It’s been a while since I wrote anything. I guess it felt too strange. But last weekend we had an all-day tutorial, and in the main teacher’s opening remarks he noted that it’s now been almost a month since the earthquake and tsunami, and that many people in our kyudo family were still experiencing great difficulties. Therefore, he said, we should be grateful for this chance to study and to practice. And I have been. So here’s what’s been going on in (my) kyudo world.
First, my teacher noticed that I’ve been focusing too much on my hands, especially on the left. In part this was due to some of the discussion here, but also I had found a combination of factors that allowed me to hit the target rather well, and that kind of thing is seductive. So now I’m back to fundamental things again, finding the tateyoko cross and trying to make/let the release happen from the center.
Also the way I was positioning my middle and index finger on the thumb of the (mitsukake) glove was too shallow, too far out toward the end of the thumb. I’d been doing that because that’s the position I’d settled on over time. I also think it made the release easier, but as usual whenever I try to make something easier in kyudo, it’s wrong. Ha!
So he forcibly moved my fingers back along the thumb to the point where I thought, “There’s no way this will work!” But it did, and so I got another one of those “Herrigel moments” where it was almost as if the string really did just cut right through my thumb without me opening my hand. It’s been a bit of a battle of nerves since then, that part… trying not to give in to the little voice that says, “Just let go!” But when I don’t give in, things seem to work out pretty well, though I’m still not quite sure how.
This came into focus during the tutorial, which focused on several things. The most fundamental was toriyumi no shisei. I needed to move my hands higher up, so that they contacted my body at the top of the iliac crest, or perhaps just in front of that, while keeping a rounded form. The thumb in particular should be bent rather than straight, with the first joint touching at or in front of the top of the bone.
The other emphasis was on hadanugi, hada-ire, and the dreaded kimono sleeve. There were a lot of details and I just want to record some things to remember:
- Always keep the urahazu in line with the center of your body as you turn with the bow.
- When turning to face the kamiza, when you are halfway through the turn (45 degrees), you should already have both hands holding the bow, and out a bit from your body, otherwise you’ll have trouble.
- Slide the right hand down until the top of the thumb is in line with the top of the grip. Use the thumb and two fingers to hold the bow firmly
- Keep your thumb hidden behind the right eri as you go through the various moves before hadanugi.
- When there is a woman doing tasuki-sabaki in front of you, you do the move to release the left arm from the sleeve at the moment when she is bringing the tasuki behind her back to tie the left sleeve.
- Bring the right elbow down (rather than out to the left) in order to release your left arm from the sleeve.
- Must grasp the top edge of the sleeve without looking.
- When turning back to face the target, bring the urahazu down quickly. Women will already have theirs down, so you need to match up.
- Keep your left hand in place and slide the grip into it with the right hand. In other words, don’t reach out to grasp the bow with your left hand.
- After your left hand has grasped the grip, move your right hand slowly to your right hip. It’s a move in which you are building up energy, I think. It needs to be dignified and full of life, not just a quick “Now move the hand to the right.”
- For hada-ire, when you bring the sleeve over your left shoulder, you should try to tug the right front of the kimono and juban open a bit, then slide your left hand/forearm into the right side of the kimono, keeping them quite low, then if all goes well, you can just slip the left elbow into the juban and out to the sleeve. If it doesn’t work, and you’re in a shinsa, the recommendation is to try two or three times, so the shinsa-in will see that there is a problem, and then you can lay the bow down on your thigh and deal with it if necessary.
- To readjust the juban do the right side, then the left. Then the kimono right side, then the left. This has to be done pretty quickly and it’s better not to make a lot of big movements. With practice I think it could all be done with the fingers of the left hand.
- After making the turn back to face the target, the sleeve of the kimono has to fall between the bow and the bowstring. The way to make that happen naturally is to bring the lower curve of the bow rather quickly against your left thigh and slide the bow into position while keeping it against your body. That way the sleeve should naturally end up between the bow and the string. But if it doesn’t happen, you should “help” it happen with your left hand.
- So, those are just some things I remember. Unfortunately I haven’t found a good book. Ishiyama Yoshihiko has a book and DVD, Yudansha no Kyudo, that is a companion to his book on fundamentals. It goes over the basics, but it would be better if it had more detail, since a lot can go wrong.
- See this excellent video that Tom links to in the comments. Lots of valuable pointers, and in cases like this, seeing is far better than verbal description.
Whether by chance or by design, the teacher performing the yawatashi had trouble getting his arm back into the sleeve after shooting, so we also got to see how someone really good handles the situation. That’s very useful… in most of the videos you see, everything goes perfectly, so you don’t get many opportunities to see how problems are dealt with. There were four main things:
- The first kaizoe is really responsible for dealing with this situation. It should never be necessary for the ite to set his bow down and use his right hand. In fact the kaizoe really have to think on their feet because anything can happen. The first kaizoe in particular has to be almost “one” with the ite. He/she has to be focused just as if he/she were the one shooting.
- When the ite has trouble, the kaizoe should reach around and grasp the left front half of the kimono (okumi), as well as the underlying juban, and pull that outward (forward) so that the ite can slip his elbow in. It’s best for the kaizoe to grasp the cloth down at the bottom, near the obi, because that’s where the ite‘s elbow will have to slide under the cloth. If the kaizoe grasps the cloth too high, it will tighten the cloth toward the bottom and actually make it more difficult for the ite to get his arm back in. Also while doing this, the kaizoe should support the ite‘s back somewhat, to keep his torso stable as he works to get his arm back in.
- If, as in this case, the ite gets his elbow in but is not able to get his hand back through the sleeve (because it got caught in the folds of the juban), then the kaizoe should reach into the kimono sleeve from the outside and pull/guide the ite‘s hand out. It’s difficult for me to imagine doing that in a dignified way, but I guess it can be done.
- If (as this time) the kaizoe doesn’t do that, or there is no kaizoe, then as a last resort the ite must lay the bow down on top of his thigh and then use his right (gloved) hand to solve the problem. In the second part of the renshi exam you’re on your own, with no kaizoe to help, so you have to be able to do this.
So… lots can go wrong, especially if it’s hot and you’re sweaty, and you just have to deal with it. The engineer in me wonders about sewing a few Velcro tabs to attach the juban to the kimono along the left, but I’m sure that would be frowned upon!
The actual shooting went pretty well. One teacher said I was overdrawing the bow a bit, and that might be what’s causing the string to sometimes hit me just at the point where my 7th left rib protrudes a bit. The last time this happened I ended up dripping blood (I guess it’s a weapon after all), but this time just some noticeable redness. The thing is… I don’t think this happens when I’m in regular dogi, so I must be doing something a little different. I suspect that with the sleeve missing I’m holding the bow a little farther back (to the left) at daisan because I’m used to where it should appear when my left arm has a sleeve over it. It’s something to check out. The blood is impressive, but I’d rather not.
Not much else going on besides trying to avoid radiation and do what we can to help some friends in the disaster area. Local taikai on 4/29, then Kyoto if all goes well. Be grateful for normal things, and make sure you’re using each moment of your life well.