Kyudo Notebook: Awa Kenzo

Catching up on some reading there’s a very good, short article in this month’s edition of Kyudo magazine. It’s a reprint from 1967, reminiscences by Takeda Yutaka (at that time the head of the ANKF) about his early Kyudo life, in this case as a student of Awa Kenzo (hanshi). His training began when he was just 7 years old, and as you’d expect from the stories about Awa, the training was strict. “Awa was famous for his Spartan teaching methods… the training was just as strict for kids as it was for adults.” Takeda uses the word kitaeru, “to forge,” as in forging steel. Later in the same article he mentions being there while Eugen Herrigel was also training, and was impressed that Awa made no allowances for a foreigner. Herrigel was taught within the same strict discipline as everyone else.

Takeda sums up Awa’s philosophy as “Spirit brings technique to life.” This is not to say that their training in technique was lax in any way (by all accounts it was very hard), but that “Whether your technique lives or dies depends on your spirit (kokoro).” Takeda agrees, pointing out expressions like “bullpen pitcher” or “practice hall yokozuna,” describing people who are great during practice but fall apart in actual competition. “We have the same thing in kyudo… When you fail at a big competition, the problem isn’t so much to a failure of technique as a failure of spirit, failure to give life to your technique.”



“Kyudo is a struggle between the target and yourself. The target sits with infinite patience, unmoving, and is the very incarnation of natural body form (shizentai) and ordinary mind (heijoushin). If you stand in front of the target with any kind of weakness (suki) it will destroy your ordinary state of mind. Thus it’s no exaggeration to say that in kyudo everything is a matter of maintaining this ordinary mind.”

Takeda also relates a story about going to the dojo one winter when he was a 5th year elementary school student. The dojo was just a 10 minute walk from his house, and when he arrived, snow was falling. Awa-sensei said, “Today we won’t practice shooting. Instead, just sit seiza and watch the snowflakes fall until they hit the ground. That’s your training today.” So, just a kid, he did as he was told, watching one snowflake at a time fall out of the sky and down to the ground, over and over. After 30 minutes on the floor, in the open shajo exposed to the winter cold, his feet were numb and he couldn’t feel anything, but because it was a command from his teacher, he continued. Then even in his child’s mind, through perseverance and gaman, at some point he finally understood the form of a snowflake falling and landing pa! on the ground.

After a while, Awa-sensei came back to the dojo and asked “Well, how was it?” Takeda’s legs hurt so much that all he could say was “Hai.” To which Awa laughed out loud and gave him a big bun filled with sweet bean paste. To this day, Takeda says, he remembers how delicious that cake was. That was how Awa-sensei taught him concentration.

[月刊弓道 、平成24年6月号 通巻745号、pp. 20-21]

I’ll probably tweak the translation but it’s so cool that I just wanted to get it out there. It kind of makes me wish it were still winter! In fact I have a favourite photograph of a monk at Tenryuji, in Kyoto, sitting zazen on the open veranda there, watching the snowflakes fall. I used to have it up on my wall. Maybe I’ll put it back now.

This entry was posted in kyudo, kyudo notebook, mind. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Kyudo Notebook: Awa Kenzo

  1. I truly enjoyed your post. Awa Kenzo is a wonderfully inspirational figure.

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