The tournament was good. Saito-sensei (Tokyo), who I mentioned a little while back in some video clips, won the women’s competition, and the men’s competition was won Saikawa-sensei (Oita). He and Hosokawa-sensei (Fukui), who won the tournament last year, both scored 10/10 in the second round, so we all settled in for a long, drawn-out elimination process, but as it happened the result was decided with the first arrow. Hosokawa-sensei still won the prize for highest points among the men, though, and among the women that honour went to Fujino-sensei (Fukuoka).
There were professional photographers and video people there from Kyudo magazine so I imagine there will be good quality video available on the ANKF web site sometime soon. I made a bunch of video, too, but in keeping with their wishes I won’t upload it.
Mostly I used the tournament as a way to train my eye. What I did was to watch people in the first round and mark the ones who I thought were exemplary. Then in the second round I did the same thing. Those who were marked both times were my choices for the second round. So then I could compare my judgements with the choices of the hanshi: who makes it to round two? Where I only marked once, did the hanshi give the more points in that round than in the other? Lots of ways to play it.
At this point my choices are still only qualitative, so I didn’t have a 1, 2, 3 order to compare with the point ranking, just whether people were in the top group or not. In most cases I got them pretty well, certainly the top 12, but after that there were some mysteries. Why did this person get such good score? Why did someone I felt was good get a much lower score? I’ll have to go back and look at the video, where I have it, though to some extent there will always be differences due to distance and angle. The hanshi could see more than I could, not just visually but also technically and spiritually. But overall I was also pleased to get so much in agreement. It gives me confidence when watching others, or even (shudder) video of myself.
It’s interesting Buddhist practice, too, because you have to give up, or get past, all sorts of superficial judgements based on whether you know a person or not, whether you like them or not, or even just liking (or not) the way someone looks, otherwise it’s an obvious invitation to bias. You have to be able to ignore the wrapper and focus on the content.
Another problem that can creep in is when many good people appear in a row, in the same group. There’s a natural tendency to want to choose the best by comparison to the others in the group, even when they’re all very good, so you have to keep a kind of absolute standard in mind. I do not envy the task of the judges… just staying alert for 400 arrows in a row.
Also before the tournament there was one day when the dojo was open for individual practice, so I went to shoot for a while, just to get the feel of it. The shajo is huge. One of my teachers compared it to like being out in the middle of the ocean. By contrast I felt like the targets were closer than usual. I’m not sure if that was because of the shajo or just the way distant scenery was visible behind the targets. Anyway it was fun. Note for the future: it’s best to make a reservation (03-5302-5865) in advance. There are two practice times, morning (9:00-12:30) and afternoon (13:00-16:30), ¥500 each. The practice style was a little more formal than I’m used to, with the full entrance and exit included, but I like that. Taihai helps put me in the right frame of mind/body.
The place people practice and where the tournament was held is actually the dai-ni (2nd) dojo. The older, first dojo is hidden away and seems to be used for special things (while I was there a group of teachers were practising for a demonstration in India). I actually like that dojo better because of the huge old trees behind the targets, but it’s not maintained quite as well as dai-ni and the roof over the spectator area leaks.
The other curious thing about the dai-ni dojois that the target stand isn’t fixed in place but rides on rails. It pivots out of the way so people can use the same range for both kinteki and enteki. Good use of space in crowded Tokyo!
As far as takeway lessons go, the main things are to develop in myself the qualities that stood out to me as “good shooting” when watching others: precise, solid, smooth taihai; bow 10cm above the floor; confidence without pride; no unnecessary moves; mastery of the hassetsu, shoulders level; balanced draw left/right all the way; all the crosses lined up; don’t blink; develop kai to its fullest (no hayake please); nobiai; sharp release; the right hand/arm should go straight back, and far; the left hand/arm shouldn’t move much at all, and certainly not drop; yugaeri (it was surprising to see that some people at this level didn’t get a full turn of the bow); zanshin; and then there’s just something… power… I’m not sure what it is, but you feel/see/hear it.
At the same time, though, don’t be attached to results. At any given moment you’re there to put everything into just the one arrow you are shooting. Enjoy.
Also lessons learned: never drop an arrow (it only happened once). Most of the points are given in the shot itself, so if you drop the arrow you can’t shoot it, and you forfeit all those points. A broken string, a dropped bow (those happened several times)… some points are taken off, at least for the dropped bow, but as long as the shot itself was good, it’s not that serious. You can recover and still make it to the second round.
Also, if you’re going just to watch, take a good zabuton or cushion. The spectator seats are hard and you’ll be there a looong time! Due to the way the sun angles in during the autumn afternoon and rain sprays in when the weather’s bad, it’s best to sit in about row six, and away from the edges of the roof. And don’t be late. The tournament begins at 09:00, but on the final days there were people there waiting to claim seats at 05:30. But note that next year the tournament should be at Ise.