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.