Kyudo Notebook: Revisions

One of my favorite lines in the English translation of the Kyudo Kyohon is “[Beauty] is the form of Truth expressed in the application of Good.” [pg. 20], and I’ve always been a bit perplexed because this line doesn’t seem to appear in the current edition of the Japanese text. Instead what it says is

それでは弓における美とは何かといえば、前にいった「真なるもの」は美しく、「善なるもの」も美しい。[pp. 43-44]

which to me works out as something like

So if we think about what beauty means in Kyudo, it’s that (based on what was described before) that which is true is beautiful, that which is good is beautiful.

So… quite different. In O’Brien-sensei‘s translation, his single sentence unifies all three of kyudo’s supreme goals (truth, goodness, and beauty) in a very profound and operational way. For him, beauty is the expression in action of a specific constitutive relation between Goodness and Truth. You could practice what he’s described, maybe even live your life by it. But for a reader of the Japanese text, the profound unification does not take place. In principle, for example, it seems as though something could be beautiful if true, but with no particular relation to Good. The Japanese sentence also lacks the operational flavor of the English. It’s just a description, not something you could practice.

Since O’Brien-sensei mentions in his preface that the English translation is based on the 1953 edition, I’ve often wondered if some editorial change was responsible for the difference, and always hoped I’d have a chance to meet him and ask about it.

But I waited too long and the opportunity didn’t appear, so recently I went hunting, and managed to find a hardcover copy of the 1953 edition. Long story short, the particular sentence I was looking for, something closer to the definition of beauty appearing in the English, was not there. Instead the discussion of shin-zen-bi in 1953 appears identical to what we have in the current version. On the one hand that’s a little disappointing, but on the other it means that this unification of the three goals in just a single short sentence is a very special insight, a gift from O’Brien-sensei himself, and one available only to readers of the English. We should feel lucky. It’s worthy of Plato, or maybe even a Buddhist sutra.

But there are a number of other large and interesting differences between the 1953 and 1971 editions. In many cases these are great improvements and also represent significant expansion of core theoretical and practical content:

  • Addition of Uno-sensei‘s essay on The Three Essentials as One Body
  • Addition of the Fundamentals of Shooting Principles and Shooting Skill
  • Addition of the fold-out diagrams and commentary in the back of the book
  • Addition of descriptions of the kyu, dan, and shogo qualifications
  • Some editing of the commentary on the hassetsu
  • Many of the photographs were replaced
  • Removal of some significant prefatory material (see below)
  • Removal of a long final section listing potential written test questions

This last point, plus the fact that the 1953 edition was issued in hardcover so soon after the end of the war, leads me to think that the first edition was intended mainly for instructors, rather than individual kyudoka, but perhaps by 1971, with the economic recovery and renewed interest, they decided to aim the book more toward individuals?

Looking at the two editions you also see reflected changes that were occurring in Japanese culture from the difficult, but liberating, postwar 50’s to the more restrained, but self-confident 70’s. For example, in the 1953 edition many photographs show people practicing in Western clothes, but virtually all of these images were replaced in 1971. There were also some editorial changes to reduce some of the Japan-centered remarks, and remove references to the war. But it’s good to see that even in 1953, the ANKF were saying that Kyudo is not a uniquely Japanese art, and they appear to have been looking forward to seeing it practiced and understood by people in countries. They were looking ahead.

A curious aside is that, although both editions quote Eugen Herrigel, the 1953 edition identifies neither him nor his book by name. This may be because Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschießens had only just been published, and no Japanese translation was yet available. Thus people in Japan could only have been reading the German, or at least hearing about the content by word of mouth, though it’s also possible that they were reading drafts even before the book was published in Germany.

But probably the most important difference, allied to Uno-sensei‘s essay (which was written in 1967 so could not have been in the 1953 edition in the first place), is that the 1953 edition is not prefaced by either the Raiki Shagi or Shahokun. I find this extraordinary given the place that the two texts have these days, prominently displayed in almost every dojo I’ve visited, while a ceremonial recitation of the two is common at formal tutorials (such as the one at Nagoya). I’m sure there is some fascinating intellectual history there, and it’s something I want to explore further. One possibility is that their inclusion in the 1971 edition is due to the influence of, or perhaps even a tribute to, Uno-sensei, who was head of the ANKF at its inception in 1947 and had just recently died, in 1969.

All in all a fascinating glimpse at Kyudo history through comparisons of a single text. I’m going to have to find some of the older teachers, the ones who were there, and may have even participated in creating the 1971 edition, to find out more.


This entry was posted in japan, kyudo, kyudo notebook. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Kyudo Notebook: Revisions

  1. f says:

    Thank you for this. I enjoyed reading it. Even if O’Brien sensei is remembered for that one single phrase, one hundred years later, it is still a very good legacy to leave behind. He really improved the text there, giving it new value, lost to the people reading only the original.

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