The November issue of Kyudo magazine arrived in the mail today and has some good articles from the All-Japan Championship (zen nihon kyudo senshuken taikai) at Meiji Jingu. Yoshimoto Kiyonobu sensei (hanshi, 8-dan) has a short article that provides a fascinating glimpse into what those imposing hanshi are thinking while they’re sitting there in front of the kamiza.
He starts off recalling how, more than 30 years ago, before he first participated in the tournament, he sat for five years watching from the spectator’s seats, thinking about what it took to make it all the way to the final round. This came down to three points:
- Fidelity to the fundamentals
- No points of weakness (suki) in form or flow
- Sharp release that makes an impression on those watching
And watch they do… if you look at the photograph on page 8 with a magnifying glass, you get an idea of the view the participants would have seen if they were foolish enough to look up: the extraordinary intensity with which these masters are watching every move (and non-move) comes through even on grainy newsprint.
In the preliminary round (where the participants shoot two sets of two arrows, and are graded on a point scale), he focused first on mastery of the movements from entering the shajo through yugamae, as well as the dignity of the shooting. He thought everyone did pretty well, as you’d expect from people at that level, but he wanted to see more vigor in walking to the honza, and singled out the need to raise the bow in harmony with kiai as points to work on. Overall he seems to feel that people were too tentative, and wants to see more spirit in movements, no suki.
Among the shaho hassetsu, he particularly mentions looking at whether the movements from ashibumi through uchiokoshi flow in one smooth sequence, and in shooting, whether there is a true hanare, whether people watching hikiwake feel like they are being pulled along as well, whether kai is fully realized, and whether there is a sharp release with a clear (saeta) tsurune. He looked at how much expansion is revealed at zanshin, and then yudaoshi, at “the reverberation left behind”, and then finally the movements involved in leaving the shajo. He says that all of these things are fundamental and good performance to be expected, so the awarding of points is basically a matter of reluctantly deducting for mistakes or imperfections. Finally he devotes fully half of the article to kai, and the need to realize it to the fullest. More on that later.
What strikes me first is the emphasis on the spirit with which people move and shoot. He felt people were too tentative this year, yet you don’t want to go too overboard the other way either. The subjective aspects are impressive, too… whether people watching hikiwake feel like they are being pulled along too? And then the mysteries… the reverberation of the shooting that is left behind? Maybe I have some unformed sense of what he may mean, but I have no idea how a person would grade someone on them.
Just this afternoon a Shinto friend was asking me why I even spent time with kyudo. Why wasn’t I off studying Buddhism intensively, or even in practice retreat? I pointed out that she was seeing kyudo as a sport, while for me it really is practice. Articles like this inspire me because they point to depths of kyudo practice that I can’t even see yet.