A good tutorial over the weekend. Everyone left exhausted. The emphasis was on taihai because, as recent articles in Kyudo suggest, the ANKF seems to feel that this needs more emphasis. It’s easy to understand why. Most people only have a limited amount of time to practice, so anything that isn’t part of the hassetsu doesn’t get much attention, except maybe in the run-up before a shinsa. Yet to do these moves smoothly requires a lot of time and repetition, not to mention time and repetition.
Another problem, I think, is that the various movements and conventions are often simply given, with no context or rationale, which leads people to think of them as some sort of empty ritual. Maybe this is just a traditional teaching method, though. At least I’ve seen similar things in other parts of Asia, where first the students learn to master a set form, and only after they’ve done it are the nuances revealed. It’s a bit of a rite of passage.
In any case, the teachers emphasized that all of these movements have a purpose and a meaning, and we should neither simply “go through the motions,” nor add unnecessary elements to them. “Going through the motions is empty,” one of them said. You might as well not do it. The other teacher also mentioned that, if done correctly, each move sets up the proper conditions for the next, so while we may think of them as separate, they are in fact woven together to create a whole, from the moment you enter the shajo to the moment you leave (or actually both before you enter and after you leave).
As before, now just some random points. We were “on” all the time, so there was no way to take notes, and these are just the ideas that stayed with me. All of the practice was done zassha, using either the timing for a shinsa (with wafuku) or mochi-mato sharei.
- Your group enters at the tsurune of the last person in the group that is shooting. Compared to the timing when wearing regular practice gear, you need the extra time for hadanugi/tasukisabaki.
- Don’t let the bow protrude into the shajo until you are on the way in. Ideally you’d wait one step behind the threshold, but in a crowded space you just have to make do.
- Left sleeve of kimono should be between the bow and the bowstring. The arrows are on the inner side of the right kimono sleeve (between the sleeve and your body). The easy way to make this happen is to hold bow and arrows out in front of you, shoulder width apart, and then just bring them straight into the toriyumi posture.
- Keep the arrows together. Use pressure from the little finger of the right hand to help with this.
- Exhale before stepping into shajo so that your first step in is on an inhalation.
- The meaning of the bow (rei for o-mae, yu for others) is one of gratitude for being allowed to shoot and to thank those watching (Kyohon, Japanese, pp. 86-87; English, pg. 47). Cultivate this feeling so that the bow is sincere. Make it real.
- As you walk, be sure to avoid the dreaded kobushiashi error. I’ve heard that term many times but never quite got it until this weekend (I thought it meant one foot going in front of the other). The idea is that the walking has to be directed by the hips, and any move of the feet that is in a direction other than the direction that the hips are moving is kobushiashi. So when making turns, the hips set the direction and the feet proceed from there. In addition to the benefits this brings you in the dojo it’s also a guaranteed source of entertainment for people when you practise at home.
- Kiza at the honza. Nit-picking as it sounds, it is extremely important that you be precise about the placement of your knees here. If it’s a shinsa, and your knees come down in such a way that you slide past the honza, you’ve more or less failed right there. It just seems to be “one of those things,” perhaps because the shinsa-in can see the honza but may not be completely sure where the sha-i marker is. Ideally you want your knees to be a little bit (within 5cm) behind the honza line.
- Ikasu, then yu. The timing for this yu is that you inhale while bowing forward, exhale, and then inhale again while straightening back up.
- Especially for the person who is o-mae, it is extremely important that each movement be done in time with the breath. The teachers were relentless here and the reason is that the people behind need to be able to keep up. Women especially may need a bit of extra time to deal with the tasuki.
- So for example, inhale as you run your left thumb out along the inside of the kimono sleeve until you’ve grasped the end (showing only the four fingers). Exhale. Inhale as you pull the sleeve leftward to loosen the collar. Exhale. Inhale as you bend the left arm (keeping the left forearm parallel to the floor) until your left hand is below the nipple. Exhale. Inhale as you use the elbow to loosen the back of the kimono.
- This is where one of the teachers made the point about how all the moves have to be done “for real” or “for a purpose.” They all have a purpose, so if you only imitate the superficial form (stretch left arm out, bend at elbow, stretch back out, etc), you’re not really doing the moves. The reason you’re doing these things isn’t “just because,” the purpose is to loosen the kimono at the collar and at the back, and these motions have been found to be the best way to do that and maintain the dozukuri form.
- O-mae has to sense when everyone is done. The sound of rustling fabric is a good sign that one of the men is busy. With women you can usually hear it when they grasp the bow and the arrows and move them back to the toriyumi position.
- Likewise it’s good for the o-mae person to have a good sense of who is in the group and in what order, that way you’ll have a better idea of what to expect. It can also be good to work out with people the number of steps you plan to take before the turn to walk toward the kamiza, and then how many steps to the honza. This requires checking the dojo out in advance if possible.
- Keep the arrows parallel to the floor as you bring them up and go through the different moves
- When turning the bow, place the string at the centre of your body (aligned with your nose) and use the right hand to hold the string in place while turning the bow around it.
- After choosing the haya, run the thumb along the shaft to the middle, grasp the shaft from above, move it to the string, then back along the shaft to the hazu, and bring that to the string (obviously I’m using the ni-soku form). Now (not before) twirl the arrow if necessary so that the hashirba points up. To nock the arrow, hold the string in place and push the hazu onto the string (nakajikake).
- Use the smallest movement possible to flip the otoya over and twirl it so that the hashiriba of that arrow points down. Don’t look at the fletchings for this. You have to know your arrows well enough to do it without taking your gaze away from the nocking point.
- The motion of the right hand from the otoya to the right hip should be in a straight line (the fastest, most economical path).
- When standing up from kiza need to keep the elbows a little bit more inward than had been my habit. This was a correction just for me, though.
- The point from the Kyudo Kyohon (Japanese: vol. 1, pg. 63; English: pg. 30) was reiterated, that dozukuri isn’t just the step of the hassetsu by that name, but begins before you enter the shajo and must be maintained until after you have left. A lot of the work involved is precisely that of not allowing this posture to collapse despite all the different movements you’re called upon to do.
- As above, the motion of the right hand from the right hip to grasp the otoya should be a straight line.
- Same thing when moving right hand up to grasp/conceal the hazu before you stand up.
Mochi-mato Sharei Points
- I didn’t make notes for other parts of the hassetsu, but for the sharei there were a few other things.
- Apparently there are several different timings and you should agree on which to use beforehand. The one we followed was that one person stands when the person in front completes (or starts?) torikake. I have to check whether it’s at the start or the completion.
- Then there is that turn at the shai-i before walking backwards. Since I use the two-step form, there is the turn and then, as you are turning, also bring the right foot forward to the sha-i. Then as a second move, bring the left foot back to match up with the right. Some people make three moves of that: turn, bring right foot forward, bring left foot back, but somehow I prefer the two-move method. It takes more practice, though.
- After that, a short step backward with the right foot, then normal steps back to the point where, when you come down into kiza, your knees are at the honza. Usually I think that is five steps altogether (including the small initial step). O-mae has to do this blind, but everyone after that moves back until they can just see the back of the person in front of them. That seems to work.
- During sharei there is no honza marker, so the honza is wherever you decided it was when you entered the shajo, did hadanugi, etc. You must move back to that same line. Of course, if it’s a familiar dojo, or you have time to scope it out before hand, you can identify “landmarks” that help, but beware that things can change.
- If hadaire is called for, then the same emphasis on ikiai is needed as for hadanugi, only this time it’s the men who may need more time, while for women it’s not as complex to just untie the tasuki, and there are no arrows to worry about.
- Must bring the left sleeve up over the shoulder. If you just pull it along the upper arm, it will have the effect of tightening the kimono, which is not what you want. Also, while you have the sleeve draped like that, you can try to create some space between the juban and your body. Tom, one of the commenters to an earlier posting, also had this very helpful video.
- Keep the hand, arm, elbow close against your body as you slide them into the right side of the juban, then bring the forearm down into the space created in the left side. You can make this easier by ensuring that the layers are properly arranged after hadanugi.
- If you can’t get the arm properly into the left sleeve after trying three times, lay the bow down on your left thigh (bowstring farthest from body, just like women do) and use your right hand to open up the juban so that the left elbow can slip in. Sometimes people also have a problem where they have the elbow in but can’t bring find the hole at the end of the sleeve. Maybe best to just start over there, holding the juban with the right hand. I’ll have to practise and see!
- Also not something mentioned, but which I noticed before, is that juban seem to come in long and short versions. The short version comes down a little below the hips, while the longer ones come further down on the thighs. The long ones seem better because what can happen with the short ones is that, at hadanugi, you can end up pulling the front of the juban all the way out. That makes hadaire difficult because there is nothing to hold the edge of the juban down. They’re wickedly expensive, too, so buy carefully or learn to make them.
- When turning back toward the kamiza for the final yu, remember that the move has to start with the hips, and then take a good-sized step toward the kamiza. If the step is too short it will be difficult to move properly. In contrast to the yu when entering (for all but o-mae) here you bring both feet together, then make eye contact with the intended object of your yu, and bow. The eye contact is important. The idea is that you are expressing gratitude for being allowed to shoot, and you wouldn’t thank someone without making eye contact. So again, it has to be real.
- If there is someone in front of you as you move to the exit, keep your bow to their left.
- You must never stop moving your feet. If you’re close to the person in front of you, then while they are doing the turn and yu to the kamiza, you have to sort of shuffle your feet in tiny little steps. One of the teachers said something about the reason for this but I didn’t hear it clearly. I think it was that if you stop, there will be a loss of concentration. But I have to check that.
- Not actually from this tutorial but from an earlier article, you must maintain toriyumi no shisei all they way until you have set your bow down. In practice I’ve been told that this is only true until you are out of view of the shinsa-in, but I think it’s better to do it until you’ve set the bow down, otherwise some relaxation may creep into your posture too soon. Consider it zanshin. Also, some dojo don’t have a wall to hide behind, so you’re always in view. So, good to know.
These points were all very good, and open up new areas for both research (Why do we do this? What’s the meaning of that?) and practice. Knowing the meaning and purpose both brings the various movements “alive” and ensures that they are done most efficiently and economically. It’s when you don’t know why you’re doing something, when you think it’s just a form, that people tend to embellish and/or accomplish less than was actually called for, in which case the effects will ripple forward (for better or worse) to subsequent moves.
Along the same lines, I think these points may illuminate criticisms you hear sometimes about how this or that form is “just ceremony” or “empty ritual.” Although I’m sure there is such a thing as empty ritual, more often the attitude says more about the speaker than the form: the speaker simply doesn’t know the meaning of what he/she is looking at. I’ve had similar discussions with people about religious ritual. It’s worthwhile to look deeper.
One other interesting piece of advice (useful for me as I get used to the new bow) was not to fight the bow. You’re on the same side, the same team. You want to work together. Afterwards we were talking about the strength of the bow and one of the other teachers pointed out that what’s required as you become proficient isn’t more strength but better technique (waza): the ability to use your body efficiently. That’s why you sometimes see thin, emaciated old guys drawing 20kg bows while relative youngsters like me struggle with 15kg. Much to learn…
Now one day to recover from all the kiza and then back to work.
Oh, a subsidiary point. The yawatashi before the tutorial was done by a woman, but since nobody there was familiar with the duties of a first kaizoe for a woman (!?), she did it without kaizoe. So I’ve decided to learn that. I assume it’s just a question of being very familiar with the tasuki moves if something goes wrong there, and maybe holding the motohazu of the bow if it looks like it might fall off her thigh. You can see Ishikawa-sensei acting as first kaizoe for Satake Mariko-sensei in this video. If nothing else it might lead to some interesting conversations. Interestingly, when she finishes the yawatashi and unties the tasuki, he does not approach her at all.