maybe they had some other issues.

I have no idea if this is accurate, but it fits some other thoughts that have been percolating since my practice sessions shortly before, and while in, Kyoto.

As for the ni-ji shinsa, likewise when I watched, I honestly thought that nobody would pass. Everyone either made taihai mistakes or again, had that super-fast kai. But it turned out that several did pass, and as I thought over the differences, again it seems to me that the shinsa-in were either seeing different things, or valuing them differently.

In this case, I think what mattered most is whether people were able to truly act in harmony with the other members of their group. For example, in one of the sharei that I watched, people really were in harmony, better even than I had seen in some of the hitotsu-mato sharei for the kyoushi exam. So even though there was at least one significant taihai error, some of that very fast shooting, and three people only hit with one arrow, they passed. In another group, where the harmony was notably lacking, it seemed like one person did OK, but then failed because of a taihai error at the last minute. As a result, it seems to me that harmony counts for an awful lot and will offset other problems. It’s still possible for a person in a group that lacks harmony to do OK on technical grounds, hitting twice, etc, but a taihai mistake can still cancel all that out.

But again, I have no idea if these impressions are accurate. Next time I have a chance I’m going to check this out with teachers who act as shinsa-in, and see what the story is (if they will tell me). In the meantime, it’s just stuff to think about, and to practice. And in the end we need all of those things (clean/unimpeded release, harmony, technical excellence) no matter how long it takes, so there’s no harm done if I’m wrong. I suppose I’ll get my answers one way or another soon enough!

Two More Thoughts (Later)

If, in order to pass renshi, you need to make no mistakes and be “excellent,” what’s left for kyoushi and the levels above? I can only imagine (after a hint from one of the hanshi), that it’s the spiritual aspect. Technically you’re there. In terms of performance, there. But spirit… maybe that’s the work?

And then, I thought about some of the older people testing, still trying after many years. I wondered if allowances would be made for age and physical difficulties? It seemed to me that, with the exception of people who have no choice but to shoot rissha, no special allowances were made, but it was a small sample size.

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Kyudo Notebook: Kyoto 2016 Lessons

The Kyoto tournament and shinsa were good. It’s been several years since I was last there, and it was a pleasure (if a bit overwhelming) to see thousands of kyudoka in the same place at the same time, and to meet some people, particularly Zen, for the first time. These are just some notes so I don’t forget next time:

General Notes

  • There are five shajo, numbered one to five. The opening ceremony each day is in the yamichi for shajo one and two. After that, there is a yawatashi and enbu in shajo three. To get a good view of that, try to stand near the back when everyone is lined up for the opening remarks, then you just turn around to see shajo three.
  • Sometimes they use shajo three during taikai/shinsa, sometimes not. I guess it depends on the number of people, phase of the moon, etc.
  • Although many people wear regular dogi I was told that it’s better to wear kimono. During the taikai you would do hada-nugi or tie the tasuki before entering, so it’s more a matter of respect for the situation than a practical requirement. Of course, for the shinsa everyone would be in kimono.
  • Timing is tricky. They print a rough schedule ahead of time but it’s only a guide. For example, the schedule might say your turn will be after lunch, but if people don’t show up, everybody shifts forward to fill in the gaps, so you could easily end up shooting before lunch. Announcements like this are made in the 1st floor changing area and in the hallway that is used for the 4th and 5th waiting areas but NOT in the large hall where the actual shooting takes place. So if you go in to watch while you’re waiting, take care. You won’t get any warning.
  • I think it’s best to be in the waiting area (on the third floor) at least an hour before you think you’re supposed to shoot. Longer if there is a scheduled break during that time. You really have to watch this because if you’re not in place when it comes time to shoot, they’ll skip over you and there is no second chance.
  • There is no place to practice in the venue itself. No makiwara. For practice you can use the kyudojo attached to the Budokan across the street. On the plus side, that’s a traditional dojo and has a nice environment. There are some makiwara there, too. Just be extra careful about the timing, and also walking around with your bow.
  • Bring setta or shoes that you can slip on and off easily while wearing tabi. More than in most places, in Kyoto there’s a lot of taking shoes off and putting them on. Setta or (maybe) zori are better because they won’t leave marks on your tabi. The tabi must be white, by the way.
  • While you’re in the 4th or 5th waiting areas (hikae) on the third floor, there will be an equipment check. In particular, you’ll be asked if you have a yaba shomeisho, a certificate of traceability for the feathers used to fletch your arrows. This is for compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, usually referred to in Japan as “The Washington Treaty” [washinton jouyaku]). This year the check seemed pretty much advisory, though someone using the feathers of an endangered species might have been turned away (I’m not sure). You download the form for the certificate here (PDF) or here (Word). There’s more detail on the ANKF site. You fill out the certificate yourself, so everyone is on their honor, and like many such rules (for anti-money-laundering and the like), only honest people will ever be affected, while dishonest people will just keep doing whatever they want. But I guess it’s better than nothing. The point is to have it. This year you didn’t have to physically bring it with you to the third floor, which would be inconvenient. It was OK just to say you had it with your gear on the first floor. That may change, or maybe they’ll set up some verification procedure when you’re registering to get your number.
  • Speaking of arrows, be sure to label yours, and your bow, too. One problem (at least for human beings) with limiting the types of birds whose feathers can be used is that everyone’s arrows end up looking the same. Picking up the wrong arrows, or the wrong bow, was pretty common, so it’s good to use labels and some other way to make your equipment easily distinguishable.
  • As a result of mistakes like that, and the ever-present possibility of hitting one of your own arrows, it’s best to bring at least six, so you can have a couple in reserve.
  • Likewise have a few extra tsuru ready to go. The nightmare is to make it into the later rounds but then have to stop because you broke two strings and don’t have another. If you use hemp strings, some advice from one of my teachers, who’s seen it all, is to wind a synthetic string around your tsurumaki first (so it will be the last used), then two more hemp strings on top of that. That way if your main hemp string breaks, you’ll have another, then another, and then if all else fails a nearly unbreakable synthetic as your final backup.
  • Beginning pretty early in the day, they sell some o-bento and hot curry with rice there in the back of the changing area on the first floor. They also sell drinks, or there are vending machines. If you have more time, there are some good restaurants within walking distance, and of course, there’s a Starbucks across the street.
  •  Because the events are held over Golden Week, hotels book up far in advance. If you plan to go, book early… like 5-6 months. The airport bus from Osaka (Itami) arrives at  Kyoto train station (south — hachijo — exit) in about 55 minutes (1,310 yen). It has luggage shelves over the seats where you can put your bow. Take care with bows in the subway; Kyoto is crowded. Miyako Messe is about a 25 minute walk from Karasuma-Oike subway station (K08 on the Karasuma line): walk east. cross the river, turn north, turn east again at nijo, walk until you see lots of people with bows going in to a big building on the right. Or take a taxi (anywhere from 800-1,200 yen from Karasuma-Oike depending on… who knows?).

The Taikai

  • In the first round you’ll shoot two arrows (hitote). If you don’t hit with both, you’ll be asked to give back your number (zekken) as you exit, and for better or worse, you’re done for the day. Relax and enjoy being a spectator, go sightseeing, go practice at the Budokan, or (dangerous) visit the kyudo shops set up in the waiting area on the first floor. Remember you’ll need money to get home. Some 86% of the people in the you-dan taikai (4 and 5-dan) were done after the first round.
  • The second round will begin after everyone finishes their first round, but there is no gap. The first people to begin the second round will shoot immediately after the last group shoots in their first round. So the first five groups to shoot in the second round should already be in the chairs, waiting, while the last group of the first round shoots. I nearly got caught out by this.
  • For the second and subsequent rounds you’ll be asked to bring four arrows. There’s a whittling down process that ensues, where you go in, shoot one arrow each. Those who miss turn in their numbers. Those who hit keep going. After the third round like this, they’ll switch from 36cm targets to the 24cm hoshi (“star”) target. This continues until there are ten or fewer people left (enough to fit in two combined shajo). After that it seems you shoot two at a time. Once a winner (the last person standing) is decided, there will be enkin rounds to decide any ties.
  • The usual shooting is zasha, though with thousands of people shooting (there were about 1,700 in the you-dan taikai alone) there are a lot who shoot rissha due to injuries, etc. This means you need to be ready to shoot with people using either form. Each group has five people per shajo, except maybe at the end, when there could be a few smaller groups.
  • Be sure you know the proper shooting sequence. In particular, in the taikai you stand up when the person in front of you brings their right hand to their hip to set dozukuri (the first time — don’t wait for them to bring the otoya back to their hip), then do all of the preparation to shoot. You have to be ready to raise your bow (uchiokoshi) at the tsurune of the person in front of you. The omae stands up again after shooting but waits to do torikake until the tsurune of the last person (ochi) in their group. This can be a little hard to gauge when there is another shajo behind you, and the hall where the shooting is done is a closed room, so there are lots of echoes. If you can’t tell, make a guess, or the teachers watching will tell you. If you’re unsure about the order, check the charts that they have posted. Oh, and you enter when the second person in the group of five currently at the sha-i shoots their otoya.
  • When two shajo are combined, for example shajo 4 and 5, everyone exits at the area all the way to the front (so for shajo 4 and 5, the exit is behind the first target for shajo 4).
  • Spectators should be careful to turn off cellular phones (or put them in silent mode, or just leave them at home… horrors!) and also turn off the flash unit on cameras. Although in theory someone who is shooting needs to be able to adapt to anything, there were a couple of instances where phones and flashes went off and created distractions at just the wrong moment.

The Shinsa

  • There’s really not a lot to say about this except to reiterate some of the general notes above. Be sure you’re in the waiting area on time. Be sure you’re in the waiting area on time. And then be sure you’re in the waiting area on time. Otherwise normal shinsa rules apply.
  • Be sure to review the timing for shooting, though. Since the shinsa here is for people already at 5-dan or above, I was surprised to see a person testing for kyoshi use the competition timing. My guess is that one of the waiting areas still had the timing poster up from the taikai, so he thought that was what he was supposed to use. Ooops.
  • It seems that many people, if they don’t hit with both arrows, simply give up, change clothes, and start packing. Resist this temptation. One person testing for renshi apparently changed clothes and got packed up, only to discover that she’d passed the first round, so she had to run to change back into kimono and get her equipment ready before the ni-ji shinsa.
  • Likewise you hear stories, sometimes even from the hanshi, suggesting that people early on in the order aren’t likely to get a passing mark simply because they don’t have experience yet. But in reality it’s individual and sometimes a person very early in the order will pass while the veterans continue to struggle. The benefits of (kyudo) youth! So again, avoid giving up before the results are posted. Sometimes it’s very hard to know what the hanshi are seeing, how they make their decisions.
  • Speaking of which, results are posted both downstairs on the first floor and in the waiting areas on the third floor. If you have a ni-ji shinsa, you need to have your arrows and be ready to go when the results are announced.
  • The written test is given in meeting rooms on the B1 floor. The timing for the test is staggered. Be sure to go at the correct time posted for your number or you may be turned away.
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Kyudo Notebook: Kyoto 2016

By the way, I’m headed to Kyoto tomorrow (but won’t arrive until Monday) for the taikai and to watch the shinsa, especially 8-dan. There’s a pretty big Hokkaido contingent. Look for people who seem hot when everyone else is talking about how cool it is. I know one other person is going… maybe others?

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Kyudo Notebook: Nagoya Seminar 2016

After the seminar ended I had a ton of things to catch up on, and with the holiday finally have time. I suppose the big news is that next year’s Asia-Oceania Seminar will be in New Zealand, the first time to have it outside of Japan. I imagine it will generate a lot of new interest there and in nearby countries, so book early!

More #1 Kaizoe Notes

Against all odds I ended up being dai-ichi kaizoe, this time with Honda-sensei as ite. I made a bunch of mistakes, but that’s what seminars are for, right?

The practical errors and corrections were mostly the kinds of things that I supposedly knew, and thought I was doing correctly, but not:

  • The two kaizoe need to practice the rei (bow) at the sadamenoza to ensure that the depth of the rei and position of the hands is correct. In particular when doing that move, the wrist should be kept directly beneath the shoulder, neither in front of, or behind, an imaginary vertical line dropping down from the shoulders.
  • When sitting behind the ite during hada-ire, it can be difficult to determine when to help. What Honda-sensei said afterward was that if he needed help he would stop. That’s the sign. When that happens, you should touch the ite at lower back, so he knows you’re going to intervene, and if it’s getting the elbow into the juban, be sure to do that by reaching between the ite‘s arm and torso (rather than around in front of the arm).
  • When returning the arrows to the ite, the arrows must be kept vertical all through the complex set of steps where you’re doing the left hirakiashi turn.
  • The worst mistake was that I tilted my head upward in shiken-rei, rather than maintaining the straight line along the back and back of the head. I remember thinking at the time, “Oh, this much easier than last time,” but it never occurred to me that the angle of my head was wrong!

All in all a great experience. Both I and my friend who was #2 kaizoe had only done this once before, and had very little notice beforehand, so considering all that I think we did OK. Still, I need to practice the things that I thought I was doing right but was not… no other way to get it down. In addition I know I need to practice the various moves more, so that they become smooth.

Mochi-mato Sharei

People at 5-dan and above did a demonstration of mochi-mato sharei on the last day of the seminar. It was a kind of kiza hell, but now that I’ve recovered I can grudgingly admit that it was a good opportunity, and led to some great discussion.

Done right, participants in sharei act as one. Not only are they moving in sync, all lined up, doing the right things at the right time, but when someone makes a mistake, the others support him/her, compensating to restore harmony. Ideally, we were told, it’s like a river flowing: continuous movement, with no breaks, no stopping. Doing this right requires consideration for the other members of the team.

As with the kaizoe movements there were some things I thought I was doing but was not:

  • The bowstring needs to be kept vertical during hada-nugi and hada-ire, rather than tilting to one side.
  • During the hirakiashi turn before hada-nugi, keep the urahazu of the bow at the center of the body throughout. Also, you keep it at eye level until you’ve turned 45 degrees (halfway). At that point you grasp the bow with both hands and raise it up so that it’s standing in front of you, bowstring centered on your nose.
  • When you’re standing up after the person in front of you shoots, your feet should come together at the same instant as the feet of the person in front of you come together. This requires the person in front to move a bit slowly, so the person behind has time to stand up (which can be difficult after all that kiza!).

And then… kiza, kiza, kiza. One teacher said we should be able to sit in kiza for 15 minutes. At the same time he said that he himself has trouble with it, and has been trying various things. One of these is to make an effort to keep the coccyx (I think) vertical. He used a medical term, something like dai-go youkotsu, but I haven’t been able to find that.

Shooting Notes

Because the day was filled mostly with shinsa-houshiki practice, we didn’t get to shoot a whole lot, but I made some notes.

I went into the tutorial having picked up some bad habits that sent arrows very reliably in front of the target. Rather than simply adjust the aim, I hoped to be told how to correct this. There were a few things:

  • When standing up from kiza before ashibumi, I need to extend the bow and arrow(s )further out in front of me, and the arrows should be at eye level and the bow should be shifted so that your face is centered in the space between the bow and the bowstring.
  • Needed to raise the right elbow more at daisan so that there’s tension along the outer edge of the arm.
  • Need to be careful that the above doesn’t lead to a twisting of the upper body during daisan/hikiwake, with the left shoulder coming forward while the right goes back. Obviously that would send the arrow in front of the target.
  • Need to have a bit more of a twist (hineri) on the right.
  • The muscles need to be relaxed. U-sensei illustrated this by telling us to hold our two hands together on front of us, then try to pull them apart left/right, as in hanare. First we were told to hold the hands loosely, relaxed. When we did that, there was some freedom to expand. Then we were told to grip the hands very tightly, and try again. There was no freedom to expand at all because the muscles were all tensed. Hanare should be straight, clean, simple…
  • Likewise the right thumb must be kept relaxed. We were told we need to practice this until the only thing holding the string in our right hand, keeping it from flying out, is the giriko.
  • Regarding hanare, it can’t be intentional. It’s impossible, in fact, to release both the left and right at the same time. There will always be some imbalance.
  • A few other things that I need to experiment with.

In addition I’ve made a few other changes in the past few months as a result of two tutorials with visiting teachers:

  • Keep the right hand very relaxed, with no tension. The teacher said to imagine I have a kind of custard-filled pastry (shu cream) in my hand. You definitely don’t want to squeeze it.
  • Experimenting with a slight clockwise twist of the left elbow at daisan in order to line up the bones in the left forearm.
  • Trying to keep the arms relaxed during the draw, using the bones (as per the shaho-kun) and back muscles instead. This allows me to go into kai still having a lot of flexibility in the arms, which can then be taken up during tsumeai, first expanding the shoulders, then elbows, and outward.

Essences

I think the one teaching that I found most enlightening during the seminar was when U-sensei said 「気遣いイコール礼」(kidukai equals rei), which is to say, the essence of rei is consideration/thoughtfulness of others. On the one hand, it’s obvious, but perhaps because I’m a child of the 1960’s there’s a temptation to see rei as etiquette, and etiquette as simply vestigial, ritualistic rules. There are a lot of rules in kyudo, that’s for sure… things that have be done a certain way at a certain time, and it’s often a challenge to discover the reasons behind them. So the comment was helpful… it sort of realigned how I think about it, even though I still don’t necessarily know why we do certain things.

Another essential comment was that many things in Kyudo are not, in fact, “written in stone” but contain a certain amount of leeway or flexibility. The expression he used was “about,” which Japanese use to express the idea of something with a degree of freedom or imprecision. This is not to say that anything goes, but that people’s bodies are different, people’s equipment is different, so sometimes fixed rules can be misleading, even wrong, if they are not appropriate for your body or equipment. I’ve often wondered about this when experimenting, say, with different heights for uchiokoshi, or different ways to construct daisan. You hear various rules of thumb, but what’s right for one person may not be right for another, and a lot of the fun is figuring out what works for you, yet does not “cross the line” into bad form.

During a different discussion with another teacher he said, and this was a bit of a surprise, that people at our level shouldn’t worry about nobiai. That we’re too young (in Kyudo years). Instead, it’s enough to release while expanding fully. Hold the left, he said, and with the right, it’s as if you are trying to pull the hazu out of the arrow. To do that, you’d pull straight back, along the line of the arrow, right? Neither up nor down, left nor right. It’s enough.

In one way I’m not sure about this advice, even though I heard something similar from another teacher just yesterday at our dojo here. But it’s worth considering.

At one point when we were near the end of the seminar I was able to ask about the history of the Raiki Shagi and Shaho-Kun. It turns out that these were indeed chosen by Uno-sensei (whose essay on both was added in the current edition of the Kyudo Kyohon).

There was also a fascinating discussion about a piece of calligraphy that was hanging in the dojo. If I remember right, it read 邪無思 (right to left, shi mu ja), which you could interpret as “mind without desire.” U-sensei told us that this is how we should be at the sha-i. We all know about desire to hit the target, but it goes deeper… desire to do well, desire to shoot well, desire to fix the problem you’ve been working on for so long… indeed he said that any sort of adjustments that you make during the shooting are also evidence of desire.

I asked, “Well, what about technique (技)?” and he said, “Practice those sorts of things at the makiwara.” This led to more discussion about how kyudo was practiced and learned back in the day, when students would train at the makiwara for several years before ever stepping in front of a target, learning good habits so that, when the time came to stand at the sha-i, I suppose, it wasn’t necessary to have a lot of thought.

I’ve tried to follow this advice, and at least spend more time with the makiwara. Especially now that it’s getting warmer (or was… we’ve had snow for the past two days), that becomes more practical. And then, after a while doing that, step up to the sha-i and see if I can shoot without desire.

Posted in daisan, hada-ire, hadanugi, hanare, hikiwake, kai, kaizoe, kyudo, kyudo notebook, mind, uchiokoshi, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Kyudo Notebook: Nagoya 2016 Written Test

Just a quick note that the process for the written test at Nagoya this year has changed, and people are supposed to submit their answers ahead of time as a PDF file sent by E-mail to the IKYF, with answers in Japanese, Chinese, or English. The deadline is March 30th, which probably means Japan time, so take care!

The question sheet (PDF) and the answer form (a Word file) are supposed to be distributed to participants by their country’s kyudo association, so if you don’t get them soon, it might be good to check directly. It seems a bit unrealistic to do something like this at such a late date, and with such a short deadline, but do your best and try to help each other out!!

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Kyudo Notebook: #1 Kaizoe Notes

Yesterday I had my debut as #1 kaizoe. Until now I hadn’t been volunteered for this because I’m a bit bigger than most of the ite doing the shooting, and the kaizoe are supposed to be in the background, not attracting attention. Apparently someone had a back injury and the job was mine!

These are some notes for my own future reference. Most of the details are either written in the 「介添え」book, from the ANKF, or implicit in the photographs, so these are just things that I want to emphasize/remember, plus a few things of my own. Since in my case the ite was a woman I’ll refer to “her” rather than repeating “him/her” all the time, but except in a few details (hadanugi/ire versus tasuki) it doesn’t matter.

  • If you can, practice with the ite and #2 kaizoe ahead of time to get the positions right. In particular decide on the spot where you will exchange the arrows with #2 kaizoe. In most cases this is obvious but it’s good to verify.
  • Before entering the shajo for the yawatashi itself, the ite and the two kaizoe will sit in seiza and exchange a bow (rei). As #1 kaizoe it is also your responsibility to check the ite‘s clothing and equipment to make sure all is well. In particular if the ite has a second bow (kae-yumi) ready (in case the string breaks when shooting the haya) you need to know where that is so you can get it quickly and without error.
  • When walking in, you’ll be last (the ite is first, then #2 kaizoe, then you). Even before you enter, fix your attention on the lower back of the ite, and as you step forward after the entering bow (yu), match the movement of your feet to those of the ite.
  • During the bow (rei) in seiza at the sadamenoza, keep your elbows in, rather than extended outward as you might otherwise do for sharei, etc. You’re trying to be inconspicuous.
  • When the ite turns right from the sademenoza in order to walk to a line behind, and parallel to, the honza, stay focused on her, but don’t start walking until she turns left to walk behind the honza. [possible correction here later]
  • Follow behind the ite, walking diagonally first to a location slightlyfarther behind (relative to the honza) the place where she turned. Then make a left turn onto a path that is parallel to, but further back from, the path she is walking.
  • Choose the place where you will sit in kiza ahead of time so you’ll know, but stay focused on the ite. Sometimes mistakes occur here.
  • When you sit down in kiza (at the same time that the ite sits), orient your body so you’re faced toward a point somewhat to the left and behind the ite. The idea here is that you will be able to walk straight from where you are now to that point where you will turn and sink into kiza behind the ite when helping with hadanugi/tasuki-sabaki. A good way to get a visual sense of this is to watch this video of Satake Mariko-sensei (hanshi, 8-dan), as #1 kaizoe. That video is also an excellent tutorial for how to perform the role when the ite is a woman.
  • In addition, at this point, memorize a landmark beyond the ite that is on a straight line joining the location (a) where you are sitting, (b) the spot where you will turn in order to be directly behind the ite to help with hadanugi/tasuki-sabaki, and the landmark itself. You will need this landmark later.
  • When the ite is a man, you stand and move behind him after he finishes the three moves with the left sleeve, then turns his hand into the left sleeve. When the ite is a woman, you stand and move behind her when she grasps the bottom of her right sleeve.
  • What you will see in the video is that Satake-sensei bows forward when she reaches the ite. That gave me the idea of doing the same, which allowed me to hide somewhat, and not appear to be looming over the ite.
  • Sometimes things go wrong here, which is why you’re there. When the ite is a man, the most common thing seems to be that he can’t find the edge of the left sleeve after removing it from his arm and shoulder. So you help with that. When the ite is a woman, what can happen is that the tasuki gets twisted, or worse, caught on the collar of her kimono, so you fix that. It’s a delicate question… whether to disturb the ite by “helping” or just let things be. I found it helpful to ask how much help the ite wanted if something like that went wrong. People differ. One point when the ite is a woman is that, if the bow/arrows fall, she will pick them up. That’s not your job.
  • When the ite is a man, you return to your previous kiza spot (walking backwards) after he tucks the edge of the left sleeve under the ties of the hakama (before pulling it back to his left hip). When the ite is a woman, you return to that spot (walking backwards) after she has brought the tasuki around both shoulders and is starting to tie it.
  • This walking backwards is when you need the landmark. If you walk backwards along that same line: the line joining the landmark and the spot where you turned to approach from directly behind the ite, that same line will take you back to the location where you started. Maybe some people have an innate sense of that, or if they’re at their home dojo, simply know, but I found this method very helpful.
  • So then there is the shooting. As the ite moves forward and backward, you’ll need to shift your position so that you are facing her directly, maintaining your focus on her back, synchronizing your breathing with hers, using your energy to work together.
  • Things can go wrong. Arrows dropped. Strings broken. In one case I remember the ite getting confused and sitting in kiza at the sha-i. Be prepared for anything by recalling that your only goal is to make the ite look as good as possible.
  • There’s a section in the book on handling errors. If the string breaks and the ite prepared a second bow, you go out and get the bow while the ite is picking up the string. Then there is some sleight of hand that has to take place, as you exchange the second bow for the first, as well as the broken string, all done from behind the ite as she sits in kiza. I need to get some instruction on how to do that sleight of hand bit. My guess at that point is that you would take the bow and the string out of the shajo, to the place where the second bow was kept, since you obviously won’t be able to carry them with you later. I need to verify all this.
  • Likewise if an arrow is dropped, the ite will pick it up, bow (yu) in apology, and move back to the honza. At that point you move forward to take the dropped arrow, and bring it back with you to your chosen spot. Then you lay it down at your right side. Don’t forget to take it with you later!
  • Anyway, if all goes well, there were no errors, and the two arrows were wonderful, the ite returns to the honza, then turns to face wakishomen. If the ite is a man, you stand up and move behind him, as before, this time to help with hada-ire. Getting the left arm back in the sleeve is complicated and lots can go wrong. It’s your job to figure out how to fix it. Usually what you need to do is reach around and pull the left front of the kimono and the underlying juban forward, creating a space so that the ite can insert his elbow. Another thing that can happen is that the ite gets his arm partway in the sleeve but the juban is tangled and he’s unable to get it all the way out. In such a case you reach into the sleeve from the outside, find the ite‘s hand, and pull it out, all the while trying to stay inconspicuous. It’s quite a challenge! In addition, sometimes the ite‘s kimono gets shifted around at the back, so you may want to adjust the kimono so that the kamon is centered in back, and the collar is correct. Great fun! Once hada-ire is finished, you stand, back up three paces (while bowing forward toward the ite) then turn and walk to the place where you’ll exchange the arrows with #2 kaizoe.
  • If the ite is a woman, you have it easy because there is nothing to do. Nothing much can go wrong, or if it does (like the bow/arrows falling, or some trouble with the tasuki), she’ll handle it, so you don’t approach her at all, but just stay where you are, in kiza + shiken-rei. When she finishes untying the tasuki and begins to pull it over her left shoulder to fold it up, you stand and walk to the point where you will exchange the arrows with #2 kaizoe. Check the video above to get a better sense of that.
  • So then you’re off! You and #2 kaizoe arrive at the exchange spot. You lead the sitting down. Take a half step back with your right foot and sink into kiza. #2 kaizoe will sink down into sonkyo.
  • After receiving the arrows from #2 kaizoe, bring them to your body at about waist level then tug back a bit with the right hand (through the encircling grip of your left hand). That is to say, you’re using the right hand to pull the arrow tips back toward the edge of the left hand (watch the video very closely). That will allow your right hand to come forward to the itsukebushi, where you need them to be for the rest of the procedure (regardless of whether the ite shoots in reishakei or busshakei).
  • There is no need (and indeed it’s quite difficult) to place the arrows between your body and the right kimono sleeve. Try to keep your movements small and to a minimum.
  • After the bow (yu) from the #2 kaizoe, your rise up on your knees and execute a right hirakiashi turn. Then without sinking down (that is, while staying upright on your knees) stand by extending your right foot forward on a line to a spot about 2 meters directly behind the ite (who is at this point, sitting at the honza, facing the targets). Walk to that spot at a brisk pace (the ite is waiting), turn to face directly behind the ite, and sit in kiza about 1.8 meters behind her.
  • Now comes that set of moves that you really need to see. Check the photographs in the book and (better) the video, but just for the sake of making notes, do these steps without unnecessary delay:
  • (1) The following three things are done simultaneously: (a) step forward with your left foot at an angle , so that you will be facing to the right of the ite, (b) extend your right hand so that the arrows are vertical (pointing up) and directly in front of you, with your right hand, elbow, and arm level at about the height of your chin, (c) use the left hand to grasp the arrows at about the nonakabushi.
  • (2) The following two things are done simultaneously: (a) slide your right knee forward until it matches up with the left, (b) slid the left hand down to a point just above the fletchings. Keep the arrows vertical.
  • (3) The following two things are done simultaneously: (a) execute a hirakiashi turn to the left so that you are sitting behind and to the right of the ite, with your back turned to the kamiza, (b) bring your left hand down to the hazu of the arrows. The arrows are still vertical.
  • (4) Tilt the arrows clockwise so that they are pointed along a line that passes just to the right of the ite‘s obi (on her right side), then insert the arrows, pressing them lightly against the obi (so the ite can feel them), then shift them down so that she can grasp them. If the ite shoots reishakei, you’ll need to do this so that the arrows extend beyond her hand and the itsukebushi is near her index finger. If she shoots busshakei, you’ll insert the tips so that they will be concealed by her hand. The book recommends pulling the arrows slightly to verify that she’s grasped them firmly. Note that the book recommends that this step be done while you are bringing the left foot around to join the right, but in practice it looks to me (see the video) like people don’t usually to do that. Sometimes the two arrows separate a bit at the fletchings, and I’ve seen kaizoe correct that by pushing them together.
  • (5) Now do shift yourself back so that you’re directly behind the ite by sliding along the floor, leading with your left leg (see the video), stand, take three steps back while in a bow (yu) orientation, then straighten up and continue walking straight backward until you reach an intersection with the path you followed when entering (that is, further away from the honza than the path that the ite will walk), and go briskly to the sadamenoza. Sometimes if the ite is an older person, or who otherwise might have trouble getting up from kiza, the #1 kaizoe will wait to make sure that the ite is safely standing before turning in order to walk back to the sadamenoza. It depends on the situation.
  • Once at the sadamenoza, you go through the bows (rei) with the ite, stand, take one step back with the right foot, then while maintaining focus on the ite‘s back, turn in place slightly to follow her progress toward the exit. Once she turns for her closing bow, you start moving toward the exit as well, taking tiny little steps but never stopping. Once the ite has exited, you do the usual exit bow (yu) and you’re done!
  • Afterwards you’ll sit in seiza with the ite and #2 kaizoe and mutually thank each other. You’ve lived to tell the tale!

I asked my teacher for comments on things I’d done wrong, and mainly he just said that my movements weren’t smooth, but that like anything else it comes with practice. I also think that, because it was my first time for this, I was focused more on what I needed to do than I was on the ite, so perhaps like an amateur Noh performance, the energy was also lacking.

There are a few points where I’m not entirely certain and I will try to remedy those. The benefit of writing all this down is precisely that the missing knowledge becomes clear to see, so if anyone has corrections or practical tips, please let me know!

PS For the timing when the ite is a man, see this video of Yoshimoto-sensei (hanshi, 9-dan) as ite, with Usami-sensei (hanshi, 8-dan) as #1 kaizoe and Kawamura-sensei (hanshi, 8-dan) as #2 kaizoe. For #2 kaizoe I recorded some earlier notes here and here.

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