So many things have been going on, not least of which has been unexpected travel, but there is no letting up with practice! I want to record some notes made at a tutorial some time back with a favorite Hanshi (8-dan), which turned out to be the day before I had to leave. It’s been long enough that I have a hard time recalling the context for everything, so I’ll just make a list of advice and other things I put down in my notebook at the time. My little comments in brackets.
- He began by quoting Awa Kenzo: Throw away the target / Throw away the self / Infinitely far off (mugen no kanata)
- Treat your equipment as part of your own body
- Getting advice is good but you need to experiment for yourself
- It’s good to have 5-6 bows, each about 1/2kg apart, so you can match your bodily strength on any given day. [Our teacher at the 2016 seminar in Nagoya said the same thing. Of course, few people could afford to do that all at once, and it probably wouldn’t be good for the bows if you did! But if you keep practicing for, say 20-30 years, I could see ending up with that many]
- You can do weight training to be able to draw a stronger bow, or learn to draw “with the bones.” [But don’t obsess about this,] there is no taikai where the prize is given to the one who can draw the strongest bow.
- There will always be better people than you. You should never be satisfied with where you are in your shooting. If you do, you’ll stop making progress. Always go forward.
- [People practice kyudo for all sorts of reasons, but] shooting to “polish the self” (jibun wo migakitai) is best. But it entails a lot of suffering.
- Never run from a challenge. Once you are in the shajo, wherever it is, put everything you have into it. This is the meaning of “Kyudo is a fight with your self” (jibun to no tatakai). The enemy is your own desire (yokubukai jibun). [I would say fear also plays a role]
- You learn through failure. It’s not fun, but necessary.
- You should always engage all of your effort/energy, even in practice (not just events like shinsa).
- There is only the shahou hassetsu. It’s simple. There is no difference between the hassetsu of a beginner and the hassetsu of a master. It’s the same. No more difficult. And therefore… difficult.
- Budo is “martial art” but it takes time for it to become art.
- It is important to strengthen the lower body. You should strengthen your tanden until someone pushing or pulling at the point the hakama knot (for men) cannot move you. [Normally when we watch people shoot the focus is on the upper body because that’s where most of the action appears to be, but sometimes I watch the person’s legs. Of course, you can’t see well because of the hakama, but sometimes you can see a person’s legs expand just before hanare. It’s interesting]
- Nobiai should extend to infinity, with the image of the shoulder blades moving apart.
- Some people have a problem where, because the target is essentially at the level of their feet, they push down on the bow. This causes the bow to drop at hanare. Don’t do that.
- Don’t pull the bow… push it from daisan to kai.
The tutorial ended with a torture session. I mean hitotsu-mato sharei, but with a twist in which the younger people were asked to do the gensoku form. This is the longest of the three timings, where you remain in kiza until the person in front of you has backed up to the honza and begins to sit down. Agony. But occasionally, perhaps when only a couple of candidates pass the first part of the renshi exam, people are asked to do it, so I want to record some notes on that, as well as sharei in general:
- Just as with the monomi-gaeshi timing, where your actions standing up are in time with the movements of the person in front of you. In gensoku the following actions occur simultaneously, using #1 to be the person in front and #2 the next person to shoot. When #1 brings his feet together as the final step of moving back to the honza, #2 brings his right hand to the hazu. When #2 rises onto his knees, #1 takes the half step back (before starting to sink down into kiza). When #2 starts to stand up, #1 matches that pace when sinking into kiza. Note that in the very first of these three, #1 is the leader, but in the 2nd and 3rd, #2 is the leader. So each needs to be careful and considerate of the other.
- When backing up to the honza, o-mae must take great care to return to the same spot (honza) from which the group began, because it affects everyone else.
- In the torikake timing, you wait until the person in front of you finishes torikake before you begin the process of standing up. Thus it is not the same as the shinsa-houshiki timing where you stand at the tsurune of the person two people ahead. There’s a delay.
- O-mae especially must ensure that each move finishes with zanshin so that the others can stay synchronized. However zanshin does not mean stopping. Movement is still continuous.
- Likewise, on the entry, o-mae should maintain the normal walking rhythm, but use smaller steps so that the people behind can keep up. Tall people in particular must match the stride length of shorter people in order to achieve a harmonious result. [In theory shorter people could take big steps but it doesn’t look good]
- Especially at higher levels (I think he meant kyoushi), it’s best if everyone in the group shoots using the same form (reishakei or busshakei). Likewise you should pay attention to the angle and placement of the bow when you stand it up in front of you, and the angle of the arrows as you are waiting to stand, to make sure they’re all in a line from the perspective of the kamiza.
- The correct footing at the exit (taijou) in sharei is not the same as for shinsa. In a shinsa you would turn toward the kamiza, bring both feet together, and then bow (yu), then turn to leave. But in sharei you use footing similar to that of the entry, where you turn toward the kamiza, then bow (yu) at the same time that you bring the feet together. Then turn to leave. [This was controversial, but after a while the consensus was that this is correct. The reason is that, when you are leaving the shajo in a shinsa, there is nobody behind you, so there is no reason to rush. But in sharei there will be someone behind you, therefore it is important to complete the action without delay.]
- In the bow (rei) at the sadamenoza, you must maintain the toriyumi posture throughout. In particular this means that the arrows should stay at the same angle as the bow, and be pointed at the urahazu. Likewise when sitting in seiza at the sadamenoza, your buttocks should not rest on the heels, but be held above (just as with kiza).
- In hitotsu-mato sharei, each person must be sure to shoot at the same spot as the person in front just did. What often happens is that each person stops a bit short of where the person in front was standing, and as that continues, one after another, the shooting location moves further and further back (away from the kamiza). Not only is this noticeable, it means that people end up standing at an angle to the target, which means they either have to alter ashibumi to shoot on a diagonal or keep their feet perpendicular to the azuchi and twist their upper body to achieve a proper aim. So don’t do that.
Also during this tutorial I got some advice for me personally. I know for sure that others received exactly the opposite advice, so it depends on the person and I’m not sure what led the teachers to recommend one way for one person and the opposite for someone else. That said, I was told that in yatsugae I should line up the edge of the bow just behind the tenmon line of my left hand. The idea is that when the bow rotates in my hand from uchiokoshi to daisan, the outer edge will move into the tenmon line. So in the spirit of “you need to experiment for yourself” (above), try it different ways and see what works. I suspect that this has to do with the size of the grip versus the size of a person’s hand. I was also told that I needed to bring the right hand closer to my head at daisan (a perennial problem). But after a couple of months of trying/experimenting, these changes have worked well, especially when combined with a change of attitude regarding what I’m doing and why.
Oh, and I should say, the other thing that has changed in the past month or so is that my teacher took a look at my bow and said it was getting out of shape (nari), so he showed me how to fix that, and returning it to the correct shape over time seems to have helped a great deal.
Finally, I’ll be going to Kyoto again this year with the usual suspects from our dojo. If you’re going and want to catch up, just let me know!