WordPress has this interesting feature where it tells you the search terms that brought people to your page. A surprisingly common one has been kiza. Well, maybe it’s not so surprising! It hurts everybody, even the hanshi, though they don’t show it. I thought I would jot down a few things I’ve been doing lately that seemed to help.
One is straightforward: practice sitting in kiza every day, gradually extending the time you sit, but be kind do yourself. This is one of those things where the fastest way to make progress is to go slow. If you overdo it, and injure yourself, you’ll have to go back to square one. So slow and steady is the way. A sure indication that I’ve overdone it is when I have pain when getting up the next morning. When that happens, some massage seems to help, but it’s also a sign to back off. Ballet dancers tend to injure these muscles/tendons a lot and if it gets too bad they have to stop for months to let them recover. Fortunately in kyudo you can still do rissha.
In addition to just practising on the floor, I also try to remember to sit in kiza in the bathtub. It’ sounds funny, but the warm water and the buoyancy make it easier to sit for a longer period, and I think this may help stretch the muscles and tendons. You can use a waterproof kitchen timer, or just count off minutes/seconds.
The Kyudo Kyohon makes a point of trying to keep the heels together. In my case this puts even more pressure on the great toes, and I have a hard time with it sometimes, but it does seem to help. If you let the heels splay out while the toes stay together it can pull on other muscles and tendons, and also make it harder to get up. That said, one of the teachers told me that in the worst case, just do what you have to do.
Stretching is important. Especially at a shinsa, where you may spend the whole day waiting, it’s good to warm up by stretching feet and legs. I’m pretty sure the main muscle you want to get at is the extensor hallucis longus, which connects to the great toe and is normally used to extend it. In kiza that muscle and its tendons are stretched… a lot.. so normal muscle stretching techniques can help over time, as well as when warming up before the event. Sometimes I sit down and use a PNF technique just before shooting. You can even do it while sitting at the honza if there’s a wait.
Of course, you also want to stretch the other muscles of the calf and foot, since they all work together.
Another thing is to do exercises to strengthen the quadriceps. In fact, in kiza, you don’t rest your weight on your ankles. You’re supposed to keep your butt suspended in the air slightly above them. This requires a lot of stamina in the upper legs. My teacher has a training regimen that involves some sort of knee bends to strengthen these muscles. Also starting about a month before big events he’ll start practising sitting in kiza for five minutes at a time, to get used to it.
I think I mentioned before that, on average, it seems like the o-mae person has to wait about 4 minutes before shooting the otoya (of course, there is no delay for the haya). The ochi person, last in a group of five, has to wait about 3:30 before shooting each arrow. So those are probably good goals to start with. Go slow, and remember that in the stress of the moment, say, at a shinsa, sometimes you’ll have a lot more strength and endurance than normal. You may surprise yourself!