Kyudo Notebook: Tenouchi II

I just want to see if I can continue from the comments in the previous post, where we’re talking (clearly!) about tenouchi. I clipped out example photos from the two recommended videos. The one on the left is from the student taikai and the one on the right is from the yawatashi at a taikai in Sagamihara:

Tenouchi Close-Up

Yawatashi Tenouchi

Student Tenouchi

不童心 Tenouchi

If I understand correctly, two things to notice here are the left arm, which is bent in the image on the left but straight in the image on the right, and more subtle, the orientation of the first metacarpal (the bone in the palm that connects to the thumb). The differences in the arm could be intrinsic… I’ve noticed a lot of very different bone structures at the dojo, especially among the women, and in Minna no Kyudo there is actually a diagram (pg. 115) of this form, along with a recommendation that people with a structure called saru-ude re-arrange their left hand to create the form seen here. According to the author, people who can do this tend to hit the target quite reliably, which seems to be the case. The fact that this is not her natural bone structure seems to be revealed by the way her arm changes shape in zanshin. So first, she may creating the bent configuration seen in the photo on purpose, and second, she may not have much choice.

The second point about the metacarpal is more subtle and you have to look a bit more closely even though I tried to enhance the images. What you see on the left is pretty common, where the head of the metacarpal and base of the proximal phalange form an upward-pointing triangle that the arrow rests on. The discussion in Minna no Kyudo actually mentions that people with her arm structure tend to use an upward-biased (ue-oshi-gimi) tenouchi. In contrast, in the photograph on the right, the kyudoka there (I regret that the video is not clear enough for me to make out her name) has flattened this triangle out to some extent, bringing the head of the metacarpal more into line with the wrist, arm, and force vector aligned with them.

I’m very impressed that anyone would notice this, let alone know which YouTube videos demonstrated it. When I go to practice on Tuesday I’m going to experiment myself, and also take much closer look at what people are doing. Lately I’ve been fascinated by just how much difference small changes can make. Many thanks for pointing this out.

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8 Responses to Kyudo Notebook: Tenouchi II

  1. Nitombo says:

    The above examples are showing “only” Shomen style Tenouchi.
    Watch the Tenouchi of the late Inagaki Genshiro Yoshimichi, successor of Urakami Sakae as the grand master of the Heki Tô Ryû, also known as Heki Ryû Insai Ha. Movie taken 1987 in Italy.
    The Heki Ryu Insay Ha stresses the Tenouchi as the main point of its teaching.

  2. karamatsu says:

    Oh, I know (about the style). The examples were chosen because they were the ones given in the comments to the previous post. For reference, here’s one link with video of Inagaki-sensei I’ll have to look at this more closely after work, and also see if I can find the one you’ve mentioned. Thanks!

  3. ceterum censeo says:


    very glad you are finding this useful…

    The clips were of course a shomen-shomen comparison as that is what I thought you practice.
    No point for you in contrasting it with heki-ryu-anything even if I do practice heki ryu insai ha as it happens. Our tenouchi is somewhat different and the work the bow hand does is very different. Maybe the second clip appealed more because it is closer to my on style… thing is though, this was not about one ryu and another. The point was that here there is a marked difference even though both are nominally the same style. One makes effective use of the energy and one maybe less so… but try it and find out…

    Yes, I was worried I am putting too much of my own slant on it – I probably am…
    I had been thinking maybe I should link to that clip of Inagaki sensei just to make it clear that my view is colored by my own practice … then nitombo very conveniently mentioned it for me and you even linked to it.

    Anyway, preference of one over the other not withstanding – it was meant as an exercise for you. It was just about looking at the differences and the difference they make to shooting.
    It was about what shooting can or should be to you – about asking yourself why you do something,… anything,… about noticing, analyzing and engaging with the technique as technique rather than just as form.

    Anyway, now on to your recent notes…
    you mentioned books… quite a few of the young people in the clips actually appear in books.確実に上達する弓道-LEVEL-UP-BOOK-加瀬/dp/4408611794/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b
    Someone clearly thinks the shooting is exemplary.
    It may well be a style that is taught and it does seem to work for people.
    I personally think it is compromises what kyudo should be for the sake of accessibility, but if that is what gets young people into the dojo and enjoying kyudo I won’t argue with it.
    So, have fun and ganbatte however anyone wants to play kyudo : )

    Yes, you are right, girls often are double-jointed, more so than men. That can lead to “collapsing” joints which bend the wrong way. We see that in our a students too, it can cause problems, it can even lead to injury, it can also be corrected by training.
    For a beginner avoiding injury is of course most important and I appreciate that it must be difficult to find time to address the underlying problem as part a kyudo class. That requires special exercises, so I can see the point in using a modified posture as a starting stage. I would question the wisdom though of modifying technique formally as it were to compensate for a simple weakness some have…?
    I feel that is really the issue here – they all shoot like that – are all students double-jointed? Do all need a “disability-friendly” technique?

    I do feel bad picking on the poor “youtube students”. Most really are very good.
    I just feel the shooting style they employ is what I’d call “comfortable”. It serves the goal of achieving a good hit rate quickly. That’s the watchword here I think… quickly. If you are a student and you are supposed to be in a condition to win the all-japanese student championship in the space of a couple of years, that’s the way to do it.

    I suppose it is about what you are trying to do with your shooting. If you are shooting recreationally anything goes. And as no-one’s life depends on it these days… everyone has the choice. As your book says… minna no kyudo : )

    If you want to have fun shooting and you want to win a nice shiny plastic cup 3 years from now… follow the first clip.
    If you want to get to the essence of shooting you’ll need 30 years and you’ll need to look more closely at clip number two.
    I am not trying to ram my preference down your throat necessarily, I just want you to consider where the essence of kyudo lies and choose a path accordingly.
    The comment was meant to be an impulse to investigate.

    You can, and should, look kyudo analytically as that helps tremendously in learning.
    Inagaki sensei once said he had studied, tried and tested the teachings of his master for 30 years and as he could find no fault or need for improvement in them he was passing them on exactly as they were taught to him.
    Copying is good, any practical skill has to be learned ultimately by copying.
    It is just that copying without understanding leads to a not very good copy usually.
    Copying should not be not an uncritical “regurgitation” of what you are fed. You need to digest it and use it to grow.
    The two thumbs were a little bit of “food” to get your teeth into. The opinionated presentation was a way of making you bite. So, there are two distinct forms…
    Can more than one form be true and correct?
    Is it for the individual to pick which they like better?

    You referred to questions like “how does it feel…?” in evaluating your training. That is very subjective. Often the correct technique feels uncomfortable to begin with – it feels uncomfortable until you have control of it.
    What feels right to you is subjective – the technique of shooting is not subjective, it is absolute.
    Ok, your body may be a particular shape, the bow too, but the correct technique never varies.
    The technique of shooting evolved to impart energy to the arrow – to make the most out of each arrow.
    What are we turning it into if we “buffer” the shooting for the sake of comfort and appearance?
    I feel that is what is happening in the student clips.

    The technique of kyudo, if it is a true technique, should be absolutely effective. Through endless refinement we arrived at today’s form. It has been clarified through generations of study and practice and has been stripped of all superfluous actions.
    That is where the point and beauty of kyudo lies (to me anyway) – in the refined austerity and in the truth of pure unembellished technique.
    One master silversmith I studied under had the words “efficiency and economy of movement distinguishes the highly skilled from the less skilled” written on his wall to remind us. This principle applies to every practical skill, it applies particularly in Japan. A master will achieve more with 3 strokes of the hammer, brush, saw etc than a beginner can with 300.

    The student in the clip is very good that is why I picked that particular clip.
    To anyone looking only at the form it looks great.
    It does look good, great poise, balance, accuracy,… but to me it is “anaemic”.
    With the senior archer on the other hand it is all very effective, the release is sharp, purposeful, alive…
    well, to me anyway…

    Kyudo is always explained in rather floury terms so naturally people look for feelings in it – a sense of equilibrium, of satisfaction,… all very fuzzy and subjective…
    I wanted you to take your analytical mind along to the dojo too, to look for the essence of what you are doing not within you or in the outward form but in the effect. Hence the exercise of looking at the thumb and the squeezing of the hand ect and what it means for the shooting.

    Looking for a sense “balance”, or for something to feel “right” may be deceptive.
    The problem is without clear analytical criteria what “feels right” very often is no more than what feels comfortable and what is comfortable is often wrong.

    Let’s pick on our poor student some more…
    …so you find the pressure on the root of the thumb gives you pain, blisters etc in training… that is a natural beginner problem, go to any seminar half the beginners will be covered in tape by the end of it (here anyway)… Your arm collapses because of the push of the bow too… it is all quite uncomfortable…
    So you compensate by assuming a comfortable position… like not putting all the weight in the one small spot. You give up the tsunomi as a point where the work of shooting is done and it “feels better”.
    Your lack of control of the bow causes a lot of vibration. Each time the string returns you get a thwack.
    So you give up trying to hold it…
    The pain still does not go away. You’ve taken the pressure off the tsunomi, you took the impact out of the hand… still you feel a jolt in your body…
    So you start bending your arm.
    Bent at very joint it absorbs the last of the shock of the returning string.
    A further benefit is our shoulders are naturally relaxed now too and having room to flex your arm in hanare goes some way to compensating for any weak joints – the bow swings too far forward but at least your arm does not flip “inside out”.
    Finally it feels “right”… stable,… comfortable…

    Sadly all these modifications make shooting less effective.
    Bending the arm absorbs energy – it detracts from shooting.
    If there is any work going on in hanare it is a flexing of the elbows and a whiplash forward movement of the uwa-hazu to compensate for letting go of the bow and for lack of “torque” in the bow hand.
    Energy is lost to the arrow and absorbed into the body, any real control of the bow is relinquished,… you are just allowing it to shoot rather than shooting it.

    Sure, a strong bow can make your hand feel like you are hitting a broomstick against the wall if you can’t control it. The art is in channeling that energy and harnessing it to the shooting though – not in avoiding it. With correct technique the vibration do go away.
    The bow needs to be controlled, driven in the direction of the mato. This extends the time the string and arrow are in contact. It imparts more energy, it is better for both bow and archer as there is less shock for both.

    My impression of the student clips (they are all like that) is they are just buffering the shooting and taking the strain out of it by “tricks” rather than true technique.

    Technique is about being economical and effective.

    Oh dear…I should go and practice being economical and effective with my words ; x

  4. ceterum censeo says:

    I should not rely on the spell checker.
    Just re-read my comment – typos galore!!
    Sorry about that – I hope you can read it anyway.
    I really should type less and type less quickly.

  5. karamatsu says:

    Thanks again, and very much. I do see some of your points and am very intrigued by the ones that I can’t yet see well. You are right about the “feeling” aspect. Our teachers cut off any thought of doing what’s comfortable by telling us that if it doesn’t hurt (at least at the beginning) we’re doing it wrong. Of course, they also make sure we’re doing it right, not just seeking pain! But they will yell at us if we’re being lazy.

    Anyway, yes, I’m experimenting, and will continue to look carefully at the clips. I think what that stays with me most from your most recent post is actually that very simple thing, “The technique of shooting evolved to impart energy to the arrow – to make the most out of each arrow.” Oddly I don’t ever recall seeing that before, at least not in such an explicit way. And then the emphasis on efficiency and economy of movement. That last was a key point in Kawamura-sensei’s tutorial as well, and I’ve been trying to live up to that. Takes practice, though, of course…

  6. ceterum censeo says:


    well, I do hope all this helps you a little in your practice.
    I too find it useful just to formulate it – so thanks for entertaining me here.
    Also, just to point this out formally again, I am not a teacher of kyudo, I hold no rank, I do own an unworn kimono,… I have a passion for the study of bow but this here is just one beginner talking to anther. I am no more than 5 years your senior in kyudo terms, I am fairly certain of that so please don’t necessarily take my words as authoritative just because I put my points forcefully.
    They are offered only as “stuff you might like to try out”.

    Anyway, I am sure you have good teachers who can see what you are doing and will give you corrections which are more appropriate to your stage of learning.

    My point in writing mostly was to instill a sense of the absolute in you.
    It is how I see the world, art, music, artisanship,…
    The form has a purpose – technique is absolute – ceterum censeo bla bla…

    The “efficiency and economy of movement” was etched in my mind too from the day I first walked into that workshop and read it. And when you look at any master of their art, they are what they do. For them technique is a natural thing. For a beginner it is a forced thing. For the master technique turns thought or intent into action, into effect, into form. It is efficient and direct. When a beginner does it it is always labored. The thought is unclear, the intent too dominant, consequently the action is labored, its effect unreliable and the resultant form lacking in grace.

    Well, you are training hard, you have good teachers, you would have found that out by yourself.
    So why did I interfere?

    There is a kind of “relativism” you tend to see in people who are on the “spiritual quest” – the attitude of “for me, the shooting is this or that…”.
    That was what I noticed in your previous posts, a tendency to imbue your shooting practice with ulterior meaning long before you had even understood and internalized the mechanics of it.
    The whole Thomas Merton post which sparked this off was interesting but the link to your shooting was a pure “for me…moment”.
    I did not want to talk you out of the spiritual quest, I just wanted you to consider that it is the culmination of the quest for the essence of shooting and not the starting point. Also that the essence of shooting can be found in the mastery of one’s technique and that an understanding of technique is found in studying its effect rather than the resultant form. That is why I took you back from looking at the form to looking at the effect. My understanding of it is rudimentary and almost certainly flawed – it was the principle I wanted you to take on board though.
    I felt it might be helpful to you and make your study more effective.
    When there is no interest in shooting for its own sake I do not usually bother saying anything. Then it is pointless. In your case, you are training seriously, you are even documenting your study, you evidently have good teachers and you are actually interested in the shooting.
    That is why I commented.

    Anyway, perhaps you have a few new impulses for your study from all this. I am sure looking for effect in technique rather than mere form will help you.

    The reason you don’t read stuff like the little quote about the arrow you put in above is because it is mine few people see it like that.
    Maybe to see it like that you have to be someone who understands technique as a “value” and as something essential rather than mechanical. Few people do.
    Budo sports generally have fallen apart into two camps (kind of) – the spiritual where technique is subordinate to spirit and the technical where technique has become mechanical. I feel neither is correct. Technique without spirit ultimately becomes nothing more than a lifeless tool for mechanically achieving an outcome.
    Spirit without technique is blind and dumb.

    Technique refined to its essence (to me) can become so pure that it is spiritual and that the mind working within it can achieve a kind of apotheosis.
    Well, that is if you look at it that way – anyone doing it for sport will just say are “in the zone”.
    It is my interpretation of it – so be careful, this could all just be my very own “for me… moment” 😮

    All the best to you.

  7. karamatsu says:

    Thanks very much for all the effort you’ve put into explaining this. It’s helping me to look at things differently, to think about the reasons behind some of these techniques and patterns. Before he moved to another city, a teacher told me that everything we did had a purpose (including all the taihai and kimono moves), and that I should look for that. Combining what he said over time with what you’ve said above, I think knowing the purpose should help a person enliven both the movements and the spirit. Maybe that’s what Yoshimoto-sensei was getting at when he said he wanted to see not just technical perfection, but clarity, power, and life within technical skill?

    I think a person can call up some of that from within themselves, from their own mind, regardless of level in kyudo, by applying abilities they’ve developed elsewhere, but to go further I imagine you are right and it requires detailed study and analysis of exactly what we are doing and why. Otherwise it would be too easy to fall into bad habits simply because we won’t know what the right habit, the core of it, is supposed to be.

    So I figure I’ll continue to be guided by my teachers, but perhaps be a bit more of an “active learner” than I have been in the past. In fact I’ve always experimented, making notes on the bus home about what worked and what didn’t, and what I want to try next time, though I have to admit, quite often in kyudo I find that the right thing is to do exactly the opposite of what I imagine! I guess that’s where Truth comes in.

  8. Zen says:

    Are you Alright??

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