Kyudo Notebook: Final, Nerves, 6-sun Nobi World

The final went nine rounds and was great:


After the eight round I thought to myself, “At this point it doesn’t matter what happens, we’ve both won,” so I’ll just leave it at that!

We talked afterwards about competition/shinsa and why the experience is so different from practice. In Kyudo it’s entirely mental, of course. There is no opponent but yourself, so in that sense competition should be exactly the same as practice, yet it isn’t. Why/how does it differ? The obvious thing for me is that I get nervous, but it seemed like we both felt there is such a thing as “good” nervousness and “too much.” In a sutra the Buddha compares the mind of a meditator to a stringed instrument: not enough tension, and it won’t play well; too much tension, and it breaks.

So it seems like a matter of tuning. For me, the “good” side of the nervous feeling is that there is unexpected energy to tap. The bow draws easily, like the proverbial hot knife through butter, and while I suppose there might be a limit, the fact that we were able to go nine rounds like that even after a full morning of normal practice is telling. The difficult side is more familiar, can lead, among other things, to visible shaking and shooting very fast. Going deeper, looking at the reasons for the nerves, yet still being able to access that energy, seems like a good direction for practice.

Once everything wrapped up I brought all my stuff home because I needed to replace the grip on the new bow, make strings, do some work on the arrows, etc. I’d put a lot off because of the various events so far this month.

The world of 6-sun nobi bows has been like climbing to high altitude: there isn’t a lot of oxygen to keep you going, or in this case, not a lot of equipment. The only synthetic bows I’ve been able to find are the Renshin series from Koyama, although Koyama themselves doesn’t appear to sell them. Bows made here in Hokkaido… well, I asked, and for whatever reason they don’t make 6-sun nobi. Maybe it requires a mould that they don’t have, or perhaps there is just some limitation at the factory. Oddly there seem to be more options in bamboo bows, but they’re still hard to find. Asahi Archery has some at their shop, and sometimes at big taikai, like Kyoto, the shops that set up there might have one or two out of a hundred bows. Very thin air…

Likewise few shops carry 6-sun nobi tsuru. I found some at Asahi Archery and Sambu Kyuguten, but the selection is limited. Although I much prefer hemp (as far as I know, only available at Asahi), out of cost considerations I figured I’d use synthetics until I get used to the new bow. The first try has been a #1 string [need to check maker] (recommended for a 15kg bow), but I just don’t seem to get along with them somehow, so next I’ll try a #2 Yamato. These are about 1.6mm wide, which is closer to the thickness I’m accustomed to with hemp, so I’m hoping they’ll give me more of the feel I prefer. We’ll see.

Oh, with the Renshin, I don’t know if all are made this way, but mine came with a 5mm rubber insert on the inside of the grip (as well as a 1mm one on the outer side), and I found it hard to get the right tsunomi with that, so as a first step I made it more like my previous bow. We’ll see about that, too. Endless experimentation…

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2 Responses to Kyudo Notebook: Final, Nerves, 6-sun Nobi World

  1. ceterum censeo says:

    Exciting stuff… nine rounds! Wow!
    So you really aren’t going to say who won?
    …or is it just that gentlemen don’t tell? ; )

    Interesting points about nerves too.
    Looks like you are doing very well and you are absolutely spot-on with your likening then nervous tension to a string on a musical instrument etc.

    Sometimes it is just exciting rather than stressful isn’t it, excitement is a positive thing somehow. It isn’t like we don’t all relish a challenge, only when we feel ourselves out of our depth and unable to rise to it, that is when it turns to stress. A lot of it seems to do with confidence somehow.
    Occasionally you just feel good about it and then it naturally goes well too I think. Especially if you have been training well and you have been having a modicum of success, it turns into a motor for good energy. Sounds a bit wooly I know… Eustress versus distress I guess.

    Still, the situation, be it a competition, examination or just having spectators in general, always seems to push to the forefront of our consciousness.
    I am not sure I wholly approve of reciting mantras as a remedy, but if it does the trick…
    It is incredibly hard to just focus on what you are doing and not be affected by the situation. I can rarely do it. I think with me it is pride… We are being watched and we want to impress… or at least not fail. When that consciousness of how others might regard us is not there (in our everyday training for instance) it is much easier to focus I feel.
    Maybe mantras are a good aid here if they serve to blot out the external factors. I worry only that with your mind on mantras your body may end up shooting on auto-pilot which also isn’t the point.
    Still, if they help keep your mind contained within your body then that is a good start. Maybe I should try it.

    As for the bows…
    life can’t be easy in 6-sun nobi world…
    the Japanese are getting taller too it would seem, but 6-sun nobi must always be a very unusual size.

    I find grips are rarely right when you buy a bow.
    Traditionally bows were built to be about 1/3 narrower on the inside so the grip ended up trapezoid in section. Today they tend to be flat-ish oval or even square-ish.
    I almost always need to make mine smaller, narrower and rounder at the back.
    Many people make the grips too big actually, both for comfort and for extra “leverage”. Needless to say it doesn’t work. Tsunomi can’t work properly and the tendency to use fingers to “assist” is greater.
    You really will ll have to experiment there I guess.

    The spacers can be had in different thicknesses and shapes of course. Nigirikawa come in a variety of thicknesses too. The expensive smoked ones tend to be thicker.
    You can also easily make spacers from paper – I suppose you know… in case you don’t, you just roll up a bit of card and burnish it flat with a spoon or any hard polished object. A couple of tricks here… one is to roll the paper very loosely. The air in the roll is important as it makes the shape (diameter of roll still needs to be such though that it makes the right width when flattened).
    Burnishing is best done with the flattened paper roll placed along the edge of a table or such. That way you can form a neat sharp edge.
    Paper spacers are great as they can easily be cut or even sanded to shape.
    Here are some pictures – sorry but text is in german
    You can also reshape the bow itself. You can see a bit of that in the pictures too.
    That does work – within reason.
    The sides and the back can be carefully adjusted, even with carbon bows. If the grip part is too square as is often the case, it is possible to angle the sides a bit more and make the back a touch (only a touch!) narrower.
    You always need to experiment a bit to find what suits you and works for your style of shooting.

  2. karamatsu says:

    Yes, it seems experimentation is going to be the rule for a while. I tried the new grip yesterday and it was quite painful at first. It may be too flat/wide, or then again it may just be “different” and take some getting used to, so I’ll work with it for a while. Interesting about the trapezoidal shape, though. I noticed that one of the inserts available at Sambu was indeed a trapezoid. I wondered if that was for some special purpose but maybe it’s just for those who preferred the older design? I might try that. The other bow has a leather insert that looks like cowhide.

    Thanks very much for the links! The graph especially gives my analytical mind a little something to measure and check. Plus I see what you mean now about the rolled up paper. We tend to use postcards in the same way. The Japanese New Year nengajou are just the right size, plus you can write things on the inside.

    The problem I had with the original grip, with the 5mm spacer, was that it seemed there was little to engage that spot on the left hand, the head of the first metacarpal. The bow had become so rounded that it just seemed to turn, almost like holding a pipe. But now I think I may have gone too far in the other direction, making it too flat.

    I’m not sure about the mantras either, to tell you the truth. Of course, for Buddhists and others, the sounds themselves are traditionally said to have special effects on the mind, and this may be true either objectively (I suspect so) or simply because, through familiarity, they evoke certain states of mind. Or it could also just be that the mantra gave my mind something to “return to” when this or that thought popped up. When that would happen in the past (and I agree that there is that matter of spectators) I would push the thoughts out of my mind, but returning to the mantra was much more gentle, like a child putting down one toy to pick up another. Dunno… But it wasn’t so absorbing that I’d say it was autopilot.

    Of course, it wasn’t mushin, either, so I’m wary of this becoming another “magical technique” thingy. Perhaps just another tool in the toolbox.

    I also wonder sometimes about the qualitiative difference between wanting to do well and not wanting to fail. With excitmenet and wanting to succeed, if you go too far then in a sense you’ve just gone too far. But I think that not wanting to fail, or to look bad, is more pernicious because it can lead a person to sabotage themselves. I remember early on in taikai I would simply want to get it over with… get done, get away, get out of the spotlight, so naturally I would rush. Now I don’t feel that as much, either in the dojo or elsewhere, and I credit kyudo with that… if not nore confidence then at least not quite as much concern about failing. Maybe I’vejust become more foolish!

    Anyway more strenuous challenges to come!

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