Kyudo Notebook: Asa

Interesting quick conversation with S先生 today after my string broke. She said the fact that the hemp strings break is actually good, that it can protect the bow from too much shock. Of course, they also just wear out naturally over time. Someone who handles the bow well can expect a string to last about 300 shots, and when it breaks, it will break at the center (at the nocking point). For someone not quite so skilled, it will probably break sooner (“The string won’t be able to live out its natural life”) and often breaks near the top or bottom, although that can also happen if the string just isn’t well-made, or gets damaged. They’re not mass-produced items, in the end… each one is a bit different.

She highly recommends them, though, even for people using glass or carbon bows (beyond a certain point, of course, and budget), because she likes the quality of the shot. I suspect it’s similar to the way musicians like certain types of strings: there’s just something that matches their way of playing or their personality. For S先生 the synthetic strings are aimai, they lack a distinct character, while the hemp strings are more clear and vivid. I like the hemp ones, too, for the feeling and sound that they impart (and also the Haru Kaze strings for the way they are made). But they do come at a price.

I always like this teacher’s explanations of equipment because for her these objects are always alive: they have feelings, and emotional relationships with each other and with the kyudoka. Probably the larger world as well. But she doesn’t talk much, so you only get these hints now and then. So now I’ll put the broken string on our little Buddhist altar. It lived well and helped me learn a lot.

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7 Responses to Kyudo Notebook: Asa

  1. ceterum censeo says:

    I always liked the idea of hemp strings… but I guess I am too much enamored with performance (and the contents of my wallet, maybe).
    They are natural, traditional,… but kevlar seems faster (because they can be thinner I guess) and even if you pick a really thin string, will outlast hemp 4 or 5 times over.
    300 arrows… new string every other week… hemp might get expensive too…
    Still, I like the idea of the bow and maybe even its string being alive…
    You kind of make me feel bad using horrid technical string on my living natural bow.
    Maybe I’ll have to give hemp a try…

    Can you give a guide which string weight is ok for which draw weight?

  2. karamatsu says:

    I’m not sure about the draw weight guidelines, but I’ll ask about it tomorrow. What I have been told is that it varies not just with draw weight but with the season (thinner in the humid months, thicker in the drier ones), and also there’s a difference in the construction of the different brands, so you really have to try a bunch and see what suits you. And of course, there’s the skill of the kyudoka. My teacher once used the same string for six months, so finding the “right” one can be very economical! When I first told him I’d like to try a hemp string he suggested 2.1 monme, which is on the heavier side, and that for a nominally 13kg 4-sun nobi fiberglass bow. He probably didn’t want me to be discouraged when it broke the first time I used it! I imagine someone more skilled, and with a bamboo bow, could use a lighter string. I’ve been experimenting, but of course my shooting is also changing over time, so who knows? Maybe it will all converge at some point.

    I’ll be interested to hear what you think. I found them addictive, and have been ordering from Sambu Kyuguten (http://www.sambu.jp/SHOP/199569/201242/list.html). I still keep a synthetic string as the backup to my backup, though.

  3. ceterum censeo says:

    Thanks for the advice.
    I like Sambu Kyugu a lot – wonderful people… even more wonderful for allowing me to order in english…
    I’ll try and get a few hemp strings to try with my next order.
    I guess I’ll have to start at the top weight-wise.
    I currently use a 19kg bow.
    Interestig the weight changes with the seasons. It does make sense, dry winter weather must make the string more brittle… same happens to a bamboo bow too. They feel a little stronger and are more prone to fracturing in cold weather.

    Would you happen to know whether the stated string-weight is an expression of weight per meter or for the whole string?
    I’m trying to imagine how thick 2.1, or even 2.3monme is.
    My current favorite string is Hikari. Their #3 weighs around 7g – a little under 1.9 monme for the whole thing in 4-sun nobi. Diameter is 1.5mm roughly.
    Hikari, for their weight, are about as strong and fast as you you can get.

  4. karamatsu says:

    You know, I never thought to ask about how the measurement is done. I just weighed an unused 4-sun nobi Katsura string marked 1.8 monme, and it came it at 8.0 grams, so it’s probably not as simple as just the raw weight of the finished product. Maybe it’s something like the length of the string when cut exactly to nami length, and without the cloth wrappers on the ends? Another thing to ask about! They’re going to wonder why I’m suddenly so obsessed with strings…

    Oh, but in trying to find an answer online I ran across this page that has some suggestions for weight by draw weight: http://shigeyasukameo.de/kyudo/20080731_bogenpflege_japanisch.html
    It looks like something in the 2.1 range would be just right for 19kg, but of course then there’s that seasonal thing. I also saw a recommendation to use slightly heavier strings for a longer life (and better budget), but of course it will affect the flight of the arrow and the tsurune. That’s the trouble with living things!

  5. karamatsu says:

    Oh, that same 1.8 monme string is about 1.7mm thick, so you can see… both heavier and thicker than the Hikari. If I can remember to do it, and people don’t laugh at me too much, I’ll check out a couple more at the dojo tomorrow.

  6. ceterum censeo says:

    Hi,

    many thanks for that.

    Thanks for the link to Kameo Sensei’s website. I had so far only read the german version of his website. Turns out the japanese site is a little different now I look at it – no mention of string weights etc in the german site.
    He is fairly local to me and has been kind enough to answer questions in the past, maybe I can also bug him with some of my questions…

    I guess you might be right that the nominal weight refers to raw weight of a nami-length string.
    So if 1.8 monme equates to 8g and 1.7mm then 2.1 monme must be close to 2mm.
    When I was shooting in my current bamboo bow I used slightly heavier arrows (31g instead of 29g) and also Yamato #3 strings which, at the same nominal strength as the Hikari, are about 1.9mm thick.
    The bow felt much slower and tsurune disappeared almost completely. Only about 4g of extra weight and a bit of extra air-resistance to the string feels like shooting a whole different bow. Not necessarily worse but very different.
    I guess a 2.1 monme string will feel similar… well, then again, one would hope that hemp feels different not just because of its thickness but in and of itself…
    I’ll just have to try it I guess.

  7. karamatsu says:

    I did find it quite different, but have been using them for several months now so I don’t remember exactly what the difference was! Maybe they feel a bit “rounder,” which is the only way I can think to describe it. I did measure a 2.1 monme string yesterday, and it came out to about 1.9mm, so I think your estimate is just right. Enjoy the experimentation!

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