Beauty, Sincerity, One Shot, One Life

Big topics. I can’t do them justice because I haven’t achieved them, but they’re still obviously worth contemplating, at least until we can find and express them in action, and no longer need words as crutches. I’d thought to start with some favourite engimatic quotes from the Kyudo Kyohon, but I loaned my copy to a new student last week, so those will have to come later. What I can do now is talk about One Shot, One Life, the documentary film mentioned in the previous posting. It’s an unusual film because, though interviews, it examines kyudo from the inside. Thus, although I can easily imagine someone unfamiliar with kyudo being hooked by the presentation, unlike most introductions to kyudo, I think this film may offer more to practitioners than it does to those who are not.

It does this by addressing directly (among other things) just these questions of beauty and sincerity. What makes a person’s shooting beautiful? What is the meaning of “sincerity” in kyudo? These are some of the questions I’ve been grappling with (almost as much as my left shoulder), so I was happy to see the interviewees talk about these concepts. For example, this is how I summarize a statement by Koyama Etsuko, the teacher at Enma Dojo in Engakuji, Kita-Kamakura:

The target is within your own heart. You stand at the sha-i with a spirit/mind/heart that is pure and correct, draw the bow, and release the arrow. When the arrow arrives at the target, then we can say that the shot was beautiful, that it was a shot that emanated from a beautiful heart.

Thus the important thing is one’s own spirit. You hit the real target by shooting from within it. Likewise Ishikawa Takeo (Hanshi, 9-dan), talking about the difficulty of passing the 8-dan shinsa:

It is not only whether the target is hit or not, but whether the person’s shooting and refinement, their character and feelings are infused into the bow.

Kyudo isn’t just about hitting the target. It’s how you construct the form, whether your spirit flows through the movements… This is why it is so common for someone to hit the target but still fail to pass the examination.

Clearly this notion of sincerity is individual. It’s not so much a matter of demonstrating the “right” character, feeling, heart, mind, spirit, but demonstrating your character, feeling, heart, mind, and spirit without any subterfuge, with no holding back. To be, in a sense, spiritually naked. And to be both willing and able to do that through the form of shooting.

The obvious question that follows is, “Who, or what, is this character, feeling, heart, mind, and spirit?” But perhaps the question itself leads in the wrong direction, and the point is not so much to create an answer as to uncover it. Set aside the heavy blankets of delusions like the desire to hit the target, desire for praise or reputation, or their flip sides, fear of failure and competitive feelings toward others toward others. “Wipe away,” as I recall it says in the English version of the Kyudo Kyohon, things like self-doubt in an effort to fulfil the spirit. That clarity and transparency, in which the self no longer gets in the way of the self, is probably something on the order of mushin.

But at the same time that this is individual, it must also point to something more refined, maybe more refined than we believe we are even capable of being, because obviously if from the depth’s of a person’s heart what he really, most sincerely, wanted was to punch holes in pieces of paper at 28 meters, win competitions, or prevail over that annoying person at the dojo, then upon uncovering his true nature that’s all he could express. So while confirming the individual they’re also speaking of something deeper. It’s like they know something about what we’re capable of, but only we can manifest it.

But I’ve gone past the film and into my own thoughts. The film has a lot more to offer, and I don’t want to ruin the experience for others by posting everything I found impressive. In particular I’m leaving out some wonderful in-depth discussion by Takeuchi Masakuni (Kyoshi, 7-dan) before, during, and after he participated in the 8-dan shinsa at Meiji Jingu.

You can purchase the DVD at places like Amazon (US). Unfortunately my network provider is blocking Amazon Japan right now but they probably have it, too. Or you can get it, either as a DVD or to download, direct from the producers, Empty Mind Films. Then go back to your practice!

LATER: Regarding download of the film from the producers, a comment at Amazon suggests that this may not be safe due to server or bandwidth problems. According to the reviewer, Empty Mind does not take responsibility for failed downloads, and while this is probably illegal in the US, it may be best to avoid the issue and download from a different source. After all, their job is to make films.

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7 Responses to Beauty, Sincerity, One Shot, One Life

  1. Zen says:

    I was thinking after re-reading your last post that beauty and sincerity is something that would be determined by one heart. The ShinZen Bi expressed from the heart. The technique has to be in place but it is the show of spirit, kokoro, heart that makes a shot beautiful and sincere. I would love to shot at Kamakura at least once to experience the sprit of the place and those that shoot there. Perhaps to compare the form and formless expression of Kyudo from the motherland.

  2. karamatsu says:

    I’m curious, too, about whether they have special practices at Enma Dojo. Obviously the idea of kyudo as a spiritual practice isn’t unique to that place, and the same things Koyama-sensei said were echoed in other dojo, and in the Kyudo Kyohon. But it would be very interesting to learn if the way they practise is different. Personally I see taikai and shinsa as an opportunity to test myself… have I really gotten past competitiveness? Attachment to hitting? Concern about what others think of me? Have I let go of the self? I’m not sure how else to test/develop that than to participate in situations where those emotions would be naturally intensified. Otherwise you could end up thinking that you’ve overcome something, when really all you’ve done is avoid the situation where it arises. It would be good to learn more about this dojo and their training.

  3. Juandiego says:

    During the filming at Emna Dojo I could learn more interesting details about the dojo from the members and Koyama sensei. She said that in order to practice there, one must first receive training in sitting meditation and receive Buddhist teachings for a few months until one is allowed to become a member and start shooting, as the shooting is a complement to that. This is why they don’t accept casual visitors for practice (although I can say that I know of cases of people that have been accepted under recommendation or introductions). The dojo itself has a wonderful atmosphere and everyone is very kind and dedicated to the practice. I think that in the film it feels larger than it actually is. The space where the Enma-sama statue (where they shoot at the makiwara) is actually right next to the shooting area but about 1.5m higher. They recite the shaho kun and perform a short meditation in this space. Koyama sensei was very kind as to lead me by the hand and have me sit before the Enma-sama figure and recite the shaho kun together. She asked me if I understood about the last part regarding the sudden sparks. She then took a couple of rocks (flint) and while explaining she made sparks fly from the flint. It was all really nice from here to share that. It was great to learn about and witness practice at Enma dojo, but personally, I think that practicing there would not be fulfilling for everybody.

  4. karamatsu says:

    Thanks very much for that story! I love the idea of having the flint right there. Did Koyama-sensei explain how the two complement each other? I mean, are there special aspects to the way they practice kyudo and/or sitting meditation that are adapted to/from the other, or are the connections made only within the person? Spiritually I see the connections (my teacher says that kyudo is the way he sits zazen), but wonder if they have particular practices.

    Also many thanks for the DVD! I’ve watched it a few times now and hope that many others will have the opportunity. Are you planning another? It would be interesting, for example, to have a biography (on film) of the life of Awa Kenzo.

  5. Zen says:

    I Wonder with the given prereqs, if someone already with a Zen practice background would be allowed to join as a guest. It seems from the posted info ( thank you) that the two schools ( hmm three nowsince and inner split) in the states are very much on the wave lengh. Those who study with Don Symansky ( lay Zen priest), former student of Shibata XX, and Rick Beal another Zen Priest, have this type of format to the classes. I wonder about the philosophy of the dojo here. Is it like that of the Zen sect that used the Sakuhachi as a tool to/for enlightenment, or more like that of the Shaolin Chan , where the marial art was an aide to the meditation. There is another spirtual path Kyudo practice also in the states, which is supposed to have it’s start in Japan near Osaka, but i can not find any reference for it and the email listed on the website remains unanswered to my inquiries.

    I think what is really all comes down to is Kyudo is Kyudo, it is one’s “heart” and method of training that gives it “personality”, meaning, making it a “Do” or another sport like bowling or going to a gym. We have a saying in Kung Fu, the art does not make the man, the man makes the art. Within Chan philosophy, Mondays are just another day, it is our approach to Monday that definds it.

  6. Zen says:

    Grrr, can’t edit! 😦

  7. Paulo says:

    Quite interesting your posts. I have been in 12 Kyudo seminar in Europe since 2000. Most of the ANKF hanshi that come here are the same that you mention. Many of your notes remind many of the teachings that I heard here all over the years. I must say that you are quite detailed and precise in many of the things you write. Still you kept cautious when something you hear is out of your range, that is always a good precaution. I’m trying to recompile some of my own notes and yours are helping me for sure.
    Thank you and regards

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