After the seminar ended I had a ton of things to catch up on, and with the holiday finally have time. I suppose the big news is that next year’s Asia-Oceania Seminar will be in New Zealand, the first time to have it outside of Japan. I imagine it will generate a lot of new interest there and in nearby countries, so book early!
More #1 Kaizoe Notes
Against all odds I ended up being dai-ichi kaizoe, this time with Honda-sensei as ite. I made a bunch of mistakes, but that’s what seminars are for, right?
The practical errors and corrections were mostly the kinds of things that I supposedly knew, and thought I was doing correctly, but not:
- The two kaizoe need to practice the rei (bow) at the sadamenoza to ensure that the depth of the rei and position of the hands is correct. In particular when doing that move, the wrist should be kept directly beneath the shoulder, neither in front of, or behind, an imaginary vertical line dropping down from the shoulders.
- When sitting behind the ite during hada-ire, it can be difficult to determine when to help. What Honda-sensei said afterward was that if he needed help he would stop. That’s the sign. When that happens, you should touch the ite at lower back, so he knows you’re going to intervene, and if it’s getting the elbow into the juban, be sure to do that by reaching between the ite‘s arm and torso (rather than around in front of the arm).
- When returning the arrows to the ite, the arrows must be kept vertical all through the complex set of steps where you’re doing the left hirakiashi turn.
- The worst mistake was that I tilted my head upward in shiken-rei, rather than maintaining the straight line along the back and back of the head. I remember thinking at the time, “Oh, this much easier than last time,” but it never occurred to me that the angle of my head was wrong!
All in all a great experience. Both I and my friend who was #2 kaizoe had only done this once before, and had very little notice beforehand, so considering all that I think we did OK. Still, I need to practice the things that I thought I was doing right but was not… no other way to get it down. In addition I know I need to practice the various moves more, so that they become smooth.
People at 5-dan and above did a demonstration of mochi-mato sharei on the last day of the seminar. It was a kind of kiza hell, but now that I’ve recovered I can grudgingly admit that it was a good opportunity, and led to some great discussion.
Done right, participants in sharei act as one. Not only are they moving in sync, all lined up, doing the right things at the right time, but when someone makes a mistake, the others support him/her, compensating to restore harmony. Ideally, we were told, it’s like a river flowing: continuous movement, with no breaks, no stopping. Doing this right requires consideration for the other members of the team.
As with the kaizoe movements there were some things I thought I was doing but was not:
- The bowstring needs to be kept vertical during hada-nugi and hada-ire, rather than tilting to one side.
- During the hirakiashi turn before hada-nugi, keep the urahazu of the bow at the center of the body throughout. Also, you keep it at eye level until you’ve turned 45 degrees (halfway). At that point you grasp the bow with both hands and raise it up so that it’s standing in front of you, bowstring centered on your nose.
- When you’re standing up after the person in front of you shoots, your feet should come together at the same instant as the feet of the person in front of you come together. This requires the person in front to move a bit slowly, so the person behind has time to stand up (which can be difficult after all that kiza!).
And then… kiza, kiza, kiza. One teacher said we should be able to sit in kiza for 15 minutes. At the same time he said that he himself has trouble with it, and has been trying various things. One of these is to make an effort to keep the coccyx (I think) vertical. He used a medical term, something like dai-go youkotsu, but I haven’t been able to find that.
Because the day was filled mostly with shinsa-houshiki practice, we didn’t get to shoot a whole lot, but I made some notes.
I went into the tutorial having picked up some bad habits that sent arrows very reliably in front of the target. Rather than simply adjust the aim, I hoped to be told how to correct this. There were a few things:
- When standing up from kiza before ashibumi, I need to extend the bow and arrow(s )further out in front of me, and the arrows should be at eye level and the bow should be shifted so that your face is centered in the space between the bow and the bowstring.
- Needed to raise the right elbow more at daisan so that there’s tension along the outer edge of the arm.
- Need to be careful that the above doesn’t lead to a twisting of the upper body during daisan/hikiwake, with the left shoulder coming forward while the right goes back. Obviously that would send the arrow in front of the target.
- Need to have a bit more of a twist (hineri) on the right.
- The muscles need to be relaxed. U-sensei illustrated this by telling us to hold our two hands together on front of us, then try to pull them apart left/right, as in hanare. First we were told to hold the hands loosely, relaxed. When we did that, there was some freedom to expand. Then we were told to grip the hands very tightly, and try again. There was no freedom to expand at all because the muscles were all tensed. Hanare should be straight, clean, simple…
- Likewise the right thumb must be kept relaxed. We were told we need to practice this until the only thing holding the string in our right hand, keeping it from flying out, is the giriko.
- Regarding hanare, it can’t be intentional. It’s impossible, in fact, to release both the left and right at the same time. There will always be some imbalance.
- A few other things that I need to experiment with.
In addition I’ve made a few other changes in the past few months as a result of two tutorials with visiting teachers:
- Keep the right hand very relaxed, with no tension. The teacher said to imagine I have a kind of custard-filled pastry (shu cream) in my hand. You definitely don’t want to squeeze it.
- Experimenting with a slight clockwise twist of the left elbow at daisan in order to line up the bones in the left forearm.
- Trying to keep the arms relaxed during the draw, using the bones (as per the shaho-kun) and back muscles instead. This allows me to go into kai still having a lot of flexibility in the arms, which can then be taken up during tsumeai, first expanding the shoulders, then elbows, and outward.
I think the one teaching that I found most enlightening during the seminar was when U-sensei said 「気遣いイコール礼」(kidukai equals rei), which is to say, the essence of rei is consideration/thoughtfulness of others. On the one hand, it’s obvious, but perhaps because I’m a child of the 1960’s there’s a temptation to see rei as etiquette, and etiquette as simply vestigial, ritualistic rules. There are a lot of rules in kyudo, that’s for sure… things that have be done a certain way at a certain time, and it’s often a challenge to discover the reasons behind them. So the comment was helpful… it sort of realigned how I think about it, even though I still don’t necessarily know why we do certain things.
Another essential comment was that many things in Kyudo are not, in fact, “written in stone” but contain a certain amount of leeway or flexibility. The expression he used was “about,” which Japanese use to express the idea of something with a degree of freedom or imprecision. This is not to say that anything goes, but that people’s bodies are different, people’s equipment is different, so sometimes fixed rules can be misleading, even wrong, if they are not appropriate for your body or equipment. I’ve often wondered about this when experimenting, say, with different heights for uchiokoshi, or different ways to construct daisan. You hear various rules of thumb, but what’s right for one person may not be right for another, and a lot of the fun is figuring out what works for you, yet does not “cross the line” into bad form.
During a different discussion with another teacher he said, and this was a bit of a surprise, that people at our level shouldn’t worry about nobiai. That we’re too young (in Kyudo years). Instead, it’s enough to release while expanding fully. Hold the left, he said, and with the right, it’s as if you are trying to pull the hazu out of the arrow. To do that, you’d pull straight back, along the line of the arrow, right? Neither up nor down, left nor right. It’s enough.
In one way I’m not sure about this advice, even though I heard something similar from another teacher just yesterday at our dojo here. But it’s worth considering.
At one point when we were near the end of the seminar I was able to ask about the history of the Raiki Shagi and Shaho-Kun. It turns out that these were indeed chosen by Uno-sensei (whose essay on both was added in the current edition of the Kyudo Kyohon).
There was also a fascinating discussion about a piece of calligraphy that was hanging in the dojo. If I remember right, it read 邪無思 (right to left, shi mu ja), which you could interpret as “mind without desire.” U-sensei told us that this is how we should be at the sha-i. We all know about desire to hit the target, but it goes deeper… desire to do well, desire to shoot well, desire to fix the problem you’ve been working on for so long… indeed he said that any sort of adjustments that you make during the shooting are also evidence of desire.
I asked, “Well, what about technique (技)?” and he said, “Practice those sorts of things at the makiwara.” This led to more discussion about how kyudo was practiced and learned back in the day, when students would train at the makiwara for several years before ever stepping in front of a target, learning good habits so that, when the time came to stand at the sha-i, I suppose, it wasn’t necessary to have a lot of thought.
I’ve tried to follow this advice, and at least spend more time with the makiwara. Especially now that it’s getting warmer (or was… we’ve had snow for the past two days), that becomes more practical. And then, after a while doing that, step up to the sha-i and see if I can shoot without desire.