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Breathe in and let yourself soar to the ends of the universe; breathe out and bring the cosmos back inside. Next, breathe up all the fecundity and vibrancy of the earth. Finally, blend the breath of heaven and the breath of earth with your own, becoming the Breath of Life itself. -Morihei Ueshiba

In our discussions of Kyudo, religion, psychology, philosophy and such, a friend once asked me to define spirit. He said that he would then tell me how he defined it. He never did. We don’t talk anymore. I suppose we are still “friends” in some loose sense of the word. We are cordial in passing at seminars, but little more. If this person did nothing else, he gave me cause to investigate other ways of viewing things. I am thankful for that, though I suspect he had little respect for my viewpoint.

I truly think that things happen for a reason. Our paths intersect with others for the purpose of teaching us that which we need to learn. I believe this friend fulfilled this purpose for me and moved on. I hope I left him with some lesson of goodness.

One of the problems we encounter in life is the assumption and expectation that we can define everything and wrap it up neatly in words.

Spirit is one of those areas. We know it when it touches us, but we reach to touch it and it slips through our fingers. It comes and goes, but somehow is ever present.

I relate the word spirit to the word love in certain senses. I’m sure no sane person would argue the existence of love. Love gives us strength, gives us purpose. We search for it. It can seem forever evasive or flowing like wine. Whether it is the pure and simple love of the sunshine, a mother’s love for her child or as complex as two lovers, it warms our heart and fills us completely.

Spirit? Some would say spirit is connected to religion. Some would say it is related to a state of mind. Some may even say it is related to nature. I cannot say that any of these are wrong. I simply cannot say. You will know it when it finds you.

For the naysayers of the world that don’t believe in much of anything beyond the material, I would suggest they begin with consideration that the English word spirit comes from the Latin word spiritus, meaning breath.

As you shoot, consider the importance of breath in your Kyudo.

Sha Soku Jinsei.

In Other’s Words

“Feel the smooth and comfortable motion of drawing the bow, not by thinking about what you are doing, but only by feeling it… feeling every movement of drawing the bow without effort.”–Don Rabska

“Removing attachments, desire, and worldly thoughts towards the target… This disciplining of oneself in this very precious way is connected to Shasoku-Jinsei (Shooting is Life).” –Kyohon p.70

“Let go of thought and bring it not into your Heart,
for you are naked and thought is an icy wind.”–Rumi

On Rumi

Rumi (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī) is a 13th century Persian poet. He lived most of his life under the Sultanate of Rum, where he produced his works. While his works are written in the new Persian language, many different translations, and interpretations, can be found. Rumi has quickly become one of my favorite poets.

I ran across this selection this morning and it brought my thoughts to Kyudo:

If you never searched for truth
come with us
and you will become a seeker.

If you were never a musician
come with us
and you will find your voice.

You may posses immense wealth
come with us
and you will become love’s beggar.

You may think yourself a master
come with us
and love will turn you into a slave.

If you’ve lost your spirit,
come with us
take off your silk coverings,
put on our rough cloak
and we will bring you back to life
. ~Rumi

Kyudo Focus

Through observation and personal experience, I’ve grown even more acutely aware of the importance of one’s state of mind in Kyudo. We are taught that we must be focused, centered, grounded, but words have little meaning unless we can put them to good use.

I began thinking more deeply on this after taking note of certain aspects of my practice and daily life. To fully understand some of my experiences or perceptions myself is one great leap, but to explain them to you is mostly impossible, so I won’t exactly go down that path. In one of Rick Beal sensei’s blogs he writes, “Kosaka Sensei said that he had an experience he wants to share. Once he tells us about this experience, our understanding of it is at least five steps away from the actual experience. He had to think of the words and voice it. We had to hear it and interpret it and try to understand it. So we’re five steps away from his experience…’we have no idea how far away from ours’.” (http://americanzenarchery.blogspot.com/2009/10/kosaka-sensei-has-wonderful-lecture-he.html)

In my effort to get where I’m headed with this, I should say that my modus operandi is often a bit ethereal, much like a butterfly, other days, stressed. So I’ve been asking myself, how do I get down to earth, relaxed, focused?

In my search for answers, I ran across a site pertaining to sports medicine which states:
(http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/sportspsychology/a/centering.htm)

Sports psychologists recommend centering techniques to reduce anxiety and stress. These techniques allow athletes to pay attention to their body and breathing, redirecting their focus from the negative- or anxiety-causing event to the present task.

Personally, when I encounter problems in shooting (i.e. dropping arrows, premature-releases, the string hitting the body) shooting definitely becomes an anxiety filled event. The anxiety compounds whatever other problem I might be encountering in form. When things have gone so far that I enter this vicious circle of frustration, I find it is best to step back, recenter, then come back to the shooting later. We each have to find what works for ourselves.

The article goes on to tell us, The first aspect of centering involves focusing on the rate of breathing and maintaining a slow, steady pace. Breathe in through the nose, and feel the air fill your lungs. Exhale through your mouth… To do this automatically when you need it (during the stress of competition or training), you must practice it often… Use your training sessions to try various centering techniques and find the best one for you. Refocus and get ‘centered’ at every break, rest period or when there is a pause in the action.

In other words, Ikiai and the way is in the training?

In talking with others, I have heard that some “shift gears” into Kyudo frame of mind when they put on their yugake, others when they pick up their yumi. In any case, when we step through the doorway of the dojo, we should be in-tune, having focus and zanshin… from the time we enter, until after we exit.

While, Blackwell sensei might tell us, “Relax harder!” or “Don’t stop breathing… at least not in my class.”, I see that the two are intertwined. Relax through the breathing. And if that doesn’t work, he might add with a smile, “Drink better beer.”*

The answers are in front of us all the time. Sometimes the harder we look, the harder to see. Relax and breathe… or breathe and relax… trying harder isn’t the answer, but relaxing harder just might be.

*(After shooting.)

The way is not with the bow, but with the bone, which is of the greatest importance in shooting.-Junsei Yoshimi (Shaho-Kun)

I ran across the following in an email notification from one of Rick Beal’s blogs:

The very marrow of our bone carries electricity & Chemistry throughout our bodies. Kido is the artistry of painting the flow of these energies in a natural way.

It brought to mind something a ran across several years ago and still find intriguing:

In The Bodhisattva Warriors by Terrance Duke, on page 465, he states:

“Long before Western medicine had arisen, the Ksatreya Vaidya (healers) taught that the elements of Fire and Air combined in the marrow to create, or revitalize, the blood. The marrow was therefore considered to be an important source of life energy.

If the marrow became imbalanced, the balance of the body’s elements (dhatu) would be thrown out of order and, in turn, all the bodily functions suffered. In addition to the blood, the physical vital energies also were held to “mature” within the marrow, and thus the marrow was a point of contact between the different energy systems of this, and other, worlds.

So, here, we draw on the Five Element Theory that Miyamoto Musashi writes of in his Book of Five Rings. If we think of the aforementioned energies in terms of Kyudo, we might refer to this as ki.

In the 2011 Second Quarter issue of the Journal of the South Carolina Kyudo Renmei, Blackwell sensei discusses the Five Element Theory. (http://sckrjournal.org/issue/2011-second-quarter/article/japanese-culture-in-kyudo-the-oriental-paradigm)

And… as I have been told… “the essence is in the marrow.”

Something worth thinking about.

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