When I was younger I used to travel around alone quite a bit, mostly in the US and Asia. It seemed to me that, as a solo traveller I was more approachable than two (or more) together, so had the range of fun, interesting, odd, unpleasant, and occasional run-for-your-life experiences that make good stories later. But one thing I remember noticing early on was that people travelling with a prop, like a guitar, had it much easier because it gave people something to relate to, and sometimes I regretted not having something like that, an ice-breaking charm.
Today, with our dojo under construction, I decided to go to a nearby town where I heard they had a nice dojo of their own. Checking on the Internet, I saw that it was open, and they even had a convenient map. So two trains and nearly three hours later I arrived in the town with all my gear, walked a mile or so to the dojo and found it locked. Big chain. Combination lock. Definitely not open. I asked the caretaker at the sports centre nearby and he said he had no idea. Apparently someone else takes care of the dojo.
So that was that. I bought some bread at a bakery and settled down at the station to wait for the train back. Then while I was chewing a man came in, there was some aisatsu (I was still in kyudo mode) and then he asked about the yumi. Aha… my charm. It turns out that when he was in high school, in that very town, he had practised kyudo, and even gone to the nationals. Later we got on the same train, too, so ended up talking the whole way back. Very cool. He hasn’t practised in years but it was clear it’s still in his heart. Not many people you meet on the train talk about the sound that a bowstring makes. In those days everyone, even high school students, used bamboo bows and hemp strings (it’s all there were), and because the gear was all so expensive they took very good care of them. We agreed that the next time I go to a taikai in his city, I’ll give him a call so we can meet up. He thinks he’ll just watch but, I have a feeling he’s hooked, much as I was. And then on top of all that, it turns out that his kohai is in charge of the dojo that was locked, so now I have a connection, and next weekend I’ll call in advance. So a good kyudo trip, even if I didn’t get to shoot a single arrow.
Also I re-read parts of Zen in the Art of Archery. The more I learn and experience, the more I find of value there. I don’t understand the attitude of people like Yamada, but to each his own.