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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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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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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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