Kyudo Notebook: Goals

Something I’ve always found curious about the Kyudo Kyohon is the number of times we’re told about ultimate goals, and how varied, at least on the surface, those goals seem to be. For example:

  • Raiki Shagi: 射は仁の道なり (sha ha jin no michi nari). The English version translates this as “Kyudo is the way of perfect virtue,” [E. pg. ix] which conceals as much as it reveals since the Raiki Shagi we have in the Kyudo Kyohon is really excerpts (passage 2 and part of 11) from the longer Archery chapter of the ancient Confucian Raiki, and 仁 (jin) can’t be fully understood outside that context. You can think of it as being a complete human being (both internally and in relation to others), and shooting as a path (michi) to that accomplishment. It’s the central goal of Confucian practice and the more I look the volume one, the more it seems to be permeated by Confucian ideas. Some of this is very explicit, of course, (J. pp. 37-41, E. pp. 17-19) but in other places it’s more implied. Or seems to be.
  • Uno-sensei is said to have “emphasized the following points as the main objectives (眼目, ganmoku) of Kyudo: to study the principles of shooting and the art of shooting, to apply the formalized movements based on etiquette, to improve the level of shooting and shooting dignity, and [my favorite] the necessity to strive for perfection as a human being.” [J. pg. 16, E, pg. 8]. The word translated as “perfection” (完成) could also be taken as “completion.”
  • “Our goal in Kyudo is not the hitting of the target. On the contrary, the expression of harmonious beauty is the objective of the shooting.” [J. pp. 16-17, E. pg. 9].
  • The keys [要諦, youtei] to Kyudo are said to be sincerity [至誠, shisei] and courteousness [礼節, reisetsu]. [J. pg. 17, E. pg. 9] For a long time, I wondered about the meaning of “sincerity,” there, thinking that it meant something closer to honesty, but it seems that 至誠 also has the connotation of “wholehearted effort,” so it’s not just being honest but also fully committed.
  • “The highest goals of Kyudo are Truth (真, shin), Goodness (善, zen), and Beauty (美, bi)”. [J. pp. 42-44, E. pp. 19-21] Here it’s useful to recognize that, in Confucianism, zen (not to be confused with 禅, the Buddhist Zen) isn’t some kind of abstract concept (“The Good”) but seems to revolve around goodness in relation to others. Likewise beauty is not just elegance or something pleasant to look at, but has the sense of “The beauty of that which is true; The beauty of that which is good.” [J. pg. 43] which seems to be the origin of one of my favorite sentences in the English translation, “[Beauty] is the form of truth expressed in the application of good.” [E. pg. 20]
  • “There are those who with much hardship have exerted themselves in pursuit of the quintessence (真髄, shinzui) of Kyudo. In this demanding way, it has relentlessly been studied by many great archers. Although seeking for the highest level of practice is not the ambition of everyone, practitioners of Kyudo should still be aware of the spiritual aspect. Then the popular aspect of Kyudo will have a relationship to the deeper parts of the practice. Without this relationship, the popular aspect will be shallow and empty.” [E. pg. 21, J. pg. 45]
  • “To many it might seem an unreasonable notion, but nothing is more distasteful in Kyudo than shooting based on this attachment to the act of hitting. In our daily lives also, we often experience this kind of attitude, but the reality of this desire is more evident in our shooting so that through our practice the importance of the right attitude toward desire is found and our lives can be experienced more profoundly. In this context expressions like “Shooting is Life” (Sha Soku Jinsei), “Shooting is Living” (Sha Soku Seikatsu) or “Shooting is Standing Zen” (Sha wa Ritsu-Zen) take on significance.” [E. pg. 21, J. pp. 45-46]
  • “It is true that we can do nothing without technique, but technique alone does not give the depth to our performance. We must unite both aspects into one by attaining a stage where technique and spirit are braided into one rope… The two aspects are not distinct, but must always be considered as one. In unity these two poles will merge into the condition beyond division. The technical aspect and the spiritual aspect, while different in external form, once they are united and internalized, then no distinction will arise between them. This will produce the noblest values in attitude and performance.” [E. pg. 22, J. pg. 47]
  • “Sanmi-Ittai means the unity of the three essentials, Body, Spirit, and Bow as one body… For the practitioner of Kyudo, the vital question is how to create this unity…. B seeking these qualities in our training, we will realize the “Five Virtues.” (these are the Confucian virtues of Benevolence, Justice Courtesy, Wisdom, and Sincerity).” [E. pg. 24, J. pg. 52]. This is Uno-sensei (宇野要三郎先生, 1878-1969) again, commenting on the Raiki Shagi. The Japanese text does not explicitly identify these as Confucian virtues, but any educated person of his time would have recognized them as such. Uno-sensei had quite an influence on the Kyudo Kyohon. He was kaicho (president) of both the wartime Budokai and the postwar ANKF, so in addition to Kyudo itself he had to navigate the politics of both the wartime government and the post-war occupation forces. Anything involving martial spirit was of central concern to both.
  • “Present-day Kyudo has no practical application… Its purpose today is to realize the physical and emotional well being of the person and develop the personal qualities that will enrich our lives… Our aspiration should be to become the kind of archer who has beauty and refinement in his shooting, growing into a mature and dignified personality.” [E. pg. 27-28, J. pg. 57-59]
  • “By performing these actions [the fundamental forms and movements] through the concentration of right attitude, the archer will over a period of time cultivate those qualities of personality that are the highest goal of practice.” [E. pg. 29]. I do not see this passage in the Japanese text of either the 1971 or the 1956 editions. Maybe that’s a sign that I should go to bed! That phrase, “right attitude” or “right belief” appears several times in the text and I’ve always found it mysterious. What attitude/belief? Attitude toward what?
  • “The various stages [shahou hassetsu] until now have been done to attain the full draw (Kai) in which the spirit, body, bow and arrow are harmonized as one. In this unified condition the waiting is maintained until the time ripens to ‘brim with the fullness of spirit,’ ceaselessly expanding to ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ and to the left and right (Nobiai) until the opportunity for release arrives. To attain this is without doubt the perfection [極致, kyokuchi, culmination/acme] of shooting.” [E. pg. 68, J. pg. 115] Strictly speaking this is not described as an ultimate goal of Kyudo but still… perfection in shooting must be part of that, or a path to it.
  • “The full draw (Kai) is, psychologically speaking, the continuity of an imperturbable spirit. Removing attachments, desire, and worldly thoughts towards the target, at the full draw you must wipe away negativity like doubt, anxiety, faintheartedness, fear, and self-depreciation and make the effort to fulfill the spirit with self-control, composure, endurance, and determination, founded on the right belief. This disciplining of oneself is the very precious way connected to Shasoku-Jinsei — Shooting is Life. [E. pg. 70, J. pg. 119].
  • “The purpose of Japanese Kyudo is not only competition but cultivation of the mind and body, as a way to achieve self-perfection.” [E. pg. 75, J. pg. 128]. As in second point, “self-perfection” is 自己完成 (jiko kansei), so you could also say self-completion.
  • “With this awareness [of the importance of etiquette], the movements of the shooting will become graceful and solemn, creating a state of spirit in which there is serenity and purity of heart, which is the harmony of shooting and etiquette. The application of this sincerity to each arrow is the principle object of Kyudo.” [E. pg. 76, J. pg. 128] What’s being called “etiquette” here is 礼 (rei), another one of those very deep Confucian terms. In their book, The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation, [really fascinating and my source for a lot of the perspectives on Confucianism] Ames and Rosemont say, “Li [J. rei] are those meaning-invested roles, relationships and institutions which facilitate communication, and which foster a sense of community. The compass is broad: all formal conduct, from table manners to patterns of greeting and leave-taking, to graduations, weddings, funerals, from gestures of deference to ancestral sacrifices — all of these, and more, are li. They are a social grammar that provides each member with a defined place and status within the family, community, and polity.” [pg. 51].
  • “Shooting, which in this way places a strong emphasis on the spiritual, should be pervaded with sincerity and courteousness and through the shooting express your heart and the beauty of harmony.” [E. pg. 76, J. pg. 129]. This echoes the third passage, above.

Clearly it is possible to synthesize these, and treat them as slightly different signposts all pointing toward the same place. But the big surprise, as far as a 21st century practitioner goes, is the strength of the Confucian influence. I wonder how much that really permeates modern Kyudo thought? I mean, at the highest level? The Hanshi I have met, when they talked about the philosophical side of things, usually express it in more Buddhist terms, using expressions like mushin or muga, terms that I don’t think occur in volume one (but I could be wrong about that, so someone please correct me if so). The only time a teacher ever made explicit reference to Confucianism was at a lecture during a Kyudo tutorial that was sponsored by the larger Budo organization, which does seem to have at least a partial Confucian emphasis. There is more to say on that, but I don’t want to get political.

What I think you can say is that there is an underlying belief that, through the discipline and practice of Kyudo (and other “Ways”), a person can forge themselves into a better human being, both individually and, perhaps even more crucially, in the context of relationships with other people/society. Because shooting is, at least in one sense, a solitary activity, I think we may neglect the interpersonal aspect to some extent in modern practice, but the relationship aspect is very much there in the Kyohon and, of course, in such practices as sharei, taihai, the duties of kaizoe, etc. If you watch renshi shinsa, and the mochimato sharei that is the second part of the test, sometimes you see groups that really are synchronized, both physically and spiritually. Other times it seems like people are just shooting for themselves, going through the motions but with easily discerned gaps. It makes a huge difference, and it’s something I need to work on.

But of course the real point is that, if shooting is life (sha soku jinsei), then we have to carry all this into our daily lives and not just leave it in the dojo. That’s difficult because random people in the shopping mall (not to mention government) won’t usually have, or even value, that sort of discipline. Maybe that’s why Confucius always seems like a tragic figure, trying to show by words and example how people and society should be, but always confronted by how it is? But I guess all ethical and moral standards are like that. It’s a question of what you are willing to sacrifice for.

In any case, for Kyudo practitioners, I think it’s worth looking at all these statements about ultimate goals and thinking what they really mean, and whether that’s where we, as individuals, really want to go. If it is, then it seems we need to pursue it wholeheartedly, and dive into the depths.

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Kyudo Notebook: Kyoto Update

Hard to believe it’s been so long since I last posted. Things have really been happening. I’m just back from Kyoto and thanks to a missed connection have only about 12 hours before heading out again, so I want to add some updates to an earlier post about the Kyoto taikai/shinsa before I forget.

The main points stay the same but it’s important to emphasize the need to get to your appointed spot on the third floor about an hour before you think you’ll be shooting (or stay in the first floor area and listen to the announcements). The way they work it is that, for each of the shajo, there are five lines of seats for people to sit while waiting to shoot (designated the fifth waiting area (dai-go hikae) through first waiting area (dai-ichi hikae)). Two (5 and 4) are outside in the hall area, and three (3-2-1) are inside the main event all (separated from their respective shajo by partitions). If you figure it takes six minutes for one group (tachi) to shoot two arrows, it means that it takes about 30 minutes from the time you sit down in the fifth waiting area to the point where you’re entering the shajo, but you should give yourself more time because some groups shoot quickly, plus if somebody doesn’t show up, they’ll shift you all forward.

The way they seem to work it is that if you are not in your correct place by the time you move from the outer waiting area to the inside one, then you lose your spot. I saw that happen to one person at the very start, and then (most disappointing!) even during the finals, when two people just weren’t in the right place at the right time. They came all that way, passed the first round, and then lost their spot due to timing. Take care!

When you’re at the third waiting area they’ll collect your tsuru-maki or kae-yumi, and then there’s an equipment check. The main things they seem to look at are the fletchings (to make sure you’re not using the feathers of a prohibited endangered species) and the yasurito, the rattan just above the bow grip. That last may be to ensure that you haven’t made a mark to indicate an aiming point, but I’m not certain. We were just warned not to cover the yasurito with our hand.

Once the check is completed you can move your bow/arrows to the stands along the partitions. That area has tatami mats so you’ll need to slip your shoes off. In fact there’s a lot of putting on and taking off of footwear, so either have setta or shoes that you can easily slip on/off.

Another useful tip is that if you are shooting in the first shajo, the rei/yu when you enter and exit should be toward the national flag, but in all the other shajo, the rei/yu should be directed to the most senior person in the kamiza seats (shinsa-in for the shinsa; there are hanshi sitting there during the taikai, but I’m not sure of their official role). The most senior person will be the one farthest to the left (closest to the targets) as you look toward them from the shajo entrace. This positioning, plus the small-ish size of the shajo, makes turning around for the yu at the exit a little difficult.

Oh, and if you’re o-mae, it’s good to know that, rather than looking out the corners of your eyes to figure out who will be the last person to shoot, the shajo shinpan will shout hajime! when the people in front of you finish. That’s the signal to do the yu from the honza, stand up, and then move to the sha-i. It’s nice that way. You can concentrate on your breathing.

In the second part of the taikai (if you hit with both arrows during the first round), you’ll need to bring four arrows with you, but only bring one into the shajo at a time. The shooting just continues immediately after the final tachi of the first round. There is no break. It just starts, so you must be in the waiting area on the third floor or you could lose your chance to shoot in the finals!

In this part you’ll only shoot one arrow at a time, and keep going round and round until there’s only one person left (if there are ties for the fifth through second place those people move to a different shajo for an enkin round). After the second time shooting one arrow, the targets will be switched to the 24cm “star” target (hoshi-mato), which weeds people out faster.

In the you-dan contest people can wear either regular do-gi or kimono. If you’re in kimono you take care of hada-nugi or tying the tasuki before entering the shajo (don’t forget!).

That’s it for the practical stuff, I think. There were some other things that I think I sort of figured out, but I need to give those more thought. It was a good trip!

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Kyudo: State of the Union

Well, no, not that State of the Union. There have been a couple of tutorials and taikai since the last post, and several things seem to be coming together, though I’m wary of the “magic key” effect. I want to get some things down in bits before I forget.

At the most recent tutorial one of the teachers (hanshi, 8-dan) listed five principles, five things to avoid:

  • Wasteful movement
  • Wasteful strength
  • Wasteful breathing
  • Wasteful seeing
  • Wasteful spirit

The term I’m calling “wasteful” is 無駄 (muda) which also has senses like “useless” or “unnecessary,” and here the idea is to avoid adding something that isn’t needed, or worse, something that actually leads you away from what you should be doing. I think a lot of the points below relate back to these ideas. As usual, a lot of what follows was advice given to me to solve my own problems, so don’t take it as universal. Some people were probably told the exact opposite!


  • Create the rounded ensou form of the left arm from the very beginning, when you lower the motohazu of the bow to your left knee. Create it then and don’t change it.
  • The emphasis on this ensou form relates to the idea that body, spirit, and bow should be one (sanmi-ittai). If you push the bow far away from your body, it will be difficult to develop that unity.
  • Up until torikake your face should be framed by the bow and the bowstring.


  • As you bring the right hand up to the nocking point, shift the bow to the right so that the center of the fletchings (as seen between the bow and the bowstring) is in line with the center of your body (as seen from the front, of course).
  • Maintain the ensou form.
  • Maintain the sanju-jumonji.
  • During this process, shift your center of gravity forward quite a bit. This was recommended to me because I have a tendency to twist my body, especially my shoulders, from uchiokoshi onward. Leaning forward stabilizes the lower body, which makes it harder to twist the upper body. What I’d been doing until this was using some force to keep my shoulders straight, but one bonus of using this forward shifting of the center of gravity is that no force is needed in the upper body.
  • Based on the ensou form of the arms, habiki must use the muscles/tendons running along the outside of the arms.


  • I need to twist my head more to the left and tilt my chin down a bit. For me, the correct turn of the head means that I’ll feel the stretch in my neck.
  • The movement of uchiokoshi is led by the right elbow. The rest of the arms just follow along. One benefit of focusing on the right elbow instead of the right hand is that it doesn’t tempt you to put strength into the right hand or wrist.
  • After habiki, don’t draw the bow any further apart as you raise it in uchiokoshi. I have an unconscious habit of doing that.
  • Maintain the ensou form.
  • Move slowly… take your time…


  • This movement is led by the back of the left hand, maintaining the 90 degree angle between the hand and the bow. This helps to maintain contact between the bow and the root of the little finger.
  • Keep the right wrist relaxed.
  • Maybe… raise the right elbow gently into daisan. I have to experiment a bit with this.
  • There is no squeezing/twisting feeling between the grip of the bow and the left hand from uchiokoshi to daisan. You just let the bow turn in your hand.


  • This movement is led by the outside of the upper arms, down near the elbows. Actually my usual way of drawing the bow is to do it from my feet, so I have to find a way to balance these two ideas…
  • Because I’ve shifted my center of gravity forward, the aiming point will shift more to the left.
  • There’s no need to really think about the left hand. Just the operation of tsunomi, and then don’t give in.
  • Move carefully and take care with the breath.

Kai -> Zanshin

  • Expansion in kai is led by the shoulders moving outward through the elbows, etc.
  • Both the shoulder blades and the chest open up, but this movement is not dramatic. When one of the hanshi was demonstrating I had a hard time seeing any movement at all at first.
  • Push… or maybe “gather” is a better term? the breath down into the tanden. Study breathing to understand the tanden.
  • Don’t use strength at hanare; use feeling.
  • Concentrate! Focus! (This is something I was told a lot, though I have to admit one of the challenges for me at the moment is where to focus, or what to focus on)


  • This movement is done in time with a full inhalation and exhalation.


  • This movement is also done with a full inhalation and exhalation.

General Points

  • Let the bow teach you the proper tenouchi. This implies the need to experiment and be sensitive to what it’s teaching you! There’s no need for any strength in the lower three fingers of the left hand.
  • Don’t blink. Blinking is an example of “wasteful seeing.” [In my experience, I blink when I lose concentration, or feel that one movement has ended and I’m about to move on to another, but movement and concentration should be continuous]
  • At the same time, when in the Kyudo Kyohon it tells you to keep your eyes focused on a point X meters in front, the point is not to focus intently on that one spot. Your gaze is set there, in a relaxed sort of way, but your vision is wide-angle, with peripheral vision taking in everything around you.
  • In Kyudo there’s a lot said about the heart (kokoro), but it’s not just that. Heart and body must be one (and the bow, too).
  • The left hand should not move left or right, up or down, at hanare/zanshin, though they sort of let you get away with a slight drop to shoulder height. There are various reasons why these movements do occur. Some have to do with spiritual focus. Others have to do with gripping the bow too tightly. Sometimes if you release the arrow on purpose, the left hand opens in sympathy with the right. All of that is “wasteful movement” or “wasteful spirit.”
  • There are some very good essays in volume 4 of the Kyudo Kyohon. Well worth the effort of dealing with some rather old-fashioned language.

Another tutorial focused just on kaizoe and I have some other notes, but need to stop now because someone wants to go to bed!


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Kyudo Notebook: Aims

Shocking to see that my last note here was in August. Where did the time go? Back then it was hot and humid. Now the ground is covered with snow. I’ve been thinking lately about the aim of Kyudo practice. Why am I doing this? Why are you? What do I hope to discover or to become?

This past weekend we had a two-day tutorial with a teacher (Hanshi, 8-dan) who I’ve always been interested in. He had some great advice to help with tenouchi, and I’m going to be working on that over the next few months (or more likely, for the rest of my life), but at one point he also told us, “Hayai is not a matter of time but of depth.”

I imagine most of us have heard “Hayai!” more than once, and many are also familiar with people counting the number of seconds that we, or someone else, lingers in kai. I guess that’s understandable: anyone can count seconds. But how do you measure, or even perceive, “depth?”

I was puzzling over this today at the dojo and without even having to ask him, my teacher volunteered that it’s a matter of fulfillment: when your mind, your body, and the bow come together as one. He said this is visible to people who are watching, and it’s when they see that they will think, “Ah… that’s good shooting.”

So now I’m on the trail of fulfillment, but I’m not at all sure how to get there. Awa Kenzo said, “When you shoot, shoot for thousands; it is not just a contest. Your practice is to take on the universe. Your opponents are manifold.” [Zen Bow, Zen Arrow, John Stevens, trans., Shambhala, 2007, pg. 38].

I hope everyone is doing well!

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Kyudo Notebook: Little Things

Things have been weird lately. After a period of stability the arrows started flying all over the place, sometimes as much as one or two target-widths away. What’s going on? I couldn’t figure it out and I think my teachers were in, “Let’s see if he figures this out on his own” mode. So I tried a lot of different things. Sometimes the makiwara really isn’t much of a help because the only way to see what’s happening is to see the results at 28m.

Finally I took a look at my kake. and noticed that some kusune had built up around the tsuru-makura, creating a rough and uneven edge, so I took it home and smoothed it out with a heated nail. It didn’t completely solve the situation but it made a huge difference. Now I have to sort of retrace my steps and undo some of the things I was doing to try to fix the situation before I realized this, and after looking at video made yesterday, I see some other things I definitely need to work on. It’s embarrassing, and yet funny how different my shooting can be from the image I have of it in my head.

Step by step…

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Mind / Body / Bow

Another long delay! Maybe this is how it will be for a while? Things are happening but slowly, and in a one step forward, one step in a totally random direction sort of way. I went through a period where things were very stable, but for reasons I cannot explain, it suddenly evaporated. Maybe part of it is the heat and humidity of the summer and rainy days affecting not just me but the bow, the kake, everything? These days the giriko can almost melt, and stick your fingers together like glue.

A funny thing is that I’m only now discovering how important the fundamentals are, especially the crosses, and of those, the sanju-jumonji. I find that I have to take great care to set that during dozukuri and maintain it all the way through. There are so many opportunities to twist the torso and the line of the shoulders, and I find that makes a huge difference as far as a balanced release and the arrow going where I want it to. It’s frankly amazed that I ever managed to hit the target at all, but by watching school competitions it’s clear that there are a lot of ways to shoot and hit. Some rely just on strength, some on a variety nonstandard techniques that compensate for each other. It’s interesting how creative we humans can be when faced with a target.

But of course, that’s not all we’re after, eh?

Another oddity is that sometimes, especially in taikai, I find myself getting into kai, but then suddenly feeling unsettled/unsure. It’s a sort of low-level panic feeling: “Hey! What am I doing here? What am I supposed to do now?” The answer seems to be that I don’t need to do anything. Just maintain the crosses, and expand physically/mentally/spiritually and see what happens. Unfortunately, because the feeling only arises at times of stress, when something related to me, my self-image, etc, is on the line, it’s not something that I can easily practice. So I have to seek times of stress. Hmmm…

Then the other day my teacher told me that my expression shouldn’t change at hanare. Ha! How do you control that? I’m thinking that rather than trying to do something physically I may need more mental/spiritual focus, so that when the “phenomenon” of hanare occurs, the thinking part of my mind is as though “not there.” After all there’s no reason for my expression to change unless I have expectations, desires, etc.

In fact that’s been a theme of some other reading that began with a book by the Dalai Lama, The Heart of Meditation, on the Nyingma practice called Dzogchen (Great Completeness). But I have to let all that simmer for a while before it’s clear enough to write something. I see connections there to mushin and the kind of practices that are discussed in Buddhist texts like Takuan Soho’s Fudouhishinmyouroku (The Unfettered Mind), as well as hinted at in the Kyudo Kyohon and some works by Awa Kenzo. Lots of work to be done there…

Anyway this weekend we have a two-day seminar to indoctrinate us into a lot of new ANKF lore. I’m not sure what it’s all about, to be honest, but there’s even a textbook. If it seems interesting/useful I’ll write something. Oh, and it’s a ways off yet, but the All-Japan tournament will be in Ise this year, 21-25 September. It’s worth the trip if you can make it, and a bunch of the Hokkaido crew will be there.

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Kyudo Notebook: New Shinsa Questions

So the shinsa season is upon us. Our first local one is tomorrow. Maybe everybody knows this, but just in case, the written test questions have changed ever so slightly, mostly, it seems, just to make some questions more clear. As of 10 January 2017 there’s a new document (PDF) available at the ANKF site with both Japanese and English translation.

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