Kyudo Notebook: Practice, Practice

It’s been a long time, and what can I say? The election. But while all that was going on, practice continued, we had some really good tutorials, a lot of great yumi conversation over the New Year holidays… One of the nice things about being in Japan is that US politics rarely come up. Some people ask, “What is the matter with you people?” But then, Japanese politics, Korean politics, Chinese politics… nobody seems to be having a very smooth time of it these days. Fortunately Kyudo is an oasis that never runs dry. Frustrating maybe, but never dry!

At a tutorial back in November, I was taught a different way of forming tenouchi, the important points being to keep the left hand completely relaxed into daisan, and to make sure that at that time (and from there into kai) the outer edges of the bow fit into the grooves in the hand created by (1) the tenmon line and (2) the inside of the third (distal) joint of the lower three fingers. Beyond that the hand is just receiving the bow.

It’s taken me quite a bit of time to learn how to do that, with many ups and downs. In addition, I was told that I am indeed overdrawing the bow. Part of that is because, while my usual bow is being repaired, the one I have is a little weaker so I feel like I need to draw it more in order to feel like I have the right amount of resistance. But… this isn’t the way! Instead what I’m trying to do is draw in a fairly (but not entirely) relaxed sort of way, and only once I reach kai, begin expanding left/right up/down. This harks back to something Usami-sensei would tell us in Nagoya, but which I didn’t really understand until now (assuming I’m getting it now): the need to sort of have some “space” or “energy” in reserve when you get to kai, otherwise there won’t be anything you can do and you’ll be stuck there like a statue unless you make some unnecessary movements to force the release.

And then… I’m learning the fine art of not shooting too fast while continuing to expand (rather than just waiting). This seems to come down to some fairly subtle mental practice, because sometimes it’s hard to recognize that I am, in fact, releasing on purpose. Usually the tsurune is a clue after the fact, but I need to comprehend it mentally/spiritually, by feeling.

I also had a chance to talk with one of the hanshi about mushin. He said, if I understood correctly, that you develop this simply by concentrating on the shaho-hassetsu. That one-pointed concentration, focusing only on what you need to be doing, seems to be the path. So I try to do that.

At the same time, I realized recently that I’ve completely lost touch with my breathing, so I’m trying to find that rhythm again. And kiza… yes… kiza. Over the holidays that was my teacher’s main complaint. I need to be able to sit that way and stay still, no matter what it takes. So… practice.

One interesting side-note about kiza is that recently our heating stove broke and we had to call a repairman. It was -18 outside so yes… we really needed the repairman. He got it working, but I noticed that the entire time he was working, he sat in kiza, as if it were the most natural and relaxed thing in the world. Half an hour… maybe an hour… and he was still in kiza. Very impressive! True, he didn’t have the ikasu move, and he was moving around a bit, fixing one thing, checking another, but clearly (a) I have a long way to go, and (b) it is possible!

We have another tutorial next weekend with a hanshi from Aomori, and I’m hoping to get more feedback. Winter is good for that.

Oh, also, I’ll be going to Kyoto again this year, so perhaps some of you will, too?

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3 Responses to Kyudo Notebook: Practice, Practice

  1. Paul R Over says:

    I only leaved once a feedback/comment here, but I always felt very useful to read your posts. Most persons tend to elaborate to much on tenouchi, Japanese senseis usually explain much less than others from Europe. This year Usami Sensei answered a question on tenouchi saying his grand daughter (or grandson), who is 5-6 years old and is starting kyudo, the only thing he taught was that naka-yubi must keep in contact with oya-yubi all the time, and the arrow reached the mato. Is the important thing we need to know, said Usami sensei.
    On kiza. A few years ago I also saw here (Europe) a guy who came install an Internet-TV-Telephone cable and he was almost of the time in kiza, also half an hour or 45 min, like you said. But there’s a lot of diference between being erect and still or moving a little. Even without the ikasu there’s also some diference if you do it with bear hands resting on your thighs or holding the bow.
    In the last 12 years I tried several ways to achieve beyond the 5-6 minutes. A few years I trained everyday for some months and I was in quite good shape and I achieved 10-12 minutes at the time of the seminar without problem. Other years when I didn’t train beyond the usual shooting, I was in trouble just to achieve 3 minutes. So I’m no superman on that, is just the practice.
    Between several essays on training kiza I found a way that maybe is the one who requires less pain. Requires practice and discipline but I find it the less demanding when it cames to pain or that feeling of up and down (one day achieving 4 minutes, the day after not completing even 3 minutes).
    If one train normally kyudo, make kiza for one minute and then go to seiza one minute. Do that alternation for 10 minutes (5 times kiza + 5 times seiza) . Next day the same. If there’s is some disconfort, reduce to a total of 8 minutes and to 45 seconds (or half a minute) in each kiza-seiza postures. Do it for a week or two. After that increase to 1:05 in kiza and decrease to 0:55 in seiza. Again for a week or two. Then another increase of 5 seconds, 1:10 in kiza and 0:50 in seiza. After a month or a month and a half the 10 minutes session can be increased to 14 or 16 minutes, again if there’s no major physical discomfort or mental stress. In 2-3 months you should be doing between 1:30-1:45 in kiza and 0:30-0:15 in seiza. At that point if you try to stay in kiza as long as you can you should be achieve 7-8 minutes with no major problem. Most of all when you achieve that you are no longer having the feeling of having to resist and to hold on even if you are on your limits. Instead kiza became quite natural, it became a normal posture instead of a position in which you are counting the seconds (or the shootings in front) to get out of there. Needless to say, also after those 2-3 months ikasu also becomes almost a vertical inner movement. Personal experience in these last 3-4 years, in May I do 3-4 minutes in kiza, start this practice and in the middle of July I do 7-8 minutes with no pains or stress. The only thing is of course, practice, you have to do it, and do it every day, or at least 5 days a week. Of course doing that in May-July only because of seminars-examinations is not the best thing, but this year I was able to maintain it after the summer even if a little reduced. I hope in the near future to be able to do this every day as I eat breakfast.
    Once again thank you for your posts.

  2. karamatsu says:

    Thanks very much for your kiza practice. I’ll give it a try! And yes, the teachers are all very different, eh? The things they explain, the things they don’t. And in truth, Usami-sensei is right. There is a teacher here who is missing the little and ring fingers of his left hand, so the middle finger and the thumb… they really are all you need. Likewise the thumb of the right hand doesn’t seem to be needed. I’ve seen a couple of teachers now demonstrate shooting without their thumb in the kake at all. So maybe what we’re learning with all this fuss is just how to get these little unnecessary bits of anatomy out of the way!

  3. Koyo says:

    I`m a quite a bit late to reading it, but thank you for your update! I suppose tenouchi talk has been going around because my teachers have been making us focus a bit more on how to properly form it at my dojo too. My bow has been spinning a bit closer and closer to my wrist, but I feel like I`m still not putting the proper amount of pressure (or lack thereof) where it should placed. One of my teachers said there should be a tilt happening in the wrist going away from the bow once you get to kai, but again not sure what is too much or too little.

    I have also realized that kiza will be the death of my toes. I wish you luck with your practice on sustaining it.

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