Yesterday there were some four-person groups, so I tried to pay attention to how the sequence changed. One way of looking at it is to imagine that it’s the same as the five-person sequence, except that the third person is invisible. As a result:
- All follow the usual procedure for entering the shajo, waiting at the honza, approaching the shai, turning, raising their bows, preparing the arrows.
For the haya:
- The first person (omae) shoots as usual, then sits back down and waits. She raises her bow at the tsurune of the third person and then prepares her otoya.
- The second person stands when the first person completes dozukuri, begins torikake at the tsurune of the first person, then shoots as usual, sits back down, and waits. He also raises his bow at the tsurune of the third person, and then prepares his otoya.
- The third person stands at the tsurune of the first person, then begins torikake at the tsurune of the second person, then shoots as usual. She then sits back down and waits. She raises her bow at the sound of the fourth person’s tsurune and prepares her otoya.
- The fourth person (ochi) stands at the tsurune of the second person, begins torikake at the tsurune of the third person, then shoots, sits back down, and immediately raises his bow and prepares his otoya.
For the otoya:
- The first person stands at the tsurune of the fourth person (if she were to stand before that she would block the view of the shinsa-in) and proceeds as usual.
- The second person stands when the first person completes dozukuri and continues as usual.
- The third stands at the first person’s tsurune and continues as usual.
- The fourth person stands at the second person’s tsurune and continues as usual. The only difference here is that the fourth person must walk backward to the same point where a fifth person would have walked backward (1-3 steps back beyond the fifth shooting position) if there had been five people. Only then does he make the standing right turn, walk back past the honza, and then diagonally across to the exit.
- The second person stands when the first completes dozukuri, but when exactly is that? It’s completed the first time she brings her right hand to her hip. Thus, for the haya, the second person does not wait for the first person to grasp her otoya and bring it back to her hip.
- Because the third person waits until the fourth person’s tsurune to raise her bow, but the first person also begins torikake at the fourth person’s tsurune, the third person does not have a lot of time for yatsugae because she should be ready to stand at the first person’s tsurune.
- Since one point of the shinsa is to determine if an individual knows the correct procedures, it is necessary for each person to be alert and take responsibility for themselves. Even though group harmony is a virtue, it is not necessarily safe just to follow the lead of the person in front of you. So if, for example, the first person does not raise her bow at the proper time, the second person should probably raise his bow at the proper time anyway. Proper form takes precedence over group coherency. This can be very difficult, but I verified it with a kyoshi 7-dan after an unexpected error at the All-Japan Invitational at Ise Shrine last year, and the comment also appears in an official ANKF publication (弓礼・弓法問答集), though as with everything else in Japan, there is the matter of time, place, and position.
- Later: It turns out that the rule is more complicated than I thought. The advice I received from the teacher above was correct in the context of the type of error that occurred, but my example, extrapolated from that, is wrong. See here for clarification.
- Meanwhile, another interesting thing happened yesterday. It’s considered bad form if, after shooting the otoya and walking forward in front of the next group (waiting at the honza), your hakama passes over the urahazu of the bow of a waiting archer. Yesterday one person (renshi, 5-dan) finished and was walking forward, but you could tell by her direction that her hakama would pass over the urahazu of the person waiting at the first position. What that person (renshi, 6-dan) did was to slide his bow backward so that the walking person wouldn’t make the error. I thought that was not only very courteous, but also showed how alert he was to all that was going on despite having eyes focused two meters ahead. Few would have seen this except the shinsa-in and maybe the person walking (and me). I’m going to verify it with the 6-dan archer the next time we meet.
- Finally, if there are only three people, the sequence gets compacted even more. But in this case the last person does not walk backward when finished. Instead, she walks forward past the first person in the waiting group (or where that person would be if there is no one waiting) and then to the exit, just as the third person in a group of five would.