Kyudo Notebook: Wake Up!

Things are settling down now, but it’s hard to put into words. There is the higher/closer position at daisan, which turns out to be less exaggerated than I thought, in part because my arms are long enough to make it work. Also a bit more hineri on the right, leaning my hips a bit forward to create a more stable base, and then, once in kai, just expanding into zanshin (often with some visualization) without giving any (or much…) thought hanare. When all this comes together, the result is pretty good. The tsurune is noticeably sharp, a completely different sound.

The things I need to work on are that my body often jolts just a little bit forward at hanare, instead of being rock-steady, and the right arm sometimes doesn’t extend as far as I’d like. No doubt these are intimately related. Also sometimes the hanare is too fast. It’s a bit of a paradox there. How to train myself so that hanare doesn’t happen too quickly if I’m not thinking about it? Maybe I need to think about it just a little. Or something. The experiments continue.

Meanwhile one of the teachers (I have to be vague) talked recently about being a judge at a shinsa. The 6-dan and below were good, but she said that the people testing for 7-dan almost put her to sleep. Of course, they are last, and it was a long day, but she said they were so おとなしい (gentle, quiet, subdued). I asked what you had to do to keep the shinsa judges awake, and the answer was kiai. It reminded me of some comments from one of the judges at the All-Japan tournament, who wanted to see more vigor and spirit in the participants there. Technical perfection is a given at that level, so he wanted to see something more.

Interestingly, my teacher also talked about two kinds of kiai, one is on the surface, something that a person watching can see. The other is within and, I suppose, something that a well-attuned observer instead feels. Naturally I’m most curious about the second. It seems like you can psych yourself up to produce a kind of visible energy. Sometimes I do that. But that quieter, internal kind that wakes up the judges from within… that’s what I’d like to find.

Oh, also, I found that by taking a quick break and having some serious green tea that someone brought (a mixture of sencha and matcha) after the first hour or so really perks me up for the second. Must get some of that tea…

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This entry was posted in ashibumi, daisan, hanare, kai, kyudo, kyudo notebook, mind, tsurune, zanshin. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Kyudo Notebook: Wake Up!

  1. ceterum censeo says:

    Hi,
    two points if I may…

    For some schools (Heki-to-ryu for example) a small forward jolt is considered a good thing in beginners. It shows the certain good things are happening – like pulling from your back, expanding into the bow… by all means keep an eye on it but it may be premature to try and eliminate it. Some consider it a natural part of learning and it disappears naturally. the right arm is similar… first it doesn’t move, then it flies right back,… finally it moves but does not jolt…
    If your arm does not reach the correct position in Zanshin it is most likely because you hold with and release from the right hand. Perhaps try to release from the left… kind of a heki-thing, but still… we “snap” the string from the hand with a strong push from the left… your attention is on nobiai, pushing, pulling, not on hanare…
    Difficult,… a sharp natural release does not seem to be possible if you do it actively.
    Maybe try doing a fuller nobiai… so hanare is a release not a letting go…
    Push, struggle, expand,… don’t just wait to let go…

    …which brings me neatly to point two…

    As for keeping spectators awake…
    you mentioned a while ago a teacher called you boring…

    When you watch a tightrope walker, what do you watch?
    Why is it exciting?
    You are watching skill… that is the most basic level
    You are also watching a struggle… teetering on the edge between success and failure.
    At the most advanced level you are watching “naturalness” (- poor word but can’t think of a better one). You are watching someone perfectly at ease, fluid, elegant…
    But when does it really make your heart soar?

    Here is where the difficulty lies…
    Great skill alone in never enough. It leads only to a mechanical quality – in shooting as in anything. If you eliminate the struggle, the element of risk, of excitement, you destroy part of the quality.
    Naturalness is not shooting on autopilot but it is an expressive quality I feel.
    True mastery can be seen not in technical perfection but emotional expression…
    A great kyudo performance expresses the nature of shooting. The nature of shooting is in its energy and in the fact that there is a HIT and MISS.
    Energy and struggle must remain evident even when the archer has achieved the highest level of control.

    Tightrope walking is an apt metaphor here… performers will frequently add drama by making it seem harder than it is – a slip, a pause, swaying just a little too much…
    Kyudo is like that too…
    Spirit, Kiai,… it adds drama…
    That is not saying it is a “performance” or circus tricks. Not at all.
    It is saying if you stop trying, stop struggling, if you lose the the sense of risk in the shooting it becomes dead – boring…
    The exciting shots to watch are the ones where you see the struggle, the risk, the energy,…
    When your teacher said you were boring I can almost guarantee you that you were shooting on autopilot. Your mind totally focused on your mind… you busy analyzing you and your shooting left to its own devices – lacking any kind of drama or struggle.

    Here’s a little clip…

    Drama! ; )

    Happy shooting!

  2. karamatsu says:

    You’ve connected several unaccounted-for pieces of the puzzle. Especially the points about struggle and risk. Much to think about on the way to practice! Thanks very much!

  3. ceterum censeo says:

    Glad to be of service… ; )
    erm… yeah, sorry I can’t spell too… I write too quickly I think.
    Anyway,…

    I think the “performance” side of kyudo is very interesting. Target shooting is not normally much of a spectator sport, and certainly not one where you get points for form.
    “watchable” kyudo is the hardest thing to achieve – can’t say I have mastered it.
    Art without artifice… that natural refined quality, unselfconscious, unembellished,… so hard to achieve.
    Some people seem to just shoot… they seem to do so little, yet they manage to express the essence of it somehow… I once said nothing happens “somehow”… but here the “how” simply is beyond me… I am working on it though… ; )
    It is turning out to be a long process, and there seem to be no shortcuts. I think it is important to go through the process, it isn’t the knowing that forms us but the doing.
    In the beginning when we do something “very nicely” we add little “flourishes” to our movements, then if we try to stay still we cease to do anything at all… it either looks empty or it looks contrived… contrived is better I feel… artifice will disappear through endless repetition, empty will always be empty.
    I guess the key is just to practice, never to give up the struggle, to do more rather than less and to let time and practice do the refining.
    That was kind of the point about your “jolting problem” and “watchable” kyudo both…
    The jolt shows work, struggle, energy,… misdirected maybe… but present… don’t give it up… do more… expand more… outward… direct the energy in the direction of the target and far back into the right elbow to balance… the right hand and the jolt are connected… energy is being lost through being misdirected, add more rather than trying to do less.
    Don’t try to stop doing anything… just adjust the balance and direction of what you are doing.

    I have another little tip for you…
    It relates to your previous post about aesthetics, “boring” shooting etc.
    Have a look at Soetsu Yanagi’s “the Unknown Craftsman”.
    This is in english but here may be texts in Japanese… the translation is good though, very sensitively edited by Bernard Leach.
    Yanagi saw the world of art with his heart, he was a spiritual man, also great friend of Daisetsu Suzuki. I think you will find him interesting.
    Yanagi talks about more than textiles and teacups… he also talks about Buddhism in the Arts in Japan, about the nature of art, about a sense of naturalness, community, individuality,… the self-less…
    I recently re-read the book – some twenty years after first picking it up – Yanagi writes about Korean teacups and I find myself thinking of Taihai…
    If you seek to understand the aesthetics and the governing principles behind the traditional arts of a buddhist culture, you will find a few answers there.

  4. karamatsu says:

    I think you are spot-on there about adding rather than subtracting. Yesterday I tried to put more effort into the right and things worked out very well, at least in the first half of the practice. Later the arrows started flying inexplicably high, and I suspect I was short-changing the left. So… balance, balance. Also thanks very much for the book reference. I’ll see if I can get my hands on that. The search for “watchable” kyudo sounds like a long road, but a good one.

  5. ceterum censeo says:

    Weird concept “watchable kyudo” I grant you… but a fascinating one…
    one could have a whole philosophical discourse on how being watched affects us…
    don’t worry I won’t…. ; )
    Still,… how do we square the whole zen-sobriety and the “everyday mind” with “watchability”, drama and emotion…?

    If your arrows suddenly fly high you are most likely tired…
    If you you loosen the little and ring fingers in hanare, your arrows will fly high.
    The lower limb of the bow is faster and has a shorter distance to travel. Unchecked it will kick forward and arrows will fly high.
    You are right I think… more work in the left…
    The cure may also be more of your tea… ; )

  6. karamatsu says:

    Interesting questions. I do think about how being watched affects me, as well how the desire not to be affected affects me. A while back my teacher gave me an essay in which the author said that one way to overcome this was simply to participate in a lot of competitions, so over time you’d just get used to it. But then he added that, although this would work, if you went that route you would lose the chance to learn something about yourself. Good point.

    I guess you can always up the stakes by going to a more prestigious tournament, or when there are people you want to impress, but it’s much easier now! The worst thing I ever experienced was earlier this year in Sapporo. I was in a slump, not hitting, all messed up, but no way I would back out. Then, to top it off, the main judge was this gruff hanshi who always seemed to look at me with a certain amount of disapproval. I don’t know why. Probably I’m just imagining it. BUT THEN I was o-mae, just four feet from his critical eye. One of the other judges said I was visibly shaking. Oh, well.

    I think it says something about me that sometimes, as in this case, I’m more perturbed by the fear of doing badly than I am by the desire to do well. It’s something that I think kyudo is helping to change, because I remember in the early taikai experiences I would sometimes get into this frame of mind of just wanting it to be over, so I’d rush the shooting, with predictable results. That doesn’t happen so much any more, but I do perceive a trap in which, rather than rushing, instead I merely do what is safe. It’s one of the reasons your note about struggle and risk struck a chord.

    As for “everyday mind,” that’s a good question. Maybe there is no contradiction between having an everyday mind and exerting tremendous effort. Probably we misunderstand what is meant by that sort of mind, but if I asked a Zen teacher he’d just knock over my teacup.

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