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“You can only become accomplished at something you truly love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and do them so well, people can’t take their eyes off of you.” –Maya Angelou

I ran across this quote today and my thoughts immediately turned to Kyudo.  It says so much that I couldn’t not share it with you.

In so many of the other martial arts, the goal is to make money, losing focus on the art itself.  I am thankful that this, so far at least, is not the case with Kyudo.  Sensei has a couple of good quotes pertaining to this subject, but I dare not try to quote him without looking back at my notes to assure accuracy.  This was not the part of the quote that captured my interest anyway. It was the rest of the quote that moved me.

I recall one international Kyudo seminar a few years back.  I watched one of the sensei from Japan.  He was, by all appearances, not highly focused on what the group was doing. Though in actuality, I think these guys don’t miss a thing.  He simply wasn’t enthralled by the action going on.  If I understood the translator correctly, he even told the group that they were boring him.

In the past, we have been taught to make our Kyudo flow, to make Kyudo our own. I’m certain that by making Kyudo our own, they did not mean to deviate from the information taught in the Kyohon. Somehow, I felt they meant to put yourself into your art.

How?

I’m going to say, “By relaxing, breathing from the tanden, and truly loving what you are doing.” In this way, the movements will no longer be static or robotic, but should flow, just as a beautiful piece of music that you “know by heart”.  Even if there is a pause in the piece, the energy of the music flows right up to the last note, and even after that last note has been struck, it still resonates, fading slowly.

Music or Kyudo, either done in this way, is not boring.  I think the idiom “to know by heart” may mean more than the dictionary states, “to know a piece perfectly”.  I believe in the case of Kyudo, the meaning could more aptly be “with mushin and from the heart”.  When your body knows the movements, there is no need for mind and one can truly shoot from the heart.  As we polish the heart, we can shoot without fear. We can be expansive and as large as our heart is.

“The way is in the practice.”

“Shoot from the heart!”

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I read an interesting blog this morning. In it, the author broaches the subject of spirit. He makes some interesting points. I especially liked the way he tied-up the article.  I had to smile a bit.

http://karamatsu.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/kyudo-notebook-%E5%BF%83/#like-1249

From my viewpoint, spirit is one of those concepts I think may never be explained aptly. Much like love, we can talk endlessly about it. We can describe love, or spirit, in many contexts, but there really is no combination of words that come close to describing the feeling. I think what is of importance here is that we are continually willing to amend, re-shape and mold, our philosophy on any subject. Varied perspective is essential to form a more complete concept of the whole, if this is even totally possible with our mental limitations.

I ran across a few words of wisdom my friend Arun Drummond had shared, wherein he stated, “If you are not open to new ideas or experiences, the knowledge that you already posses will remain incomplete and lose any opportunity to grow. To believe that what you know is final is a fallacy and will be challenged until the end of time.”

Let me try to explain through example the thought I’m trying to convey here.  After dating a short while, the man I was to marry down-the-road told me that he loved me.  In response, I said, “I think I love you too.”  Now, he gave me a hard time about that response for many years.  Obviously, it wasn’t very romantic, but it was an honest response.  Being young, I wasn’t sure of exactly what love was at the time, and I knew that. As it turned out, that spark of love would continue to grow and become stronger through the years. That love grew to be a fluid emotion, expansive. It ebbed and flowed, with twists and turns, with knots.  That love endured, even the toughest battles.  My concept of love at the beginning of our relationship and at the end, when he passed away, were totally different.

I believe the same will be true for most of us as we “search” for “spirit”.  (Much as searching for love, we probably would be better off not “searching” for spirit, but rather relaxing and allowing it to happen.)

We are told that we must posses spirit to grow in Kyudo.  It may be that in the beginning we cling to some pre-conceived concept of what we think spirit is.  We have to open our hearts to the concept and allow it to form, allow that “spark” to take hold, to grow, to become entwined with our being.  I’m quite sure that if we are flexible in our thinking and feeling, what we thought as a mudan will certainly be different than that as a godan and so on. We have to let go of what we once thought and allow new input to let us re-shape our beliefs.

As Karamatsu states in his blog, “I always thought I understood what he (Sensei)  meant, but it turns out I only thought I did because I knew the words. It wasn’t until today that something sort of “clicked” inside and I caught… not a glimpse, but more like the reflection, in the window of a passing car, of the shadow of the tracks left in blown snow by a glimpse that had gone by earlier. So… not very substantial, but everybody has to start somewhere, and I guess for me this is it. I hope I can get a whole glimpse before I die.”

Many writers, of both words and music, have made attempts to describe love, as well as spirit, working all around the edges, but never making it quite to the heart. This seems to be another case of “telling”, versus actually “experiencing” something. Sometimes I think that when we are there we will know it. But where is “there”?  As I read somewhere the other day, legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice with such diligence at age 90.  He stated, “Because I think I am making progress.”

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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.

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I recently received an article for the second issue of the Journal of the SCKR (http://sckrjournal.org), in which the word “shugyo” is brought up in reference to the Ironman-100 Arrow Shoot, which we do twice a year. By coincidence, if you want to call it that, the book that I ordered online last week is talking about that very thing, but more in-depth. The second paragraph into chapter one, Yuasa Yasuo’s book, The Body, Self-Cultivation, and Ki-Energy (State University of New York Press, Albany, 1993) brings up the word “shugyo“.

The author gives us a loose translation as being “self-cultivation”. He tells us that in Eastern culture there are many means to self-cultivation, with Zen being one that gained notoriety worldwide. He points out the huge influence the Buddhist methods have had on the development of artistry and martial arts as a whole and correlates the Indian term “tapas” to “shugyo” (as in having to do with fire and heat, more in the sense of an internal or mental fire, rather than a literal translation, or the creation of something new within oneself.) Related, also, are the terms “kinyoku” and “kugyo“, meaning something akin to “austerity” and “asceticism”.

Yuasa points out that this type of philosophy, the training of the body and mind (spirit) as one, is the way of thinking in Eastern cultures and has been for generations. Since the shift in modern philosophy with Renee Descartes (1596-1650), “I think, therefore I am” and mind-body dualism, most Westerners have had a hard time with this concept of bringing the mind and body together. (In relation to Kyudo, I note here that the yumi is considered part of the body and we are to bring the mind, body and bow together as one, Sanmi-Ittai.)

The translators (Shigenori Nagatomo/Monte S. Hill) include a paragraph of notation in regard to the term “shugyo” stating:
“The term “shugyo” is translated throughout this book as “self-cultivation”, or simply “cultivation”. It consists of two Chinese characters, “to master” and a “practice”. Literally then, it means “to master a practice”. As is clear in this literal rendition, the term “self” does not appear in the original phrase. The rendition of “self-cultivation” is adopted because of the individualistic orientation of Western society. Philosophically this rendition is felicitous for initial stages of “self-cultivation”, but since its ultimate goal is to achieve the state of “no-mind” or “no-self”, it does not do justice to the full meaning of the original phrase. As long as the reader is aware of the fact that a psychological, existential transformation occurs in the course of “self-cultivation”, where the self of everyday experience is discarded and transformed, the rendition of “shugyo” as “self-cultivation” should not pose any difficulty. Yuasa seems to think that the concept of “no-self” or “no mind” parallels Jung’s concept of “Selbst“, although they may not be identical.”

With that said, this puts me about three pages into the book. This book has already proven to be very educational. I hope to do a more in-depth review later, but in the meantime, you might want to go ahead and check it out for yourself. Interesting stuff!
(Edited 4/2/11)

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As we close the door on this year and a new one opens for 2011, I am happy to share with you the word that the SCKR has published our first online issue of the Journal of the South Carolina Kyudo Renmei. More about it can be found at http://sckrjournal.org/

We hope that you will find it beneficial.

Happy New Year to ALL!

EDIT: Corrected URL to http://sckrjournal.org/

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My usage of the word “try” was pointed out to me. Prior to this discussion, the word “try” made sense to me, mainly because I try to be accurate in what I say. I try to be true to my word. By using the word “try” I am covered if I fall short of my goal.

What I had not considered is that I am mentally setting myself up for the likelihood of failure before I ever begin. “Try” is not a very powerful or confident word. Think about the two following scenarios:

(I need to ship a very important package. “It absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” I am checking, making phone calls.)

Shipper #1:
Me: “I must have this package delivered tomorrow morning. Can you do this?”
Shipper: “Yes, we offer overnight service. We will try to deliver your shipment in the morning.”

Shipper #2:
Me: “I must have this package delivered tomorrow morning. Can you do this?”
Shipper: “Yes, we offer overnight service. We will deliver your shipment in the morning!”

Even if both of these shippers put forth the same amount of effort to get the job done, I am going with shipper #2. They exhibit the kind of confidence you can count on. Realistically speaking, there will be instances when we fall short of our goals, but we should not start out limiting ourselves before we ever begin. We have to have confidence in our shooting.

So, listen to yourself as you talk and think. How often do you use the word “try”?

As the wise Jedi Master Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

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What started out as a SCKR event seemed to spread like wildfire as word got around. Once it hit Facebook, the challenge was on!

We were challenged publicly on Facebook, by Mauricio in Mexico, to come out and shoot for the “Iron Man” competition on August 7th. A personal competition. Some competed with the heat, others the freezing cold. Some were forced to cancel due to rain, but were still with us in the spirit of oneness. Some competed with time limitations on facility usage, others competed for daylight hours. We shot before work, after work, in the night by car light and by flashlight. Family time had to be put on standby, unless your family was out there shooting with you. There were those of all levels of rank taking part, from mudan to the sensei and even those from styles having no ranking system. Kyudoka were shooting gomiyumi, makiwara, and 28 meters. There was participation from as far as 50 degrees below the equator to 40 degrees above. From Maine to Florida in the East, to California in the West and from Canada to Mexico to Argentina, we came together to make it happen.

The Iron Man goal for many was 100 arrows. We were advised that men over 60 may shoot 70 arrows. Men over 70 may shoot 50. Women may shoot 50 arrows. Women over 60 may shoot 40 arrows. It also was strongly suggested that we keep a record of our hits and misses and where the arrows landed to look for patterns in our shooting. We were to work on our trouble areas, rather than just going out and trying to get off 100 arrows.

There were a million reasons that popped into our heads of why not to do it… too busy, too tired, too hot, too cold. There was only one reason to do it… we would be better for it.

I leave you with some of my favorite comments I collected from Facebook:

“Insanely wonderful idea!”
“Did he really do 100 arrows and not break a sweat in that heat and humidity?”
“What an amazing event! I love the North American Kyudo familia…we Rock :)”
“Yes, I felt my ki flowing like crazy once I shot past my expectations and know now that we have much more strength than we believe.”
“The ironic thing is that today I’m not so much hurting from the 100 arrows but from the after-party.”

On the idea of doing this again next year:
“I vote yessssss!”

I vote yes, as well! “Shooting is life!” I hope that if you missed out this year, you will take up the challenge next time and we can grow together in Kyudo.

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