Kyudo Notebook: Cold, Takeyumi

Well, I spoke too soon. My enthusiasm about getting back to practice was derailed by heavy cold/flu symptoms, my souvenir from the trip to Tokyo. I should just avoid that place during the cold and flu season. But it meant not going to the tutorial this past weekend, which was unfortunate.

On the positive side, the takeyumi have arrived. They’re beautiful, and surprisingly light compared to my fiberglass/carbon bow, but they come with a lot of warnings and points of special attention: five pages of densely worded instruction and two pages with photographs of the proper way to string the bow and correct for various problems that may arise in its shape. Later on I’ll post some of that because it’s interesting and seems to go against the common wisdom I read in a lot of places.

For one thing, the yumishi recommends using synthetic strings during the early training period because if a string breaks during this time, while it is still “immature,” the shock will have a severe effect, causing it to revert it to its raw (arayumi) condition. Or worse. It’s not yet clear to me what he thinks about using a hemp tsuru until it breaks once the bow has stabilized. Often you read that the breaking of the string is actually good for a bow, allowing it to stretch out and rejuvenate itself, but now I’m not so sure. Anyway it’s a bit like the start of a new relationship. Lots to learn. Many tentative steps, seeing how the person/bow responds. But at least the bow comes with instructions!

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8 Responses to Kyudo Notebook: Cold, Takeyumi

  1. Congrats on the new bow!.. picture!– Those instructions really would be a gold mine.. seems like every kyudojin and every kyuguten have different opinions about how to bring a takeyumi to life. Some advice doing it really slow over 3 months, others over a week or two. The recommendation about using synthetic strings is really surprising.. I’ve always been told the synthetic strings put to much shock on the bow, because they don’t have the natural elasticity of hemp, when shoot. – Since I’m also getting my first japanese made takeyumi in a month’s time, that would be really nice info to have.;) – I was just about to spend my last savings on half a dozen Hemp tsuru.

  2. karamatsu says:

    Thanks! And congratulations on your new bow, too! I’ll try to post some pictures, along with as much as I can from the instructions, in a couple of days. Right now I’m just trying to digest it all without becoming too concerned to shoot! Must remember that it’s meant to be used…

    What he does say is that the synthetic strings are only recommended during the initial “training” period, which he estimates will be about 500-700 arrows. Once the bow is stable he suggests switching to hemp for its many good qualities. I guess in the initial period the danger of catastrophic shock from a broken string outweighs the smaller shock every time due to the synthetics. I think it will be a period of mutual training, really. The bow will be teaching me more than I can teach it, not least about observation. Among other things, during this period he recommends checking the shape after every shot and correcting changes while they are still small. It’s going to take some courage…

    Also the mysterious people who make bowstrings yet never identify themselves or put any contact information on the packages (big marketing hint to bowstring makers!) seem to be working furiously to create synthetic strings with the performance characteristics of hemp. One that was recommended to me recently is called gin (吟) and seems to be well respected, about 1000 yen per string with an estimated life of 700 arrows. But my favourite is still hemp. The feeling is so different, even on a fibreglass/carbon bow. With a takeyumi it should be superb. So once things have stabilized, yes… I’ll begin investing in those. The question is what to give up in order to afford them!

    Oh, one other thing to note is that the synthetic strings he has on the bows are really thick. Maybe #2 or even #3. I think the idea there may be exactly that the slower strings will create less shock, so you’re right about that concern. It’s going to be an adventure.

  3. ceterum censeo says:

    Well, congratulations from me too : D
    I thought I’d spare you my idiosyncrasies for a while, but being completely into the whole “takeyumi thing” I am of course excited for you, so I thought I’d drop you a few lines.
    I am of course agog to hear more… Pictures! as was mentioned… and can you name the maker?
    I have shot quite a few takeyumi over the past few years – even made several myself recently too (although none are likely to grow to be regarded as masterpieces I fear…).
    All were very different, each with a distinct character – both in Style and in feel.

    I tend to use synthetic strings almost exclusively, as you may remember, but I do use heavy string on new bows – Yamato #3 is about the heaviest I could find.
    In normal training I currently favour Hikari #3 (18kg bow). I do use them until they break and I can not report any problems on any of my bamboo bows. I also can not report any noticeable rejuvenative effect – but at least the breaking of the string seems to do no harm.

  4. karamatsu says:

    Ah, good to hear from you. Tomorrow is a holiday so I’m hoping to work more on the instructions and post some pictures unless domestic tranquility makes other demands (which seems possible at the moment… I’m getting hints). I’m sure making your own bows would be a great way to learn so many things about them. The new ones here were made by Nagano Issui. He also made my teachers’ bows, so I’m counting on their experience. Now if only I could get over this cold so I can go shoot!

  5. ceterum censeo says:

    I hope you’ll feel better soon : )

    I guessed from your mentioning the instructions that Nagano Shigeji might be the maker…
    With nearly 60 (is it?) years experience he must surely be one of the best there is. I have tried one of his bows in the past and found it to be very well made and very safe (carbon insert model in this case). I am sure your new bows will serve you well.

    I have seen the instructions you mentioned… I think…
    Could it be they are available on line too… …useful for those of us who need google-translate to be able to read japanese ; )

    Anyway, I shall look forward to an english version if you are going to be kind enough to provide one. There is only very sketchy information on the care of bows out there. Most comes down to us second and third hand and one never really knows… someone once heard that someone said one should do this or not do that…

    And yes, that is why I started building bows,…
    Well, actually I really started building tiny yumi for kids, just for fun. I found it wasn’t all that hard (just the problem of having to use bamboo from the garden centre…) so I started building full size bows so that I can experiment on them – cut, bend, heat them,… you just wouldn’t do that with a 100.000 yen bow… not without getting a grey hairs over it.


    All the best and I shall look forward to hearing how you get on.

  6. Ray says:

    Once more congratulations on your new bow and thank you for your translation, it was very timely for me, as I have just purchased a Nagano Issui myself. I was attending a seminar in Nagoya this February and managed to find a nice 19kg nisun nobi. I have been having difficulties trying to understand the guidelines shown on the website mentioned. Particularly the instructions regarding Hemp or synthetic strings in conjunction with the 特 永野一萃 with the silver kanji. I had guessed that the author was saying the one should use the softer hemp tsuru rather than the synthetic to avoid the shock to the yumi on the hanare. So your translation clarifying this is a real boon.
    If I could add a general word of caution regarding tsuru, These come in three forms Synthetic, mixed (synthetic / hemp) and hemp. Some of the 100% synthetic tsuru have extremely little give (or elasticity) and as such should definitely be avoided with takeyumu.
    Thank you again.

  7. karamatsu says:

    Yes, I’m definitely looking forward to this! As you might guess, domestic tranquility trumped all else over the holiday but I’ll get to the instructions. A lot of it is the same as the texts that CC points to on the Issui site, or at least the same themes, so this will serve as a good check to make sure I’m not misinterpreting something. He sometimes writes long sentences and uses specialized vocabulary. Like 笄. The standard meaning is “ornamental hairpin,” so just how that translated in to Kyudo Talk was a bit of a challenge. You can see it now, though… the kind of springy barrette that pops open at a hinge when you unclasp it. Perfect term.

    One of his other pieces of advice was to get a long piece of paper and make a tracing of the shape to use as a reference later on. He also suggests spending some quality time with the bow early on, learning its shape by heart, learning the proper location for the string (at the urahazu/motohazu). One surprise for me was that he tends to place these so that the knot (and thus the string) is somewhat left of center (as you look at the bow as if shooting it), which puts the string near the center of the bow at the yasurito. At first I thought it must have moved in shipment but he has markers placed on the bow so it must be intentional. I’ll add some detailed photos there, but he does mention that each individual bow is different. I’m hoping to compare with my teachers’ bows tomorrow. It’s going to be an adventure…

    I’ve also looked at the bamboo poles in the garden shop, wondering what I could make. But maybe one thing at a time!

  8. karamatsu says:

    Well, the epiphany after work today is that when sighting the position of the string along the bow I have to be aware of which eye I’m sighting with. Since I’m very right-eye-dominant (I don’t see so well with my left eye) I tend to sight everything with the right, and that’s why the string appears to be toward the centre, or even centre-right, of the yasurito. But if I use my left eye it’s pretty much right where it should be, skimming the right edge of the bow from uwanaribushi to shimonaribushi, and that’s a relief. Also discovered that I also need to be sure I’m really standing with the bow directly in front of me, rather than off to the side, because that naturally affects the view.

    I’m sure I’ll get used to doing this and it will become instinctive after a time, but right now I’m climbing the learning curve.

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