Yesterday I went to watch a taikai for Hokkaido renshi and kyoshi. It was a great chance to see the top people (below hanshi rank) on our little island, and see if my eye has gotten any better at distinguishing the best from the good. I tried to keep some of the points that Yoshimoto-sensei mentioned in mind, but the ones I kept coming back to were kai, hanare, and zanshin. It seemed like most of the story was told in kai, but that blended into hanare because there is always the question of whether kai has enough time to really develop. It’s a bit like baking bread, I guess… if you pop the dough into the oven before it’s had a chance to fully rise, the result might be good to eat, but still a bit flat somehow, not as tasty as it could have been.
Of course, that’s easy to say when you’re just watching! One thing I did not see at this taikai, but which you sometimes do see at ones where there are people with less experience, is that nobody seemed to be “rushing to get it over with.” The shooting was the good part.
There were some very impressive people but there was also a definite difference between the renshi and the kyoshi, and within the renshi, a more subtle difference between those at 5-dan and those at 6-dan. I’m not saying I could look at someone in isolation and tell, but when they were all lined up like that, shooting in chronological order (of getting their titles), one after another, the end of one group and the beginning of the next was a bit like crossing a border into a new country. Still there were some whose shooting seem to be a rank above. In those cases maybe the difference is just one of time and experience, and the confidence that comes with that.
And that was the thing, really… much of it did come down to the kind of feeling I got watching the person. Did they put everything into it or not? The final contest for first/second place among the top two renshi went six rounds before there was a winner. They certainly weren’t slacking off. But if you put everything into one shot, what do you have left for the next? Maybe it’s like both Kaminaga-hanshi and Zen have said, and that’s when you have to rely on ki?
It was good to watch, and there were people who I want to emulate. In particular there was none of this dropping of the arms at hanare! It was also nice to see the human side, that even advanced people can be a little disoriented in a new dojo, and there were plenty of smiles when odd things would happen, like a bow catching on a data cable at the exit (the main Sapporo dojo has a high-tech scoring system but it would be better if it were wireless). Everybody also seemed to know each other well, so it was relaxed in that way, and competitors even helped each other if they noticed something. I like KyudoWorld.
The thing I want to put some effort into on the observation side is understanding tsurune better, and this notion of clarity or sae. I’d also like to understand the point scoring system that the hanshi were using better. On the shooting side… we’ll see tomorrow!