Kyudo Season…Dozukuri

8 12 2009

the establishment of the torso sets a foundation that determines the quality of shooting in the subsequent stages.

It was the second day of a furry of Kyudo sessions over the next two weeks. Don Senpai was just finishing up a Zen retreat and was stopping by RSD to shoot with us.

One of the first things he suggested to us after the first shot was to establish a “pattern” or organization for shooting as a group. A line placement to ready one self mentally, spiritually, physically for the approach and shot. Something that is done as standard with the Renmei group. I felt this was of even more importance with the Renmei guests coming next week. It also raises our standard and makes for a more harmonious shot Senpai said. As well as a chance to practice proper walk. Excellent I thought.

I went through a few shoots with Chikurin-ha and was given a few corrections on my opening. Helpful in establishing a correctness in form, when shooting with the others.  Now I know doing Chikurin-ha and then Renmei, really bugs some people. But, I do not care. It is the same as playing a Bass, then playing piano. True one can be very good with one and only so good with the other, for most people. However there are artists who play many instruments…well. Prince, Paul MaCartney, John Lennon, Steve Wonder, so it can be done. Just as people can do more than one style of Kung Fu or Tai Chi and be masters in both. Like some can even walk and chew gum at the same time…I can play Bass and Harmonica at the same time…It can be done, not by everyone, some will only be so so in both, yet everyone is different.  A doctor studies general medicine then specializes in one. Ok, enough of that rant. I already heard something about mixing styles and doing more than one. Just to be clear I am not talking mixing styles. I’m saying doing one, then doing another…so chill 🙂

Ok, a bit of a digression there. The rest of my time was spent shooting Renmei style. Even though Don Senpai is Chikurin-ha he understand enough Renmei to be helpful on Universal principals. Which is why Blackwell 6th-dan Kyoshi has asked him to teach at his school. The direction I was given was larger draw. My Hikiwake was not large enough and not to bend forward. Standing more erect.  Small things can make big differences.

It was a good session , short , but helpful.


Sha wa Ritsu – Zen:

It was said to me that I should study the Kyudo manual and no where was the word Zen used, other than Shin Zen Do.


Kyudo Manual, Page 21 bottom paragraph states:

We know that hitting the target is very important is Kyudo. However, we experience that we lose the relationship to ourselves in our attempts to try and hot the target. We know that this attitude is not right. To many this might seem an unreasonable notion, but nothing is more distasteful in Kyudo than shooting based on this attachment to the act of hitting. In our daily lives also , we often experience this kind of attitude, but the reality of this desire is more evident in our shooting, so that through our practice the importance of the right attitude towards desire is found and our lives can be experienced more profoundly. (For those who actually study Zen know this is one of the foundations of Zen practice). In this context, expressions like ” shooting is Life” , Shooting is living”, “shooting is Standing Zen take on a significance.

Page 22 last paragraph:

It is true that we can do nothing without technique, but technique alone does not give the depth to our performance. We must unite both aspects into one by attaining a stage where technique and spirit are braided into one rope. This is the essential problem that is difficult to resolve. If we put emphasis on technique we will easily forget the spirit, and if we think only of the spirit, the shooting will have no technique. These two aspects are not distinct, but must always be considered as one. ( In Zen there is no duality), In unity these poles will merge into the condition beyond division ( Zen/Chan is one not two). The Technical aspects and the Spiritual aspect, while different in external form, once they are united and internalized ( the body , mind, and spirit unite in full harmony, all equally important) , then no distinction will arise between them. ( looking at the moon and not the finger) This will produce the noblest values in attitude and performance.

Perhaps some of those who condemn, criticize, my strange, alien (hahhaha, thank you) way of thinking and condemn others use of the word, Zen Kyudo, should undertake the some study of Zen. In a native peoples saying: “Walk a mile in someone’s shoes” This is one of the fundamental problems of mankind, we focus too much on the differences, in people, religion, philosophy, (fingers pointing to the moon) and not the sameness (the Moon).

The use of the “label” Zen Kyudo is incorrect , yet correct, it is speaking, referring to the ‘spirit” side of “Kyudo” more than the Technique, form, hitting side. Yet from the Kyudo “Bible” it states one needs Both, there should be no Duality, No separation ( Zen philosophy, there is no separation, we are interdependent, we are one) of Technique and Spirit. Without the harmony of both, a balance foundation, with out Sanmi-Ittai, there is no Shin Zen Bi.





6 responses

9 12 2009

Haha… I am laughing! I was about to point out page 21, but you beat me to it.

In my humble opinion, people in all aspects of life get too hung up on labels, systems and words. Just do the thing or be the thing… I don’t know. What I know about Zen is minute, but what I know of it, it seems to be a good and reasonable thing.

“There is no right view, only different points of view.”

I say toMAtoe, you say TOmaTOE, and my Grandma in Redbud, Georgia used to say ‘maters… straight off the vine, they all taste the same to me!

Happy shooting to all!

9 12 2009

Hi Zen,

so I’ve been annoying you again, have I?
Well, I have, as you know, a provocative style of putting an argument.
Still, to come out with analogies of “some” actually being “able to walk,… chew gum, etc…”

What is the point?
Is there one other than venting your spleen?
Zen master?

My point even if you don’t want to acknowledge it is that as a BEGINNER it is not advisable to practice various schools and change around.
Just as you don’t run – or chew gum for that matter – before you can walk.
Learn to walk – in your shoes or whoever else’s you like before you start leaping about and getting creative with your training.

So you found some quotes too…
Well done.
You read the manual, filtered it for what YOU want to find just as I do I guess.

In the preface especially the aesthetic ideals of kyudo are extolled – they do not apply to you and me until we can shoot correctly.
The preface and translation by Liam O’Brian is good but the whole thing has a slant towards the spiritual which was not necessarily intended by the Shaho Establishing Committee.
A new updated version of the manual is apparently in the pipeline – maybe that version will be different – it will be interesting to compare.

There was much politics in Kyudo when the manual was written as it was the post war period when all martial arts had been banned by the allies. Re-establishing them was a political matter and their meditative, improving nature was highlighted.
Japan, like Germany, having lost a war had to re-invent itself.
Some of what we think is ancient is really not that old.

If you’d like more quoting material I can recommend professor Yamada’s latest book: Shots in the Dark: Japan, Zen, and the West
He has been practicing Kyudo for some 3o years so he knows a little about it.

The idea of Zen has without a doubt permeated Kyudo practice – especially as it no longer has any significance in warfare. (It even lost its significance in sport as field archery bows are so much more accurate.)
Bow draw-weights have got lighter, the form has got less dynamic,… the whole impression is more introspective, meditative even.
so there was shift of focus in modern kyudo back to the expressive aspects of archery and away from just shooting performance. That aspect had become redundant.
Kyudo as a cultural artifact comes from feudal times and from a notion of etiquette and chivalry. There is still a link between formal ritualized shooting and the imperial court today.
Kyudo lends itself to the comparison with zen as it is so introspective and repetitive but it is not zen, nor does it come from zen.
The bow was there long before.
The bow was a fearsome weapon with unrivaled speed and range so myth and legend grew around it everywhere.
We love that romantic idea of the bow – I do too.
Still the link to zen is coincidental. Zen came to japan where the bow already was and the two got on so there was a certain degree of cross- fertilization.

The link made in the Manual is primarily a descriptive one to illustrate the ETHOS and ART of kyudo and to distance it from combat training or target shooting – maybe for the benefit of the western reader.
When it talks about how we are to practice it the references cease though.

Yes, hitting the target is not the aim – it is the inevitable result of correct shooting though. You can meditate all you like, if you then don’t hit the target you are doing something wrong – poor technique.
The aim is correct shooting and the aesthetic quality that this naturally has – accuracy is a part of that. When you want to progress past yon-dan both arrows have to hit the target to pass the exam. Accuracy – not grand ideas!

The fact that the language used to describe the aesthetic principles of shooting employs terms likening it to zen is more due to zen being an aesthetic principle and integral part of japanese culture than the fact that shooting is a religious act.
The whole point of my argument is that the kyudo manual does not encourage kyudoka to practice zen it urges them to learn correct technique first and foremost.

Zen is a cultural institution in Japan. It is the epitome and measure of japanese aesthetics to many.
Ok, so it is used here to make the point that what we ultimately strive for is not a 100% hit rate but deeper aesthetic goals.
You can hit with bad technique if you practice – the point is that a true hit results from true technique.
Yes, ok it mentions “zen” – but what you are asked to train at is correct technique.
The truth, beauty etc are borne from correct technique and they come a long way down the line. They are a result of correct shooting technique and an ease and fluidity that comes with practice.
It is merely likened to Zen here, more as an illustration of the ethos of kyudo at its highest level, than a suggestion that kyudo practice is a religious or metaphysical act.

I am talking here beginner to beginner on a blog which may be read by more beginners interested in kyudo. I am not talking to an 8th dan Hanshi.
The manual is also written for the beginner.
For beginners the beginning is learning correct technique. You don’t need to worry about zen in kyudo until you have half a lifetime of practice to look back on.
There are too many people in western kyudo looking for enlightenment and too few who find kyudo practice gratifying in it self without the mysticism.

Herrigel & co have a lot to answer for here.

You may think I’m talking total nonsense but then it does get you responding, thinking, formulating your ideas… and, yes, I am being inflammatory and I exaggerate quite deliberately.
I like the romanticized, aesthetic, spiritual side of kyudo actually.
And I am in no way trying to take that away from you.
The thing is I personally am happy to just practice technique to start with – and I feel anyone who isn’t has no business studying archery.
I’ll continue to refine my technique and maybe, I’ll live to experience zen in kyudo. Actually, I doubt it. I’m 40 already. I’m not going to look for it either – there is no point after 4 years of training – try again after 40 maybe – so I’ll just keep doing archery.

If for you it is about enlightenment and if you think that will get you further then good luck.
And as you are a genius – evidently ; ) – I’ll look forward to seeing you named the first non-japanese Hanshi in a couple of years.

Actually, I do hope you do well. You are obviously a person of great sincerity, generosity, dedication,…. I could go on but you might cry…
Seriously, I can respect you for seeing things as you do. You made the pursuit of zen your life and you have a deeper insight than I do.

I just find the metaphysical stuff that has been brought into kyudo by Herrigel & co pernicious – it just gives people license to do it badly and say doing it well is not the point.

I know you are not the type to do things badly.
I know also you are a practitioner of a whole multitude of arts so maybe you can learn more easily and change around.
I was not scalding you for doing it your way. You do what you like it is not my place to instruct you and that was not my intention.
I made the point that what you do is not generally recommended though – especially not for beginners.
And as what is offered on these pages is for public consumption, there just are a few things I won’t leave standing unchallenged.

Anyway, I hope you don’t just find me a pain in the butt.
I am in your space here – even if it is only virtual – so if you are not enjoying this tell me to get my own blog and to get out of yours.
I won’t be offended as I hope you are not offended if I disagree with you and challenge you.

So far I have to say I admire your consistency and openness. You really have come up with the goods here – you stand your ground, you put me to rights – good on you (even if you are unnecessarily rude at times – but then that just makes two of us).

I do wish you well and I hope you are ok. I meant what I said in my short non-kyudo comment recently.
I think you have a wealth of experience and you have something to say.
I actually enjoy getting a piece of your mind (both literally and in the sense of UK slang meaning “a scalding”) to challenge my own ideas too.
I would not bother communicating if I didn’t value you.



9 12 2009

Hahahahaha, Mark my man. What a surprise to hear from you. Always a pleasure to have you drop by. Hahahahah.

I guess I rattled your cage a bit with this post. (^_^)

Wow, I do as you say and study the Kyuhon and now you say it is flawed…Hilarious !!! LOL

I should clear up a couple of things.

1. I shoot because I like to, not for enlightenment. Well not 100% , the enlightenment I seek is being a better Kung Fu instructor. Getting a better understanding of Shin Zen Bi and how to communicate that to my Shaolin/Tai Chi/Mantis Students. How Sanmi-Ittai goes across any style, practice “DO”

2. I study Chan (Zen) separate from Kyudo , Not because I want to get enlightenment. I just like it, it brings things into perspective for me, with my weird way of thinking. Seeing through the ages I am not the only one with alien thoughts. Chan helps my stress, my Kung Fu, my Kyudo, my Tai Chi, my need for a spiritual connection. Hmmm again my seeking of Shin Zen Bi


“My point even if you don’t want to acknowledge it is that as a BEGINNER it is not advisable to practice various schools and change around.”

I 100% agree! The time I put in shooting Renmei, if I put it in Shibata’s style I would be that much better…however.
I ONLY started Renmei study because I am moving to Japan, where mostly Renmei is practiced. If not for THAT I would stay studying Shibata’s style, because I just like to shoot, the form, the practice, the ritual. Unlike Chen Tai Ji , vs Chou Style where there is clearly something different to be gained. In Kyudo, truly it is the man that makes the style, the style does not make the man. One does the practice ( WELL), one hits the target, all the time. Good Shin Zen Bi, is Good Shin Zen Bi. Good Form is Good Form, Just like in Heki-ryu (^_^)

“It is merely likened to Zen here, more as an illustration of the ethos of kyudo at its highest level, than a suggestion that kyudo practice is a religious or metaphysical act.”

It is all perspective! Everything is or can be a religious act! That is the point, Kyudo, Gardening, washing dishes, Kung Fu. everything. If one sees it as that and there is nothing wrong with that, if no one is hurt. If someone want to comes to Kyudo all starry eyed about transcending space and time and feeling the wind blow through their hair and seeing more oneness with leaves and bugs, so what, let them. ( and yes, she does set a bad example of form and practice) however It’s their thing, if they hit the target 1 out of 10 or 20 shots and have sloppy technique yet hear the voice of God in the sound of the Ya travel. So what It works for them. They will never be a Go-Dan in Renmei, but maybe they do not want to they are fulfilled in shooting for them. They do not shoot to save their lives or to eat. Maybe they will and do find Zen in their training, There is/was a group who played Sakuhachi to find enlightenment. I am a big fan of Sci Fi, because in Sci Fi anything is possible.

Someone else may come to Kyudo only seeking to do perfection of form, for the practice, for the feel of power, whatever. It’s their thing! It is the same Kyudo. As my blog friend said, TOmaTO, ToMAtoe, or Mater, all taste the same and it does not mater the name. Just like what I think does not really matter…People who want to study Kyudo, need to do Kyudo and find out what works for them, what they get out of it, have their own Kyudo experience, not from my or your opinion, those are OUR experience, a guide. I can not tell someone how a mango will taste to them , they have to taste it. It does not matter if they taste it because they are hungry, thirsty, want dessert, to fill any of those they have to taste it.

Keep in mind the story of the Blind men and the elephant…All were wrong, yet all were right. Your thoughts are right for you, mine are right for me. I am not in disagreement with your ideas, I’m just saying, Kyudo is larger than the limits of a Name.

The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao…Tao Te Ching

As for your posts, I do find it entertaining ( as does i’m sure the readers) to have a young blood challenge my concepts. (^_^). It does help me focus, train and understand better my training. Like when a student of mine does not quite get it and i have to think of another way of getting through. The teacher learns from teaching and stays sharp from the challenges.

I write this blog as a journal for my kids and theirs to know how my mind and spirit work/worked. Your posts do all of us a service. You are a welcome guest here.

…and again thanks for your concern.


10 12 2009
Kyudo Season…Dozukuri « Zen’s Sekai I – by Land… | セカンドライフ、メタバースの無料ブログポータルサイト「MetaLog-メタログ」

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10 12 2009

I think the main problem with the use of the term “zen” with kyudo is the same problem using the term “archery” with kyudo. Actually, kyudo is neither.

The problem is confusing preconceptions are formed because these words have their own semantics. — i.e., “the point of kyudo is to achieve enlightment” (zen), or “the object of kyudo is to hit the target” – archery). So, you get people who are overly concerned with hitting the target, or people who dismiss the importance of doing the technique correctly.

The object of Kyudo is to do Kyudo. As long as you keep that in mind, call it whatever you want.

11 12 2009

Hi Zen,

thanks for the comment. Cleared up a few things.
What you say is very true.
We all seek some sort of perfection.
In work, art,… in life, … in Kyudo practice,… it can be in form, accuracy, spirit,…
And yeah! if someone wants to feel the wind, sun,… (not sure if you watched the clip I gave you a link to).
It is all fine actually.
Nice to find mystery kyudoka here again too. I do agree our “disagreement” is mostly about semantics – and fairly pointless.
The language you use says something about your attitude, your “leaning” – which style of kyudo you practice or why you practice it.
Most who use spiritual terms to describe it come from the “zen, meditation and never mind technique” end of the spectrum.

You mentioned you had ambitions to take exams, that was part of why I made a fuss about the whole formal stuff.
They don’t test the mind-spirit stuff.
Up until go-dan they don’t seem to care about much else other than confident handling of the bow and maybe doing it with a bit of decorum.
Someone once said to me after go-dan it gets political. That’s when grades are awarded for “exuding the air of a Renshi, Kyoshi, Hanshi,…”. Then you have to be “believable”. That’s just by-the-by…
Anyway, if the “official” view is that it takes a kyudoka of 20 years standing at the very minimum to even be looked at under those aesthetic, spiritual aspects… then someone even trying for it after a few hours with Mr Shibata & co is just plain ridiculous. The fault here lies with the teacher for encouraging it actually.
You have an advantage in learning movement patterns because you are already trained – just like I pick up craft techniques just by osmosis – so you keep doing what works for you. Changing technique is not recommended but that rule was not handed down by the All-mighty, so if it works….

I do get myself worked up over the whole “zen” stuff every time and I shouldn’t.
I just see so many people using it to give themselves license to just do play-acting and to do things badly.
I applies not just to kyudo, I’ve seen it art, in Tai Chi classes – the kind with lots of feeling, closing your eyes, breathing,… and no actual work going on. I had a great Tai Chi teacher actually but couldn’t find the time in the end – new business, etc. – still, it did wonders for me and it was bloody hard work (for body and mind both). Kyudo is the same – it is not meant to be “relaxing” you are not meant to be able to dream of “golden rainbows” and “feel the wind”… and whatever other rubbish you read.
Still, each to their own.

Personally, studying Heki Ryu means I am perhaps too “sporty”.
This may be childish, but just for a buzz and to test the idea of Kan Chu Kyu I took a 2mm steel plate to the dojo a couple of weeks back – shot through it at 28m. Tempted to make a video clip and put it on youTube, am I? hmmmm…. Maybeeeeee…. Then everyone can slap me down and tell me that has nothing to do with kyudo. Not very Shin Zen Bi I know but then rest assured that we normally train with all the necessary courtesy and decorum.
Still it is my current angle to tackle it. Just trying to see where the limits are for me. And if you aim for sheer performance it does educate you too. Your technique and understanding do improve. You confront your weaknesses by going beyond what is comfortable and learning to still focus, not let it rattle you.
When you shoot a strong bow or tire yourself out by shooting a lot you can no longer just rely on muscle power – body geometry needs to be correct to take up the strain. Speed and perception also improve. You need better technique to exercise control.

Anyway, it’s just my current thing – “beauty through power and control” maybe. Sounds like complete twaddle but you know what I mean…
A tight rope walker looks good when they are graceful and it all looks effortless. Control, accuracy,… training. We don’t watch them to see them teeter around and fall off, we watch them to see them do the impossible without even twitch in their face.
Although having said that the risk of failure adds excitement to the arts. If there was no chance you could miss a note or the target or accidentally ruin a piece of work by one single clumsy blow of your hammer there would be no point. That is why we value art. And that is why the “airy-fairy” arts where feeling good is all it is about hold no interest for anyone.
Anyway enough of that – we did that.

Finally, about the Kyuhon…
Ok I was incensed so I made a sweeping statement – just wanted to get a rise out of you.
I didn’t know if you had already read it but I was sure you would read (or re-read) it after that. You quoted me stuff verbatim so I guess I was right.

Of course, Kyudo in its absolute purest form as practiced by its most exalted and venerable practitioners is so cerebral that it can be called Zen. It is almost like watching a religious act.
I agree everything can be ritual, spiritual,…
I feel the kyuhon uses images of zen etc sa a kind of illustration of the ultimate goals and ethos of kyudo. I don’t see that as instruction, more as inspiration though. Still it is a matter of perspective as you say.
The Manual does not ask students to practice Zen or anything like that (I don’t think so anyway , maybe I should re-read it…) – anyway, that was really all that I meant.
It asks for good technique, form, courtesy,…
The technique of kyudo is so complex that you can spend decades working at it. And unless you work at it you get nowhere.
Hit rate, exam results, the way arrows fly, tsurune,… are indicators of improving technique. You need those. How can anyone improve without feedback?
Exams and competitions are particularly interesting topics actually. The result – a win, a pass,… may seem shallow things to aim for and they are not why you do it. A pass or win are achieved by performing under pressure. And that is where the real proof of technique, stability of mind, focus,… lies.
I would recommend to anyone the benefits of competing, taking tests,… it doesn’t turn you into a brute just wanting to hit 100% of the time but helps you know yourself and confront your own weaknesses.
It is only after much testing that you can develop a stable mind.
You know what I’m talking about Zen I am sure.

Oh, and yes, as you mentioned in the most recent post Winter IS finally coming… it is coming here too and we train outside too.
Ever tried Kyudo at -15C? I don’t recommend it. Currently we get around -2 but in January it gets really cold. BRRRRRRR!
You just can’t feel anything or move.
Still it is good for us!
Well, I hope it is.

Yours ever,


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