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Posts Tagged ‘Spirit’

“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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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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Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. -Confucius

An apropos quote, for if you do Kyudo long enough, you are going to eventually fall. Be it literately, having your feet slide out from under you or stepping on your hakama, to any number of other mistakes that all of us have made or will make. Some mistakes are apparent in pronounced ways, like dropping your arrow. Others are more obscure. As the Japanese say, “Even the monkey falls from the tree.”

It is quite a revelation when we finally see our mistakes. Sometimes awareness just clicks in our mind. Sometimes it takes an actual photograph or mirror to see ourselves. Blackwell Sensei had been telling me from the beginning, “too much tension in the right hand”, “relax harder”. A common mistake for beginners, but there comes a time when you have to let it go and move on to move up.

At the IKYF seminar this past April in Japan, I had three of Japan’s top sensei surrounding me all at one time, making numerous corrections to my form. No English, just moving my body into different positions. Due to the language barriers, I wasn’t sure why they were making all of these changes. After describing the scene to Sensei, it became evident they were correcting the faults he had been pointing out all along. I logically knew they were all right. I logically knew what I needed to do to fix it. Sensei taught me that. Still, I just couldn’t get it. I couldn’t see my way through it. I couldn’t make it happen.

Politicians are always campaigning on the “change” platform. Sometimes they even make claims as to what they are going to change. After being shown a picture of my right hand versus Sensei’s right hand at kai, I could not deny that change was needed. No politics involved, just fact. Along with a change in form, I had to replace my worn yugake as well. Everything was turned upside down, nothing familiar anymore.

I forced myself to come to practice most days, even if I only shot minimally. I didn’t want to shoot. There were many days where the arrow never left the bow by reaching kai and hanare, or anywhere near it. Somewhere between daisan and kai, it went! I whacked myself with the string every time. Often my spring-loaded eyeglass frames went flying farther than the arrow. I became conditioned to the likelihood, that I was going to fail. This only created more tension, causing more failure. I could bear the physical pain, it was the inner pain of failure that was eating me up. Shooting was no longer a joy. Fear crept in.

The Kyohon clearly states on page 70:
The full draw (Kai) is, psychologically speaking, the continuity of an imperturbable spirit. Removing attachments, desire, and worldly thoughts towards the target, at 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. This disciplining of oneself in this very precious way is connected to Shasoku-Jinsei-Shooting is Life.

Symanski Sensei summed it up nicely at our seminar when he told us that we must have confidence in our shooting at kai. His only advise for my particular situation was, “You have to just keep shooting and work through it.”

I would like to say that I am on the other side of this mountain. I may be and I may not be. Shooting is much better. I still take a good beating at my own hand with the string attacking me from time to time. I work hard to keep my mind from giving in to the fear.

While I may never understand the all of the “whys” in this life, I have learned to accept that things happen for a reason. Sometimes it takes failure to force change.

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The 2009 Kyudo Seminar of the Americas is still winding down as we tie up the loose ends of packing away the maku, shipping the yumi home, returning the rental vans and items inadvertently left behind, and nursing our tired, worn and broken bodies. Even with this ending, parts of it will live on in our minds and hearts. It is what we choose to do with this experience that matters now.

The fact that we showed up, we stood our ground and gave our best tells us that we are winners. We left with much more than we came with. We gained knowledge of ourselves as well as the art of Kyudo. We renewed old friendships and created bonds with new ones, as well as with the sensei. We have an idea of the areas in our practice and ourselves that needs attention.

Did we achieve the rank we tested for? Some did, others didn’t, but this is not the core of the matter. Pass or fail, the end result is the same… we live to shoot another day.

Let go of what you need to and nurture the rest.

The Time is Now!
The way is in the training!
Japan 2010!

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In re-reading parts of Ki in Daily Life by Koichi Tohei. last night, I ran across a section that pertained to something that has been popping into my mind from time to time. It deals with what can be called open mind. Tohei talks about being candid and begins with:

Not just in ki training, but when you are learning anything, frankness is essential. Some people, ruined by their previous experience or knowledge, are unable to learn things openly. These people have what we call bad habits. They judge things solely on the basis of their own narrow experience and think that what suits them is correct and what does not suit them is wrong. Progress does not lie this way.

Say we have a glass full of water. If we try to pour more water into it, the water will flow out, and only a little will remain in the glass. Once empty the glass, and it will hold plenty of new water. If your head is crammed with this and that, whatever new things you try to learn, they will not go in… Ki training is the discipline that lets you make great progress in moving from a world that emphasizes the body to one that centers on the spirit, from one that thinks in dualities, to one that thinks in absolutes, and from a world of fighting to a world of peace… Some people decide once and for all in their heart that they are not going to believe what anyone says.

We all come from varied backgrounds, different martial arts, religions, social backgrounds… that’s what makes us unique. But with the same vain of thought as Tohei’s glass of water, old water can become stagnant. And even if you add some fresh to it, I wouldn’t want to drink it. Best to empty your glass and refill with fresh water. I have also heard that as long as the ki flows pure, the water remains clean. I think the key here is that you have a continuous flow.

So, I suppose, we should try letting go… and have a glass of fresh water!

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