I seem to be getting back to normal as long as I go through a much-expanded warming-up process that includes some ki exercises suggested by Zen, a few rounds of subiki (which the bow needs to warm up as well), and then about four test shots at the makiwara. People tell me that they can see something “not quite right” in the first makiwara shots but that it gets better as I go, and I can feel that as some initial pain when I start, but which disappears as I continue. I suspect what’s happening is that I’m afraid of re-injuring the the shoulder, so I semi-subconsciously hold back at the beginning, but then loosen up as I get more confidence that everything will be OK. What may also be helping or hurting is a daily regimen of clearing snow off the roof. We have 50cm now.
Anyway for this post I want to go back a bit. At the end of November we had our autumn tutorial. This is the same event I’ve written about before (2010, 2011, 2012), but with a different teacher, Hanshi 8-dan from Iwate-ken, along with 44 participants ranging from 5-dan to Kyoshi, 7-dan. The teacher was soft-spoken, so I had some difficulty hearing a lot of the individual advice and there also some things I won’t be sure I heard correctly until I’ve had time to try them out, but as a first cut I just want to get my notes down before I forget them:
- The web of skin between the left thumb and forefinger should roll down against the grip of the bow, not up. This is opposite of what I’ve always done, and in fact I find it rather difficult to do while maintaining the bow against the tenmon line of the left hand. I suspect this means that the grip I’m using is too narrow, so I’ll build it up a bit next time I replace the nigirikawa.
- The top of the left hand should be level, parallel to the floor. He demonstrated this by balancing a clipboard on his left hand from about the middle of uchiokoshi through daisan, into kai.
- The form of the left hand doesn’t grip the bow but forms a tube (筒) within which the bow rotates. The tube and the axis of the bow should be parallel so that when the bow does rotate, there’s no tilting forward or back.
- The hineri, or twisting, of the right hand/wrist is very slight, with most of the twisting action achieved by the position of the elbow. Thus the right forearm, wrist, and hand remain relatively relaxed.
- The right hand should be about one fist’s distance from the head at daisan (this is shomen) while the elbow is in the same plane as the side of the face.
- I think he was recommending that people keep the right thumb relaxed and think rather of pulling the string with the right middle finger. I may not have heard that correctly.
- No big effort to create a round enso form in uchiokoshi. In fact the Kyudo Kyohon doesn’t say anything about having a rounded form in uchiokoshi. It’s mentioned in toriyumi no shisei, but not in yugamae or uchiokoshi. Many people, including me, have a habit of stretching the elbows up and out somewhat before uchiokoshi, and I think this is what he was reacting to. Another teacher critical of this same move said it causes the shoulders to rise up.
- The draw is from the elbows, using the muscles of the back (with their connections to the upper arms).
- That apparent paradox… the draw needs to be relaxed — raku — yet large and without any slack or weakness.
- Some people, most visibly men, have a habit of the string whacking their chest at release, something that can be seen very easily as a bright red mark (and sometimes dripping blood) when they’re shooting in kimono. It happens due to an imbalance during hikiwake, which brings the left shoulder forward. One way to counteract this is the consciously bring the right shoulder forward a bit at the start of the draw. A better way, perhaps, is to ensure that you draw the first 10-15 cm after daisan with the hands, that is, without lowering the arms, and that this be done straight along the line of the arrow, making sure that the right hand does not move closer to the head or the line of the shoulders. It’s when the right hand moves back toward the shoulders during this move that the left shoulder is forced forward to compensate. So don’t do that or you’ll get a sharp reminder.
- The line of the elbows should be parallel to the line of the arrow at kai. This is something he illustrated himself and also showed us on the cover of the November issue of Kyudo magazine (Tosa-sensei is probably the best example), but it seems to me that this depends somewhat on individual bone structure. There are examples of different forms that people may take in the December issue of Kyudo magazine.
- The physical expansion at kai (tsumeai) is done mostly with the shoulders, not the wrists and hands. Perhaps shoulders and elbows. In any case you must keep the hands and wrists soft and relaxed. The force comes from under the arms straight forward to the “tiger’s mouth” of the left hand, and of course back through the right elbow.
- At kai you don’t think of pushing the bow or pulling the string (or in the spirit of the Shaho Kun, pushing the string and pulling the bow). Rather you just expand from the centre line of the chest.
- The power of the draw must come from the hara and from the expansion of the body, not the muscles of the arms and hands. This was seen very dramatically in the hikiwake of one of the participants who, from daisan, would really lean into the bow in order to draw it into kai with his arm muscles.
- Another participant would sort of collapse his upper chest during the draw. The teacher said it was because of age, and that even though getting older is a good thing, he should make an effort not to show his age.
- The side of the face should be in the same plane as the front of the chest, otherwise you will lose the vertical line. This makes sense given that the string is supposed to touch both your cheek and your chest, but one of the reasons I had that problem of getting whacked on the head was that I had a habit of actually tilting the upper part of my face into the bow. Another lesson very sharply learned.
- Expand, expand, expand, both physically and spiritually, then E! the release happens.
- As an aside, something I’ve been doing lately is actually closing my eyes during the draw, so I can focus inward on a balanced draw from the centre line, rather than having my mind follow the direction of my eyes and concentrate on the target. It’s not a long-term solution but just a training device that seems to work pretty well. Of course, I open them when I get to kai, and correct the aim.
These were the highlights that I managed to jot down. There may be more once I have a chance to look/listen to the video. More and more I find that in these tutorials it’s more important to focus on just what is applicable to me rather than trying to gather wisdom about a variety of people, or it’s easy to get confused. But what can I say… it’s interesting.
Oh, that said, in his closing remarks he mentioned that when you go to these tutorials you should make a sincere effort to practice what you’ve learned over a long period of time. If you just try it for a short period and then, perhaps because you’re not hitting, or whatever, go back to what you were doing before, you won’t give the changes a chance to work. That is good advice but also necessarily means that you should space out these tutorials and not go to too many at a time. This is something of a danger here because we have a lot of them during the winter months.