Zen and the Art of Kyudo & Tai Chi Sword

27 02 2007

bows“Different flowers of the same tree”

This is what I said to Lucy, the head instructor of the Gold Tiger Kyudo school. When we spoke of the arts of Kyudo, Tai Chi and the like.

I have had a few days to digest the lessons of the Kyudo seminar and compare it to Kung Fu. I will use Tai Chi Sword as my base since both are called moving meditations and both deal with weapons. Though different arts from different countries and culture, the essence of them are the same. clearing the mind, centering, flowing the Chi/Ki, expanding the Chi/Ki. Ki is the Japanese word for Life force/blood, Chi is the same idea in Chinese. As Zen is Japanese for Chan in Chinese.

In Kyudo it is started with meditation, calming & clearing the mind. Shedding the everyday troubles and preparing and reconnecting with lets say, the Higher self, or the non-self/formless self that is Universal Chi/Ki.

In Tai Chi this formal going into that state is not there. However, one generally starts Tai Chi, by going into a state of Wu Wei (stillness), centering and calming the mind though not from a Zazen position, some call it standing Zen or standing meditation. One also, more so in more advance levels of training, does Chi Gong before hand. These are Chi building drills, which not only build the internal power (life force) but also serve to clear and calm the mind. Shedding the everyday trouble and preparing and reconnecting with lets say, the Higher self, or the non-self /formless self that is Universal Chi/Ki. ( sounds the same, because it is) So although not still as Zazen it serves the same end. I think both arts could benefit from a cross sharing, Tai Chi done with Heart Zen Chakara Meditation (zazen with breath focus), and Kyudo with Chi Gong Drills

Tai Chi walk and Kyudo walking. Although completly different, they are in the same in that they make you have mindfullness of your steps and balance whilst making steps. Light steps, control of the balance, even flow, not up and down.
Next stance; the foundation of connection to the earth, ground chi/ki. The roots of the Bamboo, that bends in the storm yet, remains firm in the ground. Both are developed readyfrom having a firm grounding stance, lowering the center, Hara in Japanese, Tanten in Chinese. In Kyudo it is not spoken of like in Tai Chi, where we are told to sink the chi, lower the center. The stance and the walk in Kyudo almost forces one into that state. Perhaps because in Tai Chi the whole body is in motion , so the lowering and maintaining that low center is of utmost importance and more difficult to do, because of the constant moving state. Since it takes years of study to do it, more thought, focus is placed in instruction of it.

“Sung”; as there is importance in motion there is also importance in stillness, Wuwei. Don, one of the senior students of Shibata Sensei, spoke of the moments of pause in the forming/development of the Kyudo shot, taking in your space, mindfulness of what has been done, where you are. This is called “sung” in Tai Chi. It is the completion of one move, then there is a moment of relaxing, pause to be in that moment completly before continuing to the next place.

The form of Kyudo in the area of the arms which are in motion like in Tai Chi are round. In Tai Chi we maintain a roundness, as does the Kyudo. This roundness is explained in Tai Chi as needed for the smooth flow of Chi. Fuu ReadyIt is not said in Kyudo but it is stressed to maintain it. So to me, I understand it as needing to be there for the Chi flow, to the areas that themselves are in movement, yet need to have power. Loading, drawing, pushing, pulling, holding. All things done in Tai Chi, by sending the Chi and torque of the body through the arms and the breath.

When we use Tai Chi sword, the mind and the breath become more important. We want the sword to be an extension of of body, another unit of body space for the Chi/Ki to travel. When we move the sword, the mind and Chi move the sword. When we lift the Bow and cock the arrow , the breath/mind and Ki raise and pull the bow. PushpullThe body expanding with chi, pulls the bow string, the body expanding with chi makes the strike or makes the sword cut. It is not done by body strength, but more with mind /Chi/spirit. The arrow flys, the sword cuts, the extended Chi gives them life and they know when it is their time to interact with an object. To travel to a target because it is following it’s Tao in a state of harmony, with you, the Universal force and itself..state of Zen

To be con’t…





Kyudo – way of the Bow pt III

26 02 2007

So it’s the 3rd and final day of the seminar. Today we start off in one of the smaller meditation rooms as the large hall is being used for something else. As usual we start with 30 min Zazen. However today no talk. We have a video to watch, it is a short film from National Geographic on Onyumishi Kanjuro Shibata XX Sensei he is a 20th generation master bowmaker and archer and 3rd generation “Bowmaker to the Emperor of Japan” (retired) and the head of this clan. It is a short but interesting film. The seniors giving the seminar were not that impressed with the film, as it is made more for the lay person not a practicing archer.

(click on picture to see full view)

Next there is a lecture from a visiting senior student of Shibata Sensei. lecture.gifHe also spent 2 years as apprentice to Sensei’s son learning how to make Bows. Now he makes his own. He gave us details on the care of Bows, then narrated a film showing Sensei’s son making a bow, using the old methods, which was made for Japanese TV. It was important information and gives one more respect of the Bow.

It is now lunch time, we have lunch in the room together instead of going out.

After eating we head back to the main hall and setup. It does not take long as we have a lot of people. No off side instruction for me today I am part of the group and take part in the lineup for shooting. I was able to get in 5 or group 16 shots. As there are many people, we take turns of two shots each then rotate in line. I also took break to get in a few pictures for the group. Don, the visiting master student was kind enough to take some pictures for me, since I was doing everyone else. I got a few corrections on my form but overall I think I did reasonably well. I tried out a couple of different bows today and got a feel for the different weight pulls of them. Bows are fairly expensive, so it will be awhile before I can purchase my own, but it is good to get a feel for what I want. So far a 12lb pulls feel ok. One is suppose to get one that will challenge them but now have to fight with. So I’m thinking at this point maybe a 15lb pull might be a good weight for me, we’ll see.Kyudo zen

My overall impression of the art, great, I like it. I will be continuing more when I have a chance, perhaps I can make time at least once a month to visit the local school. The senior student in charge I liked, sheseniors is comfortable to be around very relaxed, but knows her stuff. What I enjoyed about the Kyudo is the sense and the practice of it being more than just using a bow, a weapon to hit a target. It has very strong, mental and spiritual depth. It is not about hitting a target, it is about raising your spirit, going beyond physical form, and expanding the spirit. I understand why it is sometimes referred to (incorrectly) as Zen archery. It is very much part of Zen , but it is not Zen, It is full of Zen, but not Zen, It is the state of Zen, but not attached, which makes it very Zen.

Full group

“One is not polishing one’s shooting style or technique, but the mind. The dignity of shooting is the important point. This is how Kyudo differs from the common approach to archery. In Kyudo there is no hope. Hope is not the point. The point is that through long and genuine practice your natural dignity as a human being comes out. This natural dignity is already in you, but it is covered up by a lot of obstacles. When they are cleared away, your natural dignity is allowed to shine forth” – Shibata Sensei.





Kyudo Day II

25 02 2007


Day II at the Golden Tiger Kyudo School seminar. I liked the name of this branch. Being I am born in The Year of the Tiger, feels like fate to me to be attending this. The second day is over I finally got to shoot. So before I go into that lets back up some.Fomal

Today as yesterday started with Zazen for 30 min. I find that Gong that is used to end the session is too harsh sounding. It does not just bring you out of meditation , it Jars you out of meditation. the sound I find is too sharp…however maybe that is just me. Today the leader Don, read another poem for the talk. It had to do with a aged woman who needed help seeing the doctor, however she still had dignity, even the sisters who helped her added dignity. I’m not fully sure what he was saying here, but it had to do with form and showing dignity even though you feel you have not done your best shooting, but giving your best… I think.

Next another demo of a more formal shooting, starting from a mat through the shoot then returning. as if giving a demo in front of judges or some people of rank and regular observers. Then we were asked what did we see in the shooter of ourselves, what habits, etc. One of the things he was saying about when watching another shooter, is to see ourselves in them, they mirror ourselves. Their strong and weak points, which in the realm of Buddhism, there is no you or I there is only we, us. My strengths or yours and everyones, my weakness are everyone weakness.

YumisNext time for the greenhorns to review then learn how to cock the Yumi ( bow). We returned back to the hallway to practice, first timing our opening with others, so we were in sync and we could do a group shoot with others in harmony. Hans Sempai, our instructors explained about the feeling of oneness when doing it in time with others, the feeling of group harmony. To me it was the same as the flow of chi when doing Tai Chi with a group. It is much stronger when with others adding their chi to the area than just your own. The Chi that is generated in a group is like supercharging your own. So I was right with what he was saying through from a different view.

Next up is going through how to grip the bow, properly. Unlike a western style bow the Japanese Bow is suppose to turn in your hand once the arrow is released. So the grip can not be too tight and if too loose one will have no control. It should be held mostly with the little fingers ( same as a mantis grab ) and thumb The arrow and string pulling hand also needs a special attention paid to it. It is not really griping the but chambering the arrow and the string. Interesting enough both hands are held in a also most “mantis” position, something I’m use to. After a few times of practicing that, it is time to draw, the bow.

Raise, turn, raise the bow with hands in position, above eyes to hairline level, arrow still not pointing at the target. Then push and pull bow, hands still high, finally lowering hands as separation nears completion. Hold and breath, though they did not say anything. To me it is like, “sung” in Tai Chi, move completed, breath and relax, then extend and release.

We did a few dry runs, with no arrow, with no bow, someone resisting, like a human bow. Then it was show time. It is now fairly late in the afternoon. So after a day and a half plus, we are finally ready to join the line and shoot.

HanI was planning to let the other guy go first, but somehow I got positioned to be first up. I was a bit nervous as Lucy the head of the Bay Area school, the one putting this on, was going to be there, looking for errors. Han from the side lines is saying,”make me proud” oh, great pressure. Ok, I settle, breathe, call up my Shaolin training, and relax. I start the sequence, taking a breath where if feels right, and a moment to center, before going to the next section. Loading the arrow, breath, everything is set, turn the head, chamber the bow, breath. I exhale relax, and raise the Bow like doing Tai Chi so my breath and mind raise the bow not my arms. Now in position I again “sung” before beginning the draw. Breathe and draw, the arrow feels a little off of position with the right hand so I twist the hand a little to secure it and complete the draw. I remember reading in the book, Zen and the Art of archery on is not suppose to let the arrow go, it is suppose to go when it’s ready. So I relaxed, took a breath, extended my arms and centered more, the arrow flew, VERY cool! For the most part it felt correct. My release and position was corrected a bit by Lucy in the after shot position, but it was good. Next some direction on recovering the arrow and time for my second shot. Though in some ways I did better on my second shot, others I did not. The arrow almost got away before I was ready lucky my Shaolin skills felt it happening and were able to react in time to save the motion and make the shot. Then I was done. Whewww.

The other guy did not do so well, could not get any shots off. He kept dropping the arrow. Even after I had waited out of line, then got back in line and did another round he was still trying to get his first successful shot off. I though he would have been much better since he said he had a class before. For me it was just extending my Shaolin skills to adapt to another weapon, perhaps that was the difference. Seeing what was similar not what was different. People should treat each other like that…





Kyudo – Way of the Bow- Day I

24 02 2007

It is lunch time as I write post this. Also it is day 2 but I’ll start from yesterday. Everyone is out at lunch but me. I brought my laptop and lunch so I’m staying here as the temple guard it is very cool they have wifi here in the Meditation center. How cool is that! I’ll start this now but may need to finish it later depending when the group returns.

It was to be long day on Friday. I took the day off for the Kyudo seminar this weekend. Friday is day one.

I take the BART train into Berkeley so as not to deal with traffic and parking, it was a good move. I had a peaceful trip in and got to read some of my sailing book for my tests in April.

shambala.gifThe Shambhala Buddhist meditation centeris located just down the street from UC Berkeley and a couple of blocks away from the downtown BART station. It is about a 10 min walk. Perfect for a little cardo before class.

I was one of the first to arrive, so got to check things out first. The people that were there greeted me warmly and made to feel welcome (unlike the Berkeley Zen center as I have said ). Slowly others showed up, there was a lot of pleasant vibs among them. I found out later, many only come once a year, or/and come from afar to this event which has been going on for several years. This was the first year new people/beginners were allowed to attend. Great timing for me as I wanted to give this a try in Japan and it was doubtful I would be allowed to without some background. So I should hopefully be able to get a couple of shots in while we are in Osaka.

After all the greetings and such, we got started, first off was some Zazen/meditation for 30 min. It was an easy sitting, I have grown very comfortable with 30 min. I did my HeartChan/Zen style, it was good to get a long practice in. After the sitting, the seminar leader talked a bit about Kyudo, and the “Zen” sense of it thathall

was present in other things areas of life. He use a poem about a person in a wheelchair as an example. It told of the oneness, the timing of the person how they moved their wheelchair, how they timed themselves to the rhythm of the wheel flow. Entered into a state of Zen with their chair. We as archers wanted that same state of oneness when shooting.

After a short Demo by one of the senior students we beginners started. There is an amazing amount of formality with the opening for. I was expecting some, but this was more than I thought. Far more than just shooting the preparation is a large part of things. Our first lesson was on just how to walk correctly.

The next part of the lesson was on , opening, the stance, the grip, arms position , shoulders. Then on to putting all that together into a set of movements, all of shootingwhich were to prepare to load the bow with the arrow. That was the morning lesson.

The group went to lunch, since I had had my lunch with me. I walked over to UC Berkeley and sat under a tree and ate and did some reading. It was a good day to be out, the UCB campus is peaceful. However they did have some loud music coming from somewhere, not was not Rock , but perhaps Alt. It was ok, but not my type so that put a bit of a down turn on the energy for me.lunch

Once back at the center, there was a small lecture and Demo on how to do a formal sitting and prep for a formal demo. Then we had a tea break.

After our break it was back to more lessons for the new kids of which there were only two, myself and one other guy. Our next lesson was on how to put on the shooting glove and the ceremony form that went with that, so we could handle the arrow with that added factor. From there it was back to the hallway for how to load the arrow and go into ready position to begin the ready to pull position.

Whewww, no shooting today just foundation. I was surprise at the amount of pre-stuff. I was glad to be doing this at a seminar to get a lot of ground work at once. When I saw the girl do the first demo I did not think we were going to shoot until Sunday the last day. However the word is we will shoot on Sat. (today) after some more foundation stuff.

So ended day one, it as tiring a bit, because of new muscles being used and very uncomfortable body positions. Seemed like they designed it to see how uncomfortable one can be a still shoot an arrow. If you could over come the weird body sense and become “one” with the arrow and hit the target then you were good. Perhaps like if you could over come the uncomfortableness of life, the suffering you could achieve enlightenment. But you had to go beyond the suffering, feel it, but do not attach yourself to it, become one with it, but go beyond it and shoot (live).

After class it is a trip home for dinner then off to Kung Fu with Sifu. It was my monthly Friday session. We practice, talk and eat. I am learning The Late Master’s ( Sigung) taichi Sword form from one of the seniors who runs the San Francisco School. One of the topics we went through tonight was how one learns to make the trade off of loss of power when getting older. Using the power of the other person to your advantage and returning it to them. Eg: the harder they punch, the harder the get hit by using that power they sent against them. We also spoke of formalizing traps and disarms into a format that is easily passed down to others within our system. Brian who is the son of one of the late 8th generation elders spoke on practice with whip chain. Also the 3 elements needed to win a fight, of which good Kung Fu was the last.

It was a good, long, well spent day.





New Year Nite @ Yoshi’s

19 02 2007

brothersWe catch the last show at Yoshi’s on Chinese New Year’s Night. The Yoshita Brothers were excellant. The club was packed, I think we got the last open table, afterward people started doubling up. I’m glad we got there when we did. We could have been in Japan as there were so many Japanese and mixed Japanese couples. There were also age groups of people across the board, I found surprising. We ordered a drink each while we waited. I had creamy sake and little french fries with some kind of sauce ( oshii ) , Lady Z had a Cocktail with sushi. Interesting combo eh, Japanese drink with American snack, American Drink with Japanese snack.

The brothers played for about 1.5 hours, sometimes with a backup keyboard and percussionist. Who was VERY GOOD. Both brothers are good musicans and skilled with their axes ( musician term), the older brother seem somewhat better though, perhaps he’s been at it longer. Anyway good concert. It helped me see some of the things I have been fooling around with on my Shamisen were right on. I also see now some of the style of playing, so it was a learning exprience for me as well. As it turns out, I happen to find a shamisen teacher on our last visit to J-town. We contacted her several weeks ago about lessens. She is not too far from us and the cost is very reasonable. After returning from Japan and getting settled in with whatever new schedule I’ll need I get in touch with her again about starting classes.

As far as the Yoshita brothers, if you are interested in a different kind of sound check them out on the net. Oh, the New Wii game TV comercal music is them playing.

 

Next week The Kyudo Seminar…





Gong Xi Fa Cai- Pt II

18 02 2007

boar 1

Happy New Year – Gong Xi Fa Cai

 

gong si

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ugh

 

No way did I eat this , I do not care what year it is…!

 

sifus table 1

Settling in one table of 3

 

weapons

 

yeah we keep a few weapons around…

 

table

 

going back for seconds or thirds…

 

It’s Sat night after a long day it’s time to head to campbell for my Shrfu’s Chinese New year Party. Sisook calls and wants me to pick him up. He never wants to drive. He knows I will not drink much, and he can just go for it.

We get there just shortly after the named starting time. There is a good spread, a couple of things I could eat, and so I had a good plate. Shrfu gives me a cup for the good congnac and I take a spot with Shrfu and the other seniors. Everyone was in good spirits and as normal the conversation turned to Kung fu. Also as usual they spoke in Chinese, I followed as best I could for a while then went an hungout with some of the others for a while. It was good visitingeveryone. There were several schools as usual, this time Campbell, Walnut Creek, and beside myself and a student was the San Francisco Sifu and his senior student. Also visiting was the son of a later elder from Hawaii. He was resently in a Major car accident and had his neck broken. We all thought he was going to die, he now has a plate in his head and a pin in his back , but is almost fully recovered. So much to the point that he is practicing again, slowly, but practicing. He said it was hella hard road to crawl.

After eating our fill and cleaning up the table the talk got serious on Kung fu. Fong Sibak is always is interesting to talk with. He went through Theory and Pincipals of our Praying Mantis. Fighting theories and stratagies against multiple attackers, also drills and getting free from grapples. As well as actions against much larger opponents and a handy legal weapon . It was a good evening, inspiring to practice more.

 





Zen Sake Cocktail

18 02 2007

It was another early rise Sat. No kicking back today, there was a full load ahead. It was a Beakeley Day. The weather was wonderful, sunny warming up little by little, it woulld have been great for a sail but it was a land story today.

First stop a quick drop by Sisooks tailor shop to put up a closed for Chinese New Year sign in the door. He was off helping Sismo at the Bridal shop in Chinatown today so the tailor shop was closed as I was busy also.

Next Lady Z and I head to the Zen Center Berkeley for a little zazen. We parked a couple of blocks away and walkedzen center over under spring like skys. The Plum blossom are coming out, it add some nice color to the area. We arrived to the center about 10-15 min before the session started. There was another groupstil in the Zendo hall, so we hung out on the grounds whilst the change over was made. I told her in Japanese how everyone looked so sourfaced. She was suprised I could say that and laughed. Soon it was time to start, we went in, but told to wait until the other group was seated again, so it could be judged how spaces there were left and were to sit. It did not take long and we were seated floor level facing the back of the upper platform goup. Lady Z is talking about how soft the cushion is, I had to shuss her a couple of times. Gong rings and we start. Now after doing this regular I’m pretty comfortable quickly. I did my Heart Zen salutaions, even though in a Soto sitting, and practiced my HeartZen breathing and meditation. It really helps witht he mind dancing, when focusing on the chakaras. My internal claock and legs tell me when it is almost 30 mins, and the gong rang to end the session. As the custom there, the group prepared for their walk and tea, we just left. I asked Lady Z how was it, as she was concerned she would not be able to do 30 min, she she does not practice. She said it went fast. She said she was having a lot of toughts but, did not worry about having them and just let them happen. So it was a good sitting for both of us. We also talked about the vib and weather it was just about us going in and using the space and not being involved with the center was the cause for the vibs or just the people themselves. It was not a sense of the just being an outsider it was really we decieded the people. There was something about the energy of them that was off to us. We both felt the Pleasant Hill location felt better. I said the Fremont HeartZen felt the most comfortable to me. She asked why come here then? I said I we needed to come to Berkeley anyway and I wanted to be sure, I was not just tripping on the energy thing. This will be our last visit to the Berkeley Zen Center, that chapter is closed.

Fish mrkNext stop is the Tokyo Fish market for some food stuff and a few supplies. Also veryLeslies conveniant is Leslies ceramic shop right next door so I can pickup some clay for class cheaper than I can on campus. However it turns out they do not have the one I buy on campus so I get something similar some added iron, to give a another look to some new pieces.

We still have some time left before or next planned appointment, so we swing by fleathe Berekeley Flea market.

As we are walking around checking out stuff I get a call from Erica the soap lady. She checking to see when we are ready, now I say and we head over to her place. Erica, as said in another post makes great handmade soaps and bath salts. I met her at the Berkeley flea Market with the Toko deligation when they visited. She can be seen & heard on Afro-Eric’s pod cast. It is our plan to order a few items to take to Japan as gifts for the family. She has a few they setup on a table for us to check out. I had Jasmine/green tea bath salts in mind, but ended up getting something different. Also some Honey something, salts and rose. We at first just ordered the Bath salts, but after getting in the car and thinking I went back to size up one of the items we were going to use and Erica made mention of how the soap of the same kind worked well with the salt for cleaning off after the bath. Now in Japan they shower first then take the bath, even so giung it some thought it would be nicer to have the same scent going through the bath exprience ather than mixing scent from another soap, so we’ll be getting the maching soaps. Considering how much the family will be taking care of us in Japan it makes for a better gift.

sake 1Next stop the Saki factory in Berekeley. I have long heard of this place but had never been in.sake 2 The museum was smaller thank I thought, having been to one in Kobe Japan. Over all the place was nice. We declinded watching the film as we had already seen one. They lady, who was serving the tasting explained she was busy and it would be a short while before she could serve us. No problem we said and checked just out the display. They had a few nice sake sets, I thought they were very nice ceramic works. The colors on a couple were great! We also checked out the sake line and found one that we had come looking for at a as hoped for good price. Our turn came and the girl expalined a few things about what was being served and we got a good sample of several types of sake. Some were only mad here in the Satates for American tastes, life the strong flavored ones, Lychee, Raspberry , plum, Apple. We had triedsome Lychee in SF of last trip and liked it. Although we diceded it would be better mixed down some with some regular sake to dilute the sweetness some. I LOVED the Creme de Sake!! So we ended up getting what displaywe came for plus one of the Creme de Sake and left in GOOD spirits… ( or full of good spirits heheh, get it heheh) …ahem. We set off to the next stop lunch. By now I’m starving and all that sake tasting made me really want sushi! It was in our plan to head to a Sushi place afterward anyway. We drove out by the Berekely Aqua Park Lady Z had never been there, so wanted to walk a bit by the water. I was for that as I had a warm buzz going and it would be best to walk a bit, so we strolled along the walk way and took in the great weather through sake eyes 🙂

From there off to lunch. We drove over to Oakland to a small sushi shop, the food was good, the waitress bad. She was different one than we had before and perhaps bad is not the correct word, but for sure not good, lacking. However thesushi food was good, cheap, fresh and more than I could eat without being too full. In Japan there is a saying you should only eat to 80% for good health. The HeartZen philosophy also stated do not eat until full , 70% is good. So practicing that I took a bit home.

The drive home was pleasant, Lady Z was complaining about the heat, she does not do well in it. It was about 78 degrees now, I loved it but turned on the truck a/c for her as she is a delicate cherry blossom. Once home I turned on the fans, we both lay down on the bed and ended going off to napland.