Kyudo Notebook: 心

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!

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6 Responses to Kyudo Notebook: 心

  1. Pingback: Kyudo Thoughts on Love and Spirit | Kyudo ...the road less traveled

  2. Pingback: Kyudo: Thoughts on Spirit | Kyudo ...the road less traveled

  3. Zacky Chan says:

    Searching for 心 in kyudo … I’ve been in a funk myself as I changed locations and dojos, and with bad technique and injuries I kept telling myself that it’s not really me doing kyudo, my kyudo is better and that this is just some exception. Everyday felt like that until I realized I had drifted so far away from myself and technique, and that I was never going to change with that view. So now when I go I accept that that is who I am, and the freedom I have to express myself how I like. I may not be able to master technique right away, but I can do the best I can. I’m as lost as you on figuring it all out, but I think I’ve felt something of it lately. がんばろう!

  4. dorianne says:

    Thank you for sharing so many experiences, lessons you’ve learned, insights, and then also comments from your readers. I only discovered Mu two months ago after exploring my own questions about kyudo. Mu has been helpful and comforting. Your going beyond self is especially inspiring, and many times, such as when your house was broken into. I wished to send encouragement. I was grateful for the idea of offering something to the thief. It teaches me more courage for a good life no matter what.

    Now I have been thinking about kokoro. I wondered about your experience when you stand out there, from ashibumi onward long through zanshin. Do you feel something like unusual “joy”? It might come just from how one stands, with all the energy stretching up from the earth through our feet, through legs and buttocks and hips, through abdomen, up through the chest into wing-like arms, beyond the bow and arrow, beyond the targets in ourselves and far off, the horizontal energy intersecting in so many ways with vertical energies, the top of the head much higher than it ever was before as though it belongs not just to myself. Even on these cold nights when everyone is shivering through their preparation, do you sense how warm you’ll soon become, all the energy starting to churn around inside you? How marvelous it feels to bow to the kami, to feel greatness around me in all my teachers and fellow students, to feel the balance in my whole being, and really pay attention to it and feed it with breathing well and starting again and again to become a better person.

    I wonder if this is part of kokoro? Sometimes at home, I just stand alone and go through the hassetsu, experiencing this remarkable warmth. The cat wakes up and watches intently, and so I wondered if she knows even better that something special is happening. I wasn’t sure what else to call it other than joy or energy or spirit. Could you please tell me what you think?

  5. karamatsu says:

    Thanks very much for your note and I’m sorry about the delay getting it posted. I’ve been caught in the magical world of taxes, where nothing is what it seems!
    There is something special about the dojo, or maybe in our interactions with it. As they say, the way is not with the bow, but with the bone. But I don’t think I’ve felt that spirit as keenly as you have. I wish I had! That’s sort of what I mean by saying I’ve only had a glimpse of a shadow of a glimpse. I think there is something there but I’m not sure how to connect, or to stop getting in the way of a connection that is already there! Still, maybe it’s enough just to keep going, and things will unfold in their own time?
    My teacher often tells me that if I find myself alone in the dojo I should just sit. He doesn’t say anything else, or give any hints about what might happen if I do. Just sit. But our dojo is busy and far away, so I’m still waiting for the opportunity to come along!
    I do know there have been times, very clearly memorable, when I would sort of surrender myself to the whole process, the shot would go well (regardless of whether it hit), and there would be this wonderful feeling of energy and joy that lasted for days. Herrigel talks about it. “… inwardly, for the archer himself, right shots have the effect of making him feel that the day has just begun.” It’s an understatement, I think!
    What seems to have happened, though, is that as I made more technical progress, those right shots, the ones I really remember, have become fewer. I suppose it’s because I’ve generated the bad habit of thinking too much, judging too much. I’m not sure. But your note gives me another one of those glimpses of what’s possible. Thanks very much for that!

  6. Zen says:

    I generally read your post as soon as they are up. It is nice to back read and see the comments, to feel the life and spirits of your readers. Another form of kokoro?

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