Back from Nagoya. It was an excellent seminar, very intensive with three days of hands-on instruction by wonderful teachers led by Uozumi Ichiro, Hanshi, 8-dan. There were 93 participants from 15 different countries, including not just Asia/Oceania but North America and Europe as well. It was impossible not to be impressed by the dedication of people travelling such long distances and practising in such difficult circumstances, and great to meet old and new Kyudo friends from all over the world. Also many thanks to the volunteer interpreters, who in several cases devoted time and energy that could of gone to their own practice and shooting to helping everyone else. They did a fantastic job.
With so many people (double that of last year), participants were divided into two groups, with the wafuku-clad 4-dan and above group in one shajo and everyone else in the main, much larger one. In the first group the majority of the instruction was by Uozumi-sensei and Ishikawa-sensei (Hanshi 8-dan), and I’ve come to see that this is really the best way for me. If I receive instruction from too many teachers in a short period I end up with too many ideas in my head and too little time for them to settle into my body. This way it was able to focus on what these two teachers wanted me to do and get enough repetition and correction so that (I hope) it will carry over into regular practice.
After the opening formalities and yawatashi, the first task was to demonstrate our skills using shinsa timing. After that the teachers seemed to know what they wanted us to work on, and the fun began. For me the main shagi points were mostly corrections of bad habits, so I’m very grateful:
- When standing up the bow after the hirakiashi turn in zassha, the motohazu should (for me) be placed farther away from my knees than the standard one-fist distance. This is because if the bow is too close, I have to lean back in order to do yatsugae, and it’s far more important to keep the back straight than to maintain the bow at a fixed, one-size-fits-all distance from the knees.
- After tsurushirabe, when shifting the bow to the right for torikake, just move the bow, rather than twisting the upper body to the right.
- Uozumi-sensei focused a lot on my tenouchi, essentially taking it apart and rebuilding it from scratch. This is good because one of the problems I’ve had is an opening of the left hand at hanare, as well as twisting this way or that. He also emphasized that the top of the left hand (meaning the Y formed by the thumb and index finger) should be flat or tilted somewhat clockwise (so the thumb is a bit lower). Also in contrast to what is sometimes said, the working of the left index finger is very important.
- Keep the shoulders down in uchiokoshi.
- Keep the arrow parallel to the line of the shoulders into daisan. For me this means undoing a bad habit I have of twisting my shoulders so that the left comes forward. Also at daisan I need to bring the right elbow up and make sure I have enough hineri in the right hand.
- Tilt my head down somewhat so that I’m looking straight at the target. The difference here is very easy to feel when you get it right.
Beyond the points directed to me there were many other given as general advice, and this was one of the places where the seminar really shined.
- We were told straight out that we didn’t know how to wear kimono. At the sides, the obi needs to be centred on the top of the iliac crest. Then the front of the obi tilts down so that it crosses over the lower abdomen below the navel, allowing unconstrained abdominal breathing. Naturally this means that obi rises up by a corresponding amount in the back. The hakama should drape down to a point about halfway up the ankle. In ashibumi the hakama shouldn’t be so low that the hakama touches the floor, but also not so high that the tops of the tabi become visible. In my case this is going to require some modifications.
- Also just as bluntly, we were told that we moved like dead people. Well, sort of. There is this distinction between seikitai and shikitai (Kyudo Kyohon, Japanese pp. 62-63, English pg. 30) that is extremely important, but it was one of those things where I knew the words but had never really been sure what they meant. Uozumi-sensei seemed to be saying that the most important point was to enliven the body by keeping a straight back. At the end of each movement, he said, there should be a full exhalation, and a light stretching of the spine so that it is straight. This came home to me later, on the day of the shinsa, when I need to walk quickly from the observation area back into the dojo, and I realized that I was walking not only with my back straight but with energy and purpose. I was in a kind of controlled rush, and so fully concentrated on getting from A to B. I don’t know if this is really what he meant but it felt noticeably different and reminded me of the way Rinzai monks often seem to walk. In any case he said, “From the moment you enter to the moment you leave is only ten minutes. Surely you can do that for ten minutes.” But like everything else it will take practice.
- Kiza… it hurts everyone, even the Hanshi, but you have to make a decision about what is most important, and be willing to deal with it. As a practical matter he recommended that we sit in kiza daily, extending the duration by two seconds every day until we can do it with the knee “enlivened” (ikasu) for five minutes at a time. Some additional pointers he gave were (1) instead of raising the knee, push up from the knee that remains on the ground while stretching the spine straight, (2) balance the body evenly on the knee and toes of the leg remains on the ground, and (3) keep the thighs together, perhaps so that they can support each other. But I think the most important is just that decision. The teachers also made it clear that they are compassionate. They know it hurts, so if you have trouble standing up, or have to (for example) bring your left foot a bit forward of the knee in order to stand up, they understand.
- Uozumi-sensei emphasized that every movement should be synchronized with a full inhalation and exhalation, but with the emphasis on the exhalation. It is because every move ends with a full exhalation that you can naturally begin the next with an inhalation. The one slightly complicated sequence is hikiwake/kai/hanare. While making it clear that there are many different ways of breathing, he demonstrated his own rhythm by standing facing a wall with an arrow braced between his lower abdomen and the wall (hazu to the abdomen, please). For what seemed like about the first third of hikiwake, he would breathe in, then there was a strong exhalation into kai in which his lower abdomen moved forward, bending the arrow. This exhalation was, however, not full. Some air remained, and he held it there until hanare, when there was a very forceful exhalation of the remaining air, accompanied by a further forward thrust of the abdomen that bent the arrow even more.
- Along the same lines he said that all of our movements “should be like water flowing,” recommended that movements be made using the slow-fast-slow pace that other teachers have mentioned before. If we do this our movements will become smooth.
- Always we have to be aware of the the position of the urahazu of the bow and the hazu of the arrows. Sometimes Uozumi-sensei would intentionally stand too close to a person (like me) at zanshin, so that if we were unaware of the position of the urahazu, we’d hit him during yudaoshi. Fortunately I didn’t do that, but it was a good way to make the point!
- Those testing for renshi got a lot of painful instruction about sharei, since that’s the second part of the renshi exam. The fundamental criteria that the shinsa-in are apparently looking for are (1) no mistakes, (2) doing the correct thing skilfully, (3) doing the correct thing in a way that is superb. They take (1) very seriously. In this shinsa I think 14 people tested for renshi, but only two made it to the interview and second part of the test. While watching the second part (sharei), those watching saw some minor things, but the consensus among those I talked to was that both had passed. We were wrong. The minor things counted and in the end, neither passed.
There were also some fascinating perspectives on the bow, the body, and the mind that I’m still trying to work out. It seems that when you intentionally try to strengthen one part of the body all you end up doing is putting tension into it, which often isn’t good. So instead the recommendation is to use some (light) tension in other parts of the body that will automatically cause increase the strength in the part you wanted to affect, but without the unwanted tension. For example, in tenouchi, it’s often recommended that we bring the root of the thumb in closer to the root of the little finger, but if you do that on purpose you end up adding unwanted tension in the hand. If, instead, you curl and raise the left index finger, you get the desired effect but without the undesirable tension. Similar principles seem to carry over in other parts of the body.
In Uozumi-sensei‘s closing remarks for the seminar, he said that there are many mental and physical challenges in kyudo, many walls we will be faced with, but if we climb those walls, overcome those challenges, then our view of the world will change.
So the seminar was incredibly productive and I’m looking forward to trying some of this out tomorrow back at our dojo. There are also some more things that I want to write about later, but I have to catch up on all of the pesky “real world” demands that I completely set aside while in Nagoya. If the seminar is open to people in Japan again next year I will definitely go, and recommend it highly to anyone else.