So winter has begun. Things have been quiet in part because there was so much to do getting the house ready, and in part because I’ve been struggling with the same general problem since August, where arrows would go quite reliably in front of the target. I looked for the cause by trying many different things, from ashibumi on up, and for short periods some of those things actually worked. But in the end what seemed to really solve it has been changing my tenouchi.
Sometime during the summer I made a change in the way I placed my thumb on the middle finger, and what seems to have happened over time is that this caused the top of my left hand (formed by the V of the left thumb and index finger) to roll clockwise at kai. Changing the shape so that the top of the left hand is level appears to have solved most of the problem.
It seems simple now, but it took a long time to find, and my teacher seems to be in a mode where he lets me struggle with things on my own rather than just telling me to change this or that. It’s good… I will not forget this or the other little lessons learned along the way, the most fundamental being not to give in to the temptation to simply adjust the aim to compensate for not hitting. There lies madness. Well, maybe not quite madness. But when the cause is something in your bodily form, you have to find that cause. Otherwise, by compensating for one thing after another, stacking up all the different twists and “body hacks,” you end up looking like a bristlecone pine.
Not that bristlecone pines aren’t cool. They are. But they may not be quite the form you want to have in the dojo.
Over the weekend we had our autumn seminar, this time with a teacher (hanshi, 8-dan) from Tohoku. He had many interesting things to say, but there’s a vibe right now… people wary of having information published on the Internet, so out of respect for that I’m trying not to post quite as much, even though I know it’s useful. What I am going to do is continue viewing this as my practice notebook, so these are the things that stood out for my own shooting:
- In taihai I need to work more on synchronizing my movements with others. This has always been difficult for me — I’m pretty uncoordinated when it comes to things like dance — and that carries over into taihai. But I need to improve because, he said, the first thing the judges see, especially during the sharei for things like renshi, kyoshi, or hachi-dan, is your taihai and footwork. If that isn’t good, it will color their opinion of you (“This guy needs more practice”) no matter how well you shoot. [Also I think it’s a good practice generally because it prevents me from thinking so much about myself. If the person in front of me is slower than I would like, or faster than I’d like, if they make mistakes, if they fall over backwards in kiza… I have no right to ask them to change. My responsibility is to adapt. So in that way it’s closer to life. Sha soku jinsei]
- In hadanugi and hadaire, every action has a purpose. You can’t just go through the apparent motions, but must actually accomplish what the movement is intended to do. In addition, each movement has its own zanshin, which is not just a pause, but an active movement all its own. He recommended watching Kawamura Mitsuyoshi (hanshi, 8-dan) as a model. I suspect this may be related to the slow-fast-slow rhythm that is sometimes suggested for movements. There were also some fine points that I need to work on but are hard to describe in words.
- Alas for all of us, maintaining ikasu is not only important while in kiza, it has to be done correctly. The point is to be able to get up quickly and smoothly, and you won’t be able to do that if, in a determined effort to maintain the position, you end up twisting your body or leaning to one side. You have to maintain ikasu and the straight torso of dozukuri at the same time, or it’s all for nothing. This, for me, will require long and painful practice.
- When walking backward to the honza from the sha-i during sharei (or if you shoot rissha during a shinsa, I imagine), the aim is just to return to the honza. Some teachers like to insist on doing that in a certain number of steps [generally two more than the number you took going forward], so you have to make the steps longer or shorter depending on whether you’re moving straight or diagonally, but our teacher felt that this isn’t really fixed. Instead of focusing on how many steps you take, he suggests just making sure you’re in the right place when you stop, and that the number of steps depend on the individual.
- In terms of the hassetsu it seems I’m more or less OK (for my level) up to kai, but weird things happen at hanare, so I need to work on kai. For example, my first arrow of the day, I unconsciously inhaled at the moment of release, which caused a ripple of weakness that threw me out of balance. The second time I was consciously determined to control the shot, and held the left so strongly that the right had no choice but to force the release, which likewise ruined my balance. If I remember right, the haya missed and the otoya hit, but there are no points given for hitting badly.
- There was much about the process of going from daisan to kai. For one thing, the image of the target should move in a straight line from wherever it is at daisan until it settles at the aiming point. You must not slack off (yurumu) in order to “return” to the proper aiming point after reaching kai. [This is probably another argument for the slow-fast-slow way of carrying out most actions. What I need to do is settle down, find good balance left/right up/down, and then make sure that the release comes from the hara, not my hands, shoulders, back, etc.]
- The way he draws the bow from yugamae to kai is first to sort of round the back by reaching forward from both shoulders before uchiokoshi, then holding that rather light tension to the top of uchiokoshi. From daisan to kai, he starts by drawing in such a way that he shoulder blades come together, looking bunched up if you watch from behind. Then when the arrow reaches about eye level, change direction and begin to expand outward left/right (and don’t forget up/down), so that the shoulder blades flatten out again. What I’m doing is synchronizing my breathing in the same way… inhaling during the first part and then slooooooowly exhaling after changing direction to expand outward… all the way through to zanshin. The trouble I have in doing this is that the release comes too fast, so getting that under control is homework.
- The draw itself is just a matter of lowering both elbows in tandem.
- You can correct the right shoulder at many points along the way if necessary. One thing I found helpful as a correction is to stretch it a little forward at daisan, but it’s a small movement, and I need to experiment with that more. Too much will send the arrow behind the target.
- In the old days it was often recommended that, regardless of their bone structure, people twist the left elbow so that the radius and ulna are vertically aligned. This seems to make sense especially with very strong bows, but it’s not quite as common these days. The main problems are that twisting the elbow can cause the left shoulder to rise, and that, if you twist the elbow too much, that twisting action itself will unwind at hanare and you’ll get unwanted motion in the left arm. Right now, what I’m doing is turning the elbow just a bit at daisan… enough to have more stability in the arm, but not enough to cause the left shoulder to rise. I need to experiment to figure out whether to adjust that or abandon it altogether.
- The left arm is the least stable because it’s the most extended. A small perturbation in the upper left arm moves the let hand proportionally more, so what he recommended is a version of leading tsumeai/nobiai with the left, but still with balance left and right. The expression is used was go-no-sen, a term from Kendo, where the idea is that you let the opponent attack first, but still, your response is immediate. That is, although the opponent moves first there is still no gap between his movement and your own. How to manage that is another homework assignment.
As usual, most of these things were told to me, to fix particular problems that I’m having. A different person might get different, even opposite, advice, so please don’t take any of this as The Right Way To Do Things ™. I need to ruminate about them myself over the coming months. I find that any time I make even a simple change, it’s hard to know whether it will really be positive or negative until I’ve been doing it for a few weeks.
Oh, and if you haven’t seen the documents already, the details for the 2016 Asia-Oceania seminar in Nagoya have been out for a while. The seminar will run April 7-19, and the two most obvious changes are that it’s been broken up into three seminars instead of two, and the cost for the seminar itself (not including the the shinsa) has increased from ¥13,000 to ¥20,000 per person. Unfortunately there’s no special taikai this time, but I’m looking forward to the seminar anyway.