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Thoughts on Life

Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is a quiet voice at the end of the day, saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’ Radmacher

Neither in life, nor in Kyudo, is every day a “good” day. We desire more or better and we don’t always get it. What good option is there other than saying, “I will try again tomorrow”?

How does the Japanese proverb go? Seven times down, eight times up?

(Keep in mind, “good” is a relative term and it is what we make of it.)

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Kyudo-Budo

When we think of budo, what are we talking about?
What is budo? What is bushido?

Budo can be considered as martial way. And within budo, bushido is taught.* Budo is a way of living and a way of dying. In Daidoji Yuzan’s book, Budoshoshinshu, he begins with:

“The man who would be a warrior considers it his most basic intention to keep death always in mind, day and night, from the time he first picks up his chopsticks in celebrating his morning meal on New Year’s day to the evening of the last day of the year. When one constantly keeps death in mind, both loyalty and filial piety are realized, myriad evils and disasters are avoided, one is without illness and mishap, and lives out a long life. In addition, even his character is improved. Such are the many benefits of this act.”

Budoshoshinshu, while written as the warrior’s primer, offers much in the way of guidance that is still pertinent today. When I read the section above, I take it to mean that we should live every day as it is our last. We should live life to the fullest and appreciate every moment. We should not leave things that should be done now, until tomorrow. We should make peace where peace needs to be made and to quote from one of my favorite songs, “Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel.”

Budoshoshinshu goes on to state:
“Day and night without fail, as one is involved in all of his business, both public and private, when there is just a moment to be calm, death should be kept in mind… these words are for the understanding of those intending to be warriors.”

I would think, good words for all.

“Bushidō (武士道?), roughly translated as “the way of the warrior,” is a Japanese code of conduct and way of Samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry. As part of the Samurai philosophy, Bushidō stresses loyalty, frugality, the mastery of martial arts, and “honor unto death.” Born of two main influences, philosophy and swordsmanship, the violent existence of the Samurai was tempered by the wisdom and serenity of Japanese Shinto (&) Buddhism.” (Wikipedia)

If we look at Inazo Nitobi’s Bushido, the Soul of Japan, he states:

“Bushido, then, is the code of moral principles which the knights were required or instructed to observe. It is not a written code; at best it consists of a few maxims handed down from mouth to mouth or coming from the pen of some well-known warrior or savant. More frequently it is a code unuttered and unwritten, possessing all the more the powerful sanction of veritable deed, and of a law written on the fleshly tablets of the heart. It was founded not on the creation of one brain, however able, or on the life of a single personage, however renowned. It was an organic growth of decades and centuries of military career.”

“Bushido as an independent code of ethics may vanish, but its power will not perish from the earth; its schools of martial prowess or civic honor may be demolished, but its light and its glory will long survive their ruins. Like its symbolic flower, after it is blown to the four winds, it will still bless mankind with the perfume with which it will enrich life. Ages after, when its customaries shall have been buried and its very name forgotten, its odors will come floating in the air as from a far-off unseen hill…”

It is our job, as martial artists, to do our part in ensuring that the budo code not be forgotten… not only by passing on the words, but by being living examples… by traveling the Way.

*A good article with more in regard to budo and bushido can be found @ http://ekamachdi.wordpress.com/2008/10/22/understanding-aikido-as-budo

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My kyudo notebook is an eclectic mix of diagrams and arrows, quotes and passages from books that I have read, study questions and answers for testing, seminar notes, project outlines, letters, doodles, reminders, page numbers to refer back to the Kyohon on, various words that few would understand unless you were there when they were said… such as squirrel’s butt, and profound, partial sentences trailing off into nothingness resulting from a night around the table with a bottle of Eagle Rare. It tells a story as I look at it. I read between the lines and it tells a tale of travel.

You might see how when I got home one evening to discover that my notebook was not with me, I was a bit unsettled. Luckily, I knew exactly where it was. I had left it on the right-hand side of the table behind the sofa at Sensei’s house. There were no better hands it could have been in, but never-the-less, not the sort of thing one wants to do. I could never re-write this book and only parts of it do I share. On my return to his house later on, he put the notebook in my hands without a word. None were needed.

Sensei recently brought out his notebook and read an excerpt to us while we were shooting. He has read from his notebook previously… a rare treat, one of those special moments you don’t want to miss. As Sesnei left the dojo on this day, he picked up his notebook and causally walked by. He informed us that he was taking the notebook, that it might blow up our minds if he left it there for us. I enjoy my days in the dojo with Sensei, with his wisdom and his humor. Some days I understand and some days I don’t. This day, I understood.

As I thumb through my notebook this morning, I see everything from the words from Confucius, the Tao Te Ching, Tich Nhat Hanh, Rumi, Kosaka sensei, Miyauchi sensei, Blackwell sensei and many more, including all of the Sensei that collaborated to make up the Kyohon, down to my own words. As I look at this, and think with great respect to all that gave their time and wisdom so that others could find the Way, I find it a bit “mind blowing”.

While I don’t know which great mind the following words came from, I would like to share them from my notebook. I hope they will help you in finding the Way.

“Everything happens for a reason.”
“You are always where you are meant to be.”
“The Way teaches.”
“Quiet the mind to be open to where you should be next.”

With that, I leave you to go shoot!

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As I sit at the table, I glance down at my hands.
They are twisting, tearing, shredding a straw paper. I realize what I am doing.
I don’t stop. I hide nothing.
I am talking. I am telling a story with my hands.
Are you listening?
“I don’t know you.” “I don’t trust you.” “You make me uncomfortable.” “You are in my space.”
I turn slightly in your direction. Do you hear me? The fact that I remain at the table speaks for itself.
“If I did not want to be here, I would leave. I would not come back.”
“I give you this chance to earn my trust.”
-Unsent Letters, Unsaid Words

The excerpt above is an example of how the hands are a reflection of our mind, of how the body speaks.
Mezukai, ikiai, dozukuri. are reflections of our mind as well.
The hands, the eyes, the co-ordination of breath, our posture, they are all telling a story as we practice the art of kyudo. The Way.. the way of the bow.
Kyudo is a budo, a martial way. The warrior way. Any opening tells a tale of weakness. Leave no opening.

“The human mind is disturbed by delusion, worldly desires, passions and attachments, which are more often than not the result of the pursuit of experience and knowledge. Also the mind succumbs to the temptation of the eye and the ear, which assail and agitate the spirit. To have the correct activity of the physical body and the right fullness of spirit, there must be stability of spirit. This is a fundamental requirement for the shooting.” (Kyudo Kyohon pg. 58)

In Herrigel’s book The Method of Zen, he tells a tale of eating dinner in a restaurant with Japanese colleagues. As one friend is telling a story, an earthquake shakes the entire building. The hotel creaks and sways, sending objects to the floor. While many rush to evacuate the hotel, his friend sits calmly. Herrigel fears for his life but is mesmerized by the calm nature of the friend. He sits back down at the table. As the commotion subsides, the friend continues his story at the exact point he left off from, as if nothing had happened. This story is a good example of heijoshin.

Simply put, heijoshin, can be described as the calm, everyday mind. The Kyohon states that “…at full draw you must wipe away negativity like doubt, anxiety, faintheartedness, fear, and self-depreciation…”. (pg. 70)

“When we are watching someone or something, our mind is concentrated only on what we see, and we neglect the spirit and the body. Therefore, the most important element of setting the gaze (metsuke) is to look into your own heart and take command of that place. The condition of the Mezukai has a great influence on the breathing and posture.” (pg.58)

As we begin to look deeper into the mental aspect of our shooting, we begin to see how everything is tied to the mind and the mind is tied to all else. The concept of sanmi-ittai , unity of the three essentials, Body, Spirit, and Bow as one body, then becomes clearer. (ref pg.24) In summation, as you shoot, show no weakness, take command of your heart, shoot with heijoshin. Focus the mind on the body and the body on the bow. Become One.

“The Way is in the training.”

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More Food for Thought

From The Prophet
by Kahlil Gibran

You have been told that life is darkness,
and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness
save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there
is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when
there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love:
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself,
and to one another, and to God.

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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.
Aristotle

I ran across this quote today and immediately thought of how this relates to Kyudo. One of the things brought up at the autumn Kyudo Alliance seminar this past weekend, was the phrase from the Kyohon, “Kyudo is Life“.

On Page 9 of the Kyohon it states:
Kyudo is not simply a way to create well-being and train the body, but a way to bring enhancement and cultivation to your life… we, as practitioners of Kyudo, who are expected to master such virtues as discipline, modesty, gentleness, self-restraint, and reflection through the shooting, can realize these qualities in our own life.

In regard to kai on page 70, the subject is again brought up, stating:
…at the full draw you must wipe away negativity like doubt, anxiety, faint heartedness, fear, and self-depreciation and make the effort to fulfill the spirit with self-control, composure, endurance, and determination, founded on the right belief. This disciplining of oneself in this very precious way is connected to Shasoku-Jinsei-Shooting is Life.

As Blackwell Sensei has said, “Practice as if you are testing…”. I take this to mean with sincerity and determination, doing our very best each time we shoot. The Way is in the training.

Hopefully, if we practice faithfully and strive for excellence in our Kyudo, we will bring excellence into our own lives as well and learn the true meaning of “Kyudo is Life”.

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