Kyudo Notebook: Ise 2013

Just back from the All-Japan Tournament at Ise. It was great to be able to see so many top kyudoka all in one place, and the environment there is excellent. The women’s competition was first and quite interesting. Last year Fujino-sensei (Fukuoka) won the prize for best shooting and Saito-sensei (Tokyo) won the tournament overall. This year they changed places and I would have liked to ask them both what they thought about in their practice over the intervening year. Saito-sensei’s combined point score on the first day was 1534 out of a possible 1600. Fujino-sensei improved markedly in the second day of competition, this year hitting 9/10, missing only the last arrow. The placement for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th were among those hitting 8/10.

In the men’s competition the prize for best shooting went to Tosa-sensei (Chiba) with 1550 out of a possible 1600, and the winner of the tournament overall was Takinoue-sensei (Saitama) in his very first appearance at the tournament. This was a big surprise since the stress level is so high that the winner is usually someone who’s participated at least a few times, and so is more accustomed to it (for example, Tosa-sensei had participated 21 times already and also won the tournament in 1997). But as far as I could see, Takinoue-sensei’s shooting remained consistent all the way through despite a prolonged final. At the end of the second round there were four people who’d shot 8/10, and it took another six arrows (all hits) to decide the final result. 5th place as decided by an enkin round with 12 people — something I’d never seen before. For future reference, the way they did it was to have six people shoot, then remove all but the closest arrow, and then have the second group of six shoot. Otherwise there would be too much danger of arrows hitting each other.

My initial strategy for the tournament was to try to choose the top 20 in each group that would make it to the second day of their respective tournaments, but I didn’t do as well this year as last. Over time I became aware of several objective reasons. One was simply the difference in viewpoint between the judges and the people in the spectator’s area. For example, if a kyudoka leans his torso forward in the direction of the spectators it’s very difficult for us to see, but for the judges, sitting directly in front, it’s easy. By contrast, when someone lurches forward a bit at the release it’s easier for the spectators to see than it is for the judges. The other objective reasons were just differences in the way the “points” were assigned. I only considered my estimation of shooting skill, but the point scores from the judges included not only that but taihai, and 10 (out of 100) points depending on whether someone hit the target. In the combined final scores the difference between hitting 2/4 and 4/4 is 10 points, and that makes a huge difference. For both men and women there are usually a few people who score very high, outside the normal range, but then most everyone else is bunched together, sometimes tied or with only 1 or 2 points difference. So in the future I’ll have to do more involved calculations.

But beyond that there were the intangibles. At times someone who didn’t stand out to me at all got a very high score, and I just have to chalk that up to my own inability to recognize a special something that only an experienced eye can see. But I did record a lot of video, so there’s a chance of figuring some of that out. Oddly it seems they’ve given up on the idea of professionally recorded DVDs at the tournaments. I guess too few people bought them, but I expect some video will appear on the ANKF site.

Ise is a great place for the tournament, not least because the kyudojo is attached to the place where most people stay, so you only leave Kyudo World to visit Ise Shrine early in the morning (well worth it) or go have lunch. The only trouble with the location is that, having spent a day watching these people you develop a strong urge to practice yourself, but unlike in Tokyo, there’s no place to do it. Everybody just has to content themselves with images until they have a chance to shoot again. In my case that will be a taikai on Sunday.

A few desirable things I scribbled down between shots:

  • Full daisan, balanced hikiwake, sanmi-ittai
  • Unimpeded hanare, which is to say, neither mind nor body getting in the way; important not to have a forced hanare either
  • Rather than tilting the head up/down or left/right through tsuru-shirabe and no-shirabe, keep it level
  • Really look at the shaft of the arrow in no-shirabe
  • Ikiai
  • Take care with taihai… it makes a difference.
  • Maintain the vertical line

I’ll have to add more when I find my other notebook. People living in Japan would probably get a lot out of this tournament. Next year it will be at Meiji Jingu in Tokyo, then back to Ise if the usual pattern holds. Bring a cushion, though, especially if you have long legs. After four days of very low, hard, wooden benches you end up hurting in strange places!

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