Kyudo Notebook: Introspection

It’s been a while, with that “work” thing getting in the way. I can’t complain because I volunteered for the task but the psychological/spiritual toll was more than I expected. I continued at the dojo — my oasis — but my mind was often elsewhere. I wonder if my teachers noticed a difference? Probably.

But in the time “away” I seem to have come through the other side of the “rock and a hard place” tunnel into a new sort of landscape. One key has been to pay scrupulous attention to avoiding any twisting in my body, while at the same time keeping the arrow parallel to the line of my shoulders (or the sanju-jumonji generally). Psychologically what seems to do the trick is to decide that the target is just a mark, while the thing I really need to concentrate on is internal… my body, the bow, and the various forces in play. Except concentrate without objective concentration: no separation between me, the concentrator, and me, the thing that is the object of that concentration. Words, words, words. As a 8-dan teacher recently told me, “You think too much. You don’t need to think.”

My bad habit.

It’s taken a couple of months for that to sink in, but it finally came to me the other night, while I was sitting with dojo friends at a dinner. For some time now my teacher has been telling me that I needed to develop  澄ます (sumasu) , kind of a tricky word that seems to imply a kind of clear-minded concentration. Kyudo literature seems to emphasize it at several different points during the shooting process, and one of the odd things I’ve noticed is that, when it goes well, there is no sense of time. It feels to me like my shooting is very fast, but my teacher approves, so it must not be. And indeed I’ve noticed the same thing in sitting meditation sometimes, when the period will suddenly be over and it feels like it just began. Maybe the same. Maybe not. Still working on it.

This weekend we have our local shinsa, so I’ll be helping. It’s gotten really cold here all of the sudden, and the wall is up at the front of the shajo, but it comes down for the shinsa, regardless of wind, rain, sunshine, or snow. It’s going to be a long day. I hope everyone does well!

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9 Responses to Kyudo Notebook: Introspection

  1. Yuki says:

    Ah, my teacher constantly berates me for thinking too much. That’s hard to tell an engineer; which makes kyudo all the more difficult a pursuit compared to my daily routine.

    So…shooting without desire, without tension, without subterfuge, and with clarity and clear mindedness; so many things to seek, but yet not seek. Is it ever too soon to think of these things in one’s kyudo journey, I wonder?

    Here’s hoping everyone did well at the shinsa. Are you contemplating New Zealand next April?

    Afterword: I may be off in my understanding of the concept, but a Japanese co-worker of mine thought that「澄ます」could be another applicable writing to すます?

    • karamatsu says:

      Oh, also, I’d love to go to New Zealand, but I’m not sure I can manage the costs. How about you?

      • Yuki says:

        At the moment, yes. What I’m wondering though is just how big they will allow it to get before cutting off registration. And if they keep it open to the Americas and European community. If not, then maybe try again for the International seminar in 2018. Isn’t Taiwan scheduled for 2019?

  2. karamatsu says:

    Quite right about the kanji! I’ve fixed it. Thanks! That’s the one I wanted, but this automatic kanji henkan stuff makes me lazy.
    It probably depends on the person and how much supervision they have from a teacher, but I suppose there can be such a thing as emphasizing this aspect too soon. I mean, obviously at the beginning, when a person is learning the technical aspects of shooting, they’ll need to think about what they are doing (or should be doing!), otherwise their shooting will just become a random kyudo-like action. But a person can go the other way, too, becoming too much of a technician and losing the plot, which I expect for most of us involves more than being able to punch holes in paper from 28 meters.
    It reminds me of a Zen story. A master has two students. One of them practices assiduously and is very, very serious. The other slouches over while meditating and falls asleep. One day the master went over to the slouching student, poked him and said, “Hey! Look at this other guy. How straight he’s sitting, how focused he is! You should be more like him.” Then the master went over to the serious student, poked him and said, “Hey! Look at this other guy leaning over like that! He’s so immersed in meditation that he’s forgotten his own body! You should be more like him.”
    But yes… thinking… I’m an engineer, too, so I know what you mean! It was quite funny, really, when I was told I thought too much. The teacher asked, “What’s one plus one?” And I thought, “What?” The teacher had a thick accent and I thought, “He can’t possibly be asking me what one plus one is,” and began running through alternative ways to interpret his speech. Then he asked again, “What’s one plus one!” And I kind of hesitated and said, “Uh… two?”
    “Right!” he said. “Did you have to think to answer that?”
    And so at last I saw the point. Although with his accent I did have to think about the words, the answer itself was automatic. No need to think. But to be able to answer without thought takes training and practice. So it seems we need to come at it from both directions at once.

    • Yuki says:

      That’s a great story. I suppose it all comes down to finding a balance; the body and the mind. The mato is there, but is not there. We see it, but must not look at it. I guess the thoughts surrounding Shin-Gyo-So comes to mind.

      Though, to relate another engineering-geek thing. As many have, I can imagine, I had to write out the equations of motion for the arrow flight (making numerous, over-arching assumptions), just out of curiosity. I can’t say the results changed anything I do, but it was interesting to plot things up. “Stop thinking so much!” 

      • karamatsu says:

        Ha! I did the same thing. That’s really funny… or maybe a little scary, too, you know? I went through my assumptions here: and found what we all already know: that shooting is very sensitive to small changes. It seems that the difference between hitting and missing is only a shift of 3-4mm, so given that I try to be a more careful now about things like the nocking point, and the position of my left hand on the bow, trying to keep them the same.
        As for New Zealand, maybe you should send them a note and see what the situation is? You can get E-mail contact information at the IKYF web site. Certainly you’d want to book tickets early to get a good price!
        I’ve heard various rumors about what will happen in future years… Taiwan, back to Nagoya, back to Japan but maybe split between Tokyo and Nagoya… We need to find someone with inside knowlege! In Japan it seems we’re often the last to know.

    • The idea in this comment deserves a blog post of its own 🙂

  3. Yuki says:

    So I brought up the topic of the when and where of one’s mental/spiritual journey in kyudo with my teacher and 2 stories were related. (Not having read the depth and breadth of you thoughts here on karamatsu, I fear I may be repeating some previous conversations of yours.)

    One was an allegory and spoke of wanting a nice garden with a beautiful tree in the center to enjoy after one has retired. It won’t work to wait until that time, i.e. retirement, has arrived and then go plant the tree and plant the flowers and expect to enjoy a finished product. The tree and the garden take many years of cultivation and care and nurturing. Later, when the time has arrived to retire, the tree has matured, the plants, flowers and moss have filled out. This would speak of starting one’s spiritual journey early, allowing for the questions and answers to come and go along the way.

    The second story comes from another teacher who feels that the spiritual aspect can not be achieved until one’s shooting is so complete and so refined, that technique is no longer a question. The target has been pierced before entering the shajo and therefore the mind has no other place to dwell but on the higher levels of enlightenment. Questions concerning technique are non-existent and therefore do not cloud the mind and body.

    I can not say I will every achieve the later, though the sense of what is being said I think I understand. I feel I can begin to tread on the path of the former.

    • karamatsu says:

      Thank you for both stories! I lean toward the first approach. The Kyudo Kyohon says that spirit and technique should be braided into one rope and perhaps one key is to see that the two are not the slightest bit contradictory, but rather mutually enhancing: each aides in development of the other. Mahayana Buddhists sometimes use the image of a bird as a metaphor for practice: one wing is method other wing is wisdom, and it’s said that the bird needs both wings to fly. I suspect Kyudo is the same, and its two wings are spirit and technique. At least at the level I can see now. There are still many mysteries. If I’m still alive in 20 years I’m sure I’ll look back at the things I’m writing now and cringe!

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