I can’t believe I haven’t written anything since June. Time goes so fast in the summer time, in part because people try to cram a full year of activity into the warm months, before we all go into hibernation. There’s been a lot going on.
In the dojo I’ve mainly been wrestling with demons, or rather, trying to figure out how to wrestle them. At the last shinsa I hit with both arrows, but it wasn’t good enough. At a recent tutorial, one of the hanshi said this was excellent: the best possible case, since it’s only when you hit with both arrows and still fail that you begin to ask yourself the hard questions. As it happened, two of the shinsa-in also weighed in. One said I was releasing too fast, and the other commented that my left arm was falling and then rising back up. There were some other things that I felt were wrong, but since teachers typically point out the most serious problems first, I figure those two are where I have to work.
But it’s not so straightforward, because although these are physical actions they’re really manifestations of mental/emotional/spiritual conditions. As a result, dealing with them is tricky. My sense of the too-quick release is that it is, at one level, either a matter of confidence or of fear. Sometimes, when I am hitting well, there is confidence that if I release the arrow now, it will hit. At other times, there is fear of not hitting, and this, too, leads to releasing the arrow now. In either case, at a deeper level, the mind has been captured by the target.
But where else is the mind to go? Reading some of the texts it seems that some suggest the tanden. However, Takuan Soho (1573-1645), an abbot of Daitokuji who wrote within the intersection of martial arts and Buddhism, is critical of this approach. “If you consider putting your mind below the navel and not letting it wander, your mind will be taken by the mind that thinks of this plan. You will have no ability to move ahead, and will be exceptionally unfree.” [The Unfettered Mind, Shambhala, 1986, pg. 18]. Instead he recommends against placing the mind in any one place, and instead not allow it to be captured by anything. “The effort not to stop the mind in just one place — this is discipline. Not stopping the mind is object and essence. Put nowhere, it will be everywhere.” [ibid., pg. 21].
This sort of talk can, of course, be hazardous, especially for people who are just starting out. But at some point it has to be realized, or we end up stuck with only technique. Honestly I wonder if it’s too early for me to be thinking about all this, but… both arrows hit and I didn’t succeed, so I figure it’s time.
The other problem, the left hand dropping down and then popping back up, is likewise a mental/spiritual phenomenon. This is clear from the fact that it only happens when I’m shooting at the target. It never happens at the makiwara. So I need to work on that as well, and assume it’s a lack of real nobiai. Somehow the target is capturing me there as well.
On the positive side, this may mean that by solving one problem I solve the other as well, but it creates a bit of a paradox. How do you ensure that the release is not “too early” while at the same time not thinking about the release (or lack of it)? It could only be that a natural process or rhythm takes over, but I have yet to find that. I wonder sometimes how deep Kyudo goes?