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The 2011 American Kyudo drew to a close Friday afternoon. We walked in on test day with hopes of reaching our goals, but at the same time striving to keep expectations on an even keel and just shoot. Satake sensei warned us the first day that it was silly to be fearful of a paper target. I’m not so sure it was the target that evoked fear, but more the knowing that we were standing under the scrutiny of three of the top Hanshi Hanchidan of Japan. They not only knew of our present shot, but our past, as well. Satake sensei had seen most of us at previous seminars. While many had not meet Iijima sensei prior, he inspected the yugake while we stood baring all at zanshin. The yugake told our history.

I always find the language barrier an insurmountable wall in the cultural gap. There are things said and unsaid that will never be understood. That is not to say we didn’t have good translators, because that would be untrue. We had the best translations of any seminar I have yet to attend. But, I still suspect there is something lost in translation. Especially difficult are those cases when you find yourself face-to-face with the sensei. The right words don’t come or they speak to you in Japanese and you are standing there clueless. I would like to think they were only making “small talk” and nothing important was said, but I have been unable to convince myself of this.

Each year the sensei tell us that we are being tested on the same standards as those in Japan. Quite possibly, this is the first year they have actually followed through on this. Congratulations are in order to those that achieved rank progression.

As I listened to self-assessments after the seminar, I realized that many knew how they had screwed up in our one brief moment to perform our best. Many others were in awe that they had not passed, feeling as they had done everything as they should.

Tension took its toll. There were those that shot beautifully all week and didn’t hit the target on test day. The pressure of the moment shattered their heijoshin. As for myself, my shooting was erratic all week. In spite of the tension, I came through on the mock test and the exam with a solid hit. While I can’t tell you my one mistake that stole victory from me this year, I gather it was a multitude of little things that tipped the sensei’s scales in favor of giving me another year to master the basic form. In some regards, I am thankful for having at least another year to work towards standing solidly on the rank of yondan.

It occurred to me prior to testing that I had nothing to lose. I have never heard of anyone being demoted and rank being taken away after an exam. By just participating in the seminar and shinsa we took away valuable experience. The analysis we received from the sensei added to our winnings. Rank is merely a title. Putting ego aside, we are the same today as we were yesterday, only hopefully a bit wiser, a bit more experienced.

As Blackwell sensei best put it, “we return home, pass or fail, we pick up our yumi and continue training.”

We continue our journey, a journey of “have to be pursuedness”. I’m not sure where it is we are in such a hurry to go… “life is a journey, not a destination.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Enjoy the jounrney. Sha Soku Jinsei!

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The stage is set and curtains are ready to open on the 2011 American Kyudo Seminar Monday morning. We at the South Carolina Kyudo Renmei have been bidding our friends farewell, one by one, as they depart for Minnesota. I try to remember that I will be joining them on Monday for another week of camaraderie, learning and testing.

I have never been a great fan of testing. The “reasons for the need for testing” is one of the possible test questions, so I know and understand the logic here. That doesn’t make me like it any better. If nothing else, the exam is a test of our heijoshin, the calm everyday mind.

As the seminar approaches, I feel the tension running through my veins. I wake at night, take a few cleansing breaths and go back to sleep. When I shoot, Sensei tells me I think too much. I have to laugh. If he only knew! (Which he probably does.) I can think my way around a nutshell, through to the inside, around each turn and crevice and back out… over and over again. Not a good thing in shooting.

I have been taught well, no trying, just doing.

Yoshimi Junsei, puts it quite aptly in his preamble to the Shaho Kun (Principles of Shooting), as was translated in Sensei’s personal notes:

The practice of kyudo is to use a bow and arrow which possesses flexible energy in response to pulling and pushing , by means of a mind and body that are perturbed and always changing in order to pierce a target that is unmoving. (With a mind that moves, we try to hit a target that does not move.)

Although doing this seems extremely simple, what it contains extends to the three worlds of mind, action and appearance. These three worlds interrelate, and in a mysterious instant give birth to a myriad of changes, and thus the bullseye is not easily attained.

Getting it in the morning and losing it at night, if you ask this of the target, the target is unmoving and unconfused, if you ask this of the bow and arrow, the bow and arrow are of no mind and without evil.

One must only look for this in oneself. The only path is to work hard in training by rectifying your mind and body, cultivating your vitality with determination, practicing the correct skills and being the utmost in sincerity.

I am struggling with my mental training these last few days. In order to pass this test I know that I have to hit the target. The harder I try, the further I get from my goal.

In my thinking process, it hit me the other day that I don’t have to hit the target. I don’t have to go to the seminar. I don’t have to please anyone. I don’t have to pass this test at all.

What I need to do is remember page 70 of the Kyudo Kyohon, where it states:

The full draw (Kai) is, psychologically speaking, the continuity of an imperturbable spirit. 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 and make the effort to fulfill the spirit with self-control, composure, endurance, and determination, founded on the right belief.

As Blackwell sensei tells us, pass or fail, the result is the same. We come home, pick up our yumi and continue to train. And, as my Argentinian friend passed along from one of his sensei, “We learn more from not passing an exam than passing.”

At the time when shooting fails, there should be no resentment towards those who win. On the contrary, this is an occasion to search for oneself. -Raiki Shagi

I hope we can all go and enjoy the seminar experience, have fun being with those of the same spirit and soak up all the knowledge we can. These few days together will pass quickly. Losing the pre-test stress is essential.

(Edited 7/31)

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