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.

Posted in kyudo, kyudo notebook, shinsa | 1 Comment

Kyudo Notebook: Rain

So many things have been going on, not least of which has been unexpected travel, but there is no letting up with practice! I want to record some notes made at a tutorial some time back with a favorite Hanshi (8-dan), which turned out to be the day before I had to leave. It’s been long enough that I have a hard time recalling the context for everything, so I’ll just make a list of advice and other things I put down in my notebook at the time. My little comments in brackets.

  • He began by quoting Awa Kenzo: Throw away the target / Throw away the self / Infinitely far off (mugen no kanata)
  • Treat your equipment as part of your own body
  • Getting advice is good but you need to experiment for yourself
  • It’s good to have 5-6 bows, each about 1/2kg apart, so you can match your bodily strength on any given day. [Our teacher at the 2016 seminar in Nagoya said the same thing. Of course, few people could afford to do that all at once, and it probably wouldn’t be good for the bows if you did! But if you keep practicing for, say 20-30 years, I could see ending up with that many]
  • You can do weight training to be able to draw a stronger bow, or learn to draw “with the bones.” [But don’t obsess about this,] there is no taikai where the prize is given to the one who can draw the strongest bow.
  • There will always be better people than you. You should never be satisfied with where you are in your shooting. If you do, you’ll stop making progress. Always go forward.
  • [People practice kyudo for all sorts of reasons, but] shooting to “polish the self” (jibun wo migakitai) is best. But it entails a lot of suffering.
  • Never run from a challenge. Once you are in the shajo, wherever it is, put everything you have into it. This is the meaning of “Kyudo is a fight with your self” (jibun to no tatakai). The enemy is your own desire (yokubukai jibun). [I would say fear also plays a role]
  • You learn through failure. It’s not fun, but necessary.
  • You should always engage all of your effort/energy, even in practice (not just events like shinsa).
  • There is only the shahou hassetsu. It’s simple. There is no difference between the hassetsu of a beginner and the hassetsu of a master. It’s the same. No more difficult. And therefore… difficult.
  • Budo is “martial art” but it takes time for it to become art.
  • It is important to strengthen the lower body. You should strengthen your tanden until someone pushing or pulling at the point the hakama knot (for men) cannot move you. [Normally when we watch people shoot the focus is on the upper body because that’s where most of the action appears to be, but sometimes I watch the person’s legs. Of course, you can’t see well because of the hakama, but sometimes you can see a person’s legs expand just before hanare. It’s interesting]
  • Nobiai should extend to infinity, with the image of the shoulder blades moving apart.
  • Some people have a problem where, because the target is essentially at the level of their feet, they push down on the bow. This causes the bow to drop at hanare. Don’t do that.
  • Don’t pull the bow… push it from daisan to kai.

The tutorial ended with a torture session. I mean hitotsu-mato sharei, but with a twist in which the younger people were asked to do the gensoku form. This is the longest of the three timings, where you remain in kiza until the person in front of you has backed up to the honza and begins to sit down. Agony. But occasionally, perhaps when only a couple of candidates pass the first part of the renshi exam, people are asked to do it, so I want to record some notes on that, as well as sharei in general:

  • Just as with the monomi-gaeshi timing, where your actions standing up are in time with the movements of the person in front of you. In gensoku the following actions occur simultaneously, using #1 to be the person in front and #2 the next person to shoot. When #1 brings his feet together as the final step of moving back to the honza, #2 brings his right hand to the hazu. When #2 rises onto his knees, #1 takes the half step back (before starting to sink down into kiza). When #2 starts to stand up, #1 matches that pace when sinking into kiza. Note that in the very first of these three, #1 is the leader, but in the 2nd and 3rd, #2 is the leader. So each needs to be careful and considerate of the other.
  • When backing up to the honza, o-mae must take great care to return to the same spot (honza) from which the group began, because it affects everyone else.
  • In the torikake timing, you wait until the person in front of you finishes torikake before you begin the process of standing up. Thus it is not the same as the shinsa-houshiki timing where you stand at the tsurune of the person two people ahead. There’s a delay.
  • O-mae especially must ensure that each move finishes with zanshin so that the others can stay synchronized. However zanshin does not mean stopping. Movement is still continuous.
  • Likewise, on the entry, o-mae should maintain the normal walking rhythm, but use smaller steps so that the people behind can keep up. Tall people in particular must match the stride length of shorter people in order to achieve a harmonious result. [In theory shorter people could take big steps but it doesn’t look good]
  • Especially at higher levels (I think he meant kyoushi), it’s best if everyone in the group shoots using the same form (reishakei or busshakei). Likewise you should pay attention to the angle and placement of the bow when you stand it up in front of you, and the angle of the arrows as you are waiting to stand, to make sure they’re all in a line from the perspective of the kamiza.
  • The correct footing at the exit (taijou) in sharei is not the same as for shinsa. In a shinsa you would turn toward the kamiza, bring both feet together, and then bow (yu), then turn to leave. But in sharei you use footing similar to that of the entry, where you turn toward the kamiza, then bow (yu) at the same time that you bring the feet together. Then turn to leave. [This was controversial, but after a while the consensus was that this is correct. The reason is that, when you are leaving the shajo in a shinsa, there is nobody behind you, so there is no reason to rush. But in sharei there will be someone behind you, therefore it is important to complete the action without delay.]
  • In the bow (rei) at the sadamenoza, you must maintain the toriyumi posture throughout. In particular this means that the arrows should stay at the same angle as the bow, and be pointed at the urahazu. Likewise when sitting in seiza at the sadamenoza, your buttocks should not rest on the heels, but be held above (just as with kiza).
  • In hitotsu-mato sharei, each person must be sure to shoot at the same spot as the person in front just did. What often happens is that each person stops a bit short of where the person in front was standing, and as that continues, one after another, the shooting location moves further and further back (away from the kamiza). Not only is this noticeable, it means that people end up standing at an angle to the target, which means they either have to alter ashibumi to shoot on a diagonal or keep their feet perpendicular to the azuchi and twist their upper body to achieve a proper aim. So don’t do that.

Also during this tutorial I got some advice for me personally. I know for sure that others received exactly the opposite advice, so it depends on the person and I’m not sure what led the teachers to recommend one way for one person and the opposite for someone else. That said, I was told that in yatsugae I should line up the edge of the bow just behind the tenmon line of my left hand. The idea is that when the bow rotates in my hand from uchiokoshi to daisan, the outer edge will move into the tenmon line. So in the spirit of “you need to experiment for yourself” (above), try it different ways and see what works. I suspect that this has to do with the size of the grip versus the size of a person’s hand. I was also told that I needed to bring the right hand closer to my head at daisan (a perennial problem). But after a couple of months of trying/experimenting, these changes have worked well, especially when combined with a change of attitude regarding what I’m doing and why.

Oh, and I should say, the other thing that has changed in the past month or so is that my teacher took a look at my bow and said it was getting out of shape (nari), so he showed me how to fix that, and returning it to the correct shape over time seems to have helped a great deal.

Finally, I’ll be going to Kyoto again this year with the usual suspects from our dojo. If you’re going and want to catch up, just let me know!

Posted in hanare, kai, kyudo, kyudo notebook, mind, sharei, sharei | 2 Comments

Kyudo Notebook: Practice, Practice

It’s been a long time, and what can I say? The election. But while all that was going on, practice continued, we had some really good tutorials, a lot of great yumi conversation over the New Year holidays… One of the nice things about being in Japan is that US politics rarely come up. Some people ask, “What is the matter with you people?” But then, Japanese politics, Korean politics, Chinese politics… nobody seems to be having a very smooth time of it these days. Fortunately Kyudo is an oasis that never runs dry. Frustrating maybe, but never dry!

At a tutorial back in November, I was taught a different way of forming tenouchi, the important points being to keep the left hand completely relaxed into daisan, and to make sure that at that time (and from there into kai) the outer edges of the bow fit into the grooves in the hand created by (1) the tenmon line and (2) the inside of the third (distal) joint of the lower three fingers. Beyond that the hand is just receiving the bow.

It’s taken me quite a bit of time to learn how to do that, with many ups and downs. In addition, I was told that I am indeed overdrawing the bow. Part of that is because, while my usual bow is being repaired, the one I have is a little weaker so I feel like I need to draw it more in order to feel like I have the right amount of resistance. But… this isn’t the way! Instead what I’m trying to do is draw in a fairly (but not entirely) relaxed sort of way, and only once I reach kai, begin expanding left/right up/down. This harks back to something Usami-sensei would tell us in Nagoya, but which I didn’t really understand until now (assuming I’m getting it now): the need to sort of have some “space” or “energy” in reserve when you get to kai, otherwise there won’t be anything you can do and you’ll be stuck there like a statue unless you make some unnecessary movements to force the release.

And then… I’m learning the fine art of not shooting too fast while continuing to expand (rather than just waiting). This seems to come down to some fairly subtle mental practice, because sometimes it’s hard to recognize that I am, in fact, releasing on purpose. Usually the tsurune is a clue after the fact, but I need to comprehend it mentally/spiritually, by feeling.

I also had a chance to talk with one of the hanshi about mushin. He said, if I understood correctly, that you develop this simply by concentrating on the shaho-hassetsu. That one-pointed concentration, focusing only on what you need to be doing, seems to be the path. So I try to do that.

At the same time, I realized recently that I’ve completely lost touch with my breathing, so I’m trying to find that rhythm again. And kiza… yes… kiza. Over the holidays that was my teacher’s main complaint. I need to be able to sit that way and stay still, no matter what it takes. So… practice.

One interesting side-note about kiza is that recently our heating stove broke and we had to call a repairman. It was -18 outside so yes… we really needed the repairman. He got it working, but I noticed that the entire time he was working, he sat in kiza, as if it were the most natural and relaxed thing in the world. Half an hour… maybe an hour… and he was still in kiza. Very impressive! True, he didn’t have the ikasu move, and he was moving around a bit, fixing one thing, checking another, but clearly (a) I have a long way to go, and (b) it is possible!

We have another tutorial next weekend with a hanshi from Aomori, and I’m hoping to get more feedback. Winter is good for that.

Oh, also, I’ll be going to Kyoto again this year, so perhaps some of you will, too?

Posted in kai, kyudo notebook, tenouchi, tsurune, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Kyudo Notebook: Arrow Lore

This past weekend I was in Tokyo for work, and a friend wanted to check out Hasegawa Kyuguten, a shop I’d never been to, and which is known for take-ya, so off we went. The idea was to drop in before moving on to another destination, but we were caught in a tsunami of arrow knowledge, and didn’t get out until late in the afternoon. In particular we learned about various ways that bow strength, arrow length, arrow weight, (bamboo) arrow wear over time combine with arrow stiffness, feather stiffness, type, and size… all the factors that need to be properly balanced to get things just right. Well, at least the equipment. The shooting (in particular the draw and, of course, hanare) are up to us.

But how to record all that? On the one hand maybe I don’t have to because there is a book, 「矢の知識」. If you click on the link (it’s to an Amazon page) you’ll see it’s not available online, but they had it at the shop. This is one of those books that has a sort of legendary status… I’d seen photocopies taken from it, but until now, never the book itself. Once it gets here (it’s big, so I mailed it) I hope to dive into it more. About 2/3 of it is photographs of birds and feathers.

One important point that I do remember from the marathon session is that, in the traditional view, what happens at the moment of release is that, essentially, the barbs of the fletchings “lie down” due to both their inherent flexibility and air resistance as the arrow shaft accelerates forward. Then at some point in the brief interval between the sha-i and the target, they rise back up. As you’d expect, while the barbs are lying down flat, they don’t contribute much to the stability of the arrow’s flight. It’s only as they stand up that they interact with the air stream and cause the arrow to spin around its long axis. However there’s a cost… when the barbs stand up, the increased air resistance causes the arrow to slow down.

This is where the stiffness of the feathers comes in. If you want the barbs to stand up quickly (or maybe not even lie down very much to begin with), you use feather that is stiff and perhaps a bit large. In this configuration the arrow’s construction will compensate for small errors in the shooting, such as a less-than-smooth hanare, so this is commonly what people in-the-know will use during taikai, shinsa, etc, when they want an extra margin of safety/stability. And indeed, it seems like most arrows are made like this. Certainly the turkey feathers used on aluminum arrows are quite stiff.

On the other hand, if a person wants the arrow to fly fast, and to be extra sensitive to errors in shooting (in order to make them visible, so you can learn to overcome them), they might choose feathers that are soft (so they remain lying down longer), and narrow. This explains, for example, why the fletchings on enteki-ya typically are made from soft feathers, and they’re much more narrow than in regular kinteki-ya. You can think of it as the difference between a passenger car and a highly responsive racing car. The first is comfortable, flexible, forgiving. The second does exactly what the driver tells it to do (for better or worse).

One recommended strategy was to start with relatively stiff feathers, then once you reach a kind of stability, switch to softer/narrower ones so that shooting errors will become more apparent. Then after you regain stability with those, you could try something even softer. And so on. I’m not sure how many people really do that, though. It’s psychologically difficult to give up stability once you’ve found it.

There was also something about the shafts and the shape. The most common these days are essentially straight, but at various times there have been variations: tapered so that the arrow is narrow at the front, thicker at the back (by the hazu), tapered the other way, or even tapered at both ends (chukurin). This, too, has an effect on flight and stability, as well as the center of gravity of the arrow. Also it was recommended that take-ya be taken in for a “tune up” every six months or so, especially at the beginning, to make sure they don’t warp, and to compensate for the wear at the forward end of the arrow caused by repeated abrasion as the arrow penetrates the azuchi.

Next time I go there I’ll try to record more of what was said.

There were some things that I’m still not sure about. For example, because my arrows are long, they also have to be heavy (or they’ll bend too much), and as a result I was told I really needed to be using a bow with a draw weight of 20kg or more. But my arrows fly just fine as it is, and my teacher sees no reason for me to jump to a stronger bow, so maybe this is just a case where a “rule of thumb” is only that, and there has to be some adjustment, plus or minus, for individual differences? Tempting to order another bow though…

Posted in equipment, kyudo, kyudo notebook, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Kyudo Notebook: Introspection

It’s been a while, with that “work” thing getting in the way. I can’t complain because I volunteered for the task but the psychological/spiritual toll was more than I expected. I continued at the dojo — my oasis — but my mind was often elsewhere. I wonder if my teachers noticed a difference? Probably.

But in the time “away” I seem to have come through the other side of the “rock and a hard place” tunnel into a new sort of landscape. One key has been to pay scrupulous attention to avoiding any twisting in my body, while at the same time keeping the arrow parallel to the line of my shoulders (or the sanju-jumonji generally). Psychologically what seems to do the trick is to decide that the target is just a mark, while the thing I really need to concentrate on is internal… my body, the bow, and the various forces in play. Except concentrate without objective concentration: no separation between me, the concentrator, and me, the thing that is the object of that concentration. Words, words, words. As a 8-dan teacher recently told me, “You think too much. You don’t need to think.”

My bad habit.

It’s taken a couple of months for that to sink in, but it finally came to me the other night, while I was sitting with dojo friends at a dinner. For some time now my teacher has been telling me that I needed to develop  澄ます (sumasu) , kind of a tricky word that seems to imply a kind of clear-minded concentration. Kyudo literature seems to emphasize it at several different points during the shooting process, and one of the odd things I’ve noticed is that, when it goes well, there is no sense of time. It feels to me like my shooting is very fast, but my teacher approves, so it must not be. And indeed I’ve noticed the same thing in sitting meditation sometimes, when the period will suddenly be over and it feels like it just began. Maybe the same. Maybe not. Still working on it.

This weekend we have our local shinsa, so I’ll be helping. It’s gotten really cold here all of the sudden, and the wall is up at the front of the shajo, but it comes down for the shinsa, regardless of wind, rain, sunshine, or snow. It’s going to be a long day. I hope everyone does well!

Posted in kyudo notebook, mind, shinsa, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Kyudo Notebook: Rock and a Hard Place

So the good news is that by changing how I think about what I’m doing, certain problems have vanished. By seeking fulfillment through shooting my arms no longer drop at the release, and I’m now shooting more or less the way I was a year ago, only better now (I think…) because the force is coming from inside rather than just a technical thing.

I’ve also found that paying attention to zanshin in other movements is a big help in maintaining a proper form. Uchiokoshi, in particular, seems to have a very clear and almost pleasant sort of zanshin if I wait for it. That’s the interesting thing… it’s not something created but which comes if I wait. Maybe there’s a pattern there that will be of value, but I’m not sure. In any case what that does is sort of “set” the tatesen, which helps keep the draw balanced.

Nevertheless, as the title suggests, there’s a problem. If I shoot without subterfuge, so to speak… without thinking about what I’m trying to do at kai, the shot seems OK and usually hits, but kai is too short and the bow drops through my hand at the release. Presumably I’m releasing on purpose, but it’s so subtle that I don’t really feel it. If I try to extend kai, in order to meet the demands of my teacher and search for the kind of zanshin I want, then the bow doesn’t drop through my hand, but the arrow misses and the shot is unbalanced.

I seem caught between these two. My guess is that in the process of extending kai I’m twisting up… uh… something… too tight somewhere, so at hanare all that twisting and tightness has to uncoil, which throws everything off. Perhaps I need to work more on both relaxation and on breathing?

Meanwhile the All-Japan tournament is coming up. This year at Meiji Jingu. I wasn’t able to get a reservation in time so won’t be going this year, but on the plus side it means I’ll be able to save money and do more next year. Maybe Kyoto again? Well, unless I buy something. So much temptation in the world…

Posted in hanare, hikiwake, kai, kyudo, kyudo notebook, mind, uchiokoshi, zanshin | Leave a comment

Kyudo Notebook: Details

In one way it’s hard to believe I haven’t written anything in three months, but in another it makes sense. Although I’ve been practicing regularly my mind has been elsewhere, either family or work. Time to get back.

What I’ve found is the importance of details and at the same time, very fundamental things. For example, checking dozukuri after each move to make sure I haven’t twisted or turned in some way. When you remember that, from 28 meters away, the difference between hitting the center of the target and missing it entirely is just a matter of shifting 4-5mm, it amazes me that I ever hit the target at all before. but I suppose we develop unconscious strategies and habits… errors compensating for other errors. These days I’m trying not to have so many errors!

One thing that seems to have helped is the decision that, after this many years, really, I’ve punched enough holes in paper, and instead of focusing that, what I’m going for, for lack of a better word, is fulfillment. I find that this changes the way I shoot to something larger and more expansive. I suppose it’s the difference between having a goal that is 28 meters away and having one that is huge. But still much to be done…

Posted in dozukuri, kyudo notebook, mind, Uncategorized | 3 Comments