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Archive for April, 2009

Ikiai
Nearly everyday in class, I hear Sensei stress Ikiai and Mezukai. I suppose, as for myself, my focus has been more on Ikiai, the harmony of breath. He jokingly tells us to not stop (breathing), at least not in his class.

The breath should harmonize with movement throughout, but is even more essential to the shooting during the Shaho-Hassetsu. At our last Kyudo Alliance Seminar in Atlanta, Sensei reminded us that even before we enter the dojo, we are working on Ikiai. This creates the energy of the group as a whole, whereas Ikiai during the Shaho-Hassetsu gives the individual archer energy , or life. Tohei’s book Ki in Daily Life is an excellent resource to help with understanding the importance of the breathing. I need to re-read this myself.

Mezukai
In looking for something else in the Kyohon today, I noticed a highlighted passage there regarding Mezukai. It states that… the most important element of setting the gaze (Metsuke) is to look into your own heart and take command of that place. This one line alone should keep me busy thinking for a while.

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Confucius Quote

If three of us travel together,
I shall find two teachers.

I read this and thought of my fellow kyudoka.
I am grateful to them as well as Sensei.

We each have a role.
I keep searching…

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Right Inner Intention

As we practice kyudo, it can be easy to direct focus mainly towards the shooting technique. Elementary logic tells us this is the more visible aspect of kyudo. Is it?

I suppose that depends on the eyes that see. We need never forget that kyudo is the way of perfect virtue. As we move forth, we should carry this with us as well.

As stated in the Raiki-Shagi, we must acquire “right inner intention” and “correctness in outward appearance”… then, “the bow and arrow can be handled resolutely”. We work on the outward correctness of our appearance continually as we shoot, striving to refine our technique towards perfection. So, what is “right inner intention”?

We can begin by looking at the Kyohon . There it lists the five Confucian virtues as: Benevolence, Justice, Courtesy, Wisdom and Sincerity. In addition, it states on pg. 70, Removing attachments, desire, and worldly thoughts towards the target, at the full draw you must wipe away negativity like doubt, anxiety, faintheartedness, fear, and self-depreciation…

What is “right inner intention”? I’m working to figure this out. I suppose a good place to start in trying to understand this concept would be to look deep within ourselves and to remember that the way is in the doing.

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Several weeks ago I had someone ask me, “How long have you been playing kyudo?”

Now, I don’t always hear correctly, so I asked him to repeat this just for affirmation. Yes, he said play. My immediate reaction was a mental thought of, “I don’t play kyudo. I take my kyudo very seriously!” Then it occurred to me that English was probably not this person’s first language and I gave an appropriate answer to his question.

This idea came to the forefront in another context when a friend explained to me that when he puts his glove on he is doing kyudo, even when he is not in the act of shooting. I gave this concept more thought, playing kyudo versus doing kyudo.

If we consider the English language and it’s use regarding sports, we play football, play tennis, play golf or baseball. I am sure most of these players take their game very seriously. But, we do martial arts, even those that incorporate a sporting aspect. When I taught karate classes, this was one thing that was stressed in every children’s class, “We never play karate. If I do… my hair will turn green… my teeth will fall out… (or any of other numerous absurdities).”

Again the subject of differences in languages came up at a recent Kyudo Alliance seminar. It was brought to our attention that students in the West generally think of practicing their martial art. But in Japan, there are at least six words to define this more precisely.
(1) Keiko is just showing up and doing something, usually translated as practice.
(2) Renshu denotes more involvement. Rather than practice, this word can be understood as training, such as baseball practice versus spring training.
(3) Shunren can be regarded as a discipline.
(4) Tanren can be thought of as forging.
(5) Kufu carries things a step further to where the body has been forged repeatedly, much as the layers of the Japanese sword. The mind and body have melded into one.
(6) Shugyo is the highest level in which the body, mind and spirit are as one. It has been said that shugyo is “conducting oneself in a way that inspires mastery”.

In this same vain, there are three levels of skill in the Japanese language relating to the arrow and target connecting:
(1) Tôteki, the arrow hits the target.
(2) Kanteki, the arrow pierces the target.
(3) Zaiteki, the arrow exists in the target.

So, as you do your kyudo, keep in mind the level of effort and the amount of yourself that are you giving. What level are you training on? Are you holding back or are you putting all into every shot? Are you shooting from the mind or are you shooting from the heart? Are you polishing your heart as you train?

“The Way is in the training.”

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Tsurune (from the Odyssey)

So without effort did Odysseus string the great bow.
And he held it in his right hand,
and tried the string,
which sang sweetly beneath his touch,
like a swallow in tone.

(“In his quest, Odysseus uses his superior and super human strength to overcome the suitors. In The Odyssey, Penelope holds a contest for all the suitors. She declares that she will marry the one who can string and shoot Odysseus’s bow with arrow piercing all the twelve axes. None of the suitors were able to bend the bow and string it. Odysseus disguised as a beggar then asks if he can try the bow. “Meantime wise Odysseus, when he handled the great bow and scanned it closely, � even as one well-skilled to play the lyre and sing stretches with ease round its new peg a string, securing at each end the twisted sheep-gut; so without effort did Odysseus string the mighty bow. Holding it now with his right hand, he tried its cord; and clear to the touch it sang, voiced like the swallow�.. Then laying the arrow on the arch, he drew the string and arrow notches, and forth from the bench on which he sat let fly the shaft, with careful aim, and did not miss an axe’s ring from first to last, but clean through all sped on the bronze-tipped arrow” (Homer 210-211). “

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On Words

I ran across this excerpt from the Tao Te Ching the other day. It had meaning to me, so I am sharing it here. I hope it will have meaning for you as well.

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
Translated by James Legge

Chapter 81 (Final Chapter)

Sincere words are not fine
Fine words are not sincere
Tao adepts do not dispute this
The disputatious are not adept
Those who know the Tao are not extensively learned
The extensively learned do not know it

The wise do not gather for themselves
The more one expends for others
The more one has

The Way of Heaven is sharp
But injures not
With all a wise one does
There is no striving

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Kyudo Mind Meanderings

After shooting, I spent the evening with Sensei discussing many things. And, as usual, he gave me just enough insight to make me think things through and let me figure the rest out on my own. Sometimes I get it, more often not. It will come later.

I woke up this morning with the Kyohon still by my side… I still haven’t found my glasses. I did not get past the page I opened the Kyohon to last night. One line struck me as I read it. For as often as I have looked at this book, I had never noticed this line before.

Under the heading of Zanshin, the manual states, After the release of the arrow do not change your posture but observe intensely the place where the arrow has hit.

Hmmm…Mezukai.

It does not say keep looking at the target. It does not say look at the azuchi. It does not say look at all of the other arrows around yours. It says “observe intensely the place where the arrow has hit.”

All too often, we do not follow through with this. I am still holding on to the target and am disappointed when I see how far from my goal I am. My gaze goes from the target to the arrow and back to the target, not wanting to accept the truth of the arrow.

As I read this, I realize that our gaze should be so focused at zanshin, that we are piercing the same point that our arrow is. We must accept the truth of the arrow and the truth of Kyudo.

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