Inner practice

8 01 2010

While over at Sisuk’s the other week or so, doing some work on his database, I was a captive audience for the lecture on my needing to practice more. Every 5 or so minutes, Sisuk who was working on ironing would come over and tell me something I needed to be working on. He was in one of those moods. As my elder, my mentor, I listen.

I will never improve unless I work more on my breathing and internal drills. Basically he was speaking on what is called silk reeling. I had heard that before years ago when I first started trying to learn Chen. Now Sisuk was bringing home the point. I can practice for years on end, but unless I develop my internal workings, chi, alignments, opening the chest and hips I will stay on one level and not improve no matter how much logical understanding I have of the form. How good my technique was/is. Sounded very much like Chan, Very much like what is in the Kyuhon. It is not just about the conscience mind, but the heart , the inner spirit as well as the inner and outer form. In sitting Chan it is not all Ommm ommm, everything is still, at peace, yes there is that , but there is also inner training, movement happening not the same movement as in chest expanding and those subtle muscle controls but energy, Chi. Yes, Chi is Chi, it like Tai Chi the form the marital Art, like Kyudo, like Mantis, has two sides, it can heal, it can kill. It can be spiritual or it can be Marital. Two faces, same coin. In Sitting Chan (Zen) there is the external form, sitting stillness, the internal form is movement of the Chi, expanding, contracting, pin pointing, controlling.

In Tai Chi, inner training is not just related to peace and harmony, spiritually as some may think. It is also related to power, development of power and moving it from internal to external. It is a Martial Art a high level martial art. Some train for a year, or three still have not understand of it fullness, even though they are technically compliant. It is said it takes 10 yrs to understand the basics of Tai Chi Chuan. After my 10 yrs I understood what that meant. After 20 yrs, I understood how little I knew, after 30 I see the length of the path, but not the end.

Inner training is not just a matter of being clear minded , it is opening the chest, moving the breath, sinking the Tan Tien, expanding the back muscles, compressing the back muscles, the inner control down to a small detail the muscles, bone alignment, the arms, the fingers, moving the Chi to the small places. So not just the Physical aspect of those muscles, the inner, the soul, the Chi of those muscles.  Properly Grounded, amplified, refined and delivered.  It is both form and formless. I said to a classmate the other day explaining the transmission of Chi in Tai Chi, Kung fu and Kyudo. In Tai Chi / Kung Fu we need a good solid ground/stance, we need purity ( harmony) of breath, we need exact form, we need pin point focus and clearly of mind. Then like using a straight sword or throwing knife or rope dart or whip chain, or even a spear, we shoot, we release in Kyudo the arrow over a greater distance than the reach of the sword, rope dart, etc.  Kyudo like Kung Fu application is complete only with a balance of the form and the formless.  In Kung Fu there is talk of external and internal styles, yet both work to the same goal. One works from inside out, the other works from outside in. The expressions are different, the results are the same, better health, better focus, more power, hitting the target, ending the fight, beating the crap out of someone, saving your life or family, perspective. Both need the form and the formless in harmony to be complete. As in Kyudo where one can be technically perfect yet lack spirit, or have spirit but sloppy technique. Either way there is unbalance. Too much Yang to much Yin, Unbalance is Unbalance, Tai Chi is Tai Chi, Kyudo is Kyudo, Chan is Chan, BS is BS.

Sisuk stressed the point I only have 2 yrs left here to raise my level. Japan he says has high level teachers there, you need to raise to that level or beyond. Since you are not working a minimum of 2 hours a day should be put on just doing your drills. You HAVE TO! You should do it like a job. When you go to Japan I will come 5 days of of the year to help you train. He wants me to not only carry the Shaolin Tai Chi Mantis Banner but his Chen Family style. No pressure here…right!

With the aging population and the demand for high quality in Nihon I can see how the it could be a beneficial field to work and make a reasonable amount of living money, if you have the skill and background. LZ also tells me how popular Tai Chi is becoming with the huge about of stress Japanese deal with.

So much training, so many parts, I can see how they will fit, or really more hints on how they will fit, I’m still learning.  For now it is dealing with balancing them, the form and the formless, the Yin and the Yang, internal, external. Like sailing the wind, the boat, the water and myself. All are important, as we say in Chan there is no duality, we are/is (everything) interconnected. No matter where one starts on a circle to cover it, you have to go fully around it.

The Tai Chi symbol is profound. In completeness there is both, Yin and Yang. Training there is both Yin and Yang, there are elements of both within both. To have balance, completeness you have to have both, no matter where you start.

Within form there is formless, within the formless there is form.

This is however, just my opinion, my child like understanding, there are those who may know different and may have other words. These are just mine. Words are we say in Chan are just forms. They can seen from many angles…like a finger pointing to the moon (^_^)





3 responses

9 01 2010
rick beal

What great reminders. Training training training…inside and out… no separation… neither can truly move without the other. Thank you,

9 01 2010

Hi Zen,
back to the finger and moon… hmmm
You are right that practice is important – as is spirit. Without spirit there is little point in practicing at all.
I may sound like I am forever ticking you off for wanting to develop your spirit. I don’t.
That is the whole point of Kyudo practice – of any practice. We had that topic – I thought we agreed. The diligent concentrated practice of anything develops the spirit – kyudo, tai chi, crafts, music, …

Where I take issue with you is in this:
You have practiced your tai chi for some 30 years and now you are starting to see the path etc
In your kyudo life you are what? – two years old? Yet you are emulating grand old masters who have been shooting 100+ arrows a day for 60 years.
Do you see the discrepancy here?
Do not try to be an old master. Be the age you are. That was kind of my point.
In tai chi you start with learning the basic form – just getting through it without loosing the plot… then breathing, details, muscle tension,… spirit is always there and the spirit always grows when you are training – when you really work at your hardest.
Then you see your limits and you have to rise to that challenge every time.
You feel the mental/spiritual from day one but it isn’t the focus of training.
It should not be at your level.
The spiritual and the expressive quality that you aspire to is earned through a 100.000 arrows missing the target, a hundred lost competitions and a dozen failed exams.

You are a very talented and scholarly guy. You really know your stuff. Knowing is not the same as being able to do though.
In your own words you look “klutzy” in taihai… well I thought you were ok – for a toddler… and considering you are alone there…
You were ok – but only for your kyudo-age.
That is the point. You feel you have the IDEA of kyudo so now all you need is to do it…
Well, that isn’t really how it works.
You have to learn it separately from the ground up. The point is in actally DOING it. You can’t just come in at the top.

You see a lot of very “dignified and meaningful” posturing in “western” kyudo -“…watch… now I bow, now I lift my bow,…” all very grand and ernest…
It just looks silly when it is always followed by a childish shot.
Watch some of the “youtube students” – that is how YOU should shoot. Just shoot.

I am sounding like a broken record. I know. I’ll leave you after this post so just indulge me. It’ll be the last time.

Learn to control your bow.
Decide what style you are shooting.
Kyudo is not an adage to your other training.
What is wrong with practicing Kyudo?
Why do you have to embellish it?
Kyudo is deceptively simple – simple as tai chi – I thought you knew. In tai chi you would not just place your feet any old how and go: …ahh what the hell… chen style? yang stlye it’s all the same, styles are … moon blabla.
But in kyudo you do that.
That holds you back.
And mixing it with other stuff holds you back.
You dilute it.

You are looking at it with your mature chan-student mind. And you treat it like an adage to your other studies – another master’s title to add to the collection..
You have a mature scholarly approach to it, in some ways that’s good. Theory and ideals are a good start. You CAN move, learn, train,… already so you bring with you ideal qualities for learning kyudo.
Your approach is good – ernest, scholarly,… I just feel you are misguided. Quite literally mis-guided – by those who sold you the idea of the grand old master.
You even have all the polite humility of a grand master “… I am but a child…”. Only people who want to earn plaudits for it actually need to say it, but hey!…
Well in Kyudo you ARE a child. Shoot like one. Shoot with gusto! and learn like a child.
So long as you think kyudo is in finding the most spiritual way of drawing the bow you are going nowhere.
It is just pretentious.
Concentrate on the bow.
Leave your own baggage of experience and all your other arts, your master titles and grand ideas at the door when you enter the kyudo dojo.
That is my advice to you.
Leave your 1000 treasures at the dojo door.

I am just some guy somewhere,… so don’t take anything I say as an attack. It is just some guy’s opinion, weightless and worthless… as I have no masters title or anything to give weight to it. It is just what I feel – based on what I observe all around me.
I recommend to you that you look around too. Look at the old masters if you like – in your first (I think) kyudo post you had a pic of Inagaki sensei – he shot every day of his life since the age of 11 (I think). He won everything there was to win and, in his prime, he trained with a mato about 6″ across because his hit rate was practically 100%.
He was professor at Tsukuba – he taught archery and his students turned out archers and teachers but not monks.
The form, etiquette and culture are a part of Kyudo. Zen is a part of it but archery is where it begins and ends.
Awa sensei was an inspiring man (and had a phenomenal hit rate incidentally). His influence was keenly felt in the forming of modern kyudo. But where are his students now?
And Shibata sensei…? He is not even an archer… not one recognized by his peers.
Look at the young students of kyudo today. That is where YOU should be in your training. A very select few are going to be the Inagaki senseis of tomorrow but that is where they all start – on the archery field honing their skills.

There are lots of books on spirituality in kyudo. There are teachers – especially in th US it seems who sell the idea of spirituality in kyudo – “…never mind the form… polish the mind…”
This is like the “instant meditation” CDs advertised in the sidebar Zen’s Kaze.
Honing your skills IS how you polish the mind!
Nobody and no book here really tells you what to do with your right thumb or your left index finger.
At best they may say the left index finger is spare… well is it???
Point it straight, like the arrow (beginners like to…) or bend it so it almost touches the centre of the bow… it is the difference between the tsunomi being able to work or not. “Spare”? Hardly…
You are so far from being able to control your bow…I can’t tell you.
The reason is you look at grand masters and admire their grandness.
Go admire the precision in their technique. Learn from the details. Look at the finger – pointing… moon…, target…, or bent… look at the feet, then you don’t toddle and fall over in taihai.
Find a teacher who will just teach precision in your technique and beware of those who just want to “vent the great old spirit” of the go-dan in front of admiring students.

That is my advice, my one piece of advice to you and anyone:

Don’t look for anything other than to leant to shoot and don’t embellish. Shoot like the (kyudo-)age you are and don’t emulate the “masterlyness” of the masters.
Emulate correct technique – the rest will follow in time.
Anything else is pretentious and leads nowhere.

Ok, I’m done now.
I’ve said it a hundred times I feel – it should be clear now.

Now all that remains is to say good bye.
… well, thanks and good bye. I have enjoyed walking the kyu-DO along side you for a little while.

I do wish you well with all you are doing. I will check in again and see how you get on – so behave yourself ; )
Seriously, you are an interesting, multi-talented and scholarly guy – something of a renaissance man.
I may disagree with you on a few things but on the whole I like you and I hope to be proved wrong by you.

I may be something of a knucklehead to you … all outside, technique, power,… that is not ALL I am and it is not why I do Kyudo or tai chi or art or anything. I am quite genuine (even if I do say so myself).
I have tried to “provoke” you and on occasions I hope I have succeeded. That was more for effect than out of malice. I hope you know that. I write quickly and often I use polemics for effect.
It still takes time to write though and it is an effort, so take this not as me ranting at you just to vent my spleen. I was talking to you because I felt you were worth talking to.
You seemed isolated – that was in the “Kyudo no unko…” posts.
That’s why I went beyond “nice blog blabla…”
Anyway, if you are interested there is a community out there and some are willing to help and invest a little of their time in you.
Writing is work for me too and I don’t (just) do it for my own aggrandizement.
I know what I sound like to you all over there and you are probably just putting your heads in your hands half the time thinking “what is he on?~!”
The thing is, I do not feel you need more people telling you about inner anything or the spiritual path. At your level what you need is someone to say “…that finger goes there and that foot there or you fall on your face in Tokyo.”

I mean you well I wish you well and I will remain

yours ever,


10 01 2010


I do not get it, I mind my own business writing in my journal about my feelings, thoughts and I get dogged (hassled), my friends ridiculed, critiqued on two guys having fun in a private setting, accused of mixing styles because we practice together, the arrogance of admitting I’m klutzy and need practice, relating new things to old things I’ve learned and I guess the nerve of me wanting to go to Japan to have the experience of going to see a major tournament in Japan, oh and my words turned around to suit you and how you see things. Perhaps I am just missing your point, as you have clearly missed mine. Buddhist say everyone is your teacher, and comes in your life for a reason. Thank you for your lessons I will consider everything carefully. Perhaps it is time to start your own blog and share your insights with others. _/|\_

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