Sometimes there’s a strange ambiguity in Kyudo World. We’re all told that, as it says in the Kyudo Kyohon, “nothing is more distasteful in Kyudo than shooting based on this attachment to the act of hitting,” [Japanese, pg. 45, English, pg. 21] yet we have all of these taikai where the results depend on hitting, and when you do, you (sometimes) get applause and praise. At least you get a prize at the end of the day. It’s kind of weird.
After recovering from the disaster at the hasshakai (or maybe it was necessary) I’ve been hitting around 80-90% but in the process kai has become shorter and shorter. Why? Internally I think there is a submerged mixture of desire and fear: desire to hit, fear of not hitting. Or actually it’s not so much the hitting itself that is the problem, but the opinions of others. Herrigel again. I have to become selfless. Oddly I had a dream the other night where that happened. It was interesting.
This past weekend we had a two-day tutorial/practice session for the national tournament. People from all over the island came to tune up before the start of the series of qualifying events that will eventually lead to choosing the team to represent Hokkaido. Of course, the kokutai is scored on hits, so right away there’s that conflict, but our teachers made sure we knew that hitting wasn’t enough. And indeed, that if we shoot properly, we will hit, so while they had some hitting advice mostly they focused on shooting properly.
This is how it always goes but this time, on top of what I was told last weekend, it was like being hit by a big and particularly unpleasant wave. Although I was hitting well on the first day nobody had anything positive to say about my shooting at all, and I guess… well, maybe I needed that, too, because as the unending night of drinking wore on (we all stayed together at an onsen) I resolved that the next day I would “reform,” like a criminal, and no more of this shooting to hit.
I can’t say how much I succeeded, but when time rolled around for individual instruction on the second day I was surprised that one teacher who’d been nothing but critical the night before was largely positive. The main thing he’d criticized overnight he just waved away like it didn’t matter. Another teacher whose comments I value highly because she focuses on posture in great detail was likewise positive. There were five teachers and useful suggestions from each that I’ll have to experiment with.
- Uchiokoshi is with the arms, not the shoulders. Keep the shoulders down. Likewise two teachers focused on the importance of reaching forward during uchiokoshi more than raising up. This has the effect of bringing the shoulders forward (and maybe chest back). As a result of the specific suggested changes I need to relocate my reference point for the target at uchiokoshi because I can’t have it as high as before without raising my left shoulder. Similarly the reference point for the target at daisan.
- The recommended tenouchi uses only the base of the thumb, the root of the index finger, and the little finger in contact with the bow. Indeed the recommended way for forming tenouchi was to have the support the bow between the thumb and the base of the forefinger, then wrap the little finger around the grip, then just place the middle/ring fingers over the little finger to support it. They don’t contact the bow on the right side. Also the top of the thumb and the top of the index finger should be at the same level. There was a lot of discussion about this, and the effects that different variations have, but I need to get some video that a friend made to really study that.
- Need to set the correct juumonji for the left had early, otherwise I have a bad habit of trying to correct it at daisan, which leads to a kind of pushing/leaning to the left side. What I’m doing at that time is trying to re-establish the juumonji, but it should never be un-established in the first place. Set it and keep it. I think this may be possible now, and the problem before could have been that uchiokoshi was too high, so my wrist couldn’t maintain the proper angle. Anyway, this is one of those “everything is connected to everything” points that I’ll have to work on.
- Need to be careful not to overdraw. What you notice looking at high level people is that the motohagi is usually somewhere around the midline of their head as it faces the target. In my case (I’m told) it’s back by my ear. So I need to work on this. I worried a bit that by not drawing as fully I’d lose power in the shooting, but one of the teachers was reminiscing about another hanshi who used a 9kg bow… and didn’t need to tilt it upward at all to hit the target. His power didn’t come from the bow. It came from shooting properly. Hmmmm…
- There seems to be a problem with the right shoulder moving backward, perhaps compensating for the left shoulder stretching forward at daisan to establish the juumonji. In fact these two movements may be opposite sides of the same coin, a twisting of the body that is the real problem. The recommendation was to turn my head slightly to the left, as if looking at the target to the left of mine. Physically this would pull the right shoulder forward, but I’m a bit concerned about doing that, and would rather just avoid the twist in the first place. But maybe it’s a tool I can use.
- Recommendation to slightly lower my chin.
- Right hand too far away from my head at daisan. Also I need to be careful not to tense the right wrist during hikiwake. What one of the teachers said was that when you do that, the right hand follows a strange path, swinging out and then back in, rather than following a natural arc to kai. So don’t do that.
- One teacher noticed (late in the day) that there was slack (yurumi) in my left shoulder. This leads to the phenomenon I’ve noticed before, where the left hand will jump to the right at release and then recoil back to the left. He recommended rotating the left shoulder slightly anti-clockwise to take up that slack, but said that if I do that I also need to make the corresponding move with the left shoulder. At the time, this worked very well, but I need to find the right amount of rotation.
- There was much emphasis on the left arm/hand not moving much at the release, while the right hand needs to go back straight along the line of the arrow, so that the vertical/horizontal cross is maintained throughout. At the same time, you have to keep relaxed, and I suspect this is related to the spiritual nature of nobiai. There is that common demonstration in Aikido where the arm is relaxed yet unbendable due to the flow of ki through it. I think that may be what’s needed here, flowing all the way through the target (and of course, to the right, and up, and down, as well).
I think that many of these points are connected, each teacher seeing different aspects of some core problem with the way I shoot.
Generally the attitude that the teachers had toward me on this second day seemed very different to how they had been the day before. Maybe the decision to “reform” made a difference, or maybe they were just tired. In any case, the question is how to make my decision — that determination — stick. The first test will be tomorrow. I’m tied for first in a mini-taikai that had to be extended due to the tutorial over the weekend. It’ll be me and a friend, and already I feel all sorts of conflicting emotions. But I guess this one of the things that makes Kyudo interesting.