the last Ya…08′

31 12 2008

The group yells, Hai!

This is in response to the Last Shot call the instructor says. Everyone prepares themselves mentally to mount their last Ya や or arrow in English and release their last class shot of the year 2008. In a spiritual mind or those with strange thinking patterns like me, it could be a symbol of releasing all the problems, broken dreams, frustration of the year. Starting fresh with no attachments. This is part of the reason Japanese spend so much effort into cleaning at the end  of the Year. In the West the big clean is in the spring. Of course this is really just the Solar year, and we are still on the tail of the Rat. It is to many the dawn of a new day, to coin a phrase. It was the last Kyudo Class for the year. Since New Year is the Big Deal of this holiday season in Japan, where at one time companies took 1 or 2 weeks off from working, and we are partly a Japanese household well go with that for this post.


I had not attended Kyudo since the summer Sonoma Mtn Trials. I had thought of it, but with the tight money and high gas prices. I passed on attending. There is also that problem of it being on the same night as my Kung Fu classes, that is a BIG road block. In truth the biggest. Moving on…

With having done a Year End gathering with the Shaolin groups ( Shaolin-Mantis, Chan) I felt it would be fitting to also meet for year end Kyudo practice. It worked out that I was not going to have my Shaolin class for the next two Mondays, gas was back below two dollars, so I made plans to attend Kyudo in Berkeley.

It was good to see my elders, H & L, the few others that showed up I have no sense of closeness to and there was one new to me guy. He seemed like he could be a likable kind of person and I think he is Multi-cultural Afro. It was interesting listening to “Oni-san” tell of his journey into the world of Kendo. How it is still very old world traditional. Along with that sense of being a “Gaijin” in the group and older one at that, who could not possibly   to dedicate his soul to the practice of Kendo. I smiled and said yeah, being very familiar with the comments of those  new to the realm of discrimination when dealing with Japanese. Having grown up with discrimination from everywhere, we people of color are always shocked in the other direction, when we are not discriminated against. When I went to the Kyudo Dojo in Osaka, I was blown away by how nice and accommodating people were, well once the Sensei showed me his acceptance. 🙂

It felt good to be back in Kyudo class, the one here, the Zenko Tiger school is run different from most others I have seen, in that it has incorporated the meditation as part of it’s training. It was good to have the formal settling of the mind and spirit before doing the “Motion Zen” as we would call it in Shaolin Chan. I just recalled my Shotokan Sensei would also have us do some kneeling meditation before starting and ending the class also. The formal surroundings of the Mediation Hall, with it’s wall hangings, cushions, gong, candles and the lot also helped with ones sense of formality. I was a bit late for the start of Zazen, I was having problems remembering how to tie all the belts and cords on my Hakama. I did not get the full twenty minutes, but I got a good chuck in of sitting.

Our first shots were group shots. Everyone lined up walked to the target following the lead person. Everyone, did the preparation and draw following the timing of the lead person. Similar to doing group Tai Chi, trying to match pace and timing of the lead person. However in Kyudo the timing is just slightly behind the person in front so that it is more like a wave of movement whilst shooting. It is a different kind of harmonic flow than the locked flow of Tai Chi Group practice or a combat Shaolin two person drill. A diferent expanding of sensitvity and timing.

Following that, were individual shots at ones own pace. This is where it is all about you, the Bow, the arrow, the shot. Taking each individual moment and making them one moment. Again different from Tai Chi in that there is no visual timing flow, no continuous movement sense. Here there are breaks, a few pauses. Places where you can check yourself, recenter if needed, it is the flow of having white space on a page design, a break in your part in a musical orchestration, a breath.

My Tabi slippers being still fairly unused, gave me the extra challenge when setting up my shot of needing to take an extra moment to be sure I was grounded.  I could not fully lock into the ground as my feet would slide outward. I would always need to find the line of balance and slip and stay just behind that location. I noticed some there wore bare feet. They could lock securely to the floor. They had their own other challenges to deal with.  Me, I had many from the ground up. Not that I did not shoot well, but I was multi-level challenged. Stance, recalling, execution, form, grip, release.

My first correction/suggestion came on my 10 year grip. This is the way one hold the Yumi,  ゆみ the bow. It is said it takes 10 years to have the correct grip. Similar to it takes 10 years to understand the basics of Tai Chi. ( that is true by the way). I was showed the correct grip again and where I needed to focus on.  I was told I hold too tight to the Yumi. There it was again, that “Zen” thing. That non-attachment thing, be connected but not clinging, not attached. Smack in the face from seemingly out of no where. The Tao of course is always there. The Yumi should turn in one’s hand when the Ya is released. This motion helps release some of the energy built up, similar to following through on a swing or punch. I was not there yet and did not expect to see that port for a while.

I took a break and sat to the side. I grabbed a few photos, with did not turn out well. While sitting or taking a break I always recall the Master words from Osaka. Practice , watch,  observe, practice. I took in the others and tired to feel what they were doing. It was during this time that Oni-san comes to me and says. You have a beautiful draw…

I could hear the silent “but”…

It was a tactful way of bring on a correction, it sailing they call it the crap sandwich. Start with something good then, bring on the crap, end with good 🙂  I smiled with the knowledge and said, oh.. but…I hear a “but” , giving him the opening.

Do you mind some advice? he said; not at all I replied. He then proceeded to help with my shoulder adjustment and position. He explained that I am not supposed to be drawing by strength even though I am blessed with it. All his next few minutes teaching came translated into Tai Chi lessons from Sisuk. Do not use arm power, use your chest and body expansion, not arm power.

Ok, so Zen/Kyudo life lessons crossovers for 08′:

Stay connected in everyday living but do not cling, non-attachment. ( Hold the Yumi firm but not too tight)
Your power should come from within ( trust the Force Luke), not from Physical strength. ( draw by expanding your body, breath not arm strength)




3 responses

1 01 2009

That’s a very beautiful post. Thanks for spending the time to write so much detail. It makes me miss my kyudo practice very much. If you were in Berkeley, you probably practiced with Lucy. She’s a wonderful teacher.

1 01 2009
Rick Matz

“Last shot.” Very nice concept. Good training in 2009!

1 01 2009

@zensquared, thanks for dropping by. Yes I do study with Lucy the great 🙂

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