Kyudo/Buddhist Notebook: Motivation

On the plane home I was thinking about effort and motivation. The teachers say they can tell a lot about a person by watching them shoot, and at the two taikai over the weekend I began to see this. Of course, I don’t know how accurate my impressions really were, but it does seem, watching people, that there are some who are motivated by something like anger, which is to say, they use the energy of anger to produce the motivation to hit the target, perhaps seeing it as an enemy. Others seem to be motivated by fear or desperation, as if their life depended on hitting this target. Still others perhaps by attachment or pride, some kind of ego involvement. It’s interesting.

From a Buddhist point of view, those motivations are all pretty much counterproductive, so I started thinking about what could motivate a person (me) to generate the effort needed? After a while I realized that two possible answers are love and compassion, or a combination of them, since by engaging in the effort for the benefit of others, you remove the self-cherishing aspect that so easily leads to feelings like anger, attachment, or pride. But it seems important to be clear about what you are doing: the idea isn’t to hit the target for the benefit of others. It’s to transcend anger, attachment, and pride for the benefit of others. And of course, put that way, it becomes basic Mahayana doctrine.

So, another point of contact.

Meanwhile, on a practical level, once I got back “home” to my local dojo, I let go of the turning of the elbow joint, and the arrows once again flew to the target. Instead of turning the joint consciously I put more effort into nobiai, and the “bounce” effect did not occur, at least right away. It did start to creep in later in the day, though, as I got tired, my mind started messing with my motivations, and I started to think about technique. It seems that we sabotage ourselves, mostly.

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10 Responses to Kyudo/Buddhist Notebook: Motivation

  1. Zen says:

    Excellent post!

    “It’s to transcend anger, attachment, and pride for the benefit of others. And of course, put that way, it becomes basic Mahayana doctrine.”

    Good perspective! Thank you for sharing this.

    • karamatsu says:

      Oh, it seems we’re on a similar wavelength. I was just reading your recent blog post and found the comments on Tai Chi Mantis and “An important statement made by Fong Sisuk was in training we train to control ourselves” very appealing. Also about keeping your opponent in close, so they cannot escape, and bringing the conflict to an end with compassion. I never thought of that.

  2. pawstintexas says:

    It is good I encountered your entry tonight. Thank you!

  3. Willem says:


    Thank you , it’s an interesting point on Motivation (for shooting , the motivation to shoot in close-to-zero degrees celsius is another matter 😦 , I find that I do my best shooting when I’m tired. the first 1/3 of my shooting is technical , focused then it degenerates into frustration/fatigue/pain but seems that sorta settles the mind and the body and the last 1/3 just happens with a feeling of calm anger almost .

    • karamatsu says:

      I never imagined South Africa as getting cold! So much for mental images. But I guess I should have imagined it. Is your dojo open to the outside even when it gets that cold? Oh, and did your friends come to Kyoto? I looked around but didn’t see any people with beards!

      I’ve also had some good results at times when I was tired. It reminded me of that quote from Kaminaga-sensei where he said it’s only after you’ve used up all of your (physical) energy and can no longer apply any kind of technique that the spirit can emerge.

      I’m going to pay more attention to that pattern of how practice goes. It could be very interesting.

      • Willem says:

        Mostly it’s not but when the cold snaps hits, the highlands get’s subzero. Our Dojo is pretty much a shade-net tent , great in summer , not so great in winter but we’re working on getting some government land and building something proper .

        Sensei decided it’s better if we attend the Oktober Shinsa , more time to train is never a bad thing.

        Thank you that’s an excellent qoute ! it’s a good description of the feeling I get (well more try to get ) on my good shots but it’s a difficult thing for me (not sure if it’s just me or more the western way of thinking) . ah well that’s what training is for 🙂

  4. ceterum censeo says:

    I very much enjoyed that last post so I thought I’d drop you a few lines. I haven’t stopped by here for a while – glad you have been left (at least physically) reasonably unscathed by the recent disasters.

    …guilty as charged…
    I am frequently motivated by aggression or ambition of one kind or another.

    Kyudo ist still 弓矢 at its root.
    Kyudo as archery is a primeval thing, one that brings out primeval instincts in us – to hunt, to fight, to compete against others,… adrenalin and aggression…
    Aggression is a natural response to pressure and normally a very good motivator in sport.
    When you are in the knock out round of a competition and you have to hit or you are out… where do you go for strength…?

    The question of motivation is an interesting one. I doubt it is ever one single thing but let’s look at it like that…

    You were a bit fuzzy on the wording here I felt… I guess you feel too that love and compassion don’t exactly translate into training goals for kyudo…
    You are on the right track though I feel.
    You are looking for an ideal to motivate you instead of the base instincts that come to us naturally.

    Your ideal in life is Buddhism so you use its values as a point of reference – very good…
    very good but…
    this would not be a ceterum censeo comment without the usual “but”…

    The ideal of shooting is doing it with true technique and a true spirit.
    I would offer as motivation the belief that there is a true technique and a true spirit born from the study of the bow.

    When we train we ccasionally get a glimpse of that true technique born from a true mind (or vice versa),… allowing us just to hit without hoping we might first…
    When occasionally we manage to just draw the bow and shoot it, free of pressure, desire,… then we can be both better archers and better people and we can gain an understanding of our condition and of the nature of being itself.
    The search for that essential truth through kyudo is the highest ideal and motivation I think.

    Technique for me is as always at the heart of it… as it affects the spirit.
    The true spirit is born from the study of true technique.
    Most mature people starting kyudo are looking for spirituality – most don’t want to hear that technique is at the heart of that too. They want to start straight at the top not at the bottom – with lofty ideas, not grappling with their elbows ; )

    Unfortunately so long as the question “could I hit better (…or better than xyz person) if my technique were better” is lingering somewhere in the back of our heads we are not ready to let go of the self in your shooting and of the desire to hit for your own emotional gain.
    When each hit is a little validation, each miss a defeat, the pressure we put ourselves under to hit and the emotion associated with hit and miss causes the frustration, aggression, etc you noticed.
    When with every shot you hope… your mind is never clear.
    There can be no truth in shooting without clarity of intent and there will be no clarity of intent without clarity in your technique.
    Only when you have studied technique to the point where it offers no more answers can you shoot free of hope and of tricks.
    Trying to disown your emotions or the desire to hit the target are just as much “tricks” as all the quirks student kyudoka pick up. They remove challenges not by growing to overcome them but by bypassing them.

    The desire to hit is the natural point of shooting.
    Only when the desire lacks clarity because it is clouded by doubt, ambition, trickery,… do we need to worry.
    The mind that is born from the study of true technique should be free of ideas of self and the target and competitiveness – it is just between you and the ideal you are working towards.
    Working like this we can eventually give up the self by no longer placing expectation on our-selves.
    That can only happen when the technique is pure though – no more doubt, no more hope.
    Studying true technique without excuses, ill temper, tricks,.. is the challenge and the path to the true spirit.
    As your teacher says if you can find strength after you physical limit has been reached it is through spirit.
    Many start to make excuses, bend the arm (like our students), say hitting does not matter, draw on anger for energy,….
    those are all just tricks to get us through.
    When our technique is pure and we can apply it from the heart without doubt and hope we will need no more tricks and we will find strength in our spirit.
    Yumi no kokoro – the spirit formed by the study of the bow

  5. karamatsu says:

    Ah, good to hear from you. Yes, physically unscathed but emotionally and spiritually the shocks continue to reverberate throughout the country, and it’s interesting to see how that gets mirrored in actions and motivations as well. There is this sense that we must がんばれ and overcome something, but I don’t think there is any common sense or understanding of just what that something is, or what would constitute success in overcoming it.

    But back to slightly firmer kyudo ground, sorry I was fuzzy with the words. I do think that love and compassion are viable motivations for kyudo, and that practice can be effective in that way. What we’re calling the more base instincts may come to us more easily (often even unbidden!), but for the sake of clarity I’ll go out on a limb and claim that love and compassion, at least in their pure forms, are ultimately stronger. They’re just not that common.

    Nevertheless, without Truth it is all for nothing, and so I have to at least meet you half way there. In Buddhism, too, there is this juxtaposition. To attain our aim we need both pure Wisdom/Truth/真 and pure Compassion/Goodness/善. Very often people feel a strong affinity for one over the other, but their relationship is said to be like the two wings of a bird: you need both, and in balance, to fly. Likewise in Kyudo there is that wonderful sentence in the English Manual that ties them both together by saying that [pg. 20], “[Beauty] is the form of Truth expressed in the application of Good.”

    That’s one tasty sentence.

    But before the Beauty must come the Truth, and I both agree with you and find much to learn in your thoughts on that. You have me pegged pretty well, leaping from small experiences to big ideas. Fortunately the target, the flight of the arrow, or the experience of a true shot that resonates for weeks, don’t lie, so with frequent practice and the occasional competition I quickly get a whack of the keisaku when my ideas get ahead of my mind, or of my technique (like now).

    But the leaping is honest. I don’t hope, or even want, to replace technique with the ideas. I just find these points of contact between what I am struggling with in the dojo and what I likewise struggle with in Buddhist practice exciting, and have an intuitive sense that they are mutually reinforcing. One snippet of evidence for this is that the warnings I get sometimes, like “Trying to disown your emotions or the desire to hit the target are just as much ‘tricks’ as all the quirks student kyudoka pick up,” are starting to become indistinguishable. Did that come from a Buddhist teacher or a Kyudoka? But perhaps in both cases I do need to come back down to Earth a bit!

  6. ceterum censeo says:

    Yeah, sorry if I am a pain at times…
    I feel like a kid with a stick of wood. I rattle it along every fence, I prod this and that… just to see what comes out. Just inquisitive and a bit boisterous though, never intentionally malicious I hope…

    You bring to the study of kyudo all your energy and idealism, so your approach is absolutely genuine and valid.
    I lean a bit more on the technical side so I always put that in and I do tend to over-emphasize it for effect.
    Contrasting views make a more interesting conversation… but I do agree with you on much of what you say.

    You are right on the truth and beauty stuff and of course love and compassion are the most ennobling of human emotions and should guide us in whatever we do.
    They are the foundation-stone of almost any moral code of behavior and religious belief.
    Of course there are parallels between kyudo practice and buddhist teaching – or any cultured moral life for that matter…
    So if love and compassion are your life goals then it absolutely right and authentic that you include them in your kyudo practice.
    As you may remember I am artisan over and above anything else so I approach my practice like the study of an art. The effect is largely equal most probably – we’ll see, and I am a long way from finished with my studies… I hope…

    Truth, goodness, beauty, are of course more than technique. Beauty is more than mere technical accomplishment, it is a quality of being.
    To achieve beauty – from one who should know…
    “… it is care you should strive to learn more than skill…” – Leonardo da Vinci.
    You can choose the most exquisite materials and lavish many hours of fine workmanship on them and still end up with something clumsy and banal.
    By contrast another person can turn a stick punching a hole into a piece of paper into a moving and spiritual act…
    The “care” – the sensitivity, compassion, love if you like,… are what makes for beautiful work.
    Few arts need to be practiced as “carefully” as kyudo I feel.
    If you literally focus only on technique it is possible to train without any benefit to spirit. Training for a great level of skill and precision requires rigor, it is easy to become hard and myopic in the pursuit of an ideal – “isms” the world over prove my point…
    Literally training only technique without a higher goal is probably worse than training to no physical effect but with the correct intentions actually.
    We do need love and compassion to turn skill into art – into something that has the “beauty” you mentioned.
    As learners I feel we also need them to keep our hearts and minds open and to prevent us from judging others or becoming victims of our own frustration.

    Love and compassion are absolutely valid as training goals – I just always feel the need to remind everyone (self included…) not to get ahead of themselves. With all the big ideas and ideals it is easy to loose sight of the very concrete bow and arrow that require our fullest and constant attention also.

    Anyway, when I said I enjoyed the post I truly meant it. The importance and the need for love and compassion can not be overstated in art as well as in life.
    Thanks for the reminder.

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