I think it was Onuma Hideharu-sensei, Dan and Jackie DeProspero’s teacher, who said that “when you pass a test you learn a little but when you fail a test you learn a lot.” That seems to be true, at least in my case, and the weekend shinsa was “interesting” in that regard.
The first thing was that I was 4th in a group of 5, and the 3rd person was shooting rissha. I have a friend who shoots rissha, too, and we’d practice together before, but never in such a formal setting, nor one where I had to try to synchronize my movements with people I couldn’t see. This mattered doubly-so in the shinsa because the 5th person was depending on me. I think it went more-or-less OK, but the thing was that usually I had no choice but to focus my attention on what other people were doing… whether the bows and arrows of the first two were moving, etc, and in what way. At other times (like the first part of hadanugi) there was no choice but to move in time with my breathing and assume that we’d be in sync. The key in such a group setting seems to be for the o-mae person to move a bit more slowly than usual, so people can catch up. At other times the 4th person has to act independently as a kind of o-mae for a group of two. It definitely feels weird after some years of of practice where you sort of subconsciously sync up with the person in front of you.
One useful pointer is that when the rissha person finishes yatsugae, he’ll bring the bow down to his left knee before bringing his right hand back to his hip. You can see that (the lowering of the bow to the knee), so it’s a useful sign to help synchronize the very end of yatsugae. It always looks good when everybody brings their right hand to their hip together.
Another sticky point for me was that, because the 3rd person moves back a few steps after shooting his haya, and doesn’t move back to the sha-i until after the 5th person’s tsurune, the 4th person is in a bit of a quandry: do I raise my bow and do yatsugae immediately after the 5th person’s tsurune, or wait for the 3rd person to come back, and do the moves in sync with him? What I was told was just to do everything normally (raise the bow and proceed with yatsugae at the 5th person’s tsurune). The idea seems to be that the zasha people should proceed as usual (as if everyone is shooting zasha) and the rissha person takes his cues from them. But if o-mae shoots rissha maybe there’s nothing you can do?
Once we got to the actual shooting I thought I could just relax. I didn’t need to see the second person’s shot, after all, just hear the tsurune. But the fates had other things in mind, and while in kai for the haya, the string snapped and the bow, the arrow, and half of the string all went flying into the yamichi. I’ve never had that happen before and it was quite a shock, particularly since the string whacked my face for good measure. Fortunately the advice of one of my teachers came back: pick up the items from largest to smallest. So, first the bow, then the arrow, and then the string. I picked up the first two but left the string because it was far away and, on balance, I thought it was better not to keep everybody waiting while I tried to fish it out of the yamichi. But then… what to do? It turns out that once you’re back at the sha-i and have done the apologetic yu, first someone from the dojo will come and take only the bow, so that they can re-string it. Once they’re gone, then you can lay the haya down and they’ll pick it up after they’ve brought back the bow.
I’d never done that job before, though, so I tried to give him both at the same time. Ooops. But now I know.
It turns out the origin of it all was really kara hazu: the arrow had become disengaged from the bowstring, and while I thought the string snapped at kai, what really happened was hanare, but with the string no longer in the hazu the arrow just got carried along partly, and the string (hemp) probably snapped absorbing the full force of bow recoil. It broke about 1/3 of the way from the top, which is probably one of the nodes.
In fact I do remember that the angle of the kake and the arrow/string was strange at torikake, so I corrected that, but perhaps in the process of “correcting” things I did some strange movement and dislodged the arrow. Anyway, the take-away lesson there is, “Don’t do that.” I’m also thinking of replacing the hazu of my arrows with the keyhole type.
The otoya was OK. It went a bit high at 12 o’clock but the release felt good. Nothing to do after that but walk out, being sure to make eye contact with the kamidana before the final yu. I could sense the shinsa-in watching for that, which I kind of appreciated: they were still paying attention to me even though I knew I couldn’t pass.
In the end, three people out of 18 were successful, and they were all friends or people I knew, so it was a good result and I got to learn some things I’d otherwise probably never have known. Onward!
Oh, one other thing picked up at the tutorial the day before: You should never show the togashira, the “head” of the vine or rattan wrapped above the grip. Even though it’s at the bottom, the head is the place where the vine and the grip meet, and you should keep that covered even when you’re just walking, sitting, or standing in toriyumi no shisei. I’d never heard that before.