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Posts Tagged ‘Zen Kyudo’

“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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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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Haiku

I ran across this haiku from “Chibi”, the pen name of Dennis M. Holmes:

sudden shower!
each raindrop
a bull’s-eye

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