Recently I had a bit of a heart-to-heart with my teacher at an onsen. We have a party there every January to kick off the new year. What he’s been telling me since last year (or really before that… hmmm…) is that my problem isn’t technical. It’s a matter of heart. A matter of spirit. A matter of kokoro.
I always thought I understood what he meant, but it turns out I only thought I did because I knew the words. It wasn’t until today that something sort of “clicked” inside and I caught… not a glimpse, but more like the reflection, in the window of a passing car, of the shadow of the tracks left in blown snow by a glimpse that had gone by earlier. So… not very substantial, but everybody has to start somewhere, and I guess for me this is it. I hope I can get a whole glimpse before I die.
Of course there’s a paradox, writing about it. I knew the words and even appreciated them, but I don’t think they really sank in. On one level I suppose I even thought the expression was a metaphor for the kind of expansion and release-from-the-centre hanare that we all talk about. But for some reason today I realized that this was just my engineer’s mind trying to turn it into a technical problem so I could have a technical solution, which of course, completely ignores what he told me!
So no. He really does mean heart/spirit, that inconvenient cluster of meanings that blur into 心, and which in any case are decidedly not matters of technique. But where is my kokoro? What is it? And how do I connect it to shooting? In a very real sense, of course, it has never been un-connected. He told me at the party that he can see it when I shoot, not just at hanare but much earlier. Weird that he can see what I can’t, but there’s a line in the movie Ramen Girl (don’t ask how I know this) in which the master ramen chef mutters to his wife that the girl he’s teaching understands what he’s saying, but that her head keeps getting in the way, telling her that she doesn’t.
Suddenly I feel hungry for ramen.
But my thoughts about this question connect to another oft-heard expression, “Shoot with your character.” Awa Kenzo wrote that, though I don’t know if it originated with him. But where is my character? What is it? And how do I connect that to shooting? I realized in thinking about it today that I try sometimes to imitate kyudoka that I admire, and maybe on one level that’s OK, but then I’m just imitating their character when what I need to do is to connect the shooting to my own. As you’d expect, both shooting with one’s character and shooting with one’s kokoro are both highly individual. What works for me won’t be right for anyone else, and vice versa, though on another level I think one who already knows will recognize it because it will be beautiful… the 美 in 真善美, or as Liam O’Brien expressed it, “The form of Truth expressed in the application of Good.”
My teacher often talks about this… and I’ve heard other teachers discuss it as well… the idea of giving something to those who are watching us shoot. It’s not quite captured by the word “performance” because, at least to me, that sometimes implies a kind of selfish motivation: the desire to be seen and admired. But I don’t think that’s really what my teacher has in mind. It’s more like a gift, a wordless demonstration of truth, goodness, and beauty that can affect a person who watches. In this I suspect it is much like the spirit of Tea where, after a few decades mastering the technique and learning all there is to know about hanging scrolls, choosing flowers, arranging charcoal, and, of course, just the right tea and and just the right sweets, circles back around to nothing but the simplest of simple, unaffected pleasures: two people enjoying a cup of tea. It’s just that we have a bow, an arrow, and somewhere over there, hidden by 3-4 feet of snow, a target.
But how to do it? Got me. This is just the statement of the problem. I hope nobody was expecting an answer!