Yesterday I was on vacation, so ended up spending seven hours at the dojo. This was, in retrospect, too much. My normal practice time is more like 2-3 hours. But it was fun at the time, and interesting to be there as people came and went through the day, and my teacher had time to deliberate about what I’ve been doing wrong lately.
The main thing seems to be that my left shoulder is going up from daisan into kai. It’s a very basic thing, that allows me to be a little lazy during the draw, and I was surprised to see how keeping it down throughout used muscles in my back that I wasn’t accustomed to using! So I need to work on that more. But the results were pretty good. Having the shoulder up meant that the movements at release came more from the arm (with the shoulder as fulcrum) than from the center of my body, and that may be what led to some of the weirdness. Of course, I’ve said that before, and the proof will be in how things work once everything else comes back in to balance. I’ve seen this — the sudden improvement as I try something new, then slowly deteriorating — too many times!
The other thing was that I was able to spend some quality time with the makiwara. These days, will all the new students, that’s not easy, but the obvious difference I noticed is that, at the makiwara, my left hand doesn’t drop at all at release, yet when I’m in front of the target, it does. Why? The most obvious thing I can think of is that, with the makiwara, the target is at eye level, whereas with the mato it’s essentially at the level of my feet, a good 130cm or so down. So if I focus on shooting in a line through the target, I must necessarily push the bow downward, and so the drop at release is just the hand “doing what I told it to do.”
To check this out, I aimed as usual, but then shifted the focus of my concentration to a spot about a meter above the target. Immediate improvement. The arrow hit (because the aim was still right), but the left hand didn’t drop much at all, the shot felt very good, and several people commented favourably.
I don’t think this is a true solution, exactly. It’s more of a technical trick, but it points to the solution, which is to release from the centre along the horizontal line formed by the tateyoko cross, rather than pouring energy into a line that goes downward to the target. I’ll explore this more tomorrow if I can move. Last night I was so tired that I couldn’t sleep, which was very strange.
Finally, I’m not sure if I mentioned this or not, but I’ve switched to hemp strings. Even though I know there is more danger of breakage at a critical moment, you can both feel and hear the difference, even with a fiberglass bow. It’s worth it. Also(perhaps) because of the tapered construction of the tsuruwa loops, I find that there is less need to readjust the string height as the practice day goes on, even now, in the summer heat. I’m using 2.1 monme “Haru Kaze” strings that were on sale in Kyoto.